Some Reflections

Primrose Hill Road, London NW3. January 2023

At the end of my last post, given that I had been referred to not long before as “young and ‘andsome” and “young and beautiful”,  I wrote that perhaps I needed to engage in some self-reevaluation.  However, at almost 78, a reassessment of my own persona seems as if it might well be time wasted.  Nonetheless, I thought that some reappraisal might be in order, if not of the body then of the soul.  So, in that vein, I’ve decided to examine part of this blog, which began all of seven years ago, in December 2015.

I thought I’d been posting to the blog fairly regularly, about once a week, but the first thing I discovered when I started to look through the 275 posts was that initially, I was composing these pieces approximately once every other day! Furthermore, what I’d written in them has long escaped my memory.  Mostly, I think I’d have an idea, write about it and then post it—and that was that.  So … I decided to go back and if not read what I had written, at least look at the photographs that I’d included if only because I had decided at the outset to give the blog the utterly unoriginal title PhotoGeography for reasons that were obvious to me, if not to others.  Consequently, I decided to look not at the text at all but at the pictures as people sometimes ask me what kind of pictures I take, to which my flippant response is usually “whatever the camera is pointing at”.

What the camera saw!

But first, a few words about maintaining a blog, which is basically fun.  I just spill out whatever’s on my mind for it’s not all that difficult to concoct a few hundred words.  Moreover, it doesn’t really matter who reads it or if anyone reads it at all—but nevertheless it’s nice to know if they do. I suppose it’s a bit like what the thousands of journalists who write for daily newspapers or presenters on TV do although it has the added plus in that nobody is paying me a salary for filling up space or time with my rubbish!

Of course, one of the problems with all news media is the curse of a deadline. But as a former academic, I know that if you don’t have one, some things will never get done at all.  However, a deadline for a professional journalist intimates that a column must be seen in tomorrow’s newspaper with another perhaps a couple of days later, or a newscast has to fill a specified time, so if a correspondent has nothing consequential to write about, s/he still has to fill the allotted column space and the TV news show still has to make up 60 minutes, so the programme has to be padded out with inane stories.  But as an amateur blogger, I am not bound by any deadline though having one, even one set by myself, helps me get something out.

The bloggers’ guru, although most people wouldn’t recognize him as such (though even he might have possibly been chuffed by that designation) broadcast a programme that lasted a period of 58 years.  Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America was broadcast on the BBC Home Service between 1946 and 2004 and these pieces were veritable treasures.  He defaulted only once on his deadline, towards the end of his very long life, by which time his lung cancer just allowed him to to talk with great difficulty.  His formula was a gem of compactness and erudition.  The slot was 15 minutes long and the opening was a short pithy statement about something topical. The middle section, which usually occupied the bulk of each “letter”, was another topic loosely — but never artificially — affixed to the opening, while the epilogue reverted to the opening and was linked logically to the middle section.  Reading these pieces decades on is a pleasure for it was pure art, well practised and honed to perfection—and a model for all bloggers to emulate.  It certainly is for me.

 

Well, it’s taken me nearly 700 words to get to this point so I’ll try to respond to that query, namely, what sort of photos I take or what does my camera see.  I’m ignoring the texts of that first month of posting to the blog and I just look at the photos because until I looked at them again last week, I hadn’t given them much thought for seven years.  In the event, I “discovered” that there are all sorts of things there — such as photos of

Landscapes (I used to be a geographer),

Holiday pictures,

Grand Canal, Venice

Pictures of people, 

Wayne Rooney

Street signs and such like…

… like this one that appeared just after he had become Leader of the UK Labour Party and it was neither the picture nor the headline that caught my eye but the two captions in the bubbles, partly hidden by the lattice!)

And inevitably, even a family picture!

The thrill of winning! Lily Waterman, aged c.3 yrs.

So, let me present some of the pictures that appeared in my blog posts at the end of December 2015 and in January 2016. (I warn you in advance that there are a few more than usual!)

The first is a didactic photo from August 1972 of Bingham Canyon Copper Mine in Utah.  I used to use this photo to explain the concept of scale, as illustrated by the more than 70 goods wagons that appear in it …

… and this is followed by a picture from 1974 following the melt of the winter snow on the Canadian Prairie. Just after the plane had taken off from Winnipeg Airport en route to Calgary, it illustrates the North American system of land division, when the pilot generously circled around twice at low altitude so that passengers could appreciate the scenery …

In recent years, spending time in both Tel Aviv and London, I’ve taken lots of pictures on and from Primrose Hill and at and from Tel Aviv Port and the Yarqon Park, all of which have provided me with subjects galore.

I have photographed these trees towards the southwesterly corner of Primrose Hill at various times of the day and in various seasons …

… even when many people might not think it worthwhile taking a photograph.

Three trees fog 3

 


Seasonal differences. Primrose Hill, London

 

Towards the summit, Primrose Hill (1) 

Towards the summit, Primrose Hill (2)

Primrose Hill also afforded me a location from which to view various stages in the construction of London’s tallest building, The Shard, south of the River Thames.

 

And in nearby Regent’s Park, some years ago, summer would bring us the annual “Tango in the Park”


 

Though most of the scenes I’ve shot in Tel Aviv were enhanced by bright light and sunshine, I often found that winter photographs provided stronger images …

… and the aftermath of a winter storm often resulted in something resembling the image below.

 

First rain, Yarqon Stream, Tel Aviv

One of the things that has attracted my eye in both Tel Aviv and London is the plight of homeless people.  I photographed the man who appears in the poster below many times over a four-year period, from 2010 until 2014.  I photographed him and he knew what I was doing—but to my great shame, I never spoke with him.  Then, one day, in May 2014, he had vanished and on enquiring at the greengrocer’s opposite the empty bench, I was told that he had been taken away … to die.

This young man below was a regular rough sleeper in the Yarqon Park over a lengthy period and I could never help but feel sorry for him — until one day, opposite Rabin Square in Central Tel Aviv, I caught site of him at a cash dispenser and waited until he had counted out 2,000 sheqels (over £500 or $600). Gone was the pity.

The man below was one of two individuals I used to see in North Tel Aviv lugging their belongings around at all hours of the day; there are obviously many more in the city.

And while walking in the park one day, I came across this individual.  What caught my eye was not the man himself but the headline in the paper he was reading, which reads “I’m going home

There were other images, too, such as this individual stretching on a cool winter’s day after a run through the park.

Friday morning in Tel Aviv Port also meant a farmers’ market and the opportunity to photograph fruit and veg — as well as people.

Mushrooms

Romanesca Cauliflower

Artichoke (in flower)

Occasionally, I also photograph animals — sometimes on the move …

… and sometimes when they pose for me.

 

Smile and the world smiles with you!

 

Liz Truss???—on the day before her resignation?: “I’m a ‘Fighter, Not a Quitter'”

On occasion, the London Underground provides me with interesting pics.  Several years ago, I sat opposite these two youngsters on the Tube. One was looking intently at his cellphone while every 15 seconds or so the other one kept glancing to his right—but at what? …

… and there’s the answer — and she knew what she was doing, too!

I also pay attention to written words as they appear on street signs, shop windows, graffiti, &c., such as the anomaly displayed by these two street signs that are located directly opposite one another.  (The reform of the London boroughs occurred several decades ago!)

 

And then there are the inevitable holiday photographs.

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

 

Ceiling. Antoni Gaudí’s  La Sagrada Familia. Barcelona
Shoes. Barcelona

And then in Siracusa, Sicily, I spent time over three days in the fish market watching a tuna being “prepared” for the table in various stages of dissection.  Big fish!

Every now and then, I alight on a specific topic and look for examples.   Here, it’s hairstyles.

There are also the unavoidable fire hydrants, which I discovered when my camera began recognizing them as faces …

And once I saw faces, faces began to appear everywhere


Suspicious. Siracusa, Sicily

 

Deep Rumination. Tel Aviv Port

 

Companionship. Yarqon Park

 

And then there are photographs that are, well, just photographs.

An army of salt cellars. Tel Aviv Port

 

A spider’s web after the rain. Belsize Park.

 

Rowers. Yarqon Park. (No photoshopping; behind natural spray!)

 

I’m not alone. Yarqon Park.

 

Bats for breakfast. Yarqon Park

 

A sort of symmetry. Yarqon Park

 

Everyone’s welcome. South Tel Aviv

 

Men’s Loo. South End Green, NW3

 

Man and Girl. Hampstead Heath. London NW3

    And all of these were from my first month of blogging!

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Peaceful Coexistence?

