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Feather's Miscellany: Gerald Levin

John Waddington-Feather tells a satisfying story about a man who knew how to be discreet.

To read more of John’s stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/feathers_miscellany/

There was no Jewish community in Keighworth, but Jews had been coming to the town one way or another for generations. The nearest communities of Jews to Keighworth were in the cities down the valley at Leeds and Bradford, where many Jews settled in the late nineteenth century after fleeing the pogroms in eastern Europe. They brought much trade to the area, and anyone who brings in trade is welcomed in Yorkshire; for trade and the wealth which goes with it are the yardsticks by which folk are measured in the county, and in Keighworth especially.

I’ve said it before and I say it again, if you have summat, you are summat; if you have nowt, you are nowt in Keighworth, and by and large the immigrants who settled there had summat.

But it’s always puzzled me why so many immigrants home in on West Yorkshire given the rotten weather there and, in earlier times, the poor living conditions in the towns. Many German textile merchants migrated to Bradford and to Manchester across the Pennines, which, if anything, has even worse wet weather. They brought with them their love of music and founded orchestras and brass bands, the Hallé Orchestra among them. The composer Delius was born of German stock in Bradford – but never went back once he’d left.

The Jewish community patronised the arts wherever they settled and inaugurated the Leeds Music festival and Piano Competition – and, incidentally, opened the first Marks and Spencer store there. More immigrants came in World War One from Belgium; and in the 1930s arrived another influx of Jews fleeing the Nazis. The post-war years saw refugees from Communist Europe: Lithuanians, Ukranians, Poles, and later still, Hungarians and Czechs. The first Asian immigrants arrived in the middle fifties and now comprise a sizeable number in West Yorkshire.

When I went to Keighworth Boys’ Grammar School, a Jew sat next to me in class and we became lifelong friends. He was Gerald Levin, whose father was a jeweller in town. I believe old Levin had trained in the jewellery trade abroad as well as in Birmingham, so he was a very good jeweller and knew his trade inside out. Why he set up shop in Keighworth I never knew, but he did well there.

However, Gerald, his only child, didn’t follow his dad into the jewellery trade. He did well at school and won a scholarship to Leeds University Medical School, where eventually he qualified as a neuro-surgeon and went right to the top. But for some reason he continued to live in Keighworth and took a full part in the social life of the town: singing in the Vocal Union, playing in the town’s orchestra and enjoying a regular round of golf at Utworth Golf Club; and all this despite having a rough spell at the Grammar School because he was Jewish.

It happened while he was in the lower part of the school, when Zionist terror gangs began attacking British troops then keeping the peace in Palestine. They murdered British hostages and blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem among other atrocities. Sadly, the Jews in Britain caught the backlash from all this and several synagogues were burnt and Jewish graves desecrated.

Poor Levin was bullied unmercifully at school, till the headmaster put a stop to it. Most of the bullying was done by a lad called Leonard Cullen. He bullied anyone younger than himself and we were terrified of him. Gerald he bullied most of all and after one particularly nasty episode, Cullen was hauled before the headmaster and expelled.

He went into his father’s woollen business and some years later, when he’d qualified, he used to spend long periods abroad in the wool trade. In his twenties he married Mary Forbes, a Keighworth girl, the daughter of a mill-owner, and she was a cracker: pretty, vivacious and a flirt. She knew what she had and she made the most of it. Every lad in town worth his salt was after her, but she fell for Leonard Cullen. Why, I never knew, but he was wealthy, big and strong in a brutish sort of way, and good-looking. But he’d turned out to be an older version of the schoolboy. He was coarse and loud-mouthed and bullied his workers. When he wasn’t abroad, he hung about the Golf Club drinking heavily with his pals.

I was at the Golf Club bar with Gerald Levin one day when Cullen came in with his wife. He’d been away for some months and had just returned. I hadn’t seen his wife for a while for she went to London for long periods when her husband was abroad. She’d been at school in the south and had many friends down there she met up with in London.

I was rather surprised when I saw her for she’d changed noticeably. Though she was still very pretty, she was no longer the lively young woman she once had been. She’d lost all her sparkle and was subdued. She looked stressed and cowed, and appeared frightened of her husband; but she dressed as elegantly as ever and was wearing a necklace of diamonds which Gerald noticed at once.

Cullen attached himself to us and began mouthing off. Where once he’d bullied us with actions, now he bullied with words. Whatever subject we discussed he knew all about it and wouldn’t be put down. He humiliated his wife embarrassingly. She’d only to open her mouth when he’d cut in and talk her down, till in the end she remained silent. I could see Gerald was upset about the whole business like myself.

He gallantly tried to draw her back into the conversation by commenting on her necklace and how well it was crafted. He said she must have paid much for it. She coloured and tried to change the subject. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she said, lightly. “Just something I picked up cheap.”

Cullen cut in with, “That’s right. They’re worthless. She bought them at that cheapjack’s stall in the market. I can tell you, if they’d been worth owt I wouldn’t be letting her wear them here.”

Gerald asked if he might look at the necklace more closely. His dad’s expertise had rubbed off on him and he was a connoisseur of jewellery. I could see he was determined to put Cullen in his place. She took off the necklace hesitantly and handed it over. Gerald scanned the diamonds closely. “They’re genuine all right,” he said at length. “They’re worth a bomb.”

“Rubbish!” growled Cullen. “I tell you they’re imitation. Anyone can see that! You don’t find real diamonds on a stall in the market.”

Gerald was about to contradict him when he glanced across at Mary. She looked terrified and had gone quite pale. He read her eyes and clammed up. “You’re right,” was all he said quietly as he handed back the necklace. “They’re imitations.”

Cullen smirked. “Of course they are. I said so all along, didn’t I? I can tell what’s real and what isn’t.”

Fortunately for us and his wife, one of his cronies came in and he moved to join him. Mary hung back a moment when he’d gone. She looked relieved and simply said, “Thank you,” to Gerald before joining her husband.

I was puzzled. Why did she thank him? Why had Gerald changed his mind so suddenly when he knew full well he was right? The necklace must have cost hundreds. When the Cullens were well out of earshot, all he said was, “If I had as pretty a wife as her, I’d show more affection – and I wouldn’t let her stay at home by herself while I gallivanted off abroad for months on end.”

He said nothing more and at that moment my estimation of Gerald Levin rose considerably.

John Waddington-Feather ©

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