East End Memories


Serge Diaghilev & Members of Les Ballets Russes
Margot Fonteyn & Ruldolph Nureyev

When I was very young, as a special treat, I was taken to see the Festival Ballet’s performance of Where the rainbow ends. This was a series of short ballet pieces, which were produced each Christmas time at that time. Where the rainbow ends was written as a children’s play for presentation at Christmas in 1911 by Clifford Mills and John Ramsey with incidental music by Roger Quilter. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre with a cast including Noel Coward and Jack Hawkins. In 1921, it was filmed with Roger Livesey appearing in one of his first performances. The story is of some children separated from their parents who journey on a magic carpet and face numerous difficulties and are aided by Saint George. The story apparently contained themes that would be considered politically incorrect today, which perhaps accounts for its decline from favour. It was later turned into a ballet and formed part of the repertoire of the English Ballet Company, later the Festival Ballet, which was formed by Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin and presented regularly at around Christmas in the 1950s. I believe that I saw it either in 1950 or 1951.


Anton Dolin   Alicia Markova   John Gilpin

I am sorry to say that I did not see this outing as a treat. This was to be my first proper experience with real ballet and I was not looking forward to it at all. In fact, it would be better to describe it as my first confrontation with the ballet. Prior to this, I had seen bits and pieces at the Hackney Empire, but had not been especially impressed with the so-called art form. I was not taken with groups of young women running about the stage in white dresses seemingly without purpose and could not understand why they did almost everything en points. I was also decidedly unimpressed with the dirge music that they supposedly danced to. Whenever I had to sit through such dancing, I would fidget and fuss and would most often get a light slap on the legs along with a strong request to be still. I was annoyed that these women were wasting my time. Here we were at the Hackney! I had come to see magicians and jugglers and to see my favourite comedians and singers and not to have my time wasted by these so-called danseuses. At the time, my tastes were simple and decidedly unsophisticated. To me, dancing meant scantily clad chorus girls performing high kicks and dancing in a line or else meant screaming banshees flinging themselves around the stage between high leg-kicks for, even at that young age, I had become a devotee of the Can-Can! You would be right in deducing that I had strong and definite opinions even then.


I remember that my attitude towards this treat annoyed my mother. Taking me to see the ballet was part of her plan to educate me and expose me to a wide range of cultural experiences. To be honest, I doubt if my mother would have used those exact words. For her, educated people went to the ballet, and since she was determined to see that I got educated, I was going to the ballet whether I liked it or not. Naturally my mother had never been exposed to anything of this nature and so was looking forward to it and was determined to enjoy it. My father was none too fussed about going to the ballet and preferred to stay home to open the pie ‘n’ mash shop as per usual. I remember, years later, when I was living in Paris, when my parents visited me I took them to the Opera de Paris. I had chosen the opera with care. My father professed to enjoy the music of Puccini and could often be heard singing Nessun Dorma when he went into the bathroom. I was overjoyed to see that Turandot was to be presented during their visit and so booked a centre box. My mother was very excited at the thought of going to the opera while my father seemed less than enthused. Once the lights went out, it did not take long for loud snores to come from my father’s direction. My mother was furious with him and dug him in the ribs many times in the hope of waking him. Eventually, she gave up and he was allowed to sleep through the remainder of the performance. Amusingly, he told us at the end of the performance how much he had enjoyed hearing good music for a change!

Paris Opera
The year when I was taken to see Where the rainbow ends, it was produced at the Stoll Theatre in Kingsway. I remember the theatre well, as its grandeur left a marked impression on me. It was a magnificent theatre, which was built in 1911 by Oscar Hammerstein and named the London Opera House and was hoped to rival the Covent Garden, but failed to do so. The theatre interior was ornate in the French Renaissance style and designed by Bertie Crew. It seated over two thousand people in the twenty-two boxes, stalls, dress circle, upper circle and gallery. The stage was eighty-three feet deep and there were thirteen dressing rooms for a possible seventy-six artistes. In 1916, Oswald Stoll acquired the theatre and eventually turned it into The Stoll Picture Theatre and presented stage shows with a film. In 1941, it became a theatre once more and following the death of Oswald Stoll in 1942, Emile Littler (Prince Littler) took over its running and renamed it the Stoll Theatre. The theatre housed many original productions as well as transfers from other London theatres. It was here that I saw Oklahoma! following its transfer from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The theatre closed in 1957 after having been bought by a development company and was demolished in 1958.
The Stoll Theatre - exterior   The Stoll Theatre - auditorium
(Picture courtesy of Ken Roe)
  The site of The Stoll Theatre today

I remember being awe-struck by the sheer majestic grandeur of the theatre. The foyer was a mass of activities as people left their cloaks for collection later, programme sellers barked their wares and people chattered excitedly about the coming attraction. Amongst the potential audience were groups of school girls. Each one was dressed in her school uniform and had neatly brushed long blonde hair, as I remember. I am sure that they attended private schools since I don’t think state schools were into taking kids on field trips, as they are called nowadays, to the theatre. On reflection, I suspect that many of these young girls were ballerinas-in-training and were eager to learn from the masters. I remember that they chattered incessantly and giggled a lot whereupon Madame, their teacher, hushed them. They were instantly silenced and lowered their eyes in shame. I was struck by their upright stance as they stood talking and by their long swan-like necks. I assume now that their teachers had cultivated these features in them in preparation for their taking their place in the corps de ballet later in life. Fortunately, as my mother and I made our way to the auditorium, these groups of gaggling geese went up to the circles while we went elsewhere. Although I was not looking forward to the production, nevertheless I did not want any enjoyment that I might get being interfered with by distracts from behind by gangs of yapping girls!

Once we entered the auditorium, I was stunned by its décor. The Hackney is magnificent, but this theatre certainly was able to rival it for sheer extravagance and ornateness. And at my young age, this was just the sort of style that impressed me. Happily, I had not come to understand the meaning of the word ostentation as of yet and knew nothing of architectural vulgarity at that time. As we followed the usherette down the aisle and made our way towards our seats, I felt as if I had entered a huge cathedral for the ceiling seemed to reach up to heaven. Between it and me were numerous circles and balconies that stretched up and curved around the walls. Once we took our seats and I had been given a smile from the usherette, I was happy to study the interior while I waited for the start of the performance and my mother read her programme. I remember being interrupted several times, not without some irritation, by some late arriving members who needed to pass by on their way to more central seats in the row. My mother always insisted on being seated at the end of a row. She said that she suffered with claustrophobia, but she also liked to be close to an exit so that we could make a timely escape in the event of any unforeseen danger.

The production of Where the rainbow ends that we saw was most likely danced by Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova, although I cannot be sure that John Gilpin was not a principal too since I believe that he had joined the company by that time. Regardless of what the original story of Where the rainbow ends was, I cannot recall any flying carpet with children and I certainly do not remember a Saint George wandering about the stage. What I do recall was that the production consisted of three, perhaps four ballet pieces, which I later learned were originally produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and choreographed by Mikhal Fokine.

Jean Cocteau & Serge Diaghilev   Mikhal Fokine   Igor Stravinsky

At last, the house lights dimmed, the audience hushed and the orchestra struck up the introductory music. There was no medley played by the band as we had at the Hackney and no applause for their efforts either. The introduction was slow and remarkably quiet and continued for a few minutes before the curtain slowly parted to reveal a simple scene. There was a mock-wall with a large open French window and one small chair close by – nothing else. Again it should be remembered that at my young age, abstract design was not understood by me. Again after a few more minutes of this dull music, a woman in a three-quarter length white net dress walked onto the stage carrying a small rose in her hand.

The first piece that we were about to see was called Le Spectre de La Rose. The story line starts with the return of a young girl from her first ball and is carrying a rose as a momento of her evening. She sits down in a chair and soon falls asleep and dreams that she is dancing with the rose. I have to confess that I most certainly did not appreciate that this was what I was watching at all.

The principal male dancer of the company obviously danced the role of The Rose. What I was about to see can only be described as dazzling! It was something that I had not expected and although it did not win me over to ballet, it certainly impressed me and quite blew me away at the time! Suddenly, the tempo of the music changed from what I thought of as being miserable, to something rousing and alive. Along with the change in music came the most remarkable and spectacular entry that I had ever seen anyone make onto a stage. Quite suddenly a figure literally flew onto the stage by making the most magnificent leap imaginable through the open French windows at stage left and then immediately went into a vole of amazing and successive leaps and jumps. I had never seen anything like this at the Hackney! I was completely mesmerized by his amazing flyings through the air! I cannot say if this amazing feat of dance was greeted by applause or not since I was totally and utterly captivated by what I was witnessing.

