Roshana and Pappi
Okay. So I have a flag tea towel; it’s a tea towel like a flag from my Granddad, who I never actually called my Granddad, I always called him Pappi. Everyone called him Pappi, which just means Dad in Austrian/German. Erm and it’s a tea towel of an England flag, with London emblazoned across it. And he will have got it in the 1970s when he made a trip to London with my Mum. So at the time they would have been living in Berlin and I think my Mum (we had a conversation recently), my Mum would have been about sixteen when they made a trip. And they made a trip with her boyfriend at the time - David. Da-vid. Erm, so I think it would have been like 1977. Er, yeah, and it’s interesting as an object because my Granddad really disliked England and he only came to live in England in the kind of last, I don’t know, maybe twenty years of his life, because he followed my Mum to England. So before that he was living in Amsterdam because my Mum was livin’ in Amsterdam. And then my Mum moved from Amsterdam and he just followed her. But he always complained about the English people and how ‘stupid’ they were and how every English word came from like a German word. But, he always had this tea towel in his bathroom so it’s, I really associate it with him.
So, I have no idea how I ended up with this tea towel. Erm we, he was living in a flat by himself up until about I think three years until he died. He was living by himself and erm, and then there’s a point where he wasn’t; he was falling over a lot and not able to look after himself. And my Stepdad was going round a lot to look after him, my Mum was checking in, I was going round a lot to kind of help him go shopping and clean up the flat, and it just got to a point where he was just in very d. . . you know his environment, he was deteriorating and his environment was deteriorating, so. And after a few falls we decided you know he had to go into sheltered housing. So we packed the flat up at that point and I’m not sure whether this, when he moved into sheltered housing, which he, where he was still living independently but you know had a cord on and could pull cords from in the bathroom and all of that. Erm I don’t know whether it ever came out of a box at that point. So I don’t think I would have got it yet at that point because even if it was in a box, the box would have still been in his kind of sheltered accommodation. Then after that he went into a nursing home for, you know the last bit. But erm I don’t think it ever came out there.
So I don’t know at what point I would have got it but it might have been, so it might have been when he died and we were going through all his stuff and I think I probably just went, "Oh I’ll have that." I quite like it.
Erm so I don’t, it’s not, I don’t use it as a tea towel. I had it in my last studio in Manchester, I had it up on the wall. Erm cos it’s quite visually pleasing, it’s got you know a good 19. . . like a, yeah you can tell it’s got a bit of age to it. And it’s, it’s not to be used as a tea towel. He had it up as you know, like a poster in his bathroom, and so I had it up in the studio. And then I just dug it out for, to speak about him for this actually. But it’s really appropriate because I moved to London now and someone pointed out to me when I was telling them about this object, someone pointed out that it said ‘London’ on it and I don’t know, it’s almost prophetic that I ended up with it and moved to London. Cos even though my Granddad seemed to dislike England and not be a massive fan of English people, he loved London. Like he loved New York and he always wanted to move to New York and London was another city that he loved. And I think you know, really he was a guy that should have been in a capital city where anything’s possible. Erm yeah, that probably wasn’t Manchester, or Longsight where he was in Manchester. Erm but I’m glad that I got it out. So it will go up on my wall now in London . . . I don’t know if I ever thought about whether I’d end up with it but it’s definitely one of the things I always clocked at his. Erm, so it seems appropriate that I’ve got it. I don’t even remember having a conversation with my Mum about whether she wanted it or I wanted it. I just have it.
