Not only I, but anyone who had heard Liza sing in the fifties and sixties could not have failed to be certain that if she had been born thirty years later, when talent was more appreciated and there were more opportunities for talented people to succeed, she would have been a renowned opera singer. She was a soprano with the sweetest of voices.
Generous to a fault, not only with material things but with sympathy and encouragement, short, with a smiling face, over weight, hardworking and selfless, she sounds like a paragon, which I believe she was. She put her family and then her husband’s family before all else and worked for them all until she was quite old.
She had a sense of fun and a sense of humour and she liked a rough house. Once, she and I were having a wrestling match, but being plump and short, there were few places I could grab her without being imprudent, with the result that she, strong, hefty, and not afraid to be rough had me at a disadvantage until we arrived in a situation where she had me pinned to the wall with her shoulder, weak with laughter, unable to continue the battle.
Those were great days! On the radio there was ITMA , we avidly followed the exploits of Paul Temple, the detective, and the Saturday Night Play was a must. The first TV programme we ever saw was in the house next door when they bought a nine inch, black and white set for the Coronation of Elizabeth. We, some other neighbours and the owners of the set were all crushed into their breakfast room, entranced.
Alec and the Shop Part 1
In 1921 the family, Liza, Jimmy and Sophie moved from Alexandra Park Avenue into the shop which they had purchased as a source of employment for Alec, James’s brother. He suffered from spinal curvature and as a result was undersized, with a severe hump on his back to torment him through life. Apparently when he was very small his sister Agnes, not one of the greatest intellects, had dropped him twice, when once he had fallen under a moving cart, it was this which was held responsible for his disability. There were so many indignities people suffered in that condition, from the cheeky remarks of ignorant children being funny in front of their friends, by being bold enough to run up, say something offensive and run away, to the insensitive people who touched his poor back because they thought it was lucky to touch the hump of a hunchback.
The shop was one of a row, bordered or one side by the grocers in which I had telephoned the Castle in my days as a Wireless Mechanic, on the other by a fish shop and then the butcher’s shop owned by the Johnsons, including Jim Johnson of Covent Garden Fame, the tenor who sang throughout the world after he had been discovered and dragged from behind his counter. At rush times, over all the years the family owned the shop, when I was available, I served behind the counter. The shop was a tobacconists, news agency and sweet shop, which expanded its trade to carry cards, toys, and all the allied temptations every anniversary could muster. Easter and Christmas were the times when remaining open was finally justified. It took the takings of those seasons to provide the jam, otherwise they might just as well have closed.
Anyone who has not served in a sweet shop has absolutely no idea of the work and frustration meted out to generate such small returns. In its most simple terms the system operated as follows and I believe that today, with petty pilfering being the norm rather than the exception, life is even worse. We’ll say three children enter on their way to school. Things become rowdy between the two without money and they have to be watched in case they are after a freebie or two. In the meantime, moneybags, with his two or three basic coins has his eyes roving over the stock to decide which selection will be most profitable. After a few hints from the service side of the counter he decides, and inevitably it is bound to be the heaviest jar on the top shelf. It is brought to the scale, the bag is selected and opened and the top is taken off the jar, – Hold everything! There ‘s a change of heart! No, not the humbugs, instead he will have the brandy balls. Still trying to keep a watchful eye on the other two who are now getting up to date with the contents of the new comics at the back of the shop the sweets are weighed out, put in the bag, change is given and the jar replaced. With gross profit of the order of twenty percent to cover all the overheads, the family worked hard for the living and without the shipyard at the back of it I believe the shop would have foundered in those early days.
I can see Alec now, standing in the doorway of the shop, cigarette in hand, shoulder against the jamb, one leg crossed, taking bird-like drags on the cigarette and nodding to the regulars as they passed the shop. All his actions had a quick, staccato movement. I don’t think people appreciated the pain he was often in which sometime made him fractious. Liza and Jimmy certainly did, they had attended him after the numerous operations he had been through, but many didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt and some of us who knew, could still lose patience, even knowing and appreciating his disabilities.