All posts tagged Memories


Published 01/10/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

Why YYY? The above heading may baffle you, so I’ll try to enlighten you.

As a Jew we have just celebrated(?) the most solemn and serious festival in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, during which we spend 25 hours (from sunset the previous night until sunset the next day) fasting and repenting our sins. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and festivals always commence at sunset on the day before the actual date. Worship begins with the Kol Nidrei service, which coincided this year with the start of the Sabbath on Friday night, and then resumes the following morning (in our case at 10.30) to continue throughout the day until sunset, when the end of the festival is announced by the blowing of the Shofar, a ram’s horn.


Twenty-five hours without food is not as arduous as it may seem as you are focused on the prayer book, the liturgy and the songs. The hardest part is going without fluids, but the drop in blood sugar can make you feel a little as if your brain has turned to a mush as the day wears on.

My second ‘Y’ is for Yizkor, the Hebrew word for remembrance. One of the constituent parts of the afternoon service on Yom Kippur is the Yizkor service, when we remember those we have loved, both friends and family members, who are no longer with us. As a child my mother used to insist I left the sanctuary for that portion of the prayers as I still had my parents. It can be an upsetting time as we are encouraged to meditate on, and say prayers for, those who are no longer with us in bodily form.

My final ‘Y’ is Yahrzeit, which is literally the Yiddish word for season. We commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of our loved ones by lighting a special candle, a Yahrzeit candle or a memorial light, on the anniversary of their deaths according to the Hebrew calendar. My mother died on the day before Yom Kippur, so her Yahrzeit will always fall on the Hebrew date of 9 Tishri, although the English date was 3 October. We light the candle at sunset of the evening before, but as we also light another candle in memory of everybody we are remembering, I light another one the following evening at the start of the Yom Kippur festival.

Yahrzeit candle

All three are now over for me for another twelve months, or thereabouts, but I always approach this time of year with trepidation and unease as there are too many burdens and sad memories to be overcome.

As the inscription on my mother’s tombstone reads: ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. To sum up, we may feel grief when we remember our loved ones who have now departed, but they still remain with us.A


Memoires du Maman

Published 28/01/2015 by damselwithadulcimer

Shortly after mum became housebound my sister and I decided that we wanted to try to capture her memories, so we both used to take our laptops over to her flat and encourage her to reminisce as we recorded her recollections of a time before we were born. We called our transcriptions Memoires du Maman because they were her experiences; now that it is nearly four months since she left us I find myself remembering her in many different ways, often triggered by the slightest of events and places. It is incredibly hard to resist the impulse to phone her up just to chat about such and such or so and so, and I have to remind myself that she is no longer at the end of the phone although I can hear her answering in her distinctive manner ‘6066’. She never said hello, but always gave the last four digits of the number.

Clearing out her flat wasn’t as painful as it could have been, although I kept recalling snapshot images of her sitting in her armchair in the lounge, or the more poignant memory of her lying in her bed after she passed away. I’ve also found myself remembering her in my armchair, where she sat when she visited, or sitting in our garden. I even see her face sometimes when looking in the mirror, especially as my eyes are like hers, and that reawakens the image of death that was present in her eyes in the few days before she died.

Walking around central London recently brought her back to life in so many places where I had been with her, as well as the streets and areas she introduced me to as a child and as a teenager. Wardour Street was where she worked in the film industry as a young woman in the 1940s, and where I later found employment. Berwick Street was where she shopped for fresh fruit and vegetables. I too used to buy from the same stallholders, although it is much changed now. The stall where she used to buy mushrooms is no longer there, neither is the pub outside where it stood. The fish and chip shop (the Chinese Chippie as we called it) is still in situ, but the food is probably fried by different hands now, and I have no idea if it tastes as delicious as I remember it.

Not for away in Marshall Street I came across the newsagent where she once worked, owned by Monty, who was also my employer at a gift shop in a Piccadilly hotel. I had to remind myself that I would not be able to pick up the phone and ask her ‘guess where I was today?’ We could have enjoyed some marvellous memories if she had been at the end of the line. Mum loved London and could travel around in her mind, long after her legs refused to carry her on and off the buses that she enjoyed using. She once told me that she enjoyed sitting on the top deck and looking into peoples’ houses, much preferring that mode of transport to the tube, where there was nothing interesting to see.

A recent walk across my local park roused memories of the summer Sunday afternoon when we took her for a picnic whilst we listened to a brass band. Switching on the radio and hearing Bryn Terfel singing reminded me of when I took her to the Royal Festival Hall for a live concert given by the Welsh bass baritone. Mum had always loved classical music and especially opera. As her legs weren’t carrying her very well by then I drove her to the South Bank, where the disabled car park was full. So I dropped her off with strict instructions to wait for me, or to go to the box office to collect our tickets. When I arrived back after parking the car she was nowhere to be found. I hunted high and low through the foyers before deciding to look for her upstairs. As the lift doors were closing I caught a glimpse of her and dashed back down the stairs before again taking the lift up with her. By then the concert had started and I also realised that our seats were in the auditorium, which would have been difficult for her to reach. Luckily a member of staff found us an accessible box, from where we had a marvellous view and she could enjoy the music in comfort. Sadly as her illness progressed she lost interest in music, including her favourite radio station, Classic FM, or Classical FM as she called it.

