Not All News is Bad

This week’s local government elections in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk are not all bad news. Katherine Grandon was re-elected with only two votes less than 2015 but this time with a much reduced turnout.
Katherine ran as an Independent after quite surprisingly having found herself unadopted for a ward which she had loyally served for eight years as their Councillor.
So, definitely a case of rejoicing and champagne all round.
John Hinton was once a senior member of Babergh’s higher echelons until he fell out with the Council’s future direction. He also stood as an Independent and was resoundingly re-elected.
Elsewhere the Conservatives in East Cornard swept their board with three seats defeating two prominent Labour councillors.
The results for Babergh are not all milk and honey. The Conservatives have dropped from being the majority party to being merely the largest. Some decent people are no longer on the Council, but as always, some people will be gladly missed and hopefully soon forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Brexit for changes in fortune, but local personality and local loyalties also played a part. My friends who got re-elected understood that you must get out the votes if you want to be elected. Others, who rely upon the tides to lift them up, often find themselves beached when the tides go out.

Important News You May Have Missed

I have been very quiet on the blogging front. Not because I have nothing to say, but because I have been overwhelmed with the news coming out of Westminster, Washington and North Carolina politics.
This week has seen a lack of progress in the Brexit process. One cabinet minister has resigned (been sacked). There are local government elections in England on Thursday and there is a fear that Brexit frustration will flow into the voting patterns and that very many hard working councillors will be swept away by a possibly ungrateful electorate.
The Mueller Report has been delivered, summarized and published in a redacted format. The Attorney General has appeared before the Senate and as we speak he is resisting appearing before the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile in the real world in East London football, West Ham beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on April 27th. and Leyton Orient have returned to the English Football League having achieved promotion from their non league status.
So, all in all, it’s a great time for East London football and long may the teams prosper.

Chocolate and Lent

It is always important to enjoy the present whilst at the same learning from the past. It is also never too late to think of Lent, Easter and Chocolate.
An article in the Tablet last year reported that Chocolate is “innocent” in the eyes of the Church. Its consumption does not break any religious fast. This was declared in 1662 by Pope Alexander VII.
Admittedly he was only concerned with chocolate beverages. But none the less we are assured that the teaching of the Church cannot change. Of course, as a legalist one cannot add sugar or sugar substitutes – but dark chocolate can be very satisfying.
So enjoy the present and make sure you are stocked and prepared for Lent.
http://www.thetablet.co.uk/columnists/3/9829/chocolate-is-innocent-in-the-eyes-of-the-church-its-consumption-breaks-no-fast
http://www.thetablet.co.uk/author/50/sara-maitland

Meanwhile at Endeavour House*

We’ve all been to those meetings called by a Team Leader who demands “Ideas!”
They are rarely productive and often degenerate into farce as the stressed participants come with more and more outlandish ideas. Sometimes good ideas are tweaked and sometimes discarded as being too far ahead of their time. Sometimes, though, ideas escape and I would have loved to have been at the meeting that discussed filling Suffolk County Council’s budget deficit by mandating that staff should take two days unpaid leave as a contribution to solving the problem.
The council now advises that “Following valuable feedback and meaningful negotiations with UNISON, we have decided to remove the proposal to apply unpaid leave…for all staff”.
It makes you wonder what ideas were left on the floor destined for perpetual obscurity.
Meanwhile, I have always thought that overheads should always be reviewed to ascertain waste. Classic examples are jobs whose title includes the words “Deputy”. What does a deputy do and why is the job necessary?
Last time I looked, Suffolk County Council had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. There were another seven staff who accounted for Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Incidentally, the seventeen did not include assistants and clerical staff. What do these communicators do to occupy their time?
Resources in the wrong places prevent good ideas and good projects from receiving the life blood they need.
The answer to the deficit should not include unpaid time from staff, but should focus on unnecessary jobs i.e., jobs that do not give added value for the residents and taxpayers.
One would have thought the County’s Tory leadership would have known that  – it’s not a mistake that Colin Noble would have made.
* Endeavour House is the joint headquarters of Suffolk County Council, Babergh District Council and Mid-Suffolk District Council.

The Call of the Dinner Plate

There’s always room for a good political joke. I heard this (disparaging) remark about a politician I admire and thought it worthwhile repeating for cleverness and appropriateness for using against someone else.
“…spends his time trawling through the calendars of each village and town council to see when their next village fete or open day is so that he can fill his face at the trough. I’ve never known a man turn up to so many free lunches. He’d attend the opening of a letter if there was a sandwich in it for him!”

Hessel Street, London – an Appreciation

On Sunday 16th December I attended a late Chanukah party at the Triangle Jewish Genealogical Society, just up the road from Raleigh, North Carolina.
One of the features of the afternoon was a Kvel & Tell and I delivered the following introduction to the film “The Vanishing Street” which focusses on Hessel Street in London’s East End.

“Ladies & gentlemen and Debbie, very many thanks for inviting me here today to Kvell and Tell about the film, “The Vanishing Street” (which is showing behind me – but with the sound switched off) which tells of Hessel Street in London’s East End.
We are going to deal with Hessel Street’s place in East End social history and its place in my family history and in my wife’s family wanderings.
What qualifications do I have for being here today?
First my great grandparents lived in Hessel Street in 1883 when it was called Morgan Street. In 1901 Alice’s grandfather stayed in the adjacent Christian Street when he was a jobbing tailor en route to the United States from Roumania.
Hessel Street is famous as a Jewish Street Market.
Eric Levene, author of Feinstein’s Theory of Relatives writes of Hessel Street, much in the manner of Damon Runyon with his ability to place people and events in time and geographical location

“In the beginning, there were no Jews.
But by the 1920’s, Hessel Street market, in the heart of London’s East End was full of them. There were butchers, bakers and chicken soup makers, costermongers and a host of wheeler-dealers and luckless shpielers.
A 200 yard long and maybe 10 yard wide sardine tin, crammed full of vibrant Jewish life and, as nature would have it on occasion, death. They came from all over. There were Poles & Russians, Latvians and Lithuanians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, Rumanians and Georgians, plus a multitude of others who had escaped the pogroms that had been raging across Eastern Europe.
And remarkably, they all got along with each other without the need to argue; unless they needed to”.

Anyone of a certain age with an East London connection will be aware of Hessel Street and its place in social and mercantile Jewish East End and many more will have heard tales of it from parents and grandparents. There is a Facebook Group of Hessellters and they meet and hold informal lunches in Westcliff, Essex near the mouth of the Thames.
The Vanishing Street is a wonderful 20-minute documentary film and is readily findable on Youtube. It was made in 1961 as the bulldozers moved in to demolish the street’s decrepit old buildings.
By then the market was almost a relic.
This film purports to show a typical day in the life of the street, and its declining but still vibrant Jewish community
The film begins with a smartly dressed surveyor with his theodolite, measuring up the street for demolition as the market stalls are being set up and the locals, meet, chat and go about their business
We see old men with black hats and long beards, sizeable ladies with loud voices, Wurst and viennas, fish (including I think a conger eel), pots and pans, dresses and toys, a barber’s shop and a dress factory with dozens of women at their Singer sewing machines.
By 1961 the market was almost a relic. The London Docks were moving to Tilbury and people were being decanted out of the area into nice new more sanitary housing in the new towns of Harlow and Basildon.
There were still many Jews in the East End but nothing compared with a few decades earlier.
Economic progress and the Blitz had moved them on.
The joke was always that Stepney Borough Council always saw its purpose as demolishing the buildings which the Luftwaffe had missed.
In the early 20th century Hessel Street was the East End’s main Jewish market, open every day except Saturdays
The narrow street was filled with small shops and stalls
Chickens and other poultry were kept in cages; buyers selected one, had it killed according to kosher ritual and dressed while they shopped elsewhere
There were also many wet fish stalls, and general shops
Possibly it was the last of London’s ghetto markets
I have a cousin in London who recalls that her mother always bought her chickens from the “Jews Market” because of the freshness and the quality – even though the Watney Street market had cheaper chickens and was closer to her home.
In Hessel Street, and in much of the East End, Jewish life has been replaced by Bangladeshi life – and there are hints of this in the film.
The kosher poulterer has been replaced by the Halal butcher.
Jewish market stalls have been replaced by Bangladeshi stalls, selling very similar things
Jewish poverty has been replaced by Sub-Continental poverty and Jewish striving by their striving
What is said today about the people fighting their way into Europe absolutely echoes what was said about Jews between 1880 and 1905 when millions fled from Russia and Poland
Then as now there were people traffickers.
Then as now people were fleeing desperate circumstances
Then as now there were the unchanging complaints about immigrants and their strange ways of life
In 1871, before Jewish immigration, the average occupancy of a Whitechapel house was just over nine people, in 1901 it was close to 14
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 120,000 Jews in the East End
Now there are very few. As the years passed, people moved away to more comfortable places.
Where there were over 100 synagogues – today there are only three
Seen today, The Vanishing Street is a nostalgic film but not a sad one
The East End was somewhere to flee to and somewhere to escape from.
Thus we see in the film, the continuing dynamic of street life and everyday life because as we all know “For things to remain the same, everything must change”
And that concludes my Kvell and Tell on The Vanishing Street.
Thank you for your patience and attention”.

It went down well and there was a lively Q&A afterwards. The East End diaspora is everywhere!

The Legacy of Josephus Daniels

JJosephus Danielsosephus Daniels was a North Carolinian appointed by President Wilson to be Secretary of the Navy during the First World War. Daniels is famous for many things but particularly he objected to alcohol on ships and ordered that coffee be served instead. The author Garrett Peck in his book “The Great War in America” reports that recruits groused about their “cup of Josephus” which today is referred to as a “Cup of Joe”. (This thought is challenged on the internet – but has an aura of authenticity about it and in any case deserves to be true).