Hydrants & Pareidolia

Earlier this week, I gave a short talk at a gallery in Hampstead Garden Suburb.  A few months ago, I had sent a friend something I’d written some years ago.  He thought it amusing and he passed it on to the gallery curator who asked me if I’d like to talk about it and I agreed, not knowing quite why.  Having prepared the talk, I thought I might as well expose readers of this blog to the images rather than write another emotional piece about current events going on at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, which I might have done against my better judgment.  Just as well I didn’t!

Anyway, it all began over 40 years ago.   I had been teaching summer school at the University of Toronto and Vivien had gone home with the kids six weeks before me.  One weekend, rather than be on my own, I went off with an old friend to Appalachia and while having a “comfort break” along a road somewhere in the mountains, I looked to my left at something that amused me and I thought it was worth a photograph. The resulting image was one that I kept all the years and smiled at whenever I looked at it even though I knew it was pure kitsch.  Fast forward two decades and I took early retirement (too early in retrospect) but digital photography had just  become a consumer option so I took two courses to familiarize myself with the cameras and also to learn how to edit images as well as scanning some old transparencies that had been languishing in boxes, unviewed for many years — and old Uncle Sam Hydrant was amongst those I moved into my new digital catalogue.

Returning to Israel after 5½ years in London, we moved from Haifa to Tel Aviv, a city I didn’t know particularly well, so combining the new leisure activity (photography) with a need to learn the geography of the city we had chosen to live in, I started walking the streets of (mostly North) Tel Aviv. Over the next couple of years, I photographed many kinds of street activities as I sauntered through what proved to be a limited number of routes in North Tel Aviv, occasionally branching out to broaden perspectives. There were photographs of buildings and streets and there were images of people engaging in all sorts of activities from meeting friends in cafés and restaurants, to roller-skating, cycling, walking and much else.  While doing this, I was reminded of what the critic Susan Sontag had written back in 1973 in her book On Photography: 

 “… photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the … The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.” … The flâneur is not attracted to the city’s official realities but to its dark seamy corners, its neglected populations — an unofficial reality behind the façade of bourgeois life that the photographer “apprehends,” …   It’s clear that the armour to which she was referring is the camera, so I became a sort of flâneur of North Tel Aviv. 

Fire hydrants have been around since the mid-19th century. The first surviving American patent — for a wooden fire hydrant — was taken out in 1838. (The patent office itself had burned to the ground in 1836, taking with it any earlier hydrant patents, and, presumably, any hydrants that might have been there, too.) Then in the 1860s, several patents were granted for iron hydrants and since then, they’ve been part of the urban scene.  The primary function of the fire hydrant, of course, is to be an integral component in fire protection but they are used for other purposes, such as for cooling children off while playing in the streets in hot weather or for dispersing crowds.  

Looking back at the early images of fire hydrants that I had photographed, the only reason I chose to photograph them was they just seemed to be there, part of the street scene as I walked by them and at first, I didn’t take too much notice of them.  I certainly didn’t think that there was anything remarkable in their appearance.  What caught my eye was that almost all the Tel Aviv hydrants were painted red and they just seemed to stand out in a crowd.  However, after I changed the image editing application I’d been using, I began to pay them more attention because the new app had a face recognition facility and … I noticed that it was recognizing the hydrants as “faces”. I found this funny for what caused the software to identify these structures as faces was that they appeared to have eyes and/or a mouth and this is what furnished them with a certain “character”. As a consequence of this chance finding, I began to uncover a whole new population of these subliminal street characters who, on the face of it — no pun intended — were seemingly invisible to others.

Once I began to photograph these newly discovered streeties, I found myself searching for “individuals” I hadn’t seen before. Yet, after a year or so, I realized that variety amongst hydrants is considerably less than that among humans — hardly a surprising discovery. Yet even so, every now and then, I come across an individual that looks somehow different to the others — even unique — and into the catalogue it went.  In addition, looking through my collection, which now numbers about 1,700, I noticed that I’ve recently been identifying other “street people” that are not hydrants at all. Looking around, I can see all types of other “faces” staring back at me — and not just in the street, either. Consequently, this collection also contains a hosepipe, a garbage container, a tree and a food item, and other things that have “faces” … which reminds me of a story I read in The Times a few weeks ago, which reported that in 1994, a woman in Florida received what she took to be a religious message through a grilled cheese sandwich. While gazing at its toasted surface, she saw a face looking up at her, which she took to be the Virgin Mary, “and she was in shock.”  Nevertheless, she sold the snack on eBay for $28,000! This phenomenon of seeing significant patterns, often faces, in inanimate objects is called pareidolia. 

I should mention that each individual hydrant was photographed in situ and au naturel.  Most of them are from Tel Aviv with a small number from Spain and Italy and even London.  All except one of the images are mine and I won’t tell you which one isn’t—but the person who sent it to me might recognize it!!  None of my “models” “posed” for me nor did I apply any “make-up” to try to make them appear more attractive. Nevertheless, several of the images have been touched up for publication. 

I did consider not assigning captions to the pictures at all, leaving you to have free rein in deciphering the images.  Why distract others by forcing them to see what I thought I saw when that is not necessarily what they might see?  Then again, if by providing captions, it makes the reader wonder why I thought the way I thought, thereby making her or him look even harder at an image which they might not have done otherwise, then surely I’ve succeeded.  And if they apply their own captions that are different from my own, then  all the better!

