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The Mind Keeps The Score

October 18, 2022
by the gentle author

Let me take you on an atmospheric autumn walk through the streets of Spitalfields




Andy Strowman

ANDY STROWMAN is hosting a poetry reading with fellow East End writers at House of Annetta, 25 Princelet St at 3pm on Sunday 30th October. Writers include Shamim Azad, Paul Collins, Jeffrey Kleinman, Roger Mills, Farah Naz, Milton Rahman, Ian Saville and Jamie Strowman.

The event is entitled THE MIND KEEPS THE SCORE, Remembering our past, honouring our future in stories and poems.

All are welcome, admission is free and no booking is required.


Let me introduce Andy Strowman, the poet of Stepney. ‘I’ve kept quiet for long periods of my life,’ Andy confessed to me when I met him recently. ‘I hope this interview will help people not to be ashamed and feel able to talk about whatever subject they want in life.’ Of modest yet charismatic demeanour, Andy is a born storyteller and I was rapt by his tale, unsentimental yet full of human sympathy too.

‘At Bearsted Maternity Hospital in Stoke Newington, the doctors said to my mother, ‘I’m sorry Mrs Strowman, you’re going to have to have a caesarean.’ But she said, ”Oh no you won’t’ and I gave one push and out you came.’ She showed formidable East End spirit. They brought me back to Milward St, where we lived at the back of the Royal London Hospital, one of the oldest streets in Whitechapel.

Rose, my mother – maiden name Cohen – was a true East Ender born at the Royal London Hospital. Her sister, my Aunty Rae, lived with us. Her brother Jack worked at the Cumberland Hotel where he introduced me to Mohammed Ali. Then there was Barney who was also a formidable, beautiful man. He ended up in Wormwood Scrubs because he was a Conscientious Objector. He was in the army but he had no bad bones in his body and refused to fight.

My mother started work at fourteen years old, her first job was in Whitechapel Rd at the junction with New Rd. She was besotted with wanting to be a milliner. She always stood up for herself and, in another generation, she would have been a Suffragette. In her first job, the governor told her to clean the toilets so she went home and told my grandmother.

My grandmother told the governor, ‘I sent my daughter here to get a training and learn a trade, she’s not here to clean toilets.’ He said, ‘But that’s how I started…’ So my grandmother told him, ‘My daughter’s not going to be working for you any more,’ and took her away. God bless her for fighting for her rights! My mother got another job and went up to the West End, copying designs for hats, then making them at home before taking them into her new work place where the manager was very pleased.

Her mother came from Vilna which was then in Russia, escaping the pogroms, the mass slaughter of Jews. She was fourteen when she came over and seventeen when she married. It was an arranged marriage to my grandfather, who was nineteen. He was from Warsaw, most likely the Vola district, and he was in the garment trade.

Sam, my father, was an American who became a black cab driver in London. His parents were Russian, from the Ukraine, who landed in New York. He came over here as a soldier in the Second World War and my mother met him in a night club in Piccadilly Circus. They got married in Philpot St Synagogue in Whitechapel, where I and my brothers had our Bar Mitzvahs. 

It is emotional for me to talk about my childhood, because although there were many happy moments there were also many very sad ones. It still stays with me now and it is why I do everything I can to help other people.

There was an expectation that we would go out and play in the street to give our parents a break and we used to play football. We were often tasked with running errands for old people and my mum used to arrange for me to sit with old people in their houses too.

Next door lived Rosie Botcher. Mum and Betty Gillard used to go round and wash her down after she had cancer. When I was born, she was given a year to live but lived another thirteen years. Also in our street was Byla Kahn who was from Poland, I used to love to sit with her because she told me stories. Since I was always a good boy, I waited for that formidable moment when she pulled open a little drawer and produced a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate for me.

One of the stories she told me was about when she was living with her grandparents. One day, she was washing clothes in the river when a resplendent man came along on a horse. He climbed off and started to talk to her. He was beautifully dressed and had a sabre. When she got home and told her grandmother what had happened, her grandmother was furious. That man was a Cossack and they had a terrible reputation for violence against Jewish people.

