On March 23rd I was 85, and as a celebration I took 12 friends to Paris for the day. a marvellous, magical day, blessed with bright sunshine. We met at St Pancras to go on the train to Paris--what a difference that we can now get to Paris on the Eurostar in less than two and a half hours. The group were friends who are very dear to me: Yasmin, Dave, Tim and Angela Richardson from Flat 6, Jen Gosney, Helen Cotterill, Johns Dalby andThompson, Joyce Rae, Sue Harrington and the irrepressible and wonderfully funny Miriam Margolyes. She had us all screaming with laughter--I cannot repeat on my Website some of the outrageous things she said!! She is so affectionate and loveable.
On the train I gave them all champagne and croissants and jam. I organised a mini-bus to meet us at the Gare du Nord with a guide, Bruno, who took us on a lovely tour of Paris, and dropped us at our restaurant. A glorious place I had been recommended, in the Gare du Lyon, called Le Train Bleu. Ornate gilt and chandeliers, murals and ceiling paintings, back to a sumptious era. A superb meal, and what a great feeling when they all toasted me! I had bought them all Metro tickets to do as they wished in the afternoon, and then meet up again at the train.
My little group of Yasmin, Dave and Miriam went on a boat on the Seine, then sat at a pavement cafe near the Hotel de Ville. For the journey home, I had organised a Quiz, causing much hilarity, and other passengers in the coach joined in! What a day. All my friends loved it and thanked me warmly--Paris was looking gorgeous, at its best in the spring sunshine. I had 29 birthday cards! And a few days later gave a dinner party for the friends I couldn't include in the Paris trip. Now everybody asks me what I am going to do for my 90th! Because I organised a huge celebration for my 80th, including a boat on the Thames, and including 47 friends from abroad!
Around a year ago I received an email from Hong Kong from a man called Robin Brilliant who lives there. He said he saw me in the show "Cabaret" in 1968 when he was a boy, and he believes we might be related.
I found him on a family tree, and discovered that we have the same Great-great-grandfather, Moses Abraham Bernstein from South Wales. We don't have the same Great-great-grandmother, because Moses Abraham was quite a lad. He married Ann Freedman, who died young with no children. Then he married her sister Sarah, who had 7 children and then died, and I am descended from her. Then she died, and he married their cousin, Mary Ann, and Robin is descended from her!
Robin has lived for many years in Hong Kong and has a Chinese wife, and his two children now live in London. When he visited them a few months later we had lunch together...he is absolutely charming. On my suggestion, which he eagerly agreed to, we decided to go to Wales to find our "roots", so off we went on April 7th. We were joined by Janet Wise...her grandmother and my grandmother were sisters. So we are both descended from Sarah. Robin drove my car--he had brought along a Satnav, which was a huge help.
I had done the booking and a good deal of research. Flash-back! I go to a class every Friday at our Community Centre, where there is always a pile of free newspapers, including one called THE MATURE TIMES, which I pick up. I qualify!! One week I found a letter from a lady in Porthcawl, South Wales, Malvina Keates, saying that a video she was especially fond of had worn out, and could anybody help her find another. It was called TOPOL'S ISRAEL, and as it started with me with Topol taking a final curtain call for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, I had a video on my shelf labelled TOPOL'S ISRAEL. I wrote to the lady saying I would have it copied for her....when I came to get it copied it transpired that I had only kept the beginning, the bit with me on it!! The rest of the programme was missing. But it started a correspondence between me and Malvina, and when she heard I was planning a trip to South Wales she send me many leaflets, which were a big help.
Grandma had always told us that she was born in Dowlais, just outside Merthyr Tydfil, so that was our first destination. The old Jewish cemetery is in Cefn Coed, also just outside Merthyr, so that was our first B & B...a most charming place near the Brecon Beacons Railway--which we rode on with great joy. The old Jewish cemetery is on a steep mountainside, so I had to leave most of the climbing to them. We found the graves of Grandma's 2 siblings who died as children...one died on the day of the funeral of the other..Sarah and Isaac Hollander, and right at the top of the grounds was Sarah Bernstein, the Great-great-grandmother of Jan and me. But no sign of Moses Abraham.
These are the stones of Grandma's 2 siblings, Isaac and Sarah Hollander, who died as children. Isaac died on the day of Sarah's funeral.
