What have we come to?

I FIRST MET MY FRIENDS, the brothers, ‘A’ and ‘B’, at the birthday party of another friend ‘C’. This meeting would have been in March 1965. I know this because the celebrations included watching a matinee performance of the film “Goldfinger”, which had been released in the UK a few months before (in September 1964). We saw the film in the now long-since demolished Odeon Cinema in Temple Fortune, which is on the edge of Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’), where we all lived. Sadly, one of the brothers died a few years ago, but the other two friends are still thriving.

BLOG PUT 3

Mutton Brook

Since the major London ‘lockdown’ ended and we have become more mobile, having acquired a motor car, we have made several visits to HGS to see ‘old haunts’. One of these places is the series of public gardens (Northway Gardens and Littleton Playing Fields) that run along either side of a stream called Mutton Brook (it is a tributary of the River Brent that flows into the Thames at Brentford in Middlesex). The Brook runs parallel to Falloden Way, a stretch of the A1 road. Flanking the road that separates HGS into two sections, there is a shopping area appropriately and unimaginatively called the Market Place. During my childhood, the section of HGS north of Falloden Way was affectionately known as ‘Across the Jordan’ because many Jewish people live(d) there. I suspect that today, there is a fairly equal distribution of Jewish households in both sections of HGS separated by the A1.

My friends, A, B, and C, and I used to visit the gardens alongside Mutton Brook in our spare time. In those days, but not now, the water in Mutton Brook had a rather unpleasant smell (sewage or something rotting). One of the attractions in the gardens was a putting green open to the public. For a small fee it was possible to hire a putting implement (a putter) and a golf ball. The brothers, A and B, were very competitive, and C was less so. The three of them managed to complete the course in a respectably low number of well-aimed shots. By the time I had reached the second hole, the others had putted their balls into all 18 of the holes on the course. What I have never been able to understand is why  when my ball was within inches of a hole, instead of falling into the hole, it spun around the circumference of the mouth of the hole without falling into the target area. Well, I was never skilled at any ball games, but I enjoyed the company of my friends.

Back in the 1960s, I believe that there were no refreshment areas in either Northway Gardens or Littleton Playing Fields. This has changed. There is a charming Café Toulous near one entrance to Northway Gardens and the Café Gaya in Littleton Playing Fields. Today, we sat at a table under trees near the latter and enjoyed drinking coffee in the shade. The ambient temperature was 31 degrees Celsius.  In one direction, we could see the spire of Lutyen’s St Jude on The Hill Church in the heart of HGS and in the other, a nursery school that shares the same building as houses the Gaya.

There were about twenty children’s push chairs (buggies) parked in front of the two-storey nursery. This came as no surprise because the school was in use. What was remarkable was the presence of three hefty looking security men, two in uniform and one in ‘mufti’. Each of these fellows had walkie-talkies and the two in uniform seemed to be wearing protective (bullet-proof?) vests over their jackets. They were keeping a very close watch on the kindergarten and unlocked its front door when ever there was something to be delivered.

After enjoying our drinks, we asked the Eastern-European lady working in the café about the security guards. In not brilliant English with a marked accent, she replied:

“Security”.

Flippantly, I asked:

“Are the kids dangerous?”

Not seeing the joke, she explained:

“Private Jewish school”,

And then added:

“All private Jewish schools have security.”

How sad it is that nowadays, even kindergartens filled with tiny tots are considered to be at risk from attack. This was never the case when my friends and I knocked golf balls around the now non-existent putting green on the bank of Mutton Brook. What have we come to?

Start right

MY MOTHER WAS ALWAYS CONCERNED that my sister and I had good shoes when we were children. We used to go to a shoe shop in the Market Place, which is in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived. It was a store that sold the Start-Rite brand of footwear. What none of us knew in those far-off days was that the company was established in 1792 by James Smith in Norwich. His grandson, James Southall, gave the firm its name.

START RITE

Start-Rite shoes had a good reputation for making sure that shoes it sold fitted the wearers well. I remember having my feet measured both for length and width. The shoes were available in several different widths for each length.  For example, a size four shoe could be obtained in any of five widths, ranging from ‘a’ to e’. Thus, the shop assistant could ‘fine tune’ selecting the correct size shoe to fit a child’s feet. Also, the shoes were durable.

The shop in the Market Place had a machine that I was always dying to try. It was a tall box with two holes at its base and a viewing window at its top. The idea was that a child put on a pair of shoes, and then inserted his or her feet into the two holes. The shop assistant would then push a switch and look into the observation windoe at the top of the box. The machine produced x-rays which passed through the child’s shod feet and onto a fluorescing screen. By observing the image created by the radiation, the assistant could assess how well the shoes fitted. ‘Quel horreur’, you might be thinking if your mind operates in French.

