Tag Archives: Petticoat lane

ON BEING A KIND SCHOOL DENTIST

I love this 1977 New Zealand Stamp with both Dentist and Patient smiling

I know a lot of people have awful memories of the school dentist and the gas mask they used, but I like to think I was one of the kind ones and treated the children as if they were patients in a private practice.

I’d had an LCC (London County Council) grant to cover my dental degree so I couldn’t have a second grant to cover the Medical training I started in the autumn of 1953. I applied for and was awarded a Hilda Martindale Scholarship which covered my medical school fees and a small amount towards my living expenses. I was still living at home so they weren’t great, but medical textbooks were very expensive and I needed money to cover clothes. I approached the LCC Dental Service for a part-time job two evenings a week and was sent to a clinic in the city.

Both the nurse and I were expecting a miserable old bag, like the school dental nurses we’d met ourselves, so both of us were surprised and delighted. Maureen was a rosy-cheeked Somerset lass with a broad sense of humour and we hit it off at once. We spent the time between patients giggling and exchanging notes on the talent available to us and the latest fashions.

As it was an evening clinic, most of our patients were in senior schools. Once they’d got over their amazement at being greeted by two young women in their 20’s and reassured that I would use a local anaesthetic for any painful fillings and never use gas, they were excellent and very grateful patients. Many of those who’d been through the school dental system hated the gas mask and it left them with a permanent fear of dentists. Although at the time, it was still legal for a dentist to administer a general anaesthetic (usually nitrous oxide) on their own, I would never do so. I could carry out fillings and extractions perfectly well under local.

In our first two years at medical school, covering Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry, we had long holidays so I took a two-week locum appointment at a school clinic in West Ham that Christmas. The kids were fine and I again had a very pleasant nurse, but I was appalled at the poverty around me. I was brought up in the East End and we were poor but, as my mother had been a dressmaker and scoured the markets stalls for fabric remnants, I was always reasonably well dressed. Some of these children were almost in rags. I tried to persuade a young teenage boy to take off his blazer – no overcoat. I was worried about getting blood or saliva on it. When he finally agreed, I saw that on this on a freezing December day he wore only a singlet underneath.

‘I only have one shirt, you see. Mum washes it every Friday night ready for school on Monday. I never wear it in the holidays.’

I carried on with my evening clinics after Josh and I got married in 1956, until we started out own dental practice where I worked on Wednesday afternoons – when the male medical students played rugger – and Saturday mornings.

And our lovely Maureen left the LCC service and came to work in our practice until she got married in turn and her husband took a job in the country.

I thank all the lovely people who wrote 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

 

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

 

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

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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

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

Any Old Iron??

Sagging bedstead
Sagging bedstead

Our poor Basque grandson has been sleeping uncomplainingly on this sagging folding bed the three times a year his family comes to visit. Quite by chance, I decided to do some of my physio exercises in the spare room on that bed and felt I might sink through right onto the floor.

Had to go to the South London dump to dispose of it and the electric blanket that decided to give up the ghost as soon as the weather turned chilly.

I have fond memories of the Rag and Bone man with a cart pulled by a scraggy old horse coming regularly through Petticoat Lane. He would never give you money in return for your offerings – only give you a little useless gift in exchange.

Excerpt from Chapter 3 Woman in a White Coat

I loved it when the coal man came. We could hear him calling ‘Coal for sale’ from streets away and I would be sent down to ask for a bag of coal.

Continue reading Any Old Iron??