ON LOSING SOME OF MY MARBLES

A great book + some spilt marbles

I agree with Edith Piaf when I hear a recording of her singing ‘Je ne regrette rien’, but it sounds so much more elegant than ‘I regret nothing’!

I’m used to feeling a bit sorry for myself – coming from a poor family, being brought up in London’s East End in a cold-water tenement infested with bed bugs and mice, probably a bit malnourished, dragged away from my family to be evacuated far from home, childhood illnesses, a string of adult accidents and illnesses etc etc.

But I am now re-reading David Eagleman’s fascinating book ‘The Brain.’ According to him, all these experiences helped my brain to develop, forged new neural connections and put off the time I might finally lose my marbles.

I seemed to be doing fine after my heart attack. I’d had a couple of stents inserted to reopen my blocked coronary arteries, but then I deteriorated and needed to have an intra-aortic heart pump and be put on a ventilator. When I came all off those and the heavy sedation, not only did I have a series of weird hallucinations and delusions, but often I couldn’t think of the word for something (nominal aphasia). That’s gradually improved, though I think ‘It’s on the tip of my tongue’ more often than before my coronary occlusion. It makes me feel better when someone much younger than me says they can’t think of the exact word they’re after.

At 88, I no longer have the photographic memory that helped me through my exams, but I am attending classes in Music and Art History, I have piano lessons and I am about to join a beginners’ class in Classical Greek (PG).

I love being the oldest person in the class even though I may now be a penny short of a pound!!

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

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

BELIEVE IT OR NOT I MANAGED TO TURN 88 TODAY

I look pretty serious in this photo of me from 1934. Perhaps I was pondering the future of mankind or how to save endangered elephants and bears!!

The amazing part of it is that I have survived being in London in WW2 in the Blitz, and when Doodlebugs and V2 rockets were falling, a near-fatal heart attack, breast cancer, several broken bones, a slew of quite serious medical conditions. Perhaps it was having the same loving husband for the last 63 years and four fantastic children!!

I look back to a time when we could play cricket in Wentworth Street after the market closed. We’d scour the fruiterers’ refuse for a clean orange box that would provide both a wicket and the bat, hoping we wouldn’t miss a nasty smelling surprise of a rotten green orange in a corner that our rushed inspection had missed. Cars were few and far between even in Commercial Street, and none ventured down Petticoat Lane – except to deliver goods before the Sunday market opened. The everyday demountable food stalls arrived on barrows. The sound as they trundled along first thing in the morning accompanied the smell of bread baking from Kossoff’s bakery.

None of us had our own phones – an emergency sent someone running to the phone box outside Aldgate East station. You phoned your current boyfriend there too – getting an hour’s worth for a couple of pence. Now you can hardly walk along the pavement without bumping into someone too busy on their mobile.

Of course, they weren’t all good old days. My dad was out of work in the Great Depression. Not sure how we scraped by. And without our fantastic NHS and immunisation us children all got measles, or mumps, or chicken pox, or diphtheria or any combination of them (more later).

We’ve so much to be grateful for that just wasn’t available when I was a child.

Lots more stories 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

MORE MEMORIES OF PETTICOAT LANE

 

My third floor window faced onto Wentworth Street. It was then above a hardware shop

Amongst my most powerful memories of living in Petticoat Lane are the smells. I make my own bread and when I smell baking I’m taken back to our cold water tenement in Wentworth Dwellings. From 1943 we lived on the third floor with my bedroom facing on to Wentworth Street and Kossoff’s bakery. The smell when I woke first thing in the morning was delicious – it made me ravenous. Then there were the aromas of pickled cucumbers and pickled herrings from the barrels outside Marks, the delicatessen. I don’t like pickled – or schmaltz or chopped herrings – but I love the pickled onions that came with them. In a sandwich of rye bread still warm from the baker they are heaven.

My bedroom was above the hardware shop with its odours of carbolic acid and paraffin. I was often sent down to buy a packet of flypapers – sticky yellow curls of stiff paper that you hang up and wait for flies to attach themselves. When it is completely covered with dead and dying flies you hang up another – but there were always more around in those pre-fridge days. Bed bugs were a constant problem. We tried Flit sprays and pouring white spirit over the bed springs, but neither did much good. The springs were attached to the headboards by tightly curled wires in which bed bugs made their home. My mother would regularly pour boiling water over them but there were always more. When the war ended in 1945, we were visited by council workers with DDT sprays that did the trick – at least for a time. We didn’t know then that DDT was dangerous – for humans as well as for bedbugs.

Earlier, my family had lived in a smaller Wentworth Dwellings flat, this time facing onto Goulston Street. On our side of the road were the chicken stalls with crates of live chickens clucking underneath. On the other side, by Brunswick Dwellings, were the fish stalls. The fish was always fresh that day – collected from Billingsgate Market as soon as it was light – but the fish heads and bits and pieces chucked away under the stalls made that side of the road really smelly. I can still conjure up that whiff of ammonia and hated walking on that side of the street. The discarded offal from the chicken stalls added their own aroma to the mix.

