Tag Archives: WW2

LATE FOR THE WEDDING

I was a lot slimmer then!!

My family was late for everything. That wasn’t surprising, since my mother always started out at the time we were meant to be there – for holyday services, for the cinema, for everything. I got used to pushing past unfriendly knees and apologising ‘Sorry. Sorry. So sorry’.

My parents had always gone to the Great Synagogue in Duke’s Place, but the magnificent old building was bombed in 1942 and services were held in an unadorned single story temporary building. My brother-in-law, who was a ganser macher (big noise) in the West Ham shul (synagogue), persuaded me to get married there and leave from their house which was nearby.

The car to take us to the shul had arrived and my middle sister, Hannah, made last minute adjustments to my headdress. My elder sister, Rebecca, had recently adopted a sweet little baby girl and of course Susie needed changing urgently, just as we were about to leave. It took Rebecca ages as she fumbled with an unfamiliar terry towelling nappy and the huge safety pin. Finally, we were ready, but now we were 15 minutes late. To cap it all, there’d been a minor road accident around the corner which made us later still.

As I climbed up under the chuppah (wedding canopy) it was to see Josh looking absolutely ashen in his Moss Bros tuxedo and top hat. He’d been sure I’d stood him up!!

He and his parents were the opposite to mine and always on time. Once safely married, I caught being punctual from him and now I’m always on time and often early. So – lots of unwanted cups of indifferent coffee while I wait for my friends to arrive or the class or meeting to start.

I thank all the lovely people who wrote and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

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

 

‘PICASSO ON PAPER’ AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY UNTIL APRIL 13th

‘Les Femmes d’Alger’ after Delacroix (Oil on canvas 1955)

I remember when after WW2 ended, we first saw Picasso’s Cubist portraits with noses and eyes going every which way.

‘My two-year old could do better than that,’ was a common response at the time.

We hadn’t released that his was an intentional interpretation of reality and not lack of ability.

I retired at 60, but Josh went on working until he was 65, so I took some short trips on my own to visit Louise and her family in San Sebastian. On one of them, she and Mark took me to the rebuilt town of Guernica, where there was an exhibition about Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica’, in memory of the bombing by Nazi warplanes at the beginning of the Spanish civil war. Not until after the death of the fascist dictator, Franco, did Picasso allow his original painting to come back to Spain. It is now housed permanently in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

There was a large reproduction of ‘Guernica’, and on either side copies of Picasso’s working drawings. That’s when I realised for the first time what an incredible draftsman he was. There were drawings of feet and heads – and of course his beloved bulls – all drawn in exquisite detail, before being converted into the distorted figures of his final work.

The present exhibition of Picasso’s work at the Royal Academy ‘Picasso on Paper’ is huge. There are works from all of his various periods. As well as his works on and with paper, there are a few oil paintings, sculptures and three dimensional collages. A veritable feast that needs more than one visit.

It was with great relief that we discovered the little bistro-type café set up at the back of the Royal Academy shop, complete with paper tablecloths and coloured pencils so you can imitate Picasso’s habit of drawing on anything and everything. And good strong coffee and crispy croissants.

It’s a must if you can visit London.

On Sunday February 9th on BBC4 you can watch at 9pm ‘The Many Faces of Picasso’ and at 10pm ‘Picasso’s Last Stand.’ Or on iPlayer

I thank all the lovely people who wrote and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End 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 KINDNESS OF A STRANGER

Don’t know whether they had solutions like this in the 1940s

Nowadays having lice is almost a badge of honour. I realised this when my very upper crust neighbour rang the bell to tell me that her daughter Fiona had lice, and that I should check my four for the nasty little things. She sounded quite proud of the fact. So different from when I was a child. Then if you had lice, it meant that you were poor, came from a dirty home and probably your mother didn’t love you. Same parasites – different time and different attitude.

It was Sophie who noticed the navy blue suited figure crossing the playground.

‘It’s Nitty Nora,’ she hissed, loudly enough for the whole class to hear.

The Health Visitor called at our school on a regular basis, checking for lice and scabies. Our form mistress, Miss Evans, came to our classroom at the end of Latin.

‘Make your way to the First Aid room, girls, and line up in alphabetical order. Behave yourselves now. You don’t want to make me ashamed of you.’

I was last but one – Waterman came before Zaperstein.

‘Hold out your hands,’ the Health Visitor directed. ‘I’m pleased to see at least one girl has got nice clean nails,’ she said, as she inspected my hands for the tell-tale burrows of scabies.

She went on to look through my hair, especially in the warm places behind my ears, and then dismissed me.

Miss Evans stopped me as I queued to leave at the end of the afternoon and handed me a small brown envelope. You used to be able to steam those envelopes open and be forewarned about any wrongdoing on your part, but the teachers now sealed the envelopes with a strip of sellotape.

