[Later: I ended up with a suite of texts (mainly prose) that I liked, Jane ended up with a suite of images (linocuts) that she liked, but the experimental joint project, perhaps inevitably, was not a success and Jane’s linocuts were exhibited and published in a folder by Emma Hill’s Eagle Gallery, with only one of my texts in attendance (we agreed that two of the thirteen pairs went well together). Never mind, we both have something to show for our work. One day, Jane and I will find another way of working together.]
Of Strange Lands and Peoples
I am nine years old. I live in England. I attend Hebrew classes at my synagogue in Hampstead Garden Suburb every Sunday morning and after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In our part of London, there are no fences, only hedges. I love looking at pictures of the Royal Family. It is 1951. King George is on the throne and Mr Churchill who won the war is Prime Minister again. We voted for Mr Attlee because he is a socialist. When he was Prime Minister, he nationalised the mines, provided free medicine for everybody, and gave India its independence. In England, Jewish people are free to do what we like, just like the Christians.
In the old days we lived in other countries. The teachers at Hebrew classes tell us stories about strange lands and peoples: about Persia and its 127 provinces, where Queen Esther, which is my mother’s name, saved us from death at the hands of wicked Haman, the grand vizier of King Ahasuerus. We stamp our feet and wave our rattles, which we call greggers, on the festival of Purim, whenever Haman’s name is mentioned during the synagogue service.
Earlier, we lived in Egypt and escaped slavery, thanks to Moses who was chosen by God to take us to Canaan, which became our land. Later we were thrown out by invaders and our Temples were destroyed. I put money in the Blue Box on the shelf in the hall cupboard, to help Israel. Poor people go there from the Diaspora. Once, Mr Taylor, the headmaster of the Hebrew classes, looked at me and said: “Israel needs farmers not chartered accountants”. My father is a chartered accountant.
My stamp album has pages of stamps from Poland and America. My grandmother Rebecca Rosenberg used to get letters from Poland, where she lived before she came to England. She still gets letters from America. But everybody who remained in Poland
died during the war.
A Curious Story
I am twelve years old. My other grandmother, Fanny Rudolf, died yesterday. We go to the funeral. When we return home, we find that the downstairs mirror has been covered. Our next-door neighbour came into the house and did this while everyone was at the cemetery in Willesden. My mother uncovers the mirror. She says only very superstitious Jewish people do that. She also says continental people show their emotions, but we are English and we don’t do that. Mrs Eder is continental: she came here from Belgium. My mother’s hero is Mr Churchill but she votes Labour and stuffs manila envelopes with Labour Party leaflets which we put through people’s doors.
Blind Man’s Buff
I am seven years old. We are in the playground of my school, Henrietta Barnet, at the top of my road, Middleway, which is between Northway and Southway. We are playing It. Somebody caught me. Now it is my turn to be It. I rush around and grab somebody’s arm. Now I am sixty years old. “Naar hayiti vegam vekanti”, as the Psalmist says. Yes, once I was a boy and now I am old. We were trusted not to cheat
Daddy, I want to go to a film this afternoon.
Because I said so.
Mummy, daddy says I can’t go to a film this afternoon.
Please make him change his mind.
I’ll ask him.
Thank you, mummy.
Daddy says you can’t go to a film this afternoon.
Because he says so.
It’s not fair.
Daddy, please let me go to a film this afternoon.
Listen to the wireless.
Read a book.
I wanted to go to a film this afternoon.
I am ten years old. We have arrived at the house of my grandparents in Stoke Newington, 47 Manse Road, London N16, after driving here in our little Standard car from our own house, 41 Middleway, London NW11. It is Sunday afternoon. I run upstairs and kiss my grandparents, Josef Rudolf and Fanny Rudolf. As usual, my grandfather is wearing his suit. His watch is in the waistcoat pocket, at the end of a chain. My grandmother is dressed in black. She is large, not like my other grandmother. I smell chicken soup. I go downstairs and wander round the house. The house is tall and narrow. My grandfather works at home. He deals in second-hand clothes and army surplus. The ground floor is full of great coats and other items of men’s clothing. The basement is full of comics, published by my Uncle Leon Rudolf. One of them is called The Merrymaker. I like looking at the advertisements: toby jugs, packets of assorted stamps, magic charms. I go outside and throw my tennis ball against a wall. Where I live there are no walls like that. Here there are even shops close by! My grandfather speaks English with a funny accent. Sometimes he speaks Yiddish. He gives me sixpence. It is time to go home.