And then there were all the street cries. When my husband wants to tease me, he’ll call out ‘Ripe tomatoes, shilling a pound,’ reminding me of my East End past. I’d rather he’d have chosen ‘Sweet strawberries. Melt in your mouth.’

On Sundays, Petticoat Lane was quite different – much more crowded and spreading to all the surrounding streets. Now the hucksters were calling out their crockery and linen wares instead of fruit and vegetables. Completely different smells – now of leather and fabric.

If you were lucky, you might hear Prince Monolulu crying ‘I gotta horse!!’, the long ostrich feathers in his headdress and his chieftain’s fly whisk waving in the breeze. They said he’d won what was then the vast sum of £8000 in the Derby in 1920. It brought you luck to touch or even be near him.

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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABE

The boys in dressing-up clothes

When your younger son is 57 today and his elder brother is 59 you realise you really are old!!

‘Babe and me thought it was a good idea’ is our family saying for when someone – not pointing at someone recently or presently in power today – does something unexpected and stupid.

When our elder son, Simon, was in nappies we had those terry towelling napkins you had to soak and wash daily. By the time Bernard was born, disposable applies were available and the make we used was called ‘Golden Babe.’ Unlike the rest of our family, Bernard had white-gold hair and his nickname was soon ‘Golden Babe’ or ‘Babe’ for short.

Simon was three and Bernard was 6 months old when we moved them out of the box room and into a junior bed and larger cot in the spare bedroom. To our horror, the first morning the boys were in their new bedroom, Simon scribbled all over one newly painted wall.

‘Why did you do that?’ We asked. He looked over at Babe, who had just learned to sit up alone, and certainly hadn’t yet learned to speak. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Babe and me thought it was a good idea.’

We couldn’t be cross. It was such a great saying!!

The following year we opened our educational toy shop, John Dobbie , in Wimbledon Village and amongst our stock we sold fancy dress clothes. They both loved dressing up.

Read more of my memoir in ‘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 BLITZ WW2 AND RE-EVACUATION 1940-1942

Dawlish 1941

When my dad brought my middle sister and me back from an unhappy billet in Ely, Christmas 1939, I vowed I would never be evacuated again, but on September 7th 1940 the Blitz began. We tried taking shelter on the platform of Aldgate East Underground station, where we slept in rows tightly packed like sardines. I hated it there. I often walked in my sleep and, although I knew that the electric current was turned off at night, I was terrified that I might walk to the edge of the platform and fall onto the lines. Finally, we were allocated spaces in the basement of a factory in Middlesex Street and started to sleep there every night.

Soon, posters appeared saying that children still in London should be sent to the country. I told my parents I wouldn’t go. After the miserable time I’d had in Ely, I absolutely didn’t want to be evacuated again but a distant cousin was working at one of the hostels for Jewish children opened by Habonim in South Devon – one each in Dawlish, Teignmouth and Exmouth. There was room for me in the Dawlish hostel and I stayed there for two years, finally coming back to London in the summer of 1942.

I loved it there. I was the youngest and smallest and for the first time I was not just a third unwelcome daughter but was cossetted and made a big fuss of. And there were lots of children to play with. I don’t remember ever being homesick even though I only saw my parents a couple of times in the two years I was there – it was a long way from London and the fare was expensive. I wasn’t exactly alienated from my family but certainly there was now an emotional as well as a geographical distance.

I was entered for the Junior County Scholarship when I was 10 and awarded a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital. I’d read lots of books about boarding schools and couldn’t wait to go there, but my father wrote to the school asking if I would be able to take Jewish holydays off. Needless to say, the reply was that no special arrangements could be made for Jewish children and my Orthodox parents wouldn’t allow me to go there.

I was heartbroken and now I hated the hostel and begged my father to take me home. My scholarship didn’t guarantee me a free place at the local grammar school, Central Foundation School for Girls, but the headmistress allowed me to go there free of charge provided I won a Junior County Scholarship the following spring. It was a fee-paying school at the time, and my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay fees. Fortunately, with a bit of taking in, my middle sister’s uniform fitted me, so my parents were spared that expense.

I won a Junior County scholarship in 1943 and spent seven happy years at CFS, including the last two as the only girl at our brother school – Cowper Street Boys School – but that’s another story!!

Read about this and other episodes in my memoir ‘Woman in a 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

WHITECHAPEL PUBLIC LIBRARY -1892-2005

 

The old Whitechapel Library

For me Whitechapel Library was a godsend. The only books our family owned were six Sidurim (Daily Prayer Books) and six Haggadahs (Prayer Books for the first two nights of Pesach – Passover). – one each for my grandmother, my parents, my two older sisters and me. No reading books. Those we borrowed from the library.

