‘Luvverly Jack the Rippers,’ called out the bloke selling kippers.
‘’Ow about a nice bit of Lillian Gish, fresh from the ’ousemaid’s knee,’
shouted his mate selling fish fresh off the North Sea boats.
In 1936, slummy Stratford Broadway was a fairyland of lantern
lights swinging high above the market stalls. The costermongers
spruiked their wares in Cockney rhyming slang and it was all bustle
and movement as customers milled around looking for bargains.
Sooty grey Victorian buildings made dark shadows in the background.
This was the East End, and in a few short years the Luftwaffe
would be tasked with destroying it and London’s heart.
‘What’s jellied eels?’ asked Rosa.
‘Treyf, unclean,’ replied her mother with an involuntary shudder.
Rosa, Sadie and Solly were going home to the suburbs. They’d
been making the obligatory visit to Buba. Every Saturday they went
for Shabbes lunch so that Regina could see her only grandchild, Rosa,
the sheyn meydl, the pretty little girl with the golden ringlets tied up
with a satin bow. They were careful with their budget and bus fare
could be saved if they were prepared to walk the seven miles or so to
the new estate where they lived. When the six-year-old became tired,
her father carried her perched on his shoulders.
‘What about cockles and winkles?’ she enquired.
‘They’re also treyf, we don’t eat them.’
It was a conversation that, in one form or another, went on for the
rest of Rosa’s life, and now that she’s a grandmother in far-away, laidback
Australia, she realises the question remains, hangs there like a
thread connecting her to a history she doesn’t know much about and
to people she would hardly recognise as her ancestors.
In the rest of Chapter Four I’ve made fun of Rosa’s efforts to resolve ‘Because’.
But in other parts of Rosa, for example in Chapter 2 ‘The Hope Chest’, you can discern the regret beneath the self-deprecation as I try to unpick Sadie’s life and find a way through what was, sadly, ‘an unsuccessful Jewish mother-daughter relationship.’
‘The Hope Chest’ has been chosen by Hybrid Publishers as the sample from Rosa on their web page: