When I put out tentative feelers for author interviewees I was delighted at the response. I’ve spent most of June either interviewing other Indie authors or being interviewed myself, and have met some really interesting people along the way. One of the questions that fellow author Chris Harrison asked me was ‘What did I miss about the East End of London?’
I thought I’d elaborate a little bit more:
To get to George Green’s school I had to walk through Crisp Street market. The traders would be setting up on the way to school, and it seemed as though every single day was market day when I was only 11 or 12. Carrying my brand new satchel I would stop off on the way home at the secondhand record stall in the middle of the market. Putting the hated satchel down I would look excitedly through the old 45rpm records to see if there had been any new ones added since the previous day. Saturdays and pocket money day could not come quickly enough; I would be down the market early, buying comics, sweets and records. By the end of Saturday I would be ‘boracic lint’ as they say in the East End, but nevertheless happy with my purchases.
If I had outgrown my clothes then Mum would take me ‘Down the Roman’. Roman Road Market in Old Ford was about half a mile long and chock full on both sides of the road with clothes, clothes, and more clothes. Mum and I would argue like a pair of old fishwives over which clothes to buy, and more often than not a relative or family friend would appear to join in the argument. When we had finally agreed on which dress to tart me up in, there would be pie and mash for lunch in Kelly’s eel and pie shop. Mum would always take our own knives and forks (much to my embarrassment) because ‘you never know, do you?‘ I never found out what it was I never knew, all I remember was worrying in case the management found Mum putting our used knives and forks back in the bag and thinking we were stealing them!
I often walked down Byron Street to get home from the market. At the corner of Byron Street at its junction with St. Leonards Road there were a wealth of little shops that you don’t see nowadays with the advent of the big supermarkets. Mum would often send me out to Detmar’s on the corner of Byron Street to buy half a pound of ham. The smell of fresh sawdust on the floor always hit you as you opened the narrow swing doors to Detmar’s grocery shop, and Mr Detmar would be standing there in his usual long apron ready for a chat with the customers. Along from Detmar’s was Rosenblatt’s the bakery, with its aroma of freshly baked bread. If Mum ever sent me round to buy a cut tin loaf from Mrs Rosenblatt there would most likely be a slice or two missing by the time I got home with it. Across the road was the butcher’s shop and greengrocer’s, but as I couldn’t be trusted to pick out the right cut of meat or the freshest vegetables, I hardly ever had to cross the road.
Next to Rosenblatt’s was Coakley’s the newsagent’s. Dad would give me 6d every evening and send me to Mr Coakley’s shop for an Evening Standard newspaper; the paper would be 4d, and there would be 2d left over for me. Dad must have wondered why I took so long in returning with his newspaper. Mr Coakley’s shop was like a treasure trove for any child with a sweet tooth; there were Blackjacks, Shrimps, Spangles, Chews, Gobstoppers, Smarties, and jelly-like sweets shaped like babies’ dummies (it’s a wonder I’ve got any teeth left). I would stand there for a good half an hour trying to decide which delight to buy. Mr and Mrs Coakley also had a phone in their back room, and Mum arranged with them that I could always use the phone to call them in an emergency if I was home from school and they were at work, as I didn’t have enough strength in my wrist to push a 2d into the slot of a public call box!
I had a dream the other night; I dreamed I was skating home for tea but the house had disappeared, and there was only an empty space left where it had once stood. Yes the house has gone now unfortunately; it was pulled down to make way for a technical college. Even the street has been built over. The only confirmation Layfield Place ever existed is a slight indentation halfway down Byron Street where the top end of Layfield Place begun. The cobblestones along Layfield Place would jar my skinny body as I skated home to number 3. Mum would have my tea on the table, and after tea I would play out with friends until 8 o’clock when bath time beckoned. I knew there would be trouble if I was late in and Dad had to come looking for me. To this day I cannot be late for any event whatsoever!
I suddenly realise what else it is I miss about the East End, apart from the markets, shops, and the sound of the foghorns on the river on New Year’s Eve. I was a girl in the late 1960’s when I lived there; a young, carefree girl, innocent of the ways of the world and looking no further forward than the next hour. Now Dad is long gone, and the East End I knew is all long gone too now in the blink of an eye, but it will stay forever in my memory until the day that I finally shuffle off this earthly plane. You can take the girl out of London, but you can’t take London out of the girl. ‘Cor blimey mate, it ain’t ‘arf great!’