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From Andy Strowman’s Album

July 24, 2022
by the gentle author

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Andy Strowman, poet of Stepney, sent me these photos and the stories which accompany them.

Uncle Dave

Uncle Dave came to visit us from time to time. Maybe my mum knew in advance, it was like having royalty come to see you.

One time he came over during his work lunchtime and my mum made him something to eat, like chicken soup. I told him I was going back his way, so we went together to Whitechapel Station. He was just about to get off at Aldgate East Station when I announced that I was going for a job interview.

“Shush!” he said,” Someone will get there before you!’

“Before you go in, take your raincoat off and fold it neatly draped over your arm.”

I got the job! It was only washing up, but Uncle Dave gave me the confidence.

Another time, when Uncle Dave and I had not long left the synagogue on the holiest night of the year, the Jewish New Year, in Hebrew Rosh Hashonah, a drunk man approached us, and his stormy face and mad rolling eyes made me, a boy of about eight, very frightened.

Uncle Dave pointed upwards at the night sky with its dazzling stars like a Van Gogh painting and uttered, “Look! Look up there!” As the drunk man searched the sky, Uncle Dave pulled my arm and we escaped.

When seventeen, that came in very handy in rescuing me from peril.

Bar Mitzvah

My mum and dad were so excited, they hired caterers to come to our poor house in Milward St. I had never seem so much food and drink for our family and guests in my life. Before the event, the synagogue service and all the family guests, the news was published in the Jewish Chronicle.

My mum was frantic, it was a lot of stress. My grandfather who lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and was originally from Ukraine came over for the bar mitzvah.

My friend and I sat on the stairs while all the grown-ups drank and talk. So much noise, it was like a wood-machining factory.

Uncle Jack

I like to remember the happy stories associated with him, like meeting my two young sons with giant Cadbury’s dairy milk bars. His generosity, such as when my mum was in hospital in Epsom, one of the patients needed their trousers mended and my uncle volunteered to do it, and brought them back to him.

His generosity was amplified by my friend Alan. Both were compulsive gamblers. After visiting the racecourse, Alan got off at Charing Cross main line station, a woman approached him and asked him for money. She said she was in a desperate state, so he gave her generously and she wanted to repay him.

One sunny day, Alan was sitting on a bench in Soho when this same woman came and repaid him.

Auntie Tina

Mental health can be a cruel teacher. Sadly, both my mum, Auntie Tina (Uncle Jack’s wife), Uncle Barney, and myself, have all had our share of it. Some can be attributed to circumstances, others to inherent cause but Auntie Tina had both.

Living in a high rise block of flats with disturbing neighbours nearby, being spat at in the lift, social isolation, can only lead to one thing. Her life was shorted much like Uncle Barney’s was.

Tina had come from Lisbon and had known more graceful days. The epiphany of lack of caring support and people hardly knowing neighbours, the ultimate question being, “Who could you ask among them if you have a serious problem?”

Reg & Valerie Parrish

Reg entered Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as part of the liberating forces. After what he saw there, all the dead bodies and Jewish people looking like skeletons, he vowed never to have any children and bring them into this world. Reg kept his word.

His sister, I believe her name was Valerie, was a member of ENSA, that entertained army troops during the war. She said, “We often ran the same risk as the soldiers in the war, and were caught up in shooting and bombing raids.”

Mum & Dad

My mum and dad were among the black cab taxi drivers who took children to the seaside for the day. These were children from care homes. In their case, the children were from Norwood Jewish care home.

The taxis were festooned with balloons and travelled as a long convoy to the seaside. There they had a good time – the children were fed and no doubt got an ice cream! I must admit to being jealous as going to the seaside was such a rare treat. To this day, the event still takes place by London taxi drivers. The Norwood home is I believe now closed though.

You may also like to read about

Andy Strowman, Poet of Stepney

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy Strowman permalink
    July 24, 2022

    Thank you Gentle Author.
    I hope this reaches the minds and hearts of msny.
    Best regards,

  2. Mark permalink
    July 24, 2022

    If only the working classes of all creeds and colours could unite, the boss class would be finished. The tabloids divide us, sadly, now social media!

  3. Bernie permalink
    July 24, 2022

    New Year = Rosh hashonah not Rosh Rosanna!

  4. Bernie permalink
    July 24, 2022

    Mark’s class-based diatribe belong in the distant past, not in the present-day. There are more than enough divisions in Society without Class, and all of them are, similarly, fleeting manifestations of history, education and prejudice, unworthy of rational beings.

