Sunday, 19 April 2015
I remember youth clubbing.....
From the age of nine till I was 19 Brady Youth Club was a huge part of my life. It was situated in Whitechapel in the heart of East London.
It was a Jewish youth club as the Eastend at that time was home to a very large Jewish community, mostly coming as immigrants pre and post first world war. There was a very open Jewish culture in the club, observing all the holy days and religious rituals, but I don't think non-Jews who wanted to join were ever excluded, friendships and supporting each other were always important.
I think there was a pre-school nursery run there during the day, but I can't quite remember. There definitely was an after-school club for infants as I remember often helping to go and collect them from school and walk them round. As a teenager I used to hide at the club during the day when I skipped school so was there to help (don't tell my grandchildren *wink*). Next group up was split into 'minors boys' and 'junior girls' which was when I joined, then I think we moved up again at the same time as moving from primary school to senior school. For me school was the comprehensive round the corner from club.
The building was amazing, it was huge inside, with offices, canteen and kitchen serving food as well as soft drinks (egg and chips my favourite), there were two big halls one of which had a stage and all the sound equipment and lighting etc available at that time (we are talking about the 1960s) and backstage dressing rooms for plays and shows (I've a photo of me as Christabel Pankhurst when we did a musical play about suffragettes but I can't find it). The other hall a well equipped sports hall with changing rooms and showers (can't find the photo of me on the trampoline either which I know is here somewhere). That was the ground floor. The basement and first floor had more rooms where we would have various activities like drama and table tennis and debating and one with the snooker table where I mostly sat on the window sill and chatted to the boys playing. The long basement corridor was ideal for archery or target practice with .22 guns neither of which I did. And then above all that on the second floor was a self contained flat where a family lived (I think it was one of the club directors, wife and children).
Our youth club also owned a country house in Kent, Skeet House where we would have group holidays and weekends away. When we were there we enjoyed all the outdoor countryside activities you just don't do in London. In the winter if it snowed we took all the tea-trays to Lullingstone golf course so we could toboggan down the hills. At Christmas we would volunteer at the local hospital. People really believed the house was haunted but I never felt spooked there.
Other club holidays were usually camping, a summer camp would have to cater for about 300 people with huge marquees for dining and big bell tents for sleeping, latrines were massive ditches covered with a wooden framework with flimsy doors and wooden holes in planks for loo seats. We affectionately called them the Austin Suite as Frank Austin was a famous furniture maker and director of the club.
As club members we were always encouraged to help others so aged 15/16ish I joined Jewish Youth Voluntary Service and went out with the St Mungo charity for the homeless on their soup runs, taking soup and rolls out all night to the tramps sleeping rough on the streets or in the railway arches of Shoreditch or under empty stalls in Petticoat Lane. Most had very sad stories but some were there as a definite life choice! It taught me a lot!
There were many very famous visitors to our club, Prince Philip came in the 1950s, the Beatles came in 1964, I can remember meeting Fenella Fielding, Ronnie Corbet and Frankie Vaughan. Celebrities would often be a guest for our annual awards night when they would be entertained first then give out our awards and certificates earned throughout the year. I was in quite a few of the plays and shows, as well as the suffragettes I've been the devil when the angel and I had to decide the fate of Henry VIII while his life was acted out behind us, there was the French Apache dance still vivid in my mind where Kelvin did the acrobatics to my seductive temptress (don't ask hahaha), and a play we called "out of the dustbin and onto the stage" where we managed to turn Chekhov into farce! Even remembering now I'm giggling :-)
A regular club night Monday to Thursday was meet up in the canteen and have something to eat and drink as most of us came straight from school, then we'd go off to various activities. All back in the canteen for an assembly with relevant announcements and finishing the evening with disco. Sunday evenings had live music socials, dancing to lots of bands we'd barely heard of who later became really famous, like Jimi Hendrix, Procal Harem, Pink Floyd, Gino Washington and the Ram Jam Band, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound and lots more. They were fantastic nights.
I had the honour of being voted Girls' Club captain for one year, and I got to carry a clip board, which was considered a true badge of office as all the managers tended to carry clipboards hahaha. The climax of that year was being awarded a place on a four week youth holiday in Israel. I celebrated my 18th birthday in an air-raid shelter right on the Lebanese border! I'd never been abroad before that.
Members had to leave at 19 years old but they could come back as staff when they were 21. The enforced break was to ensure we didn't all become totally reliant on the safety of the institution. None of us ever wanted to leave but agreed it was the right time to be pushed into the real world and so many of us never went back but stayed in touch with friends in other ways. I actually married and moved out of London not long after that.
Oh happy memories of very happy days and I'm still in touch with some very lovely special friends from way back then :-)