Tag Archives: memoir

TOURS IN THE TIME OF COVID (With a nod to Gabriel García Márquez)

The cut-out policeman looks so real I nearly wished it Good Morning!!

Before Covid, we’d been on bus tours in Spain and to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, and on River Tours on the Rhine and the Danube, but now our tours seem to be confined to Tours of London Supermarkets.

I was born and brought up in the East End of London, then a poor, mainly Jewish district. We lived in a cold-water tenement on the third floor of Wentworth Dwellings in what was known as Petticoat Lane, though Petticoat Lane hasn’t existed as such for nearly 300 years. After a boundary rearrangement it was renamed Middlesex Street. We first lived in a third floor flat opening onto Goulston Street and then in one overlooking Wentworth Street, both streets crowded with food stalls on weekdays.

My mother went shopping every day – there were no fridges in the 1930s. We tried to stop milk going sour, and butter melting, by storing them in a mesh-fronted cupboard on our tiny balcony. We were rarely successful. There always seemed to be a cheesecloth bag hanging from the kitchen tap with soured milk turning into cream cheese.

One of my chores was to buy our bread, usually from Kossoff’s bakery opposite. If the total added up to a few pennies and one farthing (¼ penny), the assistants would tell me to forget the odd farthing, rather than bother to give me three farthings in change. My mother wouldn’t accept charity from anyone, so, having climbed the six sets of steep stone stairs to our flat on the third floor, I would have to go down again and take the farthing to the shop.

Now, of course, we have fridges and freezers and in a district like ours, where individual food shops have virtually disappeared, we shop once a week in supermarkets, not daily – usually Tesco or Sainsburys and occasionally Waitrose.

My favourite white bread flour is Allison’s Very Strong White Bread Flour. I first found it in Tesco but the last time I was about to run out they no longer had any in stock. I ordered some online from Amazon Fresh (Morrisons) but the road works in Victoria blocked the lorry entrance to our flats. To my chagrin, the delivery driver gave up and took my shopping back to the warehouse.

I saw online that both ASDA and Morrisons stock that flour and decided to visit each of them for the first time. Both are designed to make everything look as if it is at a cheaper price – some definitely cheaper than in our usual supermarkets but sometimes just less in the packet, so not really any cheaper.

After our Tour in the Time of Covid, we’ll stick to Tesco and Sainsburys alternately – we like some versions of our favourite products in one and some in the other. We’ll make an occasional trip to Waitrose – the most spacious feeling of them, for things not available at our usual stores.

However, when I next run out, if Tesco and Sainsburys don’t have my favourite flour in stock, I’ll make up a delivery order from ASDA or Morrisons, rather negotiating the nightmare junction that is at Elephant and Castle, and traipsing up the Old Kent Road or Walworth Road.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.
Woman in a White Coat

 

 

HAVING FAMILY TO DINNER AGAIN

Until Janice pointed it out, I hadn’t realised it was eighteen months since I last saw my daughter-in-law. She and Simon live near Bath, though Simon comes up to London for work four days a week and, once it was allowed, sometimes came to dinner. What with Lockdown and her job as a geriatrician, Janice and I just hadn’t met up.

It was lovely having them and our son Bernard to dinner. We had, of course, all carried out a Lateral Flow Covid test on ourselves before meeting up, just in case!!

Josh made one of his delicious signature salmon and asparagus frittatas, accompanied by a mixed salad, and I cooked a Waitrose recipe, plum cake. The cake was delicious, but I should have baked it in a larger springform tin. In the tin I chose, the dough rose so high it buried my pattern of plum slices on the top. The men had their dessert with crème fraiche, while Janice and I indulged in our favourite Puffer Cream.

Plum cake – Waitrose recipe

I enjoy cooking and baking. Not being able to have  friends and family to dinner is something I really missed during Lockdown. I’m sure it’s because I’m not sharing my cooking that I’ve put on the extra four kilos I am now struggling to lose. I shall just have to start counting calories again – the only way it works for me to slim.

Well, not quite the only way. When I was on a ventilator and fed by nasogastric tube after my heart attack, I lost 4 kilos in just 3 weeks. I wouldn’t want to go through that again and nor would my family. Simon told me that for ages he couldn’t bear to cycle past the hospital where I had been fighting for my life. At a meeting of heart attack survivors and their partners, we were invited to revisit the wards where our lives had been saved. A couple of wives told me they had difficulty getting in the lift to go up to the Intensive Care Unit – their memories of that time were so painful.

Another problem is that all my recipes are geared for six – for Josh and me and our four children. And of course, when they were younger and lived at home, the two boys could eat for four. I got used to us clearing up after a two or three course dinner only to hear a plaintive –‘Can I have a Sarnie, Mum?’ from one or both of the boys.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

CLICK AND COLLECT WITH A SMILE

Click and Colletc at ASDA

Isn’t it great how a helpful, smiling, shop assistant cheers you up for the day? Even when it’s a cold, grey, miserable day, with the rain pelting down.