Essentially, the order of the photographs is: Eyes, Faces, Bodies, Speech, Just pictures, and “faces” that are not hydrants at all.  I wind it all up with five “normal” pictures just to show that I’m not obsessed with things such as fire hydrants.

















































































































From language through War to Song


Riding the bus from Hampstead Garden Suburb to Golders Green Underground Station a few weeks ago, I passed a building which was located an optometric practice.  It wasn’t so much the building that drew my attention, rather the name of the building.  I lived close to a street in Haifa named for Zamenhof and I knew that he was the creator of what he had hoped would become an international and universal language, Esperanto.  So I wondered if there was any connection between Zamenhof House and Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof himself. I discovered that the multilingual Ludwik Lejzer was not just a linguist but that he was also an eye doctor and a scholar born in Bialystok in 1859, a place that incorporated three major groups: Poles, Belorussians, and Yiddish-speaking Jews and it was this that brought Zamenhof to thinking to  hope that a single common language could join these groups and prevent intergroup hostility.  It was, it seems, a vain hope but he nevertheless attempted to create an international language with a rich and complex grammar, even going so far as to translate the Hebrew Bible into Esperanto.  It also transpired that Zamenhof was an ophthalmologist as was his son, Adam, who was  head of a large Orthodox Jewish Hospital in Warsaw and had invented a device to check blind spots in the field of vision and who was also active in the leadership of the Bialystok-Warsaw Chamber of Medical Doctors—and who was murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.  It turned out that the building in the photo above had been named after him and has been home to optometrists for several years.

And on another topic as the war between Hamas and Israel continues, The Guardian, a newspaper not known for its pro-Israel views, posted the following less than a week ago.


The link brought you to a page on which the paper asked:

People in Israel: how have you been affected by the Israel-Hamas war?  A month on, we want to speak to people in Israel about how the war is affecting them

We are also asking to hear from people in Gaza here

It was also posted to my daughters and Shuli wrote to me that she wasn’t sure, saying “I’m not very good at writing. I’ll see”.  When she sent it to me, I disagreed with her that she couldn’t write, so I asked her if I could include it in this blog post and she agreed.  So this is what she wrote last Friday.

Tell us something about yourself:
My name is Shuli Waterman and I’m 50 years old.  I live in Tel Aviv and I’m a professional musician, the principal violist of the Israel Camerata Orchestra, Jerusalem. 
I was a founding member of the Aviv String Quartet between 1997 and 2009, and performed many times at Wigmore Hall in London and in major concert halls throughout the world.
Share how you have been affected by the conflict:
Like the whole of Israel, my family and I were woken up at 6.30 in the morning of October 7th by the sound of wailing sirens. At first we thought it was an error with the siren system. We automatically jumped out of bed, put our slippers on, took our dog by the leash and ran down to the building shelter (luckily, we live on the first floor so we are only two floors above the shelter). Thankfully, we have 90 seconds to run to the shelter before a rocket reaches Tel Aviv. I say “thankfully” because people living down south, near the border, only have 15 seconds, which doesn’t leave much time to even put your shoes on!
We heard the booms of the Iron Dome missiles exploding while destroying the many hundreds of rockets that were fired from Gaza.  We were in total shock. Where was this coming from? There had been no indications of impending attacks from Hamas (compared to other times when Gaza fired at us, although we knew from those rounds that it would happen at some point). This time, it was a total surprise and as we have no Internet connection down in the shelter, we only discovered how big the rocket attack was when we went back up home 10 minutes later (the IDF recommends staying in the shelter for 10 minutes, as the particles and debris take time to scatter and can land on someone or a car or a building and cause a lot of damage and harm).  So it was that we discovered on the news at 6.40 that the whole of the south of Israel, all the way to the center i.e. Tel Aviv and even further north (Herzliya and Raanana) had been targeted with thousands of rockets.
As there are kids in the household, we all tried to calm down, distracting ourselves by playing and drawing, but not quite sure what on earth was going on. 

Slowly the news channels started reporting horrific scenes of Hamas soldiers entering Israel and the towns and kibbutzim near the Gaza border. We watched live telephone conversations between people locked in their shelters, telling reporters that they can hear [people speaking] Arabic, terrorists in their houses, shooting and vandalising, whispering frantically in order to keep quiet.  All this was live; WE were watching this LIVE on TV. The families were BEGGING the reporters to call the army, the police. No one was helping them.   This was horrific and terrifying to watch and hear, none of us knowing what was next to come.mWe all now know what happened next; I can’t even bring myself to write it because it’s too terrible. 

We are five weeks after the biggest terror attack in the history of Israel. So many people have died and so many have been abducted and are being held as hostages. The numbers are growing daily.  We are a nation in shock, in mourning, and post-traumatic. 

