Sally Michaelson: Leeds to Bournemouth

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Sally Michaelson is a retired conference interpreter in Brussels. Her poems have been published in Ink,Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse, The High Window,The Banghor Literary Journal, The Lake, London Grip, The Jewish Literary Journal, The Seventh Quarry, Idler, Hevria, Lilith, Algebra of Owls, Squawk Back and Dreich. Her debut collection The Boycott was published by The High Window in April 2021

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Sally Writes:

‘I didn’t realize how much I wanted to write about Jewish hotels in Bournemouth in the 1960’s and my family’s ‘pilgrimage’ every summer. When I wrote the first poem ‘Leeds to Bournemouth’ memories of lavish food, stuffy lounges,colourful characters and my own discomfort came flooding back.I hope you’ll enjoy reading.’



Dad fits a jigsaw
of suitcases and bags
into the bursting boot

of our Vauxhall Viva
wedging all four sisters
onto the backseat

perched on the pull-down
smoke from Dad’s Havana
plumes my eyes raw

ponies cantering across
a New Forest road
make him break so hard

I thump my forehead
against his leatherette seat
am told off for not sitting still–

somewhere after Southbourne
a first sighting of the sea
makes one of us a winner


Slick gigolos steer ladies
xxxxxxxpuffed with chicken and knaidels
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxthrough a slow foxtrot

nuzzling their lacquered neck
xxxxxxpasted to their rouged cheeks
xxxxxxxxxxxxxbefore escorting their gold lamé

back to balding husband
xxxxxxxsucking on thick Havanas
xxxxxxxxxxxxxtapping feet out of time

a claw-crane hand plucks me
xxxxxxxthough I’m only fourteen
xxxxxxxxxxxxxfrom the family table

pressing my thin body into hold
xxxxxxxreleasing me after the waltz
xxxxxxxxxxxxxlike a prize without a winner


Unable to resist the salt-beef
xxxxxxxoozing with schmaltz on fresh rye
xxxxxxxxxxxhe feels unwell when he climbs into bed

is definitely dead in the morning,
xxxxxxxhe’s removed via the back stairs
xxxxxxxxxxand the room is given a good airing.

The receptionist dials the first on the list
xxxxxxThis is your lucky day!
xxxxxxxxxThere’s a last-minute cancellation.


The waiter pours Palwin dregs
from lipstick-rimmed glasses

into a plastic slops bucket:
the chef’s copper pan

bubbling with cloves and sugar
simmers them into a sauce

for tomorrow’s lokshen pudding –
an adipous limb in a blood bath


Tea and arrowroot biscuits
left outside the room–
breakfast: smoked haddock
grapefruit, eggs sunny side up
a quick stroll on the East Cliff
bump into Florrie and Cyrill
staying at the Majestic…
exchange notes on last night’s dinner
Was it worth two guineas fifty?
back by eleven thirty
for tea and biscuits in the lounge
if the weather’s good
game of crazy golf or putting…
first in the queue for luncheon
usually milchig( except on Shabbos)
a dover sole as big as your plate…
retire to card room for gin rummy
kabuki or canasta
afternoon tea in the lounge at four
smoked salmon sandwiches, cakes, gateaux
a schluff in the lounge
the perfect way to relax at the seaside –
in the queue at seven
for a sea view
and a four course fleischig dinner
steak, lamb, chicken, veal
cheesecake so good you’d never guess
it’s parve –
if you’re feeling bloated
dried prunes, apricots and pears
in Palwin wine sauce
lemon-tea and coffee served
before the eight-piece band
Helen Shapiro singing
David Kossoff doing a stand-up
all that laughing and clapping
make you hungry
for the buffet served sharp at midnight
saveloys, viennas, crisps, gherkins
the barman’s asleep, no-one is drinking
until the free Shabbos kiddush
and advocaat cherry brandy, whisky–
all doubles!


I need to burn –
I run up five flights of stairs
xxxxxxxtrying not to breathe in

the wafts of stale lunch
cigar smoke and in the lounge
xxxxxxxthe snorers’ breath

the carpet is springy
I imagine myself
xxxxxxsprinting with a torch –

I give Mum the reading glasses
she needed from the room –
xxxxxxshe’s furious

with my taking the stairs
when lifts serve all floors
xxxxxxYou’re trying to lose weight

You’re skin and bone already
She doesn’t realise it’s not calories –
xxxxxxI just need to burn…


Mrs Levy has her eye on the crocodile handbag –
xxxxxxVot a beautiful bag! she says
Over my dead body will she win first prize

Abe, bring a van from London
xxxxxwith silk for the shirt, taffeta for the turban
and tulle to stiffen the petticoat –

Throw in a Singer and a seamstress
xxxx(I could sew it better myself)
but I’m in a four at the bridge tournament)

Carmen would swoon to see me
xxxxxparading in her fruit hat
(mustn’t forget breakfast bananas)

Mrs Levy can have the runner-up prize
xxxxa bone-china tea-set… hope her costume
is better than last year’s Helen of Troy

she could have sunk a thousand ships
xxxxxwith that sagging cleavage –
her toga an ill-fitting schmatta


x    xxTrolleys are buckled
the dumb waiter has died
xxxxxof an exhausted pulley

xxx   girls from the kitchen
are running ragged
xxxxup and down back stairs

xxxxReception has a list of guests
with special dispensations
xxxxgetting longer by the minute

xxxxA plague of illness has struck!
kidney stones, low blood sugar
xxxxpregnancy, migraine, high fever


boiled eggs under wraps
a little chopped herring
xxxxxa pot of tea and biscuits

a whispered light refreshment
a faint knock on the door
xxxxxa comprehensive smile –

curtains are drawn
the TV is soundless
xxxxxwan faces peek out from chenille bedspreads

swearing on all that is precious
they always fast
xxxxxexcept this year…


They hijack a table in the lounge
in their riding jodhpurs

poney tails scraped back
from Elizabeth Arden faces

all they lack are riding whips
to crack at snoozing guests –

pour themselves the tea-pot’s dregs
scoff the rest of white-bread triangles

stained with red lipstick
demolish a plate of strudel –

a waitress comes to take their order
they say they’ve dined quite nicely, thank you!


When it’s time to pay her bill
Mrs Levy asks to see the manager

in his office behind the stairs
he tots up on the adding machine

how much she owes –
seven days times two guineas sixty

she lifts her skirt
extracts crisp fivers from her Playtex corset

counts them out
like a clerk at the Bank of England.`


We spread our picnic
on a grassy slope
splashed with primroses:
the grounds of Corfe Castle
are our exodus from Egypt –

Matzo sharp as shrapnel
beetroot jam hot with ginger
hard boiled eggs –
potato cakes stick to the root of my mouth
makes me talk funny –

Climbing on fallen stones
to peer through murder holes
and arrow slits
Mum is a Pharaoh
and the Red Sea is splitting.


xxxxxbedrooms upstairs
xxxxxliving room downstairs
xxxxxpanoramas of Poole harbour
xxxxxit’s round and upside down –

I’m perched on a stool
at the breakfast bar
of her American kitchen
a bib tucked under my chin

xxxxxfish fingers, peas and mash:
xxxxxno bones to choke on
xxxxxunlike hotel sole meunière –

Mum fumes
Dad’s sister dares to dish up
transport café food!
eaten on bar stools like shickerers!

xxxxxaculinary faux pas !
xxxxxAll the way home to Leeds
xxxxxI mull over the mystery of Mum.

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