A DREIDEL FOR HANUKAH

Wooden Dreidel

Until I was about eight years old, and my Aunt Jennie bought me a china doll with eyes that opened and closed, the only bought toy I had was a dreidel, a little four-sided wooden spinning top. It was kept in a glass-fronted cupboard with other precious things like the Kiddush cups and Menorah, and brought out for Hanukah, year after year.

Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (nun), ג (gimel), ה (hei), ש (shin) – shorthand for the rules of a gambling game: Nun stands for the Yiddish word nisht (“nothing”), Hei stands for halb (“half”), Gimel for gants (“all”), and Shin for shtel ayn (“put in”). Nowadays they are often regarded as representing nes gadol hayah sham (“a great miracle happened there”) Wikipedia

Anything else we played with was picked up from Petticoat Lane market refuse, begged or nicked. Before the dustmen cleared them all away, we rescued clean orange boxes from the fruiterer’s rubbish to make a wicket and bat for the cricket we played in Wentworth Street. We’d wash a tinned fruit can for ‘Tin Can Tommy’, while chalk for hopscotch, and for cryptic messages about who loved whom, was nicked from school. We wheedled cigarette cards from adults as soon as we saw them lighting up, while lengths of string dropped in the street were precious finds for playing ever more intricate cats’ cradle.

In our present more affluent time, it’s hard to imagine what it was like for the poor like us who had absolutely no discretionary income. There was no spare money for frivolities like toys – unless you counted the fragile little celluloid dolls the Rag and Bone man gave you in exchange for whatever secondhand goodies you could bring him.

But if you are poor, and all your friends and neighbours are as poor or poorer, you don’t know what you’re missing and even a well-used Dreidel is fun.

My memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ a special present for Hanukah

Woman in a White Coat paperback

or Christmas

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

 

MY TWOPENNY CLUB ROW FORTUNE

Simon before Babygros and Onesies

If I had been good and not been cheeky, on Sunday my dad would take me to Club Row to see the animals. That week I asked if I could buy a twopenny fortune. The fortune seller had a yellow budgerigar perched on his shoulder and a tray stuffed with rows of little envelopes suspended around his neck. When you handed over your two pennies, the budgie would fly down, pick out one of the envelopes with its beak and hand it to you. The bystanders watched in silence as I opened the envelope.

‘You will win the football pools, get married and have four children,’ I read out to a round of applause.

I managed two of the three, but winning the football pools wasn’t one of them!!

I had qualified in dentistry and was half way through my medical training when we got married in 1956. By the time I completed my second post as a house physician, and was now able to work outside a hospital, I was five months pregnant with Simon.

Unfortunately, I developed raised blood pressure and fluid retention towards the end of my pregnancy and was prescribed strict rest. I was bored out of my mind. Two weeks before Simon was due, I was delighted when Josh’s cousins invited us for dinner. Both of them were great cooks and bon viveurs.

In 1960 we weren’t generally aware of the dangers of alcohol in pregnancy so when we arrived, we were greeted with a glass of dry sherry, as was the custom. I had two glasses of a very good Hungarian red wine with the delicious meal and a snifter of brandy with my after-dinner coffee.

Then my waters broke and Josh drove to the hospital in our old Morris 8 banger as fast as it would go.

When I arrived at the hospital where I’d trained, the midwife settled me in and sent Josh back for the case I kept ready for such an emergency.

‘Nothing’s happening at the moment,’ she said. ‘Just take this Seconal. It will help you to sleep. As it’s your first baby it could be ages yet.’

‘I really don’t need it. I’m more like a dormouse than anything. I’ll be asleep in no time.’

‘Be good now, Dr Waterman,’ she said. So I swallowed the capsule.

But soon my contractions started.

‘I’ll just give you something for the pain,’ the midwife said.

‘It’s not really hurting,’ I said.

‘Be good,’ she said, and gave me an injection of Pethidine.

By now, I’d had a glass of sherry, two large glasses of wine, a brandy, a capsule of Seconal and an injection of Pethidine. I was as high as a kite!!

I knew a few dirty songs and sang them at the top of my voice, but I knew a lot more hymns and started to sing them while the midwife exhorted me to push.

Finally, her instructions got through to me and my gorgeous baby boy was born. Amazingly, the moment I held Simon in my arms, I was stone cold sober. What incredible beings we are!!

Many thanks to those who’ve contacted me to say they are going to give my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ as a Hanukah or

Woman in a White Coat paperback

Christmas present

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End and making good

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

WW2 – THE BLITZ. EVACUATED TO DAWLISH 1940-42

In Dawlish aged 8

I was the youngest and smallest of the 40 children evacuated to the hostel in Dawlish. The Blitz had started on September 7th 1940 and the Luftwaffe systematically bombed London for 56 of the following 57 days and nights. Many children, unhappy at being evacuated, had come back to London. Posters appeared everywhere urging parents to send their children back to the safety of the countryside.

After my awful experience evacuated to Ely, I said I wouldn’t go away again, but at not quite eight years old I had no choice. I was sent off to the hostel for Jewish children in Dawlish run by Habonim. A distant cousin, who worked in a similar hostel in Teignmouth, took me there.

For the first time ever, I was petted and made much of, though I found my chores tough, especially in the depths of winter. There were several dormitories and my job was to clean the basins in each of the bedrooms before leaving for school. It wasn’t too bad in the summer, but in the winter, when the water was icy and the patterns of Jack Frost covered the windows, I got chilblains on my fingers, as well as on my toes.

I had just been in trouble for refusing to comb my hair or wash on Saturdays. I had decided it was work and so forbidden on the Sabbath. The matron wrote to ask my parents whether this was their choice. They wrote back saying it was all nonsense and I had been thoroughly told off.

Then, to my surprise, my parents agreed to pay for me to have piano lessons. Mr Lawson was the organist at the local church and also taught the piano. A short tubby man, I would sit next to him entranced as he played for me. He smoked continuously, even while he was playing, the ash dropping unheeded onto his waistcoat. I expected a pianist to have long slender hands, but his nicotine-stained fingers were short and stubby, with coarse dark hair on the backs. But he made magic with them.

He invited me to come to the local church to hear him play the organ on Sunday, but I knew my Orthodox parents would be horrified so I never did, though the love of music was with me forever. I have had several piano teachers since, but none will ever compare with my first teacher, Mr Lawson.

Many thanks to all those who’ve contacted me to say they are going to buy my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ for Hanukah or Christmas presents

Woman in a White Coat paperback

‘Woman in White Coat’ – the memoir of a girl growing up the East End and making good.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

THE FABULOUS SMELL OF FRESHLY BAKED BREAD

We slice and toast these mini loaves lightly. Yummy!!

I love the smell of freshly baked bread. When in 1943 we moved to the flat in Wentworth Dwellings that overlooked the market, every weekday morning I woke to the gorgeous aroma of baking bread from Kossoff’s bakery opposite. I now bake my own bread and rolls so I can enjoy that lovely experience regularly.

One of the advantages of having four children and four grandchildren is that I can pass on any pieces of equipment I want to upgrade, like a bread maker. My British grandson, Luke, was a willing recipient of my Panasonic bread maker, so I could in all conscience buy the latest model.

For years I had used my bread maker to make the dough and then prove and bake it in a regular long loaf tin in my normal fan oven. I always thought that the loaves that are completely finished in bread makers are too tall for us. Our appetites are not what they used to be, now Josh is 90 and I am 88, and the slices are just too big. But then Luke sent me an image of the loaf he had baked using the delay feature, so he was woken by the fantastic smell of a freshly baked loaf. I realised that I could just cut the loaf in half – eat one half and freeze the other. Works a dream!!

I still use my bread maker to make dough for rolls, which we like to have with soup. Josh and I share the cooking to fit in with our classes and it’s become a tradition for me to make soup on Thursdays. I always have a variety of rolls in the freezer, including Jamie Oliver’s Crumpies. If you like crumpets – the old fashioned type with big bubbles – his easy recipe is great, but our favourites are beetroot rolls. I got the original recipe for a beetroot loaf from a supermarket magazine but it works just as well for the rolls I bake in little loaf tins. You can’t taste the beetroot but the colour is gorgeous.

Many thanks to those who’ve contacted me to say they are going to buy my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ as a Hanukah or Christmas present

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

LITTLE WOMEN

My parents’ wedding photograph 1918. Can you see the box under the carpet where my mother is standing?

It wasn’t until my sister came to meet me at Tel Aviv airport that I realised for the first time just how short I am. There was this little woman coming towards me and, as she got nearer, I realised it was my sister Hannah. We hadn’t seen each other for ages. She’d lived on a kibbutz since the late 1940s. She came to London when I got married in 1956 and for a couple of visits afterwards. As we kissed, I realised that she was a fraction taller than me – I really had to be tiny!!

I do sometimes refer to myself jokingly as ‘a little old woman’, when I want to boast about something or other – that at 88 I’ve not lost all my marbles, for example. But my image of myself is not of a ‘5’ nothing’ old lady but of one at least 6-8” taller – until my two grandsons tower over me as they kiss me Hello or Goodbye.

I didn’t choose my best friends at school for that reason, but I realise now that they were all tiny too. This was not only due to our genes but, coming from poor families with mothers that did their best, we were probably underfed and undernourished as well. Certainly, we were all quite slender.

My mother was small too – though she seemed quite tall to me. Her wedding photographer was cunning. He put a box under the carpet where my mother stood, so the difference in height between my parents wasn’t as obvious.

Still – they do say that the best things come in small boxes. I’m afraid I have to accept that I’m small and getting smaller. But I do find myself wanting to correct the nurses at the hospital when they measure me before another test – I’m still 5’1½” not 5’ nothing I want to say!!

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on stories like this in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

Woman in a White Coat paperback

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

 

FISH AND CHIPS AND A BOTTLE OF TIZER

 

This photograph of Littleport Village was probably from the 1900s. A resident commented that it has changed very little. Such happy memories!!
With kind permission of the Littleport Society

By the time WW2 was declared on September 3rd 1939, over a million children had been evacuated from places deemed to be under threat. My middle sister, Hannah, had won a Supplementary Scholarship, which gave her a free grammar school place and uniform allowance, but she had not yet joined Central Foundation School for Girls. So she was evacuated with me from Jews Free School to Littleport in Cambridgeshire. We were first taken in by a famer and his wife, but they decided having two children billeted on them was too much trouble. They forgot about us when they went to a wedding the next day and we were locked out until they came home late at night. The following day they offloaded us onto the farmer’s mother who lived in Littleport village.

Mrs Hartley was a tiny, wrinkled old lady, her face all smiles. She kissed and hugged us both.

‘Come in, come in, girls,’ she said. ‘So lovely to have children in the house again.’

Hers was a small two up/two down cottage with a pocket sized garden at the back and an outside toilet right at the end. The flowerbeds surrounding the absolutely weed-free lawn were ablaze with colour.

On the ground floor was a parlour that was hardly ever used and, at the back, a tiny kitchen with a small table, the three of us could just about fit around. Upstairs was Mrs Hartley’s bedroom and a large double bedroom Hannah and I were to share.

‘Now Mr Hartley has passed on I don’t need this large room,’ she said.

There was a double bed with brass rails at either end, and covered by a handmade patchwork quilt, a large mahogany wardrobe, a dressing table and stool, and a matching china basin and jug decorated with tiny pink roses. A flowered chamber pot peeped out from under the bed. We thought it was all gorgeous.

Mrs Hartley took us into the parlour and showed us a sepia photograph of a bearded Mr Hartley surrounded by three rows of children.

‘Had 22,’ she said. ‘Raised 19,’

The rhyme ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ came into my head. I couldn’t imagine anyone having that many children, but I was sure she’d have loved them all.

Tea was fresh-from-the-oven fruit scones with as much butter as we liked and home-made strawberry jam.

‘Our old farm has a bathroom now, but it’s a zinc bath in front of the kitchen fire for us,’ she said.

I’d almost forgotten the rough feel of the ridges on a zinc bath, but the water was lovely and hot and the soap had a delicious flowery scent instead of the disinfectant-smelling Lifebuoy soap I was used to.

We went to bed early and cuddled up in the cosy, soft bed. Mrs Hartley had taken the chill off with a couple of stone hot water bottles.

We had a very special treat on Friday nights. Mrs Hartley would give us the money to buy three portions of fish and chips and a bottle of Tizer at the Fish and Chip shop up the road. At home we had only ever bought two penny worth of chips from Johnny Isaacs on our way home from the Troxy cinema. My mother cooked fried fish for Friday nights so we never bought any. The bright orange Tizer was new to us. As we ate, Hannah and I kept showing each other our tongues to see whose tongue was the brightest orange.

We loved staying with Mrs Hartley but Hannah’s grammar school was evacuated to Ely. She and two other girls were bussed in each day while I went to the village school. The powers that be decided it was wasteful bussing in three CFS girls each day and Hannah and I were moved to a miserable billet on the outskirts of Ely.

I refused to eat the traife (non-kosher) meat the billet lady cooked, although the Chief Rabbi had said it was OK in Wartime, and I ate little of anything else. We were unhappy and I looked like a waif. We stuck it there until December 1939 and then my father brought us back to London.

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on stories like this in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

ΤHE PETTICOAT LANE EXPERIENCE

My first photo at Jews Free Junior School age 7

I was thinking about all the skills that were needed when I lived in Petticoat Lane 1931-1956.

From 1938 until September 1939, when WW2 was declared and we were evacuated to Ely, every weekday I walked down Bell Lane on my way to Jews Free Junior School in Frying Pan Alley. Then 1942-1949, I walked on through Spitalfields Fruit and Vegetable Market to Central Foundation School for Girls in Spital Square. At the beginning of Bell Lane there were shops and houses with wooden doors that were regularly repainted. I would watch as the painter rubbed down the old paint then applied a pale coat and let it dry. He’d then paint the door with brown varnish and draw a comb though the wet varnish creating intricate patterns of wood grain and knots. He was a real artist.

The porters in Spitalfields Market could carry a tower of 5 or 6 circular baskets of produce without dropping even a leaf while the fruit and vegetable stall holders in Wentworth Street created works of art out of the produce they carefully polished.

The itinerant tradesmen included the knife grinder who had a large stone wheel attached to his bicycle. Scissors were the most expensive. If you brought him a pair to sharpen he’d let you have a go sitting on the saddle. The chimney sweep appeared at the beginning of winter. We’d clear everything away from the fireplaces and cover the floor in front with old sheets. He’d screw together tube after tube and finally the circular brush. A few brisk twists up the chimney and out would come a load of soot. Quite often there would be a few feathers from the pigeons that roosted on the chimneys and occasionally a dead bird.

The coal man called all year round as we cooked and heated water on the black iron range. He’d come up to us on the third floor carrying a hundred weight sack of coal on his back, hardly breathless at all.

We cooked with enamel saucepans that were liable to develop holes where the vertical sides met the bottom. You could buy tin washers to screw in place but that was a temporary measure. When the tinkers’ caravan appeared, we took down our saucepans to be repaired properly.

Few grocery items came ready wrapped. The assistant would carve off a lump of butter, slap its sides with wooden paddles until it was a neat brick and wrap it in grease-proof paper. On getting it home, the butter would be placed in a saucer of cold water and covered with a damp muslin cloth whose ends dipped in the water. Evaporation of the water kept the butter cool. We had a small wooden cupboard on top of the coal bunker on our balcony, its sides enclosed with metal mesh. The butter was stored there as were bottles of milk, but after a day the milk had often turned sour. My mother drained it through a muslin cloth and made cream cheese with it.

The grocers dispensed loose products like granulated sugar and tea in paper funnels. The paper would be folded into a double square, then a triangle, opened and the point rolled tightly to seal it and the goods poured in. Salt came as a brick. We grated it as needed – mainly for Koshering meat. Cube sugar came in packets, as did some biscuits, but there were always large square biscuit tins along the floor in front of the counter containing loose biscuits. One tin always contained broken biscuits – the cheapest of all and all too tempting to little thieving fingers

All those skills no longer needed!!

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

EMIGRATING TO THE USA

My mother (at the back) with friends and one of their daughters just before she left for the USA

As far as the shadchen (matchmaker) was concerned, my mother was no matseer (bargain). She was pretty enough, and a capable dressmaker who could earn her own living, but she was a fatherless girl and lived with her widowed half-blind mother, who would have to be part of any new household. She’d hardly known her father. He died in Russia when she was only two years old. He’d made a living carrying sacks of ice on his back to deliver to the rich; caught pneumonia and died. There was certainly no dowry on offer.