So . . . I guess like the, most people’s experiences with their grandparents is an experience of watching someone deteriorate and my, my D. . . my Granddad was like fairly I guess like fairly old as a Granddad. I think you know he was a little bit older when he had my Mum, he’d already had like three wives before he was with my Mum’s Mum. And you know he, he led like a proper rum life. Kind of did everything from being a film critic in newspapers, to you know working in a political literary kabaret as a composer and a piano player, to setting up his own kabaret. Kaberet with a ‘K’ not with a ‘C’, as he always told me; none of this kind of ‘Cabaret, Cabaret!’ you know, it was serious political satire but you know good humour. And erm he, so he did all of that but you know amongst the kind of more highbrow stuff he also directed/produced soft, basically soft porn films. I mean they were never like full on but I think you know there was topless people in there. And as far as I know that is how he met my Mum’s Mum. Erm but I think she, I think he liked her because she didn’t want to do certain things. There was, she had some kind of limit that you know, a boundary that she wouldn’t cross, so. So I think he was, he was a little bit older when he had ma Mum, so he was you know, he was never that young when I knew him. But I think I spent quite a lot of time with him when I was a kid. I remember staying over at his a lot and I remember being in his flat a lot. And erm, but yeah I guess as an adult, my memory of him is deteriorating. So going round to his flat and you know is, it just got to a point where he was, he couldn’t look after himself anymore and I think part of him was just quite lazy.
I think he’d lived this extraordinary life, an extraordinary life and he’d you know, I think a. . . he survived the Holocaust and that kind of spurred him on to do the most with his life that he could. So he’d kind of had all this life and I think by the time he got to Manchester there was part of him that seemed to just give up. So I think part of, and part of that . . . might have been a laziness, in terms of looking after his environment and looking after himself. Cos he still had fire in his belly; I know that he was suing everyone that he could. Like he, I think he sued the NHS and I think he won. You know he was, he was controversial as a person and he liked to fight and he liked to catch people out. And he was, he was really kind of intelligent and knowledgeable but liked to practice it.
Erm but yeah I mean I guess a lot of my memories are also of this kind of deterioration and erm, and also deterioration physically of getting to the point where he couldn’t really walk anymore. Like he always walked with a walking stick but it was almost a stylistic thing at first because whenever he went out he’d have generally a denim shirt and then a black leather waistcoat and a black leather cap and he was al. . . and you know even ‘til the end when we took him out he had a black leather cap and a black leather waistcoat and this black stick. So the black stick definitely seemed more just part of this style that he had, whereas it became you know far more necessary and then got to a point where it was, you know we’d sit him in the mobility scooter at ASDA and erm, and you know then he just didn’t walk and he just didn’t leave the bed. And I don’t know if there was a point where he could have worked with a physiotherapist to try and gain back mobility but didn’t.
Yeah I think I’m glad to have something that belonged to him that was very much his; that I grew up with always associating with him. I think it’s nice that I’ve ended up with it. And I think now that I live in London it’s taken on this kind of second level, I feel like he’d, he’d be pleased with that. Don’t know if he’d say it because he’s not a kind of pat-on-the-back kinda guy but I think he’d be like, "Yeah, yeah, well done." Erm . . . this is the main thing that I’ve ended up with from Pappi. I feel like there might be a couple of other things knocking around. He . . . you know the, he had a massive love for red. His whole kitchen was red, like apart from a mural that as a kid I painted on one of the walls, everything was red. All the other walls were red, everything in it was red: all the cutlery and kitchen utensils and bowls and plates and cups, it was all red. Which was great for like buying him Christmas presents and birthday presents cos it would always be like, well obviously I’m gonna buy him something red. Erm and I feel like maybe I might have picked a couple of those things, like I might have like a fork and knife, like a cutlery tray that’s red somewhere. And there might be little bits like that, but this is the, I think this is the one object that I definitely know that I have that’s definitely from him. It’s very much like his and I think that the age, like the fact that you can tell it’s from the 1970s, and there’s a great picture of him standing outside the Carnaby Street sign and he just looks proper dapper. You know it’s like the ‘70s, it’s like when Carnaby Street was you know Carnaby street, like the proper Carnaby Street. In fact this, this tea towel says: I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet of Carnaby Street London. So it really is associated into a different time. It’s nice to have.