Then into Merthyr, to find the wonderful lady (discovered through the leaflets), Carolyn Jacob, who works in the library, helping people like us, searching for our roots. She had found the house where Great-grandma, Ann Rosetta, lived in Merthyr, which is still standing. Ann Rosetta, the eldest of Sarah Bernstein's children, was married to George Hollander who had a weak chest. He was told by his doctors to go on a long sea journey, so he went to Australia for 7 years! Leaving Ann Rosetta with 2 little children...and the house where she lived is the house we went to see. It was on the Census that she lived there with the 2 children. George came back from Australia and had 4 more children, the eldest of whom was my Grandmother, Gertie. By the time she was born, they had moved to Dowlais. Carolyn Jacob had arranged a guide to take us everywhere, and we went to Dowlais to walk the streets my Grandmother had walked as a child in the 1870s and 1880s.
We knew that Moses Abraham had Pawn Shops in Merthyr, Dowlais and also in Cardiff, and Carolyn found his death certificate, that he had died in Cardiff in 1878. We stayed in a charming Farmhouse and the next morning, Friday, phoned the Cardiff Synagogue from Brecon. We were told that if we could get to the Synagogue by 12, they would give us the keys to the old Jewish Cemetery, which we could post back through a letterbox when we had finished. We got there, before 12 (thanks to the Satnav) and found the old Cemetery. After much searching, Robin found it!! We found the gravestone of our common Great-great-grandfather, Moses Abraham, dated 1878. Robin had already found Mary Ann's grave in London, and wondered why her name was spelled BEIRNSTEIN. As it was now on the grave of Moses Abraham. The explanation was given to me by a cousin Gervase Frais, who has done a lot of research into family history. Apparently Moses Abraham was in a boating accident where he nearly drowned and, according to Jewish tradition, if you have had a brush with death you change your name, so that the Angel of Death won't find you again! He had added an i!! What a thrilling moment.
We had more days exploring beautiful South Wales, including a trip to Porthcawl to meet Malvina Keates. a delightful lady. It was a most fascinating and memorable trip.
On May 28th I flew off, with my best friend Helen Cotterill, to Copenhagen. I had never been to Denmark, and to visit Copenhagen was the fulfillment of a dream. We stayed in a delightful and unusual hotel, overlooking the harbour. A huge place, more than 300 rooms, which had been converted from a Granary. The first evening--and a lot of the time we were there--it poured with rain!
Copenhagen is a beautiful town with water everywhere..canals and the sea--many old houses and pointed towers on the churches. I loved the main art gallery, Glyptotek, beautiful paintings and we had coffee in the large atrium with trees, plants and a glass dome. We spent time in a spectacular Department Shop called Illums Bolighus. Alas, on the first day, walking home from dinner in a charming little restaurant, I tripped and fell, crashing my head onto the concrete pavement. I must have a hard nut, as the damage was minimal, just some swelling and a bruise. I am very lucky.
One day, when the rain had stopped briefly, we took a boat ride round the harbour and canals, with a guide over a loud speaker, and that gave me a true feel of the town. We bravely took the Metro to a very old part of town, Chistianhaven. But all the walking made me very tired. On the last morning, in heavy rain, I went to the Jewish Museum, which was very interesting. Danish Jewry have a proud and colourful history, which was very well displayed.
The rain did put a dampener on our trip, but I loved it and am so glad I went.
On June 8th I went to Leeds, my home town. For the third time I stayed with the wonderful couple, Maxine and Barry Brown, who made me very welcome and spoiled me with delicious food, most of it grown in their lovely garden. I went to appear in the Leeds Festival....I did my one-woman show there 3 years ago, and now it was their 10th anniversary and they wanted me to be part of it. I appeared in an Old Time Music Hall, with an onstage Chairman. All of the performers were doing the material of famous Jewish performers including Schnozzle Durante, Sophie Tucker, Benny Goodman and Al Jolson. I sang some of Mother's songs...she was a Jewish performer on the Music Halls when she was a child. Several friends in the audience, and many strangers came up to me after the show to congratulate and praise me, which was nice. One elderly dentist said my Dad had been his mentor and inspiration!
The following day I was interviewed onstage by Stuart Woolf. There were also questions from the audience. It seemed to go well, and once again many compliments. and an excellent review in the local paper. I talked about Roots above, but my personal roots are in Leeds, where I was born, went to school and grew up, so I get a very special feeling when I go there. The friends are filled with the generosity and hospitality that make Yorkshire so special, and the memories of my far-away childhood come flooding back.
YORKSHIRE AND THE LAKE DISTRICT
Many months previously I had booked to take Yasmin on an organised trip to Yorkshire and the Lake District in September. The trip started in Harrogate, and I had intended to drive there, but my caretaker/friend Dave wouldn't hear of it, and insisted on driving us up. He is the most caring, helpful, wonderful friend. When we stopped at the Red Lion Pub in Wetherby for lunch, I got a real buzz from hearing the Yorkshire accent and mixing with Yorkshire folk. We stayed at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, a fine old building with a huge dining room with a glass dome that used to be a swimming pool. Dave left us and went to Scarborough to wait until it was time to drive home. We met our group--nearly all with white hair and VERY English!!
On the first day a coach took us to Newby Hall, near Ripon, and though not far from my home town of Leeds, I had never even heard of it. It is an exquisite place and we were shown around by an excellent guide. There was stunning plaster work, often the ceiling design was reflected on the floor; treasures brought back from the Grand Tour of Europe in the 18th century---many Roman statues, marble columns, a colossal mirror (which had been wrapped in linen and masses of acorns to protect it for the journey), magnificent tapestries; gondoliers lamps from Venice...the whole house decorated in lovely, delicate colours. It is a real gem.
Back in Harrogate, Yasmin and I had lunch in the famous Betty's, and then visited my cousin who is just 2 months younger than I, and with whom I grew up in Leeds. Maureen Myers, and her husband Henry. They live in Harrogate.
The next morning we left the hotel and drove in the coach, through lovely countryside, to the Railway Station at Settle.
We travelled on the little railway--only 2 carriages--to the charming town of Appleby, where we had our picnic (Betty's) lunch. Then the coach drove us to the Lake District, and after a visit to another historic house, Dalemain House, we had a glorious drive past Ullswater Lake and through the Kirkstone Pass to Lake Windermere. Our stunning hotel, the Old Egland in Bowness, is right on the edge of the lake.
Alas, we missed the last 3 days of the trip. I had an audition to play a very good part in a TV comedy serial, and had to get back to London. My wonderful Dave drove all the way from Scarborough to Lake Windermere to drive us home. A long way. Before we left on the following day, we went for a glorious cruise on the lake, which was a "smooth as a millpond" from Bowness to Ambleside and back, and even saw a Beatrix Potter exhibition before we left. She lived in and loved the Lake District. It was a very long drive home, from 1.15 to 8.30, but Dave is such a good driver and we had laughs and fun, so it didn't seem too long. I didn't get the part!! I can't think why...I was perfect for it!!!
My last overseas trip of the year was to Israel. I had booked to go in April, but the flight was cancelled because of the Icelandic volcano, so I postponed it to October 1st. What a joy!! I hadn't been since March 2009, so the warmth of the welcome I received was matched by the warmth of the temperature....it was HOT! As always I stayed with Chava and Oded Teomi, my surrogate children. They spoil me and care for me as if I were their real mother. I had the pleasure of seeing my many friends, going from a lunch date to a dinner date...I always hire a car as soon as I arrive. My 2 nephews, Shimshon and Meir, and Shimshon's children are specially dear to me.
What a fantastic inheritance I have from Peter. As well as my Tel Aviv friends, I have a step-daughter, 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren from 6 married grandchildren, several of the great-grandchildren born since my last visit. It is hard to describe the pleasure, the love, the honour they give me. On the door are always masses of paintings with messages of welcome and love when I arrive. I am sorry I don't live near them, to watch them all growing up. On one occasion I stayed overnight so a to spend Shabat with them.
Israel is a difficult country, with many intractable problems, but for me it is my second home and, as my great-nephew Itamar said to me on the last night I was there: "Here you get a lot of love"....and I do!
The year had some downsides, as well as upsides. Yasmin, who has been my right hand for more than 20 years, went into hospital in early April for an operation on her foot, and she is still in great pain and on a crutch. If you have read our book, you will know that I lived with Jay Lewis for 9 years until his death in 1969, and I have always felt close to his 2 sons. Jeremy, his elder, died in June after a long fight with cancer. He was very dear to me. In November I went to a beautiful church in Spitalfields, Christ Church, for his Memorial, which he had planned in detail before he died. It was very beautiful.
I am very lucky to have reached the age of 85 in good health. But it is a terrible sadness to adjust to the death of dear friends---like Dilys Laye, Joan Schofield, Jimmy Thompson. I miss them.