An Important Event
My little sister Ruth is being fed the flesh of a tomato. I am given the pips and the skin. I do not like the food.
A vivid memory, indeed! The event must have happened towards the end of 1946, when I was four and Ruth was one. I know the memory is unmediated, because it contains the kind of details parents do not tell a child. On the other hand, here is a mediated memory of something that may have been a direct result of the tomato story: “Ruth wants to attack me with a fork”. I do not remember saying that, but my words made a great impression on my parents because I cannot remember a time when I did not know that I had spoken them, and that security measures were taken to prevent Ruth attacking me…
I am thirteen years old. I am in the lounge of my house, sitting in my mother’s armchair. I have placed one of the 78s from my parents’ collection onto the turntable of the large gramophone standing in the recess by the fireplace. Today, I am listening to Beethoven’s violin concerto played by George Kulenkampf, which takes up eight sides, four records, five minutes on each side.
Today, more than fifty years later, aged sixty four, I remember that the music transported me -- as if through a magic tunnel or looking glass -- into myself and, for five minutes, I was lost in complete reverie, summoned to a parallel universe where shoelaces and toothbrush, ice cream and cod liver oil, did not exist. This was what I knew, and it was good.
I turn over the 78.
By the Fireside
I am eleven years old. I am sitting on the pouffe in the lounge of my house. I am staring at the fire. I see clear images. Now and then, I stir the lumps of coal with a poker.
Half a century later, I remember that the fire drew me in like a swimmer between the waves of the sea, except that is for real. Air only yields, earth only resists, water and fire resist then yield.
Deep feeling, yes: but what about those images – intense in their clarity -- once fire then embers and ashes, whose details are now forgotten? Ah, I begin to understand why, in early old age, I am turning to fiction where I am allowed to invent or re-invent my images.
Rider on the Rocking Horse
Upstairs lived my rocking horse
Until I was too big to ride him.
Then my sister Ruth took over
And then my sister Mary rode him,
And then my sister Annie rode him.
All the children rode him, rode him,
Swaying forwards, swaying backwards
And then he went into a cupboard.
One day my mother threw him out:
Off you go: the knackers yard
Is the only place for you!
Hold your horses, mother dear,
Rocky’s mine, he lives forever
In souvenance. Those ancient days….….
Almost too serious
Once upon a time – I cannot place the year, but I was small -- I created a little box, where I placed my most secret thoughts. Only I had access to this part of my mind.
The event may seem remote, the process abstract, but it is a scene from childhood, a primal scene. Vivid. I was a good and obedient boy, and yet something in me knew I must find a place where treasure was mine and mine alone.
It was a matricial raid on the future, preparation for the time when I would write my own thoughts under the guise of being a translator.
It was Montaigne’s “little back shop”. The little box survived, and so did I.
My political understanding is shot, my ideals have been destroyed, my belief that things can be improved -- never strong at the best of times – is in the shredder. This is 1980, I am thirty-eight years old. The world situation is almost too serious to confront. I take comfort from the word “almost”, I almost wrote “little word”…. It contains the space where hope breathes life into action. Some hope. At least.
But I am older than I was. I don’t want to spend all my time involving myself in politics. My son is eight years old, my daughter six. Over to you, Nathaniel and Naomi! This is a scene from your childhood, not mine. This world is your world, this world is my world, this world was made for you and me.
Child Falling Asleep
P. is dancing a slow. She is holding her partner, cradling her partner, not her lover but her little grandchild, Darcy. She is rocking Darcy, rocking her to sleep, as if the waking energy of the child is to be contained in memory until the next time they dance together. Dependent on her grandmother, Darcy does not move of her own accord. The image, in my recollection, is of perfect safety, a glamour. No harm will come to either of them. As they dance, they hold at bay the depredations of time. Darcy is asleep. She is grazing safely in the pasture.
The Poet Speaks
My son, my daughter
Alone by the sea
Run, run to the end
Of what they are.
Nearby, I shiver
In the wet sand,
The sun also
Is at its nadir.
The cold wind blows
Hard on my head.
I run, run to
Of what I am.
I raise up my eyes.
The lowly sun
This place is called