100th birthday: ‘Even my birthday presents were gin - gin and chocolate’

When Violet Packham gets home from the shops, it’s not always a nice cup of tea she fancies.

Saturday, 1st February 2014, 5:00 am
100 year old Violet Packham. Pic Steve Robards

Mrs Packham, who has just celebrated her 100th birthday, was born in Brighton and moved to Burgess Hill 93 years ago, aged seven.

And although she is registered as blind, Mrs Packham still leads an inspiring, busy lifestyle.

Full of life and laughter, she said: “I still go out every single day. I meet the girls and we go for coffee, go to the shops.

Violet Packham in the 1920's

“We get the train to Crawley, or to Hassocks, I tell John I’m going and off I go.

“When we get in I say to my friend Jean: “Do you want a cup of tea? She normally says: “Yes please, I’m sure you’ll have a gin, won’t you?”

Mrs Packham joked that a glass or two of gin a day has kept her healthy.

Upon reflection she added: “It’s not only the gin! The most important thing is your attitude to life.

“I remember my mother used to say ‘always take a good look around, and there will be someone far worse off than you’.

“I have, touch wood, been very lucky.

“If you approach life in the right way, you’ll live a healthy one.”

And she added: “Sometimes the bad eyesight comes in handy. I’ll just say ‘Oh I can’t see that’.

Mrs Packham has one son, John, two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

And she is still able to lead an independent lifestyle.

She said: “Nobody comes and does anything for me. I can’t bare to look around and see one dirty cup and not wash it up. I do all of my own cleaning, washing, everything.

“My routine is important. I wake up at eight o’clock every day. If I wake up at ten to eight I’ll stay in bed until eight, I just need to do it that way.”

Her popularity is evident, as birthday cards take up every inch of surface space in her lounge, complete with a congratulatory message from the Queen.

John Packham recently threw his mother a surprise birthday party at Haywards Heath Golf Club for 50 close friends and family, where they raised £200 for Action for the Blind. “They told me I was going for a curry,”she said.

Mr Packham is delighted with the success of the fundraising, and thanks all those who contributed.

He explained some confusion during the organisation of his mother’s party, where the hosts asked him when the funeral was being held.

Bursting into laughter, Mrs Packham said: “He told them she’s dead now but she won’t lie down!”

Mrs Packham’s husband, Jack, was a well known local butcher and fought in the RAF during the Second World War.

He passed away at the age of 80.

Mrs Packham recalled the day they met: “I was a big fan of the picture house in Burgess Hill. One night Jack followed me up the road and caught up with me.

“I remember just the spot up Junction Road.”

He said: “Can I walk you home?

“And that was that, I got married to him in 1934 and John was born in 1935.”

Mrs Packham was born in Brighton, where her mother was a nurse in the Royal Pavilion when it was used as a military hospital. It was there she met her husband, Mrs Packham’s father, who was killed during the First World War in France in 1918.

The Packham family recalled their lives in Burgess Hill during the Second World War.

Mr Packham said: “When the sirens went we all dived under the stairs.”

His mother added: “One or two bombs were dropped around here. One was on Mill Road, it hit a building but luckily nobody was inside. We were on the fringe of it all.

“There were some huge chimneys around here, but the Germans used them for landmarks to find their way to and from London so they had to be blown up.”

Mrs Packham celebrated her 100th birthday on January 23.

She joked: “It’s just after Christmas. Nobody has got any money for presents for me by then.

“Even my birthday presents were gin - gin and chocolates, not the nicest combination really!

“If you want a glass of gin, or brandy, or tea, have anything you want!”