This blog is dedicated to, and co-written by, the many wonderful and stylish ‘older’ people who regularly meet at the groundbreaking arts project Meet Me At The Albany which takes place every Tuesday in Deptford, south east London.
A big thank you to Ari Seth Cohen’s fabulous muses, featured on the Advanced Style blog, especially Ilona, who has been our inspiration.
In 1963 Daisy was living in Brixton with her husband and twins, when she responded to an advertisement in The Daily Mirror newspaper for people who wanted to make it in Hollywood.
In conversation with our guest blogger, Ritchie Foster, this vivacious 78 year old Londoner tells the story of how she nearly made it.
words by Ritchie Foster, photos by Zoe Gilmour
“I saw the advert in The Mirror, so I phoned them up and then they gave me an appointment,” Daisy begins, “and I should try and make myself look nice, cuz I am gonna take a lot of pictures. Naturally I went to the hairdresser to get my hair done.”
With a glint in her eye and a slight tilting of her head she smiles: “They did my hair very well”.
“When I went there, there was a crew of twelve people there. I was a little frightened y’know…there was many girls and they call you one by one to take your photo”.
A professional crew of twelve looking over the shoulder of a photographer telling you how to smile? One imagines that must have been ever-so-slightly unnerving.
She tells me there were approximately fifty other candidates there beside her in the waiting room. She puffs out her cheeks: “It was a long day”.
“Then they interview you…how did you get to know about it, blah blah blah, what would I like to do? So I said to them I love singing. I have sung since I was 12. I don’t mind acting in plays, but you have to train me. They said if you want to sing, we train you. If you want to act, we train you. They said ‘Are you from America?’ I said no!”
They told her that she didn’t look like “one of them”. I didn’t feel the need to delve too deeply into the line of questioning she received, but assumed my own conclusions from that. Perhaps Daisy felt the same at the time – as she went on to tell me that she was often perceived to not be from Africa. People often told her that she looked like “an American negro”. I imagine in the early 1960s that this term was used as a differentiation between a black American and a black person from either the Caribbean or from the continent of Africa.
“They asked me ‘Are you married? Do you have any children? How long have you been in this country? Do you like it here?’ I said ‘of course … the only thing is the snow.’ Back then the snow was heavy in this country. You don’t get snow like that anymore.” (This is a statement echoed by my own father, who came to the UK from Jamaica. A quick internet search states one of the worst recorded winters in UK history was in fact 1962-63.)
“Anyway,” Daisy continues, “so after a long interview they picked the last three. They said, ‘You go home. you hear from us.’ After a few days they ring me on the phone to say they picked me and what time would I like to come. Then they wrote me a letter to follow up.”
“So my husband comes back from school. He was studying then. I show him the letter and say they rang me to say they picked me. He said ‘What!?!’ I said they wrote me, they shoot me, they want to take me. He said ‘Not in my house!’ (Daisy chuckles out loud) ‘How you gonna do that? You have two children, how are you going to do it?’ I said ‘I’ll send them to my Mom in Nigeria…he told me ‘No way. You are not sending my children home.'”
So, I say, you didn’t go for the life of glamour, you looked after your children instead. “Yes.” she replies, “There was no way he would let me send them home”.
“Anyway!” she exhales “That was the end. He wouldn’t let me go. It’s hard because…”
At this point she cheekily smiles, breaking out into a barrel laugh that rocks her back into her chair and I ask the obvious question ‘And if that was nowadays?‘
“If it was nowadays I would go away! It’s true, I’m telling you” she continues to laugh. “Then I was too young. He was scared. He thought if I go…”
We both say in unison, while grinning, “Cause I might not come back!”
Daisy slaps my thigh as if it was my rebellion. I tell her I believe deep down that it is every man’s worry and that time hasn’t changed that. When I suggest she might upgrade him with a fresh looking Sidney Poitier I’m met with feigned embarrassment, followed swiftly with another even louder laugh.
“He wouldn’t let me do nothing! I put in an application for nurse’s training. He wouldn’t let me. Even my relations back home asked him to let me study. ‘She likes to study’. When he is out at work, I am at home with the duster. What does that mean?”
It’s a different world now, I proclaim.
“Yes, he was a jealous man. Very jealous.” Giggling, she leans over to tap my notepad, demanding I make sure to note: “He was very jealous”.
I asked Daisy if her husband is still alive – he isn’t. But she gets the date of his passing confused with that of her father’s. The conversation suddenly changes direction as she proudly announces her father was 92 years old when he passed away in 2007. “He never needed any walking stick, or anything like that”. I’m already sat there, slack-jawed, only for her to properly blow my mind when she goes on to say, “He was still driving! I tell him ‘No Dad, you have to stop’. Still driving at ninety! He liked driving.”
Her father not only owned and ran his own petrol station, but he was also the Chairman of Police. “He was a hard working man” says Daisy, with admiration, and for a moment her gaze leaves me and wanders somewhere into her memories. She smiles. “He worked very hard. I think that’s what keep him fit. Why he lived for so long.”
“I took from him to be fair y’know. Because when I went to the funeral I was talking with some of my cousins and they say ‘I don’t know why you are a woman? You should have been a man!'” Daisy barrel laughs once more. Her family told her she was like her Dad – I take this to mean that her personality and way of thinking were so akin to her father and her place as the eldest of his children, she would have been afforded the same respect and opportunity as he, but for her being born a female.
I ask her if she was a Daddy’s girl. “Oh yes, I was. I was a real Daddy’s girl. When I lost him, I didn’t even feel like he was old. That he was going to go. I felt it. I really felt it y’know. Very much. It was very hard. But what can you do? He died at an old age”
I sense her sadness and try to bring some levity to the conversation by remarking how he has set a target for her to aim at, age-wise. He lived well past ninety and at the tender age of only 78 years old, she still has plenty of time to fill. We both laugh and Daisy goes on “I think by the grace of…” she nods her head to insinuate that she will live as long as her father. “He prayed with me before he died. He put his hand on my head, prayed for me and said, ‘You will live longer than me.'”
I say to Daisy that she still has a long time to go. She confidently concludes, “Yes. Long time to go; with the grace of God I will make it. Life is great by his power. Not by my power, but by his power I will make it”.
This is the second style sketch written by guest blogger, Ritchie Foster. Here he interviews Derek, who has lived in the Catford / Ladywell area of south east London all of his life.
I sit down to interview Derek in the kitchen away from everybody else in the main room, but I can’t help being distracted as I can clearly hear Jimi Hendrix belting out ‘Hey Joe’. Sweepingly, I feel ‘Songs that won the War’ might come to most people’s minds when picturing environments like this (a supported housing scheme for older people) rather than Jimi expanding his consciousness. So it’s little nuggets such as this that break loose the expectations and make these projects stand out. At the weekend I mentioned this to my 15-year old neighbour who plays guitar. His response was, quite simply, “That’s so cool”. I think so too…I lean over and shut the door to give Derek my undivided, intending to join the party later on.
Derek is a tall man – as you can see in the photos – and a funny man. He is the sort of guy I imagine Del boy affectionately calling ‘a Diamond Geezer’. He was, is, and always will be, a proper saarf east lad, born and raised.
Not the biggest fan of school, Derek started out at Holbeach Road in Catford. I ask him about the uniform and he cackles, “I had no shoes to wear – y’know those sort of shoes you wear in the winter? I was wearing them….but it’s the summer!”
I don’t mean to laugh, but his delivery and the thought of a young Derek with shorts on, accompanied by fur-lined snow boots, gets me – I guess it’s the equivalent of someone wearing Ugg boots with shorts in the middle of summer.
I ask the obvious question: “I bet that was uncomfortable?”
Derek blows out his cheeks and rolls his eyes. But between the chuckles he states matter-of-factly, “Well, I had no choice”. His mother couldn’t afford to buy him a new pair of shoes, which was commonplace, he tells me. It’s his ‘leave your sympathies at the door’ kind of attitude that we often hear through the media has been lost.