Then my mother met Harry at a kiddush after a Saturday service. A personable young man, he was an accomplished tailor who had decided to emigrate to America. They were soon making marriage plans, but he was determined to make his way in the USA before getting married. He left a couple of months after they met and promised to send for my mother and grandmother when he had found a job and somewhere for them all to live. My mother started making her trousseau – silk blouses, tweed and plain skirts, lacy nightdresses, a silk negligee.

He wrote to say he was now settled in and to come. My mother was to go to America first and send for my grandmother later. She took the train to Liverpool and boarded the ship for New York and Ellis Island. She was surprised and put off, when Harry came to meet her with the daughter of the boss of the factory where he worked on his arm. He assured my mother that they were just friends, found her a room in a nearby lodging house and a job with a young dressmaker making her way in the new country.

By the time she sent for my grandmother, my mother was suspicious of Harry’s intentions but sent the ticket money just the same. It was not to be. By law, there had to be a doctor on boats carrying emigrants to check that they were healthy and didn’t carry any communicable diseases. When the doctor examined my grandmother, he misdiagnosed her scarred eye and cataracts as trachoma – a highly infectious eye disease – and refused to allow her passage.

Harry said he couldn’t help himself; he’d fallen in love. Broken-hearted my mother booked a passage home, but at least she could tell everyone she had come home because her mother couldn’t follow her. She needn’t admit that she’d been jilted.

By this time, the shadchen had persuaded my father, one of seven sons of a wealthy family, that my mother was a worthy wife for him. She hadn’t got over Harry, but my mother thought at least she was marrying a rich man. She didn’t know that he had gambled away his inheritance, nor that he was saddled with taking care of his younger brother. They married in 1918 and moved to Old Kent Road with my grandmother and uncle and opened a Newsagent and Tobacconist shop there.

Harry came back to the UK when my elder sister was 2 years old. He begged my mother to go back to the USA with him. His marriage had been a terrible mistake and he would divorce his harridan of a wife.

But my mother wouldn’t leave my grandmother once more and they never met again.

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

FRIDAY NIGHTS IN PETTICOAT LANE

My sister and me, evacuated to Ely 1939

I loved Friday nights. My middle sister Hannah and I would sit in the kitchen sparkling clean, as my mother placed a scarf over her head, lit the four candles and intoned the Sabbath blessing. She always lit the candles in the brass candlesticks first. They were the ones she’d bought with her own money long before she got married. The silver ones were a present from my father’s wealthier parents and not nearly as precious.

Except in the depths of winter, when the Sabbath came in too early for there to be time between the end of school and the beginning of the Sabbath, my mother would take Hannah and me up the road to Goulston Street baths. She would buy just one second class ticket and bathe my sister and me together. We would then wait on the polished wooden bench in the corridor outside, while she called for more hot water and had her bath. The attendants bustled past in their immaculate white overalls, holding their badge of office – the big brass key that controlled the flow of water into the big porcelain baths. It was only in the First Class baths that you had your own taps and could control your own bath water.

My mother didn’t wash our hair in the bath. She was sure that walking the couple of hundred yards home to our tenement in Wentworth Dwellings would result in a cold or worse. She’d wash our hair over the sink when we got home, heating kettles of water on the stove.

When my father got home from synagogue he would lift the embroidered cloth covering the ‘challah’, say the ‘brochas’ for wine and bread and pass around the ‘kiddush’ cup for a sip each and a piece of the poppy sprinkled bread. Supper was always cold fried fish, potato salad and home-made ‘chrane’ – a fiery mixture of grated beetroot and horseradish. We tried to make it last as long as possible. Nothing like grating horseradish root to make your eyes stream.

After supper, we all had something to say as we sat around the table. We sisters had to take turns. When I thought no-one was looking, I would pick some warm wax drips from the candles and roll them in my fingers under the tablecloth. If she caught me, my older sister, Rebecca. would smack my hand and hiss ‘They’re the Shabbas candles. Mustn’t touch.’

