Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Curry without chips

It may be difficult to believe in these days of multicultural cooking, but I had never tasted curry until I was nineteen years old.  Despite having been born near the London docks with a spice warehouses nearby, foreign foods were not eaten in our house, if you dont count bagels and soused herring.

Back then, ending an evening in the pub with a curry or a vindaloo or whatever was not that common. I had not been to a Chinese or Indian restaurant or any other kind of restaurant for that matter apart from the fish restaurant attached to a fish and chip shop.  I am not even sure if Manzes Eel and Pie  shop qualified as a restaurant either.

So I came to like curry quite by chance. During my national service I was stationed in a small unit near Suez and the military police camp was shared with a similarly small unit of Mauritians.  Our unit's cook was replaced by a young catering Corps chap who had not actually learned to cook.  This has come about because he was a professional footballer, an apprentice with Glasgow Celtic  so had spent all his training time playing football instead of learning catering.

His early efforts at cooking for fifteen men were a disaster and more often than not were a wate of good food so that we were often still hungry even when we had eaten.

I was friendly with a couple of the Mauritian military police and would wander over to their side of the compound and scrounge a meal.  It seemed to be a curry every day.  I was welcomed into the kitchen and a watched the meals being prepared and gradually learned how it was done.  Curry is a simple meal really, especially Mauritian style.  Just some meat, mostly chicken or lamb, some dried fruit, plenty of tomatoes an apple and mango chutney with generous spoonfuls of curry powder.
What could be simpler.

Eventually we sent our Scottish cook over to learn how it was done and that became his speciality.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A visit to Malta

In January 1945 HMS Whimbrel visited Malta  as part of a Royal Navy flotilla which was in training to go to the Pacific, The war in Europe was nearly over but the war for the Royal Navy and its crews was far from over, it was to be another year before they returned home.

Whilst moored in the Grand Harbour or adjacent to the bomb damaged Royal Naval Dockyard Dad  would have seen the church of Cospicua sitting just above, opposite Valletta. He did not know that this was the church in which his Maltese grandparents had been married in 1858 and  in which his mother had been baptised in 1862
Cospicua Church amid ruined houses 1942

The church had almost miraculously escaped unscathed from the enemy bombings of 1942 although many of the houses in the vicinity had been reduced to rubble.
Matti Grima Street, Bormla

If he had gone ashore to visit the church and if he had known, he could have walked up the stepped street alongside the church and a few streets away would have seen the house that his mother and grandmother had lived in an and where his great grandmother died.  But he knew nothing of this, as although he knew that his mother had been born in Malta, he had no idea which part of this small island she belonged to.  It was ironic that he was so close to her birthplace and was not aware of it.

Whilst at Malta there was shore leave for the crews and no doubt he would have visited some of the churches to attend mass, and perhaps chance may have taken him to the church of St. Paul Shipwrecked in the centre of the city where his grandfather had been baptised in 1835.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Tale of Two Migrants

My Great great grandfathert Balthasar Dietz was an economic migrant by today’s standards, In about 1842 he left his native village in rural Hessen in Germany and travelled to England.

He had no trade so went to work in one of the many Sugar refineries in the East End of London. Being a sugar baker in Whitechapel was hard work in great heat for not a great deal of money. He stuck at it for about four years, and in the meantime married and had children but still managed to save up enough money to set himself up in business as a beer seller.
He must have been reasonably successful at this as he could afford to make trips back to his home village, owned a gold watch and on his last visit to Germany had fifty pounds of his own money in his pocket.

How this entrepreneur of the 1850s would have progressed we do not know because he died at the age of 42 in unknown circumstances in Cologne on his way to visit his aged parents in Germany. As he had succeeded to go from a labourer in a sugar refinery to being self employed with money to spare in just four years, imagine what he may have accomplished given more time,

On the other hand my great grandfather Alphons Eder was a different kind of migrant. He left his home in Ljubljana, Slovenia and signed on one of the last Royal Navy sailing ships as a bandsman. After sailing to British Columbia via Valparaiso and Rio and back, he stayed in London haveing presumably seen as much of the world a he wanted. 
He married the only surviving daughter of Balthasar, fathered ten children and for the rest of his life he never had a “proper job” supporting his wife and family playing in a German Band as a street musician or busker if you will.  I always think of him as some kind of early jazzman for whom the music was more important than the money. He lived a good life as far as we can tell and lived to the age of 77, never having returned to his native land.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A day at the Races

