Friday, 27 February 2009


When we had settled in and were starting to think about building our first kitchen, I suddenly had a much better idea. On one hand, there was Mum, Dad, six children and a dog, boxed up in the small, first floor flat in Oakfield Road. They had no garden for the children to play in or for Mummy to hang out the washing, and they had Aunty Minnie forever thumping on the ceiling and shouting at them all.
On the other hand, Arthur and I now had the offer of half a large house, complete with a very large garden. There were only two of us and we were out at work all day. The sensible solution seemed to be for Mum and Dad, and Arthur and I, to swap accommodation! The agents on both sides were happy for us to do this, and Mummy and Daddy were overjoyed at getting out of Oakfield road at long last.
And so the switch was made. Dad spent his every spare moment working like mad to get St Paul’s road how he and mum wanted it. The ground floor rooms became bedrooms, and the basement was turned into a beautiful fitted kitchen, living room and lounge.
Sandie, Babs, Tina and Gill loved it. They played in the garden and Mum hung out her washing in the sunshine. Mum and dad planted flowers and sat out in deckchairs.
With Arthur at my side, I arrived back at Oakfield Road, the house that I had first moved into as a little girl, all those years ago. This was also the home that all our children were to be born in, but that was about seven years away.
Mummy was worried about us having to deal with aunty Minnie’s moods and her moaning. We felt quite confident that it would be OK and Arthur wasn’t the least bit scared of her. We knew that legally, as tenants, we all had equal rights in the house.
When Mum and Dad first came to Oakfield Road, during the early war years, to share the house with Aunty Minnie, she had been renting it in her own name. She was, in fact, the legal and sole occupier. Then individual flats were gradually taken over by Gwen, then Mum and Dad, and also a couple who applied for and rented the three-roomed attic flat. Aunty Minnie became our unofficial landlady to whom they all paid rent. She in turn paid her rent to the real landlords. Eventually the tenancy was taken away from her and they were all given their own rent books. 71 Oakfield Road had become a tenement block. Now all the tenants had equal rights to the hallway, garden and cellar. This was great news, except for Aunty Minnie. She still said: ‘This is my house,’ and made life so unpleasant for everyone that no one really stood up to her. That is, until Arthur and I moved in!
The first hurdle was hanging out the washing. Although I didn’t relish carrying wet laundry down two flights of stairs, through a dark, dirty cellar and up another flight of stone steps outside, there was a principle at stake. Doug and Arthur waited for a fine Saturday afternoon then proceeded to erect a magnificent, wooden clothes-post that Arthur had made for me.
Aunty Minnie sat at her kitchen window, watching us like the Wicked Witch of the West until she could stand it no longer. She jumped up and ran into the garden. This happened to coincide with the moment that Dougie broke in half the handle of the garden fork he was using.
‘How dare you use my garden fork without my permission,’ she shrieked at us. ‘This is my garden and you have no right to dig holes in the ground and break my garden fork.’
This was a beautiful moment… our moment of triumph. Doug looked at her as she leaped up and down with what I swear was smoke pouring out of her nostrils.
‘This,’ he said truthfully, ‘is my fork, I brought it from home specifically to do this job.’
Arthur then informed her in no uncertain terms, that she no longer had exclusive rights to the garden, and we continued to erect the clothes post. Poor Aunty Minnie had met her Waterloo and she was thoroughly deflated. Turning on her heel, and throwing the rather inappropriate remark: ‘Get off your high horse!’ over her shoulder, she strode indoors, slamming the back door in her wake. We had started as me meant to continue, and had won the first battle.
There were many such upheavals about who had the rights to what, and of course we always won.
I am now much older and more tolerant of elderly people’s behaviour… Auntie Minnie is no longer alive, and I must admit that I do feel a little guilty about the way we treated her. She was in the wrong, but she was in her seventies and no doubt felt justified in her behaviour. We should have been a bit more understanding. We never found out why she was so bitter and resentful. Perhaps she resented other’s pleasures or good fortune because life had been very hard for her. There were many such battles with her during the first year or so, but she eventually came round, apparently accepting that it was quite handy to have a man around the house occasionally.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009



Arthur had told me that, if I wanted to give up work and be at home, he would be quite happy with the arrangement. So, with a heavy heart and mixed feelings, I handed in my notice. There were lots of tears on the day I left. I really was very happy at the old ‘Angel Madhouse’, as it was affectionately known, and probably would not have left it if it hadn’t been for the move to Dalston.
I didn’t make a bad decision, as it happened. My suspicions turned out to be right. The angel Warehouse became very impersonal, as I had predicted.
That summer, Miss ‘D’ went somewhere out east to an expensive and very hot resort for her annual holiday. There she suffered a stroke and died. This was a terrible shock to the girls. Although Miss ’D’ had been Company Secretary, she was always a good friend to all the female staff, whom she treated as her equals.
Doreen left to have a baby and, now that she, and Miss ‘D’ had gone, there was no reason to keep in touch. I often think of all the ‘inmates’ and occasionally look at their photographs, wondering where they are, how they are, and even if they are all still alive. They were happy, happy days.
Our house in St Paul’s Road was divided into three flats. A married couple were living on the ground floor, though we never really got to know them, and a young married couple were on the floor above us. They had a baby boy.
One day the couple on the ground floor vacated their two-roomed flat and we asked the agent if we could take it over. As it included the basement, that had two further rooms that were never used, we had ideas about getting a kitchen at last. The agent agreed that we could move downstairs.
As we were not actually moving house, Arthur and I decided that, with a little help from Dad and Doug (my brother), we could move our furniture piecemeal down the stairs ourselves. We thought this would be an easy job. We moved everything straight down into the relevant rooms, thereby positioning everything roughly where we wanted it to stay. The really heavy furniture such as the wardrobes, sideboard and bed, Arthur, Dad and Doug could man-hand between them, with me yelling out the appropriate encouragement like: Mind what you’re doing!’ and ‘Be careful you don’t scratch my table top!’ and, occasionally, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea!’
Arthur and I had started moving the smaller things on Friday evening and it was now Saturday morning and time to get stuck in with the large items.
Everything went well for a while, and then it was time for the piano to be shifted. Originally professional piano movers had transported it from my mother-in-law’s house to ours. We had been amazed at the alacrity and ease with which they sped up two flights of stairs; the piano balanced on one man’s back while two others steadied things. Oh how very stupid we were to mistake professional artistry and experience for something that appeared to be the proverbial piece of cake!
We had already stripped the top, front, and lid from the piano to make it easier for them to handle, and all went well from the lounge to the bottom of the first flight of stairs. It was when the men were negotiating the 180-degree bend between the two flights of stairs that the house demolition started.
Somehow, the piano slipped, and one corner began deftly to push out, one by one, the banister rails that blocked its way. Suddenly it stopped. Completely jammed. With much yelling and grabbing, the three men tried to pull the piano out from amongst the banister rails, only to firmly drive the opposite corner of the piano into and through the plaster on the stairway wall.
It was at this point that the couple upstairs, (Joyce and Wally) and their small son descended from the top floor flat. Their path was of course blocked very firmly by three grunting, puffing men, one slightly hysterical me, and an upright piano that was wedged, it seemed forever, across the stairs between the wall and the banisters!
Wally, with a look of chagrin said: ‘We really do need to get to the front door. Actually, we’re on our way to a family wedding’. It was only then that I realized Wally was dressed in a smart, navy suit, complete with a floral buttonhole, and that Joyce was wearing a resplendent hat trimmed with an equally resplendent floral arrangement! Oh my God! They really were dressed for, and on their way to, a wedding. Joyce and her little boy retreated a few steps up towards her kitchen door, and Wally, realizing that he really didn’t have any other option, if he was to make the wedding at all, said: “Come on, I’ll give you a hand”
The men in unison, and now numbering four, managed to get the piano back in a straight line pointing down the stairs, but there still was no way they could make it turn the bend, try as they might. By this time, Wally’s beautiful, smart, navy-blue, wedding suit was covered in white plaster dust. His face was sweaty and his hair dishevelled. The rest of us were beginning to feel rather embarrassed when Doug’s’ face suddenly lit up, as in idea struck him. Had I known the outcome of his idea, I’d have probably struck him too! “Let’s turn the piano upside down,” he said, “so that the wide keyboard area is over the top of the handrail, then the narrower base will easily make the bend in the landing”
This was hailed by the others as a brilliant, “why didn’t we think of it earlier” idea. With more grunts and shouts of “one, two, three, over”, they turned the instrument, which had been our pride and joy, upside down … and all the keys fell out! With a discordant, clattering sound, they tumbled down the stairwell and into the quarry tiled entrance hall below.
Alas! This was to be the swan song of our beloved pianoforte because, although the keys could have been put back, there was also extensive damage to the hammers.
Wally and Joyce finally made their way, brushed and re-groomed, to their wedding celebrations, and our beautiful piano, that had been handed down from the last generation, was dragged unceremoniously into the back garden. There, sadly, it was hammered, hacked, and chopped into pieces small enough to dispose of. If any of you have ever attended a piano-smashing event at a local garden fete or County Fair, you will know just how difficult and very, very noisy this act is!

Thursday, 19 February 2009



Some months later, the company Secretary Miss D, told me that she had been invited to a Masonic dinner and would like me to make her an evening gown. She was about size eighteen and didn’t care for the styles that were available in larger sizes. This was a lady who had lots of money, made tea in a black Wedgwood tea-pot and had a mink coat hanging in her wardrobe! As money was no object, she bought some extremely expensive, mid-night blue brocade. I had only ever worked with cheap and cheerful material and felt just a trifle apprehensive.
Once again, I made the sketches, held my breath and cut into the brocade. I had a deadline, several weeks away, which was necessary as there was a lot of work to do. This was to be a dress with a matching, fitted jacket.
All went well for a while, and then I suddenly became quite ill. The doctor was called in, and Arthur was informed that I had pleurisy and wouldn’t be well enough to go to work. In fact, I had to remain in bed for several weeks. Poor Miss D kept sending messages that, if she wasn’t to get her new dress in time, she’d have to go shopping for a replacement. I was so embarrassed, but could only assure her (with fingers crossed) that, come what may, she would look stunning in midnight-blue brocade on her special evening. I did manage it and she was overjoyed with the finished garment. I can’t remember how much I charged, but you can be sure it was put to very good use, however much it was.
Another little moneymaker that I managed to wangle was ticket writing. This was still during the birth of self-serving grocery stores, and bar codes and shelf pricing had yet to come. Attached to the edge of each shelf, in front of the commodity, was a piece of white card showing the price, written in black ink. This usually said something like: ‘Baked Beans 16-oz. Usual price 7d. Our price 4d!!!’
When SJI found out that I was artistically inclined, he asked if I’d like the job of keeping the price cards in our local store up to date each week. I said I’d do a good job if he let me buy the materials myself, and pay me one penny for each card I supplied. He laughed and said: ‘You’ve got a bloody cheek; I already pay you to work for me! But OK, buy what you need and let’s see how it goes.’
I went to a small artist supply shop in Camden Passage and bought sheets of the recently developed Day-Glo board in bright orange, plus a couple of thick marker pens. Next I went to Chapel Street Market and noted how the market traders formed their letters and numbers on their market stall price tickets.
I ended up doing all the price tickets for all the Anthony Jackson grocery shops. I charged a penny for small tickets and 1 ½d for larger ones. Nowadays it seems very little money for lot of work, but in fact it boosted my wages considerably and I became expert at it. However, I did feel a little guilty, being paid so much for an enjoyable job that was very quick and easy for me to do.
News came that SJI was opening larger and flashier premises in Dalston, and the old warehouse on the Islington green was to close. It was going to be a complete change and, as I had suspected, would no longer have the lovely ‘family’ atmosphere that we had enjoyed for years. Sidney Ingram was going up in the world, and we were all going with him. The trouble was that I loved the cosy, friendly little firm, and didn’t want to move into a cold, impersonal, ‘new-age’ company.
To be cont…

Monday, 9 February 2009


My new husband was very good about having my little sisters to stay with us. He understood that we were a very close family and how much I missed them all, so now and then Tina (Croom) would come to stay for the weekend. She loved being with us and seemed to be the one that missed me most. Mum told me how Tina, who was seven years old, cried and cried after our wedding. She suddenly realised that I wasn’t coming back home on my return from holiday in Eastbourne!
Sandie (Weechuff) was a very resilient nine year old and, as long as she could don a pair of football boots and coax the boys to let her kick a ball around with them, was happy. Babs (Beetle) aged five was a bit clingy and wouldn’t stay away from Mum at all.
Gillian, who was still very young, once asked if she could stay with us. Which she did. Next morning she asked to have toast for breakfast and, when it was set before her, refused to eat it. I told her that if she didn’t eat her toast she would have to go back home to Mummy and Daddy. She was so stubborn. As much as she wanted to stay with us, she said: ‘take me home’ then: ‘I don’t care.’ We couldn’t let her win, so we took her back to Mum.
One time, when we went to Clacton on holiday, we asked Sandie if she would like to come along with us. We had a chalet with a spare bedroom, and Arthur liked Sandie as she was very ‘grown-up’ and sensible. We all had a lovely time and repeated the experience a couple of years later on. We took Tina on a similar holiday as well.
In those days anyone was welcome to stay the night. Believe it or not, we once decided that Flossie the family dog was feeling left out and would like to spend the weekend with us. We walked her from Oakfield Road in Hornsey to Islington late one Friday evening. She spent the whole of the night walking up and down, up and down, her claws tap-tap-tapping on the linoleum and driving us mad. We returned her to her natural habitat as soon as possible the following morning and never repeated that experience again.
We didn’t have any thoughts about starting a family. I’d spent so many years my of my childhood and my teens washing, dressing, changing and feeding babies and toddlers, that I felt I’d already had a family and, in any case, there was always a toddler ready and willing to come and stay with us if we felt that need.
Married life was a wonderful life, we were doing whatever we wanted and were so happy to be in each other’s company, we didn’t need anyone else. Mum was always tossing out little remarks about grandchildren and other people’s babies, but we refused to be drawn on the subject, and continued home and marriage building, oblivious to all but ourselves.
Arthur bought me a reconditioned, Singer, treadle sewing machine, which was my absolute pride and joy. I set to and from then on made most of my own clothes. The girls at the office were commenting on the dresses, skirts, and coats that I was making, and it wasn’t long before I received requests to make skirts for them too. Money was always in short supply in our household, so I was happy to do it. I used to charge between ten shillings and twelve and sixpence (50p and 62 1/2p) to make a skirt. They supplied their own material and I designed and made up the skirts to their measurements.
My best friend Doreen, who worked with me, was cashier in the showroom. She announced the date for her wedding, and asked me if I would make her wedding dress and hat. She wasn’t having a white wedding, and fancied a pale lavender outfit. It was a bit of a responsibility as I always designed my own garments and never, ever used paper patterns. I did a few sketches and Doreen picked her design. We went together to choose the material, and then I was on my own! I didn’t even make my own paper patterns. I just kept the rough shape of each piece in my head and ripped into the cloth! When it was my cloth it didn’t matter if it all went wrong, but someone’s wedding dress was a different matter.
The whole outfit looked really good when it was finished, and Doreen and her new husband were thrilled with it.

To be contd…

Monday, 2 February 2009



The Angel Warehouse supplied tinned and packaged groceries to shops and market stallholders all over North London. SJI also owned three or four grocery shops of his own, which traded under the name of Anthony Jackson’s. These were one of the very first self-service chains of shops in the UK, the first ones I believe being Tesco’s.
Tesco’s was established and built up by John Cohen, who happened to be SJI’s uncle. I knew ‘Uncle Jack’ very well and, in those early days, he often came to my office to do business with his nephew, who supplied him with some of his stock.
Uncle Jack, who in later life became Sir John Cohen, was a tall, slim, imposing man with thinning grey hair. He always wore a belted, camel hair coat, and on his finger was a large, solitaire diamond signet ring. I had never seen a diamond of that size before, and it used to fascinate me as it flashed in the showroom lights.
I learned from SJI that Jack Cohen had started off his grocery chain with one market stall; bought with the money he received when he left the army (demob money). The rest is history.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, Arthur and I were very happy just to be in each other’s company. We read to each other, played board games, listened to music and, of course Arthur played the piano while I sang. Once a week we went to the local cinema, and we visited our parent quite often.
One day we picked up some entry-forms for an egg decoration competition, sponsored by the Egg Marketing Board and held as part of the Ideal Homes Exhibition of 1956. The point of the competition was to decorate an egg in a topical or humorous way. As we were both keen on a challenge, we decided to go for it.
The eggs had to be blown, washed and dried prior to painting, and it must have taken us a few days to complete them and deliver them to the Egg Marketing Board.
On the day of the competition, we thought it would be fun to watch the judging live, so off we went to Earl’s Court. The exhibition hall was crowded and hot, and we pushed and hustled our way to the front of the egg stand, hoping to get a better view of the entries and be nearer the appraisals.
The competition was to be judged by Bernard Miles, the actor, comedian and, later, founder of the Mermaid Theatre in London. He was dressed as one of his characters, a West Country farmer, standing there in his battered hat, chewing a piece of straw sticking out of his mouth, his wellie-boots looking so ‘ripe’ that you could almost smell the manure!
We’d both decorated and entered eggs. Arthur painting my design idea, ‘The Egotist’, and me painting his idea, which was ‘The Egg and I’. That way, should either of us win a place, we would both win a place. We always shared everything fifty-fifty, straight down the middle; it made us happy and worked very well.
‘The Egotist’ had a snooty face, and was set at an angle, i.e. with its nose in the air. ‘The Egg and I’ was mounted horizontally and I’d painted it as an eyeball, complete with full eye make-up and false eye lashes. Both were mounted on little wooden eggcups.
We stood silently, breath held, our fingers entwined, as Bernard Miles carefully examined all the entries, one by one. The excited babble of the watching crowds caused us to strain our ears to catch every little comment.
There were beautifully worked eggs with traceries of fine delicate brushwork, obviously painted with infinite patience. Some eggshells were encrusted with jewels and sequins, feathers and fur. Some eggs bore a close resemblance to ‘Tweetie-pie’ and Mr Magoo. We laughed at the many ‘Bulganin and Khrushchev’ eggs that had been entered. These two Russian leaders were at that time on a state visit to London, so the eggs were very topical.
After great deliberation, Bernard Miles picked up ‘The Egotist’ and said; ‘This one I like very much and I award it first prize’. I screamed with joy and hugged Arthur: ‘We’ve won, we’ve won!’
The assistant took down details of Arthur’s name and address from his entry form. Then we stared in amazement! Mr Miles had picked up ‘The Egg and I’, which was my entry.
An assistant from the Egg Marketing Board noticed that the entry forms for both the chosen eggs shared the same surname and address. There was a lot of ‘rhubarb, rhubarb’ and snatches of ‘same family…. might not look fair’, after which they slapped a ‘Highly Commended’ on my entry. We didn’t care, we had won first prize, which the entry form said was an electric cooker. We rushed home to tell everyone the news.
As we opened the front door, there on the mat was a bright yellow envelope. I tore it open, and unfolded a telegram.
‘Congratulations’, it read. ‘You have won first prize in the “Decorate and egg” competition. Your prize will be delivered to you shortly.’
Later that evening, we turned on the television to watch the news. Part of it was from ‘The Ideal Homes Exhibition’ at Earl’s Court. And there, for about five glorious seconds, was a close up shot of my entry ‘The Egg and I’! Video recorders had yet to be invented, so it was a’ now you see it, now you don’t’ piece of television history. Never mind, in my box of souvenirs lies the faded yellow envelope from the post office, with the word ‘Telegram’ printed on it. Incidentally, the electric cooker turned out to be an electric frying pan!