There are road works outside the exit to our car park and, though we can drive out, there is no easy passageway for vans or lorries. I’d nearly got through the stash of my favourite Allison’s Very Strong White Bread Flour and the Tesco we patronise no longer stocks it. I prefer the taste and my bread seems to rise more with that flour. Nor was it listed for Tesco online, so we made up an order for Amazon Fresh (Morrisons) to be delivered. Minutes before the delivery was due, a text message ‘Delivery cancelled. Failure of Access’ appeared. The driver could have parked around the corner and walked his trolley to our entrance, but he didn’t. Just took it all back to base.

Online, I found that ASDA stock my preferred flour and I made up a ‘Click and Collect’ order. The Grocery Collection, ‘Click and Collect’, point was clearly marked and had covered parking – a great advantage on a very rainy day. When we arrived, there were instructions to click on ‘I’m here’ on the confirmation email we had received. I’d only registered at ASDA that week and couldn’t for the life of me remember which password I had used. I failed to log on several times, but fortunately, the assistant was just bringing out another customer’s shopping and identified us by name.

She soon brought out our shopping in small crates and we started to load it into the boot of our car only to find that one packet of flour was the wrong one – Strong Bread Flour instead of Very Strong Flour (my preferred Canadian flour). The packets are almost identical except for the title.

‘No problem’, the assistant said, with a smile. ‘I’ll change it for you.’

It wouldn’t have been too annoying if she had been unable to find the right one, as I’d ordered several packets, but she was soon back with the correct one and yet another smile.

We’re all too used to grumpy assistants, especially on such a miserable rainy day, but she was a ray of sunshine. I’m sorry I didn’t ask her name but, by the time we’d finished loading our groceries, she had gone back inside. Maybe I’ll send this piece to ASDA – except I wouldn’t want to get in trouble whoever put the wrong flour in our shopping in the first place.

Read more of my stories in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and my previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the  7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

 

 

ALUMNI OF CFS (CENTRAL FOUNDATION SCHOOL FOR GIRLS)

My sister and I in Ely 1939

I was not quite 8 years old when I was evacuated to Ely near Cambridge in September 1939, together with my middle sister, who had just joined Central Foundation School for Girls – then in Spital Square, East London. We were first evacuated to Littleport and then moved to a billet on the outskirts of Ely, where CFS was set up.

Before the Education Act of 1944, Grammar Schools were fee paying, unless you won a Junior County Scholarship, which all children sat for aged 11. You had another chance of a free place aged 13, and my middle sister had won one of these Supplementary Scholarships that year.

She had her sights set on becoming a doctor, but it was not to be. We were very unhappy in our billet and when my father came to visit just before Christmas, he took us home. Unfortunately, there were no grammar schools left in London in 1940, and as my sister was now 14 (the leaving age, she officially left school, while I went to a temporary primary school in Toynbee Hall. She trained at Pitman’s to become a shorthand/ typist, which she hated, and left home at 17 to work on a farm. She later emigrated to live on a Kibbutz, where she died aged only 60.

I joined CFS in 1942, having returned from evacuation in Dawlish in South Devon. I know that some of my contemporaries are still alive and wonder how many alumni who went to Ely with the school in 1939 are still around. I am 89, going on 90, they would be at least 92/ 93.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

ARE YOU TWO TOGETHER? – SUPERMARKET RULES RE COVID-19

I was a lot slimmer in 1956

We started going into supermarkets separately when we were first instructed not to shop in groups but to shop singly. I asked a Tesco manager ‘What about the aged? Oldies like us?’. ‘It’s fine,’ he said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not meant for couples like you.’

But Josh said he didn’t want the hassle of being told off by an officious security guard and now we find it’s a good thing having separate lists. We cook on alternate days and often want very different ingredients, so this new arrangement works fine.

Except we often arrive at the checkout at the same time.

‘Are you together?’, the cashier asks as we combine our trolleys. ‘We have been for 65 years,’ I gloat.

The response varies from ‘Really. 65 years? How fantastic,’ to ‘Amazing. And you’re still married?’

It’s as if it’s strange for people to stay married!!

When we were young, the only divorced person we knew, well not ‘knew’ but ‘knew of’, was Wallis Simpson – and what a scandal that all was!! For my generation, ‘Till death do us part’ meant just that!!

And couples all got married. I can remember the first time a neighbour said her daughter had moved in with her boyfriend, and how shocked I was. I wasn’t shocked at the idea of her daughter living in what was then sin, but that she had told me! In those days you’d be ashamed to admit such a sinful occurrence and there were plenty of ‘shotgun’ weddings, with the ‘bump’ hidden by discrete adjustment of the bride’s wedding dress. And many seven-month babies resulted!!

