These four mono-prints were a direct, quick response to working at the Malabar Community Centre, Cornwall for one week on an residency project. During this week photographer John Jacobs, film-maker Brett Harvey and myself attempted to untangle the history of the Malabar council estate, nr Truro, by interacting and talking to the people who live there. Some have lived in Malabar since the estate was built some sixty years ago, others have only been there for a short time, both had interesting points of view.
The experience of this residency was bittersweet. I found that giving myself up fully to a time and place that no longer exists, no matter how admirable its qualities and how rewarding these hazy memories were, I found them constricting and paralysing. The weight of the collective memories rendered me unable to work or think in the present. The nostalgia (1) became crippling and by the end of the week one I felt ill with it and wanted to be back in the present and thinking about the future. Nostalgic thinking was a force that complicated, rather than simplified, the memories were too vast to be able to focus on one thing alone.
Like all council estates Malabar has had many famous characters, but one person in particular was mentioned by visitors to the community centre time and time again. Young or old, everyone seemed to remember Mildred Pascoe (aka Millie). Millie was an old woman (probably in her 70s when I was growing up in the 1980s) who lived at number 88 Cornish Crescent. Her flat was full of rubbish, cats and rotten food. She had a broad Cornish accent, wore a long brown coats, wooly hats and NHS glasses and was always seen carrying plastic shopping bags. She was known for speaking her mind and losing her temper. She loved cats and young children, and would stop and enquire about the wellbeing of other Malabar residents, always remembering children's names. Unfortunately these children where to grow up and taunt her. (I myself was caught swearing, and throwing coke cans, at her). When Millie lost her temper her voice altered into something quite terrifying; she sounded like a preacher from America's deep South delivering a fire and brimstone sermon. When really pushed, her deep voice would break into a shrill scream, her head would fly backwards and her arms would jerk upwards.
I wish I could tell you more about Millie's story, but from what I've learned this week it seems tragic and harrowing. During my week at the centre I learned that she was born in a Truro workhouse (Union Hill) and was taken in by a retired Major after her mother died young. The Major employed Millie as a housekeeper. When he died it seems she was rehoused by the council in Malabar. Millie said that she was sexually abused by the Major, and she recounted this to many people. I don't know what Millie's specific psychological or medical diagnosis was, although some people suggest that one illness may have been dementia or Alzheimer's. Millie apparently ended up being taken to St Lawrence's hospital, a specialist psychiatric unit in Bodmin, in the 1990s, where she stayed until her death.
Millie found herself placed in a community that was unable to help or fully sympathise with her. The community repeatedly asked the council for her to be removed, but it seems that neither Millie or the people she lived alongside were given adequate support or help. In my opinion the system failed Mildred. Everyone still talks about her and people visiting the centre told me that there was genuine sorrow when she died. I felt the collective guilt surrounding her mythology, perhaps this is my own guilt being projected, but I've made these prints as an apology nonetheless.
When the exhibition closes one print will be installed into a secret location at Cornish Crescent, Malabar Road, Truro, and the other print will be leaned against her gravestone, should I be able to find it.
RIP Mildred Pascoe
Daryl Waller, 31st March 2012
(1) From the Greek words nests and álgos - meaning "homecoming" and "pain ache.
It's been over a year since I made these prints I've been working with Truro Councillor Bert Biscoe on trying to find the location of Millie's burial place but we have been unable to find it. In fact we've not even managed to find her death certificate. Until we find out this information this project remains unfinished.