…I remember I was finally getting the hang of French at that time. I also inscribed Carran W. Private. Keep Out! Unlike most secret boxes it doesn’t lock. Around this time, I recall keeping secret diaries, writing to television stars I became fixated on and all kinds of adolescent dreamings one does. I needed somewhere to keep this stuff, so the box was useful for that but really a give-away because it had no lock. I imagine that was how my sister managed to sneak a peek into my diaries.
Some of the things you will find inside are Christmas present wrapping paper from the last present I received from my Grandma Waterfield, when I was 14; a torn piece of paper with a list of signatures of my Junior School teachers. I adored Junior School. The piece of paper is from a book prize I received. I don’t know what happened to the book! There is also an autograph book full of autographs of actors who performed at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry where I was an usherette from the age of 15.
Also, in the box is my first lipstick – Outdoor Girl’s Pink Whimsy, which I got into trouble from my dad for using when he caught me putting it on and plucking my eyebrows. Other items are 18th birthday cake decorations and my Godiva Harriers Training Ticket for the Butts Stadium on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We were quite a sporty family and I used to sprint the 100 metres quite fast.”
The China Tea Set from “The Far East”
“This tea set was given to my mum as a wedding present from my dad, as I recall. He brought it back from his tours in the Navy when he served in the “Far East” as he would say. He served in the ‘clear up’ working on destroyers and mine sweepers just at the end of the Korean War (1953-1955) and was stationed in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai sailing the China Seas around Japan and Korea on HMSs: Tyne, Terror, Magicienne, Tamar and Cockade. I think he also brought one back for his mum, Grandma Waterfield. I’m sure there were two in the family. It is gold plated and has a Geisha Girl image embossed at the bottom of the cups, which you can see if you hold it up to the light. We only ever used this tea set at home.
When I was young when my Dad’s sisters came for Sunday tea. Auntie Gwen was one of the sisters who would visit with her husband Uncle Ken and sometimes this would coincide with my other Aunties Nora and Marjory, with their respective husbands Uncle Stan and Uncle Sid. I recall my mum and Auntie Pat, who was married to my dad’s youngest brother, having a joke about getting out the posh tea set for the Aunties.
My impression of my Dad’s siblings in those days meant that I saw them belonging to three sections: the posh ones, the not so posh and the not at all posh. It depended where you lived in Coventry how ‘posh’ you were. Dad had four sisters and three brothers. It was important to get out the elegant tea set for the posh Aunties. That class thing runs deep, I think. Everything was served politely in these beautiful cups and saucers. Our family lived on a council estate and my elegant Auntie Gwen lived in what we knew as the poshest part of Coventry where you would feel that if you managed to live there, you had arrived! They seemed to be very sensible and loving people with a strong sense of what was right and proper. My Auntie Gwen reminded me of the smell of Pears Soap. I stayed at her house once overnight when my mum was giving birth to my sister, Mandy. I remember using the Pear’s soap in their beautiful house in Delaware Road. I slept in the same bed as my cousin, Jo, who pretended to be dead, as a trick. I tried it out on my sister and also pretending to talk in my sleep and make up things. Acting ‘mad’! Auntie Gwen and Uncle Ken always gave me books for birthdays and Christmas. I remember they gave me A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. I always felt safe when they came to visit.
We lived near Bell Green, Coventry and our tea if it was weak was referred to as Bell Green tea (weaker tea) by my other ‘not so posh’, Auntie Freda. I remember learning about making good tea for a large group of people – six spoons and one for the pot. My Grandma knew how to make good tea and when doing her shopping when she came to live near us, I was always amazed that she got through a quarter of tea in a week.
My aunties didn’t always come for Sunday tea. I recall them coming on a Friday evening once. Friday evening was always sweets and pop night. I used to make paper money and sell the pop and sweets to my brothers and sisters and when Auntie Gwen and Uncle Ken came around one Friday and they were also roped into the game as well. She was good at playing along. The pop and sweets shop session always ended with a little play or performance we would do for the guests. We had a laugh. I remember my dad not being there on Fridays, he was out at the club and I remember really wanting him to be there to join in.
My Dad, the apple of his sisters’ eyes, loved the Navy. He went in in 1949 and came out when he married my mum and I was on the way in 1956. My parents met at HMS Eagle – a dry dock in Derry in Northern Ireland. Dad married in his uniform and my cousin, the one who faked being dead, was their bridesmaid. Dad lived his life as if he was always in the Navy.
He spent a lot of time at his Navy Club (the RNA) where he was the Entertainments Secretary and also eventually the chairman. The club was his life and he took much responsibility in the 1970s for it being established in its own premises in Coventry. Then it went “down the nick” as he would say and came up on money problems, so it closed down. However, throughout his life he maintained the social club spirit continuing the activities in temporary premises. He turned out every Remembrance Sunday, often as the standard bearer. I often performed at the club using a guitar one of his mates brought back from Spain. My dad died in 2009 and it was a deep sorrow to me to lose him. I made a performance called Little Blue Man all about his life and what he meant to me. We had a proper Naval send off for him and I wrote a poem drawing on his love of the sea and his warnings about going too near the edge and the power of the sea that can draw you in.”