I really don’t know where all those years have gone – the good and the bad: the joys of our children’s successes, so much more satisfying than our own, and the horrors of their illnesses and accidents – again much more heart-rending than those we suffered ourselves.

Thanks to Boris there will now be a rush to carry out those marriages delayed by COVID-19 – and long may they last!!

To love and to cherish until death do us part.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

DR ABBY WATERMAN’S LOST MARBLES SYNDROME?

Forget-me-nots in Westminster

According to Wikipedia: A syndrome is a set of medical signs and symptoms which are correlated with each other and often associated with a particular disease or disorder. The word derives from the Greek, meaning “concurrence”. Usually, syndromes are named after people by others, but I have called this one after myself because I am both the patient and a doctor.

The symptoms often start in early middle age, though many people show signs of the disease earlier. Sufferers complain that a word is on the tip of their tongue, but they can’t recall it, or that they recognise faces, but can’t put a name to them. Some have claimed that during Lockdown they found it difficult to know what day of the week it was and that when they left the house, they had to go back to check that they’d remembered to turn off the gas and lock the front door.

As a child, I had a nearly photographic memory– couldn’t read a book twice because I’d know what was on the next page – but that faded with increasing age. I didn’t really notice that my store of marbles was less full than it had been, until in 2016 when I had a near-fatal heart attack. When I came off the ventilator, I not only had the weirdest delusions but found that quite often I couldn’t think of the exact word I was looking for -– something that had been rare for me. Later, I noticed that my spelling wasn’t as accurate as it used to be, and that I was increasingly grateful for my spell checker.

It is typical of sufferers of this syndrome that they have secret fears of developing Alzheimer’s, but their worries are often unfounded.

Some think that a nice cup of tea helps, while others recommend lazing in the sun on the French Riviera, or a long scented bath. However, there are no scientific double blind trials to investigate these types of therapy, although the anecdotal evidence is that all three have been found to be of some value.

I would welcome hearing of further examples of the effect of my syndrome as I am thinking of applying to the Medical Research Council for a grant to compare the benefit of a cruise on a COVID-free liner in a POSH cabin, with that of a Weekend in Southend-on-Sea. However, I fear that the Council might balk at the cost of a first class cabin with private balcony.

Note: My memoir is called ‘Woman in a White Coat’ not ‘Increasingly Forgetful Abby Waterman’. You can read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

About ‘Woman in a White Coat’

 

AREN’T GRANDCHILDREN WONDERFUL?

Our Basque grandchildren – now aged 21 and 24

Those of us who want children, and have them, are fortunate indeed, but having grandchildren is even better.

It’s not just that you can give them back when you and they have had enough. Much of the time you are tired and uptight when your own children are young, but most of us are more relaxed and laid back by the time we are old enough to have grandchildren. They bring you enormous joy – especially when they are little. My mother would say it’s Nachus and Yichus – joy especially from children and family.

Our elder son and elder daughter have each got a daughter and a son. Simon and his wife are doctors who worked in Zimbabwe, and then Malawi, while their children were young. Not wanting to be separated by thousands of miles, they came back to the UK when our grand-daughter was about to go to UNI. Until then, we saw the children only when they came to stay with us for a couple of weeks each summer, so we missed much of their growing up.

Louise, our elder daughter, took the TEFL language teaching test after graduating. Her first job was in the Basque Country where she met my son-in-law and she has lived there ever since. Fortunately, she and her husband are both teachers and until COVID the family was able to come and visit each school holiday.

Of course, it was lovely seeing them all, but I would much have preferred to have them living next door or at least in the same city.

The story behind the attached photo goes back to the late 1960s and our John Dobbie toyshop. We stocked as many handmade toys and country crafts as we could find. The doll’s pram with our grandson in it came from our shop. It was one of the items we took home for our children to play with.

We lived near Wimbledon tennis at the time and I decided to buy something in Southfields, taking Louise and Jane, then aged 4 and 2 with me. Louise decided she wanted to take her doll in the wicker pram and I pushed Jane in a pushchair. When it was time to go home. Louise refused to walk and sat crying on the pavement in the embarrassing way children do, making me feel an idiot. Putting Jane into the doll’s pram, I strapped Louise into the pushchair and struggled home pushing the pushchair and pulling the pram behind me.

The pram was one of the items Louise took with her when she moved to Spain. The photo is a souvenir of that walk from our home to Southfields.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

 

 

 

 

MOTHERS-IN-LAWn

Maybe my teenage mother-in-law caught the bride’s bouquet

Until not so long ago, every comic had a fund of nasty mother-in-law jokes and, if the comedian was Jewish, he’d have some equally unflattering Jewish-mother jokes too. Now I am both, and a committed feminist, I resent all those unpleasant references, especially as my mother-in-law was loving and caring.