  5. Betsy Betsy Barker permalink
    July 24, 2022

    So very touching. Thank you for this wonderful bit of history. One is saddened daily reading of prejudices around the world. Humans have a big brain, which they consistently refuse to use. Our government is guilty of spreading dissent and racism. I fear for the future of integrity, kindness, and all the other attributes which are gradually disappearing.

  6. Cherub permalink
    July 24, 2022

    Some lovely and poignant stories here, when people thought about others with kindness. I like the thank you card with the photo from the Barmitzvah, a really nice keepsake from a happy day with family and friends.

  7. July 24, 2022

    I am so grateful for these words and images today. This post radiates with humanity, humility,
    joie de vivre, gratitude, observation, innate wisdom, and so much more.

    Each of us have a story. We all matter. Thanks to Spitalfields Life, I have learned the heartfelt stories of many people and been enriched by every one.

    Onward and upward.

  8. Andy Strowman permalink
    July 24, 2022

    Unfortunately, as the Guardian quotes today, only in 100 in the Tory party come from a working clsss job.
    My brother Paul could have had a distinguished career in cricket, but at his trial, he was up agsinst children from public schools with the best bats, best cricket clothes, and best guidance.
    If life was fair what chance is there for the poor, coming from one parent families, all over the country, notably and relevantly in Tower Hamlets, npt far from Spitafields, the HIGHEST number of poor in the country.
    It is time to speak out, to stand up, and to fight for equality, as Mark rightly says.

  9. Mark permalink
    July 24, 2022

    G.A. I hope you will allow me to just say fair comment from Bernie, perhaps one does see things in black and white sometimes. Andy, deeply touched by your comments, nevermind the wonderful stories of you and your family.
    G A. most of your superb posts are about working class life. I take my hat off to to you and your wonderful contributors. Many thanks. I don’t think Cricket has moved on greatly either,even though I still enjoy a good test match!

  10. Andy Strowman permalink
    July 24, 2022

    Thank yoi for Mark, G. A, and those like Cherub and Betsy. I too understand that life should be and could be better if we only treated each other with kindness.
    My world has been fashioned by poverty and class but it never stopped me trying to be kind to other people.
    I have worked for the very rich and met so much prejudice in my life, and learnt, “Nobody exploits people like your own people.”

    On hopeful notes, my brother left school with just three Gcse’s. I left with none. He wanted to become a journalist and bravely did. First working for the East London Adveriser. His courage was matched by returning to Davenant, the very school I atrended, and covering a story of the Queen Mother visiting his old school.
    He regained some status by hoisting a notebook under the teacher’s chin, saying “I want a quote.” Living out the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the cane.”
    .Long may the bravery of the East End people be remembered and live on.

    Thank you and goodnight everyone for your kindness.
    Please tell a school what you read for most of this is untold.
    Andy x

  11. Bernie permalink
    July 24, 2022

    To Mark, my grateful thanks and appreciation for his open-mindedness.

    My background is not atypical for an East End Jew. Both my parents, though not strictly religious, were fairly typical, my father of a family that emigrated from Russia about 1840, my mother who followed her siblings to London from Polish Galicia around 1920. Both of them sought some basic education but my father’s life was affected by both his WWI service and WWII employment and they completed their married lives by raising a small family on very little money won by hard work and careful living which allowed their two children to gain education and qualifications. Both would have thought of themselves as “working class” but knew to deprecate that as a basis for their attitude to life. In Britain both then and now opportunities are relatively open to all regardless of colour, religion, gender etc.

  12. Mark permalink
    July 24, 2022

    I love spitalfields life!
    Night all x

  13. Ros permalink
    July 25, 2022

    The tenderness and care that Andy has for his family and their struggles shine through. It is beautiful. How is it that we as a country seem to have lost the wish for a society which aims to meet people’s needs for education, health and social support? How is it that instead we have those in power trumpeting that their aims are for more selfishness, less taxation and more deregulation and that these aims are what will win votes? How can that bring about ‘equalling up’? The gap between those with privilege and those without is getting wider and wider, and Andy’s writings should really make us think. And they do! Thank you Andy.

  14. Peter J Washington permalink
    July 28, 2022

    Wonderful, blessings to you and yours, Humanity coming through like a beacon of hope that there are fine people in this world.

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