Well, that is what my mother thought. Although not a scientist and having had little education in science, my mother knew very well that radiation was dangerous. After all, she knew all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What she might not have known is that the bone marrow cells in children’s skeletons are very sensitive to ionising radiation but being a cautious caring mother, she took no chances. Therefore, I was never able to see the bones of my feet in the device in that or any other shoe shop.

I outgrew Start-Rite shoes long ago. The shoe shop in the Market Place no longer exists, nor are those foot x-ray machines still in use. However, one thing endures. That is my memory of posters advertising Start-Rite shoes, which were pasted on the walls and hoardings of London’s Underground stations. They showed a couple of small children with arms interlinked walking towards infinity along a straight road bordered by fences and rows of trees. I still think that this is one of the most depressing adverts I have ever seen. The captions on the poster are “Children’s shoes have far to go” and “Start-Rite and they’ll walk happily ever after.”

I started ‘rite’ and since then, I  have been walking happily ever after, but cannot erase the depressing image on the poster from my mind.

I wonder

I wonder whether today’s parents would take more interest in their youn goffspring in buggies if they did not possess mobile telephones.

I wonder whether babies and young kids now in buggies will suffer later in life because their parents preferred paying attention to their mobile phones rather than their little children.

Boxes

Corgi

When I was very young, I had a best friend called Rick (not his real name!). He lived within a short walking distance from my family home. During weekends, we spent a great deal of time in each others houses.

Both Rick and I had large collections of toy model vehicles made mainly by the Dinky Toy and Corgi Toy companies. I kept my collection in a wooden box in no particular order. In time, the model vehicles looked used, battered, and scratched.

In contrast, Rick and his younger sibling kept their vehicles much more carefully than me. Each vehicle was kept in the box in which the manufacturer supplied the toy. When we wanted to play with these toys, each vehicle was removed from its box and then we handled them very carefully. Rick’s collection was in superb condition. When we had finished playing with the vehicles, which included a fine model of a mobile rocket launcher complete with a detachable rocket, we packed each of them into their own boxes.

I lost touch with Rick when we reached our early twenties. Many years later when the Internet became commonly used, I tried to re-eastablish contact with him, but in vain. He never appeared on internet searches. Eventually, I decided to ring his parents’ telephone number, which had remained etched in my brain. To my great surprise, Rick’s mother, by now over 90 years old, replied. I asked her about Rick. She replied:

You have just missed him, dear. He died a few months ago.”

Some time later, we visited Rick’s widow, whom I had never ever met. After feeding us lunch, I mentioned the model cars and other vehicles. Without saying anything about them, she beckoned me to follow her into another room. It was, she explained, Rick’s study while he was alive. Arranged neatly around the room on shelves was Rick’s collection of Dinky and Corgi toys, including the rocket launcher. And to my great surprise and delight, each of the toys, still in pristine condition, was sitting on top of its own box.

 

picture source: https://www.toyhunteruk.co.uk/

Hitler for children

hitler

 

In a previous blog (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2019/01/15/hitler-on-the-shelf/ ), I have written about the prevalence of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in bookshops all over India. Here is an article I wrote a few years ago about a book about Hitler aimed at Indian children.

I was browsing the shelves in Gangaram’s Bookshop in Bangalore (India) when I found a book about Hitler, which was published in 2007 (ISBN: 9788131002520). It is part of a series called “Biographies of Great Personalities”, aimed at younger Indian readers . The garishly covered book caught my eye in that large well-known bookshop in Bangalore. When I flicked through it, I noticed that it was illustrated with line drawings, many of which showed Adolf Hitler in Indian settings with palm trees. At 40 Rupees (less than half a Pound Sterling), I could not resist buying the 93 page book.

 The author, Igen B, is a prolific writer. He has published well over 70 short books including biographies of personalities as diverse as Jesus Christ, Bhagat Singh, Mother Teresa, Ashoka the Great, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Shakuntala, and Netaji Chandra Bose. As well as these he has written versions of great Indian classics such as the Vedas, the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and the Mahabharata. That these books are probably aimed at children is evident from the format and appearance of the books and also the fact that one of his titles is “Illustrated Model Book of School Essay etc.” Therefore, his potential audience is the innocent and impressionable younger mind. This should be remembered whilst paging through his children’s biography of Adolf Hitler.