Erm and then I think there’s just little moments that, like I remember watching back a video of my naming party and there’s a bit in it where someone’s filming the hallway and Pappi’s standing in the hallway and someone goes over to him and says, "Congratulations!" and he just goes, "What for!? I haven’t done anything!" And it’s just, that’s exactly how he was I think. He, you know he didn’t, he wasn’t polite, he was just so not English, so not p. . . and you know a little bit difficult and I think he, he relished in it. And he, he liked to push people erm but he was always, yeah he was always really good with me, I think. I don’t ever remember him being difficult to me or about me, ever. So, that was nice. And he, cos he, I played the clarinet and piano when I was growing up and I went to a music school and he played the clarinet and piano and he went to a music Conservatoire. So I, I feel like me and Pappi had these kind of parallels in our lives. Erm and like the Conservatoire he went to, he was, he was lucky to go there. Like the way I remember being told, cos he told a lot of stories, he’d tell you the same story again and again occasionally. But they were kind of wonderful and when you’re being told in German, you don’t quite understand German, it’s probably good being told a few times to try and like pick up on the words. Erm but I think it was when he was about fourteen, or maybe younger, he was taken into this Conservatoire but as a pianist for the ballet dancers. Cos he was erm, cos he was Jewish and the war was going on, it was a way, like the teacher basically kind of brought him in on the side but it meant that he had this classical education, which was lovely. And it was nice that we kind of had that connection and that I played music as well and . . . yeah.
But Pappi definitely drilled into us that we were Jewish and we all had to have Jewish names. You know my name had to be Jewish, my brother’s name had to be Jewish. If I was gonna be a boy I would have had to be circumcised. Luckily I wasn’t. By the time my brother was born eight years later he’d forgotten about it, you know my Mum was happy about that. But he was definitely insistent that we carried some kind of
. . . that we were, there was a recognisable Jewishness. But in no practising ways. So the, in terms of like religion, that never got passed down. But erm, I guess I’ve al. . . I think if anything, if I’ve ever kind of dipped into anything, it would be more Buddhist. And I think I like . . . like, more on a physical sense I think there is definitely, you know we’re all connected physically on, on a very kind of base way of the fact that we go into the ground and we, we rot down and then you know flowers sprout out of that and animals will eat the plants that you know grow out of the ground, and then they’ll be eaten by other animals, or trees will grow and then they’ll give out oxygen, and we breathe in the oxygen. And I think there, we are all physically connected; we’re all coming from the same set of matter, you know. Erm but it’s in a way, like I understand it physically that we’re connected, rather than like spiritually ‘we’re all one’.
But in terms of like Pappi dying and whether I was influenced in any way by that, I’m not really sure. I think, I think when you’re dead, you’re dead really. I don’t think that people are around. Although more recently I’ve kind of been drawn to the more medium thing; when people tell me about mediums and conversations they have, it you know, I . . . it’s hard not to believe it. So it’s not that I’d say that doesn’t exist because I think like part of me has always been like, well yeah okay, ghosts exist as well and there’s something also undeniable about that. But like when Pappi died I think, I mean we, we were there when he died, so we kinda watched the process. And I don’t know if like there was a moment, I remember a moment of being like, your kinda there going - has it, has it happened yet?”And he was breathing really labouredly so actually it was just, he just calmed down. And going - oh. Oh it’s, oh it’s happened now. Okay he’s dead now. But I don’t know if I felt like he then left. I mean there’s definitely a sense of obviously his energy went but I don’t know if, I don’t think I believe that he went somewhere else, or he just dissipated. And yeah, don’t know; I think I’m always still tryna figure out what I think about that and afterlife and what happens afterwards. Erm and yeah, I mean after he died, think I was just . . . think in terms of like a grieving process, I think I, I’m really glad that I was there through the process of him dying because it made it very concrete and real. And if I hadn’t been there, then . . . it’s, you’re dealing with something which is almost intangible. Whereas if you see it happening and then, you know dealing with all the funeral and going through that process was like, okay, this is real. This is happening. And even though it feels very surreal, it’s like I’m seeing it with my own eyes so I know this is happening.