Peter McKie was a chair-maker and although much of
his trade was in the repair of chairs he also manufactured a folding stool, much like those sold to anglers today. Working from a shed in the back yard of the house where they lived in Pennington Street, Stepney there was no room to carry large stocks apart from the lack of capital for that.  The chairs were usually sold wholesale to market traders but at least once a year Peter would build up a stock, load up the small pony and cart that he owned and would go off to the races to sell them there.
Normally he would take one of his older sons with him but one year, 1905,  he allowed one of the younger ones, Ernie, to go along, together with 14 year old Joe.  What an adventure that was as young Ernie had never been far from the house before.  Pennington Street, to Tattenham Corner, Epsom was in the region of 17 to 18 miles by road.  The pony was not that young and although Ernie was allowed to ride on the cart from time to time, the pace was still a walking one and the journey took almost half a day to accomplish.
Over Tower Bridge and almost into “Indian territory” as it were for Ernie, he had never been on this side of the river before and to many east enders Bermondsey was almost a foreign country.  Along New Kent Road to Camberwell, probably places he had never previously heard of and then more new experiences as they got out through Streatham which was still effectively in the countryside in those days.
Coping with the early morning traffic with a pony and cart  was not the problem that it would be today.  Although there were quite a few manufacturers of cars in Britain by 1905, there were still not that many motorised vehicles on the road, and the many of them could not go a great deal faster than the much larger number horse-drawn carts, drays, traps and the like which clogged the main roads in and out of London.
Hills were avoided as much as they could, to save the old pony's strength for the long walk that he was no more used to than the boys were.  On to Mitcham a small village then where they stopped to breakfast on the sandwiches they had brought with them, having been on the road already for nearly three hours.  Fortunately for the two young boys, the pubs along the way were not open at that time of day, otherwise, perchance they would not have reached their destination.  On through Sutton and Banstead still no more than country villages at this time so more new experiences for young Ernie.  Finally to Tattenham Corner on the Epsom Downs where the fairground had been set up for the race meeting.  Ernie had not seen such a large open space before in his life.  There were parks near were they lived, but nothing the size of Epsom downs, rolling away into the distance.
Tattenham Corner also had its own railway station used by many of the Londoners who came down for a day at the races, so a good spot to catch likely customers for the chairs.  The Epsom race meetings usually lasted about a week, but Peter rarely had enough stock to take with him to justify staying for more than one day,
Having set off early in the morning they were there in good time for the first of the day trippers to arrive on the special trains which operated on race days  They did a good trade and sold most of the chairs by the time that racing had started and Ernie fully expected that they would then soon be starting for home.  It was not to be.  Peter “liked a drink”, as they say, so he was off to the bar tents with the takings leaving the two boys to look after the pony and cart.  They could hear all the excitement of the fairground, the steam organ on the roundabouts, the cries of the hucksters and screams of the girls on the ghost train.  Worse still they could catch the aromas from the food stalls,   They would have been able to see the helter skelter and some of the high rides and would have wanted to sample them, supposing they had some money, but they dare not disobey their father and remained where they were told.  They passed the time watching the racegoers toing and froing near the rails and having some inkling of the thrill of the betting and the racing, although they heard but could not see the horses thundering round the bend at Tattenham corner.
Peter did not return until racing was over for the day or all the takings had gone, whichever came first, Ernie didn’t know.  Fortunately in those days, being drunk in charge of a horse was not an offence, however Peter still had no intention of leaving.  Waiting until the crowds had thinned, he sent the two boys to scour the grounds for any of the chairs which may have been abandoned.  They came back with a reasonable number, only to find Peter fast asleep in the back of the cart and would not be roused.  Joe did not think that he was able to find their way back to Pennington Street so they had no alternative but to unhitch the pony and feed him and then make themselves a bed under the cart to wait until morning.
At first light they were on their way again, with all three riding in the cart this time.  Having spent the night on the ground in the open, which he had not experienced before, for Ernie, the shine on the adventure had worn off, so the return journey was not as exciting for him as the outward one had been.
There was also the foreboding of the reaction of their mother when Peter returned home without the profits that she would have been anticipating to provide for the family in the coming weeks.  Being the sort of person that she was she would lay some of the blame at the door of the 15 year old Joe, boys of that age being regarded as adult in those days. and regularly worked with his father.  Jessie McKie was a martinet, by any measure of the word, but try as she did to control her wayward husband's drinking habits, she was unsuccessful.  This was to be the last visit to Epsom downs.  At the time of the Derby the following year, Peter having been ill in the St. George in the East Infirmary died there three weeks before the race.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Dangerous childhood?

