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Joseph Markovitch Of Hoxton

August 4, 2012
by the gentle author

Joseph Markovitch

A few years ago, Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Martin Usborne created a beautiful booklet of pictures of his friend Joseph Markovitch entitled I’VE LIVED IN HOXTON FOR EIGHTY-ONE & A HALF YEARS, accompanied by eloquent quotes from Joseph. Celebrating the publication of an expanded and updated hardback edition, now titled I’VE LIVED IN EAST LONDON FOR EIGHTY-FIVE & A HALF YEARS, I am revisiting these excerpts which create a vivid portrait of the remarkable Mr Markovitch.

“We used to have cabinet makers and tailors and music halls. Now we have a big Olympic stadium. I’m not sure about it. There’s a man I know and his son helped build the Olympics. Now the son is redundant. They make people redundant when they don’t want them no more. Once something’s done, it’s done. What’s going to happen after the races are finished?”

“This is where I was born, right by Old St roundabout on January 1st, 1927. In those days it wasn’t called a hospital, it was just called a door number, number four or maybe number three. The place where I was born, it was a charity you see. Things were a bit different back then.”

“When I get trouble with my chest I have to stand still. Last Saturday, a woman come up to me and said “Are you OK?” and I said, “Why?” She said, “Because you are standing still.” I said, “Oh.” She said she comes from Italy and she is Scots-Canadian, and do you know what? She wanted to help me. Then I dropped a twenty pound note on the bus. A foreign man – I think he was Dutch or French – said, “Mate, you’ve dropped a twenty pound note.” English people don’t do that because they have got betting habits. They take your twenty pounds and go and put it on the horses. It’s good to have all sorts of foreigners here.”

“I worked two years as a cabinet maker in Hemsworth St, just off Hoxton Market. But when my sinuses got bad I went to Hackney Rd, putting rivets on luggage cases. For about twenty years I did that job. My foreman was a bastard. I got paid a pittance. He tried to sack me but his father said, “You can’t throw Joe out of the firm, he is too good.” I used to shout at the foreman. The job was alright apart from that. If I was clever, very clever, I mean very very clever, then I would like to have been an accountant. It’s a very good job. If I was less heavy, you know what I’d like to be? My dream job, I’d like to be a ballet dancer. Or maybe a clown. But I know what I definitely do not want to be is a funeral director. What a terrible job! Or what about those people that study the stars? That’s a very good job. I’m interested in the universe. In how things began and what’s out there on other planets and lumps of energy that are millions of miles away. It’s more interesting than rivets. Hey, if a meteor landed in Hoxton Square, you think anyone could survive?”

“If I try to imagine the future. It’s like watching a film. Pavements will move, nurses will be robots and cars will grow wings…

…you’ve just got to wait. There won’t be any cinemas, just computers in people’s homes. They will make photographs that talk. You will look at a picture of me and you will hear, “Hello, I’m Joseph Markovitch.” and then it will be me telling you about things. Imagine that!”

“My mother was a good cook. She made bread pudding. It was the best bread pudding you could have. She was called Janie and I lived with her until she died. I wasn’t going to let her into a home. Your mother is your best friend, you see. If she went to the butcher, even if she went early on a Friday, I left work early so I could go with her to the butcher. Your mother should be your best friend.”

“I like to go to the library on Monday, Tuesday and … Well, I can’t always promise what days I go. I like to read about all the places in the world. I also go to the section on the cinema and I read a book called “The life of the stars.” But I only spend thirty per cent of my time reading. The rest of the time, I like to sit on the sofa and sit quite a long way back so I am almost flat. Did you know that Paul Newman’s father was German-Jewish and that his mother was Hungarian-Catholic? You know Nicholas Cage? He is half-German and half-Italian. What about Joe Pesce? Where are his parents from? I should look it up.”

“A lot of young kids do graffiti around Hoxton. It’s nice. It adds a bit of colour, don’t you think?”

“I’ve never had a girlfriend. I think it’s better that way. I have always had very bad catarrh, so it wasn’t possible. That’s the thing, my health. And I had to look after my mother all my life. Anyway, if I was married, I might be dead by now. I probably would be, if you think about it. I would have been domineered all my life by a girl and that ain’t good for nobody’s health. I’m too old for that now. I would like to have had a girlfriend but it’s OK. You know what? I’ve had a happy life, I never starved. That’s the main thing, it’s been a good life.”

“Some things make me laugh. To see a dog talking makes me laugh. I like to see monkeys throwing coconuts on men’s heads, that’s funny. When you see a man going on a desert island, and he is stranded, the monkeys are always friendly. You think the monkeys are throwing things at your head but really he is throwing the coconuts for you to eat.”

“There’s no point crying about things, is there? People don’t see you when you are sad. Best to keep going, keep walking.”

Photographs copyright © Martin Usborne

Copies of I’VE LIVED  IN EAST LONDON FOR EIGHTY-FIVE & A HALF YEARS BY Joseph Markovitch & Martin Usborne are available by clicking here

Be sure to follow Martin’s blog A YEAR TO HELP

5 Responses leave one →
  1. August 4, 2012

    such peace and engagement. <3 <3<3 may you have another 85 and a half good years, mr. markovitch.

  2. Libby Hall permalink
    August 4, 2012

    Yes definitely be sure to follow Martin’s blog: ‘A Year to Help’. I laughed till I cried – and that is a most excellent way to start a day.

  3. August 4, 2012

    Fantastic! What a lovely man with such a sense of wonder for the world. I aspire to such good humour. Excellent photos as well.

  4. August 5, 2012

    A wonderful post – too many favourite quotes to repeat here, but I especially liked ‘anyway if I was married I might be dead by now’ and ‘to see a dog talking makes me laugh.’

  5. albert permalink
    August 6, 2012

    The world is a better place with Mr. Markovitch in it. It is nice to think that he is out there, going about his day, and taking the time to “stand still.”

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