INT: And how was it that you then left? What happened after the four and a half years?
LM: Ah what happened was they needed the house for some reason for WAAC’s, or RAAC’S or one of the women’s naval organisations and they found another place in Castle Douglas, Ernespie house, which was an old hotel. It’s been reverted, it’s back to a hotel again I believe, we were …. visited it. And it’s Ernespie house, we were there more or less 4 or 5 months. But they kept on taking children away as they were getting older, my mother would take Jenny away, Isi was already away in a hostel in Garnethill, He went to a hostel in Garnethill. And Jenny would be with my mother and I would be in the hostel, maybe one of the last to leave. And then I would go, my mother had rented premises in, would you believe, a people called Bernard and Myrna was, it was her grandparents or her aunts and uncles they took us in.
INT: That’s the AJR social worker?
LM: In Ledard Road, we lived there for a while and she wouldn’t remember it. But that’s where we lived, and then a miracle. My mother got a job in Geneens.
INT: And tell, remind us please what Geneens is.
LM: Janine’s was the biggest and best Jewish restaurant and I believe it was a bedsit or a hotel.
INT: Apparently it was a hotel and apparently they also used to have quite well known singers would come and stay in the hotel as well.
LM: Right, right. Well what happened was my mother got a job there as a cook. My mother was a first class cook but not from any menu, it was all from her head. So she was a cook there and they loved her and one day Alex Silverstein came into the kitchen, he says, “I’ve got to meet the cook”, he says, “I’ve got to meet the cook”. So Mrs Geneen said. “Come and meet Mrs Metzstein, Mrs Metzstein’s got a bit of a problem, she’s got 5 children, nowhere to live, can you help?”. He had a big furniture shop in Great Western Road, burned down incidentally, above the shop was a huge empty flat. He says, “I’ve got the very place for you”. He said “I want someone to live in the flat because it’s vulnerable, it’s always empty flat”. He says “I’ll give you the flat, a pound a week, bring your children” and we all lived, except Lee, who stayed in London, we all lived in Great Western Road for years and years and years.
INT: That was very fortunate.
LM: That was, that was a very nice fellow that, that gave us that flat. Mrs Geneen was instigating that, very kind of her.
INT: And so it was. And then you must have then gone to school here in Glasgow?
LM: Yes. I went to school, I went to… Unfortunately I had a rather bad beginning at school. I didn’t, I didn’t persevere, it may have been my starting was bad, English? I don’t know. I’m not going to make excuses for a lack of interest in education. But at the same time I found the streets more exciting, playing with the other children and in these days you’d just go out and you played. You didn’t worry and came home late at night.
And the school, my first school I went to was Battlefield, which was ok except I didn’t do terribly well there. One of the teachers used to call me, when he wanted my attention, he called me “Berlin!”, that’s what he used to call me. Yes, I know it wouldn’t be allowed today, but he called me, and I was quite, you know, sort of… Anyway I went to school there for a while but I didn’t do terribly well in my, I failed the qualifying by one mark and ‘Bob’s your uncle’ you’re in a senior, a junior secondary school, which happened to me. So instead of getting languages or science I got metalwork. You know that’s, this was the dividing factor, one mark, is he not good enough for this? I was but I didn’t stick in and the teachers weren’t that careful. Then I went to St George… Then we got the flat in Great Western Road, I went to the local school called the St George’s Road, nice enough school, but it was a junior secondary. And a pal of mine who had 120 out of 120 went to Queen’s Park or Woodside, which was the…. the Senior Secondary School. So I lost out on that but it was probably my own fault or maybe not enough encouragement from my mother, I don’t know. She worked so hard, everyday.
INT: Of course, and this system was unfair at the time so the system was so unfair.
LM: Well, it was a cut and dried arrangement, you… I don’t even remember teachers saying to me; “This is rubbish, you know the answer to this, why you writing that?” and I can only assume that it was for nerves and the teacher had 56 in his class. How was he going to deal with one little boy?
INT: So, once you left school then did you get a job at once?
LM: Yeah, I left school in July, well June at the end of June, 19… I was 13/14, 14, 1946. We spent the last 6 months of the war either at Bernard’s house or then Great Western Road. And I was 15 on the 27th of July and my mother said “Right, a job”. I had no idea what I wanted to do, so my sister and I, she took me, Lee for some reason was in Glasgow, she may have been coming to visit or what. She said “C’mon, I’ll go with you to the Labour Exchange”, and I went to the Labour Exchange and she said; “This boy’s handy with his hands”, that is the amount of metalwork I did at school, must have been really good, and she said; “I want this boy to get something”. And…In fact I must tell you something that my sister and brother don’t remember, I stuttered. I really had quite a bad stutter. Now they don’t recall. It means then I didn’t speak when I was with their company. But I certainly stuttered I remember that. My sister said; “Get this boy a job” So I got a job in an engineering place in Glasgow. Oh, it was horrendous, it was cleaning, what are these dials, they have dredgers on the Clyde and every so often the dials get so filthy that they take them off, valves and dials and they gave them to this company that I was with. So you… it was horrendous. No safety nets, no nothing and you had to just set this dial on a vice and get a bit of sandpaper and just let the vice run and the sandpaper would take off the muck and I said: “Any masks?” “What? masks?, you’re lucky to have a cup for your tea!”, you know that sort of thing. Anyway I left after a few months, it was horrendous.
INT: Do you remember how much you got paid for doing that?
LM: 19/6 a week. And I gave my mother sixpence, it was a pound. And I got sixpence and she got 19 she wanted… I wanted it the other way but she wanted the 19 and 6. So I got sixpence and I think I spent it all in the one shop. I don’t know but I think at the wage. Anyway, then, then I decided that I couldn’t stay there and here we go again with Mr Silverstein. He went in again and my mother said to him; “Can you find a job for my boy?” He says; “How about upholstery?” Now upholstery, I was good with my hands, and I quite enjoyed upholstery and I did my 5 years’ apprenticeship. And my brother Isi was also part of the Silverstein saga because he needed a job and Silverstein, Alex Silverstein, had a linoleum shop in the East End near the Barras and Isi was sent there for a while tying carpets and linoleum and he wanted to be an architect, so that followed on, it’s a different story that I don’t know all about. All I know is I became an upholsterer at… and then after that I left, hated it, putting tacks in your mouth, after a while I gave it up. And I’ve done so many things since.
INT: So you didn’t actually practice once you had passed your apprenticeship?
LM: No. When I passed my apprenticeship I decided it was time to leave that business. It was not controlled in any way, there were no safety features, there was no…, in fact, there was a huge fire where three of my pals had been burned in, John, what’s the name of that street, near the Gallowgate…, near the Clyde, there was a big fire, upholstery fire, the windows were all barred and these guys were burned to death. And it was just like the way we were, there was straw everywhere, there was nobody swept up. So I said no…, I did all sorts of things.
INT: And quite rightly so, did you find a cleaner job after that?
LM: I found a cleaner job, I did, I must have found lots of other jobs because at 15, it was, by that time I was 20 something 1. And, 21 oh my god what did I do then? So many things…
INT: Did you find that, your background, you mentioned being called ‘Berlin’ at school. Did you find that your Jewish background held you back or made a difference?
LM: Nobody knew, nobody knew what Jewish meant. Nobody had, no one ever, the teacher never once realised that here was a boy sitting in the back of the class who had gone through some sort of trauma, maybe we’ll get him to speak…Not a word, he never… Apart from the fact he knew where I came from but that was all. No one mentioned Jewish or anything.
INT: And once you were at work, did it make any difference?
LM: Not at all except there were some Jewish upholsterers there. Upholstery seemed to have been quite a thing; tailor, upholstery, furriers, jewellers and there were a lot of Jewish workers, three of them were burned.
INT: So what did you do for socialising then? So you are a young man of 21…?
LM: In the West end of Glasgow?
INT: In the West end of Glasgow.
LM: There was nothing because the West end of Glasgow was inhabited by some very rich Jewish people. The west end was, at that time, the area and if I wanted anything to do with Jewish people I had to go to Turriff Street and play badminton or table tennis there, which I did. And I’d also learn my Bar Mitzvah in Turriff Street. And, but that was, there was no, apart from me playing in the street and playing snooker and football with the local people, there was no… played badminton and all that, but mostly mixing with non-Jewish people.
INT: And so, what age were you when, when you met your wife?
LM: Now I played table tennis at Maccabi and she was playing table tennis there and we met and we married when I was 24. So that was about 2 years. Is that what you were meaning with the…? We got married, and 24, and when I was 26 my son was born, Frank. And there was all sorts of jobs, loads of things I did.
INT: Tell us a little about Turriff Street. What was that exactly?
LM: It was a large corrugated style shed but there was a, there was a religious side to it because they gave classes. I had to go there for my Bar Mitzvah and that’s where I learned. And there was also a little hall for table tennis and I don’t remember any social events there but the social events took place at South Portland Street.
INT: That’s where the Jewish Institute was?
LM: The Jewish Institute. I went there, as soon as I was old enough I went to the Jewish Institute to listen to music which was good, Harry Margolis and various other bands.
INT: And did you…
INT: And of course I was just going to say and Harry Margolis is still, still going strong and still performing.
LM: Yes, he’s amazing, he’s amazing. I saw his documentary, he’s an amazing man.
INT: So did you feel really that you were a Glasgow boy by that time?
LM: I was a Scottish person, yes, no question about it. Born, although the people in Glasgow thought I was quite well spoken, you know. I was not a Glasgow boy but I lived in Glasgow and never ever took up the accent.
INT: Yes, but you no longer thought that you’d been German at one point or…?
LM: No, no, no I’ve just tried to forget being German although Margaret [Leo’s partner] and I have been down to… we went to Berlin to see my father’s grave. And we saw that, but I’ve never been back to, to Germany.
INT: So your son, Frank, lives in London?
LM: Yes. He lives in London, he’s…he was a, an optician. He’s now retired and he’s happily living in London doing nothing.
INT: Quite right.
LM: But everything. Everything he does is great fun, but nothing to do with work hardly or…
INT: Sounds excellent.