Jolene asked us to picture someone from our past, asking us about our lives since we last saw them, a long time ago.  What would we say to them?  In the break out rooms, she asked us to share our responses, and also to discuss what drew us to the Stories of our Lives group.  What do we gain from being part of it?  What do, or can, we give to others?  What do we want to say about ourselves in the “About us” section of our blog site?

Tony Goulding

A photograph of Tony as a young man, wearing a flat cap with a rucksack on his back, standing on the deck of a ship leaving a harbour.
A picture of a young me!

After working in a variety of jobs I am now enjoying my retirement.  For 20+ years I was a dining area host at McDonalds on Barlow Moor Road, in which capacity I ran many hundreds of children’s parties.  Prior to that I worked in London in a Civil Engineers Office of British Rail.  

A yellow British Rail van in a car park outside a single story wooden building, with open windows and a corrugated roof.

Also, on my C.V. are spells as a perfume porter at Lewis’s in Piccadilly (Manchester) and employment at David Morgan’s store in Cardiff, where I was appointed “King of the Gents Ties” for a brief time.

A street view of David Morgan's store in Cardiff. There are furled Union Jacks on flag posts outside the shop front and an entrance to the Morgan Arcade.  There are cars from the 1970s parked outside.

I have always had a commitment to charity/ community work and have worked for varying lengths of time in a school for troubled boys (then termed “mal-adjusted”) in Essex and latterly as a volunteer/ casual worker at a drop-in centre for the homeless, run by the Probation Service, on Canal Street, Manchester. I have now been working as a volunteer at Oxfam on Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy for 8 years.

I have intermittently enjoyed writing over the years so this community writing project “ticked a few boxes” of interest for me.

I have not been disappointed; indeed, during the last, very challenging, year it has been a veritable lifeline. The meetings on Zoom provided a vital focal point as the days all tended to merge into each other a la Groundhog Day. The opportunity to be creative and the gentle prompting / encouragement to contribute is something I highly value.

A conversation with Nury Marvi by Joe Sykes

Nury was born and brought up in Tehran, Iran. But when his two sons, Amir and Ali, were teenagers, they were no longer safe in the country they called home and Nury and his wife, Guity, decided to get their sons out of the country for their own safety.  They met with another father from their sons’ school to make a plan to allow their children to flee. Nury and the other father accompanied the three boys on the first step of the journey: out of the Iranian capital to Iranshahr in the south east of the country.  Local people were suspicious of them, asking what they were there for; Nury lied for their safety, saying they were simply seeking work.

The smugglers came in a small Citroën and loaded the boys into the back.  Nury had to pay them 3000 dollars per son, a huge sum of money.  Nury bid the boys farewell, and put his faith in the smugglers to get his sons to safety.

Nury and Guity first received news three days later, when they were finally able to talk with their sons on the phone.  They had made it out of the country to Karachi in Pakistan.  Two days later, Amir and Ali paid a guard to let them board a flight to Turkey.  In Turkey they had two options: onwards to Yugoslavia or Portugal.  On Nury’s advice, they opted for Portugal, where they then lived for almost a decade, after which they moved to Manchester, where Nury and Guity had been living for four years.

Nury has lived in Chorlton for 33 years now.  Amir still lives nearby (in Bramhall) but Ali now lives in Valencia.  Sadly, Guity died in 2016, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  Nury describes the NHS doctors and nurses who cared for her as ‘angels’, and notes that eight of the nurses even came to Guity’s funeral.

Nury lives a very active life.  He completes a home exercise routine each day and loves to go shopping and to cafés and restaurants when it is possible.  He also loves to travel, including to visit friends and relatives in Germany, something he is looking forward to doing again in the future.

The Saturday morning Zoom sessions with Stories of our Lives have become a real source of “joy and happiness” for him; something I wholeheartedly agree with.