This month has been one of the hardest times of my life— so bad for five weeks already, waking up several times a night, checking the news  (I know it’s recommended not to, but I can’t help it), checking on my sleeping 12-year old daughter, crying myself back to sleep, thinking of all those sweet poor babies and children in the dark, with no parents to hug, and no sunlight to play in.The first few weeks were very stressful, even though I am safe and sound in my cosy flat in Tel Aviv.  But we had rockets flying over our heads sometimes up to three times a day.  One would think that one might get used to the daily run to the shelter, but one simply DOESN’T! The sirens are so loud (and so they should be, as they need to alarm us and stop anything we are doing, because our lives are in danger if we don’t.)  I am often caught in my pyjamas, on the loo, just as I have fallen asleep or in the middle of cooking, or practising the viola.  Taking a shower takes a big judgement because the rockets usually come on the hour or half hour. Whatever time I choose, I make it quick and I can’t really enjoy a long lazy shower any more.

I consider myself lucky as I have no family or friends currently in the army.  Our next door neighbour’s husband has been drafted; he is a soldier in the reserves and is currently in Gaza.  My neighbour is left on her own with a 2-year old baby to look after. She is terrified, as the news pours in every day with another dead soldier and it is tormenting her with fear. I feel for her.

The rushing to the shelter and sitting there amongst our neighbours is probably the only good thing about this war. We have got to know our neighbours so well, it’s quite ironic because we usually just know what their dogs are called on our daily walks, or what the kids are called, and hardly know the neighbours past the third floor. But this war has brought us closer, as we are all going through this difficult time together. It’s a bit like group therapy. We actually missed our daily chats when Hamas was kind enough to skip a couple of days of sirens!

I attended a funeral yesterday, that of Yam Glass, my best friend’s niece, who had been missing for three weeks and whose remains were found only a week ago. She was a soldier in Kibbutz Nachal Oz and was serving in the military base. Her base was one of the first to be attacked and burned. All the girls there were burned alive, unable to escape on time.   I can still see her beautiful smiling face when I try to fall asleep. It’s heartbreaking and tragic.

It was the first military funeral I had ever been to and I hope the last!  There must have been around 500 people or more at the funeral. There was so much sadness and love amongst the crowd.  An IDF soldier announced that in case of a rocket attack, everyone must lie on the floor with hands above their heads for 10 minutes. (I couldn’t imagine this happening and thank God it didn’t.) The poor family looked like they were utterly exhausted, their faces had such sad expressions. They had been waiting frantically for any news for three whole weeks. I can’t even try and imagine the tension, stress and grief that they were experiencing and they are just one family out of hundreds in the same situation.  I was playing with the Carmel Quartet (whose first violinist is the aunt of the soldier so brutally murdered and who was being laid to rest.  The family wanted us to play at the graveside. It was a very sad and emotional experience for me and my twin sister, Tami and  l’m sure it will take me some time to process it.

My orchestra is finally getting back to playing next week. All our concerts have been cancelled until further notice. This has been a big blow for the orchestra, financially. Most of the performing arts are on hold. It’s a little bit like Covid. It’s a terrible blow because the orchestras are just starting to recover from the Covid years. It’s not going to be easy.  And while I am writing about Covid, the kids were also just about recovering from that awful Covid schooling and here they are back to Zooms. Gali, my daughter, is going to school twice a week. The school has 1,200 students but he shelters aren’t large enough to hold so many pupils, therefore they are splitting the classes into more than half. These Zoom classes are pretty bad and I can see the effect on Galali in not having frontal classes, seeing her classmates for real, seeing the teacher for real. I don’t know how long this is going to go on for. It’s very worrying.  We have a project next week performing some concerts in several various hotels where the refugees of the evacuated towns and kibbutzim are staying.  I know people crave music even in times of despair, so I am happy to be doing some good for them.  I can’t imagine how they are feeling, having their homes completely destroyed, and so many friends and family members who have either been murdered or kidnapped.  Moreover, staying in a hotel room for 5 weeks is no holiday!  Those kids are not in school and their parents are not at work. This is not a life, this is war, something you watch in a movie (in this case a horror movie).  I would never have imagined being part of something like this in my life.

I have family in the UK and I could have easily gone to them, left Israel for a while, fleeing the war, but to tell the truth, I feel safer as a Jew here in Israel at this time. Watching the news about what’s going on in Europe and the United States really scares me. I have never thought antisemitism could rise again in such a way—and so quickly. It makes me sad and angry to see so many people chanting things against Israel and Jews—without understanding what is going on here at all. There are so many ignorant people!  That’s just history repeating itself, and it’s really alarming.
I have never felt prouder to be an Israeli and Israeli society is showing so much solidarity (as compared to last year when there was such a rift in this country). My whole neighbourhood is recruiting itself for the cause either by making cakes for the soldiers, or picking fruit and vegetables and crops, as most of the workers are in the army right now.  Our building bought a ton of lemons (each family 4 kilos of lemons) from a farmer in one of the orchards in the south.
I pray that our lives will get back on track in the near future.  Life will never be the same after October 7th, 2023. But I hope, in fact I am sure, that we can pick up the pieces and then enjoy and celebrate life.

She tried sending to the paper as requested but couldn’t so she shortened it and attempted to send it in smaller pieces, all to no avail.  She said that she eventually managed to send it to the Guardian’s WhatsApp address but has no idea as whether or not it arrived.  She wrote to me the day yesterday “Its not letting me submit it.. maybe its too long. I tried splitting it into a few categories.. oh well, I’ll try later, and if it doesn’t submit it, I’ll leave it……… it was good to write and gather my thoughts around it.”  In other words, the writing itself was cathartic.  (It’s Monday evening and she managed to send out today.  It will be interesting to see what The Guardian does with it, if anything)

Of all the video clips circulating around the issue of this war, the one I found to be quite interesting was at a demo in Wellington, New Zealand when a [mostly] Maori group performed a Haka to scare off anti-Israel demonstrators …

… which reminded me that my son, Dov, had composed a piece like that nearly 20 years ago.


Then, in order to escape the news for a while (and I now restrict myself to <10 minutes of Israeli news in Hebrew in the morning, 10-15 minutes in English from the BBC at breakfast— why I can’t explain!— and maybe another short dose in the evening), we went into town to see and hear Mandy Patinkin who is in London for a week,  performing just eight shows at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.  I had a rather vague idea of who he is but the critics were so positive we felt we should go and see him.  I  think that the first 45 minutes were wasted on Isabel and me (but not on 99% of the audience) as we really weren’t familiar with the songs.  But his is acting abilities stood out beyond the singing and as he he sat down to chat to the audience, his quality stood out.  Furthermore, his choice of songs did him proud.  I’ve always thought the Oscar Hammerstein lyric from the South Pacific song, You’ve got to be carefully taught is wonderful, and it’s one that hardly anyone knows but it was his pairing of that song with Stephen Sondheim’s Children will Listen was nothing short of brilliant—so apt for what’s going on around us at the moment.

He also included Kermit the Frog’s signature tune, It’s not so easy being green and I interpreted “being green” as “being Jewish in the UK in November 2023”.

He ended his performance with Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the words which Harburg had written as a testament to and appreciation of those Jews to emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States (The goldene Medina — the golden land) in their hundreds of thousands over a century ago.  However, the tears really jerked in this performance as Patinkin sang it in Yiddish!  I’m not sure that most of the audience understood but you’d never have believed that from the long and very loud standing ovation.  (And here it is performed by Natalie Dessay and the Ebène Quartet).

And so it goes on.  I find it incredible that it appears as if the BBC and Sky believe everything that comes out of Gaza from Hamas, a terrorist army that governs its own people through terror, as if it is God’s truth whereas what Israel has to say, if reported at all, is taken with more than a single grain of salt.  Occasionally, there’s some like Douglas Murray or Richard Kemp who do seem to realize what’s going on and are not afraid to say it, but for the most part, we are stuck with the likes of Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin.

See you next time, whenever.


9/11, Pearl Harbor, Holocaust — or even worse?

Kristallnacht, London style — Golders Green Road, October 2023


I’m not sure whether or not I should post anything to the blog this week and if I do what I should write.  This has been the most difficult week I’ve ever experienced.

Vivien and I were living in Jerusalem when the so-called Six-Day War broke out and building directly opposite ours, just 10 meters away, received a direct hit from a shell fired from Jordan (which then controlled what was called the West Bank).  I was working as a volunteer postman in the religious neighborhood of Givat Mordechai, where we lived and I spent the first night in an air raid shelter at the far end of the neighbourhood with a group of hysterical women and children and without Vivien knowing where I was. (There was no way of contacting her as not only were there no mobile phones in those days but we had no home phone eitherl!).  Six years later, we were back in Israel (for good), living in Haifa, and as the Yom Kippur War of 1973 began, we were preparing to walk to the synagogue on that fateful Saturday morning when we heard a plane flying low, not far above the rooftops, and I understood that something unusual was happening.  Although I sort of knew that there were no radio broadcasts on Yom Kippur, my instant reaction was to run into the kitchen and turn on the radio and it was then that I learned what we all now know. Dov was almost 3 years old and Vivien was pregnant with Shuli and Tami (although we weren’t aware of this at that time) and I spent the war doing voluntary work, driving people around who needed to be driven around.  By the time of the first Israel-Lebanon War in 1982, I had already undergone basic training in the Israeli army and was a qualified medical orderly in a combat unit and “saw action”, something that I put down as a life experience.  How I became a medical orderly is a story in itself but basically, after requesting to be assigned to the Education Corps, I received an order to report to an army base and learn to which unit I would be assigned, the clerk dealing with me informed me that I was being sent on a six-week course to become a medical orderly in a combat unit.  I told him that there just had to be be an error somewhere, as I had asked to be posted to the Education Corps but he checked, and lo and behold, I was informed that there had been no mistake. “Thats where youre going”, said he.  “But why?  Why me?”  He checked again and came back with the response: “Because youre a native English-speaker.”  “Really?”  “Yes, really!  Thats the reason.”  So I interpreted that response to mean that I would usually do as I was told!

It didnt make much sense at the time but thinking back, nothing makes much sense in the army and Im not the first to make that observation, as Peter Ustinov recounted in his autobiography, Dear Me.  Ustinov appeared surprised that the Army had failed to recognize his talents, though he later extracted much comic material from its foolishness. “I can tell you frankly that I loathed every minute,he said of his military career, “and would not have missed it for the world.”  I agree with the first part of that sentence but take issue with the second— although I admit at Sir Peters manifold talents outweighed mine many times over. 

Several years later, I eventually managed to transfer from the Medical Corps to the Education Corps.  There was an M.A. student in the Department of Geography at the University of Haifa who had been a much-decorated brigadier-general and sitting beside one another at the computers in the department most days, we would chat about all sorts of things.  Though we were the same age, our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different but I must have mentioned something one day about not feeling comfortable with my reserve duty but if such a conversation did take place, (and it did) I never gave it any thought at all.  Then, a couple of weeks later,  I received notification that I was being transferred to the Education Corps and I was really rather pleased as I innocently assumed that someone had unearthed my request from a few years back and had decided to act upon it so in due course, I presented myself to my new unit and the transfer was arranged.  A few days later, the same M.A. student “just happenedto ask me if everything went OK with the transfer to Education.  I was dumbfounded at learning how some things in Israel work and understood what must have occurred.  However, the subject was never mentioned again — ever.

But enough about me and my “military history”.  This past week, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, has been the most traumatic I’ve ever experienced and I’m observing what is happening from a distance of 4,000 kms!  On Saturday of last week, I awoke at 5 a.m. (I know that was the time as I looked at my phone to see what time it was) and saw a WhatsApp note from my daughter Tami which read simply: “Chaos.  What’s going on in the south is absolutely scary— complete surprise”.  As a result, I slipped out of bed and logged into various news sources and learned what had happened.

Now, I know I’ve become more emotional since Vivien died more than three years ago and even little things set me off.  But this was no little thing and I have cried more in the past 10 days than I have since I was a child.  Several thousand rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel — and these were not “smart” rockets  that could pinpoint specific targets.  They could have landed anywhere and killed innocent civilians — and they did. What was happening in the Israeli kibbutzim and moshavim and cities around Gaza was pure slaughter and not just slaughter but genocidal slaughter.  People were massacred in their homes; homes were destroyed, people were burned alive; tens of babies were beheaded.  And why?  Not just because they were Israelis but because they were Jews.  Yes, more Jewish people were annihilated on that Saturday since the last day of the Holocaust nearly 80 years before.  The perpetrators, Hamas, an organization that has ruled Gaza for 18 years using terrorist methods to control the local population there decided that the time had come to massacre Jews.  Moreover, as Israel is a small country, almost everyone I have had contact with over the past 10 days knows someone who had been liquidated, taken hostage, injured.  It’s been described as Israel’s 9/11 and Pearl Harbor combined but it’s much, much worse than that.  It was a pogrom, a word derived from pogromit, to destroy by the use of violence’.  A pogrom is an organized massacre of a specific ethnic group, especially Jews in Russia and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was the pogroms of the 1880s that drove many westwards to the USA and elsewhere in the West. Pogroms culminated with the Nazis undertaking a pogrom of gigantic proportions against Jewish people in Germany and the in areas they conquered.  And yet here we are in 2023 and a pogrom is what occurred in Israel last week and this is what the creation of Israel was designed to avoid.  

A few days ago, I received a copy of a piece written by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, (the link to the text is here) Harari which I forwarded to several friends, which you can read here if you so wish.  I received several responses, one of which read: “Stanley, The time for recriminations is when the war is over.  Best wishes, …”.  My view is that there are no recriminations, for very many people have been been saying the same things, in one way or another, for years!  The scale and character of the cock-up has been devastating and I suppose that some time in the future we might learn about responsibility and responsibilities but that will hardly provide succour to those who survived the mass killing or to those who had family members butchered or taken hostage.  However, it will eventually come out and those accountable — all of them — will pay the price!.

And then, a few days ago, I had to listen to John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor, explaining why the BBC, in order to protect its “objectivity”, couldn’t use the word “terrorist” to describe Hamas.  I’d never heard such balderdash (or maybe it was just plain claptrap) for the BBC didn’t seem to have a problem like that when referring to ISIS a few years ago or the IRA a few decades ago.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67083432       https://www.bbc.co.uk/contact/complaint/hamasdescription

Perhaps a piece published last week by Colin Shindler, an emeritus professor of Israel Studies at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London), spells out in as many words that HAMAS = ISIS!   Shindler

And I believe that Hamas has done the Palestinian cause more damage than they can imagine but then given the way they have controlled the people in Gaza, that’s not altogether surprising.  I, too, feel that the Palestinian people need to feel that can have a state of their own but how one manages to accomplish this after what has happened over the past 56 years is beyond my ken.  Any talk of a “two-state solution” these days seems to belong to the realms of fantasy and hallucination given the degradation in relations between the two peoples.  And as for the term “apartheid state”, which is all too often applied to Israel, those using it seem to have no idea what apartheid really was.  As an example, just a single visit to any Israeli hospital where Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, work together as teams, might set them in the right direction!  And in several hospitals, the Director-General is Arab!  That didn’t happen in the original apartheid state.

Some other pieces have appeared in recent days that are perhaps worth reading, if you’ve not seen them.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote an emotional piece in the Daily Mail     https://newspaper.mailplus.co.uk/data/3255/reader/reader.html?social#!preferred/0/package/3255/pub/11203/page/18/content/592125

And a pair of articles published side by side in the FT Weekend by Simon Schama and Sari Nusseibeh, make for interesting reading when read together.    Schama Nusseibeh

Finally, as a Jew living in Britain in 2023, I find that mobs screaming “Kill the Jews”, “Gas the Jews”, “Rape their daughters”, horrifying, to say the least.  There has been a “coming together” among Jews here and throughout the world but why does it take such a hideous cataclysm as occurred last weekend to bring this about?  But then again, having read Dave Rich’s 2022 book (below) last week, things at least fall into place.