More than half of the text is dedicated to Hitler’s childhood about which not much is known in detail, his career as an artist, and his rise to power. The author of this book, Igen B, blames a disturbed childhood in a dysfunctional family for much of what Hitler was to become.  The future dictator’s disillusionment with the lack of German national pride and his disappointment with the country’s leadership during WW1 were, according to this book, also important formative factors. As, are also the Jews: unquestioningly, Igen B repeats the kind of dangerous nonsense about the Jews that Hitler and many Germans believed.

Having gained power, we learn of Hitler’s campaign to relieve the Jews of any role in public life, and his hatred of the communists. We also learn of his desire to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, and how he went about doing so. So far, the reader is presented with something that faintly resembles what is now common knowledge about the history of Germany just before and during the brief, but long enough, era of Nazi rule. The penultimate 4 pages of the book describe some aspects of WW2. The last page of text is dedicated the last days of Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun.

Nowhere in the book are the mass murders perpetrated by the Nazis even hinted at, let alone mentioned. This worries me greatly considering that the book is sold in bookshops in India, and most of these also sell Hitler’s pernicious ‘autobiography’ “Mein Kampf”.

Igen B’s book is aimed at an Indian audience. It is appropriate in a way that the illustrations are drawn with an Indian ‘flavour’, as many readers are unlikely to have visited Europe or are ever likely to do so. The spelling of many German words and names is peculiar. For example we read of ‘Hebzburg’ (Habsburg), ‘Strum Abtiling’ (Sturmabteilung), ‘fonn’ (von), ‘Versai’ (Versailles), and ‘Hoffbraha’ (Hofbrauhaus). Whilst these original spellings are used more than once and are thus unlikely to be typographic errors, they may also be purposeful. It is possible that the author, realising that most of his readers are likely to be unfamiliar with German pronunciation, has transliterated them so as to make them pronounceable by readers of English.

I picked up this book as a curio, and read it. The author appears to have done some research, but his or her interpretation and presentation of the facts is somewhat unusual. His lack of emphasis of Hitler’s evil influences and deeds in a book aimed at impressionable youngsters is worrying to say the least.  The impression I had after reading it was that Hitler was portrayed as an unfortunate child, who grew up with the aim of making Germany a great nation. I was not given the impression that he was even a fraction of the monster that he was in reality. I had rather the same impression after watching the end of the film Downfall made in 2004. Hitler’s final moments during that film were almost heart-rending; the power of film and literature cannot be underrated. This is why Igen B’s book on Hitler might well be considered malevolent, even if the author’s intention was otherwise, to be purely informative.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Buggy battles

Buggy

 

All public transport buses in London have dedicated areas for buggies (baby strollers, push-chairs etc.) Other passengers need to, or are made to feel that they need to, move out of the way so that a buggy can be parked in the designated area.  So far so good. Many child carers use their childrens. buggies as shopping trolleys, often overloaded with bags of merchandise. Often, the child or children being transported in the buggies are removed from them during the bus journey and then occupy a passener seat. The empty buggies then simply take up space that could be used by other passengers on a crowded vehicle.

Now, there are clear signs by the designated ‘buggy area’ that state quite clearly that the area is also for use by persons confined to wheelchairs. These signs also make it very clear that wheelchair users have priority over buggies in the special area on the bus.

Clashes, often quite uncivil, occur if too many carers pushing buggies are competing for the the limited space available for buggies and wheelchairs. Or, even worse, battles can break out between whelchair users who want to board a bus and buggy owners, who are already on board the bus. Both the child carers and the wheelchair-bound  people can often behave quite unpleasantly. Unlike the wheelchair occupant, almost all baby buggies can be folded up and placed in the luggage area that is available on every bus.

Yesterday, it was a sunny afternoon and I was travelling in a bus past Swiss Cottage in north west London. The buggy/wheelchair area was occupied by two baby buggies and a folded buggy was in the luggage area. We stopped at a bus stop where a man in a wheelchair was waiting. He wanted to board the bus, but the owners of the buggies occupying the designated area would neither fold their buggies nor leave the bus to make space for the priority user, the wheel chair user. The bus driver had to get out to sort out the stand-off. He wanted the buggy users to disembark, but they would not budge. In the end, the wheel chair bound fellow behaved decently, saying he would wait for the next bus.

In my opinion, both wheelchair passengers and buggy pushers can easily manage to wait  (especially when the weather is good) until a bus arrives with sufficient space. After all, the wheelchair user is sitting and waiting as is the buggy borne child, who is often far too big and independently mobile to be confined to a buggy. What do you think, dear reader?

