Last night was our first general meeting for the Jubilee WI and there alongside almost 100 like minded women, I felt utterly proud to belong to an organisation that has been running for close to 100 years. To be serving tea through a hatch from an over-sized brown enamel tea pot into those very same Woods Ware green tea cups my beloved Grandma adored, made me wish that I could be pouring her a cup of "Windsor Soup" and "just showing it the milk".
As part of the fantastic first refreshment team, I felt truly privalaged to be grouped together with such lovely women. There were scrumptious cakes galore and mouthwatering savouries and my offerings did not look out of place. It was in fact a pleasant change to have my domestic science achievements valued and complimented unlike the way they are usually ravished and demolished as if under attack from a swarm of locust.
There were also the talks by two lovely and experienced WI advisors and although I appreciate the necessity of reading the minutes from the formation meeting, it did not capture my imagination and heart the way the speech on the history of the WI by Jill Bexon did. It is the love that a mother has for her child, that unites women the world over and for this reason the heavy weight of loosing a child is a pain that never lifts. The moment I heard that Adelaide Hoodless, one of the founders of the WI, had lost her own son after feeding him contaminated milk, the grief that darkened so many of my days, cast that familiar shadow over my soul. However Adelaide used her tragic loss to educate, inspire and empower women. She was a true domestic crusader whose austere and starched appearance cannot disguise the kind hearted mother whose sorrow would have remained a constant throughout her life.
The jam aspect of the Women's Institute was one of the key reasons for me wanting to join. I am a jam maker and of the opinion that you can't really go wrong with fruit and sugar. An institute based on it's reputation for making preserves, is certainly my cup of tea. The Jerusalem connection had never really triggered my curiosity until last night, when there was a vote on how often it should be sung. Jill Bexon's explanation was that it was as good a song as any at the time to represent the ideals of the WI and was a much better option that one that began with something about a band of merry women. I am most intrigued about the line referring to "dark Satanic Mills" and the inference to the industrial revolution's destruction of the English landscape. There's also its association with the fight for women's suffrage. Most of all though Jerusalem reminds me of when my Great Auntie Joyce Ridgeway Hartwright (the inspiration for my blog's name) would babysit for us and sing her heart out to it during the last night of the proms.