By present day standards children between the wars lived quite dangerous lives in their leisure time.Hours spent without adult supervision, roaming hither and thither with just a few friends.Country children were off into the countryside, often miles away
from home, following footpaths through farmland, playing in woodlands, climbing trees, crossing streams and sometimes rivers. If their were no tiddlers to be seen then the water was OK to drink!

Chasing rabbits using slingshots or makeshift catapults which often caused more damage to the firer than to the wildlife they were aimed at.  Bows  fashioned from small
saplings and string fired arrows made from any woody material which fortunately was rarely straight enough to allow the flight to be true. Making camps in the woods  from anything available and lighting camp fires to toast some bread or whatever they had, which if they had the skill, might even be a hedgehog.  Picking blackberries in fields which also contained a bull, but  of course it was quite safe providing you weren't wearing red.

City children had only slightly less freedom.  Off to the park where although the playgrounds were often supervised the equipment was mostly of the kind which is regarded as being too dangerous today.  Swings with heavy wooden seats hanging from strong chains.
 Umbrella swings, cast iron rocking horses and rope maypoles provided the thrills that youngsters wanted and would still want if they were allowed. Twenty foot high slides which  had no safety rails, but no one seemed to fall off no matter how much pushing and shoving there was on the stairs climbing up.
Even five year olds were entrusted to go to the local shop to make purchases, "running errands" it was called which was OK as long as there were not too many items to remember.

The street was also a play area suited to cricket, football, hopscotch, skipping, rounders as well as makeshift swings from lampposts. The traffic, of course, was considerably less than today and much of it horse drawn, which provided the more adventurous the opportunity to gain a ride by hanging onto the back of a cart.

  Those living in the riverside area also had the traffic on the Thames to watch, tugboats, steamers, barges and still the occasiona rower.  The watching was
often from precarious perches on walls or the steps leading down to the river itself.  There had been warnings from parents that falling in the water would result in having 25 needles because of the dirty water, but this was no deterrent.

If the Tower of London was within walking distance then there was the man made beach.  There were always adults about of course, but not necessarily the parents of the children who were there.

Where these children neglected by being left unsupervised in that environment?  It was not considered like that then and who is to say that it was wrong.

These images are mainly from the Facebook group Old school eastenders

Monday, April 27, 2015

Free Councillors

Underpaid Councillors

Heard a local councillor on the TV saying that he would not be standing for election again as he could not afford it. Couldn't follow his point very well as Councillors in most councils get close to £10,000 a year and committee chairpersons get considerably more.  surely this is sufficient to cover any loss of earnings for attending a few daytime meetings.

Once upon a time public spirited folk stood for election in order to serve their local communities, not for payment or perks.

When my Dad was on the council of the Metropolitan Borough council of Stepney in 1928 there were no payments of any kind.  Councillors, which included Clem Attlee  as well as my dad, did their day jobs and attended council meetings in the evenings, quite often until late.

When I was a councillor and later Alderman of the Borough of Lewisham in the 1950s there were still no payments for being a councillor.  During my term legislation was introduced to allow the payment of travelling expenses. . To attend committee and council meetings   I would drive to the town hall, pay parking fees but was only able to claim bus fares, despite the fact that there often no buses running by the time extended meetings finished.  I did not claim my expenses at any time as I refused to be part of such an insulting system.

When I had a term as Deputy Mayor I was even further out of pocket. We had an official car to take Jean and I to various functions that the Mayor could not attend, but there was no provision for paying for a babysitter whilst we were away from home.

There is no reason why anyone should be out of pocket by being an elected representative of the people, but I doubt very much back then, that anyone was ever deterred from standing for election because there were no payment for actually doing the job.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Suffering from GOMS

I am sick.  I am suffering from GOMS (Grumpy Old Man Syndrome).  I have had this for some time and have done my best to cope with it, but now I realise that there is no cure. I know that there are many people like me who are suffering with this business of being sick of the way that the world is today. 

