Deep roots

DSCF4924©Geoff Wilkinson

Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf published her first poetry book last year. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the 10th of a series of articles, Jean – who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year – recalls some well-known Wanstead people, past and present. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

I’ve often said that living in Wanstead is like living in a village, partly because of its array of local characters; those familiar faces who seem to have been around for years and are known by everybody.

Some that spring to mind are people with unusual pets – where else would you meet a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Winston being taken for walks on a lead, patted and given biscuits by children in the street!

Many people will remember the enormous dog and his owner Ruben, an actor, who used to sit outside Nice Croissant. The dog’s name was Izzy Bubbeleh and he was an English Mastiff, fed on chicken from the kosher butcher. He had a lovely calm nature and was a therapy dog who visited disabled people.

Nice Croissant was such a friendly café frequented by regulars, and I often went there with my little dog Sooty, who enjoyed café society and liked sitting there being admired, partaking of a few sips of cappuccino and nibbling a croissant. Unfortunately, Sooty  took a great dislike to Izzy and used to yap ferociously at him. Izzy was a peace-lover; he took absolutely no notice and lay there placidly, ignoring this indignant little ball of fluff standing on his hind legs and trying to look fierce. Just as well, as Izzy weighed in at 13 stone to Sooty’s diminutive 11 pounds!

Wanstead has always had such knowledgeable and helpful people, too many to name them all, such as Doctor Ali at Wanstead Pharmacy and Mas and Trevor from the Heads’N’ Tails pet shop.

Another was the late Peter Nursey, who had many strings to his bow; as well as being an artist and an electrician, he tackled lots of tricky little jobs for we older ladies; he made a little ramp for my elderly dog Alfie when he became too arthritic to get up the step. My friend Lilian had lots of dogs, and when her favourite dog died, she had him stuffed. One of Pete’s regular jobs was to hoover Lilian’s stuffed dog! Pete always knew what was going on in Wanstead and used to regale me with all the gossip over a cup of tea. Another chap who can turn his hand to many things is Luke the gardener, who also sharpens tools and does DJ-ing.

I am sure nobody will forget the legendary Brian Jobber of Andrews Builder’s Merchants, who ran the shop since the 1960s – he seemed to know the answer to any DIY query and was so good-natured and helpful, people would go to him with all their problems, ranging from how to wire a plug or change a light bulb to making a will and where to go on holiday! I remember chatting with him one day and he said a customer once asked him: “Brian, how do you get a divorce?”

Some well-known ladies of Wanstead are the late Primrose Clarke, who taught piano at her home in Leicester Road for 70 years, and my great friend Beryl Thornton of the Carlton House Terrace Residents Association, who seems to know everything and everybody locally, goes to the council meetings, and tells the council what to do when they get things wrong!

And last but not least, the wonderful green-fingered Marian Temple, who spends her time making Wanstead even more beautiful and planting every conceivable space with a vivid rainbow of colourful flowers.

West Mersea by Jean Medcalf

Illuminated by the lucent moon
The satin mudbanks shine on either side
The river, as with creaking oars we row
Coolly upstream at night. The gentle breeze
Ruffles our hair and slaps the tiny waves
Gently against our boat. The mirrored moon,
Splintered by oar-strokes, runs to coalesce
Like mercury spilt.
Tall withies bend quiet heads
In slender benediction, as we pass
Double-reflected ships with star-ringed masts.
A plaintive bird sings a lament, a sweet
And solitary air; we rest our oars.

Blackwater – silvered – flows on without pause.
Over our tired heads the darkness falls.

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£5.75). Visit wnstd.com/jean