Like so many children, I was evacuated for long periods during WW2 with little if any contact with my parents. I returned from Dawlish in 1942 after two years in which my mother visited a couple of times and my father not at all. Our pre-war closeness was gone. When my father died, I was surprised and saddened to discover a letter kept with his will in which he said how much he loved me. I wish he could have told me that while he was alive, instead of being quite distant. My mother seemed to care much more for my elder sister, her firstborn, and I accepted that.

My husband, Josh, was an only child, with a gregarious outgoing father. His mother, Eva, was quite shy, but we got much closer after my father-in-law died and she moved to a flat that was only a short bus ride away.

Eva adored our four children, coming on holiday with us when we went away in the UK and babysitting during the periods between au pairs. She was still shy and undemonstrative but managed to make me feel loved and cared for.

When we started our toyshop, John Dobbie, we sold party favours in packets long before you could buy packets of balloons and little toys ready to hand out at the end of your child’s birthday party. My mother-in-law discovered a real knack for packing them into cellophane bags and attaching the labels designed by the late Colin Fulcher.

She was the youngest of four – three girls and a boy – and was tiny. In my prime I was 5’1½ and she was even smaller than me. It was good to be taller than someone!! She was born in the UK and married a very distant German relation, living in Berlin until 1939, when my father-in-law’s profession as a dental technician allowed him to escape the Nazis and come to the UK.

She died in 1969 and I still miss her and think about her. She was a model mother-in-law and Jewish mother, and fie on all those telling those nasty jokes about them.

While my first memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is mainly about growing up in the East End of London and achieving my various professions, my forthcoming book ’25 Houses’ will have more about the people in my life like my late mother-in-law, who were major influences.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

 

YOU KNOW YOU’RE OLD WHEN …

The boys at primary school around 1967

You know you’re really old when your eldest is about to turn 61, the next one is nearly 59 and the girls are 55 and 54. Until 2006, when we moved into our present flat, we had moved every 5 years or so. I like change – even if sometimes it’s not for the better – and I even started the second volume of my memoir to be entitled ’25 Houses’ – the number of houses, flats and hospitals I’ve lived in – including the three private dwellings and the children’s hostel I was evacuated to during WW2.

I won’t list all the various ills my body has been afflicted with, but they include breast cancer, a near fatal heart attack and several bone fractures. When I was 60 and Josh 62, we bought a mews house in Marylebone with a lease of 30 years. We weren’t worried about having to renew the lease – we were sure we’d be long gone when it expired. But after 15 years, we were still around, and had the unpleasant task of trying to negotiate a lease extension with a greedy estate. Fortunately, they were so grasping that we couldn’t afford to stay and moved to a flat in Westminster. It is so much better for us than the mews house, being on one level with lifts, an underground car park and 24-hour porters who keep an eye out for us.

I can remember as an adolescent talking to someone of 35 and thinking I’d never get to be that old but here we are and if I survive (PG) I shall be 90 in October.

Yes, having survived cancer and all that, I am worried about losing my marbles. Every time I can’t think of the word on the end of my tongue or what’s the name of someone or other, I fear that it’s the onset of Alzheimer’s, but perhaps that will be delayed until this new treatment comes on the market and the little grey cells will survive in more or less working order until the end.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUR OLD BANGER

Our 14-year-old Renault Scenic

Our very first car was a real old banger. We bought it for £150 in 1959 from a colleague and called it Phillida in her honour. It was a pre-WW2 Morris 8 and pretty well held together by rust. The first time I took it out on my own, I scraped it against a parked lorry and tore off the front near wing.

Already a qualified dentist, I qualified as a doctor in 1959 and I was just about to start a live-in post as a House Physician. There was little public transport near the hospital and having a car meant that Josh could come and visit me at weekends.

After a skid on its nearly bald tyres – no MOT in those days -we swapped Phillida for a Morris Minor and got back our original £150 in part exchange. We then changed cars every 2 or 3 years as you did then – tempted by the dealers’ offers of low repayments. They all arrived with one or more faults. An MG was delivered with 11 things to put right!

We have had our latest ‘old banger’ for 14 years – a Renault Scenic that arrived with everything fully functional and a joy ever since. Its annual MOT was due, so as part of the test our car had to have its emission checked. WHICH warned that if this proves a problem in older cars the repair may cost more than the car is worth. Fortunately, our car passed, so we should be OK for another year.

However, sooner or later petrol driven cars will be phased out. Our underground car park doesn’t yet have any charging points and there are presently no street charging stations in easy walking distance. Still, when you are 89 (me) and 91 (Josh) it may never become our problem!!

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free.

Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat