I was brought up in Petticoat Lane and lived in a third floor cold-water tenement until I got married n 1956. When i went back to look around in 2011, Tubby Isaacs Jellied Eels stall was still there. By 2014 another East End landmark had gone.
I bought a tub of jellied eels for my first patient when I was a junior medical student in 1954.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat
One day, as I was checking her over, she started to cry.
‘They’re going to put me in the geriatric ward at St Mildred’s,’ she sobbed. ‘They say I can’t manage on my own. I live on the fourth floor, and there’s no lift. I can’t get my breath, even to go as far as the lav.’
‘Couldn’t you stay with one of your children?’
‘I haven’t heard from any of my kids in years. None of them’s ever been to see me in hospital. Two of the boys are inside, and I wouldn’t want to live with any of the others, even if they offered, which they wouldn’t.’
On my way home from Aldgate East station that night, I went up to Tubby Isaacs stall.
‘I’ll have a tub of jellied eels,’ I said, breathing through my mouth. I cringed at the sight of those mounds of cockles and whelks and other shellfish I couldn’t bear to try to identify. To one side there was an enamel bowl full of clear jelly containing slices of jellied eel.
I hid the tub behind my books, away from my mother’s prying eyes, and thought about Mary in a geriatric ward. If she was lucky, it would be clean and cheerful, like the one at St Margaret’s, but that was only for short-term admissions. I’d visited a miserable urine-smelling long-stay ward, when my great aunt had her stroke. It was horrible.
When I arrived next morning, Mary was dressed and waiting for the ambulance to take her to St Mildred’s. Her eyes were red and swollen. She clutched my hand.
‘I never thought it would come to this.’
‘This should cheer you up a bit,’ I said, and handed her the tub from Tubby Isaacs. Jellied Eels, Established 1919.
A smile lit up her face.
‘You’re a lovely girl, you know,’ she said. ‘You’ll go far, mark my words. You’ve got a heart of gold, you have, and there’s not many of them around.’