Page created: 2 December 2014
Latest amendment of revision: 21 July 2016
90th Birthday Speech by Harold Pollins
Originally published in Oxford Menorah Magazine, issue 213, December 2014, pages 12-13
"Undelivered Speech at my
90th birthday party 10 July 2014"
Accustomed as I am to public speaking, it is without trepidation that I rise to address you this afternoon. Actually I have adopted those words from a speech I heard in 1943 at a meeting organised by the Left Book Club. They were spoken by the Bishop of Birmingham, and the other speakers were Victor Gollancz, the publisher of the Left Book Club books, Bishop Stockwood, and Flight Lieutenant John Strachey. He had written a LBC book in the 1930s which was pure Marxism. After the war he was a minister in the Labour Government.
First, may I thank all those who have come, family and friends. But I should like to mention those who had to drop out. Bill Cooke, an old and dear friend from Ruskin, died recently as did the son-in-law of cousin Goldie thus preventing her and her daughter Judith from coming. I send my condolences. And my nephew Ivor is unwell, and I trust he improves.
Then I thank daughter Debbie for arranging all this and grand-daughter Anna for being the administrator. The catering staff at the school, who provided the buffet, did us proud and I thank them.
This is in fact my second birthday party. Yesterday the heart patients’ exercise class arranged a cream tea in my honour, that being the most appropriate food for heart patients. And there will be others. On Sunday, at the regular Friendship Club meeting, there will be a birthday cake, and finally on Monday, at the weekly heart patients’ exercise class, I shall provide a drink and some cake, as all do on their birthday.
When I retired 25 years ago I decided that I would occupy myself with research in Jewish history, and that is what I have done. But the first publication in my retirement was a remnant from my Economic History days. It was entitled: ’British horse tramway accounting practices, 1870-1914’. You will not be surprised to learn that, as far as I know, no-one has ever referred to it, and I wonder if anyone has read it. The strange thing is that I really had no interest in accountancy, perhaps following my experience of my father’s shop accounts. In my teenage years my father would say to me, in the Spring, ‘We need to get the books ready for the accountant, for the tax’. We had an invoice book and there were the bank statements. He would hand me a book and say ’This is the petty cash book. Fill it up for the year’. ‘What shall I put in it?’ ‘Oh, things like 2 and threepence three farthings for envelopes. So much for stamps, and string, and so on’. So I did so. The books would go to an accountant who, for five guineas, produced authenticated documents of income and expenditure and a balance sheet, down to the last halfpenny. I never really believed in accounts after that.
Our life revolved around the shop. When dad was demobbed at the end of the Great War he moved from Stepney to Leytonstone and opened a shop. The building had three storeys, plus a cellar, and we lived at the back of the shop and upstairs. We children used to serve in the shop and I recall one terrible occasion when I served someone who gave me a ten-shilling note. I then gave him change for a £1. Another embarrassment was when I was in the army and had been earmarked as a potential officer. I attended a War Office Selection Board at which I performed badly in the various tests. On the last day there were interviews with a panel of officers, chaired by a brigadier. Since I had been medically downgraded for poor eyesight I was asked which arm I wished to serve in. I chose the Signals. ’Why the Signals?’ I was asked. ‘Well, I live in a wireless shop’, I replied brightly. The bemused brigadier pondered this. ’You-live-in-a-wireless-shop’, he muttered.
I am glad to see my cousin Johnny here, born just a few months after me. His father Dave and my father knew each other in the East End before the First World War and they joined the left-wing Clarion Cycling Club. They had a tandem and I heard a story that Dave’s sister turfed him off the tandem and went off with my father. They got married, which explains how I’m here.
I’d like to end with some sundry memories.
When I joined Ruskin College the Principal asked me to take Teaching Methods Classes and explained what was required. So in the first week I collected a number of bodies and explained that we would meet once a week, and each one would in turn be required to give a talk or a lesson. After that we would discuss the performance. To start them off I said that I would say something and then we could discuss it. I spoke for a little while and then asked for comments. The only one I can remember was ‘I couldn’t hear what you were saying’. Thereafter I made a point of addressing the back wall.
A second memory concerns Victor Treadwell, who is here, an old colleague from Ruskin. Up to 1982 we lived in Kidlington, as did Victor. He and I used to take it in turns to drive to college. On one occasion it was my turn to drive and he suggested we went home at 4. At about 3.30 I had finished what I was doing and went into his room. We chatted for half an hour and at 4 went down, into the car and I drove up the Banbury Road. I was talking all the time. As we approached the roundabout at the top of Banbury Road I stopped talking. After a short pause, Victor said, ‘You told me all that half an hour ago’.
My final memory is of the late Dave Pope who ran the heart patients’ exercise class (really, a social club attached to a gym). An excellent fellow. I was sitting opposite him during the class’s Christmas lunch and in a break in the conversation I said. ‘You used to teach woodwork, didn’t you?’ ‘Yes’, he said. ‘Did I ever tell you that my grandfather, father, and an uncle were cabinet-makers?’ ‘Yes’, said Dave, ‘last year’.
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