The only bad thing about Friday night is that I had to go to bed in the dark – it was forbidden to carry out any work on the Sabbath – switching on a light was considered work. I would pray not to have to go to the loo in the dark. The long clanking chain made me think of ghosts hauling their shackles behind them and I’d scuttle there and back as fast as I could.

Hannah went to bed early too. She would offer to tell me a story. It was always a ghost story, that nearly frightened the life out of me. Then she would say that her name was Cynthia Levy and that she had trapped my sister, who I loved dearly, in the light bulb. Unless I id everything she ordered me to do, she would whip Hannah until she bled. It meant me doing things like switching the light on and off – though it was forbidden– and crawling under my bed amongst all the dust bunnies. I’d finally be allowed to creep under my parana – Hannah now saved from the light bulb.

In spite of ‘Cynthia Levy’ I still miss those magical Friday nights.

Read more stories like this in my memoir Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

THE KINDNESS OF A STRANGER

Don’t know whether they had solutions like this in the 1940s

Nowadays having lice is almost a badge of honour. I realised this when my very upper crust neighbour rang the bell to tell me that her daughter Fiona had lice, and that I should check my four for the nasty little things. She sounded quite proud of the fact. So different from when I was a child. Then if you had lice, it meant that you were poor, came from a dirty home and probably your mother didn’t love you. Same parasites – different time and different attitude.

It was Sophie who noticed the navy blue suited figure crossing the playground.

‘It’s Nitty Nora,’ she hissed, loudly enough for the whole class to hear.

The Health Visitor called at our school on a regular basis, checking for lice and scabies. Our form mistress, Miss Evans, came to our classroom at the end of Latin.

‘Make your way to the First Aid room, girls, and line up in alphabetical order. Behave yourselves now. You don’t want to make me ashamed of you.’

I was last but one – Waterman came before Zaperstein.

‘Hold out your hands,’ the Health Visitor directed. ‘I’m pleased to see at least one girl has got nice clean nails,’ she said, as she inspected my hands for the tell-tale burrows of scabies.

She went on to look through my hair, especially in the warm places behind my ears, and then dismissed me.

Miss Evans stopped me as I queued to leave at the end of the afternoon and handed me a small brown envelope. You used to be able to steam those envelopes open and be forewarned about any wrongdoing on your part, but the teachers now sealed the envelopes with a strip of sellotape.

I held my breath as my mother opened it.

Dear Mrs Waterman

This is to inform you that your daughter Abigail Waterman has been found to be infested with lice. You are required to take her to Finsbury Square Cleansing station at 8am tomorrow morning. She will be unable to attend school until she is certified free of lice and nits. 

My mother was furious.

‘You insisted on washing your hair yourself and now look at the state of you – lice indeed. You’ve disgraced me and disgraced our family. They’ll think I’m a bad mother.’

She insisted on washing my hair twice that evening and there was certainly no supper that day.

I went on my own to the Cleansing Station, sitting as far as possible from anyone else on the bus lest they see lice crawling through my hair. I stood at the top of the stairs leading down to a mahogany door with a porthole in it filled with pebbled glass. The brass handrail gleamed in the winter sunlight as did the fittings on the door.

Instead of the ogre I was expecting, a jolly plump red-faced woman opened the door wide, a beaming smile on her face.

‘Come on in, my dear. I don’t bite.’

She washed my hair twice with anti-lice shampoo that smelled strongly of carbolic and combed it with a toothcomb. Towelling it almost dry, she sat me down in front of the fire with a sweet cup of tea and a biscuit.

‘Don’t be upset, sweetheart,’ she said. ‘I get plenty of clean girls through my hands. Anyone can catch the horrid little things. I’m afraid you can’t go back to school today, my love. You need to come back tomorrow and if there are no lice or nits left, I’ll give you a note saying that you are free of them.’

I felt like kissing her, but I was too shy.

No-one at school seemed to know or care why I had been away for a day and I never had lice again as a child. It wasn’t until I had four louse-ridden children that I caught head lice again – but that’s another story.

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on stories like this in my memoir ‘Woman in White Coat’.

Buy Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

Blog by Dr Abby J Waterman and her new book, Woman in a White Coat

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