HAPPY FORTHCOMING HANUKAH EVERYONE

Large Menorah at the Jewish Museum Camden

As we lit the Hanukah candles we sang

מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי

Maoz tzur y’shuati

But instead of

לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
תִּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָּתִי

l’cha naeh l’shabeach
Tikon beit t’filati

under our breaths Hannah and I sang

The cat’s in the cupboard

And it can’t catch me

What did you sing?  (No rude versions please)

Many thanks to all those lovely people who bought my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ as a Hanukah present

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

Woman in a White Coat paperback

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

 

ME AND MY TONSILS

Hannah was the prettiest of the three of us

It was still dark when my mother shook me awake and whispered, ‘Get up and don’t wake your sister.’

Since my grandmother died, I had shared the big double bed with my middle sister, Hannah. I crept to the bottom of the bed past her feet and crawled out.

When I reached for the Cornflakes my mother smacked my hand away.

‘You know you mustn’t eat before an operation.’

I would have liked to ask what an operation was but I could tell that my mother was already cross, especially when I couldn’t find my shoes. Somehow they’d got right under the bed and I had to crawl in amongst the dust bunnies to get them.

She marched me up Wentworth Street to Commercial, Street where we caught a tram to Grays Inn Road and the old Royal Free Hospital.

I was quickly admitted, and my mother left. I had my tonsils out that day and I remember waking up with an awful sore throat, helped a bit by a scoop each of vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

Once my throat eased a bit, I had a great time playing with the other children. We had Ludo and Snakes and Ladders to play with, but the very best was chasing over and under the beds – at least, until the nurses told us off.

I was almost sorry when the nurse said we would be going home. My mother was always late for everything and I was left all alone in the waiting room as the others were collected one by one. She finally came, only to tell me off because I’d spilled something down my jumper.

In those days it was just a couple of bad sore throats and out came your tonsils. Now we realise that the tonsils are large lymphatic glands that have an important role to play in our immune system.

Fortunately, there were still a few indications for tonsillectomy when I was a young Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) house surgeon in 1959. Because I had already qualified as a dentist as well as a doctor, and I suppose seemed steady and sensible, my consultant allowed me to have my own operating list, removing tonsils and adenoids. We took out tonsils by grabbing them in a steel snare and nipping them off. Usually we removed the adenoids as well by scraping them out. I loved it all.

By that time, Josh and I were married and, though I would have loved to have trained as a surgeon, I felt that as a married woman I was unlikely to get very far. In my hospital, there was only one woman consultant surgeon (unmarried, of course) and that was the usual state of affairs.

Woman in a White Coat paperback

Lots more 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

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

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

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