Following several minutes of such remarkable athleticism, I was physically exhausted and almost welcomed the awakening of the young girl. When she stood up, the couple danced about the stage in a much less interesting manner. To be honest, I would have much preferred her to continue her sleeping, as I was not impressed with what I took for their skipping about the stage, which she did en points. Once I was revived, I was ready for more leaps and bounds by Le Spectre. Mercifully, after several minutes of their cavorting back and forth, the young girl appeared to collapse back into her chair and soon nodded off once more, leaving The Spirit free to leap and jump as he chose and to treat us to a final magnificent leap out of the open window. After seeing this, what else is left to say?

I later learned that Le Spectre de la Rose is a ballet based on a poem by Theophile Gautier with music by Carl Maria von Weber. The musical piece was introduced in 1819 for the piano and was entitled Invitation to the Dance. In 1841, it became fully orchestrated by Berlioz. The ballet premiered in 1911 at Monte Carlo with Nijinsky as Le Spectre and Tamara Karsavina as the young woman.

Following that final and spectacular leap through the French windows, the curtains from the sides of the stage slowly closed and the audience exploded into joyous applause. I must say that I doubt if anyone clapped louder than me following the performance. After this, the principal dancers paraded themselves before the drawn curtains and bowed deeply to the audience. I remember noting that the dancers walked in a very strange manner, which I had never seen before. It was a slow and deliberate walk and not at all akin to how normal people walk down the street. They appeared to lean back, thrust out their chins and maintain their backs in an arched position. Their legs seemed no longer to bend at the knees and their feet pointed downwards. They moved or rather glided slowly and deliberately and they gave no smiles to the audience as they did. I was not used to performers and entertainers taking bows after their stint in such a grand and exaggerated manner and I was most certainly not used to performers not smiling at the audience. And as for that walk, I had never seen anything like that before! It was akin to a goose step, but performed more slowly and deliberately. Once home, I remember describing the walk to my father, and within minutes, both he and I were found parading about the kitchen with our noses in the air and with our knees locked and our feet pointed straight out, much to the amusement of my mother. To be honest, this walk requires practice since one needs to have a good sense of balance to perform it correctly or else risk toppling over!


Regardless of the difficulty of performing this walk, I was not impressed by it. At the Hackney, performers took a bow at the end of their act and when they did, they smiled as they bowed and then they thanked the audience and were gone. Following this short show of gratitude and its acceptance, the bandleader struck up the musical introduction to the next act and the curtains would part and we were ready to be treated to something new.


The dancers of the ballet did not seem to know when to leave the stage for they bowed, or rather the man bowed deeply and the woman curtsied again and again. The curtsy was somewhat amusing too. It was exaggerated in that the woman performed it very low, so much so that I thought that she would almost sit on the stage in doing it! Neither of them smiled or appeared to show any emotion as they accepted the applause and cheers. Following their bow, they disappeared behind the curtain that was held open for them by unseen hands. The male dancer made much of allowing the woman to pass before him and so disappear first. He bowed graciously – long and deep – as she passed and she, for her part, nodded her head in acknowledgement. Everything seemed very formal to me. Almost immediately after disappearing behind the curtain, they returned and we next had to sit through this whole ritual again. During the return, someone rushed up to the stage with flowers and handed them to the woman. She accepted them with yet another bow of her head and she and the person exchanged the slightest brush of each cheek. I had never seen kissing like this before and wasn’t sure what to make of it. I noted that the male dancer – the star, as far as I was concerned – received no present! This did not seem fair to me since she – the woman dancer – had apparently slept in her chair for most of the performance and added little to the joie given to us.

I certainly did not appreciate their continual bowing and constant disappearing behind the curtain only to immediately return again. Despite my wish to re-see Le Spectre following his performance, I did not wish to see him out-of-character and I did not wish to see him to-ing and fro-ing in this manner. I also could not understand why they bothered leaving the stage in the first place if they were planning to return to it immediately. As we used to say in the East End at such times ….. enough already! Obviously, at that young age I had no concept on how to milk an audience.

Following a few more of these encores, I decided that they had received enough claps and was beyond being ready for them to go and not return. I remember thinking that this mob needed to come to the Hackney and learn how to take a bow and get off! I much preferred the quick bow at the end of an act and then, following the finale, I liked to see everyone return – act followed by act in the order of their performance – where they once more could enjoy a quick individual bow followed by several collective bows taken by the whole ensemble cast. This new way of taking a bow was confusing to me. Finally, to top-off my irritation, the band leader now appeared on stage and after receiving numerous hugs and kisses from the principals, there was more bowing to endure! By now, I needed to be restrained in my seat!

At long last the dancers finally left the stage. Now I was able to ask the many questions that I had about what I had seen. I had not realized that the young girl of the piece had been dreaming. I was still seeing things and interpreting what I saw in a literal manner. Most certainly I was too young to see such a production without first having some introduction as to what I was about to see. I felt sorry for my poor mother since she was not able to answer every question that I asked. Luckily for her, my questions were too numerous to be dealt with during the short intermission since much of the time was taken up with the trying to buy an ice cream and enjoying it. Soon we had to ready ourselves for the next piece. Naturally, I was expecting to see the return of The Spectre, but alas no, instead I was treated to what appeared to be three dancing rag dolls, none of whom were any great shakes when it came to leaping!

The second piece presented for our pleasure that evening was excerpts of the ballet Petruchka (also spelled Petrouchka) with music by Stravinsky. This ballet is the story of a Russian traditional puppet, Petruchka, who is made of straw and sawdust and who is brought to life by a magician and who develops human emotions. Naturally, it ends badly. It was produced first at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1911. Mikhail Fokine provided the choreography and Nijinsky danced the principal role. The ballet itself was generally well-received, but many criticized the music as being brittle, caustic, and at times even grotesque. At the time, I could have attested to this. However, it should be remembered that, at that time, I only knew more melodic tunes or as an ex-friend of mine once so charmingly put it when complaining about the score of Sondheim’s A little Night Music ……. more foot-tapping tunes! I have learned that the work is characterized by the so-called Petrushka chord (consisting of C major and F# major triads played together), a bitonality device heralding the appearance of the main character. Further information about the ballet may be obtained at:


I cannot say that I was especially taken with this ballet however it must have had some effect on me since I remembered it well when I saw it again once I was older. The setting was at a pre-Lent fairground in Russia. I remember the colours of the set was garish and not to my taste at all. To the right, there was a small open-air theatre where three lifeless human-sized puppets hung. They hung in such a convincing manner that I was certain that they lacked bones. The puppets were of a Moor, a Ballerina and a clown-like creature, Petrushka. A magician dances about the stage, captivating the audience as he pretends to play a flute. I remember telling my mother at this point that a man in the band was really playing the instrument and being told to be quiet for my pains. I decided that I would not offer my help again that evening!


The magician obviously must have woven a spell, as the dolls come to life and began to dance somewhat vigorously about the stage. I was quite taken with this achievement and with the dancing since it was lively and immediately wanted to share this with my mother. But after being rebuffed earlier, I decided to keep my opinions to myself. Like most children of my age, I did not take rejection well and had not yet learned that being told to be quiet did not mean never speak to me again!

The ballet is in four scenes, but I do not recall being treated to each. From what I remember of the production, I think that the company danced two scenes only: the first and then possibly the final one. As I remember the story that first time of seeing the ballet, Petrushka fell in love with the Ballerina and the Moor was his rival. Obviously somewhere in the telling of the tale, Petrushka gets rejected. What I remember especially was the finale of the piece: Petrushka had completed a tearful dance following his rejection and at the end of the sad dance, the Magician returned, grabbed hold of him and threw him out of the door. Whereupon the curtain slowly and effectively closed leaving the poor, broken and rejected puppet crawling slowly and painfully off the stage. I was quite upset by this. I was pleased that the curtains had been drawn as I could not control myself and needed to discuss this cruel and callous fate of Petrushka! Fortunately my mother found the ending to be sad and we commiserated and consoled each other over it. Art, like life, can be so cruel at times!

Excerpt from the ballet Petrushka – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8RSlT7qbAY


I cannot recall anything about a third or a fourth piece presented to us that evening at the Stoll. Anyway, on the whole my first experience with The Ballet had not been as awful as I thought it would be. I am unable to say that I became a devotee of the art form immediately following it, but I learned through more viewing to enjoy it. What finally convinced me of the greatness of the ballet were two events.