Pauline Omoboye

A painting of three black women wearing necklaces and patterned skirts (one blue, one turquoise and one red) on a bright yellow background.  One is holding a red basket on her head, one a dark blue jug and the other an African headress to match her red skirt.
One of my encaustic art paintings
 It’s all about me.
 I want to tell you about me
 The real person that I am
 I was born in 1958
 My parents from the Caribbean. 
 My mum and dad sailed the big ships
 Left the sunshine from where they came
 Dad vowed he would lay down his roots 
 In the family name. 
 Pauline is the name I was given
 Alongside me was my twin
 MY parents so proud they grinned from ear to ear 
 My brother and I fit right in. 
 I was born in Moss Side in Manchester
 In a house so big lots of space 
 Our lodgers came from overseas
 MY life full of comfort and grace. 
 MY primary school days were in Salford 
 MY secondary school in Moss Side
 It’s there I put pen to paper
 It’s where my poetry came alive. 
 My words I consider quite lyrical 
 It gives an insight into my life 
 Telling stories of many injustices
 MY words often cut like a knife. 
 A mother of four a grandmother of eight
 They are my inspiration
 I love to write and share my words with every generation. 
 So cast your eyes over my writing 
 Sit back, relax and take heed and I hope you will agree with me
 My words are a really good read. 
 (c) Pauline Omoboye  
A photograph of a young black woman with a short hairstyle, holding a sleeping baby resting on her neck.
My mother’s passport photo
  24th December 1956
 She came to this land ‘56
 She sailed the ship for weeks
 Left a homeland and her family
 For riches she did seek
 Followed a husband to a country
 For a future she could not predict
 To a land of ‘milk and honey’
 She was made to suffer it
 She came with a tiny baby
 Six weeks old, lay in her arms
 To a land so cold and lonely
 Nothing to protect her from all harms
 To a house with many strangers
 In a room fit for a pig
 But she made this place a home
 And raised her kid
 And like all the wives before her
 She soon found a factory job
 And woke in the early hours
 Just to earn a few measly bob
 Left her kid with a unworthy minder
 Set out at the crack of dawn
 And with fifteen others in a minibus
 They would travel until morn
 The conditions they were treacherous
 And although she did despair
 She came to make some money
 Just enough to pay the fare
 And send for the son she left behind
 No money to bring him on the boat
 And every time she mentioned his sweet name
 It brought a lump to her throat.
 She came to fend for her family
 Left behind in that beautiful land
 Where the sun shone and reflected
 Its beams amongst the sand
 Where the sea so blue in shimmered
 And rippled laughter in its depths
 She came and barely whispered and often wept.
 Many a tear she shed in silence
 And every two years she bore a child
 She cooked, she cleaned, and she polished
 Worked all the hours that God sent
 But hard work and perseverance
 Paid off in the end
 She came
 She saw 
 She conquered
 She’s my mother and my friend.
 © Pauline Omoboye

Mark Taylor

At the time I first heard about Stories of Our Lives, I would have liked to think of myself as a community-spirited writer—never mind that I had barely written in years, and could count the people I knew in my community on one hand without putting my tea down.  I had spent almost a decade stuck in London, where community is hard to find even if the city agrees with you (which it very much did not).  I had spent who knows how long with awful mental health that, until recently, I had failed to acknowledge, blaming myself for the effects on my ability to write or be social (and in doing so, making both harder still).  I had an eight-month- old son who, while objectively the best thing ever to have existed, was not a catalyst for productive hours at the keyboard or for meeting anyone other than fellow vomit-spattered new parents.

So, Stories of Our Lives seemed custom-made to give me what I needed—a better opportunity than I could have devised myself.  It might have been coincidence, or it might have been Jolene spying on the residents of south Manchester and devising bespoke interventions for each of them (this seems like the kind of thing she might do).  I think the truth is rather simpler: this group is so rich, in so many different things that nurture the heart, that it can feel perfectly fitted to very different people.  That is one of the things I have loved about the project since it first began: everyone I meet there, and everyone I talk to about it, is full of enthusiasm and excitement and joy, but all for their own reasons.

As for my own reasons, Stories of Our Lives did just what I hoped it would: got me writing again, and helped me feel a part of the place I am still making my home.  It helped me to find my feet—just in time for the pandemic to sweep them out from under me again.  Still, it’s easier to bounce back from being knocked down than when you’re on the floor to begin with, and now that the idea of fitting in anything at all alongside work, childcare and worry seems at least faintly possible, I’m so glad to be back.  I hope I can help the group be for others all that it has been for me.

Jean Thompson

During the pre-session Jolene asked us to think about what we would tell a person from our past, who we hadn’t seen for a long time, but who had played an important part of our past life.

However, in the break out group with Babs and Ellie we were so engrossed in talking about how we had come to the group, and what it all meant to us, that any discussion about anything else was not possible.  That did not matter though, as the discussion we had was enjoyable and illuminating.

We had come to the group by different routes.  I had been part of the original project with Chorlton Good Neighbours, and had enjoyed my involvement so much I wanted to continue. As I have said elsewhere, I was so impressed with the stories I was privileged to hear from people who invariably initially had said they would have nothing of interest to say, and in the end had so much of value to say.  I wanted to continue to talk to people through this blog, and it continues to be such a happy experience.