Sunday, 1 February 2009



Although we now had two rooms, we still had to do without a kitchen because we were anxious to sleep in a proper bed once more. We also wanted to show off our lounge, which was large and sunny and the perfect setting for our furniture.
We’d bought a new cooker from the Gas Company show room, but that's all we possessed in the way of a kitchen. The gas cooker sat in the recess of the bedroom chimney breast, and a baize covered card table was set up in front of it. This served as my washing up area and work surface. (Remember that the only sink we had, was in the corner of the downstairs landing, and was a triangular shape with each side measuring about nine inches!) The idea was to fold and put away the card table after each meal, and draw a curtain across the front of the cooker. But, in all honesty, this was never done because there was always a bowl of washing-up or pile of dirty saucepans standing on the table. It was easy once we’d eaten a meal, to just dump all the dirty dishes in the bedroom and sit in comfort in the lounge. Quite often, we wouldn’t go into the bedroom again until bedtime. And by then we were too tired to wash up or clear away so all was left for the next evening when we got home from work. I wouldn’t ever go to bed now, unless the kitchen and lounge were clean and tidy and there wasn’t so much as a dirty cup in the sink! I can’t bear to come down to an untidy room!
I had a nine to five job, but Arthur was by now working with his brother Bill at The English Association of American Bond and Shareholder’s, and his hours were from ten till four. Each morning, I would get up at seven thirty and get ready for work. I would cook Arthur’s porridge and, at eight fifteen, leaving Arthur in bed, rush to catch the bus. He came home earlier than me, so he would usually wash up and tidy up before I returned from work. He was always happy to share the workload as best he could, something I was very grateful for.
I was getting a bit fed-up with travelling to Canda’s every day, and thought it would be nice to work a little nearer home. Also, we were still hard up, as Arthur had started at the English Association with only £16 a month take home pay. By the time we’d paid the rent, put away my bus fares (Arthur cycled to and from the City) and allocated lunch monies, there wasn’t much left over for groceries and entertainment. I was still only earning just over £5 a week, which we both had to live on.
Arthur always received his salary monthly, while I opted for a weekly wage. This suited us fine because we used his monthly salary to pay all our big bills, and my money for day-to-day living.
How well I remember one particular time when we were at the end of the last week of the month, and had no money at all. Our supply of food had run out, we weren’t getting paid till the next day, and we were hungry. I searched through the cupboard and all I could find was a little margarine and some flour. Nothing daunted, and being my mother’s daughter, I mixed these together with a little water and rolled the mixture into small balls, which I baked in the oven. We sat and ate these hot, unbuttered, baked pastry/rolls as if they were a banquet!
It was time for another trip to the employment agency and this time they came up with a telephonist/receptionist vacancy at Islington Green. Joy of joys! This was just a very short bus ride away and, once again, the pay was much better than my present wage. The agency told me to report to a Mr. S. J. Ingram at the Angel Warehouse Company in Upper Street, opposite Islington Green.
The interview went very well and SJI, as he was later to be known to me, offered me the job at the weekly wage of £6.15. (£6.75). This job was to turn out to be one of the happiest periods of my working life.
To be contd…