Michael Cahn stepped off the red eye from LA, spent the day in his bookshop then cycled to our house looking somewhat dishevelled. He earned his keep last year by sponsoring us to do a triathlon in aid of the Campaign for Female Education. Little did he know what we had in store for him on this visit.
After the death of my father, and my mother’s move to a care home in Cambridge, my sister and I began the task of clearing our family home. Amongst the myriad of possessions were some 200 copies of a book – The Gomperz Family originally published in 1907. The work was started by the historian Dr David Kaufmann and completed after his death by his colleague Dr Max Freudenthal. Kaufmann was the son-in-law of Rosa Gomperz who lived in Vienna. The book traces the history of the Gomper/t/s/z family from the time of their earliest settlement in Germany in around 1550 and follows their diaspora over three centuries from Berlin, Frankfurt, Metz, Vienna, Prague, Holland and England.
My father, Bastien, was made aware of this book by David Gompertz, a colleague at University College London. It was written in academic German and since neither of them were German speakers, they arranged for a couple of the chapters to be translated. It became apparent that this was a significant work concerning not just a history of a family, but a history more broadly, of the Jews of northern Europe. Such an extensive genealogy going back so far and so wide is very unusual. What is more, only a hand full of copies of the original survived the second world war. So it was an important task to have it translated into accessible English, printed and made available once more. Bernard Standring (Centre for European Languages and Cultures, University of Birmingham) undertook the translation as a retirement project and Bastien, who was so impressed and excited by the text, personally funded the publication which rolled off the press in 2003.
At this time, the internet had grown to a sufficient size to make searching for Gomperz family members a profitable task. Bastien set about contacting as many as he could and he invited them all to our house in London to launch the book.
The book is an academic treatise on the first court Jews of Northern Europe. In addition to being a detailed genealogical history of a family, it is also a considered history of perilous but extraordinary Jewish achievement in relation to land, money and royal power. The Gomperz family also later played a significant role in the Jewish enlightenment, indeed Bastien was chuffed to learn that he was a cousin, seven times removed of no less than Felix Mendelssohn! The modern family were largely wiped out of Holland and Germany by Hitler. David Gomperts, Bastien and Earnest Gompertz, who knows most about Gomperz genealogy today in Holland, added illustrations including photographs of the later Dutch Gompertz family members who carried the name from the 19th into the 20th Century.
Natasha and I are now looking to disperse the book. Our friendly book seller offered, with out persuasion, to handle the distribution via Plurabelle. We are selling the books for £24 plus postage and packaging. £12 of this will be donated to Safe Passage, a charity that provides legal routes to sanctuary to refugees.
We did it! Three of us braved the cold water of Jesus Green Lido where the temperature was literally off the scale. The others took their plunge at Parkside.
We all met on Jesus Green for the bike ride up the river to Clayhithe and back. One of us broke down. Wonderful Paul, who was bringing up the rear, fixed the puncture in a flash, and the race went on.
Andy stormed in first…closely followed by Mary
Then Laure, then Sophie who made it through despite the puncture!
Tilly hands out personalised medals
We convened at Stir for brunch and chat, feeling very pleased with ourselves. We then collapsed for a few hours before rocking up to The Carpenters for a lively evening with music from OneStop, beer and pizza’s, and more fund raising. The pub was packed out. It was great to see so many many friends.
We are grateful to all our helpers and contributors:
For training and help on race day:Tilly, Tom, Juliet, Paul, Ian, Doug, and Chrissie and the team from Camfed.
Our band, OneStop aka Andrew and Pete for playing their hearts out.
All those who made donations to help girls in Africa get to school!
To date, we have made £5,615, and with gift aid, £6,433.26, from 82 donors. This is enough to send almost 36 girls to school for one year. How about we help these girls get to school for TWO years? Please join us at the Carpenters Arms on December 7 at 7pm to plan our next steps and enter the prize raffle! All proceeds to Campaign for Female Education. If you cannot make it but would like to make a donation, please do so here.
Turning 54 in March this year led me to consider a gift to self. Having had a couple of rounds of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy not so long before, I was pretty pleased to be still standing. There was a moment when I thought I might perish before my severely demented mother, but fortunately that bit of life’s order was not disrupted.