There are so many memories that can be summoned up with very little prompting. Listening to all sorts of music often takes me back to occasions when she made comments, such as how the Beatles were a flash in the pan and pop music was a load of noise sung by men who could do with a good wash and a haircut. I can still see her getting to grips with The Twist, although she preferred ballroom dancing and loved her Cha Cha Cha.

I will never forget her. There are too many memories to be carried into the future. Even now they are far less painful and I can talk about her and some of her expressions and idiosyncrasies and smile. She was never perfect, but she was my mum and is still a part of me.

More about my Mother

Published 29/08/2013 by damselwithadulcimer


So now you have a rough idea of my mother and of her current state of health.  But she wasn’t born at 87 years of age; like all of us she has a life story. And as she gets older she reminisces more and more about the past.  She is the sum of her past life, and as her daughter I am partly composed of her and her memories.

To anybody interested in British social and political history, 4 May 1926 is an auspicious and important date.  The coalminers (in response to a reduction in their wages) had called for a general strike to begin at one minute before midnight on 3 May, so the dispute officially took hold the following day, the day that my grandmother gave birth to my mother.  The Britain in which my Grandma Jenny laboured to deliver her daughter was defined by striking miners, iron and steelworkers, railwaymen, transport workers, printers and dockworkers all withholding their own labour.  Her brother, my uncle Jack, frequently reminded us that, in the absence of buses, he had to cycle to Mother Levy’s home, the East End maternity hospital where my mum first saw the light of day.  Sadly after a strong campaign against demolition, the building was pulled down in 2012.

When mother and daughter returned to the family home at 39 New Road, it was to a very different East End of London than the one that exists now in the early twenty-first century.  They lived in New Road, a street that runs between Whitechapel and Commercial Roads, and they shared the house with her mother’s family. Her memories of those years are of close knit families living in the same neighbourhood, where the shops were geared to selling produce for the Jewish residents, and where friends and relations were in and out of one another’s homes as if they lived there themselves.


Thanks to Google Street View, I was able to locate a picture of the house without needing to visit.  You can see all three storeys, as well as the basement railings enclosing the area, or the ‘airey’ as mum says it was generally referred to.

Thanks to Google Street View I was able to locate a photo of the house without needing to visit.

39 New Road

Immigrant Jews fleeing from persecution and pogroms in Tsarist Russia and anti-Semitic Catholic Poland had been making their homes in the overcrowded slums around Whitechapel and Spitalfields since the second half of the nineteenth century.  My mother is still unsure whether her family originated in Poland or Russia: I suppose it depends on where the borders were drawn at any given time.  My great-grandparents made the journey, on what my mother used to refer to as the ‘onion boat’ during the 1870s and 1880s.  I never knew Harris and Rebecca Angel, Jenny’s parents, but I wish had met them in person, rather than just visiting their graves in Plashet Grove cemetery.  The more my mother recalls those days, the more I can almost feel that I am there with her.  This is possibly also coloured a little by the memories I have of visiting the East End during my own childhood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nowadays the area is a mixture of other immigrant groups (particularly Bangladeshis in and around Brick Lane) as well as professional classes, who have moved back to some of these streets, especially where the Georgian and Victorian properties have been restored and become gentrified.  A local estate agent is currently offering a renovated 1797 terraced property for £1.5m in New Road and a two-bedroom flat in Myrdle Street (now a conservation area where my mother went to school) is on the market for £450,000.  Myrdle Street School itself, which could be seen from my great grandmother’s house, has reemerged as a school for Muslim girls.  One immigrant group supercedes another.

The more my mum shares her early memories with me, the more I wish I had spent more time getting to know the older members of the family who were still alive when I was younger.  My sister and I are currently encouraging her nostalgia for a world that has passed us all by; there is almost an urgency for soaking up her past and impressing our own stamps on it as a means of preserving it for the future.  So many people have regretted not probing past generations for their recollections that I feel it is imperative to glean as much as I can while I can.  Prompted by our mother’s wishes my sister has also been trying to compile a family tree; we need to know where we have come from to truly appreciate who we are.

Obviously it is difficult to cast your mind back over a period spanning more than 80 years and we all know that our memories are fallible and subjective, but mum was nodding enthusiastically in recognition and smiling to herself when I read to her from Dr Cyril Sherer’s account of his childhood close to where she lived, and of his account of his time spent at Myrdle Street School.  He believes that those days before World War II shaped him, and I’m certain it had the same effect on my mother.