The first was a lady who escaped Nazi Germany on one of the Kindertransport trains as a girl, describing being reunited with her parents at the end of the war.
The second I met at The National Trust’s ‘Back to Back’ houses in Birmingham. This lady had grown up in a cramped, crowded house just like the ones the National Trust have, and knocked me for six when she told me that the first time she’d ever slept on her own in a bed was at the age of sixty, after the death of her husband.
And the third I met on Saturday, in the Welsh village of Fron. Malcolm Wiles was the man who’d driven and run errands for and generally helped the writer and food historian Dorothy Hartley (‘Miss Hartley’ as he always calls her) in the last years of her life there.
I’ve spent the last year, on and off, making a BBC4 programme about Dorothy Hartley (1893-1985), her magnificent book ‘Food in England’, published in 1954, and her rather odd, nomadic, creative life which took her up and down England recording lost customs, weird foods, and ancient housekeeping habits. In the picture up there I’m actually holding her own handbag, outside her house at Fron.
‘Dorothy died in 1985, and it was Malcolm who brought her body up from the house to the churchyard. I was really struck how much Malcolm and her other friends still seem to miss her.
They regret the fact that she left no children, but instead she did leave us this amazing book.
As I’ve followed Dorothy up and down the country from Yorkshire, to Leicestershire, to Suffolk, to Wales, I’ve come to appreciate how magnificently eccentric she was.
She devoted her whole life to this mad quest of capturing a lost world. And thank goodness she did, the world needs crazy, passionate people like Dorothy.
There’s just one final piece to add to the picture: a home movie, showing her doing what she loved to do: working in the garden, and digging up potatoes for dinner.’
And the movie of Dorothy in the garden will play over the closing credits.