I have so many memories of Milward St but, like so many good things, it came to an end. We got a letter and my brother Paul, the journalist, read at it and said, ‘We’re going to have to leave.’ By that time, my mum and dad had split up. My father left when I was fourteen and I did not see or hear from him again for nearly seven years. After he left my mother stayed in bed for year and gave up washing. The letter said the houses were ‘unfit for human habitation.’ I did not understand what it meant but my brother told me, ‘We can’t live here anymore.’

We moved to a maisonette in Wager St off Bow Common Lane but we missed the strong community in Milward St where neighbours helped each other. My uncle told me that on a Friday night, before the war, people would go out into the street and talk until one o’clock in the morning. He said that once the war came, people did not do it anymore and the habit never returned afterwards.

Primary school was an adventure for me. I was always the last one in and the first one out. I think I got it from my mother, she was born with a club foot and did not like school because the children used to make fun of her, so she had to leave school after everyone else had gone home.

However I made a lot of good friends at Robert Montefiore School in Hanbury St. My favourite memory is when I was late and got taken upstairs and put into the class room by my mum. She asked ‘Where’s Mr Martin?’ and one of the children said, ‘He’s gone out.’ So she went to the front and announced, ‘I’m going to take the class now – everybody be quiet.’ As you can imagine, I was embarrassed to the hilt but also secretly proud that my mum with so little education had become a teacher. She asked, ‘Anybody going on holiday this year?’ One by one, they announced where they were going to go. Then Mr Martin returned in an advanced state of intoxication and said, ‘Well done, Mrs Strowman, you’re doing a marvellous job, you’d make a great teacher.’

We all had to take the 11-plus exam before we went to a grammar school or a secondary school but we never told our mums. Four of us – Colin McGraw, Keith Britten, Stephen Jones and me – made this pact to sit near each other and fail the exam, so we would all end up in the same school. But, although they failed and stuck together, I got a place at a grammar school, Davenant School in Whitechapel.

There began the tumult of my life. If I had one wish, it would be to have left school at eleven. In the first week, I was completely sabotaged by what was going on. I could not cope or keep up, moving classrooms, and doing homework.

The Chemistry teacher had a formidable stance and a bellowing voice like a ship’s captain. I was beginning to shake in fear and he noticed that – he picked up on my anxiety. He dragged me along the floor by my jacket until we reached the blackboard, where he smashed me to the ground. I could  not believe what was going on. He pulled me up and dragged me all the way back. The lesson continued. We were performing our first experiment, a test for hydrogen with a lighted splint. We were all working from textbooks and I was the only one to take it with me at the end of the class. He swore at me and smashed me against the wall with his fist. I was crying on the floor and my head was swollen. No charge was ever made against this man but I later discovered that he was well known for this kind of behaviour. The climate was fully acceptable for violence in that school.

The next day the headteacher pulled me out of class, took me to his office and said, ‘Strowman, you’ve got to learn to take the rough with the smooth. Now get back to class.’ From that moment onwards, my life was hell. Boys made fun of me and I was frightened most of the time, getting beatings off the other kids – sometimes four or five times a week. I had nobody to tell.

I asked to my brother, ‘Why didn’t you warn me?’ He told me, ‘They are all bad in there.’ He told me he was lining up outside the Art room once before class and heard this noise inside, so one of the boys opened the door to discover the headmaster and the Art teacher on the floor, punching each other.

The Geography teacher tried to make it kinder for me. He encouraged  me to look beyond. ‘Look out the window and think of the real world,’ he said to me once.

Our English teacher gave the books out quickly and put his feet up on the desk. He would learn back in his chair, while a pupil read ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin,’ and drink a half bottle of whisky right down at three o’clock in the afternoon. I got endeared to him quite quickly. On my way back to school after lunch at home, I would see him come out of the Blackboard pub and steer him across Valance Rd and back into school.

