Service with a smile

My mother was a member of the WVS, as it was in those days; later it was upped to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service; ie WRVS and men were admitted anyway, even if they were only credited as honorary women.

When I was a child, I often went with her to do Meals on Wheels and the Library Round. In the early 1960s, the meals were provided by the canteen at the Fish Market in Lowestoft. You had to have a pass to go there, and the big, flat containers had a layer of, I think, heated charcoal, to keep the tins of food hot while you drove round for a couple of hours to deliver them all.

Lowestoft was split into two delivery rounds: north and south. Each area had two deliveries a week. One was Tuesday and Thursday and I think the other was Wednesday, and Friday. I know that Wednesday was right, anyway. My mother was in charge of the rota and, as there were about 25 houses to deliver to, it made sense to have two people at a time to do the round. She didn’t, usually, she managed alone apart from me – but, looking back, she was very capable of doing the work of two anyway. But it was quite a complicated rota to set up. I’ve done it too, in a much more limited way, in this village. In theory, people are asked to manage their own swap if they’re going on holiday or just can’t manage their day, but they’re actually more likely to shove it back to you at a day’s notice when they suddenly notice they can’t manage it. So my mum and I did a lot of extra cover at short notice.

The meals were very good, actually. They came in tiffin tins, best way of describing them, one for the main course and one for the pudding. There would be meat, potatoes, at least two vegetables and gravy, and the pudding would have custard. It was good – and I do mean good – plain food and I don’t remember any grumbles about the quality.

I knew all the back streets of Lowestoft in those days, though I don’t any more because the new roads have cut through the old ones. I remember some council-built old people’s bungalows near St Margaret’s Church. We delivered to a few people there and their rent included heating, which was centrally controlled and kept at a high temperature. It was not unusual to find all the windows and doors open, because the hardy people of Lowestoft couldn’t cope with the heat that the social services people thought the thermostat should be set at (bad grammar alert there; but who on earth would say ‘ at which the thermostat should be set?).

4 comments on “Service with a smile

  1. Scarlet

    I remember seeing meals on wheels being delivered, and I asked my mum about it. It made me feel comforted that people were being looked after – pity they don’t do it so much these days.
    Having someone else control my thermostat would drive me potty!!

    1. Z Post author

      The bungalows were really hot and a lot of those people had previously been farmworkers, fisherfolk or factory workers – used to hard work in chilly conditions. Some of them felt stifled, especially in the dry atmosphere of central heating that they had never been used to.

  2. Blue Witch

    Meals on Wheels no longer exist in most counties.

    Political decision in the case of my former county. Outsourced to a private firm who lasted a couple of years before declaring it unprofitable and asked the Council to subsidise. Which was refused, on the grounds that anyone could get Wiltshire Foods and similar frozen ready meals.

    Carers are now frequently giving old people meals that are not hot enough as the lunchtime carers don’t have time to get a frozen meal cooked through, and the evening ones forget to take meals out for the next day.

    Plus, meals on wheels is so much more than a meal, isn’t it? The importance of some human contact to people who often live alone is something that the politicians completely fail to understand.

    1. Z Post author

      No, it doesn’t here either. There are several private firms that deliver in the area though, freshly cooked hot food, so not everyone has to rely on frozen stuff. One local cafe has also been doing meals during lockdown, to be picked up or delivered, to help those who usually can get out but have been isolating.


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