In 1963 I was still in touch with some old school friends and like most nineteen year olds was obsessed with girls, smart clothes, girls, spots, hanging out with my mates, girls, cars, acting hard, having a pint and (did I mention girls) laying in bed and dreaming – about girls.
Jumbo (Mickey) James, an old school mate, introduced me to a friend of his girl friend called Pat Perry. Pat and his girl friend call Liz lived in her mums house in Sandringham Road Hackney. Pat’s own mum had died of breast cancer many years before and her Dad had remarried a woman he met in Italy when he was in the forces. New mum and Pat did not get on and Sid (a really nice bloke) had to choose between his daughter and his new love. Pat lost, that is why she was living in digs at Sandringham Road.
I then came along and each Saturday afternoon Jumbo and I would meet up with the girls in the pie and mash shop in Dalston Junction. We started dating and soon I was to meet Pat’s extended family.
Boobalar, I never knew her given name – was Pat’s Grandmother, who lived in Homeleigh Road Hackney, with her youngest son Ethan. Boobalar had walked across Europe from Poland with her seven children to escape the programs that Russia had perpetrated against the Jews in the 1930s. She was then in her last years with diabetes, was blind, but was very much the matriarch of the family.
The family name was Penkofsky, Pinkfzofye. Perhaps Penczoffizey, ( I have forgotten or perhaps never knew how to spell the name) but anyway Sid, (Pat’s Dad) now calling himself Sid Perry, her uncle David and aunties Yetta and Rosina were kind and made me feel welcomed when I met them but many of the others were very hostile and certainly made their feelings known that “A Goy” should not be taking out a nice Jewish girl.
Within a short time I had suggested to Pat that we marry. Which started a whole chain of events. First I had to (it was the expected norm in those days) ask her Dad for permission to marry his daughter. I had met Sid a couple of time when he had visited Pat in her digs in Sandringham Road and the whole experience was to leave a lasting memory.
One Wednesday morning I dresses in my best suit (well it was my only suit) with polished shoes and brillcreamed hair Pat and I took the bus, through Kingsland High Street, via the Kingsland waste, onto Shoreditch High Street, where we then walked to Brick Lane. Both Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane were both famous markets, but whoever looked above the bustling stalls and vendors calls I was not one of them until that day.
I am guessing that most if not all of the buildings in Brick Lane were born in the Regency or early Victorian times. About a third of the way along the street, Pat guided me towards a grey splintered door that was once perhaps painted brown or was varnished, but now the door had serious shakes in both its mullions and transoms, and the colour had long since faded. When inside the entrance a surprisingly wide staircase, with ornate wooden banisters led above.
My heart beat had risen in expediential increments since we had got off of the bus, but we climbed the stairs to the third floor. A small but quite professional sign on an equally worn door read Cindy Hats. Pat turned to say, “this is my Dads place”. As the door opened onto a large room with two table height benches in parallel rows, sixteen eyes, five of whom were women and the other two men, drilled into me. The other two belonged to Sid who stood in the doorway of another room past the benches. What almost freaked me out was most of the women and men were sitting crossed legged on top of the benches and sowing, as two other women were standing in front of electric metal formers with hats forced over them and (I suppose) felt linen of some kind being dressed with implements that looked formidable.
Sid (bless him) saw I was ready to collapse in a soup of fright and trepidation and made it so much easier for me to cross the room by saying, “velcome Michael” Would you come into my office please”.
A chair, bigger than the one my barber had when I was ten stood in front of a carved ornate desk, Sid stood to one side and gently asked me of my health and that of my parents. After the niceties were over and a pregnant pause in several places, I eventually blurted out. “Mr Perry, Sir” I have come here today, to ask your permission to marry Pat”?
Sid Perry at his factory in (I said it was Brick lane – but it wasn’t) it was Founier Street. After much deliberation and a LOT of anguish that I didn’t know about at the time, on her family’s part – Sid eventually sent a message via Pat that agreed that I might call on his daughter as a suitable potential husband. That, because of the racial difference – she was a Jew and I was a Goy ( that’s Yiddish for gentile) was the best I could expect in those days.
A little while later, two mutual friends of our – Fred and Jean Cook had become aware of a house just round the corner from where Liz and Pat were living of two other empty flats at 32 Ferncliff Road. They approached the Landlady, Mrs Sharp (another elderly Jewish Lady) where they managed to secure the basement three rooms. The middle two rooms were already occupied by a really weird couple with two babies, but the top three roomed flat was still empty, so they asked if Mrs Sharp would consider taking us, Pat and I on, as other tenants. We had to go to a formal interview at Mrs Sharp’s house in the Lower Clapton Area and were as pleased as punch when she agreed that we could have the flat at £3.10s a week.
Still within the values of those days (and believe me the swinging sixties passed me by without any free love) we were obliged to get married before sharing a bed. Hurriedly we arranged a Town Hall wedding. I took on a package deal with a furniture supply firm called “Kentons” at Dalston Junction to furnish the flat at a further £3 per week for two years, a bed, wardrobe, dressing table, settee, two arm chairs, and a gas fridge. My Mum paid for a front room carpet, supplied most of the linen, pots and pans and other bits. Pat’s family gave quite generously with both money and bits and pieces. My Mum did the reception at our old house in Gibson Square. Pat’s aunts and uncles were typically Jewish in shouting and arguing (in a friendly way) which caused some bewilderment in my side of the family, but all in all, the day went well.
With cans and boots tied to the back of Dads car bumper, we were driven to our new home at 32 Ferncliff Road that night.