Autobiography & Memoir
I was at the enormous exciting bustling Bit Bazar (flea market) in Istanbul one Sunday in June, running around looking hopelessly for vintage costume jewellery. I discovered that, as the Ottomans were craftsmen in silver and gold, costume jewellery was scarce and not made in Turkey. It was therefore imported in from other parts of Europe throughout the 20th century. There was so I thought absolutely nothing to buy that attracted me in my specialised field.
I found an Ephemera dealer selling vintage Austro Hungarian pre Ataturk Fez labels. The great man had banned the Fez so the labels on the wholesale boxes disappeared overnight. I smiled as I had had a big collection in the past, supplied by Jan of Prague, the central source for old Fez labels before the Berlin Wall came down. 'My man in Prague' I used to call him, with apologies to Graham Greene! I had to buy a label as a momento of my former life as the owner of Retrograph Archive in the 1980s and 1990s when I had thousands and thousands of antique original pieces of Ephemera. I chose the mint printers sample label depicting the Paris Exhibition of 1889 with the Eiffel Tower. A souvenir of my past life.
The blast from the past continued when Ironically I had a reunion with an old French client, Pierre De Gigord from Paris, who happened to have an exhibition of his Ottoman travel collection at the Pera Museum opening while I was in town. At the vernissage he pointed to a framed Fez label depicting a train and told me it had come from me in the days when I lived in Paris and had sold him Turkish inspired Ephemera 30 years ago.
But then a small unattractive tin caught my attention amidst a pile of rusty typewriting tins. I used to deal in those too selling them to a prominent Italian lawyer Ariberto Mignoli, professor of law at Milan university with a private international law practice. The theme was the history of the Typewriter. But why buy this seemingly ordinary tin which wouldn't even open? The name on it was Ellams Duplicators. Who in the world would have known the name of that British company from the 1930s which preceded Rank Xerox?
But I did!!
I left home and went to live in Manchester at the tender age of 19 in 1965. 'It's about time you left home. We need one more person for the house', said my Liverpudlian psychologist student friend Estelle Irving who had an older Interesting Russian father.
I had decided not to finish law school and take over my father's practice in Liverpool as he had hoped. What to do after the beginning of a retail fashion trainee course at Lewis's in the days when I modelled a Mary Quant Ginger group outfit published in The Liverpool Echo? I occasionally spent lunches with Gail Booth, the actress and ex wife of Tony Booth, the actor and mother of Cherry Blair, wife of our former Prime Minster.
What the hell to do with my uninteresting provincial life? My mother forced me to do a secretarial course. Moi - a secretary? 'It will always come in useful', she insisted. Did mothers know best in the 1960s? I went to Miss Foulkes Secretarial College for Young Ladies. Well I was a young lady who needed a job to pay my rent of £2.50 a week in Withington, Manchester, a house I shared with three psychology students at Manchester University.
My first job away from my protected suburban life was PA to the Managing Director of Shearer Estates Ltd who had created and managed the prestigious Morecombe Marine land in Lancaster, North England. Jimmy Jewell and Ben Waris, the well known comedians, were on the Board as well as George Cansdale the zoological consultant and TV personality. Elton Davis from Bolton my demanding boss was in the chair. A small company and my first away from the nest job. I was the last to come and the first to go. I was made redundant. Instead of going 'on the dole' I was ashamed and didn't know what to do. I had no obvious talents and no qualifications other than 8 O levels and 3 A levels. I had no aim in life so I got a job at The Grapes pub as a barmaid which was frequented by Granada TV people. However Lily the owner eventually sacked me because I was dating the barman and she fancied him too. So I had to go.
But before I was sacked, one of the regulars took an interest in me and started asking me questions about myself. I called him the rhino because he looked like one. He was British upper class, pasty and very very ugly. He asked me how much my rent was and what had my previous wage been. I had moved from the Withington house because of a flood. Now I was subsidised by my father as I could only afford £2.50 and my new rent was 5 guineas a week. My wage was a mere £7 a week. I lived in a large, interesting first floor studio within Langham Court. Located next door to the British Consulate on Mersey Road, West Didsbury, it was an ornate Victorian mansion with original furniture and stained glass windows, with a majestic mahogany staircase set in its own grounds with the River Mersey flowing at the bottom of the lawns. I got on well with the landlord because I had bought a barbargiani stuffed owl in Rome from a taxidermist and named it Twit Twoo and my landlord, who was a farmer, told me he had a real barn owl called Woo Woo!!
'Come to my office to discuss an idea I have for you', the rhino said. His proposition was to work for £10 a week as his PA. He was a consultant from London brought in to put the ailing Ellams Duplicators back on its feet. I met the team. The dark curly headed gypsy manager, Frank, who had been their salesman on the road, read craniums. The book keeper Maud read tea leaves and the rhino described himself as a top man working with MI5. If the red light above his office door was on I must not disturb him under any circumstances. He proudly pointed to his red 'hot line' telephone and told me if it rang while I was in the room, I would have to leave immediately! He would later dictate what seemed like very ordinary short messages but confessed one had to read between the lines for the true meaning as it was all in code!
We all had a happy relationship in the office for nine months with Frank feeling the bumps on my head and measuring the width between my eyes and chin. It was fun with the rhino bringing home the bacon. Beers and all of us going off to The Grapes after work, until the arrival of evil Linda Cohen.
Linda was an auditor from North Manchester and Jewish. She took an immediate dislike to me because she was Jewish working class with a Mancunian accent and I was Jewish middle class from Childwall, Liverpool with a well spoken accent which did not go down well plus I lived in South Manchester and she hailed from Trafford in the North of the city. The division, was like the Mezzogiorno in Italy!
She was an ace trouble maker. One day Maud was reading the Manchester Evening News on her lunch break and commented to Linda that a labourer called Paul Cohen had shot and wounded his wife with a sawn off shotgun. 'Same name as your's', she commented. 'Bloody hell it's me brother', she cried, grabbing her jacket and racing off out of the door. 'Just like that' as Tommy Cooper would say! But she came back to weave a web of deceit and somehow disrupt my good relationship with the rhino claiming I had taken days off for sickness when I wasn't really ill to give a party.
The rhino claimed to be surveying the Russian Naval Attaché Vergeny Ivanov in London who was sleeping with the infamous prostitute Christine Keeler during 'The Profumo Affair' and causing headlines in the Press. 'Why not arrest him?' I asked innocently. No that would blow the spy network cover. Not the done thing. 'Watch and wait' was his motto.
Well I wasn't waiting. I gave in my notice and I left for Israel in 1966 with the Epotiki Lines via Athens and Limassol and that was that. I was 21 and off to the not so chosen Promised Land and the next chapter of my life.
Written in Naxos, Cyclades. July 2015.