Saturday 13 October 2018

Yiddish and the Tower of London

My mother said that she wanted to take me
to the Tower of London. She often took me
places. I think it reminded her of how she
thought she had bettered herself. She used
to spend hours in the Bethnal Green Museum.
She told me it was her university. She went
there, she said, so she didn't have to listen
to the meshpukhe (relatives) who came over to 
play cards in the back room swearing at each 
other in Yiddish. My father liked swearing in 
Yiddish. They argued about it. My father would 
mutter something like 'Chaddich im loch.' 'Don't 
say that!' my mother would say to him. 'What did 
he say?' I would say. 'Don't tell him, Harold,' 
I had to wait for her to die to find out what it 
meant. I don't mean that the day she died I 
asked him what 'Chaddich im loch' meant. I 
waited for about 30 years. He told me then.
And I was glad to know.

But maybe she took me to the Tower of London so 
that I wouldn't end up swearing in Yiddish. 

I loved the Tower of London but one time we 
went there was a man with greasy hair, stripped
to the waist who asked people to put him in a sack,
tie him up with chains, stick two swords through
the chains and leave him on the ground to see
if he could escape. He seemed so brave and
dangerous. You could see him riving about inside
the sack. Mum said that we should move on, we
hadn't been inside the White Tower yet but I 
pleaded with her to stay to see if he could get
out of the sack. I was sure that he wouldn't be
able to and we would have to unlock the chains
for him. But he went on rolling about on the ground
inside the sack and bit by bit it all got looser and
out he crawled. He was even more greasy now
and he came round with a hat, breathing on us
and I pleaded with Mum again, this time to 
give him some money but she wasn't sure she
should but in the end she gave me some and I put
it in his hat. And I was glad because he had been
so brave and dangerous he deserved it.