I held my breath as my mother opened it.

Dear Mrs Waterman

This is to inform you that your daughter Abigail Waterman has been found to be infested with lice. You are required to take her to Finsbury Square Cleansing station at 8am tomorrow morning. She will be unable to attend school until she is certified free of lice and nits. 

My mother was furious.

‘You insisted on washing your hair yourself and now look at the state of you – lice indeed. You’ve disgraced me and disgraced our family. They’ll think I’m a bad mother.’

She insisted on washing my hair twice that evening and there was certainly no supper that day.

I went on my own to the Cleansing Station, sitting as far as possible from anyone else on the bus lest they see lice crawling through my hair. I stood at the top of the stairs leading down to a mahogany door with a porthole in it filled with pebbled glass. The brass handrail gleamed in the winter sunlight as did the fittings on the door.

Instead of the ogre I was expecting, a jolly plump red-faced woman opened the door wide, a beaming smile on her face.

‘Come on in, my dear. I don’t bite.’

She washed my hair twice with anti-lice shampoo that smelled strongly of carbolic and combed it with a toothcomb. Towelling it almost dry, she sat me down in front of the fire with a sweet cup of tea and a biscuit.

‘Don’t be upset, sweetheart,’ she said. ‘I get plenty of clean girls through my hands. Anyone can catch the horrid little things. I’m afraid you can’t go back to school today, my love. You need to come back tomorrow and if there are no lice or nits left, I’ll give you a note saying that you are free of them.’

I felt like kissing her, but I was too shy.

No-one at school seemed to know or care why I had been away for a day and I never had lice again as a child. It wasn’t until I had four louse-ridden children that I caught head lice again – but that’s another story.

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on 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

1944 AND WW2 IS DRAGGING ON

 

Hither Green Scarlet Fever Hospital 1897-1997

Hitler was still sending nightly bombing sorties against London so we slept in our designated shelter, the converted basement of a factory in Middlesex Street. The authorities had installed black metal bunk beds, as well as lockers and chemical toilets against one wall. I would gather up my most precious possessions – my pressed flower book from the Holy Land, my best cardigan and the placemats I was embroidering – and stuff them into a pillowcase, together with my homework and a torch, so I could read under the blankets after the main lights were turned off.

We children expected to get one or more childhood fevers. I caught measles, chicken pox, rubella and whooping cough in turn. That was about par for the course. I was left with a cough for years and a few little pock marks on my face, but I was lucky – there was a significant mortality associated with these infections. Some children were left blind or deaf from measles and every school had children wearing leg braces to support limbs damaged by polio. The only immunisation/ vaccination we had was against smallpox.

The last infectious disease I caught was Scarlet Fever and I loved having it.

As I trailed after my mother to the shelter, I was feeling worse and worse. My head ached and my throat was sore. By next morning my chest was covered in a vivid red rash.

I don’t remember at which stage I saw a doctor, but I was soon wrapped in a soft red blanket and packed off in an ambulance to Hither Green Isolation Hospital – Scarlet Fever is very infectious. It was so exciting. I’d never been in an ambulance before. I loved it when they turned on the bell when they couldn’t get through traffic.

At the hospital, the examining doctor congratulated me. He said I had the classical Strawberry Tongue of Scarlet Fever and bemoaned the fact there were no medical students to admire it. The nurses took my clothes away to be fumigated and I was admitted to a ward full of crying toddlers and babies.

Antibiotics weren’t yet available so I just had to wait for the disease to take its course. After a couple of days, I felt fine. Fortunately, there was one girl of my age, Ellie. There were separate one storey buildings for each infectious disease, set in quite extensive grounds. Ellie and I could wander at will. The wards were called by different letters and each had a tree planted nearby whose name began with that letter. Being in Q ward, I met quinces for the first time.

It was lovely having a friend of my own age and wonderful not having to sleep in a crowded shelter, nor having to use the smelly chemical toilets. But while I was in hospital, Hitler started to send over Doodlebugs, unmanned explosive planes which didn’t have to wait for the cover of darkness to avoid anti-aircraft fire and could be sent over day or night.

I think I was in hospital about 2 weeks. The good thing was that when I was discharged home, there was now no point in sleeping in the shelter that I hated. I could sleep in my own bed, curled up in my lovely feather ‘parana’ – bed bugs and all!!

Hither Green Scarlet Fever Hospital was opened 1897 and after being used for a number of different medical specialities, it was closed in 1997. It was designed by Edwin Thomas Hall, who also designed the Liberty Stores in Regent Street. The hospital has been demolished and the site is now a housing complex, Meridian South.

I thank all those lovely people who read and commented on stories like this in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’.

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

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

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