Adult Years - First Home


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Our first home after marriage was in Heath Street, Hampstead, close to the pond. We shared a large flat with Manechku and Clap-Clap. Manechku was a member of the Bulgarian Section in the BBC, small in stature and big of heart. She married a very tall English Army Officer. We went to her wedding but sadly lost touch. Clap-Clap, on the other hand, was a tall girl, completely useless in the house and prone to every domestic accident possible. We called her Clap-Clap because she had spent time in India where she appeared to have clapped her hands to summon servants. As for myself, I was a novice to cooking so that between us, we relied on Manechku�s Bulgarian cuisine. In 1945, food was still rationed or in short supply. This was our domestic set up.

The furnished flat belonged to Madame Kasanovitch � Ma�am as we called her, a Russian Jewish Lady who never lost her strong accent. She lived at 48 Glenloch Gardens, Belsize Park. Among her early lodgers were Peter Ustinov who became a well-known actor, and Pa before he moved next door to No. 50. Lillian, her daughter, was crippled with polio and was confined to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, she was outstandingly clever and had a high position in the Civil Service. Ma�am�s son, Henry, was an amazing character � swarthy of complexion, unruly black hair, unruly personality and, most important, a professed Trotskyist. My amazement knew no bounds at first acquaintance. Political talk, almost conspiratorial, criss-crossed the table at Ma�am�s, where I was definitely an outsider, an innocent lamb in an outpost of Russian �migr� dreams. Ma�am herself was a Zionist and it was through her Zionist connections that Pa�s father found a pied � terre when he first came to England. When Pa moved next door to No. 50, he exchanged a Russian landlord for a wonderful cockney, A Mr. Hodgkins, who talked with pride about his �olliocks and �oneysuckle. But that was before marriage.

When we moved out of the flat in Heath Street we shared a suburban house in Worcester Park with a colleague of the Bulgarian section and his newly-wedded English wife. I called her �chicken� to myself and others for reasons not quite clear to me now, maybe because she annoyed me intensely with her pernickety and fussy ways. It was not a good match and no tears were shed when we parted company.

Not long after, Auntie Eileen converted her big house in Bracknell Gardens to flats.  In its heyday, the house was beautifully and expensively furnished.  There were two maids living in, one called Millie, an Irish girl, who was an indispensable member of the household, loved by the children.  She was quite cheeky and never intimidated by her employers and surroundings.  She even managed to tease Uncle Nat which was quite a feat.  In the living room stood a grand piano.  Auntie Eileen had singing lessons, aspiring to operatic perfection.  Whilst performing to the family, Uncle Nat, who was said to be tone deaf, would call out “Stop that bloody noise” with no effect on his wife who, by the way had the stature of a Wagnarian diva.

After the conversion, Pa and I had the offer of renting the top flat.  It had a long living room, a bed room, kitchen, bathroom and toilet.  We were delighted.  There were still shortages of everything and it took skill and ingenuity to furnish it.  Heating was most important and we had a large anthracite stove installed which threw out tremendous heat - that is when fuel was available.  The winter of 1947 was most severe and freezingly cold.  One day, Pa came home from work and found me sobbing, quite desperate, because there was no more fuel and I was shivering from head to toe.  Our friend, Eve Stuart, later Armstrong, was our saviour.  She lived close to a coal depot and, being ever resourceful, filled her shopping push basket with coke and anthracite she gleaned and brought it round to the flat.  Eve was at that time Studio Manager at the BBC and later became an air hostess.  She brought us fresh eggs, then strictly rationed to one a week per person, from abroad.  This was against regulations but she managed without being caught.

It is difficult now in the age of plenty to appreciate the difficulties of the time.  For instance, curtain material was almost impossible to find.  Some people used hessian and dyed it in bright colours.  Our sitting room window was exceptionally long and wide but with luck, we found floral material.  Our octagonal walnut table came from Maples second hand furniture store and we found what was then considered a modern settee which could be converted to a bed and looked good in our sitting room.

Pa, even then, had a passion for china and crockery.  At John Lewis, now Waitrose, in Finchley Road, deliveries were made from time to time – always of good quality and modern looking, so that we gradually acquired all we needed – Pa always on the look out.

One of our delights was reading poetry to each other and inviting friends to our new home.  Mordi came to stay with us, not without initial drama.  We went off to work, left him the key and expected him to be there when we came back.  We rand the bell, repeatedly, banged on the door, but no persistent calling produced Mordi.  We thought of gas leaks and imagined he was unconscious or worse, and called the police.  Eventually a bleary-eyed Mordi staggered to the door, wanting to know what all the fuss was about.  Quite typical.

We also had a Jewish neighbour.  This came to light when an embarrassed lady appeared at the door, saying she could not light the fire and could Pa help.  It was Shabbat and what she really needed was a Shabbes Goy.  She never forgave herself and became a good friend.

In 1947 Pa and I had leave from the BBC to visit the family in Palestine, as it was then.  Little did we know that we would never see our flat again.