La Reine Margot r.i.p.

We have just said good bye to Margot who was just shy of sixteen years old and who suffered a stroke which hastened her demise, since a dog’s life not worth living is not worth living.
Margot had been with us since 2005 and was a beautiful puppy and became a beautiful dog. She was shown at Cruft’s as a puppy and film from that time shows what a wonderful dog she was.
However her personality rendered her not suitable for the show ring. My main conclusion was that she was a winter baby and so was not used to the usual rough and tumble of spring litters which enjoy the garden and open air. I also think that she was spooked in the show ring by a dog behind her and so developed a dislike of anything behind her.
I considered arranging therapy for her and the advice I received was that animals like ourselves must learn to conquer their fears – so every day I took her with me to collect our morning newspapers. The route was direct but she got used to road traffic coming from behind her. She also got used to other dogs and people in dark clothes (I never understood that one).
When it was raining, I would carry her from the newsagents and on one occasion it was noted by my fellow District Councillors that instead of having a German Shepherd to reflect my Council persona I had a small blond dog whom I indulged beyond expectation.
Over the years she became less intolerant and enjoyed trips out in the car.
She was not a timid dog and I characterised her as being able to identify possible intruders at 100 yards.
She faithfully defended our households and I shall miss her loyalty and regard for us.
If there is a dog heaven, then she has a place scrutinising all new arrivals to check that they are worthy of admittance.

To Candlemas & Beyond

Melanie McDonagh is a writer on ecclesiastical matters and this week she was advocating the extension of the Christmas season beyond the usual twelfth night (January 6th) to Candlemas (February 2nd).
Her reasons are simplistic but valid.
It’s been a rough old year, what with the pandemic and everything that has gone with it from the furlough, to working from home to being on benefits and possibly not on benefits.
Her suggestions this year include foregoing a dry January and forgetting the so called Veganuary.
Now is not the time for abstinence.
This year, we need cheering up. People have died, businesses have gone under, we can’t meet our friends. This is no time for abstinence. It’s a time for embracing a cheering drink – in moderation. There are moments you need just a little inebriating uplift, and proper food. That time is now.
Abstinence in January is rubbish any year. When the outside is depressing, you want to make inside as cheerful as possible…and that doesn’t mean a diet. It’s still Christmas. We need all the comfort we can get.
But why stop on the February 2nd?
February brings us Valentine’s Day on the 14th followed by Shrove Tuesday on the 16th. Even Lent can be manageable as it is suspended on Sunday’s and on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). Easter (April 4th) gently leads us forward to Pentecost (May 23rd). After which is full throttle until November, when we remember the Holy Souls and get ourselves in trim for the next set of Christmas festivities.
So, let’s ditch dry January and put Veganism in its place.
Melanie McDonough’s article may be found on: http://digitaleditions.telegraph.co.uk/data/462/reader/reader.html?social#!preferred/0/package/462/pub/462/page/68/article/117613

Deep Secrets

Let me declare an interest. I first met Willie (and Ann) Salmond in Uganda in September 1990. We interacted on and off through to 2003 when I left Uganda for the last time. Among other things Willie Salmond was the country director for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s program in Uganda. He is also a Presbyterian minister, has three grown daughters and is resident n Newport CT.
Willie’s foundation in Uganda was one of our target customers when I was with Standard Chartered Bank and we secured his banking business by knocking fifteen days off the time taken to get monies from his US headquarters to Kampala.
We even collaborated on the viability of small sunflower farms to enable aids sufferers to achieve a modest level of financial independence.
So, it was with much pleasure that following an Amazon recommendation I read Willie’s latest book “Deep Secrets” which takes place in Connecticut, Washington and Uganda. It is a very enjoyable and informing read. The story is grounded in today’s reality of Covid, Al Quaeda and Aids. It is also about the strong bonds of family, forgiveness and resolute purpose.
As always, I read it first for narrative and local authenticity. I am now rereading it again for deeper insights as to characterisation of the key players from Central Bank governors to the “shamba” cultivator.
Even after seventeen years I can still recognise the people, their strengths and abilities to rise above misfortune.
If you take nothing else from this book, you should remember two things. First the daily prayer “Lord, please surprise me”. Second, that Arabica coffee from the Mt Elgon region of Uganda is first class and is the only coffee I know which becomes sweeter and more flavourful as it oxidises on becoming cooler.
I wholly recommend this book for an entertaining and worthwhile read.

Connectivity

Today, the 15th August commemorates the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) day. My own family tree has three uncles, a father in law and at least one cousin who served in the Pacific.
They were quite reticent about their services. So, instead of celebrating my late near relatives I would like to recollect Ray Dunningham who lived in Raydon, Suffolk and who was taken a prisoner of war in Singapore in 1942. With the end of the war he was repatriated to England and because many of the FEPOWs’ physical condition was so atrocious they were sent home via the Pacific and the United States so that they could be “fattened up” before they reached England.
They crossed the U.S. by rail and every evening they were looked after by the residents of the towns.
One evening Ray’s host asked him where he came from.
“From England” – “I know that but where?”
“You wouldn’t know it, but it was near Colchester” – “But where?”
“You wouldn’t know it, it was a small village” – “But where?”
“You wouldn’t know it, it is very small – I’m from Raydon” –
“I know it, you have a very fine airfield there.”
“Ain’t no airfield in Raydon!” – “There is now, because I built it!”
Such was the connectivity of the world and the changes it wrought even to the small communities of Suffolk
Even now the village has a population of less than a thousand. The village wasn’t helped by the closure of the railway station and railway.
Ray’s memory lives on in his legacy to the Masonic Lodges in Hadleigh which provided for the Master’s & Senior Warden’s chairs.
And the purpose of this anecdote?
To highlight the debt we all owe to all to those who participated in the theatres of war. Like our hero, many of them came from yeoman stock salt of the earth families and their worlds like ours were changed for ever.

Another Fine Mess

Sometimes you just have to admire someone, even though you know it may encourage them to pursue otherwise questionable activities.
One such person is Glyndwr Wyn Richards of Aberystwyth who was recently convicted in Aberystwyth Magistrates Court of using a vehicle in a way likely to cause danger or injury.
Which is a pity as Mr Richards apparently took reasonable steps to avoid any such danger or injury.
He needed to move his non-functioning Skoda and what could be more appropriate and efficient than to hoist it on top of his VW Passat, tie it down as securely as possible, drive slowly and be supervised/escorted at all times by a man on foot who could and did give warning when the load shifted.
There were various comments by people who gave a knee jerk reaction to something that definitely is not on the list for a Darwin Award. The best comment came from Dyfed-Powys Police who said “That’s no way to move a second vehicle.”
So, raise a toast to Mr Richards.
Faced with an insurmountable problem he marshalled his resources and harnessed his brain cells to provide a viable solution. His activity did not injure anyone and he brightened our day.

Hahoter Hatov השוטר הטוב

If you need a break from Trump, Brexit, Boris, Hunt, Iran and so on I cannot recommend more highly the Israeli police series Hashoter Hatov (Good Cop)  It’s available on Netflix and ticks all the boxes:

  • It’s cross cultural.
  • It’s intellectual (foreign language with subtitles), but occasionally risqué.
  • It’s family centered from the police station to the actual families.
  • It’s only 30 minutes for each episode so you can binge-watch without guilt.
  • The humour and situations range from the real to the bizarre into the surreal but always credible.
  • Finally, it let’s you laugh at other people’s problems without excessive schadenfreude.

It’s my find of the month!

 

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.

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!

How the West was Won

I have occasionally blogged on the joys of Aberystwyth and its place as a University town in the far west of Wales. The story is that its railway line escaped axing in the Beeching era, not because the line was profitable but because it ran through five Labour held parliamentary constituencies.
It is a nice place to visit, not just because we have family there but because of its indomitable spirit of activism despite the efforts of the City fathers.
This spirit is exemplified by the sign I saw in a car window.

Does it mean that Aber is overrun by ravening hordes who will smash a car window in search of stale (or otherwise) food. No, it means that if due to idiosyncrasies in the licensing laws, the pie shops close before throwing out time at the local bars, then there is no profit to be found scavenging in the parked vehicles looking for left over sea gull food.