Having a cup of tea at his parents’ house in London, photographer Jason Wilde discovered a used envelope with a handwritten note on the back. This simple message from his mother Vera to his father John – with instructions for the evening’s dinner – was the catalyst for a decade-long project. Without Vera’s knowledge (but with the help of his dad), Wilde started collecting and photographing the handwritten notes. ‘I didn’t tell my mum because she’d have played to the crowd,’ Wilde has said, admitting that his mother’s upbringing and background led to her ‘seeing and seeking humour in most situations’.
From the doctor’s to the dentist’s to a trip to Romford to buy a wig, Vera’s everyday comings and goings are now the subject of a book Vera & John. Married for over 53-years, the couple have always lived together on the same Somers Town council estate and there’s an element of social history to the project that resonates with me. Vera worked in a couple of factories and then took on part-time cleaning work after having three children, while John (a northerner, born in Cumbria) worked for British Rail. Their story is not dissimilar to my parent’s working class backgrounds – and, as with my family, ‘what’s for dinner’ is always a prominent theme:
Vera & John contains 43 letters and provides a wonderful snapshot of the couple’s life together. Although John, 78, who was in on the project right from the start, is feeling quite pleased with himself; Wilde admits that Vera, 76, is still coming round to the idea. ‘She does have a great sense of fun but feels a little bashful about the book. It’s a cultural thing – neither of my parents like to be the centre of attention and mum’s especially self-conscious about her spelling and grammar. Every time she looks at a copy, she reads a note or two, gets embarrassed and laughs.’ Though, if she’s anything like my mum, I’m sure Vera Wilde is secretly delighted.
And even though they now have mobile phones, it’s still the back of the envelope for Vera & John.