Peaceful coexistence1.jpg

Peaceful Coexistence while looking the other way. Ve’idat Katowicz Street, Tel Aviv

Last week, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Lahav Shani, its music director, broke new ground with its first performance in the United Arab Emirates, at Emirates Palace. The concert marked the orchestra’s first performance in the Arab World for nearly 80 years, having only previously performed at the Cairo Opera House in 1945.  This performance was part of Abu Dhabi Classics, which is organized by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and recent visitors have included the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Cuban National Ballet.  In attendance at the IPO concert was Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, the leader of the Likud Party managed to assemble a coterie of secular and religious Members of Knesset, several with extremist tight-wing views, into a coalition government, with a cabinet that includes a convicted criminal who had been guilty of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and later of tax fraud, now back in the ministry in which his crimes had been perpetrated, a minister who has faced charges of hate speech and who was also previously convicted of supporting a terrorist group known as Kach, and has called for the expulsion of Arab citizens.  In addition, the new government contains several other individuals who are, to my mind, repugnant (to say the least) and I do not include the newly appointed Prime Minister himself, currently on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases!  The less said about this catastrophe-in-the-making, the better.

I can save your soul — Enforced bible reading.  Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv

At any rate, to return to the IPO in Abu Dhabi, I would proffer the opinion that the aims of the new Israeli government are diametrically opposed to those of one of Israel’s leading cultural institutions.  One can only hope that the life of this right-wing government is short-lived and that it does not succeed in its aims.  (Some hope!).  At any rate, the contrast between the goings-on in Abu Dhabi and those in Jerusalem could not have been greater!

Time to take a running jump!? Hampstead Heath

 

 

Anyway, to return to more interesting things.  Last week I read a book that had received several very favourable reviews in the press, its subject matter concerning a topic that has always interested me.  The book is Making Sense of a United Ireland — Should it happen? How might it happen?. Its author, Brendan O’Leary, is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, born in Cork and educated in Northern Ireland.  He has been involved in conflict resolution in Ireland for four decades and for his sins, he worked for many years as an advisor to the UK Government on The Good Friday (or Belfast ) Agreements, which were signed on 10 April 1998, and which ended most of the violence in the political conflict in Northern Ireland that had been predominant from the late 1960s , and which carried the nicknam “The Troubles”. (The Good Friday Agreement was a major development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s.)

Although intrigued by the topic (Ireland, partition, elections, &c.), I was doubly drawn when I saw the name of the author.  About 16 or 17 years ago, I had received a manuscript that had been submitted to a well-regarded academic journal, the editorial board of which I was a member, with the request from the editor that I help him decide on publication by reviewing it and offering a recommendation.  Blind (anonymous) peer-reviewing of academic papers is part and parcel of the job of being an academic and over a 40-year period, I suppose that I did about 250 or more of these although I have recently learned how to say “No” politely.  I read the paper (“Analysing partition: Definition, classification and explanation”) through several times and for what I think was the only time ever, I recommended to the editor that he publish the paper without making any changes.  If memory served me correctly, I also wrote that although I disagreed with much of what the [then anonymous] author had written, it was so well thought out and the arguments so succinctly presented that for me, it represented much of what academic debate is about.  In other words, although one may disagree, one is prepared to read or listen to a counter argument and be ready to be convinced to change one’s mind if necessary.  Only when the article was published about 18 months after I had reviewed it did I learn the name of the author and then I did what any self-respecting academic tends to do and checked the bibliography to see if I was there—and I was. And then, I read in the acknowledgments, “The author would like to thank …the three anonymous reviewers, especially the one who suggested publication without changes” and I felt doubly rewarded.

At any rate, I started to read the book and after about a third of the way through, I decided to write to the author, something I do occasionally when I feel I have truly learned something new.  I wrote: ” … Many thanks for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book.  It’s wonderful to read a book by an erudite academic that is written in plain English so that everyone can learn from it.” to which I received the following response a couple of hours later: ” … Thank you very much for this reaction: exactly what any author should strive for. I deeply appreciate this note.” These two pieces of e-correspondence started an exchange that continued in both directions for about two hours during which I learned that we had several mutual connections, both socially and geographically.  Interesting.

Anyway, to return to Making Sense of a United Ireland, O’Leary wrote: “Ill-judged and ill-prepared referendums can be disastrous, as the world saw in 2016 in the UK’s referendum over whether to retain shared sovereignty within the European Union, or to retake it to Westminster and withdraw or secede from the EU.The UK’s decision to hold a referendum on membership of the EU with an unclarified substantive question, and inadequate procedural protections, (the bold print is mine!) produced a poor debate and an institutional and policy mess. … Responsibility for the folly rests with the [then] Prime Minister who called the referendum, David Cameron…[who] called the referendum to discipline his own party, taking a gambler’s risk. Seeking to bias the outcome in favor of Remain, he deliberately instructed his civil servants to make no preparations for a Leave victory. That was irresponsible … It was a referendum held largely in the interests of one party, without any effort to build a serious all-party Remain campaign. … ‘Leave’ was allowed to mean everything for the voter. And then quoting Michael Heseltine, a former Deputy Prime Minister, O’Leary continued: “We all have a clear memory of the Brexit campaign, and what was said. That we were being run by Brussels. That European restrictions are holding back our economy and lowering our living standards. That we could keep all the benefits of the single market and customs union, while negotiating trade deals with faster- growing countries in the world that are shifting east. But we had to regain control over our borders. That there would be no border between Northern Ireland, and mainland Great Britain, and that the Good Friday Agreement having ended years of strife, would be fully honored.

Heseltine is pro-European, but he is not wrong.”

[The] UK’s referendum on EU membership of 2016 was an education; so too has been the conduct of the Johnson administration since 2019, as well as Johnson’s previous conduct as a campaigning Brexiteer, and Foreign Secretary.  Considering this very recent past, it would be irrational for any Irish person, North or South, simply to trust in some nostalgic idea of British Fair Play, especially but not only that of Conservative governments.  The torrent of irresponsibility towards Ireland that has flowed from Great Britain since 2016 is a clear and present warning.  Irish planning for reunification must take place with open consideration of these bleak possibilities.

It should become the duty, and prepared commitment, of both British and Irish governments to ensure that unlawful external impediments to free choice do not happen. Ireland can hope for a more principled UK Government than the present one, but it cannot rely on that prospect. Irish Governments must seek procedural safeguards to advance and use the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to elaborate agreed rules of conduct, and misconduct, regarding future referendums.  It may seem regrettable to appraise the future relevance of the Good Friday Agreement in this manner, but it is wise to do so.  We should not be faint-hearted or down-hearted, however: the hard-won accomplishments of previous cohorts of Irish diplomats and politicians are there to be built on.”

All of which reminded me of a history lesson in school over 60 years ago, when Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, and formerly Lord Deputy of Ireland, was condemned to death by King Charles I, and on his way to his death, reportedly said bitterly “Put not your trust in princes”. Or “trust not politicians”, perhaps.

Time for some pics.

The snow might be gone for the moment, so there was no White Xmas in this part of the world and once it had gone, it was immediately replaced by rain.  Yet some people in Belsize Park were dreaming of a Green Xmas …

And then came the rain. Belsize Park. December 2022

… at this time of the year, leaves fall to the ground …

… and make a colourful addition to the urban landscape …

… but some become more attached to the surface than others …

 

Winter Scene, Belsize Park.

 

It’s not just Christmas! A Chabad Chanukah on Regent’s Park Road on the way to Camden Town

 

Crowds gather on Boxing Day. Primrose Hill, NW3

I’ve photographed the object below some time ago and last week I took a photo again.  I note that it states “NOT IN USE”, something that I’d missed before but that was unsurprising because it says that if you insert a £1 coin you will receive four 1st class postage stamps.  Given that I have no idea what a stamp costs these days (not that it makes much difference when the postal workers are on strike so frequently) I decided to check when I returned home and to my surprise, I discovered that a 1st class stamp costs 95p!  No wonder it’s NOT IN USE.  It must be there as a historical monument!

 

Finally, I reported in my last post that I had been described by a fellow traveller on a bus that I am “young and handsome”, a combination that I thought improbable for my almost 78-years old persona.  The other day, I discovered that not only am I “young and handsome” but according to a very helpful and efficient waitress in a new restaurant that had opened in Hampstead and where we had dinner the other evening, I am also “young and beautiful”.

I’m beginning to think that I need some self-reevaluation!

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Snow, ice, and other forms of precipitation

The UK went through a cold snap over the past fortnight and temperatures were at 0℃ or a few degrees below during this period.  Whereas friends in Canada or Scandinavia, to mention just two places, might well see nothing unusual in this, people here in the United Kingdom were suffering.  This is possibly because the UK is a country which seems never to expect either summer or winter but each year, both seasons turn up and do what is expected of them, so that people either sweat or shiver accordingly.  This year’s cold snap was indeed particularly cold and with strikes of train drivers, ambulance drivers, nurses, and postal workers to mention just some and with inflation running at over 10 percent per annum, it’s all a bit of a mess and doesn’t look as if it’s going to improve quickly. In addition, the cost of heating has rocketed, and that in turn has led the government to warn people that they need to make crucial decisions about whether they want to heat or eat (which, in London, sounds the same anyway, so people here tend not to pay too much attention to it all). All of this is causing some excitement, especially as the media need a good story, preferably one that will run for a fair length of time and, according to this week’s edition if The Economist newspaper (see below), this story is far worse than the government lets on and looks as if it’s endemic, if not fatal.  (For a summary and explanation of what has been happening politically in the UK over the past year, I can recommend viewing Yes Minister, Series 3, Episode 8 — written by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn and starring Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds and which was made in 1984 and is just as apt today!)

The strange case of Britain’s demise

With this as a backdrop, I went with a good friend the week before last to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank.  Getting there was easy as the bus stop is a five-minute walk away from where I live and the bus takes me to within a few minutes’ walk to the place.  The concert (Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and Mahler’s Symphony No.6) was OK although I couldn’t help feeling that Mahler really needed of a good editor after he had composed the piece (80 minutes is a trifle lengthy for one piece of music).  The gentleman who was sitting to my right was obviously familiar with the Sibelius as his head moved in time with the music while the violinist (Lisa Batiashvilli) was performing. However, he seemed less well acquainted with the Mahler and sat with eyes closed during the 25-minute-long first movement.  I thought that perhaps he was experiencing a form of divine bliss — but come the second movement, I realized that had been just the forerunner of something more serious, for he gently snored his way through both the second and third movements, his rhythmic breathing interrupted only for short periods as part of the effects of his wife’s left elbow stabbing his ribs.

His somnolence ended abruptly, however, in the final movement for this is a movement in which Mahler called for the use of a percussion instrument, sometimes referred to as the Mahler hammer. Mahler himself noted that the sound produced by the instrument should be “brief and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a non-metallic character — like the fall of an axe.”  And so it was. The percussionist (one of eight such orchestra members on duty in the performance) brandished an enormous mallet, almost as tall as himself, with which he struck a solid surface, producing a frighteningly loud sound.  All this led to Mahler 6 being described as the composer’s most dark and terrifying work with the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler once terming it “the first nihilist work in the history of music.”  Originally, Mahler had called for five hammer blows, but after revisions, only two remained (though in this performance a third thump was brought back to wake up the audience).  In Mahler’s own life, the hammer blows were said to represent three tragic milestones: the death of his eldest daughter, the condition of his weakened heart and his dismissal from the Vienna Opera.  Anyway, whatever the history of the hammer, the neighbour to my right awoke with a start at the sound of the first whack and remained wide awake until the conclusion, even applauding, his wife’s elbow temporarily not called for.

After the concert, Isabel, my partner, who was at the same concert with another friend, had kindly offered to drive me home, but the Royal Festival Hall is a large space with inadequate cellphone reception and as we had forgotten to agree on a meeting place, we managed not to be able to find one another.  Consequently, I ventured outside into -2 ℃ with the friend with whom I had attended the concert, to catch a bus home.  Fifteen minutes and after substantial a cooling down process, Bus 168 arrived and I boarded but then just a few minutes later, there was an announcement that the bus would not reach its advertised destination (Hampstead Heath) and would instead only go as far as Camden Town.  “Not to worry”, thought I, for I could always take a taxi for the last short part of the trip.

The bus literally dumped its passengers, soon to be near frozen, in the middle of Camden Town.  Luck being what it was, not a single vacant taxi passed by before the next bus arrived over 20 minutes later—and it was very cold. But there I was, with about a dozen other dumpees, with little to do other than to wait.  One of the other people who had disembarked with me noticed that I was carrying the concert programme and struck up a conversation that began with the not very original question “Have you just been to a concert?”  Having been mentored over the past year to start talking to people near me because (so I have been consistently informed) it can be interesting — even fascinating — to listen to people’s stories, we struck up a conversation from which I learned that he had set off that morning for Paris and was on his way back home (this was at 11 p.m.).  And as this is Britain, the conversation inevitably got round to the weather at which point I mentioned that I had lived in Western Canada where, in the winter, -2℃ is considered mild, even warm.  “And what were you doing there?” said he.  “I was a post-doctoral fellow at a university”, I replied. “Oh, so you’re a teacher” came his response. “Was”, I answered, “but that was half a century ago!”.

He then uttered a statement that completely floored me.  “But you look so young” … “and ‘ansom”, at which point, as no vacant black cabs had come driving by, I would have jumped into a hansom cab had one turned up!  It’s been quite some time since anyone referred to me as “young” and I can’t recall ever having been termed “‘ansom” but  it seemed to me at the time that the combination of “young” and “‘ansom” together sounded faintly menacing.  Then he sprung on me that he was going to stay the night with his ‘osband in Belsize Park, which is where I was headed and I started to think of ways and means of somehow distancing myself from him, (i.e., an escape mechanism).  Two possibilities came to mind, one of which was to walk and the other to wait for not the first bus to arrive but the second.  However, seeing that it was cold and becoming colder, I took the risk and when the bus eventually turned up, we both got on — and I took my seat.  As fate would have it, he sat opposite me with his back facing the direction in which the bus was travelling and sat there, staring at me. (I thought of calling 0800-783-0137 (see below) but thought better of it as I didn’t think that anyone would believe me!)

And then heaven intervened.  The bus stopped at Chalk Farm Station and on jumped a man who was, undeniably, young and handsome — too handsome by half — wearing a gaudily coloured shirt and an equally garish waistcoat with a beige jacket lined with gold tassels, and I was astounded by how quickly the gentleman’s stare shifted from me to “‘eem”.  We alighted at the same bus stop and I immediately crossed the road.  He continued straight on, apparently en route to “eez ‘osband” whereas I continued home, as fast as my feet could carry me (which is, alas, no longer particularly fast), in order not to find a foot in the door as I entered the building.  I got home at 23.35 and so ended an event-filled and action-packed evening!

Then, last week, my daughter Shuli arrived with my granddaughter Gali in tow for a six-day visit.  Shuli had decided to take Gali, who will be 12 in April (I don’t believe it) to London as an early batmitzvah present.  Shuli had arranged what I reckoned was an overambitious plan for the visit but, as things turned out, they managed to do everything that had been planned — and even more.

They travelled from Tel Aviv to Luton using EasyJet and, as we have come to expect, there were delays, so much so that they turned up at 03.15 on Tuesday morning.  That did not prevent them from waking at an early hour and not long after daylight broke, they took themselves off to the garden at the back of the building where Gali had her first experience of snow and loved every second of it.

Soon afterwards, they were off to view the snow on Primrose Hill  …

… and then in the afternoon they took off to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park to feed hazel nuts to the squirrels and watch the ongoing tussles between squirrels and crows over the nuts.

The following day it was off to Shoreditch for murals and cookies and things …

…  followed by some serous retail therapy

All of this was accomplished with the pair of them suitably attired for the wintry weather.

The last day but one involved a trip to Bermondsey

… to visit the Fashion and Textile Museum where there was an exhibition of Kaffe Fassett’s The Power of Pattern, which contained some of his own original artworks as well as works inspired by him from several international quilters, quite an extraordinary collection …

… and this was followed by some more serious retail therapy, which I managed to steer clear of.

All this was accomplished while managing to see all the family members—uncles and aunts and cousins who were about at the time.

And then they left for Tel Aviv — and no sooner — literally as soon as— had they boarded the plane than the weather changed and reverted to type, with rain and wind — and it’s been raining constantly here in London for the past 36 hours!  …

… and all that was left for me to do was to record winter scenes in Belsize Park and Hampstead.

One, two , three — JUMP!

 

Grit their teeth while they grit the bicycle lane. Hampstead.

 

 

There’s nothing quite like climbing trees in wintertime! Belsize Park

 

And what’s Harry doing in Bermondsey ? December 2022

And then, going through some old pictures, I came across one I had taken several years ago in December in Tel Aviv and I wondered what on earth it is I’m doing here!

 

 

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Two months is really far too long …

I began this blog seven years ago and for most of the time, I’ve managed to keep it going fairly regularly about once a week.  Occasionally, there have been periods when, for one reason or another, I missed a week or fortnight but as anyone who has been reading this stuff over the years is aware, I’ve been toing and froing over the past year and a half between London and Tel Aviv trying to reconstruct a life after Vivien’s passing 2½ years ago—and with some success.

I actually began a post nearly six weeks ago and then abandoned it rather than give immediate vent to my frustrations for reasons that many might well understand.   I had  returned to the Promised Land a couple of days before Israel’s most recent general election so as to be able to cast my vote.  Before that I had been in the United Kingdom for two months where some people might have imagined that I’d had a hand in playing havoc with the political system in that benighted country, for during my stay, the UK saw off one monarch and welcomed another, said goodbye to two Prime Ministers (as if one wasn’t enough) while welcoming a third.  Although all this occurred during my sojourn there, I can assure everyone that what happened there and my presence in the place was pure coincidence.  I have to admit that I’d always thought Israeli politics a bit crazy and that British politics was serious and sober —— until this last visit, that is, when the Brits demonstrated to the world what they can actually do if they really try hard enough and put their minds to it.

So this year in Israel, November 1 marked the date of the country’s fifth general election in 3½ years.  November 1 is also, for those who celebrate it, All Saints’ Day, although what a saint is or was, or is or was supposed to be or to have been, is beyond my ken.  November 1  is also sometimes referred to as All Hallows’ Day or the day that follows Hallowe’en, (Holy Evening), which is known to some as “Trick or Treat Night” and it’s the “tricking or treating” that I discovered a couple of years ago that has turned Halloween into an unofficial Israeli secular holiday for many kids and others (without any approval of the bearded holy men who have a disproportionate influence on the character of Israeli society and, it seems, are about to have more).

I was one of the early voters that day, arriving at the polling station on 7.15 a.m. as I wanted to get it out of my system as soon as possible. Being Israel, election day is also an excuse for a public holiday, as if the four weeks that citizens of that country were met with the response “Akharey Ha-Chagim” (after the [High] Holy Days) was not sufficient reason for causing things to slow down and almost come o a halt.  (For those unfamiliar with the ways of Israel, this is the period in which for about a fortnight before Jewish New Year until around four weeks after, practically nothing gets done and is a period that makes the Christmas/New Year shutdown in the UK seem like a piece of cake.)

After arriving, I turned on the TV and watched one of the nonsense gossip programs that pass for sensible discussion, all of which amounts to what my mother used to call “plappel”, a word I can’t find in any dictionary but which pretty well describes a situation in which six to ten people sit around a table, each talking twenty to the dozen at full volume and none as much as even listening, let alone paying attention, to what any of the others is saying—not that what anyone was saying made much sense anyway.  It’s all a question, as Doris Day used to sing, of Que sera, sera and it forced me into deciding that I would not watch any TV news during my stay there, the primary object of which was to clear my apartment before letting it, as I had decided that I was going to stay in London for the foreseeable future.  However, I did manage to keep up with the news by listening each day to 4-5 minutes of news an 6 a.m. and that was sufficient to keep me informed as to what was going on.

I was not particularly optimistic about the outcome of the election but then again I never have been much of an optimist as it’s so much more fun being a pessimist, if only because sometimes one is pleasantly surprised!  I voted for a party called Yesh Atid, headed by the then and, perhaps still as I write, current Prime Minister (for a few more days), Yair Lapid.  Yesh Atid is Hebrew “There is a Future” although after the results became apparent, I’m not not all that sure there is much of a one.  As one of Israel’s leading journalists, Anshel Pfeffer, put it in Ha’Aretz newspaper shortly before the election, The zombie bastard that Benjamin Netanyahu created when he forced Haredi (strictly Orthodox) nationalists, neo-Kahanists and homophobes together on one slate — in order to prevent the loss of any votes of tiny far-right parties that failed to cross the electoral threshold — answered a demand no one knew existed.  Who knew there were so many dormant fascists just waiting for a leader? Thousands of first time-voting teenagers eager to stick it to their elders? So many Likudniks for whom the party’s drift toward authoritarianism still wasn’t enough? And so many Putinist Chabadniks and battalions of young Haredim fed up with being told to vote like their parents always have? Netanyahu didn’t know.”  And if he didn’t know, then he’s more dishonest and greedy than even I thought him to be and if he did know, then he’s really unfit to lead the country!

(Just in case anyone is unaware of the way in which Israel votes, voters are asked to choose a party and not an individual. Effectively, this means that individual members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, bear no accountability whatsoever towards the voters although they might cynically deny this.  The system is in dire need of reform and has been for a very long time—but reform will never happen because politicians in Israel—rather like politicians almost everywhere else—have little interest in changing a system with which they are familiar and understand how to manipulate.)

Lily Waterman, casting her mother’s vote and thereby practising for the future (if democracy in Israel lasts that long!)

They are accountable only to a party that has placed them high enough on the list to take a seat in the Knesset.  There are no by-elections (special elections); there is no postal vote; there is no absentee ballot.  The only day on which this section of democracy exists—and it’s a limited version at that—is on election day itself.  Following on from this practice in which democratic procedures are conducted for just a single day, what comes on the heels of this is coalition-building, never a pretty procedure in Israel and one in which marks where politicians take over the “democratic” proceedings from the population-at-large and that’s what the lawmakers have been doing for the past few weeks.

The search for coalition partners, Israel-style: You smell as if we could form a government together! 

Although I hate to say it, having lived for five decades in the country, I am pleased that I have distanced myself from what I can only see as a nascent fascist theocracy—although things may not be as negative as I perceive them to be. However, as I see it, it appears as if the leader of the right-wing Likud party, Mr.Netanyahu himself, has allied himself and his party, which consists of an assembly of lackeys, crooks and criminals, to religious fanatics of varying hues. (And when I write crooks and criminals, I mean it.)  He therefore feels protected and that he can get away with whatever it is he desires.  These neo-fascists and religious zealots would like, amongst other things, to enfeeble the police, dismantle the independent judiciary and replace the current legal system with one based solely on religious laws.  There is the malodorous stench from these “Jewatollahs” but notwithstanding all this, this is the kind of government that Netanyahu has craved for 25 years, one which will permit him to oversee the “Orbanization” or “Erdoganization” of Israel — even if it means destroying the very fabric of Israeli democracy in the process, for all that really interests him are his own interests and staying out of prison is one of those. Nothing more, nothing less.  As my grandmother said to me over 70 years ago, “The world is vanishing right beneath us”.  She was the same age then as I am now and when I was a kid, I thought she was being overly pessimistic. Now, I think she had got it right!

And so I completed the process of preparing the apartment in Tel Aviv for rental—three weeks of emptying, disbursing, dispersing and casting off the accumulation of many years of belongings, some in good working condition others just plain garbage.  And, that task completed more or less, it was off to London again.  In my aged innocence, I had thought it would take me a couple of days to recover from all those exertions but several people had insinuated that I was being a little naïve about things and that it might take a week or more—and they were accurate on that count for I was a zombie for two or three days and then just exhausted until a whole week had passed.

One of the first programs I watched on TV on arriving back in the UK, was entitled FIFA Uncovered and dealt with corruption in international football over the past few decades.  I had watched the first episode in Israel and the rest in London and I sat goggle-eyed in front of the box for periods of not more than 20 minutes at a time because it was not the corruption itself that astounded me but the level and global extent of the unscrupulousness and the couldn’t-care-less attitude of those mostly closely involved with the shenanigans that left my mind in a state of amazement and depression.

If followed that by watching Simon Schama’s three-episode History of Now, which was a very personal look at the roles of art and artists in maintaining freedom and democracy.  Schama examined artists, writers and musicians who fought for the post-World War II values of democracy, freedom and equality, values that he fears are eroding before our very eyes.  In his words, the History of Now turns out to be the History of Then in that all the battles and big issues from when he (and I) were growing up, and which seemed to have been won, have turned out not to be—issues such as civil rights or the debate about being able to afford a welfare state.  Huge matters, such as the fragility of democracy and its dependence on truth, which seemed to have been sorted in 1989 when the Soviet Union finally collapsed, still appear to be with us, and Vaclav Havel’s Power of the Powerless seems just as relevant today as it was more than 30 years ago when it was written.  Schama’s worries today include how online abuse, anger and lies incite real-life violence and if we all thought that the Internet was a force for transparency and truth and fact-checking, it’s not that it’s not—but at the same time, it has created echo chambers.  So instead of being an indubitable weapon against the authority of lies …  Orwell, it seems, more or less got it right.  Schama interviewed several people — writers, artists, musicians and more — in History of Now, interviews that cover free speech, individualism, the rise in right-wing populism and the reversal of hard-fought freedoms and those battles really have to be fought continuously and continually.  His message was that whereas history always has something to teach, it doesn’t provide recipes but it does provide cautionary notes.  I found the programme both totally absorbing and utterly depressing but nevertheless unputdownable.  However, in an essay in last weekend’s Financial Times, Schama distilled the arguments he made in the television programmes into just 2,500 words and it makes for even better reading than did the viewing.

Schama “Art versus the Tyrants”

And then it was time to get out and find some culture — a concert at The Barbican Hall, with Mitsuko Uchida playing the Schumann Piano Concerto with the LSO with conductor Simon Rattle (and an opportunity to hear Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony, which I hadn’t heard before and could well listen to again).  Then a wonderful exhibition at the Tate Modern of works by Paul Cezanne, focusing on the tensions and contradictions in his work.  In an exhibition that includes many works shown for the first time in the UK, it seeks to understand the artist in his own context, as an determined young painter from Provence, keen to succeed in Paris in the company of his friends Emile Zola and Camille Pissaro, and follows his struggle between seeking official recognition and joining the emerging impressionists before persistently following his own unique language, grappling with what it means to be a modern painter while remaining deeply skeptical about the world he lived in, from political unrest to a continually accelerating way of life.

  

And then it was time to go outside again and watch the vivid autumn colours and savour the early arrival of winter.

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Birds and some other things that precede them.

 

Be warned, for this is one of my occasional rants!

It’s been an interesting five weeks or so in this United Kingdom. A Prime Minister resigns and is replaced by new one. The Queen who had reigned for seven decades dies and the new King, a man who had been in training as an apprentice for half a century, replaces her. As soon as parliament reconvened following the official mourning period after the monarch’s passing, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer (a.k.a. Minister of Finance), Mr. Kwasi Kwarteng delivered a financial statement, a so-called “mini-budget” (perhaps it might better have been referred to as “quasi-budget”), which according to both the Chancellor and his boss, had the full backing of the new Prime Minister.  And as a result of all this frenetic political activity, the financial markets, of which both the Prime Minister and her Chancellor are fervent devotees, proved that they can be even more hyperactive.  In other words, they went crazy.  The value of the pound declined, mortgage rates increased, &c., all because they had announced tax cuts and energy subsidies, among other things, without explaining how these would be paid for. Mistrust, the Prime Minister,  (sorry— I’m a little hard of hearing—Ms.Truss, the Prime Minister), when asked in a BBC interview a couple of weeks ago if the mini-budget had been discussed in full cabinet, answered in the negative and announced that she would change nothing.  In the week following, she did just that— and then again and again.  So over the past few weeks, there have been pirouettes galore!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5eL5MVkhfk

To cut a long story short, I started to write this blog post on Friday morning October 14 2022 but I had not intended to start it this way or to write 1,000 words about it all.  However, I made the mistake of leaving the television on that morning, the “news” providing some background noise. Mr. Kwarteng, the then chancellor, had cut short his visit to Washington by a day and arrived back in London early on Friday morning.  As he landed, he appears that he had no idea  that he was about to lose the job he had held for just over a month; however, a couple of hours after returning to the UK, the Prime Minister had relieved her old friend and long-time close colleague of his position and poor Kwasi set off for home in his government car for the last time.  Mr. Kwarteng is a graduate of that long-time fabricator of Prime Ministers and other government leaders, Eton College, where he was a scholar and prizewinner. Reading his CV, he is undoubtedly a very smart cookie, earning a double first in classics and history at Trinity College, Cambridge; he has also authored several books.  However, I’ve held a belief for several years that really clever people avoid politics at all and find some other occupation by which to earn a living and benefit society, all of which suggests that Mr. Kwarteng is, to use the old expression, perhaps “too clever by half”.

So while all this drama was unfolding in front of the TV cameras and radio microphones, I started to ask myself what might—or could— happen following this thrilling spectacle? Now, although I’m just an Israeli-Irish interloper in this currently less-than-United Kingdom, I don’t trusst her.  Thrust into the foreground, Ms. Truss was obliged to give a press conference at Number 10 Downing Street, which may yet appear in the Guinness Book of Records as being the shortest prime ministerial press conference on record, lasting just over nine minutes from beginning to end and at which she took a total of four questions, having rather obtrusively scanned the press corps present for a friendly face, before taking her leave.  Asked very pointedly, by a journalist from The Sun newspaper (who she might have thought would be well disposed towards her, why, as part of the fallout of this whole business he (Kwarteng) had to go, and “how come you get to stay?”, she proved that communicating with journalists or the general public (as distinct from older members of the Conservative Party) is not one of her stronger points! Did she bear no responsibility whatsoever?😢🥵🤬???

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, an experienced politician and a former Health Secretary and Foreign Secretary but a man who supported the former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, during the Tory party’s long drawn out “leadership campaign” (read: popularity contest) last summer, agreed to become his replacement. And listening to him making his first statement as Chancellor on Monday morning and then performing in the House of Commons at length in the afternoon, the cynic in me couldn’t but ask: “Loyalty or opportunism”?  But before Mr. Hunt made his statement — in a calm and entirely civil manner — in the Commons, the Prime Minister was absent, leaving the task of answering the questions of MPs to the Leader of the House of Commons, Ms. Mordaunt, who had to explain the PM’s absence repeatedly by saying that she was busy in meetings.  And when she did actually sidle in to take her place on the front bench, she looked pathetic in so many senses of that word — pitiable, piteous, to be pitiedplaintive, distressing, disquieting, miserable, sad, wretched, poor, forlorn, tragic, doleful, mournful, woeful, feeble, woeful, sorry, poor, pitiful, lamentable, deplorable, miserable, wretched, contemptible, despicable, inadequate, meagre, paltry, insufficient, negligible, insubstantial, unsatisfactory, worthless., &c.

This morning, Tuesday, at 7.30 as is my wont, I turned on BBC Breakfast (a combination of a news programme and entertainment show) only to see her again, this time being interviewed by Chris Mason, BBC TV’s political editor, in which she apologised for making mistakes (and this after Mr. Hunt had junked almost all of the tax-cutting plans she had introduced only three weeks earlier, adding that her premiership “hasn’t been perfect,” (which to my simple mind illustrate her lack of both communication and leadership skills) but she had “fixed” mistakes, saying that it would have been “irresponsible” not to change course.  She also said she was still committed to boosting UK economic growth, confessing that it would now take longer to achieve. (Understatement? SW).  “I remain committed to the vision, but we will have to deliver that in a different way,” she said. Then, asked whether or not she would be staying in the job, she responded by insisting that she will lead the Tories into the next general election, despite her many U-turns; so many, in fact, that I wondered if she might think of auditioning to dance pirouettes for the Royal Ballet!

I’ve seen some strange things over the years in Israel — making coalitions, breaking coalitions, moving from one party to another without really giving it a second thought but this story beats the lot.  They say that a week is a long time in politics and this week is surely proof!

But how long will all this pandemonium last?  Well, The Economist newspaper put it rather pithily in an editorial this week: “Ms Truss entered Downing Street on September 6th. She blew up her own government with a package of unfunded tax cuts and energy-price guarantees on September 23rd. Take away the ten days of mourning after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and she had seven days in control. That is roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce.”  Quite!

And now the lettuce leaves have necrosed!

Now, having got that unplanned rant off my chest, I return to photographs and the images that follow bear no particular relationship who what has preceded them (and I might also mention that several of them have appeared in posts on this blog before).

Seriousness. Self-portait. January 2018

 

The hoopoe. Voted Israel’s national bird.

 

A hungry hoopoe!

 

A politician speaking (for anyone prepared to listen) …

 

… and I wasn’t all that impressed!

 

… to tell you the truth, nor was I!

 

… in fact, I thought it so boring, I decided it was time to leave!

 

Gull. St. Mark’s Square, Venice. October 2022

 

The gulls are in charge. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

 

Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

And then, there are bottoms up!

Emu. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

 

Murano Glass, Venice.  October 2022

 

Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

 

Hampstead Heath, London

 

At Sde Yaacov, Israel. 1966

 

Peaceful Coexistence. Tel Aviv

 

Breakfast, Tel Aviv Port

 

Swimming lesson about to get underway. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

 

 Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv.

Ready, Steady, Go!  Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

Lapwing x 3. Tel Aviv Port

 

I may look like a Bird of Paradise , but I’m only a flower!

 

Such juicy birds — but what can I do with only one eye???

Oh! And autumn has arrived in London!

 

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Trains and boats and planes

I frequently begin a blog post with a comment — usually flavoured with a sprinkling of cynicism — about what’s going on in the world. However, this time I shall refrain from following this procedure because, amongst other things, the state of the world as demonstrated by the actions and words of Mr. Putin over the past few days leaves us guessing as to what might follow and the state of the United Kingdom, as revealed by the actions and words of the fresh British Prime Minister, Ms. Truss, and her Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), Dr. Kwarteng, is equally mystifying.

As a result of all this mystification and perplexity, this blog post will deal with something a lot more prosaic than usual — public transport.

For those of us who don’t drive a car, ride a bike or find that walking longer distances is tiring, there is little alternative to using public transport.  Riding public transport vehicles, whether bus or train, can be a boring pastime …

… but nevertheless, I find that there are all sort of interesting byproducts to sitting in a bus or on the Tube.

Sitting on the Underground earlier this year, and looking up at the advertisements and signs on the opposite sides of the carriage, my eyes landed on the poster below.  Staring, it revealed, can be intrusive and can be of a sexual nature and is thus a form of sexual harassment and cannot be tolerated.

Fine! I stare when I’m on the Tube and have nothing to read or anything better to do because I get stupified rather easily.  I suppose that if one’s mind is sufficiently twisted and warped, the fact that I gawk out of boredom might be interpreted as sexually intrusive if my eyes fall unseeingly on a woman sitting opposite— so what am I supposed to do? Close my eyes and miss the station where I am supposed to alight?  As it happens, as I took this photograph, a female sitting opposite was staring at me, possibly or probably equally bored, and I did think of ringing Transport for London’s sexual harassment line at 0800-783-0137 and reporting that I was being sexually beleaguered but then thought better of it as I concluded that nobody would ever have believed me had I done so!

However, most of the time when using public transport, “interesting”  is hardly the operative word.  People do sit and stare — either at one another or just blankly.  Some read and others participate in various other activities — but for the most part, it’s a run-of-the-mill activity.

However, during a pandemic lockdown a couple of years ago, things had a slightly different look about them, as the picture below illustrates.  It was shot at Leicester Square Station at 11.20 a.m on a weekday, and is normally a very busy location where the Northern Line meets the Piccadilly Line.

I’m fascinated by some of the things that people manage to do on the train.  This young woman, who I observed one morning more than a decade ago, managed to apply her make-up with little apparent difficulty as the train bounced along.  And only this October morning in 2022, I watched another young woman put on her earrings, attaching them to the earlobes through a tiny, almost invisible orifice, with what I regarded as literally an incredible skill.  Note, too, that the person in the picture below is using a mirror, which sort of dates things, and these days they are more likely to use their smartphone’s camera to help them do the job.

Others read or do crosswords …

… and sometimes, the reading is serious stuff indeed, as in this case where the young lady is engrossed in The Economist newspaper.

However, these days, you’re more likely to see things being read on phones than on paper! …

… or on iPads!

Occasionally, one comes across something more engaging such as these two images which I included in a post over seven years ago and about which I received an email from an acquaintance who had read it and which had shocked him, less than an hour after I put the post up .  As a consequence, he warned me about being branded a paedophile although I thought then— and I still do — that the photos in question were perfectly innocent and which anyway had been taken in a public space, i.e., on the London Underground, which is part of the public transport network.

All I was interested in was in capturing the expression on the face of the lad on the right—he might or might not have been a minor.  So I thought I should perhaps I should inquire as to what the rules are about photographing in this part of the world, and more specifically, about posting photographs of minors without their permission.  Are there any such rules?  Is there a set of guidelines anywhere?

So, I consulted another person I know who is a lawyer specialising in privacy issues and got the following response:

“Assuming your blog shows a representative sample of the type/genres of photos which you have taken, the chances of the police checking out your computer, looking at your thousands of photos and branding you a paedophile are approx 0%. They also don’t have the time or funds and it would never be investigated — and it isn’t really a police matter in the first place.

There are two areas of law which may have a bearing in this. Data Protection and Privacy. In relation to the former, you have an “artistic” defence and for a privacy action to succeed, firstly you would need the boys to see the picture, then to decide to take offence and claim you had infringed their privacy (which is quite hard to do in a public place)—and then to launch a claim which is speculative and extremely likely to fail.”

He then added: “Having said all that, if your blog starts attracting thousands of hits, I’d keep the pics of kids to a minimum unless you have their consent.”  However, I might add that I never did receive thousands of hits in the intervening seven years!

And some people can read and be bored at one and the same time!

Some people don’t read on the Tube but eat and drink their breakfast while watching a film.  I sat opposite this young man for 15 minutes last week while he drank his juice and ate his sandwiches without once taking his eyes off the phone — even while he was unwrapping the package with the sandwich.


 And it’s not just people I notice on the Tube, for the Underground houses hordes of little furry creatures (and probably some larger and less savoury ones as well!)

Buses are something else though because you generally aren’t sitting opposite someone but close by.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t exactly restrain me or from prevent me doing what I like to do!

But buses and their passengers can be annoying at times.  This gent boarded as bus near the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead six years ago.  I wasn’t even thinking of taking a photograph but I did have my camera around my neck.  I saw him staring at me and then at the camera and then he asked me, rather aggressively, I thought, how much it had cost me (and it wasn’t cheap).  I thought to myself that it was really none of his business but he had looked so disapproving before he posed the question that I decided I would tell him exactly how much I had paid for it whereupon I got even a more disapproving look — and then snapped him at the same time!


 And it’s not only inside the vehicle that one can view interesting things.

On Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park

And sometimes, even on a bus, one does get to view things of interest, such as these hands on a Tel Aviv bus.

Fascinating as those hands and their adornments were, I found something even more alluring on a London bus.  The lady in question wasn’t sitting opposite me but two or three seats away and on the opposite side of the bus — but I found myself looking at the hands even though I couldn’t take a photo unobtrusively.  Fortunately, we alighted at the same stop in Belsize Park and waiting for the traffic lights to change so that we could cross the road safely, I asked her if she minded me photographing her hands.  She couldn’t have been more delighted — but then why would one embellish one’s mitts in such a manner if one didn’t want others to view them?

Finally, while on hands, I saw this old[er] couple on a Tel Aviv bus.  They were sitting beside one another and just holding hands and looked looked so comfortable, so I asked them if they minded me taking a photograph of their hands, explaining that all I wanted was a photo of the hands. They sounded and looked so pleased!

 

I have looked at the seats on the London Underground for years but never noticed before—until my granddaughter pointed it out to me— that the design on the fabric of the seats contains four major London landmarks hidden there— the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, and Big Ben!

And almost at the end, I leave you with a distinctly Tel Avivian feature that has almost, if not already, completely vanished — payment on the sherut taxis.  These are taxis that ply the principal bus routes and pick up passengers en route and not necessarily those waiting at bus stops. Whereas today people mostly pay with plastic, traditionally, one entered the taxi, found a vacant seat and then paid by passing cash to the driver via the other passengers and if change was needed, the driver passed it back using a backhand movement — and it always worked very well.  Much more distinctive than using a plastic card or some other digital device!

Finally, in this post on public transport one is left with some questions.  For instance, was this a hapless individual attempting to signal to the bus driver that s/he wanted the bus to stop and allow her/him to board —— but the driver had neglected to pull up on time?!

And although I’ve been looking at this sign for umpteen years, nobody has ever deigned to explain to me what happens if you don’t!

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In understatement, an interesting fortnight!

This notice has been posted in Belsize Park and Hampstead for quite a while now.  However, as no reward was offered, one can only assume that he has vanished.  Perhaps taken a vacation in the Catskills?!


It’s been a fascinating fortnight, to say the least.  In my last post, I made some comments about the outgoing and incoming British Prime Ministers flying from London to Balmoral Castle, two days after I arrived in the country, each for an audience with the Queen.  Mr. Johnson, the outgoing Prime Minister, went there to tender his formal resignation and Ms Truss, his successor, flew up to receive an invitation from Her Majesty to form a new government.  Watching the news on TV that Tuesday, my reaction at the time was very simple.  It was that the queen was the ultimate public servant.  After all, here she was, 96 years old and had had mobility problems for some time, so it would not have been out of order for her to have delegated authority to her eldest son as she had already done on several occasions in the past couple of years.  But she chose to welcome the new Prime Minister in person.

Two days later, on the Thursday, the early morning news on BBC radio announced that the queen’s doctors were concerned about her health and that members of the Royal Family were flying to Balmoral, the Scottish castle in Aberdeenshire that was her summer home.  The news wasn’t exactly unexpected although what followed was, to say the least, a surprise.  I was out during the morning and returning home, turned on the television to watch a few minutes of news around midday. What I was noticed an abundance of black suits and ties on the announcers and reporters — although nothing had yet been announced.  News of the queen’s death came later in the afternoon and that started an outpouring of emotion that lasted for 10 days.

What I found astonishing was the extent to which people (at least those who were interviewed on radio and TV) seemed to be genuinely affected by her passing — as if some close and elderly relative had passed away.  Strangely, I found myself touched, too. In this world, in which things change so rapidly, Queen Elizabeth II seemed to have always been there — unchanging.  Although we didn’t have TV in Dublin at the time, I remember looking at the photograph of Princess Elizabeth arriving back from Kenya as queen in 1952 after her father had died and then listening to the voice of Richard Dimbleby describing her coronation the following year.

Whatever you might think of the monarchy, the most positive thing that can be said about it is that it offers continuity.  The alternative to the monarchy — a republic — is just as likely to produce a nonentity, an amoral politician, a formerly unscrupulous pol or a soon-to-be corrupt one as anything else, including a dictator.

The death of the queen was about the only thing on TV for 10 days.  What amazed me was the stamina of the new king and his consort as they jetted around the “four nations” that comprise the United Kingdom making small talk with their “subjects”.

Scotland — [obviously]. Note skirt, sox, & sporran.

They’re not exactly youngsters — Charles is nearly 74 and Camilla’s 75 (and with a broken toe), the other sibs are in their 60s and 70s — and on the day of the funeral, they schlepped all the way on foot from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch, a distance of about 2 km and during the 10 days up to the end, they showed no external emotion associated with mourning—except when the national anthem was sung near the end of the service.  However, I did think that at the end of it all, the new king and queen [consort] did look pretty exhausted — no surprise there.

The funeral itself was something that only the British could manage.  It was colourful; it was moving — and, it would seem, was watched by people the world over.  Hollywood couldn’t have dreamed up a better show.  Forget the fact that the whole thing had been planned and rehearsed for a decade or more — with the queen’s approval — so it went off without a hitch.  To my simple mind, the eight pallbearers deserve medals for not dropping the box and the precision with which they accomplished their task, including up and down steps and sideways into the hearse. It was nothing short of amazing.

I suppose that the service in the abbey with the choir and congregation singing and the transportation of Her Majesty’s coffin to Wellington Arch might have been labelled “From hymns to hearse”, but that’s just my not-very-dignified play on words.

Meanwhile, between the announcement of the queen’s passing and her funeral, we spent four days in Venice.  Venice is a place to which I had been just once and what I remembered about it was that all one had to do was to point the camera, click on the shutter button and the outcome was usually a stunning image. So, not having been away on vacation for seven years, I wanted to do it again.

Looking back, my previous visit had been in October 2008, 14 years ago and October meant that it was well after most tourists had already vanished.  This time, things were different.  We stayed in a small hotel near St. Mark’s Square, a location that was very central.  However, this time, the tourists (of which we were two) were multitudinous — innumerable, in fact.  One woman with whom we spoke told us that most of the young people had left the Old City of Venice for locations on the mainland and that there were only three schools left in the old city.  Their place appears to have been taken by the sightseers and visitors.

In the area in which we were staying, one could hear some Italian spoken.  There was also a smattering other European languages but the dominant mode of expression seemed to be uttered in American.  So great was the presence of American tourists all around me that I felt positively slim for the first time in ages.

Line of tourists (all numbered) awaiting arrival of tour guide carrying the same number. Venice, September 2022

The small notice about forbidden activities posted modestly in St. Mark’s Square, seems to have been missed or ignored by the multitude — and the pigeons (and the gulls) seem to be able to look after themselves without the active interference of humans.

Venice, as I remembered it from last time, seems to be falling apart at the seams, if you look at the external appearance of most of its buildings …

… but then there are people who tell me constantly that that is what gives it its “charm”.

There seemed to be a plethora of dogs about (as well as what dogs leave behind them when their owners fail to clear it up) but then, since Covid, there seems to be a plethora of dogs about in general!

Cannaregio, Venice. September 2022

 

Shaggy Dog. Near St. Mark’s Square, Venice. September 2022

There was also an overabundance of tattoos, something I cannot and will never get used to!

This was the male member of a couple that was on the vaporetto.  They had a pram with them so I assumed that they had a baby in the pram — but no, I was wrong again!  The pram contained a member of the canine species!

A Work of art! Venice, September 2022

 

Yet another work of art (on the arm and elsewhere). Venice, September 2022

 

Yet more works of art! Venice, September 2022

… Yet there really are works of art about if one looks around, such as these notebooks.  (Note that the requests not to touch are in English) …

… or these handbags

And it’snot just in handbags that one sees Murano glass, for it is everywhere.

However, the most stunning example of Murano glass was to be found in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore where the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei was exhibiting examples of his work.  He is known for many things but glass has not been one of them. However, this is the result of a three-year project conceived in Murano and the artist is reported to have said that glass is a material, part of our daily life and in its presence, we reflect upon the relationships between life and death, and between tradition and reality.

Central to the exhibition is La Commedia Umana , a 9m-high suspended sculpture involving 2,000 pieces of black glass handcrafted  in Murano. The twisting, cascading chandelier-like sculpture is one of the largest hanging sculptures ever made in Murano glass; it is a sinister theatre of objects including bones, organs, bats and surveillance cameras. This hanging sculpture  in black glass defies definition though part of its beauty is that it remains a mystery, a human tragedy, a comedy, a tangled mess that we each must seek to unwind in our own time, a work that stirs emotions, that forces us to come to terms not only with our own mortality but with the part our lives have to play in the greater theatre of human history.

 

 

And close by are some more works by Ai Wei Wei, including several reproductions of well-known paintings composed of Lego pieces.

Great as these pieces are, the view from the top of the tower at San Giorgio Maggiore is nothing short of remarkable.

St. Mark’s Square from the tower of St. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. September 2022

And getting around and crossing the Grand Canal in the vaporetto is almost as incredible.

We also made it to another island in the lagoon — Burano.  A little further out then Murano, Burano is known for its lacework and its brightly coloured houses.  The most credible explanation for the origin of the different colours of Burano’s houses seems to be linked to the fact that it had been a fishing village and that the fishermen decided to paint the façades of their homes with an identifying colour in order to be able to return there without problems even with the thickest fog — or, one might suppose, if they had had a little too much to drink!

And at the end of a very long day, we decided that it was time to lie out on a bench and relax.

And then it was back to the hotel and while en route, I espied a Venetian traffic jam!

And then it was back to London with Venetian memories in the mind!

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Exits and Arrivals

Well, it’s been a long time again but what can one do?  Better late than never (or perhaps not, as the case may be).  I’ve made the trip from the Promised Land to the country that used to rule over (cartographically, in pink) about a quarter of the world’s land surface and which today is a pale pink shadow of its former self, although on the basis of the results of the election for the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party, some would think that pale pink can be converted to True Blue.

My flight last Sunday was uneventful, which is usually the most positive thing that one can say about flying these days.  El Al, Israel’s national airline, hounded me with emails for four days prior to the trip advising me to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv at least four hours before take-off to minimise potential delays and other disturbances on travel day.  (They even told me that I could come the day before with all my baggage and check everything in then, so as to avoid delays on the day, which would have meant, had I taken up their kind offer, turning up on Friday morning, and then returning home by bus or train as this generous facility is not offered on Saturday, the official day of rest.)

As departure time was 10.10, I had booked a cab for 06.30 to get me to the airport by 07.00, a time which I thought would have been more than adequate.  I was tempted to ask the cab to turn up earlier but couldn’t find a way to change the booking (I should have asked one of my grandchildren to do it for me but didn’t) and the cab turned up on time and I was off at 06.30.  I arrived at the airport about 07.00 expecting a long line and a longer wait, but all the security checks took less than 30 minutes, meaning that I was able to have a cup of coffee by 07.30.  I asked the young woman who had checked my suitcase why El Al wanted me there four hours before and her response was “just to be on the safe side”  and that if I were to have arrived three or four hours later, the place would have been teeming with people.  I would have thought that they might have taken the departure time and the passenger’s age into account beforehand.

Anyway, to my great surprise — and perhaps I am a little too skeptical about things in general — the plane left on time and arrived ten minutes ahead of schedule.  Customs and immigration procedures were relatively swift and less than five minutes after I reached the baggage carousel, my suitcase was there and I was on my way out.  Wonders will never cease!

At first glance, it might seem that what I have succeeded in doing is to change the landscape colours from shades of beige and brown …

… to shades of grey and green with a little blue  and white intermingled.

But more significantly, I’ve travelled from a country that appears to possess what seems to be a permanent transitional government to another one which, until very recently, seems to have been a country without a functioning government at all.  But at long last the sometime Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, formally tendered his resignation to the monarch on Tuesday morning and flew back home to southeastern England while his successor, having received more votes in the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party than her colleague the Swishy Rishi, made her way to the same castle in Aberdeenshire in the afternoon to be invited by the Queen to form a government and thus, the new Prime Minister was, how shall I say in my Dublin accent, “trussed into the limelight” as it were and the country will have a performing government once again.

And as Ms. Truss made her way from Balmoral to Downing Street I couldn’t help thinking that the scenes played out on my TV screen somehow summed up the British situation as it stands today.  There, in the torrential downpour and the grey sky, stood tens of MPs and several potential cabinet ministers, awaiting the arrival of the new Prime Minister. Some of them had umbrellas and others were simply drenched through, while the technical staff alternately lugged the podium from the which the Prime Minister was to give her address outside Number 10 inside to protect it from the rain and and then carried it outside again when the rain stopped.

 

Eventually, she turned up and gave a rather bland speech in her very personal accentless accent in which she promised “to deliver” several times (rather like the Restaurant food, takeaway and groceries firms do) before entering the hallowed doors to begin the process of firing and hiring cabinet ministers.  This was the same podium from which her predecessor only a few hours earlier had likened himself to a booster rocket which, having done its job of launching a satellite into space, falls back to earth.  In the same speech and as a classics scholar, he also compared himself to Cincinnatus returning to his plough.  (In ancient Rome, Cincinnatus took a twenty year break before returning to Rome when called upon to be appointed temporary dictator.) Nevertheless, the historian Mary Beard reminded all and sundry that Cincinnatus was in fact regarded as “an enemy of the people”!  In other words, after BoJo has taken some time off to make a few millions from memoirs and winding people up on the lecture circuit, he’ll be back to woo and then torment the voters and his erstwhile colleagues once more.

Be all that as it may, the week before I left Israel, I spent a week with the elder of my two sisters.  Roz has lived in Israel for nearly 60 years and had been a midwife by profession for over 50 and now, retired from hospital work, she has come to specialise in home births

I’d been in Israel since early June this but I hadn’t yet seen her on this visit, so I took myself off to the Golan Heights for a few days to be with her.  We talked for most of the time and towards the end, came to the conclusion that it was probably the first time that we had been together unaccompanied by family members.  On the day before I left, she was going to see a woman who was an overdue 42 weeks pregnant and who lived about 75 minutes drive away and she asked me if I’d like to accompany her while she drove.  We arrived at the home of the expectant couple and as I chatted to the husband, Roz went about her work and decided to ply the pregnant woman with a concoction likely to induce the birth.  The work done, we drove around the Northern Golan for a while and then found somewhere to have a light lunch not too far away.  Lunch over, the idea was to drive back to Roz’ place so that she could rest and I could read (she said that it might take 24 hours for the inducement (or is it induction?) to take effect and off we went.  Ten minutes into the journey back to her place, there was call from the husband to say that things had started.  This resulted in a U-turn and a trip driven at breakneck speed back to whence we had come only a short while before.  Any suggestion from me that she drive a little more slowly or a little further away from the vehicle ahead was met with utter contempt; had car windows been open, other drivers on the road, especially those she felt were not driving sufficiently fast would have heard a set of obscenities proffered that might have caused them to veer sharply off the road.

Worse still was the coarseness of the words uttered when she thought that the driver of the vehicle ahead wasn’t sure whether s/he should continue straight ahead or turn left or right.  When I mentioned that a little slower might only make a difference of 5 or 10 minutes, I was told in no uncertain terms that 5 or 10 minutes might make all the difference between a baby being delivered by an experienced midwife or by an inexpert husband.  I hadn’t thought that a refined woman was capable of uttering such profanities. However, lest you get the wrong impression that the 45-minute hair-raising ride involved only shouts, screams and maledictions, it would only be fair to add that each time the husband called with a “progress report”, Roz’ voice was transformed in order to deliver a set of instructions that sounded absolutely calming and encouraging.  But, advice over, it was back to vulgarities — until we arrived back from where we had started off.  Equipment in bag, in she went, while I remained in the car …

… until about 11-13 minutes later, my phone rang and I heard the voice informing me that a baby girl had been born 6 minutes earlier.  We had arrived just on time.

The following morning, a lawyer appeared to register the home birth and the job had been more or less completed.

Although I have known for half a century what my sister does for a living, this was as close as I ever got to watching her in action and I’m glad that I did.  It really had been something to experience, even if at a distance!

And then it was back to the early morning heat and humidity of Tel Aviv and to prepare myself for the trip to London!

 

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Body Art, Beards and Lionesses

The Yarqon Stream, not-so-early morning. August 2022

This post is overdue by almost a month.  The heat, the humidity, the noise, and the utter discomfort of being outside during the daytime hours in Tel Aviv during summer  lead to a level of lethargy that I can’t remember experiencing before (and it’s not really much more comfortable at night) and it tends to keep me indoors with fans and air-conditioning working full time in whatever room I  happen to be in at any given time.  Other than reading a bit, getting rid of surplus stuff (mostly paper but which will have to include books, something I should have done years ago and will nevertheless cause me great agony as they go) and organizing 40,000 photos so that I can do something with them (something that should have been ongoing over the years but wasn’t), there’s really not been much else to do or report.

Israeli television seems to be either news or current affairs with people sitting around a studio table all screaming at one another — which is par for the course in this part of the world – or programmes that are designed for halfwits.  Sky News, the only alternative I really have to follow what’s going on in the world isn’t really much better.  News used to be about reporting and commenting on what has happened whereas today it’s more to do with speculation about what might happen and in order to attract viewers, speculation usually accompanied  by transmogrifying what passes as news into a lurid description of the worst possible scenario that could come about.  As the British journalist and former Member of Parliament Matthew Parris once wrote “I really don’t like television very much. It’s partly that I don’t approve of television … because I think it is an inherently stupid medium.”  Parris also wrote somewhere years ago (although I can’t find the reference) that if you’re contracted to write piece of 800 or 1,000 words once, twice or three times a week and you have nothing interesting to say, then you still have to produce piece of 800 or 1,000 words even if it says nothing.  And so it is with the media in general — if you have to turn out a newspaper with 32 pages and here’s nothing to report, you can’t have 4 pages of news and 28 empty pages, so you fill what might have been empty pages with garbage.  And the same applies to television — a news programme scheduled for 75 minutes has to go on for an hour and a quarter — you can’t show a blank screen and although filling time with ads might obviate the need for presenting a blank screen, it appeals to me not one little bit.

I actually tried to start writing this blog post a fortnight ago but got nowhere with it.  It was the day after I had watched most of the Euro women’s soccer Cup Final which was held at Wembley Stadium in front of almost 88,000 spectators.  The media, as usual, had made such a hullabaloo about “The Lionesses” that I thought I’d give it a go, with little better to do. Frankly, and quite in contrast to the opinions I heard over the media following the match, I was bored to tears —— but, I must add, not as turned off as I was while watching Brentford thrash an absolutely dire Manchester United by 4 goals to 0 the other day.  The ladies’ match was played at a slower pace than the men’s. I also discovered that ladies don’t seem to dribble (they’re much too refined and ladylike to be seen to do that in public!).  Given that “diversity” is one of the most commonly used of current buzzwords, diversity was not something that seemed apparent on either the English side or the German team that day but I suppose that that will change, too. However, with surnames like Bright (she didn’t seem any more or less so that the others), Bronze (she didn’t seem any browner than the others), Hemp (she didn’t seem as if she smoked any) and Parris (who didn’t look remotely French), I have to say that I was a little confused.  There also seemed to me an undercount of tattooed arms and legs compared with the man’s game!  Other than that, I think the English goalkeeper saved the day for them!

As for tattoos, it struck me the other day as I went for a walk in the nearby Yarqon Park that as a result of the pandemic, things had changed somewhat.  Tattoos are definitely in— I used to see the the odd tattooed person but now, it seems as if every second person man and woman, young and old, has a tattoo.  Sometimes they’re modest —  just a butterfly on a shoulder or a name or a birdcage on an arm …