I shared that I was actually born in Middlesex and had moved to Manchester when I was seven. I very much regard myself and am proud to be identified as a Mancunian, and regard my birth in the South as an unfortunate circumstance!  Similarly, during the first eight years of marriage we moved to five different towns with my husband’s work and career, but moving back to Manchester was something of a “Red Letter” Day, and the years away regarded as a character-building exercise but one I was happy to dispense with, although I have kept some friends from some of the places we lived, and not all memories are bad.  For instance, both my children were born in Bangor, North Wales, so that was obviously a good time.

One of the things I value from the group now is that we are all from different age groups and life experiences but we enjoy and respect everyone’s stories, and it is often the case that the differences are not as important as our common experiences.  In sharing and being open about their experiences everyone contributes equally in their own way, and hopefully we all contribute in turn by listening and appreciating.

Margaret Kendall

In my imagination, I’m sitting on a bench on Blackburn Station.  As a young child, I remember the station from family visits to my father’s parents.  I liked to be held up to see the large model ship in a glass case advertising the Isle of Man Steam Packet company.  I picture my Grandmother as she was then, smiling at me, and asking me how I am now.  “We’re all OK,” I tell her, “we’re lucky that none of our family has had coronavirus.”  I don’t remember her talking about the influenza pandemic after the First World War, but it must have been hard for her, following on from the anxiety of her husband and brothers being away fighting, caring for her young daughter, and pregnant with my father.  “We’re staying safe and keeping in touch more than usual.”  What would she have made of Zoom and everything else we can now do online!   It would be as strange for her to come into my present as it would be for me to step back into her experiences of the Blackburn “lockdown” of 1919/20. 

Apart from my Irish great-grandparents, I can see on one page of a road atlas where all my ancestors lived in Lancashire!   My mother was from St Helens and I moved with my parents and siblings from Blackburn to Nelson when I was two.  My grandmother joined us when I was eleven, I remember her waving me off from the house when I left for Birmingham University at 18.   I’ve lived in Manchester for forty-one years now, mostly in Whalley Range or Chorlton.  I had a very satisfying career, and am now enjoying retirement with my partner in our lovely home and garden.  I’m glad to have more time to meet new people and contribute to my local community.  In September 2019, I was enthralled by the presentation of the Stories of our Lives project at the Chorlton Arts and Book Festival, and keen to volunteer for the next phase.   I enjoy our shared reflections and stories, our writing afterwards, and my role in editing and creating the blog posts.  We’re learning a lot on this journey together.   

Ellie Child

A photograph of Ellie sitting on a bench besides a garden fence with a takeaway cup of coffee.  She is smiling at the camera.  She is wearing blue dungarees over a grey jumper and trainers.  There are autumn leaves on the grass around her.

Like Margaret, I fell completely in love with the Stories of Our Lives project at the Chorlton Arts and Book Festival in 2019. I had recently relocated to Manchester for a master’s degree and, with all my friends now many miles away, I jumped at the chance to make some new ones.

Nevertheless, I was absolutely terrified when I turned up to my first meeting in the guise of ‘Writer’. Why on earth would a complete stranger want to share their memories and experiences with me? What could I possibly have to offer in return? Surely, no retelling of mine could do justice to the richness of a first date, a most-coveted childhood meal, or the way someone felt upon first reading a now-beloved book…

Those questions and more were quickly and very happily answered as, over tea and biscuits, I settled in to listen to a group of stalwart Stories of Our Lives members reflecting on how rewarding previous sessions had been, and how much they were looking forward to another opportunity to mine their own and each other’s personal histories for all kinds of gems.

So, at the start of this year, it was wonderful to be able to reflect on how far we have come as a group and what my own journey has been since that first meeting in 2019. Twice a month on a Saturday morning, without even leaving the house, we have travelled backwards in time, forwards in confidence, and upwards, as in vaulting certain pandemic-shaped obstacles.

A particular joy for me has been finding so much in common with people who have lived wildly different lives to mine, spanning different eras and often in different parts of the world. Certain things, it seems, traverse any number of apparent boundaries: love of Victoria Wood, the phrase “If the wind changes, you’ll stick like that!”, a mad dash to the airport.

Another delight has been discovering, and learning how to share, my own yarns – stories which I might never have recognized as such without a prompt from Jolene, or Margaret, or Tony, or Babs. My hope is that here, on the blog, our tales can inspire others to embark on similar journeys, whether with us or their own loved ones, and that the experience is as rewarding for them as it has been for me thus far.

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