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Smoke whilst you're praying... Summer of Love
Smoke whilst you're praying...
Looking back over the last 50 years, made me realise there are lots of things my son does not know about me and the times I have lived in, my daughter even less. One of the duties of a parent is to keep the verbal and recorded history alive. If a people perish without a vision, a family perishes without a genealogy.
I was 16 and working in a shoe shop when a woman I had never met walked in for shoes, and asked me my name. "I knew your father and grandfather, they cleaned our chimneys" she said. "I have something for you" and the next day she gave me our family history for the last 150 years. It was inaccurate (I later learnt) but it turned me that day from a rootless restless wanderer into a person of substance. I existed, and furthermore, our family had existed in the same area for over a century.
I took root on the spot!
A wise friend told me the following story;
Two monks are walking in the cloisters, one says to the other "I asked the Father Superior if I could smoke whilst I was praying, and he refused me permission" the other monk stopped and looked intently at his brother, and said " Ah! but what you should have asked was whether you could pray whilst you were smoking"
How we communicate and present a question often determines the reply we will receive.
Life made me a communicator, circumstances gave me the opportunity to visit thousands of homes observing people, thankfully those attributes were pulled together for good, just like Romans 8:28 promises!
Grandad in the corner...
When I was about 11 years old my world changed....when lying in my cold bed one night I saw a figure hovering in the right hand corner of my room "Who are you" I asked, "I'm your Grandfather" came the reply.... now IF you have never had a spirit 'talking' to you, you won't know that these words just appeared and were 'heard' in my head, but they were 'spoken' - and I did receive them!
Grandfather told me he would be my guide and would always be with me, he was (as a familiar spirit guide) for 30 years!
Thirty One years of a familiar spirit
This event was relevant to everything that subsequently happened in my life. It was the point when I agreed to be 'open' to spiritual entities, and started a journey that affected many people, for good and for bad, during the next 40 years plus!
I grew up in the East End of London, our family had been chimney sweeps since 1841 (when Great Great Grandaddy arrived from Ireland as a 10 year old boy, and joined a sweeps family, probably relatives) and my father was the last sweep in the family, I missed being the next sweep due to the first environmental act; The Clean Air Act 1956. prior to this London had smog's called 'pea soupers' that were impossible to live with, so the Act did some good to London, but it ruined our business!
Hence when I was six years old my father was thrust out of self employment into the General Post Office, to work in the underground railway hefting large mailbags on and off trains as they sped around London. He worked there for 19 years before angina retired him, and lived another 20 years collecting his pension, before the specks of dust he had breathed in those asbestos lined railway tunnels killed him. But I digress...
Eleven years of age found me at the top of our local street market (Walthamstow, in East London, then the longest street market in Britain) looking for work, and ten minutes later pushing out a second hand clothes barrow for 'Second Hand Rose' (I jest not, that was her name!) - then I also started a morning milk round, and an evening paper round, then was 'promoted' to run an evening paper round site (I was the only boy who could count out a 'quire' (26 papers))- when I left school at 15 and got a job, I took a drop in income!
Being poor was an anathema to me, I was convinced at age 11 that somehow I had been switched at birth, and somewhere my REAL parents existed in luxury, unaware that the child in their ample bosom was a cuckoo.
I imagine many children feel the same way?
I distinctly remember lying in bed and thinking 'I must get rich' - then working out that I needed to sell an office building, like Harry Hyams (a property developer in the early sixties, who built Center Point in Tottenham Court Road, London) and calculated that as I had no money, I needed to sell the offices first, before building. From such simplistic schemes came a desire to make cash. ( I note that I wrote 'make' as opposed to 'earn! - make of that what you will)
My first 'enterprise' at eleven was as a bicycle thief.
It started after my first bike was stolen, and I set about replacing it with someone else's. I reasoned that as I lost mine due to it being unguarded and unlocked, there must be others in the same situation.
A swift perusal of my neighbourhood showed that in fact; there were many unlocked and unguarded bicycles available, I was spoilt for choice, so I took whatever I wanted, swapped pieces in my back garden (my mum thought I was always helping friends with their bikes) and started selling the spare bikes I had no need for (you can't ride two bikes at a time).
Soon kids were knocking on my door requesting 'special' bikes and as I knew the location of most of the bikes in the area, life was simple. I stopped doing that at 14 years of age, 14 meant Borstal, 13 meant a slap on the wrist. I did NOT want to sample Borstal.
There was already at work in me a demon who was taking a perfectly normal kid and turning him into a thief, liar and cheat, just like his master Lucifer.
The 'entry point' had been determined and I was no longer in total control of my actions.
Contemporary Jewish Youth Club
Rose Finesilver came into my life at age 13, by then I had ceased hanging around with the wrong sort of people and become one myself. I had elected to be a 'rocker' when the 'mod's and rocker' craze started, for a start it was cheaper and secondly my friends were all 'greaseballs' in any case, so being a mod would have been dangerous!.
My 'friends' were all 18 years old and working as mechanics, gravediggers, builders and apprentice armed robbers, they were decidedly thick and I soon realised that they were totally manipulatable. So from age 13 nobody crossed me at school, I was protected.
Rose ran a Jewish Youth club with a difference.
Her philosophy allowed that if you got 'yids and yoks' to mix together then they would realise they were the same and stop hating each other. It was a flawed concept, but it worked at the Contemporary because we all had such fun we forgot to kill each other.