We start talking about clothing and how fashionable Derek appears in the photos. But Derek’s fashion sense was not to everyone’s liking. The first time he met his future wife’s father, he went down like the Titanic. “He said to her; ‘Who the hell you got there?’”
Derek’s less than clean cut image of oily work boots and stained jeans caused Linda’s father to completely ignore his son-in-law to be. Derek continued dating Linda and saw her father again almost a year later. But Linda’s father did not recognise the roughneck he hadn’t wanted around his daughter. “I had my jeans and my boots on and then I just decided to become a mod”.
“Before that, you were more like a greaser?” I ask Derek.
“Yeah, a greaser I guess”.
It’s weird that I am momentarily shocked by romantic imagery of this cross-cultural re-birth. Surely that was not allowed I think. But really it’s just like everyone else’s experiences of youth when you go from one style of dress to the other; from boy-pop band to the ‘serious’ artist producing music for the soul. We all try to find ou
rselves, our place. Derek happened to flick from a sort of Teddy Boy to a Greaser by proxy and then settled on seeing himself as a Mod. But Derek couldn’t ride a scooter because of bad eyesight and he is adamant that his music of choice is, and always has been, pure rock and roll. I ask Derek if he was trying to impress the soon to be father-in-law?
“Oh no, no, no.” he protests, “I just changed!”
I give him the benefit of the doubt, and we stick with talking about the Mod period, as it is when Derek talks fondly of buying clothes.
“How did you afford the clothes?” I ask.
“Just down the road here on Algernon, there used to be a timber yard. I used to work there.”
I already know the response, but I ask, “Did you like it?”
He replies, “It’s just a job ain’t it?”
I move on. “So where do you go to buy your clothes?”
Derek says he used to go to Burton’s in Catford. “It ain’t there today. They used to have one down Lewisham, didn’t they, but that one’s not there anymore.”
He tells me how it was different to the stores of today, as he would purchase clothes that were tailored for him. “Oh yeah, you get measured up and put your order in.”
I ask Derek: “So what was your go-to outfit, describe your look?”
Derek smiles and straightens up in his chair “I never wore a tie. Just a shirt”
“Did you wear it buttoned up?” I point at my own example.
“No. Top button always open. I liked it open.” He would often wear this with a jumper. His choice of trousers was traditional, a single pleat cut.
Derek smiles when I ask ‘Like Farah’s?‘ I tell Derek that I wore the same brand as a child and remember them because of the F-monogram they had, and how I told my friends that the F stood for Foster. We both laugh and I thank Derek as I have not thought of that memory in a very, long time.
“And a smart pair of shoes,” Derek continues, “…black brogues with plain, dark socks”. His hair was cut simple, short and straight.
This clean, simple look endured with Derek. He married Linda aged twenty, sporting a jawline cut from granite. His daughter Sharon was born the same year, followed two years later by Keith. Pictures of him on the beach with the kids wouldn’t look out of place for some new, retro-band’s cover-art.
I could have touched on Derek being a ladies man, but this isn’t the ‘memoirs of a diamond geezer’. The reason I tease is to make the point that the saying ‘been there done that, and I’ve got the T-shirt’ rings true. Young people look at older people and cannot imagine they have already done it before and so have many others. I’ll just say that if there was reality TV around all those years ago, Derek would be blushing right now.
Were you wondering about the title of this piece? In my eyes Derek is simply a nice, stand-up bloke, which, using a Cockney Slang Translator, translates into: a sugar and spice stand up heap of coke. It made me smile.
Derek, I thank you.
Words and photo story by Ritchie Foster (photos reproduced with Derek’s permission)
‘Snowdrop’ says: “I have had a long, long association with beards, very pleasant.
The first one was when I was evacuated to Leonardslee and there was a fire.
He must have been one of the farmers. I woke up and he was carrying me down the stairs. He was talking to me and his beard was popping in and out of the top of his shirt. I had to touch it because I’d never seen one before…now I have to touch every one I see.
The second one was a man with shoulder length ginger curls and a big ginger beard, that really carroty red. He had to be one of the Lewins, which is the Jewish side of the family. I climbed up on his lap and he smelled different from my family.
