Features

Deep Roots

DSCF5393©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 11th of a series of articles, Jean – who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year – recalls some local coincidental link-ups. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

Last month, I talked about how Wanstead feels like a village where everybody seems to know everybody.  There are so many times when the people I know seem to link up with each other in unexpected ways.

I first noticed this when my husband and I moved onto our street 60 years ago. We found that Mrs Rawlings across the road had been in my husband’s class at Wanstead High School. Harold, who lived opposite, was the son of my husband’s boss at Waltham Forest College, and just around the corner lived Ted Smith, the landscape gardener who used to be the gardener when I went to Leyton County High. Some years later, a young man moved into the end house with his family – he greeted me in the street with: “You must be Sally’s mum!” It turned out he had been in my daughter’s class at art college!

I was also once accosted by a lady in Cranbourne Avenue who announced: “I know who you are!” Her name was Kath Setchell and she was my other daughter’s boyfriend’s auntie!

When I first met my dear friend Beryl, we got chatting about the people we knew, and she mentioned that she used to look after an elderly man locally who turned out to be the father of one of my daughter’s Nightingale School classmates. When I retired, I took a creative writing class at Wanstead House, where our tutor was one Brandon Robshaw, who you may have seen on TV. And guess what – he too was in my daughter’s class at Nightingale!

Similarly, my elder daughter and myself used to go to a French film club at Wanstead House. Our tutor was a lovely lady called Yvonne. When we got chatting, she knew my husband’s cousin as they played bridge together.

The coincidences go on. Just recently, an old friend of mine named Sandra was out walking her dog and got chatting to a couple who had recently moved in. On asking where they lived, they said Colvin Gardens. She said: “I used to live in Colvin Gardens. What number is your house?” It turned out they’d moved into the very same house that she once lived in!

A year or so ago, I spent some time convalescing in Forest Dene Care Home following a broken arm. And pretty soon I heard a familiar voice; it was a lady named Beatrice, and as you can no doubt guess, her son was a great friend of my daughter at Nightingale! (I feel that if your children went to Nightingale you will not be short of friends in later life.) Not only did I meet Beatrice but another lady called Christine I had not seen for 25 years, who used to work with me at Langthorne Hospital. And to cap it all, we were in the visitors’ lounge and I saw someone whose face I seemed to recognise. We got chatting and I asked her who she was. She was the daughter of my school caretaker, who I had not seen for 75 years!

But the oddest coincidence of all took place when I engaged a new home help, Stella, who was Greek. She went shopping up the High Street, got lost and asked directions from a helpful lady, explaining that she had just arrived from Athens. By some strange chance, the lady she spoke to spoke fluent Greek! She and Stella went for a coffee together, and the helpful lady asked Stella who she was working for. “Jean Medcalf,” explained Stella, and the helpful lady replied: “Oh, I know Jean!” Can you guess who that lady was? Our very own Marian Temple!


Late Beauty
by Jean Medcalf

From my bedroom window

I can see into the heart of my tall old pear tree

My father-in-law called it Doyenne du Comice

Now in October the Virginia creeper twines carmine

Blood red among the green pendant pears

The creeper comes into its crimson beauty in autumn

At the height of its power its leaves will drop

Suddenly to burnish the brown earth beneath

It is at the height of its beauty just before death

I wonder – is this how it will be with grandparents

Best just before death?


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