The first time I was invited to go to the club, I went with my mates and when Rose answered the door (the club was in a cavernous old house near the railway tracks and the doors were always locked, to keep interlopers out! - what would 'elf n safe 'T' make of that today) the first thing she did was to strip us of our weapons.
As rockers we always went out 'tooled up' and in particular (as I was too young for a 'proper' police search) my 'leather jacket' (made out of plastic) had loops and pockets sewn into it to carry weapons, ready for the fights that occurred with regularity - an added bonus (for me) was that I was always kept in the middle of the gang so that weaponry was always available.
Rose took the lot and hung them on a trophy rack behind the (soft drink) bar in the club, which satisfied our 'machismo' and ensured that the nervous looking Jewish kids whose parents had been foolishly persuaded to let attend the club, stood a better chance of surviving the experience.
Rose taught me a whole lot of things. I was allowed to be at her house as much as I wanted, she once told me that I was the dead ringer for a young Polish boy she had fell in love with during the Second World War. Rose had been 'involved' in the security services during the war, and had been dropped into Poland to act as an agent as she spoke Polish (being a Polish Jew)
She recognised my raw racialism and anger at life, and taught me that the tongue is mightier than the fist; in both defence and attack. Once she asked me what I had against 'Paki's' - and I spouted my rehearsed rhetoric, ingrained since birth by my father.
She did not get annoyed (although she must have known that the same basic abuse was aimed at Jews as well in our household) - she asked me if I had ever spoken to an Asian?
Soon I was approaching Asians in the street and at the local Wimpy bar sidling up to them and saying " Er, I wanna talk ta you" - some ran, some stood their ground and we spoke and slowly I learned to judge people as individuals not stereotypes.
The window to watch
The window to watch, was the ad line of John Colliers, a mass tailoring firm in the UK during the middle of the last century. Their ads ran "John Colliers, John Colliers, the window to watch" with a hearty drum beat. They were my first 'real' employers and paid me five pounds and six shillings a week (about $7)as a junior.
My actual first job had been with Rose's husband, Frank Finesilver, who ran a 'fancy goods' warehouse in Victoria Park Road, Hackney.
He'd put me on the top floor affixing handbag handles to the bags, using a machine that was specially designed for the purpose, and Frank.
The problem was that Frank was five foot nothing short, and I was six foot two inches tall, so I had a definite stoop after the first day. The compensation was that the attic had a radio set and I got to hear the first plays of 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Summer in the City'
Summer in the City (Loving Spoonful)
I lasted three days then 'resigned' on Wednesday night, only to be yanked out of bed the following Monday morning by my father and told "Get out and find a job, an' don't come back until you do"
Hence John Colliers, who had a sign in the window saying 'Smart Lad Required' - but got me!
Mr Vick, who was a small Jewish man and the manager (and who did not realise the former, but relished the latter accolade) took me to face a rack of about 1000 suits in two tiers and gave me a set of steps and a hand brush, stiffly explaining that I was to take each suit, open the jacket, brush the trouser where it was resting on the hanger bar, then brush both shoulders, put the suit back on the rack and align it with two finger widths between each hanger, and were to be facing the same way. The front facing sleeves were to be furled neatly like soldiers on parade. It looked incredibly anal retentive.
At lunchtime I went outside and found a place to eat my cheese sandwiches, which I qualified for as a 'worker' and mum had made for me! - on my return 30 minutes later i walked into a full shop with a client standing awaiting service, so (naturally) I approached him and asked if I could help him.
He knew what he wanted and took me out to the front window (to watch) and identified a pea green suit that looked as if someone had puked it out after a nights drinking.... but the client is ALWAYS right, so (as I now knew where each suit resided) I went inside, got one down from the rack in his size and directed him into a changing room.
The sale was completed in seconds, but I had no idea what to write on the sales invoice, so I asked the cashier (who sat in a mahogany clad box with thick windows and a small arched hole for taking the cash) and she made it out for me.
Mr Vick (when he was finished with his client) was almost apoplectic... "Mr. Harper, as a junior we USUALLY spend the first month learning how to pack a suit before we allow JUNIORS to speak to clients...." his pause was ominous and his glare even more so "However, as you seem to have circumnavigated that I'd beter show you how to make out a sales receipt"
I was away, and that started a 25 year love affair with selling.
From thug to thinker
Another strange thing happened at the Contemporary... we young thugs and louts who were inherently racist and especially anti-Semitic slowly became less angry with 'F**kn foreigners wot stol our cuntry" and more aware that we did have a worth. It was our own society, government and 'rulers' that had dismissed us to the scrap heap of obscurity without regard.
Some of the anarchic undertow so evident in Jewish thinking was merging and combining with my own anarchic leanings, of course I had no idea about that at the time. My education was very basic and ended on my fifteenth birthday and my vocabulary extended to maybe five hundred words, at maximum, so it was small wonder that I was raging inside and incapable of understanding who I was and why I was.
Until Rose, and the woman who gave me her version of my genealogy, were placed in my life.
After that I could see that somehow I was real, had worth and roots that went deep into history.
Rose treated all of us like her own children, in fact her children had to bear witness to Rose having less time for them than she did for us, she treated us better, and slowly the tenets of Judaism started to become more relevant to me than the empty religion that my 'membership' of the C of E (Church of England) offered.
When Israel was attacked during the six day war, the Israeli embassy was amazed to see six burly, blond haired Aryan youth turn up on the doorstep to enlist to fight on their behalf. They declined, stating that they had enough men already, but the point was made and I realised that life was changing.
Click the link above to go to part two...and leave me a comment!