I thought when I grew up I was going to have a beard because I loved beards – and I was so disgusted when I found out that because I was a girl I wasn’t going to be able to grow my own beard.
The gentleman in the clay tablet is Sargon of Akkad, the second king of Assyria 721 – 705 BC. His beard is rather nice, curly with ringlets.
Now that I’m making him in a clay tablet, I’m finding it really difficult to recreate the beard. I want it to be perfect.
And he’s got such a lovely nose. I do look at people’s noses too.
Many thanks to guest blogger Malika Booker, who was recently involved in beautiful conversations about adornment with Ms P, Ms E and me at Meet Me At The Albany.
That wearing of items with flair. That decorating of our body, our skin. That way we decide what we will wear each day to brighten up ourselves or our day. Then there are the objects. That ring we bought for ourselves to celebrate an occasion. There is the bracelet or the scarf that holds memories of lost family; a mother, a grandmother, a father, a friend and sometimes we wear it to honour them, to hold them close to us.
We decorate ourselves like our bodies are museums and our adornment choice is a selected exhibit. The items/ clothing/ jewellery/ object we use might have an aesthetic effect on others’ eyes, drawing audiences’ eyes like magnet, yet they have personal relevance and stories. Or there might be a story behind the choice we make on a day to day basis about our nail vanish, the putting of different garments together.
This blog post is a tribute to these decisions, whether made for emotional reasons or beauty. This is a celebration of the everyday choices of the Meet Me family. It is a magnification on our ordinary. It shouts – How beautiful are our choices and our decisions and what a variety of stories we wear and oh don’t we wear them so well.
Hugh: Great style is inbred. It sticks with you. Because of my days in the army, it’s in me. You won’t ever see me in jeans. Or brown shoes – only sergeants wore brown shoes.
In each camp there was a full length mirror and you couldn’t leave until you’d been checked over. There were different uniforms: the standard one was No. 2 Dress – it was bog standard khaki. No. 1 Dress was the same, but blue, and you’d have variations. In my regiment we had a double yellow stripe going down the trouser leg and chain-mail on our shoulders. We had to wear black velvet on our buttons and badges. This was because the colonel of the regiment was the Tzar’s cousin (Tzar Nicholas II) and we were to wear it until the Tzar’s murder was avenged.
Inner style exists…yes! In the old days as a soldier you couldn’t walk with your hands in your pockets, so soldiers had a ‘swagger stick’ which was a black ebony cane, carried under the armpit, to stop that from happening. You’re on show all the time. By looking at your uniform the public could tell who you were. Our parade dress was a ‘slashed peak’ – a peaked hat which comes down to your eyebrows. You had to look up to avoid tripping and you had to keep your head up – it gave you the image of being taller!
It affected how I felt.
In your ‘Blues’ uniform you held your shoulders back. Other regiments could see who you were. Your bearing was more erect. Everything was to maximise your impact…to the detriment of the other regiment… because of rivalry!
Sue: We decided to make things to sell. There was no definite plan in place, except we agreed that ‘nothing is wrong’. We can adapt and change things until they work.
If something doesn’t sell then we’ll alter it, for example to a plain scarf we’ll add tassels, knitted flowers or leaves, or buttons.
We respond to materials, evolving as we go along. So a small scarf might become a purse, and decorated toilet roll covers have been bought to be used as baby hats! I’m so happy that Malika bought this hat (see main photo), because it was the very first one I knitted.
Style is doing something different, something special. I love bags – I’m the bag lady! I don’t follow fashion so much, I dress for warmth and comfort: not too tight, not too long. I’m a Church Woman and there’s a dress code: modest, not too much cleavage, no sleeveless, no mini skirt, no slits in skirts. I like orange and red…colour is important. Most of my dresses have a little red in them. The colour red makes me feel good. And flowers – dresses with flowers on them. My features come from my grandmother on my father’s side. She lived in Jamaica – she was possibly from Cuba. I have a picture of her and I think I look a little like her. Interview by Chantelle Hewitt. Sketch by Sarah Bhandari (Volunteers at Meet Me At The Albany)