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So Long, Joseph Markovitch

December 30, 2013
by the gentle author

Today we remember Joseph Markovitch who lived his whole life in the East End and died on Boxing Day, just six days short of his eighty-seventh birthday on January 1st. In collaboration with Photographer Martin Usborne, he created  I’ve Lived In East London for Eighty-Six & A Half Years which stands now as his memorial.

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

41 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    December 30, 2013

    love remains. amor manet.

  2. December 30, 2013

    Brilliant photos too….

  3. December 30, 2013

    Once again, what a lovely man. What a lovely essay. Thank you.

  4. Patty/BC permalink
    December 30, 2013

    I so enjoyed when you did your post on Joseph, I was hoping we would read again about him. Loved his crisp manner of speech and how he saw things from the past and present. I imagine he is now having a good chat with his Mom! Rest in peace Mr. Markovitch.

  5. Trish permalink
    December 30, 2013

    What a wonderful life to have lived, a wonderful man to have walked the East End of London.

  6. David Solomon permalink
    December 30, 2013

    Pure poetry dear GA!
    Each word, each image.
    Regards from Belgrade
    (A Gentle Disciple)

  7. December 30, 2013

    So very sorry to learn of Mr. Markovitch’s leave-taking.

    After reading about him in an earlier post and saving his photograph on my desktop, I almost feel as if I had known him. Gratitude to you, Gentle Author, for revealing his beauty of soul to all of us while he was upon this earth. Thank you for repeating this wonderful tribute.

  8. Lesley Russell permalink
    December 30, 2013

    Vale Joseph. And thank you Gentle Author for introducing him to us. May he be dancibg in heaven..

  9. Martin Usborne permalink
    December 30, 2013

    Thank you for covering Joe’s story. I have been touched by how many people responded to his words. He was a unique and kind man and I was fortunate to know him.

    Joe lived to walk and explore – over and over again he walked the same streets in East London, meeting new people and watching the landscape change, bit by bit.

    He will be very much missed – not just by his few remaining family and his friends – but also by the neighbourhood that he was so much part of.

    A little bit of London has passed on.

  10. annie permalink
    December 30, 2013

    RIP Joseph..
    A real character.

  11. December 30, 2013

    Dear Joseph Markovitch,
    you had a good und a remarkable life. Don’t be so sad about not having a girl friend. What did Baloo the Bear say: “Forget about those, they ain’t nothing but trouble.” 😉

    I am sure you will become a very good ballet dancer in Heaven!


  12. December 30, 2013

    that is a very beautiful and very moving short story about mr markovich, told in lovely pictures. i can remember old jospeh – not that i really knew him but i must have met him a few times when i lived in the east end – and this is a fitting tribute to him. thank u very much!

  13. Patricia permalink
    December 30, 2013


  14. Ros permalink
    December 30, 2013

    Awww I’m sorry. Such a one-off, lovely man. I always loved reading what he said.

  15. Les Bidewell permalink
    December 30, 2013

    What a wonderful gentleman of East London – a brilliant article of remembrance and recognition of his happy life, of tolerance and love of that great City.

  16. Kim in Australia permalink
    December 30, 2013

    It’s amazing how one moment you don’t know someone exists and yet the next instant their life is before you and you wish you’d been able to share even a little part of that life. Thanks to Martin Usborne, the photographer, and thank you Mr Markovitch – for simply being there for us. A quiet life, and one well lived. In a world turning faster and faster, seemingly going nowhere, we could all learn from this gentleman’s simplicity, decency and example.

  17. December 30, 2013

    This is one of my most favourite portraits on Spitalfields Life. And to think that without you I would never have got to meet Joseph Markovitch and to know that talking dogs made him laugh!

  18. December 30, 2013

    So sad to read that Joseph Markovitch has left us.

    Thank you to you and Martin Usborne for introducing us to such a wonderful character. A man who lived to live.

