Deep roots


Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf has published her first poetry book at the age of 89. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the third of a series of articles, Jean introduces New Year, a poem about new beginnings.

The new year is always the time when our thoughts turn to new beginnings. I clearly recall the beginning of my life in Wanstead.

I first came to Wanstead to work in the late 1950s. I was recently married and living in Leytonstone, and I found a job in a little plumber’s called Toogoods, which was in Eastway, next to Nightingale Green. I worked there as a shorthand typist along with three or four other girls. One very pretty girl, Valerie, was the envy of us all when she announced she was going on holiday to Lake Como in Italy. We were even more impressed when she returned, engaged to a handsome young Italian fisherman named Mario!

Toogoods was a friendly little place. The cleaning lady was called Flo Clarke. She was unfortunately afflicted with St Vitus’ dance, which meant she was constantly twitching. She had very little money, so to help make ends meet, she used to cook dinner for us girls in her home, and we would each give her sixpence or a shilling. She lived in one of the little cottages along Eastway. They were tiny Victorian houses with little doors that led to the stairs. Flo’s husband, Harry, was a painter and decorator who was well known in Wanstead. Once a week, all of us girls would walk up to the Bungalow Café for lunch.

The boss, Mr Dunham, was an affable man. The first Christmas I worked there, all the girls bought little presents for each other, and we all gave a gift to our boss as well. He graciously accepted the presents, and then said that he was sorry that he couldn’t give any presents to us in return because he was a Jehovah’s Witness and it was against his religion! However, he told us he would keep all the presents, as he would not dream of hurting our feelings by refusing!

So, that was how I first got to know Wanstead. I knew it would be a good place to settle and bring up a family, and when we saw a house for sale in the area, we went to view it. The house felt very homely, with a glowing coal fire burning in the hearth and a large back garden with an old plum tree and a seat beneath it. I loved the house at first sight, and after 60 years, I love it still.

Our house was close to the Nightingale pub and the parade of shops opposite, and there were more shops along Nightingale Lane and Elmcroft Avenue. Back then, we had a butcher, a toy shop, a hairdresser, a sweet shop, two grocers, a rag-and-bone yard, a junkyard, a fish and chip shop and a watch mender’s. I will tell you more about them next time.

New Year
by Jean Medcalf

Midnight tolls
A flock of bells peals out
Swinging on a clapper
We fly
Backwards and forwards
Higher and higher
Soaring and swooping
Balanced like birds on the upstroke of twelve
We poise
And dive
With courage into a virgin year.