I came across this wonderful book by chance. I had downloaded an e-book about an ex-prisoner’s life in Islington, a part of London not too far from where I was born and bred, Stoke-Newington.
I decided that, as I was in a current wave of nostalgia for a lost and now seemingly distant past, that I would do a Google search on memoirs about London and my favourite football team, Tottenham Hotspur.
The wonders of Google produced the book “Kick and Run” by Jonathan Wilson. I read the blurb about “Spurs” and “postwar North London Jewish life” and was immediately hit by the parallels to my own life.
I read the book in two days and literally could hardly put it down. It is an honest picture of life as a soccer mad North London Jewish boy growing up in the strange mix of classes and cultures that London has always had.
Wilson though gives us more as this book is very much his intellectual journey and an insightful discussion about the great and ( to possibly quote Pele) “beautiful game” that is soccer. The fact that he is also a fellow “sufferer” Spurs fan who could talk in such graphic terms to me about the joys of standing at White Hart Lane and watching the wonderful players who represented “our team” in the 60’s and 70’s just added to my enjoyment.
Throughout I could not help but notice the parallel lives that Jonathan Wilson and I shared. I can relate to a close-knit Jewish family with a powerful mother (Wilson’s description of his cantankerous widowed mother who would throw a plate of meatballs at the very thought of her son “marrying out” was similar in some respects to my own experiences). Both of us went into education, although I never achieved his academic success and taught in the state school system. Both of us ultimately married Jewish girls. Both of us have a love of writing, mine is evident in this blog, Wilson, yet again, has taken things to a higher level!
I did not though ever experience the physical reality of antisemitism that he put up with in growing up in an area (Willesden) where working class thugs regularly tormented and physically abused middle class Jewish boys (Wilson gives a very graphic example of his brother’s eyebrows being singed by a cigarette lighter just for fun!).
I did though go through the torment that practically every Jewish boy had to endure in the 60’s of going to “Hebrew Classes”! In my case this was after school for four evenings a week and also a long Sunday morning.
What helped us to cope with this imposed boredom (by my mother not my couldn’t-care-less father) were discussions about football, Spurs v. Arsenal matches over the park or in the gardens of our Hebrew School and looking forward to Saturday afternoons and the crowded train from Rectory Road B.R.Station to White Hart Lane Station where a mass of excited humanity would walk down the steep stairs and around the corner to get their first glimpse of ” The Lane” our real spiritual home!
Towards the end of the book Wilson examines his father’s family in Eastern Europe from the photographs and letters that were left after his father’s early death from heart disease ( yet another parallel to me I’m afraid).
His investigations ended up a sorry tale of mass deportation and murder in the German Concentration Camps in World War 2. Now, as a person fascinated by history all my life, I had always taken a deep interest in the subject of “The Holocaust”. I have written a number of posts in this blog related to the subject. I had though, as far as I knew, no family that had perished in the camps,
Two years ago I took retirement when my position as a Local Government Primary Mathematics Consultant became a victim of Government cuts. I moved with my wife to Lincolnshire and had the time and leisure to write this blog as well as read and also renew an interest in geneology.
I have done some research into my mother’s family, the Lopatins, who lived in a small village called Radzivlov in what his now the Ukraine, not far from the Polish border. A little while ago I found that the whole of a family called Lopatin from that village were transported and perished in the camps. Yet again another parallel with Jonathan Wilson, I think our lives were representative of our environment (London), time (the 50’s, 60’s) and culture (Jewish) and of course a love that has never diminished, despite many opportunities due to disastrous results and underperforming strikers of a certain team from North London.
A really great read on so many levels, I have not covered his experiences in Israel and the United States where he has lived for many years and now has U.S. citizenship, his love of literature and philosophy and the ways he has kept in touch with the glorious game as a journalist.
It is well worth taking the time to read this book. I can only conclude with the call to arms for us both “Come on you Spurs!”