Thumbnail sketches – 1950: Hebrew, motzas and ‘Brown Boots’

Banned from my boy-friend’s flat wasn’t good news…So, what happened next? Once I’d recovered from the shock, I mulled things over. Not having committed any crime I was aware of – except for casting covetous eyes on my ‘significant other’ – I tried putting things into perspective. It wasn’t easy, but being young, besotted and optimistic, we continued enjoying each others company, despite overheard whispers like: “It‘s doomed – she’s a shiksa!” and “Mixed marriages never work…” Of course, not everyone thought that way, and a dear lady: Clara Fresco (her son Ruben was Eric’s friend) welcomed us to their fold. ‘Clara’ was a good cook and introduced me to chopped chicken livers, egg and onion, matzo-brown, chicken soup (a must!), salt beef, fishy dishes, plava and apple strudel – Yummy! (Must have a drop of Jewish blood as I love food!)

Meanwhile, there were livings to be earned. In 1949, I ‘pounded the keys’ for ABC (Associated British Cinemas) in Golden Square, London – best friend Sheila Devo worked there and suggested the interview. I became junior secretary to a Mr. Spalding: an attractive, egotistical man at least twice my age. At the grand Christmas ‘Ball’ he danced with me: holding me too close – I held my ground – as, next danced with the new, very shy actor Richard Todd. Imagine! Wow! Heady stuff for a teenager. Back in the office, the next day, my boss manoeuvred me into a broom cupboard and tried to get his hand in my knickers and worse… You, you…cad! I yelled, battling with a mop and bucket to escape from his clutches: crimson, but with my virginity intact. I left in disgust (no law-suits then!) and secured a post as a junior s/t with a well established firm of solicitors Wilde Sapte in the city. I recall it with affection, for Mr Sapte was a dear man.. Vertically challenged, genial, and balding, he had a penchant for sucking an empty pipe. When speaking, he would stand and rock backwards and forwards: stretching on the forward roll to elevate his height. (Shades of newspaper cartoon character Mr. Bristow). His manner was friendly, unlike male secretary, Mr Marvin’s – whom I grew to dislike intensely. Physically, he was small-boned: scrawny-necked as a vulture, fair-haired, with bum-fluff on his chin. When summoned to attend Mr Sapte, he appeared with the speed of a rocket, rubbed his hands in an ingratiating manner like Dickens’ Uriah Heap, and sometimes fell over his own feet in his eagerness to open doors for his boss. I, however, was treated like something on the bottom of his shoe…He was an obnoxious little man; while Miss Pigg (truly) – Mr Sapte’s female secretary – a confirmed Ms – tall, angular and rather unfeminine – was patient and pleasant. I ‘deciphered’ and typed up court notes and Wills – fascinating stuff. However, having grown weary of Mr Marvin’s disdain and attitude, I left to work temporarily for an agency; eventually plumping for a secretarial role for the American Philip Morris cigarette company in Soho. What an eye opener!! At seventeen, I peeped into the dingy window of prostitution. In Soho and down to Piccadilly, they came out of the woodwork! Their mode of dress varied: ‘tarty’ or ‘mock-lady-like elegance.’ Fascinated, I ear-wigged their ‘chat-up’ lines on my way home from work: “’Allo darlin’, fancy a good time!” was popular, or “’Allo ‘andsome, not in a ‘urry are yer?”(The high-class ones were in Mayfair!) Many a bowler-hatted, pin–stripe-suited man, peered furtively around before succumbing to an offer….It was somehow decadent and exciting at the same time. Low-life lessons writ large!

Meanwhile, I had a future mother-in-law to humour?! Not easy…She suggested in a ramblng letter that I was a gold-digger (?!) …and commented that my dear father probably wore ‘brown boots’ (an insult!) His succinct reply had her flummoxed…But then: malleable and idealistic, I started learning Hebrew (parrot fashion) and attending synagogue – and gradually – she thawed.

 More to follow…  

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