  19. sambal permalink
    December 30, 2013

    A beautiful story about a gentleman who lived life simply, gently and without razzmatazz – if only we could all follow his ways! RIP Joseph Markovitch.

  20. December 30, 2013

    Joseph Markovitch would have been pleased that his book has been selling so well- in fact it has been the surprise pre-Christmas bestseller at our bookshop in Old Street Station. It is a fitting testament to his life.

  21. December 30, 2013

    Do you know where the funeral is to take place?

  22. December 30, 2013

    Thank you so much Martin Usborne for all the wonderful work that you and Mr Markovitch created together. Not a photographer and his subject. You are united in words and images – an act of mutual respect and even love.

  23. December 30, 2013

    I hope he will be happy walking the streets of heaven! Valerie

  24. December 30, 2013

    What a great character and what a loss to the East End!

    I would love to know the name of the company where he worked in the Hackney Road as I have a sneaky suspicion that it might be the same place where my great grandfather worked all his life as a leather bag/portmanteau maker for somewhere called M Rose in the Hackney Road.

  25. December 30, 2013

    Heaven Is Richer.

  26. Chris F permalink
    December 30, 2013

    Very sad… But at least you have immortalised him with your words and pictures… I love the photo of him holding the folding camera and also the last but one in black & white and I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by ‘Kim in Australia’. “In a world turning faster and faster, seemingly going nowhere, we could all learn from this gentleman’s simplicity, decency and example”. Well said….. Rest in peace Joseph.

  27. John Daltrey permalink
    December 30, 2013

    I loved the first piece you did on his lovely man. I was born and lived in Bethnal Green, maybe I saw him, I wish I had met him, a real diamond
    John Daltrey

  28. December 30, 2013

    This one moved me to tears.
    He will rest in peace… I know it in my heart-of-hearts…. but the world has lost a dear, pure soul.

  29. December 30, 2013

    Thank you for introducing me via GA to this wonderful character Joseph Markovitch. I agree that heaven is richer although will be missed by many in the East End….a committed gentleman.

  30. Miss Gherkin permalink
    December 31, 2013

    The East End has lost a wonderful character – thank you to Martin Usborne for capturing and sharing the thoughts and images of Mr Markovitch, and to the GA to introducing us to Mr Markovitch via Spitalfields Life.

    Please post details of the funeral service; I’m sure that there are readers who would like to pay their respects to the man who was a gem of the East End.

  31. William Sovie permalink
    December 31, 2013

    So sorry to read this.

  32. David Jacobson permalink
    December 31, 2013

    What a joy, pictures and words. Arte verita!

  33. December 31, 2013

    r.i.p. my good man. what a character!

  34. sarah ainslie permalink
    January 1, 2014

    This is a beautiful collaboration between Martin and Joseph and love reading the book, very moving and funny too.

  35. January 2, 2014

    Rest in peace Mr. Markovitch. I ordered the book from the US. Hope they have some left! I so look forward to receiving it.

  36. Lisa permalink
    January 3, 2014

    Best place in heaven for him….

  37. January 3, 2014

    I discovered this book in a London bookshop just 3 days before Joseph died… I gave it to myself as a Christmas present as I am studying for a degree in photography and interested in social documentary. Thank you Joseph Markovich for being there, thank you Martin Usborne for your loving photographs, and thank you Gentle Author for showing them… Mx

  38. Ruth Offer permalink
    January 6, 2014

    Very sorry to hear the news of the passing of Mr. Markovitch. It feels like only yesterday that I was introduced to him by your article. Thank you for the introduction.

  39. margaret mcdermott permalink
    July 27, 2014

    Beautiful, very moving. The photographs are superb.

  40. Richard Smith permalink
    April 16, 2017

    I stand in awe of the photographs and Mr. Markovitch. God bless good sir and rest in peace, may there be many smiles on your face.

  41. December 8, 2021

    ‘Your Mother should be your best friend’ <3

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