Sick of politicians who have had no experience of life as lived by the majority of people.
Sick of Doctors who dont want to see patients.
Sick of  "attitude" being regarded as normal
Sick of 20 year olds being referred to as "kids" and being treated like it.
Sick of overpriced tat in the shops
Sick having to buy "two for the price of one" when you only want one and it should be half the price of anyway
Sick of not being able to go into a shopping centre without having to listen to background "music" of moaning boys or screaming girls.
Sick of half hour news programmes which are fifteen minutes of sport.
Sick of having to hang around at airports because of unnecessarily rigourous "security" regimes.
Sick of having my Old age pension that I paid in for called a "benefit"
Sick of not being able to find a programme on the TV which is not food, lifestyle, "celebrities "travelling on foreign railways, talentless talent shows.........

Sick sick sick.

I am lucky I suppose that I am not physically sick of all this otherwise I wouldnt be able to go out.  I have not yet reached the stage of "Stop the world I want to get off" (For the under 50s that was a stage show back in 1961 written by Anthony Newley, and if you dont know Anthony Newley either, youtube him and listen to some proper music!)

The ageing process is not a sickness, just bits and pieces wearing out.  So why GOMS?
As things change over the years, it should be easy for anyone to accept the changes as they happen if it is a gradual process, but somehow for many of us the changes in recent times have been much more rapid than can be easily assimilated.  The new things are quite easy to handle, no big deal about accepting mobile phones, computers laptops and so on, but its the disappearance of familiar things that is more complicated.  Not being able to find a public phone box for instance when you have no signal on your mobile.  Even if you find one that works you need a lot of coins to use it!
And why is the spring so late this year!!!

I could go on and on and on but I wont I will save some of my other grumps for another time.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Never trust an adult

Never trust an adult

As a schoolboy, like many, I used have a little collection of odds and ends which were MINE.  In a large family this is quite difficult to keep as being really personal.  I had acquired a small sandalwood box, about 8 inches by 10 which had a sliding lid in which I kept my treasures.  I had a hidey hole for this under a loose floorboard in the bedroom. My other hiding place was in the hollow post of the iron bedstead which had a brass knob on, which unscrewed, but this was only large enough for smaller items.  The box had to go under the floorboards.

One time one of my older brothers Tom was home on leave from the RAF. He saw me with the box and asked if he could have it, to which agreed assuming that I would get it back when he went back to his unit.  Tom had a great interest in photography, this being the days of films in cameras which needed to be developed with special chemicals and then printed in a darkroom(bathroom).

I had other things to do so when he showed what he had made with my lovely box I screamed and carried on like a banshee.

He had cut a round hole in the end and fixed a light bulb inside and then had cut an oblong  hole in the sliding lid, fixed a piece of glass over the hole and he had a contact printer for his photos. Being very pleased with his effort he couldn't understand what the fuss was all about ,
He didn't know how important that box was to a ten year old, and in any case he thought I had agreed to him having it.

I tried to learn a lesson from that, never let adults see what you have.  I should have known better because I had experienced adult insensitivity before.  When only a tot, as part of the Christmas stocking  I was given a chocolate policeman.

Childlike I offered it to my father to have a taste.  Now when this happens grown ups are supposed to pretend to take a bit, go "yum yum" and give it back. Not my dad. He bit the head off and was surprised when I yelled and screamed.

So. Don't trust adults to understand what is going on and be ready to yell and scream when they dont.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Yo ho ho and a bottle of cold tea

YO HO Ho and a bottle of cold tea

Most people will know that it was a tradition in the Royal Navy for a daily  issue of rum or grog as it was known. Grog was Navy rum watered down, although the watered version was still a lot stronger than the rum that you will find on most supermarket or liquor store shelves today.
There are many who believe that there is some relationship between the drinking of rum and the somewhat strange dances that sailors in days gone by indulged in.

The Ration during World War Two was a quarter of a pint of the grog per day, issued in two halves, the first between ten and midday and the second after 4 o clock in the afternoon.A quarter of a pint is roughly equivalent to 5/6 doubles.