At one time the BBC presented speciality programmes for a minority audience with greater regularity than they do now. An example of such programming was the Master Class series. These programmes were memorable. Here musical virtuosos, such as the wonderful Jacqueline du Pre, would conduct a class for one or two talented young musicians, and we, the television audience, would be privee to it. I found these classes stimulating. Another series took the audience inside a ballet class and to an actor’s studio. These programmes were remarkable and gave television viewers some insight into exactly what is required of these students and what they need to do to master their art. Each programme left the viewer with a new respect for those that are prepared to dedicate their lives to perfect their talent. I think that it was the Ballet Class that had the greatest effect on me. I was amazed at how hard the dancers worked before they ever got to dance a piece – the stretching, the endless practice at the bar and the tolerance of the often brutal criticism barked at them. I have never been able to see a ballet since without recalling that particular programme and remembering what the dancers went through in order to dance that evening.

The other great event which caused me to finally rethink my attitude towards dance and ballet in particular took place in 1960. I was now in the fifth form and had discovered modern jazz and the cool. I remember that I had just acquired a 45 ‘record of Andre Previn’s Like Young and thought it one of the greatest tunes that I had ever heard. I had heard snippets of his jazz version of My Fair Lady while Down the Lane and was determined to save up enough money to buy the album. Sadly, I never did! I had made friends with a small group of kids at school who were very arty and two of them eventually went off to the Central School of Acting in London and had careers on the stage and television. We thought ourselves very avant garde and went to jazz clubs and rubbed shoulders with the remaining Beatniks that were around. We also went to the theatre in the West End. We happily and willingly sat on those awful wooden forms at The Old Vic. As wonderful as the plays were, I am not sorry to see those forms replaced! We lined up for seats in the Balcony at other theatres and saw many great plays and performers and marched each Easter from Aldermaston to London during the Ban the Bomb Campaign years and happily slept in those vast marquees. We thought ourselves too cool to go and see musicals at the theatre and sneered at those being produced until one extraordinary and ground-breaking one arrived on the London stage and set about changing our attitudes. This was West Side Story.

We had heard of West Side Story long before it arrived in London. We had heard of its realistic story line and its remarkable operatic and classically inspired music. But most of all, we had heard of the dancing! I remember reading article after article about the brilliance of someone called Jerome Robbins. I read about him and learned that he had been trained in ballet! I could not believe that anyone trained in ballet would be able to cross over and also dance for the average theatre goer. I noted the awards that the show had won in New York and I was pleased to learn that a London Production was soon to be forthcoming. We could not wait.

West Side Story

Jerome Robbins   Leonard Bernstein   Stephen Sondheim

Eventually the London Production of West Side Story opened and it was a revelation. The dancing was spectacular. We wanted plimsoles, as gym shoes, tennis shoes and trainers were once called. We wanted white socks too. And we all wanted to glide down the street as The Jets did in the Prologue. However, what I wanted most of all was to dance with Anita! I remember that it was Chita Rivera who played the role of Anita and I had never seen such spectacular dancing as when she and Bernardo took the floor and Danced at the Gym! The mambo was and still is one of the most spectacular dances ever!

There is perhaps one criticism of the stage production that I offer. Although America is brilliantly danced by the Puerto Rican girls, they lack a suitable foil to dance against in the stage production. Mercifully, this is rectified in the film version. Here the remarkable Rita Moreno, now brilliantly playing Anita and the equally spectacular George Chikaris, playing Bernardo, dance and battle each other to the music of America. George Chikaris had played Riff on the London stage, and although he did this brilliantly, for the film version he now changed gangs, and proved even more remarkable in the role of Bernardo. This version of America has not been equalled!

Since 1960, I have seen West Side Story many times, both on film and on stage. Last year I saw two new productions within a few months of each other: the first was a new Broadway production where an exciting and brilliant Anita was born, as was a wonderful new production of Dance at the Gym. The second production was presented by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. This production was a revelation since it was here, for possibly the first time in all of the times that I have seen the show, I immediately liked the person playing Maria. In all fairness, I have to confess that I have learned to accept and even like Natalie Wood in the role and now readily admit that she did not do a bad job, but it is that young woman at Stratford that will, for me at any rate, symbolize Maria from now on. Now, at last, I can fully appreciate exactly why Tony risked everything for her. When he sings Something’s coming, he was surely right! And when Riff off handedly remarks that maybe what you’re waiting for’ll be twitchin’ at the dance tonight! For once, he was right! Yeah! Who knows!
The New Broadway Cast    The Palace Theatre   Stratford's Tony & Maria 

CoolAnyway, Dancing at the Gym and America finally did it for me! And over the years, I have had to add the brilliant Cool to this list. The sheer energy needed to dance this piece, the frantic excitement that it generates and the dedication of the dancers combine to elevate dance to a new and yet another dizzy height. Since then, I have never been able to look at a parking garage in quite the same way again or stop myself from clicking my fingers and attempting to move as these kids did back in 1961.

These excerpts from West Side Story are brilliant examples of the art ballet! And so is what the Nederlands Dans Theatre presents, as are the productions which The Royal Ballet offers at Covent Garden and the films of Gene Kelly and the wonderful works of The Australian Ballet and everything presented by the many smaller dance troupes around the world including the great Jose Limon Dance Company. I will even extend my definition to include those great GAP commercials of a few years ago where dance was used brilliantly, the best of which, as far as I am concerned, was the swing dance. My list could go on and on and is in fact endless. It is decidedly true to say that I have developed a vast appreciation for dance over the years and see it whenever I can.

One last point regarding my first trip to the ballet, which had pronounced and severe repercussions! As I said, I was very impressed with Le Spectre, especially his leaps. On our way home that evening, I had to be restrained as I wanted to leap home and was somewhat annoyed with myself since I was unable to achieve the heights that he reached. Once home, I gave my father a version of what I had seen earlier. Since he had had a few bevies and was in a relaxed mood, he joined me and together we pranced and leapt about the room. After a bit, my mother asked him to stop encouraging me and said that if I did not calm down, I would hurt myself. Naturally no one listened and we continued with our leaping and our jumping.

After a bit, my father returned to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for us and my mother went upstairs for some reason. And so I was left alone in the living room. This was when the big mistake took place! As I have said, despite my efforts, I was not able to reach the heights in my leaps that I wished. This was much to my annoyance. And then I thought that if I were to start out at a higher point, I might then be able to give my father a better impression of the brilliance of Le Spectre. I decided to climb up onto an armchair and leap from there! Unfortunately I still could not obtain sufficient spring to leap high enough since my foot sank into the cushion and limited my take off. And then it occurred to me that if I turned the armchair around and stood on top of the back, I would be standing on something firm and would be able to fly!

I decided to rehearse my leap before my audience returned. I managed to turn the armchair around so that the back faced into the room. I then climbed up on the cushion of the seat. Naturally, in my excitement I had forgotten to prepare the room for my leap! Being young, and not yet having studied physics and knowing nothing of forces, gravity or moments, I was not fully aware of what I was about to do. I was now standing on the cushion of the seat and on then realized that my legs were not long enough to allow me to put one foot on the top of the chair back and hoist myself up and stand aloft. And so stupidly, I tried to scramble up the back and reach the summit this way! No sooner had I started my ascent than I found myself, and the chair, falling forwards. Within a split second, the armchair fell backwards taking me with it. Along with the fall, I found myself flying through the air in a manner not quite as I had hoped. My aborted leap nonetheless carried me forward and propelled me in the direction of my mother’s coffee table! Tragically, a crash landing was inevitable!

It is amazing how many thoughts pass through one’s mind in a so-called split second! As I found myself being projected forward, I realized that I was going to be in the most trouble ever once I landed! I also realized that my mother’s coffee table was hard and had sharp corners and there was a chance – a very good chance – that it would object to being landed on and would most likely fight back and do me injury! I also realized that although the coffee table would most likely hurt me, I would most likely hurt it in return.

My mother’s coffee table was new. She had recently bought it to replace an older and much heavier table that she had had for years. The old table had stout carved legs and no doubt would have been more than able to sustain heavy objects being dropped on it. In that split second I also recall wishing that she had that table still! She had purchased a new and rather flimsy table with four thin legs. I believe that the piece of furniture was in a modern style known as G-Plan. G-Plan furniture was sold by Times Furnishings, which had shops everywhere at the time and were pushing this more modern and convenient style of furnishings. The table was light and again during that split second of my trajectory I knew that it would not support such an onslaught as it was about to suffer.