So Pappi was definitely erm . . . difficult. In a way that you can kind of laugh at now, but he was difficult. He erm . . . yeah I think, like I said, I think there was like a, a knowing deliberateness in his difficulty. Erm but he was you know, he was very proud, erm I wanna say like he was very Jewish but . . . like it, yeah he was definitely very Jewish; like he rewrote the New Testament. Like the whole, he, he took it apart and rewrote it and he renamed it: The True Testament. And like the symbol for it was the erm Christian cross and the er Jewish star (David’s star?). And it’s, and it’s the star hung on the cross, so it’s like the meeting of the two. And he kinda said that, like in a way I hope that this is right now because I’m sure this is what he told me the books kind of reason for being is, but that one of the first things that the Bible says, the New Testament says is: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and historically, he said, Nazareth didn’t exist. So if Nazareth didn’t exist then the Bible opens on this complete lie, then why is the rest of it true? So anyway, so yeah I think there was just something very Jewish in him. He was very like, "Jesus is a Jew" but he was saying that at a time before other people were kinda going, "Jesus is. . ." now it’s like, of course Jesus was Jewish you know? He grew up in a country that was Jewish. You know in a, in an environment that was Jewish, so. But erm he was kind of, he was there at the forefront of that. And erm, so yeah, he was: difficult, proud, Jewish and erm . . . kinda cheeky. But I feel like the difficultness, like the ‘difficult’ thing splinters into being quite hard work and controversial, and then quite cheeky and controversial, and just seeing how he could push people. But he definitely had a sense of humour, so yeah.
I think when I was eighteen, I . . . kind of in response to his circumstances erm that he just wasn’t, he wasn’t doing that great but he’d lived this amazing life, and I didn’t really understand why he was kind of, he’d ended up in this council flat in Longsight when he’d done all these incredible things with his life. So I went to Berlin and you know I wanted to go to Berlin anyway but I was, I did a project where I went to find his life in Berlin. So I tracked down the cabaret he worked in and I tracked down the cabaret he set up. And in the cabaret he worked in, he left that cabaret because they switched from being this kind of satirical, political, literary cabaret, to wanting to entertain the masses and like that was not him. He wasn’t gonna you know, dumb down his humour in any way. Like that’s just not, it’s just not in his character. So I can imagine as, like I think people mellow out as they get older, so if Pappi mellowed out, I can’t even imagine what he was like when he was younger. But erm he left that cabaret. So there’s a point in the cabaret, they have pictures of all the people who had worked there and all the people who had been part of the cast, and the musicians and all of this. Erm and he wasn’t immediately noticeable, there’s like faces that were there for a lot longer but then I found him within that and I found his name, which at the time, cos he was, he . . .
So by the time he died he was called Shaul Rubin, but before that he was Paul and he changed his name to Shaul. And his, before that, he was erm Paul Milan and that was the name that he did all the work in the cabaret under. Before that he was Paul Daleshidski but that was his Dad’s name and he got rid of his Dad’s name, went for his Mum’s instead; the Jewish side. So yeah, I found Paul Milan or Pa-ul Milan in this cabaret, and then I went to the library and found him in like two or three books. And what was amazing was reading up about him and this environment he’d been in and the people he’d worked with, and then coming back to England and having conversations with him about people that he’d spent time with. So he’d go, cos he loved telling stories like that’s kind of, that’s I mean, I guess it’s what you’re left with isn’t it as you get older? But he’d be like, "Oh yeah, so this person who I was spending time with" and I’d be like, "Oh yeah, that person. You mean the one who did this and the one who did that?" So like we could, I could suddenly engage with him as if I’d been present within that time. And I think that was a real special thing to have; to be able to kind of bond on this almost kind of equal grounding, and have this kind of meeting point. So I think that was, yeah that was definitely kind of a good thing to have done and a great memory. And I’m really glad that I had, that he was so pleased.
I don’t know, if Pappi was around or if I saw him again, I’m not sure what I’d say really . . . be interesting . . . I don’t, yeah I don’t really know . . . if I’d say anything . . . I’d probably say, "Hey Pappi, I live in London. I go out, I go out to the gay village!" He’d be, I think he’d be happy about that. He’d be up, he’d be down with that, you know; my Mum grew up in like lots of clubs with drag queens. I’d be like, "I dance with the drag queens." Yeah, that’s what I’d say.