Golders Green Road, London.






Smiles and Music

Monday of last week was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar.  As I mentioned in my last post to this blog, it is a day of fasting and contemplation (for many Jewish people), a day of repenting and reflection on the previous year and a day of resolving perhaps to do better in the year lying ahead.  The more observant spend the whole day in the synagogue praying.

This year, I didn’t attend synagogue although that may change by next year for one reason or another. However, I did do what I have done in recent years. The evening of Yom Kippur is referred to as Kol Nidre, which is a prayer in the Aramaic language and which translates as “All Vows”). It begins with an expression of repentance for all unfulfilled vows, oaths, and promises made to God during the year past—although as is traditional in Judaism, there are some rabbinic authorities who contend that even those vows that have been fulfilled are included, because the act of vowing itself is considered sinful.

In the synagogue, the prayer is sung three times, so at home I listened to several different versions, with the rendition by Perry Como, of all people, the one that I favour most (!!!).  The tunes to which the Kol Nidre is sung in the Ashkenazic service were made famous when the 19th-century German composer Max Bruch used them as the basis for several variations for cello and orchestra.  Bruch was not Jewish but Protestant, something that he apparently spent much time explaining to people who thought it not be the case.  However, as an artist he felt the exceptional beauty of the various melodies and consequently spread them throughout his arrangement.  Nevertheless, there are some who would aver that the melody somewhat strayed from its original character and as a result, it was a non-Jewish Kol Nidre that we got from Bruch. (I disagree entirely, as is my wont!). Criticism notwithstanding, it’s a beautiful piece. 

And then on Yom Kippur itself, I listened to what for many years I used to listen to in the afternoon when we would walk home from synagogue for a couple of hours between the morning sections of the prayer and the afternoon and evening services.  And that happens to be Mahler’s 4th symphony, which I have always found more spiritually uplifting than sitting in synagogue all day. This year, I listened to the recording by Leonard Bernstein and the Concertgebouw Orchestra with the boy treble, the then 14-year old Helmut Wittek from the Tölzer Boys’ Choir, who sang the glorious last movement, one of the most beautiful in Mahler’s symphonic repertoire, the boy’s slightly trembling voice helping to convey the air of innocence required in the song from Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”.  In fact, it was so good, with Bernstein conducting the work with such great sensitivity and feeling and the boy’s voice so moving, that I listened to the last movement a second time.  A true feeling of spirituality!

The other major event over the same period was the visit of my daughters and granddaughters from Tel Aviv for 9 days.  Sharing a small apartment with just two women as was the case last December and then again in May, was OK-ish but having to share with four was a bit much (although I did it a couple of years ago when the little girls were younger) so I sought temporary accommodation elsewhere and was made very welcome indeed.  I managed to see my lot almost every day and I think they enjoyed themselves.  They also managed two days in Bath …

… one show (Frozen)  in the West End about which they were over the moon and quite a bit of retail therapy.  They were also very, very lucky with the British weather.  Other than a light 10-minute shower in Bath, they had no rain whatsoever during their stay.  They boarded their plane at noon and at 2.30 pm,  a heavy and very noisy thunderstorm started, which lasted a full 12 hours!

From my point of view, it was wonderful for it’s not often that I get to see all of my children and all of my grandchildren all together at the same time. It was really a heartwarming week!

And then they were off, back to rehearsals, concerts, art lessons, flute lessons and all the rest!


So what else?  I’ve just finished reading Jeremy Eichler’s new book, Time’s Echo for the first time.  It’s a book I intend to read again in the not too far distant future.



I’m neither a musicologist nor a musician and I’m definitely not a historian but I thought it was one of the most informative books I’ve read in years. There were some things in it that I thought I knew a little about (it turns out that I knew very little) and there were lots of things I knew absolutely nothing about. It was also extremely moving in parts causing me to tear up more than once. It struck me that the author is not only extremely knowledgeable but that he has also succeeded in writing in a style that is so clear and readable that it was difficult to put the book down — except to listen to some of the music referred to throughout the work.

It’s a book that deals with the impulse to turn to music during and after the Holocaust. Eichler suggests that music can help us remember what we’ve lost and Time’s Echo is an absorbing recovery project that reveals the depths of Europe’s ability — and its inability — to mourn those losses.  It might seem that the book is a cultural history of four musical works: Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphosen,” Arnold Schoenberg’s “ A Survivor from Warsaw, Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Babi Yar” symphony. But more deeply, it is a captivating  book, an intoxicating attestation to the relationship between music and remembrance in which Eichler argues that not only do we remember music but that “music also remembers us”.  As he puts it, music “possesses a unique and often underappreciated power to burn through history’s cold storage.”

