Salvation and sludge

In the front garden

I’ve been curious about what I hear and read about the state of our mental health during lockdown.  I’ve been in the UK now for almost nine weeks, just about the longest continuous period of time I’ve spent here in the past 15 years and of those 61 days, 35 have been spent either self-isolating or in lockdown, and there still 10 more days of current lockdown to go.  Moreover, the thought of a further fortnight of quarantine once I return to Tel Aviv, I find a little daunting, to say the least.

This morning, I looked out of the window as I sat at the computer and realised that I’ve been observing the seasons transmogrify from autumn at its most glorious to the beginnings of winter.  This notwithstanding, I found myself last week looking at a blank wall and uttering profanities in its direction but, unsurprisingly, there was no response.  I mentioned this to a friend and she said that people our age shouldn’t be talking to walls, that we should really be talking to ourselves.  So I gave that a try but it didn’t really work as the acknowledgements I was receiving in return sounded too much like those of an old cynic with whom I’ve been familiar for a long time and they didn’t really do anything to improve the state of my mental wellbeing.  They only convinced me that what I have always felt is, in many ways, true. The truth is that I’m not really going nuts but I sense a certain unease and frustration—with the situation in general and with politicians specifically.  (You’ll notice, if you bother to read on, that this week’s post has no mention of a Bibi, a Boris, a Trump or any other politicos who more often than not enter these diatribes!  Difficult to do but it happens on occasion.)

So I just grit my teeth and get on with it.

About three weeks ago, I had a phone call from someone who introduced himself as representing the North Central London Diabetic Eye Screening Programme.  I had never heard of such a programme before and I wondered why they decided to call me and then it dawned on me that a couple of hours prior to his call, I had a conversation with a nurse at the local NHS clinic to review the results of blood tests I had had a couple of weeks after arriving in London in which she told me that I was “pre-diabetic”, something I’d known for a few years.  The young man, who had seemed more than a trifle confused, offered me an appointment at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead a couple of days later and told me that I would receive a text message confirming the appointment.  No such message arrived on that day so the following morning I called the Ophthalmology Department at the Royal Free and left a voice message with all my details, asking whether or not I really did have an appointment.  No response was forthcoming by the morning of said appointment and a further attempt to establish contact failed and, the weather being what it was,  I decided that a 40-minute round trip walking in the rain to get to a clinic where I might or might not have an appointment wasn’t worth it.

Then, last week, I received what I can only describe as a reprimand, a letter which began “We made an appointment for you to have your diabetic eye screening  examination … and our records suggest that you did not attend.”  How British!  Their records didn’t suggest; they screamed out loud.  I don’t like being rebuked when I don’t think that I’m the one at fault, so I emailed them back informing them why I didn’t turn up and I called the following morning and relayed the same message verbally.  I was given a new appointment (which I did attend, last week) and was told again that I would receive a text message for confirmation.  When, after half an hour no such message had arrived, I called again to ask them to which number the text message had been sent and was told that it had been sent to the number from which I was calling but that they would send it again just in case.  I am now awaiting three text messages. Perhaps they got held up in lockdown. But to my surprise, I did receive another email in answer to my rather tart rejoinder to the “letter of rebuke” apologising for the mix-up!  So some things work.

At any rate, I went to the NHS clinic in Kentish Town and had the eye scan.  I don’t particularly like eye scans especially when a rather bright light is aimed straight at my eye so I wasn’t looking forward to it.  However, on this occasion, there was no bright light at which I had to stare.  Rather there was one flash of the brightest yellow light I’ve ever experienced which blinded me (once in each eye) for perhaps a second or two after which the technician, looking at her computer screen, told me that there didn’t seem to be any serious problem with my eyes, which was good to hear.

After that, I decided to walk from Kentish Town to Belsize Park along Prince of Wales Road, a street I’d often driven along but never walked, I passed the Church of Christ just before the junction of Castlehaven Road, and given my state of mind re lockdowns and quarantines, my eyes were attracted to the sign that appears below …

… and there, on the adjoining poster, was spelled out the five-stage strategy for attaining salvation.

I studied these carefully and came to the conclusion that as I age, I seem to be increasingly hard of hearing so Stage 1 might prove difficult.  I also found that Stage 2 might be awkward because again, as I age, I appear to believe less and less of less of what I read.  With regard to Stage 3, were I to be provided with an organised list, I might be able to tick off what might apply but as that’s unlikely to happen, so that went by the board as well.  Re Stage 4, the only thing to which I might confess is that I have a tendency towards cynicism.  Finally, I’m not quite sure how the creators of this message envisage this re-enactment taking place and anyway, I have a fear of water.

So having digested the message and come to the conclusion that this kind of salvation wasn’t really for me, I continued my walk along Prince of Wales Road and came across a rather handsome terraced block of flats.

Lockdown, however, doesn’t mean that I’m indoors 24/7.  The week before last, a walk along The Regents Canal with some friends yielded some satisfying photos.

One never quite knows what one is likely to see en route.  No sooner had we arrived than I saw an amateur acrobat strutting his stuff.  He was quite impressive if only because his body shape was not what one usually associates with acrobatics.  The first photo of the three is nothing much to write home about (not that I can manage myself) but my youngest grandchild does it each day as a matter of course.

His second movement was quite impressive and he held that position for several seconds.

However, it was the third exercise that had me stop and stare because he held that position for at least half a minute and, as I said, his overall  body shape didn’t seem to tally with what he had managed to accomplish.

And the pictures didn’t stop with just acrobatics but also contained some landscape photography!

The Regent’s Canal, Islington

Prior to the walk along the canal, we’d been to Newington Green to visit a public sculpture,the work of a British artist, Maggi Hambling, commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, a 19th century feminist writer and advocate and the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The sculpture, the culmination of a decade-long campaign, was unveiled on November 10 2020 and attracted a lot of media attention.  It is is sited opposite the Newington Green Unitarian Church that Wollstonecraft attended. The work is a representation of a naked female figure, emerging out of organic matter and was described by the BBC as “a swirling mingle of female forms”. Inscribed on the plinth is the quotation: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves”. The sculpture has been criticised for its depiction of nudity and objectification of the female form, something that several people considered inappropriate for representing a feminist figure but the artist noted that the figure in the work was not intended as a historical likeness of Wollstonecraft, saying that she felt that clothes would have restricted her as statues in historic costume seem as if they belong to history because of their clothes and it was crucial that she be considered relevant ‘now’.

Frankly, I don’t know what all the hoo-hah was about.  The naked lady is tiny and you have to have pretty good eyesight to view it.  I couldn’t see what there was to be offended about but then I couldn’t really appreciate it as a great piece of art.  Everyone to their own, it seems.

Walking back towards the car, I encountered something that looked as if it was an interesting happening.  The shop was shuttered and it seemed as if the gentleman wanted to get in but he hadn’t received permission.  I’m not sure what language he was speaking—perhaps Turkish—but there was a constant stream of words being injected into the letterbox, apparently with nil response from whomsoever was inside or whomsoever he thought might be inside.

 

And then, of course, there’s always Primrose Hill to offer its weekly complement of images!

Finally, Sunday afternoon brought 2½ hours of walking with the London grandchildren and their parents on Hampstead Heath.  They, being who they are, tend to shun the main footpaths  on the understanding that nothing could be more interesting and fun than strolling, slipping and sliding along little-used byways?  The operative words to describe this activity are “mud” and “fallen leaves” which were in superabundance.

I’ve never been a great fan of mud!  I was told that I must not use the word “hate”, so I just loathe it.

 

Fallen leaves, bare trees, and more mud

The activity started a little later than planned due to a misunderstanding regarding the meeting place and it seems that I misread the map of where we were supposed to meet up. After all, I’m (or I was) a geographer!  Fortunately, as I waited to be located, the weather was mild and the skies were more or less clear.

Waiting the arrival of family members on Hampstead Heath

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

However, one of the positive outcomes of this foray into ooze and sludge is that I was able to teach the other the chorus of The Hippopotamus Song, the Flanders and Swann hit from six decades ago.

 

 

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America, vaccines and the end of autumn

It’s been an odd week.  Last Tuesday, Americans (at least, those who had not already voted in person or by mail) went to the polls to elect a new President or to re-elect the current one.  As I write the election is over and although it is clear that one candidate received more votes in more states than the other, the serving President refuses to concede that he lost the election.  He is bent upon spending what will probably amount to millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money (which, if we are to believe reports, a sum to which he contributed $750 last year) in attempting to prove that the election was “stolen” by votes that arrived late and which shouldn’t be counted at all.

If memory serves me correctly, we’ve been hearing claims like this from Mr. Trump for four years now.  In 2016. he was unable to admit to the fact that Hillary Clinton had received more votes than he had when the total votes cast had been tallied (not that the popular vote means anything under the American electoral system), claiming that several million votes had been cast by illegal immigrants to the United States. He also disputed the size of the crowds that had turned out in Washington to observe his inauguration, though there was no room for dispute there as counting heads is easy and when the media reported otherwise, it became “fake news”, one of the man’s favourite terms (it’s a phrase that’s easy to articulate because each of the two words contains only a single syllable) and the one he will probably be remembered by — along with “alternative facts”.

As the man has another 70 days to complete his term of office, the mind boggles at what chaos he might cause not only among government bureaucracy and not only to the United States  but to the world as a whole.  We can only hope that his finger isn’t touching the nuclear button when it becomes itchy or twitchy.

Anybody who runs for elected office (or dictators who get to the top without having to undergo the burden and barrier of something as demanding as an election) has to have a certain inflation of ego (that applies no only to those seeking high political office but also to those who run for lower echelon jobs like a department head of a faculty dean in a university.  But the 45th President of the United States brings whole new meaning to the word EGO to the point at which the

EGO

becomes totally detached from reality.  I mean that if things worked normally, all he would have to do is add an aitch to the word, insert a space and

EGO

would become

HE GO  

but that would be admitting the impossible, i.e., defeat, and thereby being labelled a “loser”, something which in Mr. Trump’s limited lexicon can only be applied to others.  So the world must suffer on for another two months and a bit.