I crashed onto the table. I remember that the splayed legs, which had looked so elegant, so modern promptly splayed outwards to a maximum and the tabletop collapsed to the floor under my weight. The sound of me landing on the table and then of the legs and tabletop collapsing would have most certainly have caused both of my parents to leave what it was that they were doing and rush to the room. However, what probably caused them to increase the speed of their step and rush to my side was the blood curdling and deeply guttural cry that exploded from my lips as my person reached the ground!

In an attempt to save myself, again in that famous split second, I had brought my hands up to my face. This may have saved teeth being knocked out and noses from being damaged, but it exposed my elbows to danger.

I lay there on top of that broken coffee table and knew that I was hurt. Belly flopping onto the table had caused most of the available air in my lungs to be forced out of me and so I was able to offer only that one cry, which alerted my parents to the doom that had overtaken me. I could feel pain suddenly overtake me, but I was unable to speak. I was winded! My father reached me first and inspected me to assess the damage! When my mother arrived, she too inspected me and then they compared notes like good physicians and decided on what exactly I had done to myself. It was decided that I had indeed hurt my elbows? But how seriously? Should I be taken to the hospital now, or could it wait until the morning? Should I go to the Children’s Hospital in Hackney Road or to The London Hospital on the Whitechapel Road found a few yards up the road from the pie ‘n’ mash shop? These burning questions needed answering and answering soon. The Pros and Cons of each solution was carefully weighed. I was now able to give some impute, as I had regained my wind and was able to breathe again, but not without some pain I might add. But despite having to endure sharp pain, I managed to express my displeasure and distress. Like all people hurt, mostly through their own fault, I began to cry and to cry loudly. My father was always the one to weaken first whenever I cried. I had already realized that I could get anything out of him and twist him around my little finger if I were to cry. He never learned to distinguish real tears from what my mother called crocodile tears.

The Children's Hospital, Hackney Road - now sadly left derelict

My wailing must have convinced my parents that there was a chance that I was more hurt than they had previously thought and, as a result, I was soon wrapped up in a blanket and then swept up in my father’s arms to be carried to The London Hospital. I will talk more about this hospital later, since it is a place that loomed prominently in my mother’s early life and was a place that she dreaded ever having to go to.

The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road

I was taken to the Emergency and was quickly assessed, diagnosed and treated. The Emergency at that time was far from being what they have become today. Emergency departments were busy immediately after the pubs closed and generally throughout the whole of Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. During the week, nights were mostly quiet. Examination and X-ray demonstrated that I had chipped my right elbow and severely bruised my left. My right elbow was put in a cast, which extended from my mid upper arm almost down to my wrist. My left arm was put in a sling and I was told not to overuse it! There was certainly no fear of that, I thought, especially since the left elbow hurt much more than the right. I have always sworn that they got the arms mixed up that night!

My poor father probably suffered the most as a result of my Nijinsky-esque flying leap. My mother accused him of both instigating and encouraging the leap and demanded that he buy her a new coffee table as compensation. I was not let off the hook as one might think, especially seeing that I was wounded. Once we returned home from the hospital, my mother verbally scolded me several times and would continue to do so whenever I offered the merest complaint about my condition. I was also denied the right to leave the shop alone while in my current condition. This was the worst of tortures since it meant that I was no able to go on my rounds, as I liked to call my wanderings up the Waste to visit my friends and their stalls. This meant not going to Paul’s and also not going to Mr. G’s. The price of my punishment was too much to bear! Fortunately, my mother’s annoyance and apparent anger was not real, but came from her relief that I had not injured myself more severely. And soon, she was accompanying me on my rounds and every one of note and importance in my life at that time were pampering and spoiling me.

The saddest of the repercussions that came from my attempt to follow in the steps and leaps of Le Spectre was that I developed a fear of heights and have never been able to walk a thin beam or climb a rope above my height for fear of falling and breaking more bones. Since that day, I have been careful to maintain my feet firmly on terra ferma. Happily, or unhappily, my leaping days were over.

Parachuting to Earth


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