The Aviv Quartet and Nina Shostakovich.  Verbier, 2007
I found the chapter on Shostakovich particularly moving and although I had read several pieces about Shostakovich’s relationship with the Soviet authorities, reading the Babi Yar chapter in the book was heart-rending.  And although I knew that Yehudi Menuhin had played at Belsen concentration camp just two months after the end of the Second World War, I didn’t know that Benjamin Britten was the pianist who had accompanied him in nine performances over five days, performing in front of bedraggled and starving survivors. According to Britten’s partner, the tenor Peter Pears, that visit affected Britten deeply in everything he composed until he died. I also didn’t know anything about Schoenberg’s attempts to “unite” all Jews after he had returned to the Jewish fold in Paris having been forced to flee his homeland, first for France and then for America.
It’s worth quoting from this in the context of the goings-on in Israel these days.  Schoenberg’s Four-Point Program for Jewry, published in 1938 when he was in America, contained “an urgent plea for Jewish unity in the face of [such] an existential threat and for the creation of a Jewish state that might provide safe harbour to millions of refugees … When many of us were ready to assimilate … persecution arose to preserve the nation, as if it were a tool of God to stimulate us when we were in danger of forgetting our inherited belief.”  Jewish sins, [Schoenberg] seemed to think, included not just assimilation but also a certain fractiousness, a tendency toward radical individualism that he viewed as having prevented forceful collective action at key junctions in the history of Zionism.  Now, he thought, that same individualism threatened to derail the efforts required for world Jewry to save itself.  “Unanimity in Jewry must be enforced with all means”. he declared.  If ever there was a warning for Mr.Netanyahu and his acolytes, this is it!


One never quite knows what one is going to meet when one enters a train on the London Underground but last week I was confronted with the footwear below and thought it was worth a photo.  Fortunately, none of my grandchildren was with me at the time for if they had been, I would have been forbidden to hold and click the [silent] iPhone.



Last month was apparently the warmest September on record in London.  One of the downsides of this is that there is a tendency to leave doors and windows open, providing easy entry for various flying beings.


And the warm weather also produces interesting colours and shapes on leaves …

This week, Isabel and I went to visit the National Gallery to view the Frans Hals exhibition.  Although I had recently put The Laughing Cavalier into a post after I had been to the Wallace Collection with my two London grandchildren and seen him there, I produce him again because he is the star (as well as the start) of the current exhibition “down the road”.  The details in the Hals portraits simply have to be seen to be believed and the “Cavalier” is just the first of the many portraits on display in this fabulous collection.  400 years since they were painted, the portraits still breathe with life, with hints of a smile, hands nonchalantly on hip, and just now and then, a burst of laughter.  One of the most in demand painters of his generation, he had skillful and unmatched brushwork, which has to be seen to be believed.  His reputation was based on a new style of portrait, which showed relaxed and lively sitters.  This is the first major retrospective of Frans Hals in more than 30 years, with about 50 of his finest works having been brought together, from small works to large group portraits and genre scenes.  In addition, there are marriage portraits that have been brought together from international collections for the first time, perhaps since they were painted.


Quite amazing, and something that demands a second visit (at least)!


Finally, I am due to show some of my images of fire hydrants to the public in a few weeks’ time and I’m beginning to get a little worried …



… and this is because, in addition to hydrants, I’m going to include just a couple of pictures that have nothing to do with such things other than that I see faces everywhere I go, in a condition known as pareidolia. Should be fun!

The smiling kitchen drawers


The smiling bathroom door lock!


A serious tree. Belsize Park, London

And as Henry Hall (a mid-20th century English bandleader) might have put it, Here’s to the Next Time!




Autumn, New Year & Pasta

In what is possibly one of the best known first lines of a poem, John Keats wrote “Season of mists and yellow fruitfulness” as the first line of his poem To Autumn.  Well, it looks like autumn might finally be arriving following a fortnight of hot and sunny weather here in London.  Next week’s forecast is for what the forecasters refer to as the “seasonal average”.  Meanwhile, the leaves are turning and even if the thermometer doesn’t actually say so, the trees operate on a calendar of their own.



Yes, here we are in mid-September and this weekend marks the Jewish New Year.  I’ve always believed that we should abandon the lunar calendar and move to a more widely used one, declaring Jewish New Year to fall on September 15 every year but that would be declared heretical and I would find myself in a very small minority were I to go public with that lunacy!  However, when I was younger in what now seems to be a frighteningly simultaneous near and distant past, New Year seems to have been a non-stop orgy of eating and/or sitting in synagogue while a cantor droned on and on (I’m afraid that I have never been a great fan of cantorial singing as cantors tend to draw things out almost interminably whereas I prefer short and sweet), with occasional interruptions from the rabbi asking us to recall all our misdeeds of the previous year while promising to ourselves and to others that next year we’ll behave better than in the past; all this culminated in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which involved sitting in a synagogue the whole day with a short break between Mussaf, (the Additional Service) and Minchah, (the Afternoon Service), culminating in Ne’ilah, [which is, obviously], the Concluding Service. These days, I am less observant (in a strictly religious sense, of course] and am comfortable with it although things may yet change and I might draw down on my “Jewish insurance policy” as I get older.  It’s a time of meditation and contemplation, something that everyone needs to do from time to time, even without the prompt from below from actor Jim Carrey (below).


