Jean and Ken – Ages 84 and 83

“When I married my first husband they told me to get changed and put red lipstick on so I’d look appealing when he got home. I thought ‘bugger off!’ I am glad things have changed.”

My age is 84 years old. I have been married three times. I would like to point out I never killed my husbands, they died.

My job, first and foremost, was a nuisance! I used to do office work, horribly boring. I loved ice skating – I so wanted to be an ice skater. I got through to an ice show but my parents didn’t let me do it but my friend went and toured America. About ten years later, my friend came and saw me, in a massive great American Stag (I think that was what the car was called) just to show off. So I said ‘where’s your husband?’, and she said ‘I got rid of him’. So, I said ‘you’ve got the car here’, and she said ‘well I’m going to bloody keep that.’ She didn’t realise, when she married him, that he lived up in the hills, up in the Blue Hills of Kentucky. She had to eat squirrel and stuff like that – she didn’t like it, so I was quite glad I didn’t go.

I married, I had four children: two boys and two girls. I helped my husband in the business he had. That part of life was a bit boring, actually, being a housewife. In those days – 1953 – I was married, and always they used to say things like ‘be changed when your husband comes in… put red lipstick on so you look appealing to him.’ I thought ‘bugger off!’ This was the idea of how you should look in those days. You used to ‘furnish your bottom drawer’, well your bottom drawer was stuff you were saving up for when you got married. So all little good housewives used to sit there and embroider things. Well, I couldn’t embroider to save my life! I used to take my car to pieces but that wasn’t allowed.

What I like about being retired is I can do what I want, I can say what I want and I don’t have to worry! It’s brilliant. I’m very interested in old churches. St John’s here has a marvellous history. A lot of people don’t realise that the gentleman who built this church for his workers was Jewish. One of the windows has a Star of David. There’s not many churches which have that in them. I just love people, I love meeting people.

One of my husbands was in the English National Opera. I went into the bedroom one day and found him dead. That was a bit frightening. The thing is, he had a pacemaker fitted. And the pacemaker doesn’t stop when you die. It was still going ‘pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter’.

I’ve lived in Brighton all my life – I was born a Brightonian. I don’t like Brighton now – it’s a bit of a cosmopolitan town, a very cosmopolitan town. That’s why so many students like to come here. I used to have students stay at my house, over the summer holidays. I suppose there are many amenities here.

My words of wisdom to the younger generation would be: be happy! Be happy. Life is hard enough as it is, but be happy. Be nice to your friends, don’t knock them. Shake hands with them – that bloody annoys them actually! If you go up to someone and say ‘I’m so sorry, did I hurt you?’

Being age over 50 is something that just happens!

I’m a retired compositor. I was made redundant at 59. I ended up sitting in a factory in Lewes, checking all sorts of cards for mistakes, and things like that. All my life I’ve been physical. So by the time I hit 60, I’m sitting down, just looking at cards and the mistakes on them. So I did that for the last 5 years of my working life.

My favourite part of the job was the design. You could do what you like. You looked on the advert saying ‘J Bloggs, Butcher, 34 High Street’, and you could design exactly how you want it. You can put ornaments in there if you want to. What I did do once – made a big mistake when I was an apprentice – I didn’t realise what the Star of David was, so I put in this box full of ornaments. I saw it and thought, ‘that looks pretty’ and I put it in. So when it went to be checked, they said ‘you can’t have that, that’s the Israeli state’s sign’. I was 15 at the time. I designed quite a bit as well. I liked the freedom that came with that. Then I went to magazine printing – it was a bit different then. Some of the technology I worked with there was for very advanced, for its time. For example, the keyboard operator was a spool – you put a spool on top. You could set lines and lines on it, and it came out in dots, on this spool. Then, you put it on a monotype caster, on the end of the machine – this is 1930s technology. You get rows and rows of type in there, purely from this spool. The technology all those years ago was incredible. That was with the keyboard, I wasn’t involved with it. I was a compositor – I had to re-arrange all the type.

Health and safety was non-existent then. I used to work in Jubilee St in Brighton. It’s not like it is now. There was a stables on one end. No horses in there but that’s where they used to keep all the paper, because the factory was very damp. When you got a picture or a diagram, it had to go on a mount. So you had to go and saw these mounts up with a saw, in the saw room. If it was raining, water used to pour down the walls inside, all around the electricity junction box. We’re just 15 year old kids. So, to save ourselves being electrocuted, we used to flick the switch with a piece of wood and sparks would fly everywhere. Then, to switch it off again, we did the same thing. There was tonnes and tonnes of mounts up there, in case they wanted to reprint. They overdo health and safety now, but it was really bad back then.

The thing I like most about being retired is the freedom to what I like. I don’t waste time sitting indoors. I don’t watch TV, although I do like my football. Me and Jean go out every day. There’s no stress, I just like the freedom. I can’t get bored. I feel sorry for people who are lonely, but I think they should channel their thoughts into something else. There’s not enough hours in the day!

Living in Brighton as a retired person is busy, or it was a busy place. I feel sorry for people now. I know what we’ve lost you see. Jean has been here all her life; I’ve been here since I was 13. What we had and what we haven’t got now – I don’t think young people think anything about that. They wouldn’t even know. We used to have a great Ice Hockey team. They were great. They used to play on a Thursday – 99% of them were Canadians. On Sundays, they used to have English players, used to play for a team called Sussex. My next door neighbour was a goal-minder for Sussex. He had no teeth at all. I said ‘How did you lose your teeth, Bob?’ He said, ‘The puck hit me’. You look at Ice Hockey now – they’ve got masks on and protection. But then, they had nothing.

Then, there was the Hippodrome Theatre, down Middle Street. That could be re-converted within 24 hours to a theatre, but then the bingo took it over, many years ago. All the seats were all there, they just boarded over them. So, I went in there one day, purely for memories. I asked if I could go in and look at the old period furniture. They could take up the boards today and there would be rows and rows of seats. Sammy Davis Jr played in there. These are things we lost – it’s a different world now. There’s much more to see and do now. We can’t live in the past.

There’s still the Albion, of course. In 1958, they’d never been out of the third division, and we got promoted to the Second Division, which would be The Championship now. The Premier League was Division One and the Championship was Division Two.

I had a Vespa scooter. It was a really cold day and we went all the way to Reading. I come out and looked to go and get my Vespa started. I couldn’t get it started. What we used to do, in those days was, I took it into the rail station and put it in one of the big luggage vans. So, I had to put my scooter onto the train, full of petrol – health and safety again. They transported it back to Brighton. I came back on my mate’s Lambretta; it was freezing. My fiancée at the time lived at the top of Elm Grove. I got dropped off at the bottom of Elm Grove.

My words of wisdom to young people would be; be tolerant to people. I’ve worked with some real nasty pieces of work in my time. I worked with a bloke who was never happy unless he was making somebody miserable. I worked with him a long time. I can’t even remember his name. Anyway, years later, he got made redundant as well and I met him in the Co-Op in Blatchington Road. I said to him ‘Hello Peter, how are you doing?’ and he said ‘I’m alright thanks, I’m in wines and spirits now’.