Getting on with living
A year on, I was still suffering aches and pains and could not decide if this was just aging or a consequence of my treatment or both. My consultant told me in no uncertain terms to stop worrying and get on with living. With this push, I decided that for my 55th year I would support a charity that gave life to others. I decided on Camfed, The Campaign for Female Education, a Cambridge based charity, now in its 25th year, that enables girls in Africa to go to school. Going to school means escaping childhood wedlock, teenage pregnancy and offers a world of possibility including potentially, much happiness. Since 1993, Camfed’s innovative education programs in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi have directly supported more than 2.6 million students to attend primary and secondary school, and more than 5 million children have benefited from an improved learning environment. £180 enables one girl to go to school for one year. My gift was made. But what about supporting a few more?
You cannot just ask all your friends for money, my daughter told me, you have to DO something. So I decided to do a ‘sprint’ triathlon – 750m swim, 20km cycle followed by 5km run. I engaged a few friends and we set a target of £4000 to raise, support for 22 girls. Our event will take place on 22 September starting around 11:30 at Jesus Green Lido. In the evening, we will gather at the Carpenters Arms on Victoria Road for live music by One Stop (aka Pete Mitchell and Andrew Sugden) beer and pizzas. All are welcome to join and contribute to the gift of life!
If you would like to make a donation to our fund raising campaign please follow this LINK and click on the blue donate button in the middle of the page.
June/July is that time of year when a handful of old time Cambridge city dwellers find ourselves playing host to Michael Cahn who moved, a few years ago, to live in California.
I first met Micheal some 21 years ago when he was collecting his 2 year old daughter from our local nursery. He was holding her tightly in one arm to keep her from wriggling and he stretched out the other, being most insistent that he take my son home for the rest of the afternoon so the two children could play. And there began a long and rich friendship between our families.
It was around this time that Michael began book collecting and founded Plurabelle Books, a second hand internet bookshop. The ‘shop’ has moved several times around the city but is now located in a warehouse by the railway off Coldhams Lane, in the company of CamCabs, Hilary’s, the vegetable whole saler, The Centre for Computing History, The Belfast Bed Super Store and St. Barnabas Press.
The Plurabelle website indicates that the shop ‘has books you don’t need in a place you can’t find’! The statement is not quite true, but it s not quite false either. Having recently cleared a large west London house that was stacked to the rafters with stuff, a household where everything, from beads, to bones and of course books were collected and carefully stored and certainly never thrown out, there was something quite reassuring in visiting this ramshackle warehouse of past loved, past studied and cherished books. A short bike ride from the centre of town, you won’t be disappointed in the reception you will receive, especially if the book seller is in town.
In September 2015 I joined a bunch of top birders on a trip to Fair Isle. There were eight of them and me.
‘I cannot think of anything worse’ is what my daughter said.
Needless to say, I had a fabulous time and so, I believe, did they!
Below is a selection of photos from the trip.
Torness, on the road up.
Overnight ferry to Shetland
My flight onto Fair Isle was a day later than the rest of the team. I spent a very comfortable night with Rebecca Nason at her B&B in down town Lerwick. Rebecca is an extraordinary photographer and naturalist. I loved her house, brimming with fine things including a delightful collection of bird bones and bills!
Fair Isle, Church of Scotland
View of Sheep Rock from Bu Ness
Bu Ness, whale tale.
Hunting for petrified fish having dipped on the Thick Billed Warbler found at Quendale the evening before. This rarity pulled all the local birders and left an audience of may be 4, plus the 8 of us for the Shetland bird club talk that 2 of our team were due give.
The bird of the trip was Yellow-browed Warbler. On 21 September 53 birds were seen and 12 were ringed. These birds, weighing just 5g, are likely to have travelled from the Urals, 3-3.5,000 miles away, to winter in Britain.
Fair Isle’s roads are lined with Angelica, a kind of wild celery. Their flowers are host to numerous insects that Yellow-browed warbler’s find utterly irresistible after their long flight. The photo below was taken by Andy Mason.