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Joseph Markovitch, I’ve Lived In East London For Eighty-Six & A Half Years

November 28, 2013
by the gentle author

Today, Martin Usborne launches Hoxton Minipress to publish collectable art books about East London and it is my pleasure to preview his first volume – the ultimate edition of his collaboration with Joseph Markovitch entitled I’ve Lived In East London For Eighty-Six & A Half Years.

Words by Joseph Markovitch & Photographs by Martin Usborne

“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.”

“In the old days, when a man went to see the opera he had on a bowler hat. If you were a man and you walked in the street without a hat on your head you were a lost soul. People don’t wear hats any more … but they wear everything else, don’t they?”

“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. 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. That would be my dream.”

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

“When I was a kid everyone was a Cockney. Now it’s a real mix. I think it’s a good thing, makes it more interesting. Did you know that I stand still when I get trouble with my chest? 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.”

“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 should be your best friend. Our best memories were going on a Sunday to Hampstead Heath Fair”

“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.”

“I’ve never had a girlfriend. It’s better that way. I have always had very bad catarrh, so it wasn’t possible. And I had to care for my mother. 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. That’s the main thing, it’s been a good life.”

“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!”

“I’ve seen the horse and cart, I’ve seen the camera invented, I’ve seen the projector. I never starved.”

“Lots of things make me laugh. Fruit makes 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 to a desert island and he is stranded the monkeys are always friendly. You think the monkey is throwing things at your head but really he is throwing the coconuts for you to eat.”

Photographs copyright © Martin Usborne

Click here to get your copy of I’VE LIVED IN EAST LONDON FOR EIGHTY-SIX & A HALF YEARS direct from Hoxton Minipress

19 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeannette permalink
    November 28, 2013

    love, love, love

  2. November 28, 2013

    Wow. What a delightful read this was. Thank you.

  3. November 28, 2013

    Thrilled to see these available again.

  4. November 28, 2013

    Extraordinary work!

    Especially the artful black and white close portraits.

    Your site feeds my soul.


  5. November 28, 2013

    That is one of the nicest portraits of a person I’ve ever seen and read.
    Very nice to meet you Mr Markovitch.

  6. November 28, 2013

    What a great old guy! Valerie

  7. Ana permalink
    November 28, 2013

    What I find poignant within stories from men like Joseph is theme of adaptation. These stories should be read by the Y generation, who find it difficult to adapt to the slightest thing and create dramas from mere trifles.
    It’s interesting how he mentions cars will grow wings [in the future]. I’d think the same/similar as a kid in the 80s, that cars would fly, but no such hope.

  8. November 28, 2013

    The little things delight, the sadnesses are borne bravely. Superb portrait.

  9. November 28, 2013

    I like this report. A very remarkable Man. He reminds me of my Father, who was born in 1926, and still as happy as can be! ACHIM

  10. November 28, 2013

    Very sweet. But if he saw the camera invented, then Joseph is a lot older than he’s letting on!

  11. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    November 28, 2013

    Wonderful, these pictures always make me smile!

  12. Lucia Mourelle permalink
    November 28, 2013

    I discovered your blog by chance, preparing my trip to London in January , it is such a plesure to read every day your stories and to look at the the images you choose. We will be in London from january 8 till february 2, do you have any conference in that period so we can assist?, thak you so much!! From Buenos Aires, Argentina

  13. Matt Johnson permalink
    November 28, 2013

    What a lovely piece. I especially enjoyed …

    “I’ve never had a girlfriend. It’s better that way. I have always had very bad catarrh, so it wasn’t possible.”

    Must get the book.

  14. November 28, 2013

    What an interesting man. Great article and photographs.

  15. Dawn permalink
    November 28, 2013

    Top. Really cheered me up on a miserable afternoon having a bit of a skive…

  16. November 28, 2013

    Simply the sweetest, saddest, most poignant and respectful East End photo essay ever. Copies are on sale in the Brick Lane Bookshop too, if you’re passing.

  17. William Bagley permalink
    November 29, 2013

    Wonderful – like a cockney Alan Bennett! I live in Cambodia now but reading this blog always reminds me of what I loved about London in my 20 years of living there. Wish I could meet Mr Markovitch for a cup of tea – or over a pint in one of the Gentle Author’s favourite East End watering holes.

  18. Carolyn Badcock - nee Hooper permalink
    December 4, 2013

    What a delightful story about a gorgeous person! Thank-you, gentle author.

  19. Amy permalink
    August 8, 2015

    What a wonderful man and a beautifully written portrait.
    Thank you.

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