The other story in the news to break from the tedium of Trump and Covid was the news that Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, died of complications arising from Covid-19 in an Israeli hospital, Hadassah Hospital, in Jerusalem.  Whereas this fact was hardly mentioned if at all in UK news broadcasts (Jerusalem was mentioned but not the fact that it is in Israel), it carried a certain irony.  Mr. Erekat was desrcibed as a negotiator who spent 25 years negotiating with Israel over recognition for Palestinian independence or self-government or call it what you will.  I’m not sure that either side, after the signing of the now defunct Oslo Accords, was actually negotiating anything.  More to the point these were exchanges of ideas between two sides that were suffering severe hearing defects.

The irony is that there has been a significant decline recently in the number of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians receiving treatment in Israeli hospitals, mainly because the Palestinian Authority ceased paying for their treatment, something which emerged from Erekat’s campaigns  against “normalisation” with Israel and for a boycott against it.  Yet when he became dangerously ill with Covid, he knew where he was most likely to the best medical care the region could offer, an opportunity that he cynically denied his own people.

Such is life, I suppose.

And then there’s Covid.  The good news, perhaps the only good news this week, has been the positive reaction to the announcement that a vaccine against the disease will possibly be ready early in 2021, if not earlier.  And by that time, there should be further vaccines available.

However, making plans with Covid around is like betting on a rank outsider in a horse race.  Originally, I was due to return to Israel at the end of October, but extended it by 17 days till next week.  Then to continue where I left off in the last post, at the beginning of last week, I received notification from British Airways, which read “You’re currently due to travel to Tel Aviv with us soon. Unfortunately, due to the UK Government’s national restrictions, your flight will soon be cancelled as we’re temporarily suspending our flights on this route.”  I called BA and was told that flights would only be suspended after November 11.  My attempts to book a flight on November 11, 10, or 9 were met with responses that the flights were full.  I called BA again only to be told after half an hour’s conversation with a very pleasant man called Krishna that I could only rebook after the flight had ACTUALLY been cancelled.  Checking my email the following day, there was no notification of anything from BA but when I went to manage my booking online, I discovered that the flight had ACTUALLY been cancelled.  So I rebooked yet again for a couple of days after Boris J promised the British people that lockdown would hopefully end.  However, with today’s news that Covid deaths in the UK had risen to over 50,000, I’m not sure about that.

Meanwhile, I hear from Israeli friends that the government there is considering a further (third) lockdown to coincide with Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which could easily be renamed this year, the Festival of Murk and Darkness.  On hearing that news, I made a rough calculation.  Since March 13, when I last landed in Israel, I’ve done 14 days’ self-isolation, followed by 1 month of lockdown.  Then arriving back here, 17 days of self-isolation (14 days official + 3 days of rain stopped play) and now another 28 days, perhaps followed by another 14 days of self-isolation and possible lockdown again.  More than 90 days locked up or down or in and I haven’t even committed a crime!  Nor, having spent so much time with myself, can I claim to have gotten to know myself any better.

When we lived in London 35 years ago, I used to be amused by the announcements on the radio that this railway line or another was out of action for that particular day because of “leaves on the line”.  Walking around the neighbourhood these days, I understand better why this was a real problem and not at all funny!

The beginning of the week contained one beautiful misty morning, though not quite as ethereal as the one Facebook reminded me of last week, which contained photos shot on November 5 2015 and which I subsequently shared once more on Facebook

Still, I couldn’t help being struck by the changes in the trees on Primrose Hill in the few weeks I’ve been here, especially in the last three weeks.

As to the clump of six trees that draws me towards them each time I’m there, I now think that I’ve photographed them at all times of the day, in all sorts of light and in every weather condition — except snow.  And given the way that this stay in London might be going, I might well succeed in that endeavour this year!

Autumn is truly giving way to winter and the trees shed their leaves ever more rapidly …

… and in other cases where they’ve helped on their way by the tree surgeons, as this amputree amply and aptly demonstrates.

The inevitable squirrels are busily looking for food to tide them over the winter although in Regent’s Park, they needn’t worry as the humans provide them with so much of what they want that they don’t have to worry too much about winter.

Lockdown there may well be but some of the lamps can still get together to party and have a good time while nobody else is looking …

Meeting people from outside your [lockdown] bubble is only permissible these days if you meet outside in a public space, so on Sunday, my sister and I met up for a real live chat instead of the almost daily virtual one.  This time, we met in Regent’s Park, one of the Royal Parks that is like an oasis in an urban desert.  Even in the bleakest of seasons it tends to look immaculate.  And the photograph below indicates that it’s almost time for a face-lift again, providing the park’s armies of gardeners with work — that goes on the year round.

And it may well have been November but last Sunday was mild (I was overdressed) but at least one person the park thought it was summer …

Looking out the window the following day, I was struck by the cloud formation which I thought deserved a photo all of its own, reminding me that although most photos are taken at eye level you also have constantly to keep your eyes open and look upward and downward.

And while in Regent’s Park, older men do what older men have to do, more frequently than I seem to remember in the past.  Entering the loo, I was reminded of a piece of advice I was given some years ago by someone exiting exactly the same public toilet.  There’s a charge of 20p to get in through the gate and (a) as I didn’t have 20p on me at that time (it doesn’t give change and couldn’t use a credit card and (b) I thought 20p for one pee was an exorbitant rate of exchange, I was in a quandary.  But the same gate that opens with the insertion of a 20p coin opens automatically for someone leaving, so my loo advisor just said to me that I should wave my scarf or coat or tee-shirt across the back of the gate and lo and behold, it opened.  And what worked some years ago also worked in 2020 as I removed my camera from around my neck and swung it back and forth to open the gate.

When I succeeded in doing what must be done, I noticed the social distancing instruction that appeared on every second urinal.  From the notice, was I to understand that if I were spray neither to my right nor to my left but aimed straight ahead, then I would be preventing the spread of coronavirus.  Really?  Seems rather like the power or prayer, perhaps!

Finally, while walking home, I espied this welcome sign.  I think the dog isn’t too sure about welcoming visitors and somehow it reminded me of the welcome that Biden might be receiving from his predecessor at the White House on January 20.

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It’s all in the timing

 

I’ve been in London for six weeks now and that was my original plan.  Then, about 10 days ago, having endured 14 days of self-isolation/quarantine in an enclosed space, with an additional three days of the same due to the fact that London received its October average rainfall over three days, the total length of my confinement was 17 days after which time I started seeing family and friends and getting out and about. Then about 10 days ago, I realised that I’d been here over a month but in real terms, it was only half that length because of my Covid-imposed incarceration.  I wasn’t looking forward to returning to Tel Aviv to spend another 14 days locked up so soon after just ending the previous one so I did something I don’t like doing and I changed my plans and my ticket by 17 days, expecting to return on November 17.

Watching news on TV (I’m not obsessed by 24/7 TV news but I watch over breakfast for about 15 minutes and do another 5 minutes towards evening and usually discover that nothing much has happened during the day).  Most of the time, it’s Covid this, and Covid that and nothing else, which leads to a glut of information which tends to confuse and/or depress most people.  Occasionally, there’s something to divert the attention elsewhere, such as an event that will take place in the United States on Tuesday, but which has been in operation already for several weeks as people cast their ballots early or send them by mail, in the faint hope that they might reach the right place by the right time.  Listening to the newsreaders regale the election rallies staged by that theatrical monster, Donald Trump, is as dispiriting as hearing dispatches about Covid.   Another beheading in France in the name of God, of course, several stabbings and shootings (in the name of God, again), a Turkish president whose egomania seems to know no bounds, and yes, Liverpool is top of the Premier League again.   Oh, and Seán Connery is no longer.

Yesterday, however, it seemed to me that timing is of the essence and that my timing had been a little out or a little off tis time round, for the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, appeared on television around 7 p.m. to announce that England would go into a month’s lockdown on Thursday, November 5, ending on December 2.  His sidekick, Michael Gove, is reported to have said that it may go on for longer than this.  (I might add that the devolved regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland came to the conclusion that something was amiss a little earlier suggesting that Boris & Co. were somewhat remiss.  The governments of several European countries seemed to be ahead of the game as well.)  November 5 in England is Guy Fawkes’ Night (or Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night), and this year, it might act as an excuse to burn the whole place down.  Who knows?

Anyway, flanked by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, they reported that the rise in new cases of Coronavirus in England was exponential and if nothing was done immediately, England might experience 4,000 deaths a day in December whereas their reasonable worst case scenario for the winter had previously predicted a maximum of around 800 deaths a day.   All this moroseness was pretty glum news but being human, I started asking myself where this left me personally.

Things are quite unclear, though and the Sunday papers are reporting all sorts of things.  If I stay here, I am considered a single-person household and as I understand it, I am part of an “exclusive” support bubble, which allows a single-person household to meet and socialise with another household, i.e., my son and daughter-in-law (I hope).  However, I am also allowed to meet one other person outside for “recreation” as well as exercise.  But more to the point, I am concerned that my flight on November 17 might be cancelled as the report also stated that “most outbound international travel will be banned”.

However, trying to get information out of British Airways at this stage is impossible as they don’t seem to know anything yet, a recorded message stating that if my flight is cancelled, I will receive due notification and will be able to rebook.

Meanwhile, time appears to be completely screwed up.

I’m usually loth to change plans once made and I’ve already made an exception to that rule once already.  However, it seems to me that at the moment, there are three options open to me.  One would be to try and find a flight to Tel Aviv before lockdown starts in the UK in four days’ time, meaning that if I append 14 days of self-isolation in Tel Aviv, I might be able to emerge into the world again by mid-November.  The second option is to wait out until the end of lockdown in London and then travel back.  The third option is to wait and see whether British Airways will still be flying in a fortnight’s time and travel as (re)planned, becoming liberated at the beginning of December, which is possibly what would happen if I stayed here in London.

Dilemma; Uncertainty; Quandary.

 

Walking around, autumn is still very much in the air although evenings tell us that “Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm” …

Autumn colours. Hampstead Garden Suburb

… yet it struck me the other day how easy it must have been four years ago for the Brits to “Vote Leave”, for in this season, they “Vote Leaves” every year.

VOTE LEAVE(S)

And I’m not the only one out walking and looking at leaves.

A morning stroll on Hampstead Heath

And every now and then, you come across something a little different, unrelated to Covid or autumn.

A working spinster. Parkhill Road, Belsize Park

Out with friends at the beginning of the week, we agreed to meet outdoors near Primrose Hill and perambulate around the perimeters of the park and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the clump of the half dozen trees that I had photographed so many times before.…

… from there, it was just a short climb to the top of the hill. I usually do this walk (to the top of Primrose Hill) in the mornings but on tis particular afternoon, the sun was shining and the visibility was excellent, the light was perfect.  One hardly ever sees it like this.  So, one photo did the trick.

A few days later, I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath.  It was cold and windy but there was still light around and I managed one picture that I think isn’t bad.

The day following Primrose Hill, I went with another friend to the British Museum to view the exhibition: Arctic: Culture and Climate, which was fascinating — but not a place for Jews to live, I fear.  Caribou and reindeer might well have cloven hooves and thus be candidates as food, but the indigenous peoples live on the basis of “Waste not, want not”, so by the time they had used all these animals for food and clothing — and as far as I could see, nothing is wasted, there would be nothing left for the shochet, a person certified by a rabbi or Jewish court of law to slaughter animals for food in the manner prescribed by Jewish law, to do.  And obviously, as seals and walruses and such like don’t have cloven hooves, they’re not part of the equation at all.  As for vegetarians, there didn’t seem to be much vegetation around, so they would go hungry, too.  And, were observant Jews to visit the Arctic, arriving late on a Friday, some time in late autumn, they might find themselves having to observe a sabbath that lasted until spring!

After the exhibition, I had time to sit in the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court at the museum, the largest covered public square in Europe.  I’ve done this several times before, fascinated by the triangles and hexagons and diamond shapes that are visible.  As my mind wandered a little, I started to wonder what I could do with this — nothing particularly original, of course …

… so I first removed the colour so that I had a  black and white image …

… and then I transferred it to Photoshop, something that I rarely do, played around with for a while and got what I felt was a pleasing result.

Waiting for a bus home in the rain, I noticed an updated version of a London taxi, though who would want a ride on one of these eco-friendly cabs on a rainy day is a bit beyond me.

And, of course, I am in a land in which Halloween is celebrated, except that this year, the celebration was rather muted and the “trick or treating” non-existent although there did seem to be considerable noise in the garden behind the building.

Meanwhile, from Israel, in the absence of concerts, Shuli decided to bring her viola to the luthier for a cleaning.  It looks good.  I hope that when I get to be 421 years old, I’ll look as well as this!

Photo: Adam Korman

 

 

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Autumn in London and all that

Autumn colours, Primrose Hill. NW3 (1) —  October 2020

I’ve been in London now for just under five weeks.  Actually, it net terms, it’s just half of that as the first 17 days were spent in splendid isolation—a fortnight—which was reinforced by three additional days spent inside during which the rain was so heavy that even going out for a a few minutes to buy a newspaper resulted in a through drenching.

I have more or less ceased to watch the news on TV.  Covid, Covid-19, Coronavirus, lockdown, self-isolation, fines, closure of pubs, clubs and gyms.  That’s it.  Each five minutes there’s someone with a new story, two people with differing opinions, four people who start new rumours and the like.  Every now and then, there’s another story to take one’s mind off the effects of the deadly virus for a day or so.  There was a story last week about an unfortunate history teacher in Paris who was beheaded by an individual apparently influenced by the social media rantings of the father one of the hapless decapitee’s pupils, who was incensed that in a civics class, the teacher had the audacity to show his pupils cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.  The deranged headhunter obviously decided that decapitation was the surest way to exact revenge. Well, at least it took our minds off the main news of the day, which has been the same for the past eight months.

So, if you don’t watch news on TV, what do you do?  Well, you can be entertained by documentaries and things like that.  A friend, who shall remained unnamed, suggested that I might like to watch “The Trump Show”, a documentary on BBC2.  Actually, she didn’t actually suggest that I watch it; she just told me that she had binged on the first two episodes so I thought I’d give it a try.  My goodness! I thought I understood that things were pretty bad and mad in the White House but if this is anything to go by, it’s beyond imagination.  Trump is depicted as a Mafia godfather (but American, first, you understand) who lives in Bedlam (there is such a place, officially Bethlem Royal Hospital, a.k.a. St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlehem Hospital) and it is a psychiatric hospital in London. Its famous history has inspired several horror books as well as the current White House).  In this madhouse, the present occupant, the President of the United States, runs a theatre of the absurd for the “outmates”, several tens of millions of Twitter followers (also commonly known as twits) who believe his every word—religiously.  To say that it was shocking would be the grossest of gross understatements!

Meanwhile, back to Covid-19 for it is what takes up so much of our time.  There is an interesting drama playing itself out here in the UK, which was resolved yesterday, in which the Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson and his chief enforcer, Mr. Gove, seem to have decided that Greater Manchester should be “elevated” (or demoted) to Tier Three, in other words that the restrictions of movement, on exercising, on drinking and all that should be tightened.  This is where Liverpool already is and includes no mixing indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens, no more than six people together in outdoor public spaces like parks, pubs and bars not serving food will remain closed and no travel will be allowed onto or out of the area.  Tough indeed.  Mr. Johnson says he doesn’t want a countrywide lockdown but that’s the way he seems to be moving, albeit piecemeal.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Mr. Andy Burnham, who had been the Secretary of State for Health about a decade ago, was and perhaps still is holding out for more cash from central government.  But if I heard him correctly on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, he seemed to be saying that there was no need for Manchester to be downgraded to “Tier Three” as Intensive Care wards in hospitals were not overcrowded and the increase in the number new cases was related to the return of students the universities, most of whom, should they contract the virus will hardly need hospital treatment.  However, Messrs. Johnson & Gove seemed to disagree but if they want that Greater Manchester be locked down, Mr. Burnham wants better compensation for lower paid workers.  (I had lunch with Mr. Gove once and he seemed a decent chap but now I’m not so sure.)  Anyway, as Tuesday progressed, Mr. Johnson used his prime ministerial prerogative and placed Manchester where he wanted it to be.

Israel has slowly started to emerge from its second lockdown, with kindergartens and creches opening and Grades 1-4 following, hopefully, in a fortnight.  The Prime Minister, as is his wont, has been patting himself on his shoulders for the success of the second lockdown, at least as compared with the earlier one.  Of course, the fact that he was responsible for overseeing the emergence from the first lockdown seems to have been forgotten and he has taken to blaming the Opposition for not doing enough to support the government in its current effort.  The fact that the “Independent sector” of he educational system (the Strictly Orthodox) opened their schools and study seminaries in contradiction to the rules laid down by the government and the Ministry of Health seems not to be on his mind. It’s actually scandalous.  It’s beginning to look like the Prime Minister’s shine has been badly tarnished this time and that the shots are being called by a 92-year old rabbi who is ill with COVID-19, deaf, and needs nursing care rather than the 70-year old Prime Minister for whom there is no alternative.  What a mess!

Enough!  Time for some photographs.

The Northern Line at Leicester Square Station at 10.20 a.m.

I eventually managed to get out and about, taking myself to the Tate Modern, a space that always amazes me, to see one of their current exhibitions, pictures by Andy Warhol.  I had asked a friend the pervious week what was the best way to get out and about in London during these times in which, as Seán O’Casey’s Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock put it, “The world is in a terrible state of chassis”.  I had been using the rental company Uber for short trips but she told me that the buses are OK and that the Underground, if I were to travel outside of “rush hour”, would be fairly empty.  And so it turned out to be.  The train at 10 a.m. was sparsely populated with a group of masked passengers, some of them gloved, and by the time we had reached Leicester Square at 10.20, usually a fairly busy station even at that time, three or four passengers got off and none got on, so I decided I’d better take the photograph.  I was in two minds as to whether to request the one remaining passenger besides myself if she wouldn’t mind alighting at the next station so that I could make it a more dramatic picture but then I thought that that might be somehow misinterpreted so I left things as they were.

The Warhol exhibition at the Tate Modern was, to my uncultured mind, a disappointment.  But then, I suppose it was always going to be like that because how many cans of Campbell’s soup, Marilyn Monroes and Elvis Presleys can you see when you’ve seen them all before?

Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol (via SW)

But I’m always in awe of space at the Tate Modern, the Turbine Hall of what had been in the Bankside Power Station, providing space for the sorts of things that really don’t fit anywhere else.

As it was a nice day, after the Tate, I decided to walk past St. Paul’s Cathedral, along Ludgate Hill to The Strand and Aldwych, familiar from a sabbatical stay at LSE 35 years ago where I caught the 168 bus home.  The walk had started at the Tate and then across the Millennium Bridge to the cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge (formerly the Wobbly Bridge — until it was fixed). October 2020

My second venture to something “cultural” was an early morning visit to the National Gallery on Monday, which featured an exhibition of works by Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter of the early 17th century, now considered one of the most accomplished artists of her time, initially working in the style of Caravaggio. Many of her paintings feature women from myths, allegories, and the Bible, including victims, suicides, and warriors.  They’re subjects that we’ve all become familiar with but in her paintings, painted from a woman’s point of view, they are nothing short of stunning (and most of the canvasses are large), and many of them pretty gory, too.

There are several self-portraits that I couldn’t take my eyes off…

 

Artemisia as a lute player

… and there was one, in particular, Judith and her Maindservant from 1625, on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts, in which the lighting was so stupendous that I just stood and stared at it for several minutes before moving on.  But this being Coronatimes, when I asked if I could back into the room in which it hung (two rooms back) to view it again, I was informed that because the gallery was operating a one-way system and that viewers/visitors were admitted in quarter-hour slots, if I wanted to see it again, I would have to exit and rejoin the line of others who wished to view the paintings a second time.  Fifteen minutes later, I was back in and it was worth it!

 

Judith and her Maidservant. The National Gallery Exhibition, October 2020

Exiting the gallery and making my way towards Haymarket, I passed a building (below) that I’d never noticed before.  I waited and waited but Borat never appeared!

Waiting for Borat. Pall Mall East

Walking along Regent Street and Oxford Street was an eye-opener.  Many shops closed, including cafés; several boarded up and not looking as if they’re about re-open soon.  The streets themselves if not exactly bereft of people were pretty empty.  Oxford Street at midday, even on a Monday in October, usually involves a shuffle because of the density of the pedestrians; this time around, the shuffle was caused because of the shuffler’s age.

HMV, Oxford Street. Once a magnet for me. Now the voice has been silenced, not just hoarse! October 2020

Walking around the neighbourhood and surrounding areas, it’s possible to feel the effects of Coronavirus, lockdowns and other restrictions.  Its affects almost everybody and everything.

This sunflower is feeling the worse for wear after a difficult past few months.

Nevertheless, the trees on Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill and everywhere close by seem to be doing their “autumn thing”.

Autumn colours, Primrose Hill. NW3 (2) —  October 2020    

 And while doing some local shopping and waiting for a bus, just as I was about to board it, phone and shopping bag in hand, I managed to photograph this advertisement on the side of the bus stop.  I thought I’d seen some interesting signs over the years but this one (the quality of the picture is somewhat lacking) made me laugh out loud.  (I don’t know what the bus driver thought of me!).  And I have arthritis in my thumbs!

I sent the picture to a friend in the USA who is familiar with London and within five minutes he responded with: “Don’t you know the “Shit London” picture books?” and I had to admit that I didn’t.  So, off to check on Amazon, which resulted in yet another purchase!  In addition to being two books, “Shit London” is also a Facebook group, described by its founder as containing “photographs of the unintentional human comedy that surrounds us in the city. It’s the flotsam and jetsam of city life, the overlooked minutiae, the tragic, the grotesque, and the basest of base. It’s the adapted posters, the dirty joke on the back of a van, the misspelled signs, the glory hole in the public loo, that weird shop down the end of your road, and the knob graffiti strategically placed for maximum effect”.

Watching TV the other say, I came across an interview with the actress (or, as you’re supposed to say these days, the actor) Maureen Lipman.  Asked by the interviewer, Mark Lawson, about “being single again after a happy marriage”, i.e. about how she felt after the death of her husband, Jack Rosenthal, she responded with:  “Being a widow, you are a refugee in a strange country where you don’t know the rules.  People tell you how to … Oh, you’ll be angry for three months and then you be depressed for four … oh, you know … it’s balderdash … you will be as you are.”.  Well three months have passed by already and to my mind, Maureen’s description is about right.  I can’t believe where the time has gone.  It seems both like only yesterday and also a long time ago simultaneously.  But “you will be as you are” seems to be more or less it.

As an extra, I’ve included the Introduction to a “memory book” that I’ve been writing on and off for the past 10 months.  It’s more or less complete except for a final proofreading.  I suppose that as I wrote it mainly for myself and my children and grandchildren, I can’t really imagine that a commercial publisher would be interested in it and I don’t think I have the patience to do the rounds of publishers trying to find out.  I had thought of putting up an single chapter with each blog post over the next few months and I still might but on second thoughts, if you read this and feel like you’d like to read the whole lot, drop me a line and I’ll send you a PDF of what there is.

Book Introduction for Blog

 

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Lockdown, lockup, lock-in, lockout!

Lockdown, lockup, lock-in, lockout.

I’m really fed up watching the news. Covid, Covid, Covid; sometimes they use a more complete version of the name of the disease COVID-19; sometimes, they refer to coronavirus or to use its full name: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, SARS-coV-2.

The past week saw a lot of Donald Trump in and out of hospital, telling the American people that they’ve got it licked, that America has the best medicine and the best treatments in the world (a wonderfully sympathetic statement to make to American citizens who can’t afford even basic medical treatment), that he was leaving hospital and returning to the White House, which has a rather diminished staff of loyal devotees because of COVID-19, a place into which even several erstwhile supporters of the president hesitate or refuse to visit. The highlight of his week in and out of hospital was his appearance on the balcony of the White House where he scornfully ripped off his mask, stuffing it in his pocket, and then appeared to struggle for breath. By the end of the week, however, he had declared himself fit as a fiddle and ready again for the road to read his MAGA gospel to the unswerving, unwavering, adulatory  adherents. Yippee!  Stay positive, Mr. President!

Then, addressing a virtual gathering at a virtual Conservative party conference which was not in Birmingham or Manchester but probably somewhere in London, a rather thinner and more haggard looking than usual British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told his (apparently now somewhat less than) faithful followers: “… I don’t know about you but I have had more than enough of this disease that attacks not only human beings but so many of the greatest things about our country—our pubs, our clubs, our football, our theatre and all the gossipy gregariousness, our love of human contact that drives the creativity of our economy”.  It’s well worth noting the order of things important to the Brits as expressed by Boris: (a) pubs, (b) clubs, (c) football, &c. Local government leaders are unhappy that they have not been consulted or informed about decisions made regarding the parts of the country for which they are responsible and lots of people seem to think that they are being picked upon as further restrictions on activities and movement are due to be announced.

Meanwhile, I try to keep up with what’s happening in Israel by listening to five or six minutes of news in the morning. There the problem is not pubs and clubs and football but how to keep people from annoying the Prime Minister by demonstrating outside his front doors in Jerusalem and Caesarea. The way he attempted to effect this was by calling a lockdown throughout the whole country from the day after I left Israel three weeks ago and which is still in place. Movement of people is restricted to a distance of 1 km from their houses and a further attempt was made to restrict the distance to 200 m but failed. But all this political manoeuvring managed to do was to disperse the demonstrations against the Prime Minister from two or three major locations to almost every bridge and major junction throughout the whole country. In other words the demonstrations became localised and recruited many more people than had demonstrated before, thereby having the opposite effect to that which the Crime Minister and his dogsbodies had wanted.

At a local anti-Bibi demo, Ramat Aviv

I’ve been in London for just over three weeks now, the first two weeks of which was spent in self-isolation, which I can’t honestly say I enjoyed. In theory, I could have gone out on Friday 10 days ago when self-isolation ended but Friday and the following two days were days during which London received the average precipitation that falls during the whole of October so my release was delayed until Monday.

Succot, Day 1. London. Wet

Finally, I was able to emerge from quarantine and as is my wont when I eventually get to this part of the world, I walk around to Primrose Hill.  Mind you, it was still wet the morning after the rain ceased!

Still rather wet!  October 5, 2020

 

Primrose Hill, first outing 

The first week of quarantine was pretty miserable and although the weather was fine, I didn’t reckon that it was worth the risk of a fine of £1,000 should someone from UK Immigration bother to check up on me. (Friends who had returned from France a few weeks earlier had been contacted twice during their period of quarantine.)  It wasn’t altogether complete isolation.  I saw the grandchildren and their parents twice — in the garden behind the house, and Dov’s in-laws once, in the covered car park while a sheet of water came down from the heavens a couple of metres away.  I also saw my sister three times, twice outside and once when I convinced her that it was warmer in the living room.  And then there were the virtual conversations with family and friends—the conversations were real but there was a lack of face-to-face contact).

By the second week, I was getting used to things.  Anyway, there was “work” to be getting on with as I had planned to rewrite my memory book — Journeys of a journeyman geographer — (I suppose some people might call it a memoir although I think that that’s too grand a word to use for it.)  Anyway, that, at least the third draft has been completed except for final proofreading, although quite what I am going to do with this piece, I really have no idea.

Anyway, on Sunday. the sun came out again (in the morning, that was) and it was off for a walk around the perimeter of Primrose Hill again for a chat with my sister, who I’ve seen for just a couple of brief meetings since I arrived.

Primrose Hill in the autumn sun

Primrose Hill also presented us with its iconic vista over the City of London, Docklands and the West End …

… and by the time that the morrow dawned and the view was from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, not only had the angle changed but also the colours.

And one can’t help but notice the reminders to keep your distance all over the place — whether on buses to the Underground, in stations …

… and even in the public loo at South End Green, although quite what I’m being instructed to do here was unclear to me.  Am I supposed to aim from a distance or not spray sideways!?  And anyway, I only have two feet, not six!

And while I was out, I came across some interesting things.  For instance, this new-fangled way of refuelling seems to have become more common in the seven months I’d been absent from the city…

… and Transport for London has gone artistic with its logo on at least one station.

… and while I’ve been away and the family has been locked down in Tel Aviv, they’ve been honing their artistic skills there, too.

Abstract. Shuli Waterman, October 2020

And while I’ve been quarantined (i.e. holed up), I’ve had an opportunity to do something that I hadn’t done much of for several months—read.    Strangely, the first three books I chose were one by a forensic anthropologist and one by a forensic pathologist, and sandwiched in between them, a novel Black Sun, based on a true story that dealt with the attempt to develop a hydrogen bomb in the USSR six decades ago, a plan that was aborted — or at least altered — because the scientist directing the project feared that the power of the bomb might be so great and the nuclear reaction it might generate so strong that it had the potential to obliterate the world as a whole.  It was actually a gripping novel.

Currently, I’m reading Andrew Marr’s latest book Elizabethans.  Andrew Marr, for those of you who are unaware, is a British journalist and a television and radio presenter, and a former newspaper editor; he is, to mind, one of the better journalists around and is certainly extremely well informed and writes very well.  The book is brilliant and highly informative and entertaining; it’s a living history of the modern UK tracing how radically Britain and Britons have transformed through Elizabeth II’s reign from 1952(!) through to today.  It tells the story through the people who shaped it, each chapter based on an individual or individuals, and including such luminaries as actress Diana Dors and her friend the murderer Ruth Ellis, the poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, singers Elvis Costello and Bob Geldof, architect Zaha Hadid and inventor James Dyson, naturalist (and much more) David Attenborough and the Beatles.

There are several informative and some very amusing anecdotes.  One, in particular caught my eye yesterday evening as I was about halfway through the book, in the chapter that dealt with the diminution in size and effectiveness of the British armed forces and which centres around the character of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband, who fought hard to maintain the strength of the Royal Navy. It was a quote attributed to Sir Gerald Templer, then the Chief of the Imperial General Staff who was reported to have said to Mountbatten: “Dickie, you’re so bloody crooked that if you swallowed a nail you’d shit a corkscrew”.  I laughed out loud and thought as I read it that is was something that could be applied to so many politicians, present and past (and probably future as well)!

 

And finally, one photograph that doesn’t belong to the last couple of weeks but which I took about ten years ago in Jaffa but which I came across while looking through the collection for something that I eventually found.

Wide-angle photography, Jaffa

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Glorious Isolation/Insulation

I needed a change of scenery. After the trauma of the past two months, I’d had enough of being alone in the flat in Tel Aviv in temperatures of well over 30º C and 80% relative humidity every day, hearing daily news about thousands of people demonstrating outside the Prime Minister’s residences in Jerusalem and Caeasarea and on almost every bridge over every highway in Israel calling for his resignation (some hope!) and reports of him referring to people with views like mine as leftists, anarchists, people who are simply out to destroy Israeli democracy.

Really?! Are we that loathsome and repulsive and dangerous? My gut reaction is that the name-callers should look at their reflections in their mirrors each morning and examine them carefully. Israel, after all is in lockdown and if I read correctly a short while ago, the Prime Minister has told the people that the lockdown will last for a at least a month and probably much longer than that.  The hospitals are nearing a critical point with 800 seriously ill hospitalised; around 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily the government, apparently, bears no responsibility for the situation that has developed.  It’s all because of the people, it seems and it’s the law-abiding people who appear to be at fault.  Talk about irresponsibility.  To quote the 16th President of the United States of America, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Time will tell.

At any rate, I’d had enough for the time being and initially booked a ticket to London with EasyJet for Friday September 25) so that I could spend Jewish New Year with my daughters and granddaughters in Tel Aviv and be there for Lily’s 8th birthday.  However, only two days after booking, I was informed by EasyJet that they had cancelled the flight. So it was back to the drawing board where I discovered that British Airways was still flying between Heathrow and Tel Aviv, so I booked for the same outward bound and return dates with BA only to be further informed the following day that they, too, had followed suit and cancelled Friday’s flight.

I was in a bit of a quandary as I really couldn’t make up my mind what to do. And then Shuli and Tami said to that I should I just go a week earlier than I’d planned. So, back to British Airways and I booked for the Thursday of the week before last. 

It wasn’t a particularly auspicious start to the trip. The taxi driver dropped me off at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv where, in 33°C of heat and 80 percent relative humidity, people were lining up outside the airport terminal in bright sunshine, so as sheep tend to do, I joined the queue.

After several minutes an overbearing female official approached me, shouting: “Have you signed a declaration stating that you are not suffering from COVID-19?”  (At no time during the previous two or three weeks did I receive any indication that I was supposed to do this although a British Airways representative, who sounded as if she was at home in Mumbai or Bangalore, had said to me that I did not need a Covid test before flying.) Apparently, the airport authorities were happy enough to take people at their word.

Still, filling in a form was part of a game that had to be played out so the same officious official directed me towards three other lines (still outside the building but thankfully in partial shade) at the top of each was located a computer that would enable me to declare Covidlessness, and consequently, purity. One machine was being operated by a woman ostensibly helping an older (I have to be careful when I use the word elderly) couple to complete their requirement but this seemed to be a never-ending process and it turned out after about a quarter of an hour that it was going nowhere. It was suggested that I and others move to another queue but it turned out that the other two computers weren’t operating at all so after a little while later, I was directed to enter the terminal building where a green wristband with six digits was affixed to my right wrist and I was informed that it must not be removed until after I had boarded the aircraft and that I was permitted to proceed to check-in.

Unlike the usual chaos inside the terminal building the place was virtually empty. I proceeded to the departure area where it turned out that there were lots of people travelling that day but they were dressed as if they didn’t seem to be going where I was going on the grounds that most of them were dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. The noticeboard indicated but most of them were off to Greece, one of the few countries to which is Israelis can travel without being quarantined there or on return.  Chaos ensued on boarding the plane — lots of people with young children and other disabilities were herded on to the plane first and then it was time board.

I thought I’d been clever in choosing my seat, a window seat in the last row of the plane.  My assumption was that there would be little social distancing on the aircraft and that that seat would be the least likely place for many people to pass by throughout the journey. It was a reasonable assumption and the night before the flight I checked to see if the pair of seats beside me were still unoccupied and at 8 p.m. on the previous evening, they had not been taken. However, it was a mistaken assumption on my part because two young women parked themselves on the empty seats beside me just after I had settled in, thinking that I would be the solitary occupant of the row.  

As far as I could ascertain, the plane was chockablock full .  Social distancing apparently is unheard-of on British Airways, its place taken by filling the aircraft and recouping fares. However, we were constantly reminded every few minutes or so that our masks had to cover both nose and mouth. Wearing a mask for 10½ hours on the trot is uncomfortable, to say the least. After just under five hours’ flying time, I was glad to depart the plane even though, sitting where I had been sitting,  I was the last passenger off. The saving grace was that as I entered at the baggage reclaim area, there it was, my case! I didn’t even have to wait to remove it from the carousel.  That had never happened before!

I imagined that some self-important immigration official would remind me that I was supposed to quarantine because prior to the trip I had had to fill out a lengthy online form from the British immigration authorities stating the address at which I would be residing for my first 14 days  and providing them all possible means of contacting me—telephone numbers and emails, and the details of someone whom they could contact if they failed to locate me (They may read this blog and perhaps have thought that I might have made for Primrose Hill to photograph trees and committed the unforgivable sin of not taking my phone with me.  But no such reminder was forthcoming. One was simply supposed to know that self-isolation was the done thing.

I arrived at the flat in London in double quick time. I think that the bemasked cab driver was none too happy about having to travel with another masked individual in his car — but how else could he make a living?  At any rate, we was silent throughout the journey.  The trip from Heathrow Terminal 5 to apartment building took just under 40 minutes, which, I think, was a record time.

I had made an order from Ocado, an online grocery store, to deliver provisions the following morning, and at 07.00 on the dot, there he was, unloading several bags outside the door of the flat. That exercise took about the deliveryman about two minutes, followed by a further 40 minutes of me sorting things out and putting things away. 

When I eventually reawakened, I vaguely remembered something about self-isolation but, as I age, it’s obvious that my hearing has deteriorated somewhat so it seems that I had misheard what I had heard and jumped up.  Obviously, that is not what the people meant and after 24 hours I felt so uncomfortable up there on the shelf in between the books and really unable to do anything, that in the end, I jumped down and tried to organise myself in a different manner. And  the thing is that I felt so sheepish about the whole thing. (This is what tends to happen when one can’t go outside to take photographs!)

Shelf isolation. London September 2020

And after that little escapade, I then began my fortnight of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious quarantine.

As I write, I am now on Isolation Day #12; it’s passed more quickly that I had expected although I have acute sympathy for all those people who have been kept in solitary confinement as punishment or for those afraid to leave their homes and have been inside for the most part over the past half year because anything more than a further week like this would leave me mentally unsound — although I am aware that there are some people who believe that that critical point had already passed some time ago. 

As I wrote above, one of the problems about being incarcerated is that I can’t go outside with the camera to photograph.  As a consequence, I have to make do with what’s at hand, so I’ve been scouring the flat as well as looking out the windows to see and imagine what I can see or to see what I can imagine I can see.

After a few days, you begin to go bananas …

Going bananas

         And after a few more days of lock-up you become completely browned off!

Browned off!
The thing is that when you start feeling that you’re going crazy, you do crazy things.  In this case, I initially thought that this was a slice of wholewheat bread until I picked it up and discovered that it was a cork coaster — definitely not for consumption.

But as it was early in the morning and I wasn’t completely awake and unable to distinguish between the real and the unreal,  I pounced on something else that seemed to be freshly baked bread only to discover that it, too, wasn’t bread but no more than an inedible sponge.

Eventually, though, I managed to locate the bread that I had been looking for and that I knew was there.

Eventually, you begin to see faces wherever you look … though why this bun is smiling at me as it’s about to be consumed is beyond my ken.

However, in addition to such friendly faces as the soon- to-be-vanished bun, I see scowls in the living room …

… toothless grins of inanity and insanity in the bathroom … 

… just black and white in the kitchen … 

… and tilting the camera upwards, all sorts of other strange and wonderful things.
Directly outside the living room, there’s a large tree with bark on the trunk of which has always fascinated me …
… but when the same tree is viewed a different way, I can seem very weird indeed!

Meanwhile, I can stay in the living room and observe the wildlife in the garden from inside.

 

 

 

P.S.  If anyone notices that there is anything odd about the layout of this blog post, it’s because WordPress has changed the way in which I can compose and set up the post.  It takes some getting used to, so I suppose that learning it will give me something to do over the next few days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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London life

Screen Shot 2020-09-14 at 15.33.19

Self-portrait.  September 2020

This week, I have two stories that relate to my photo collection.  The first is a photo that I used when I posted to Facebook where some of the readers of this blog pick me up.  I didn’t use it in the post itself; it was just a “cover photo”  but it was a photo that got more “likes” than I usually get for things that I post.

Primrose Hill

It’s a picture of six trees near the southwestern corner of Primrose Hill, an extension of the Regent’s Park in London.  This particular photo was taken on a sunny morning in March of this year, the day before I returned to Israel on the last scheduled El Al passenger flight to leave Heathrow before the pandemic caused the cessation of flights by Israel’s national carrier.

I’m booked to return to London for a short visit in a few days’ time, apparently on the last scheduled flight to leave for Heathrow before a renewed lockdown in this part of the world.  In fact, I spent most of yesterday in what I can only describe as a state of high anxiety as in the morning it had been rumoured that the lockdown might start as early as Wednesday—the day after tomorrow, thereby leaving me stranded in the Holy Land.

My quandary was whether I would awake on Friday morning to start a month-long lockdown alone in a flat in the Promised Land, restricted to moving within a distance of  no more than 500m from home, or would I wake up alone in a flat in Belsize Park to begin a fortnight of quarantine there.

Two things emerged while I waited with some anxiety for a definitive answer one way or the other.  First, although such mundane matters as public health and the state of the economy are apparently on the minds of the politicians, it seems as if in political terms Israel is slowly approaching the Lebanese model whereby the politicians (whom I’ve said more than once represent nobody except themselves but I’m about to amend that) cater only to the narrow groups they purport to represent and to hell with the rest of them.  In other words, the Arab politicians, the ultra-Orthodox  Jewish lawmakers, the right-wing “modern religious” representatives, the secular legislators all look after the narrow interests of their followers but few of them tend to see the state of the forest because the the trees that they’re cultivating.

The second thing that struck me as I listened to three Israeli TV channels, occasionally switching to Sky or BBC to see what was happening elsewhere in the world, is that although the zigzagging of the politicians gives rise to confusion, the almost hysterical voices of the newsreaders, commentators, and pundits of various stripes only serve to amplify the bewilderment and pandemonium (no pun intended but the word chosen intentionally).

Finally, around 9 p.m., God’s chosen messenger (Bibi) broke ended the exasperation by informing us plebs that after many hours of intense discussion (and disagreements, apparently) that lockdown would start on Friday at 14,00 and end on October 11.  He then flew off to Washington to sign a Trump-brokered agreement with the United Arab Emirates and a declaration of something or other by the government of Bahrain.  His original plan was to fly in a private plane with wife and children, separated from the other members of the Israeli delegation, for fear that Israel’s Royal Family might contract Covid-19 from some more proletarian delegate,  However, this was scuppered in that it was generally agreed that this was a greed too many.

Primrose Hill

Anyway, to come back to the trees on Primrose Hill.  There’s something about them and  their association the hill that I find acutely attractive.  I think it’s got something to do with the curvature of the hill itself, which is somehow reflected in the curvature of the tree tops and, in this case, mimicked further by the cloud formation, all of which lends a particular elegance to the photo.

I’ve been photographing these trees on and off for several years now and on each trip to London, it’s almost the first thing I do.  It makes me realize that I’m there although this time, it looks as if I will have to wait a fortnight before that happens again.  Actually, I’m curious as to how they’ll look at the beginning of October because it’s a time of the year during which I’ve only been there once in 15 years.  The trees change their appearance with the tie of day, the weather and the seasons, among other things but not matter what, my eye is drawn to them over and again.

Primrose Hill xii.2018

Leafless on a sunny December day

Primrose Hill ii.2017

Leafless on a dull February day

Trees i.2017

Leafless in January

Primrose Hill xi.2015

Still leaved on a foggy November morning

Primrose Hill v.2017

In full leaf on a May morning

Primrose Hill vii.2017

In full leaf in July

Primrose Hill viii.2015

In August during a dry summer

Primrose Hill ix.2016

By September, colours are starting to change

Trees x.2015

… and by October, they have

Looking through the images on the computer, I see that London has provided me with some interesting pictures over the years.

I presume that the one below is there to check up on whether or not I will abide by the self-isolation rules and stay inside for the fortnight …

CCTV reinforcment i.2017

… whereas the one below might be borrowed by local authorities to be used instead of a total lockdown or after total lockdown has come to its end.

No Exit

Some years ago, I came across this [most sensible] sign in a public park in South London …

Dogs

… and then I came across someone sitting by the river near the South Bank Centre who had obviously seen the same, or a similar, sign.

Dog 08.2014

Thinking about the United Kingdom and its problems in these troubled times, one is confronted with the spectre of Brexit and of a recalcitrant Prime Minister who seems intent on breaking international law to “benefit the country” in its negotiations with the EU or to further relegate the UK in the league of nations.

Brexiteers 08 2013

Brexiteers with swords at the ready to defend the motherland for Boris

And the third line of the sign below seems to indicate, this appears to be the Prime Minister’s way of thinking.  Mine is indicated by the upper two lines.

Bollocks viii:2018

Be vigilant

 

One of the plusses of being in an English-speaking country is that I don’t have to translate all the time and my eye is attracted to interesting words I come across almost immediately, words which raise questions as soon as I read them.

So please knock! v.2017

So what should I do?  Just knock?

People endow benches and what they write sometimes makes you stop and think, like this sign affixed to a bench on Primrose Hill.

Signage, Primrose Hill viii. 2015

And we are reminded of climate change and its consequences in many different ways.

Regent's Canal 8.2016

The greening of England.  The Regent’s Canal, London,  August 2016.

And like the trees on Primrose Hill, these windows on Boots Chemists on Oxford Street change with the light, the time of day, the seasons yet are always eye-catching — although you have to remember to look up in order to see them.

Boots windows i.2017

And parallel to Oxford Street, on 23 and 25 Brook Street are two blue plaques that remind us that music is forever — even if the musicians lived 200 years apart!

Music lives forever 2.2017

Finally, London can be very interesting for most people—but if you’re a dog driving around in a van then life can be quite humdrum.

Lockdown ii.2012 1

It’s a dog’s life!

And for those of you to whom it applies, have a great new year 5781.  One would sincerely hope that it has to be a better one than the one just coming to an end.  And to those of you to whom it doesn’t apply. take care of yourselves and by doing that, you’ll be taking care of everyone else as well.

Robin viii. 2015

On Hampstead Heath

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A long hot summer

I was really going to try and make this post free of anything that could be contrived as being a political statement (and in this day and age, that requires some real effort) but events a few nights ago in the neighbourhood have prevented me from so doing.

Vogelman

I had just settled down to watch a recording from the previous evening of the first live concert from the 2020 BBC Proms (performed in a Royal Albert Hall free of an audience, of course) when an almighty din erupted from the street—shouting, screaming, police sirens, and more.  I paused the video and went over to the living room window to discover what was happening. However, other than seeing some of my neighbours with phones attempting to record what was going on, I was not much the wiser.  I could hear police sirens and the street had been blocked and there were voices uttering profanities into a microphone and loudspeakers blaring them out for all and sundry to hear.  Then I noticed several members of the Israel police take up positions close to the house directly opposite.  In retrospect, a police motorcycle had been parked there for an hour or so before but I didn’t put 2 and 2 together.

And then it suddenly dawned on me what must be going on.  One of my neighbours who lives in the house directly opposite, Uzi Vogelman, happens to be one of the 15 justices of Israel’s Supreme Court. A couple of months ago, three people, including a prominent anti-migrant activist, had been detained briefly on suspicion of spray-painting slogans against the Supreme Court outside the home of Chief Justice, the sprayed graffiti reading  “You’ve buried Zionism,” and  “The Supreme Court has destroyed south Tel Aviv.”

Sheffi Paz, an anti-migrant activist, has been campaigning for years against the housing of African migrants, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, in her south Tel Aviv neighbourhood.  In addition to having been arrested for that disturbance, she admitted that she had plastered stickers with the slogan “Jewish blood isn’t cheap” in and around the mailbox of Mr. Vogelman, an act that prompted him to file a complaint with the police. The slogan,  “Jewish blood isn’t cheap” is commonly used by right-wing activists and was an apparent reference to a recent case in which Vogelman, who holds, it seems, liberal views, was part of a court panel that had rejected the demolition of the home of a Palestinian suspect in the killing of yeshiva student in the West Bank last year. Paz’s stickers, marked with reminders of her organization, the “South Tel Aviv Liberation Front”, apparently referred to Supreme Court rulings that had prevented the government from removing migrants from the neighborhood where local residents claim they are a source of violent crime, including rape (although a recent incident of gang rape in a hotel in the southern resort city of Eilat suggests that you don’e have to be black or living in south Tel Aviv to perpetrate rape!)

Uzi Vogelman was one of the judges involved in these rulings, which prompted Paz to say that “We have a lengthy history involving Uzi Vogelman.  It took me some time to find his address, otherwise I would have done it long ago.”  Whereas the almost automatic revanchist reaction of Israel’s right-wing government towards solving the migrant problem was to threaten the migrants with repatriation or just expulsion, the Supreme Court prevented this by stating that a solution must be found that is in line with international norms . 

Immediately following this threatening act against Mr. Vogelman, there’s been a discreet police presence in our neighbourhood, and this became apparent and not so discreet at the first hint of trouble the other night.  I don’t know how many people were involved  in the demo but it was very, very noisy.  However, I can only imagine that there were far fewer people than those who appear close to the Prime Minister’s residences most evenings in Jerusalem and Caesarea, so I imagine what Mr. Netanyahu and his family members must be going through nightly.  My heart bleeds for them and long may it last—but it’s a shame that their unfortunate neighbours have to suffer, too.

The following morning, the footpaths and car windscreens were littered with the poster that appears above and it transpires that the demo was organized by an Israeli NGO, Im Tirtzu, whose stated mission is “to renew Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking and Zionist ideology to ensure the future of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel.”  Whereas some people maintain that Im Tirtzu is an important Zionist movement, there are others who believe that it bears similarities to fascist groups.  Whatever the case, Im Tirtzu has  wide support within the Israeli government, which suggests the latter view is closer to the truth.  Just before the demonstration and the noise faded away about 10.30 p.m., the chant taken up by the mob was “Vogelman is corrupt”, which was repeated over and again.  Given that the Prime Minister of Israel is on trial in three separate cases involving corruption, that he has taken to slandering the judicial system in general, is taking aim at the Supreme Court in particular, and that the government supports Im Tirtzu, one begins to wonder …

*********************

It’s been a long hot summer and there’s still more of it to run.  The flowers outside the house are showing the effects of dehydration, it seems …

Long hot summer

… as does the house below a couple of streets away.  It’s been blistering for a few years already but recently, it seems to have taken a turn for the worse and looks like it needs more than a little work on it!

Paint - 1

************

Out walking in the park one day last week, I took this photograph of parakeets in flight and posted it to Facebook because I thought it was a nice picture.

Green green

I received some “likes” and comment but nobody asked how I managed to catch them all in flight.  A little more astuteness might have provided the answer for it appears as if all the little green birdies are flying in the same direction, away from the photographer with his camera.  And that’s because I had espied these winged creatures happily pecking away between the blades of grass as if nothing untoward might happen to them.  But that didn’t make a particularly dynamic picture and then while I had the camera in hand and the focus more or less right, I decided to shout “Boo!” and four seconds later, the result that is the upper picture of the two was taken.  A little cruel on my part, perhaps, but worth it nevertheless.

Green green 1

Walking home yesterday morning, I found myself walking behind a semi-masked man and his poodle.  There were two things about them that drew me to this picture.  One was the stark contrast between the man with his shaven head and his immaculately coiffured canine.  The other thought that passed through the addled mind of a confirmed cynic was that this picture could easily symbolize the Israeli (or British) Prime Ministers in the company of any one of their ministers.  The faux seriousness of the owner and the friskiness and willingness to obey of the faithful canine? Might I not be correct?

Poodle - 1

 

************

And then one day last week I found myself going through my collections of 42,000+ photos in a futile search for two that I was sure I had taken a couple of years ago but apparently hadn’t.  (You must understand that, like everything else in my possession — papers of various kinds, books, CDs and the like—I start to classify and then usually come the conclusion sorting and filing are absolutely mind-numbing tasks.  The end result is usually partial classification so that whereas I did find several photos taken around the time that I had thought I had taken the ones I was looking for, I didn’t find what I was looking for, probably because I had taken them and then junked them when I reckoned they weren’t up to scratch.

Anyway, what transpired was that I was forced to look at lots of images that I hadn’t seen for a long time and I present some of them here.  The first one resulted, coincidentally, from a question posed by my almost 8-year old granddaughter, Lily, a couple of weeks ago.  She wanted to know if a tuna is a larger fish than a salmon; after all, they both come out of tins that are more or less the same size but as she’s seen a side of salmon, she understood that people must do something to it to get it — and the tuna — into something as small as a tin.

Fortunately, I spent three days just over eight years ago in the fish market in Syracuse, Sicily.  Whereas on the first day, the whole fish was hanging by a hook, the picture below shows the work as it progressed on the second day, on which the fish butcher has not yet got to the stage of cutting steaks, which only occurred on the third day.  So Lily was able to appreciate that a tuna is, indeed, a larger fish than a salmon!

Tuna 1

Then, while going through the photographs, my eye was drawn to this one below so I stopped and looked.  In truth, I couldn’t remember taking it and couldn’t figure out what sort of animal this was …

Biscuits 1

… until I looked at some adjoining pictures and discovered that it was nothing more than a biscuit with eyes and that I’d played around with it!

Biscuits 2

Biscuits

And while looking though the pictures, I realized that I haven’t hung any new pictures on the walls of the flat for several years now as a result of which I’ve ordered four prints for the living room and the bedroom.

The first is “Puppy”, an installation by Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  Puppy comprises flowers that grow in an unequal and anarchic way and how s/he appears changes with the seasons and the flowering of the plants of which it is comprised.  This is Puppy as s/he appeared in mid-May 2015.

Koons' puppy

And on that same visit to Bilbao one could not but take a photograph of the Museum itself, designed by Frank Gehry as a ship, in recognition of Bilbao’s history as a port.  Although most photographs are taken from the side of the museum which faces the street, the guidebook told me that the best view was from the other side of the river.  So I crossed to the other side and on the way back, I realized that the best view was actually from the bridge that straddles the river (and which, incidentally, was a physical impediment in the planning of the whole Guggenheim project.)  I just thought that the office block behind the museum, which provided the “funnel” to Gehry’s “ship”, made it into a much better picture that it otherwise would have been.

Gehry's ship 1

The third picture that I ordered was of a sculpture of an “iron baby” by Antony Gormley in the forecourt of the Royal Academy of Arts last December.  I almost missed it, it was so small there, lying on the ground.  The most amazing thing about it was that so many people seemed to treat it as if it was a real baby and were on their hands and knees to stroke it and pet it.  Maybe they thought it was cold; after all, it was December.

Gormley Baby

Finally,  I decided to print a picture I took a couple of years ago on Hampstead Heath in London.  As I walked towards the tree, I was fascinated by the spread of the bare branches so I took several pictures.  However, the colours of the original seemed a little too dull to warrant printing or even posting.  So I decided to spruce the tree up a little (no pun intended; it isn’t that kind of tree) and this is what resulted and it will occupy some blank wall space in the living room.

Heath tree

Finally, just around the corner, there’s a house where one of the residents cut through a tree in order to create sufficient width to park his/her car.  I thought it was worth a picture!

Cut tree

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Monkey Business and all that!

Monkey business

Monkey Business.  Yarqon Park, August 2020

I begin this post on a Sunday afternoon.  I will probably complete it later in the week if and when the Knesset decides whether it should dissolve itself automatically or just hang in there until the next “crisis” is artificially concocted by our so-called elected “representatives”.

The current predicament has been produced by the fact that if a budget is not approved by tomorrow (Monday) at midnight, the Knesset automatically dissolves, presaging new elections.  How has such a situation come about?  After all, a coalition agreement had been signed just a few months ago, following the last election in March (the third in 11 months), and which stated categorically that the budget would be two-year budget, something that the current Prime Minister has pushed for and supported for the past decade or more.

However, suddenly, it seems, he’s changed his mind.  What ever could have brought about such an aberration?  The largest party in the coalition (after Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud) is Blue-White, which is led (sort of) by Mr. Gantz, signed a coalition agreement and is insisting that the agreement it signed (somewhat naïvely, it would seem now, in good faith???) must be upheld; the Prime Minister’s party is equally adamant that if the Knesset refuses to pass a one-year budget, so be it.  On the basis of past “zero hours” in Israeli politics, the likelihood is that about 11.45 p.m. on Monday night, some temporary solution will be found and the crisis will be transmogrified from being acute to one that is ongoing, i.e., until the cycle of lying is has been completed and the scenario repeats itself in a few weeks time.

Could all this somehow be related to the fact that the agreement also contains a clause in which the current Prime Minister (Mr. Netanyahu) and the “alternate” Prime Minister, (Mr. Gantz), agreed to swap jobs a year and half into the life of the current parliament and that once he ceases to be Prime Minister and becomes another minister, however exalted and experienced he may be, he will by law have to resign from the government and thus the last glimmer of hope that he might escape justice by avoiding a trial might be extinguished?  Well, on the basis of past events related to Bibi, perhaps so.

Much of all this nonsense is related to the Israeli electoral system.  I might have mentioned in an earlier post that, cynic as I am, I believe that the vast majority of the 120 Knesset members represent nobody but themselves, least of all the voters, people the likes of which they never have to face on a personal level.

It used to be asked of the late Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli Prime Minister, how one could tell when he was lying, the answer being, of course, “as soon as his mouth was open”.  With the current Prime Minister and Prime Ministerial wannabes during Coronatimes,  now that they all wear masks, it has become more difficult to determine when the untruths begin.

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 12.09.55

This is because the electoral system Israel uses continues that employed by the voluntary institutions of the Jewish community under the British Mandate in Palestine in which the extreme proportional system of representation served as a guarantee of cooperation between different political parties. Parties taking part in those voluntary general elections, held before the establishment of the state, were rewarded after each election by receiving a share of the resources (such as British governmental immigration certificates), approximating to the proportion of the valid votes they received so that even some small dogmatic parties cooperated with one another of their own volition.

The roots of the Israeli electoral system, like many other aspects of Israeli society, go back to Central and Eastern Europe in the early years of the twentieth century when the political traditions stressed an “effervescence” of many parties with a broad range among them, stretching from communism to fascism and everything in between. The politics of the Jewish community in British Mandate Palestine, following the tradition of the early Zionist movement reflected this pluralism.

So in order to ensure that all opinions, including minority ones, would be guaranteed expression, representative bodies were elected under a proportional system in which each party had a number of representatives in exact proportion to the number of votes cast for that party so that even parties garnering as little as 1 percent of the total votes would have a voice. This was adopted when Israel gained independence and so it has continued, with just minor changes so that today’s Knesset reflects the heterogeneous population and a multi-party tradition and the only thing that has really changed is that the very low threshold for representation (1%) has risen (to 3.33%).

The “list system” used by Israel is shared with the Netherlands and perhaps some other countries of which I am only vaguely aware.  In other words, when we vote, we do not vote for a candidate representing a party but for a party alone.  If the people on the party list owe allegiance to anybody, then it’s to the paid-up party members who “decide” if they get on to the list in the first place and if so, where they end up on that list.  But unlike the Dutch, we don’t even have the privilege of “promoting” or “demoting” candidates on the list we choose.  It’s a take it or leave it situation — which means that elected members never have to come face to face with the voters at large, something which contributes to the fluidity that comes into being as soon as an election is over, with people switching allegiances as soon as they’re rid of the voters.  This is about as far away as one can get from what the electorate in the USA or the UK are familiar with.

Not that any electoral system is perfect.  Even Boris Johnson’s landslide victory in the UK last December, in which the Conservatives won 56% of the seats, was achieved with less than 44% of the popular vote.  In the USA, despite Donald Trump’s claims otherwise, Hillary Clinton won 48% of the popular vote to Trump’s 46%.  But in both the UK and USA, elected members of parliament or Congress have to go back and face their voters whereas in Israel, voters and their “elected representatives” are that much further removed from one another.

Add to this the fact that Israel has no such thing as postal voting or an absentee ballot — one can only vote in person at the polling booth designated by the address that appears in one’s ID card and the lunacy of calling a fourth election just a few months after the last one, in the midst of coronavirus restrictions seems even madder than it might otherwise appear.  And, as I’ve already mentioned, I believe that the vast majority of  Knesset members really represent nobody but themselves, the voters being little more than irritating appendages.

Anyway, it’s now Tuesday morning, a couple of days after I started this post and it would appear that I was a little out in my estimate of timing because two hours before the deadline the Knesset approved legislation that would extend it the day by which the budget is to be passed by 120 days.  The Prime Minister had appeared on television on  Sunday night to announce that he was ready to compromise (a performance that I didn’t  bother to watch, preferring the highlights of the cricket match between England and Pakistan, something more exciting and less predictable than another Bibi show).  The televised discussion of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday afternoon had all the value of a circus show with a superabundance of clowns in action.

And the Prime Minister’s words yesterday evening that this is a time for unity and not one for sowing hatred wouldn’t even make it on to a list of the thousand worst jokes told in the last year.  Currently reading Julian Jackson’s book A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle, I came across a sentence that might be appropriate here.  It refers to the extreme-right-wing writer Charles Maurras, whose newspaper Action française was dedicated to opposing France’s parliamentary Republic.  ‘He created for himself a world into which his deafness had imprisoned him. Perhaps that is an explanation for the final aberrations of this solitary individual, who was cut off from the world and because of this became unhinged.’

Enough!  Quite some rant!

Wow!

Wow!  That was quite a rant, wasn’t it?

Hi, there, Kohlrabi

Tel Aviv Municipality has taken to reminding people how they can break the chain of infection — wear a mask, maintain a distance from others of at least 2 metres and be diligent to maintain hygiene, all accompanied by the slogan “The return to normality is in your hands”.

Masks, please

But not everyone is in agreement that masks help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.  The label at the bottom of the picture below taken in the Yarqon Park the other day informs us that masks do no more than defraud the public.

Public fraud

And not far away the birds enjoy their hebdomadary Sunday feast day before the spoilsport cleaner outs an end to it all!

Sunday morning

Avian Feast Day (Sunday in the Park without George)

 

So they might as well vent their anger on parked cars!

Park under a tree, summer in T-A

 

On my way home from my morning walk, I found the footpaths littered with yellow notices.  Curious as to what they might be, I decided to have a look and discovered that for 100 shekels (about $28 or £23) I can be 2 grams of marijuana.  However, I have to be over 18 and must order via WhatsApp.  Delivery is apparently free.

Grass for saleGrass for sale 1

After use, you might need to use one of these!

Defibrillation

And just after I took this photograph of these vehicles of mass annoyance, which, once used, can be (and are) dumped anywhere being returned to their “official” parking places …

Scooter collection

… I espied the latest in summer maternity wear walking along the opposite side of the street.

Maternity wear, summer in T-A

And one day last week I strayed and crossed the Ayalon “river”.  The valley of the Ayalon was mentioned in the Book of Joshua where Joshua defeated five Amorite kings, asking the Lord to lengthen the day by uttering the command: “Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon”.   God seemingly acceded to this request.   These days, the Ayalon is a more mundane thing, with the northbound freeway on the left, the southbound on the right, the railway in the middle and the piddly little Ayalon alongside.

Ayalon

And I couldn’t resist taking this tempting photo in the park of a man awaiting his fate!

Awaiting one's fate

I do not know what fate awaits me

 

And to end with, three images I came across yesterday while looking for something I thought I had photographed but, as usual, I couldn’t find.

 

Pigeons

Let’s stick together.  Belsize Park, October 2011

Hanging in there

Like everyone else, just hanging on in there.  South Bank, London.  August 2015

Nelson

Guess Who’s Looking at You?  Trafalgar Square, March 2014

I love V

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A new normal

Since the arrival of the novel Coronavirus over half a year ago, people have been talking about adjusting to a “new normal” although quite what they mean by a “new normal”, what it will be like and when it will begin to function is anyone’s guess.  Maybe it will start before the end of 2020 or maybe it will be with us until the next decade.  Who knows?

Meanwhile, for me, the term “new normal” has taken a particularly personal twist.  It’s hard to believe that it’s already almost four weeks since I’ve had to come to terms with the concept that I’ll be living alone for the foreseeable future.  Most of the time, I try to get on with things — which means that I try to keep myself occupied, whether it’s exercising or reading or watching TV or writing this blog.  But every now and then my mind slips or someone calls me or writes to me, saying something that causes me to remember things as they were and not as they are or will be.  And when that happens, I think of that beautiful melody composed by Charlie Chaplin as an instrumental theme for the soundtrack of his 1936 film Modern Times on which a song, Smile, (sung here by Nat King Cole to lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons) was based, and after a few tears, I smile and things brighten up again.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just
Smile

************

The day before yesterday (Monday), it rained in Tel Aviv.

 

Rain in August

Rain in August in the part of the world is so unusual that it warranted a photograph even though what fell in my part of North Tel Aviv was but a few drops.  However, I am reliably informed that 3 km north of where I live, they thought that winter was already on its way (no hope of that being the case—maybe in two or three months) as the heavens really opened with a proper shower.

However, during summer months in Tel Aviv, most of the time the damp comes seeping through from the inside out — even before 07.00 hrs.

07.20 T-A, August

Wet Walker, Yarqon Park. T-A. August 2020

Shoes

Hot enough for shoes!

Others are more relaxed about the heat and the humidity.

8 a.m., Just arrived

Just arrived.  Cigarette still alight at 07.55, Yarqon Park, T-A

Just arrived. Good morning!

Just arrived.  Too tired for a fag at 07.55.  Dizengoff Street, T-A

Everyone to his own

Everyone finds his own comfort zone. 07.30, Yarqon Park, T-A

Exercising?

At first glance, I thought he was exercising. 07.20, Yarqon Park, T-A

Meantime, one topic outweighs all others when you tune in to radio or television or read the newspapers to find out what’s going on — Corona, Corona, Corona.  And in these Corona times, new forms of litter that we hadn’t been familiar with before turn up.

Corona garbage

In fact, masks are everywhere.

Masked men

Even our hydrants are wearing them these days.

Hydra mask

And there are some people who don’t seem to be able to get enough of them!

Masking the truth

Mask, face guard, scarf, gloves, sox and boots — and 30+ºC!

 

I even came across the man finally (after several months without one) tasked with steering Israel through the coronavirus crisis, Ronni Gamzu, (the so-called Corona Czar) in the park on Saturday morning, taking a break from his run to answer what I presume was a Corona-related call on his phone.  As he ran past me a few minutes later, I noticed that he was maskenfrei, which I thought a little odd as I’d only seen him on TV a couple of days earlier explaining to the population at large why it was necessary to enshroud one’s face.  But it was explained to me later by someone who takes an interest in these things that when running, masks are not required.

Gamzu

Why a mask is not a requisite when jogging but is necessary when walking is yet another of the less than logical mysteries of these Corona times.  However, it is not as big a mystery as explaining how, when interior gatherings are [supposedly] restricted to 10 or 20 people, thousands of guests, many of them without masks and many of them failing to observe anything resembling social distancing attended a wedding in the central study hall of the Belz Hasidic community in Jerusalem last week, blatantly violating the ban on gatherings imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.  Though the police apparently turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the contravention at the time, it was later reported that they had decided to open a criminal investigation into the proceedings. 

The Mayor of Jerusalem reportedly accused critics of the shenani-gangs who attended the wedding shenanigans of hypocrisy, stating that mass demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s residence have not been met with similar condemnation.  But then, why should they?  Social distancing and masking have been observed to a large extent at these demonstrations, which are an essential part of living in a democracy.  Perhaps His Honour, the mayor, was unfamiliar with the fact that demonstrations against the Prime Minister and his alleged corruption have been taking place all over the country and for several weeks now—and not just outside the Prime Minister’s residence. 

Moreover, the demonstrators are not “leftists” or “anarchists”, whatever these terms are supposed to mean beyond disagreeing with or disapproving of the man himself and his policies. Nor are they “aliens” (a turn of phrase used by the unemployed 29-year old Mr. Netanyahu junior, the Prime Minister’s self-appointed (or mom-appointed?) friend in need) but mostly by people who have been out of work for half a year with little or no compensation from government, while the Knesset passed a law awarding Mr. Netanyahu over a quarter million dollars retroactively for renovations to his private home in Caesarea—and this is a man whose net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine last year at approximately $14 million!  “Bad timing”, he was reported to have said at the time. Perhaps the demonstrators feel that the politicians are just playing games and lining their own pockets, and they’d be right.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 16.30.02

Three-quarters of the Carmel String Quartet among thousands of non-alien demonstrators outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, Jerusalem,  11/viii/2020. (Photo: Maxim Reider)

And although the picture below is what I see when I look out of my living room each morning and I know that it’s a poster than calls for a demand for an inquiry into alleged corrupt practices, I don’t like to be constantly reminded visually through an image of the man who is manhandling the country and its institutions in order to keep himself out of prison.

Corruption

And while on this loathsome subject, I will repeat what I wrote in a post at the start of 2020.  When Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor as Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, had been indicted on counts of obtaining by fraud under aggravating circumstances, fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion, the then Leader of the Opposition, a man by the name Binyamin Netanyahu, said in a live television interview that he believed that he (Olmert) should resign, making it very clear that he thought that in such a situation, the Prime Minister had no moral mandate to continue serving in office. He said: “We are dealing with a prime minister who is up to his neck in criminal cases”For good measure, he added that Olmert would be “so preoccupied with the investigations against him that he had to withdraw because the weight of the criminal prosecution hanging above him might influence him not to make decisions that are in the best interest of the nation and that he might place his own personal considerations above those of the nation!” 

Well, well well!  How the time and the same man have changed!  And today (Wednesday), there was a debate in the Knesset over whether there should be legislation to prevent a person indicted on criminal offences from being allowed to form a government.  The main coalition partner led by Mr. Gantz chose not to aattend the session and the motion was defeated.  Surprise, surprise?!  And it looks like Israeli might be headed towards its fourth election in a year and half.

When one looks at things objectively (if such a thing were possible in Israeli politics) it’s not exactly a flattering accolade in favour of Israel’s already stained society that such a person, a man who regularly spreads the gospel of divisiveness and hatred, heads the government and at the first available opportunity, will try to legislate a way out of his ongoing trial.  I can understand why the man doesn’t want so spend several years in prison (after all, we’ve had a former President, former Prime Minister, and former Finance Minister, among others who’ve been there, so he knows what awaits him).  He could sign a plea bargain but that would be admitting guilt.  For several years his mantra had been “They’ll find nothing because there’s nothing to find!” but after they found something, the mantra changed to “Everybody’s against me and it’s personal” — the police, prosecution service, the press, the judiciary, so in order to keep out of jail, I’ll dismantle the state by hook or by crook (with emphasis on the latter word, please).  It really does beggar belief

And, of course, the root of all this skulduggery is the determination to stay in power, fuelled by the blind fealty of the spineless lackeys and flunkeys who surround the Prime Minister, people who never have to face the voters and answer to them directly as individuals, such are the vagaries of the Israeli electoral system. Perhaps I’ll write something about Israeli politicians and the electoral system in a future post but enough of this for the moment.

Getting away from Coronavirus and politics is this country is difficult.  Nevertheless, a  visit to the Friday Farmers’ Market at Tel Aviv Port always yields colourful images.

SweetsSweets 1

Go, Man, Go

Go, Man, Go!

But can it really be this colourful?  Really!?

In public?

Can he really be doing what he seems he might be doing?

And the route through the park en route to the Farmers’ Market is also hardly devoid of worthy images .

Cat

Just checking that you’re on your way!  I’ll keep an eye on the house for you!

Deep end

One, two, three—and off we go!

CactusBrick wallBoat

Boat on river

And en route home, construction work.

Construction

And so ends my first post with a “political”body to it, written without a constraining voice to keep me out of trouble.  I hope I haven’t overdone it!

Schumann

This vehicle belonged to Robert and Clara Schumann

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