Eventually, I was put in a separate class with eight others – two of whom were known to the police – and we did not have to do homework. School was very damaging for me. I received an apology from the deputy headteacher, forty-eight years later.

The sun only began to come out when writing came into my life – it happened for two reasons. I had a teacher who encouraged me to write poetry and my brother Paul became a journalist, he was an inspiration to me. When I came back from school after the beatings and the taunts at fourteen years old, I found reading poetry was a great release – I wanted to change my name to W B Yeats! He was my hero, also Dylan Thomas, John Keats, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg – also the Yiddish writers. These people inspired me. Without money coming in, like a lot of East End boys, I lived on my wits – so I used to dodge my fare to buy books.

After I had left school, when I was sixteen and a half, I met Becky who was from California at Liverpool St Station, where I used to go in the evenings as write my poetry. I wrote her a poem.

To this day, when I write, I cannot believe it is me. It was a passion. It was the way out for me. Suddenly I learnt I could express myself. For around a year and a half, I was wandering around trying to get someone to take on my poetry. I visited publishers but got nowhere.

In the end somebody said to me, ‘Why don’t you try Chris Searle?’ He was the Stepney English teacher whose pupils went on strike after he was sacked. So went to a phone box in Aldgate by Gardiner’s Corner to call him and he said, ‘Why don’t you come round this evening?’ He became like a surrogate father to me. He recognised my work and helped publish STORY OF A STEPNEY BOY. He opened this magic door and I could go through it.

Poetry elevated my spirit and helped me to see myself more objectively. It took the thorns out of my soul.’

Andy, aged seven



Andy with his mother at the seaside

Andy aged eleven, with his parents



Uncle Davey

Uncle Jack once introduced Andy to Mohammed Ali



Andy’s father with Uncles, Davey and Jack

After Andy’s brother Howard’s Bar Mitzvah – Andy sits front left



Andy’s maternal grandmother

Aunty Rae

The wedding of Andy’s maternal grandparents

Copies of STORY OF A STEPNEY BOY may be obtained direct from Andy Strowman by emailing

You may also like to read about

At the House of Annetta

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Kitty Holly permalink
    October 18, 2022

    What a beautiful story…thank you for sharing with us always ???

  2. Andy Strowman permalink
    October 18, 2022

    Thank you Gentle Author for giving me a chance and so many others.. Bless you.
    Please come to the reading everyone. It is unique. The only time I have ever read at a public event with my brother Paul and my oldest son Jamie.

  3. October 18, 2022

    Coming to terms with childhood, in whatever form, is a worthwhile exercise. I try to cope with it every day. Doing it in the form of beautiful poems is wonderful.

    I wish you all the best for the future!

    Love & Peace

  4. Mark permalink
    October 18, 2022

    Always touched by your tales and poetry, which is generally not my bag.
    A working class life, lived.
    I second your lauding of G.A. whose eclectic posts are welcome in my life, daily.
    Keep it political Andy!
    I’m gonna get your book for Xmas, will be in touch.

  5. Paul Loften permalink
    October 18, 2022

    As much as I admire Andy
    This thought could come in handy
    If good bones make not to fight
    Bad bones will take their place alright

  6. Adele Lester permalink
    October 18, 2022

    Whenever I read of the brutality of the teachers at Davenant I shudder. Well done Andy for getting past it. To think, our families held those teachers in such high esteem!

  7. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 18, 2022

    What a heartbreaking story of a young boy schooling experiences. Thank goodness you came out of it the other side Andy Strowman. I applaud you, and your wonderful poetry!

  8. Andy Strowman permalink
    October 20, 2022

    Thank you everybody for your contributions and omments.
    Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, yes that fsmpis young girl, survived the war and the barracks the Germans put him in, by being kind to others and giving away at times little pieces of bread.
    I do the same in principle.
    There have been times the past has held me prisoner but I do all I can to escape.
    Some stories that happened appear in my book “Mum and I”. Others in “Story of a Stepney boy”, others in “Transgressions.”.
    I am very protected and try to protect others. G-d bless. Andy Strowman

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