The Stone Baby – an object from My Sister, My Angel
“This large stone, which weighs 16lbs, was stolen from the grounds of the University of Warwick (Canley Campus) in 1996 when my theatre company was resident there. It was the main player in my one woman show My Sister, My Angel. It represented my baby sister Melanie who was born in December 1970 and died in January 1971. Melanie was a Spina Bifida baby and contracted Meningitis as a result of an operation she had to repair her spine, but which subsequently caused her death.
In the play I tell the story of a woman who gives birth to a stone and has to surrender it to a tree mother whose roots are anchored in the sea. The tree mother wants the baby back because she said she really belongs to her and only on loan so to speak to the woman who gave birth to her. The woman wants to keep the child, so they make a pact. The woman is allowed to keep the child for four seasons on the understanding that she weaves a coat for the child out of the fruit, blossoms, bark and leaves of the tree mother and then she must place the child wearing the coat at the tree mother’s roots. The pact is kept when the woman and her baby together jump into the sea seeking the roots of the tree mother. Obviously neither returns.
The play explores the three weeks my sister lived and the turmoil at home and my mum’s subsequent depression. I became the mum in our house during that time and recall never allowing my feelings to get the better of me but hardening up in order to cope, even falling out with a neighbour who was trying to help but I insisted I was coping fine with everything. It was a traumatic time for our family and eventually signalled the end of my mum and dad’s relationship. I would say this splitting has informed my creative life and driven my practice; I think.
Some of my performance work has been autobiographical and I have drawn on family histories and stories knitting them with mythologies and fairy tales that have given the personal a more epic feeling. Our dog, a lovely little Lakeland Terrier called Sid died too around that time. His dog tag was also kept in the secret box. I made the play in 1996 as a way of helping my mum to come to terms with this loss which had so dominated her life. I don’t think you ever get over losing a child like that.
It was cathartic for her and for me and I think for our family. My dad also saw it and contributed to the research, as did my brother. There is a scene in the play about the funeral and I imagine Melanie’s funeral which none of us kids went to and I recall my brother being very upset about that. The aunties and the uncles I imagine went to the funeral – you know that feeling that the adults are in on something that you don’t quite understand.”
Extract from Mum’s Adoption Papers in an “archive box” from The House.
“I have become a little obsessed with family history over the years I think mainly due to not knowing very much about my mum’s family from a very young age. I had adopted grandparents, ordinary grandparents and Nana-in-Hospital. Like most people who pursue family trees it takes you on long journeys. Some of the most exciting and heart-rending journeys have been to Suffolk and Cambridgeshire where my Mum’s story emerges.
I had known since the aged of 9 that mum grew up in a children’s home and was “born in a workhouse”. I told this story through Looking For The Tallyman in 1998 and it was widely covered in a Guardian feature as part of an Edinburgh Festival trip. However, the most interesting and staggering information has come about most recently, when I was commissioned to make a piece of work on performance and poverty returning to the workhouse story and mum’s ancestry. I had become a bit more expert at digging into records and digging deeper by visiting records offices and pursuing the right to information.
It took a lot of trouble to get mum’s papers and when we finally did, I learned some of the truth behind my mum’s story. Her dad was an airman during the war and a canvasser, or tallyman, as they called them before the war. He had been pursued for payment for mum’s upkeep throughout her years as a minor, while she was in the children’s home, and then fostered. I learned that his business around mum’s birth had gone bust and that he had married someone else who must have been around at the time my Nana became pregnant. I learned he remarried during the war.
I was able to obtain his service papers and I was also able to contact his family and was given a photograph by my mum’s half-sister, a lovely woman to whom the revelations were a huge shock, I think. Unfortunately, my mum’s dementia had developed too far for her to thoroughly understand the discoveries, so in effect sadly I was too late. However, the most revealing aspects contained within the adoption documents were references to family mental health problems on my Nana’s side. I was able to pursue this information and obtain medical records from St Audry’s Hospital near Woodbridge through Suffolk County Records Office and these revealed some very sad background stories in my Harvey ancestral line and particularly the difficulties my Nana-in-Hospital had experienced due to the stigmatisation, and I imagine, the trauma of the First World War and its effect on her and her mother.
I learned how she took responsibility for the family missing a lot of school when she was very young because her mother was suffering mental stress and was in St Audry’s, hospital as was her elder sister. Eventually my Nana also went to the hospital for a long, long time, due to stress it seems and hallucinations.
This relationship with institutions must have deeply affected her because it seems she was in and out of the mental hospital for many years and when Mum came along, she obviously couldn’t cope with looking after her so gave her up to the authorities. I later learned from reading the adoption papers that she had tried to make a fresh start in 1948 which would have been the time when the Welfare State came about and this was a crucial time in her life when she “got out” and tried to make a go of life outside the hospital but came back suffering a nervous breakdown, having been overworked in the job she had gone to. She remained at St Mary’s Hospital in Tattingstone until 1968 when she was moved to a sheltered scheme in Halesworth.
I met her once, but I wrote to her often. Re-visiting the story led me to a local historian in Tattingstone who lives in the refurbished old workhouse in what was the laundry that Nana worked in at St Mary’s. It was the strangest feeling standing in her kitchen and sensing my Nana’s presence.”
Someone Else’s Teeth
Carran adores her husband, Richard Talbot, but she does have to share him with his alter ego, a clown called Dr Kurt Zarniko. She says he has brought her joy and laughter through their many years together. They met at the Cambridge Festival of physical Theatre and have been together since. Listen to Carran’s Memorablia box to find out why Richard has lent her his teeth….
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