One of the rules regarding the issue of the rum ration,  which had existed since the nineteen century,  was that the issue was supposed to be drunk there and then, not saved up, or given to another rating.

This particular rule was circumvented quite often, there being many men who did not particularly like rum or wanted to save their issue for later. So it was that certainly during the war, quite a lot of rum needed to be smuggled ashore, but for the most part this was not a problem.  Most dockyard security at that time was mainly concerned with the control of anyone going into the docks rather than the sailors going out.  The dock police were quite often ex sailors or merchant seamen who whilst being aware of the practice of bringing excess grog ashore for the most part did not consider it part of their remit to prevent it. After all it was against Nvy regulartions, but not a crime.  This attitude apparently was not apparent at the Liverpool docks for some reason, which is not explainable.  Going into a Liverpool shipyard meant running the gauntlet of officious officers manning the gates and randomly searching the sailors kits.

Unfortunately for HMS Whimbrel they had to go into Liverpool for weather repairs in April 1945 after just completing a more than usually bad run in a convoy from Scotland to Russia.  You would have expected that in the appalling weather, the crew would have been glad enought to drink their rum ration at the time of issue.  However there were still quite a few who had accumulated a stock which they would need to take ashore, as it was necessary to take all kit with them whilst the ship was in the repair yard.

Dad did not know how the arrangement came about, but a scheme was concocted to try to bamboozle the dock police regarding the bottles of rum in the kit.  It was quite complicated in that a large number of rum type bottles were filled with cold tea, and  placed in a somewhat conspicuous position in some of the kitbags.  The decoys carrying the tea, had a buddy who carried their rum ration.  The tea carriers pushed their way forward to the front of the line waiting to go through the gates, with non bottle carriers in between.   The first tea carrier being stopped, asked to open his kit bag and identify the contents of the bottle.  "It's tea" say he.  A knowing nod from the the policeman, who opens the bottle and takes a swig. By the time the policeman had tasted half a dozen bottles of tea, he knew that he was being conned in some way but was not able to work out how to deal with it.  There were over a hundred sailors waiting in line and the delays were causing much unrest, particularly amongst those who were not involved.  The policeman called a sergeant, who decided to make a test for himself, walked down the line, chose a kitbag at random and asked for it to be opened.  Fortunately this also contained a tea bottle.

Dad was of the opinion that the Sergeant either had a sense of humour, was towards the end of his shift or had other reasons, but he just went to the front of the queue, told the constable to open the gates and waived them all through.
This always seemed like a most unlikely story to me, but Dad insisted that it was true. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

When I was in a Boy Band.

I used to be in a Boy Band!



When I was about four of five years old I was in a Boy Band.  Well really a bundle of boys who thought they were a band but didn't have any instruments, so we improvised.

The instruments were based on those that we were used to as percussion in infants school.  I have no idea if they use these in schools these days but they were comprised of drums, tambourines, triangles, clappers ( sort of castanets on sticks) and cymbals.
Each instrument was given a colour name, and sheet music was put up onto the blackboard, and when the teacher pointed to a note, the one with the appropriately coloured instrument gave it a bang.  Not sure if we learned any music that way, but it was amusing.

Most of these instruments were not difficult to emulate, a drum was usually an upturned biscuit tin strung around the neck with string, cymbals were two biscuit tin lids banged together, a triangle was made from a bent bit of old iron and so on.  There also proper instruments like a penny whistle, a kazoo and comb and paper.

So we used to march around the courtyard of the block of flats that we lived in, banging away for all our might until such time as we were chased off by some adult  who couldn't stand it any more.  Another requirement to be a member of the band was to have access to a peaked cap.  Most the of the bands that we ever saw, mostly in the street processions wore peaked caps, except for the Tower Hill Pipe Band, who wore berets.  I suppose a peaked cap would not have looked right on men wearing kilts.

Fortunately I had access to two peak caps in our house which could be "borrowed"  My eldest brother, Ernie played the flute in the St. Patricks Church Band and brother Tom had been a telegram boy for Cable and Wireless and his cap had a silver badge saying "Via Imperial", which I never understood.  Other caps in the band had been old army caps and one from a Walls Ice Cream man.

Eventually we grew out of that, thinking that there was no future in Boy Bands that couldn't play a tune, how wrong we were!