Although Exeter care home resident Nora Barker might not know the secret of longevity, what she can share is how she manages to look so amazingly youthful for a woman celebrating her 102nd birthday.
Today, November 1, residents and staff at Dove Tree House will come together to give Nora a lockdown birthday party full of the things she loves doing, her favourite being karaoke.
Her diverse list of top tunes features a wide mixture of hits from the ’50s right up to the ’90s.
Having always had a love of fashion, Nora had been planning on what she might wear for the special occasion earlier this week.
“I’m not buying anything new,” she laughed. “On my birthday I am going to go through my clothes and wear something nice.”
On her birthday morning, just like every other day, Nora will make sure to apply her face cream first thing. The daily ritual is what she puts down to her enviable complexion.
She said: “I use warm clear water with no soap. I then rinse with a cold flannel to close the pores on my face. I have started using Nivea face cream.”
Nora was born on November 1, 1918 in Caversham, Reading, and was the youngest of nine children.
She recalled how her ‘lovely mother’ was ‘too protective’ over her because she was the youngest.
She said: “On a Tuesday we would go to the swimming baths, but mother wouldn’t let me swim as she was frightened I would drown.”
When her mother sadly died she looked after her brothers. Tragically her grandmother was not around to help because she died at the young age of 29 years old.
Nora went to a local convent school called St James where singer Marianne Faithfull also later attended. Her father was in the police force and it was thanks to him she got into the school.
She said: “We weren’t Catholic, but I managed to get into the convent school as my father somehow managed this. I was at school until I was 15.
“I always wanted to be a hairdresser, but you had to be 16. The main hairdresser in Reading said, ‘bring Nora along when she is 16’, so my dad did. However, I was not able to become an apprentice. Something happened, but I can’t remember what it was now.”
Instead Nora enjoyed a career working in fashion, including a boutique called Cresda.
Reminiscing about the latter, she said: “They sold expensive clothes. There were chandeliers in the dressing rooms, and even the wall lights were chandeliers.”
However, the big love of Nora’s life was her husband Jim and their two daughters. When World War II broke out Jim signed up for the Air Force, but she says that when he saw where the gunner had to sit he changed his mind.
Nora recalled: “No one knows how he managed to get out of the Air Force, but he had to join one of the forces so he joined the Royal Engineers.
“Jim was in Burma for four-and-a-half years. When he came home he was as yellow as a guinea pig.”
Chuckling to herself, Nora added: “Actually guinea pigs aren’t yellow.”
She continued: “Jim would sit in his chair with a newspaper and not talk. Then when he was ready he would. When the war was over we had parties in the street in Reading.”
You can stay up-to-date on the top news near you with DevonLive’s FREE newsletters – find out more about our range of daily and weekly bulletins and sign up here or enter your email address at the top of the page.
Sadly their time back together was not to last long as Jim died of Asian flu. Nora became the main breadwinner and eventually a new life in Devon beckoned.
Nora recalled: “One of my sister’s was married to a Devonian called Jack. When Jim died they used to visit nearly every weekend and would take me out.
“My two daughters had got married and flown the nest so my sister said, ‘why don’t you move to Devon to live?’. I thought it would be such a slow pace of life due to the ‘rat race’ of Reading. Eventually they talked me into it.
“I lived with them and decided I couldn’t live off them so I tried to get a job at Debenhams. Back then my name was Nora Mutters and I was taken up to the office to see the staff controller. She asked me lots of questions, including if I had a brother-in-law called Rex?
“We discovered she had met him and knew he was in the Air Force. She said, ‘I’ve fallen for him in a big way; he’s so handsome’. I remember it like it was yesterday.
“She said, ‘I think I can find a job for you’. I worked in the fashion boutique. We were allowed two winter outfits and two summer outfits a year, and could wear them to show customers what the clothes looked like. We also wore ankle pickers!”
Even today, Nora still likes to take the utmost care over her appearance – even though the only people she now sees are fellow residents and staff due to coronavirus restrictions.
Nora moved into the care home in Heavitree Road in April 2018, and has lived there happily ever since.
Jaz Lemin, the registered manager at Dove Tree House, said: “We will be doing anything Nora wants to do on her birthday to make it fun-packed for her.
“She loves karaoke because she enjoys reminiscing. She will sing to anything. We will be hosting a tea party in her honour and our chef is making her a birthday cake.
“Nora is a sociable lady who is full of determination. She will not go in a wheelchair. She still walks with a frame and only needs assistance with washing and dressing.
“If you were to meet her you would not believe she is 102. You would think she is in her early 80s. She still likes to be very prim and proper.
“She is very good for her age and has a wicked sense of humour.
“During lockdown she has been so upbeat and thinks what must be, must be, and that the main thing is that we are all staying safe. She thanks the staff every day for all that we do. “