 

 

Picture from: https://www.britax-roemer.co.uk/pushchairs/strollers

Breathless in Manhattan

NYC

 

When I was a child, I was told that a good way to stop hiccups was by holding one’s breath. Being of a nervous disposition as a child, I worried that dire consequences might follow if one forgot to stop holding one’s breath. My parents assured me that this was impossible; the body did not allow someone to do this.

A few months before President Kennedy was shot in the USA in 1963, we were staying in a borrowed flat (appartment) in Manhattan, New York City.  I was playing a game with my young sister. It caused us great hilarity and much laughter. This led to me plagued by an attack of hiccups. So, as I had been taught, I held my breath. I was standing up.

The next thing I knew was that I was lying on the floor. My mother had taken very little notice at first because she thought my fall was part of our game. Actually, it was not. Contrary to what I had been told, I had held my breath long enough to black out! Very fortunately, when I fell I narrowly missed hitting my face on the shart corner of a metal table.

Does my tale have a message? Well, I suppose it does. Holding your breath can bring hiccups to an end sometimes. If you try this method, make sure that you are sitting down!

 

By the way, a hiccup (noun) is what you do when you are hiccoughing (verb).

With a baby in Belgium

baby seat

 

Young parents sometimes ask my wife and I when it is safe to take their baby abroad for the first time. Why they ask us is a mystery. We are not experts on child care. Our experiences in this field are confined to our only child, our daughter.

We first took our daughter abroad when she was six weeks old. We went on a driving trip from London to Belgium and Holland. After about an hour driving through northern France, our daughter began crying plaintively and continuously. We stopped, removed her from the baby seat, fed her some milk, and that brought the complaints to an abrupt end. At that stop, both my wife and I had separately thought that  we were not too far from home to turn back and abandon our trip. Neither of us expressed this thought verbally when we stopped, but later we discovered that we had had the same idea.

Several hours later, we arrived at our destination, Damme, which is close to Brugge (Bruges). After settling in the hotel, we  found a restaurant nearby. It was Saturday night. The restaurant occupied a long room. There were tables on both sides of a corridor that ran the length of the room. Most of them were occupied by frumpy-looking, late middle-aged, middle class Belgian couples, none of whom seemed to be having fun.

Soon after we settled at our table, our daughter began crying. She was hungry and my wife wanted to breast-feed her. She asked the head waiter whether there ws somewhere secluded that she could breast-feed. The waiter pointed to a back room. When my wife stood up, the hitherto silent and rather glum Belgian diners became animated. They told us that they did not want the baby to leave them. From that moment onwards, all of the diners cheered up and became lively, firing us with questions and advice about our tiny daughter. It seemed that our arrival was the best thing that had happened to them for many a year.

A few months later, we took our child to India, and that was also a successful trip. So, if you are crazy enough to ask my advice (based on a sample of only one) about travelling with a baby, my answer would be “go for it.”

 

 

 

Picture from argos.co.uk

GOING NUTS

I was at school throughout most of the 1950s and ’60s. I came into contact with numerous other children. As far as I can recall, not one of my fellow pupils ever admitted having a food allergy. A few had asthma or wore spectacles, but none seemed to suffer from allergies.

When our daughter attended schools at the beginning of this, the 21st century, many of the children with whom she studied had food allergies, notably nut allergies. Some of them even carried adrenaline filled epipens with them to be used should they come into contact with allergens. Our daughter was, luckily, not allergic to anything, but felt left out because she did not have an allergy. It seemed to her that having an allergy or wearing orthodontic appliances were almost ‘fashion statements’

Why are food allergies so common now? Is it a result of obsession with today’s hygiene and fear of germs. We live in the era of the hand sanitizer and obsession with ‘use by’ dates. Today’s children are shielded from allergens from a very tender age and this impedes the development of an effective immune system.

Research done in the USA some years ago compared the incidence of allergies in kids brought up on farms, where dirt and animals are hard to avoid, with that in children brought up ‘hygienically’ in cities. It was found that the city kids had a far higher incidence of allergies than their country cousins.

Our daughter first visited India when she was 7 months old. It was impossible to stop her putting just about anything she found on the ground into her mouth. I like to think that this might be why she differed from many of her peers in that she missed out on having allergies.

So, if you have young children, do not go nuts about shielding them from external factors that might prevent them needing to carry an epipen in the future.

Now, I will play the part of the Devil’s advocate. It is remotely possible that the apparent absence of children with allergies during my school days was because any kids with allergies had died of anaphylactic shock before they were old enough to attend school. I hope not!