Ep01: Loving Too Much
Portrait of Joyce taken on film, 2017. Copyright ©Sophie Polyviou.
Joyce was brought up by ‘a lovely, lovely mum’ who had sadly lost her first two children. Now a great-grandmother, Joyce describes her worries and love for her own babies.
Interviews and editing: Rosa Schling
Music: Luke Christie
Photograph: Sophie Polyviou
Kindly funded by the Gilda Street Trust in memory of historian and author Gilda O'Neill.
Joyce: I was talking the other day about my mum sitting me on the table, showing me how to tie a bow in a shoe, and I can remember her telling me how to tell the time by five past, ten past. Lovely, lovely mum.
My name is Joyce and I’ve lived most of my life in Custom House. I was born in 1929 and I’m 88.
Rosa: I’m Rosa Schling, I’m a new parent, and I’ve been recording memories of childcare and parenting in London’s East End. This is Holding the Baby, an On the Record podcast.
How old do you think you were when you went out to play in the streets?
My mum didn’t let me go out, not until I started school when I was about four and a half.
Was there anyone keeping an eye on you when you were out there or?
I used to have one of my brothers or sisters with me. Wasn’t allowed to wander off. My mum used to want to know where we was.
And you did what you were told?
Always or did you sometimes break the rules?
No, I knew.
You said your mum and dad were both lovely with you. How do you think they learnt to be parents?
[pause] My mum lost her first two babies. And they were 18 months old. She lost one, then she had another baby and she lost that baby. So it made her, my mum, a little bit hard, not hard that, I can’t explain it. She seemed as though she didn’t want to love us too much. Do you know what I mean? But she was a lovely mum. And I don’t think she ever got over losing them two babies.
And when she had the twins, one was a boy and one was a girl, we all had dark hair but Shirley, the girl [twin] she had blonde hair and blue eyes like my mum. My mum used to say ‘God sent my baby back’. Never forgot that.
Do you know what happened to her first two babies?
I think one had septicaemia [music starts], my mum never used to speak about it much. And I don’t really know what the second one died of. But I know that she had a nervous breakdown afterwards.
My dad was a seaman at the time you see, and he was away when, I couldn’t be sure if it was the first or the second one died. And when he came home from sea he was saying to my mum ‘Where’s the baby, where’s the baby?’ Of course there was no phones or anything then and she had to tell him that the baby was dead. Because there was no way she could have told him, not then.
[Music changes tone]
So when your first baby did come along, what was that like then?
Yeah? None of your fears were –
Yeah, I used to get frightened over silly little things, you know. I’d go round my mums and say ‘so and so’ and my mum used to put me straight.
I did suffer with my nerves at the time and I thought perhaps, what if I did something wrong? Because I didn’t live with my mum, I lived with my mother-in-law. And if a health visitor came to see my Jackie she used to say ‘Out! Get out’ right away.
I found my Jackie was only a couple of months, if she was a couple of months and she was giving her tea to drink. I wouldn’t row with her because I had to live there, and I used to say to George ‘Tell your mum to stop giving her tea. She’s not to have tea.’
I just bought them up like our mum bought us up really.
How would you keep them entertained?
Well I used to be going round my mums, and they used to play out in the garden. All of us. That’s why we’re so close now you see.
So how have you found being a grandmother?
A great-grandmother. I’ve got four beautiful grandchildren.
Did you support your daughters when they were pregnant and having their babies?
I did look after Holly when she was a week old. I couldn’t sleep and she was in a pram and I sat on the settee all night watching her in case something happened because I was so frightened. I was so frightened something was going to happen to her and I was so tired and I kept on looking and making sure she was alright. And I said to Jackie ‘I don’t think I can do that anymore Jack!’ [laughs]
Because my babies used to be next to me in a cot and if they made a noise I was there, but oh, with Holly, oh, terrified. See you love them so much your grandchildren. I know you love your children, but your grandchildren you love them so much that its frightening sometimes. But when I think of anything happening to them, you know. I never thought I would be like that but I am.
I love too much.
[music and end credits].