I could already read when I was enrolled at Jews Free Infant School aged 3, but I couldn’t join the children’s section of Whitechapel Library until I was five. From then on, I went to the library every Friday afternoon before Shabbat began. Hard to believe in our apparently more dangerous age, but I went there on my own as soon as I was old enough to join, walking from our tenement in Wentworth Dwellings, crossing the busy Commercial Street, walking up Old Montague Street and cutting through what I think is now Angel Alley to the Library.

My mother would tell me to find a big man to take me across Commercial Street and to hold his hand tight. These days parents would fear that the ‘big man’ was a paedophile or worse.

I could borrow six books a week from the Children’s section and later, when I was old enough, from the Adult Library, so for me most of the titles in ‘1000 Books You Must Read before You Die’ are familiar, even if I’ve only skimmed them – though most I’d have read cover to cover. As an Orthodox Jewish girl there was little else I could do on Saturdays after getting back from Shul and having lunch.

There was a plaque at the bottom of the staircase to J Passmore Edwards in recognition of the philanthropist’s substantial contribution to its construction under the aegis of Canon Samuel Barnett and his wife Henrietta. It was only looking at the photograph that I saw the inscription on the building ‘The Passmore Edwards Library’ but I never heard anyone call it that.

The only thing I hated about the library was walking past the cases of stuffed animals and birds if I needed to look up something in the Reference Library upstairs. I can still picture the glaring eyes and sharp teeth of the foxes and visualise the poor little song birds tied to twigs.

I’m sure the new Ideas Store further up Whitechapel Road that replaced it after it was closed as a library in 2005 does a great job, but it’s nothing like the glorious old Whitechapel Library of my memories.

And I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on 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

 

On having a cat again

A lovely black kitten

I’d love to have a cat now we’re getting on for 90 and don’t go abroad anymore. We don’t enjoy long airplane flights and schlepping our all-too-heavy baggage around, but we live on the 9th floor with a balcony and I couldn’t face a repeat of my experience with Rupert when I was a child and lived on the third floor with a balcony in Wentworth Dwellings in Petticoat Lane.

Rupert was a gorgeous black kitten who was as curious as are all baby animals. I was in tears remembering as I wrote about it in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’.

Excerpt from Chapter2

It was wonderful coming home from school to be greeted by Rupert who would wind himself round and round my ankles, delighted to see me again. Continue reading On having a cat again

Wentworth Dwellings in Petticoat Lane

 

The now blocked up entrance to our cold water tenement

Now blocked by a shutter and covered with graffiti, this was the Goulston Street entrance to 116 Wentworth Dwellings in what is known as Petticoat Lane, and where we lived until 1942. We children never knew the dark history of the landing above hours. It wasn’t until I started to research the history of Petticoat Lane for my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’, that I discovered that in the doorway of 119 Wentworth Dwellings, two floors above us, at 2.55 am on Sunday September 30th, 1888, PC Long found a blood-soaked piece of Catherine Eddowes’ apron. Her murderer, thought to be Jack the Ripper, had left her mutilated body in Mitre Street, some distance away. His reign of terror in the East End of London, killing and disembowelling local prostitutes, finally ended three years later, with the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.

Had we known it then, I’m sure we’d have played Jack the Ripper games instead of ‘Cops and Robbers’ or ‘Doctors and Nurses’.

And I thank all you lovely people who bought copies of ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

Fantastic Frank Bowling at Tate Britain, London

Traingone (Mahaicony Abary, Guyana)
1996

I hadn’t heard of Frank Bowling  until I saw the program ‘What do artists do all day‘ on BBC which featured him and his work.

The big queues at Tate Britain at the moment  are for Van Gogh in Britain  but upstairs you can find Frank Bowling’s exciting exhibition.

I quite liked his earlier more representational art, but it is his  heavily textured abstract paintings that are so amazing. As you gaze at them you are drawn into some faraway place.

Art exhibitions always tempt me to take up drawing and painting again but what with Classical Greek, the Piano  and Writing the sequel ’25 Houses’ to my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’   I just haven’t found the time.

Perhaps next week!!

Mary Berry’s Fruit Scones

Delicious fruit scones

There’s nothing like a fruit scone with butter/ jam/ clotted cream for a mid morning snack or to fill a gap between dinner and bed.

I usually use only raisins but found I had nearly run out so I made up the quantity with currants. The scones still taste great!

These fruit scones freeze well so I can whip one out when I’m feeling peckish.

I always pick up the free Waitrose and Tesco magazines when I go supermarket shopping. Some recipes work well and others are a bit of a flop, but I’ve never tried one of Mary Berry’s recipes and have it fail.

Three cheers for Mary Berry.

Read my memoir for how I learned to cook ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

Fruit Scone recipe – (modified from Mary Berry)

Makes about 20

Bake 220°C 12 mins

Continue reading Mary Berry’s Fruit Scones

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

%d bloggers like this: