Joe talks about his early life in Scotland and his mother’s desire ‘to blend in’. He also describes his education and varied career.
INT: You wouldn’t have had any contact with other Jewish families would you?
J.C: No, not much. No, no.
INT: I see that’s very interesting. And then what happened? You were educated here in Scotland?
J.C: Oh yes completely. And my father then got British citizenship. After the war, of course, the Polish soldiers didn’t want to go back to communist Poland. And I could give you [the date] my father, when we became British… 1949, the 30th of August, 1949, we became British subjects.
INT: But you would have known nothing else apart from Scotland.
J.C: No, no and of course I was… I learned English before my mother and so when we went shopping, by four I would take my mother to the shops, and at four and a half I started school in Dundee. I went to a lot of different schools as we moved, a lot of primary schools, during the course of the war. I don’t think it did my education any good.
INT: It probably didn’t.
INT: And did your mother learn English?
J.C: Never properly.
J.C: Never completely, no.
INT: But she was…
J.C: But she could speak French, Polish, Russian, you know.
INT: Right, just not English. And then after school what happened?
J.C: Well my father died while I was still at school and the company he worked for, North British Locomotive Company in Springburn, agreed to take me on as an apprentice and I became an engineering apprentice and completed my apprenticeship and, you know, studies at evening classes etc.
And I finished up in the drawing office as a draughtsman and I worked there until the company started slowly sinking. I then decided to become a teacher, went to Jordanhill, was accepted by Jordanhill and I became a teacher of technical subjects. And I worked in various Glasgow schools, working my way up, finishing as head of department in Govan High School, and I retired at fifty.
INT: Out of choice?
J.C: I was, I had the opportunity and I couldn’t afford to stay; I got a good deal.
INT: There was a stage I think when they were…
J.C: Wonderful. I got ten years onto my twenty-five.
INT: Very good.
INT: That’s very good.
J.C: The maximum is forty so I thought I’ll never get a chance like this again. Plus a lump sum, plus a pension.
J.C: So I’ve had a pension since I was 50.
INT: Well that was very good. It was indeed.
J.C: But I didn’t stop work.
INT: What did you do after that?
J.C: Another career. Well I went back into engineering in the hi-fi industry. I worked on a computer drafting system for a well-known hi-fi company in the south side of Glasgow.
J.C: Anyway it didn’t quite work out as planned and after just over 3 years we parted company. And the Berlin Wall had collapsed and I saw an advert for a company who was taking Americans around Europe, groups of American students/young people and because of the possibility of travelling Russia and these other former Soviet States they were looking for people with the languages and experience in travel.
And I had travelled to many of these countries as a student when I got involved in student exchanges through the Scottish Union of Students and the British Council.
INT: And did you speak Polish?
J.C: I did.
J.C: Oh yes and Russian.
INT: I see, speaking to your mother in those languages?
J.C: Polish, yes. No, my mother and father used to speak Russian if they didn’t want me to understand.
INT: Which was a very good way for you to learn.
J.C: As an adult, I learned Russian.
INT: Oh right.
INT: And Polish as a child?
J.C: Polish as a child. And I had to relearn French so I’m fluent in French, Polish and Russian.
INT: And did French come more easily do you think because it had been in your?…
J.C: Not at school. When I left school I learned French.
INT: I see.
J.C: I thought the school system was dreadful. That a French born person could fail a French exam in 3rd Year…it was a reflection on the school. However, I wasn’t a great pupil I suppose. Anyway I’ve made up for it….So…
INT: Sorry, I was going to ask you, where did you learn Russian?
J.C: At evening classes at university.
INT: My goodness.
INT: And so…
J.C: That was way back in the 60s.
INT: We interrupted you. You then became…?
J.C: A tour manager.
J.C: Yeah, with student groups and then adult groups.
INT: And that meant you actually took them.
J.C: And I specialised in former Communist countries.
INT: I see.
J.C: But I travelled all over Europe. I travelled everywhere by rail, ship, plane, bus; lots of things.
INT: That must have been very interesting.
J.C: Wonderful. So I worked at that for fifteen years and I only gave that up in 2005 because by that time my wife had fully retired and so we travel together now.
INT: What’s your favourite place to visit?
J.C: Well, France really. I always feel at home there and like the style. When I was teaching I had thought I might like to retire to France but then I got this tourism job and I was working until sixty-eight, you know, and I forgot all about retiring anywhere.
INT: And you mentioned your wife, how did you meet her?
J.C: I met her in Glasgow when…It was a Valentine’s thing in 1960s, mid 60s, some kind of computer dating. Not for marriage, just for dating. And for your pound you got six phone numbers. I got six phone numbers; she was one of the phone numbers.
INT: Number one?
J.C: No she wasn’t number one but she is now!
INT: So after your father died did your mother, was she working or?
J.C: Yes she worked for a short time as a dinner lady, you know at school lunches. She also made lampshades, and that was silk lampshades.
INT: Oh beautiful.
J.C: She bought frames and binding and she made them by hand. And I’ve got one downstairs.
INT: She probably taught herself how to do that I would imagine?
J.C: Yes and so she had a lot. She could talk and she was very French in her manners and dress and managed to have a lot of nice customers who liked these nice things and paid for them.
J.C: When the war ended we were living in Irvine and my father was headhunted. They were looking for engineers at NB Loco and he was offered a job.
But he couldn’t take a job as long as he was in the army but the army released him and NB Loco just paid his train fare into [work] because the war had ended, they were just sitting in barracks. So he would travel to Glasgow every day from Irvine and they paid his fare but they didn’t pay him a salary because he was still in the army. But as soon as he was demobbed, yes, he got a salary and he got two rooms in a flat in Alexander Parade, top floor, that we shared with the chief draughtsman and his family.
INT: You must have been, your family must have been quite exotic for the rest of the people.
J.C: Yes, yes.
INT: In that sort of world. Is that not true?
J.C: Well what happened in Alexandra Parade was, after the war, my mother went out and bought fruit and Mrs Fett, the chief draughtsman’s wife, when she saw that my mother had bought fruit she said ‘Is somebody sick?’ They didn’t eat fruit.
INT: That’s interesting. But were you ever aware that you were unusual, that you weren’t just the same as everybody else?
J.C: Well yes I knew because we had mixed with Jewish people but I was also aware that my mother was trying to make me blend in so when the boys, the two Fett boys in Alexandra Parade went to Sunday School, I went to Sunday School, you know.
I had to blend in. Because they had, they knew what was happening to Jews and they didn’t know whether, what was going to happen. The war had just ended. There was always this hiding, hiding.
J.C: Mentality I think.
INT: And did that continue later do you think for them?
J.C: No, no I don’t think so, no.
INT: Just nearer the time. I’m surprised in one way that they spoke to you in Polish or Russian.
J.C: They spoke Polish at home.
INT: I suppose they had no other…
J.C: At that time it was odd, nowadays of course everybody speaks Polish if you walk down to Partick. But if you spoke Polish in the street people stopped to look but they wouldn’t do that now.
INT: I’m sure that’s true.