The past year really hasn’t been one of the best that I can remember.  The war in Ukraine, that special military operation supposed to have lasted a week our so, drags on well into its second year with no resolution apparent in the immediate future.  This week’s meeting between Kim and Putin, the one a paranoid third-generation member of a ruling family of dictatorial thugs, the other a modern-day hybrid between a past home-grown dictator who had signed a non-aggression pact with an Austrian despot and liquidator doesn’t bode too well for the future.  The goings-on in the country in which I have lived for most of my adult life does not seem to be anywhere near foreclosure and the Prime Minister’s trials seem to be going nowhere in particular  and one can only hope that in that case, the country doesn’t turn into something like a dictatorship.  Here in the UK, nothing seems to work as it should and various public services from trains to hospitals are affected by what is euphemistically referred to as “industrial action”.  Why not simply say “strike” or “withdrawal of labour”.  The Government seems unable to make rational decisions and stick by whatever decisions it does make and the Prime Minister is criticized not just by the Opposition but my members of his own party, too.  Over the Atlantic, senility seems to have overtaken the President and members of the Senate, too and the former President faces several criminal charges — but tens of millions will vote for him anyway.  There have been extensive wildfires, floods, and earthquakes,  and so on and so forth.

Sewage leak, Belsize Park, London


… and at almost all stations on the London Underground!


Lest I appear unduly pessimistic, there are some things that enliven me a little and give me some joy.  My youngest grandchild, Lily, will be 11 next week.  Amongst other things (which include climbing, swimming, gymnastics and such like), she enjoys cooking and baking.  There was an early-birthday party for her in school at the start of this week, so she decided to bake a cake foe the class, which was all her own work (no help from mother) and as she returned home with the empty baking tray, it obviously went down well.


It was also hinted to me that being a creative person, she would like a machine for making fresh pasta, so grandfather obliged and just to follow the level of excitement that followed as she opened the package made everything worthwhile.  You don’t have to understand the Hebrew to fathom the level of enthusiasm and exhilaration!

She read the instructions on how to assemble it from its parts and then set to work.


The weather was so good yesterday that I went for what was, for me, a long walk across Primrose Hill and The Regent’s Park. As I wrote above, as I get older I become more observant and so there were lots of photos en route.  Each time I walk the streets in London and look upward, I see remnants of an historical geography — analogue TV aerials that have never been removed, by the thousands!

… spiders and webs …

… pigeons …


Auto mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

And just a small number of old photos to finish up wit, which may have missed the cut before …

…  and  the  insect  below   appeared   on the inside  of  my  living  room  window at the start of the week!


…  and even if you’re not celebrating, I wish you all a Happy New Year!


Armour, tattoos and dogs

It’s a funny time of year. After one of Britain’s wettest and coolest summers in recent years, September arrived a week ago—and alongside it, summer. On what has been referred to — illogically, I always think — as the first day of meteorological autumn, the sun came out and the thermometer climbed above 30 degrees Celsius — not at all what residents of this disUnited Kingdom had been expecting. But then again, the Brits never really expect either summer or winter even though in most years, they get both and they are nonplussed each time

Autumn leaves?

Weather aside, I must be getting older (in fact, I know I’m getting older). For a start, there are two 80th birthday parties to which I’ve been invited this weekend. And then, my two 12-year old  granddaughters began secondary school this week, so I suppose it’s not too long before they start thinking about careers.  It seems like only yesterday that they were in cots and prams (cribs and  strollers). My grandson has been at the next educational level for a year already and seems to be enjoying his studies as much as his running, tennis, &c. And my 11-year old granddaughter, already an accomplished cook and who decided a short while ago that she wanted to learn to play the the flute has taken to travelling to her lessons solo by bus, which allows her to feel grownup. What’s more, she’s asked for a pasta machine for her 11th birthday, nothing more and nothing less, and I’m more than pleased to oblige!

It’s the end of the silly season here in that the news has returned to mundane and uncomplicated things like government misdoings and wrongdoings, traffic accidents, escaped convicts and various other foibles of everyday life, just so that we can all feel comfortable again.

Last Friday, I accompanied my two London grandchildren to the Wallace Collection, one of London’s lesser-known art galleries, although why it should be so. I’m not sure.  It’s situated on Manchester Square, about a 5-minute walk from Wigmore Hall.  It’s not a particularly large building but it does have a lot of “stuff”, including an superb assemblage of 18th-century French art, many important 17th and 19th-century paintings, mediaeval and Renaissance works of art — and this appealed particularly to my grandson — one of the finest collections of arms and armour in the country.  Although I’d been there not too long ago, I’d forgotten how densely packed the works of art are on the walls.

 What’s changed? Grand Canal Venice, 2008

I could have spent a much longer time viewing the Canalettos which are in a room with several other 18th century paintings of Venice, which although pleasant to observe, are completely outshone by these works.  And then there was also Fragonard’s “The Swing” which always makes one think about who is teasing whom!

Having spent some time looking at these paintings, it was time to go downstairs and have a look at more important things.




And it was then that I remembered that we hadn’t seen the guy who seems to see the funnier side of things so I asked where he was situated and so it was back upstairs again, before Mr.Hals’ masterpiece was he was removed to spend four months on vacation at the National Gallery where it will be one of several paintings by Frans Hals.  Although he’s known as the Laughing Cavaalier, the subject is, in fact, not laughing but has an enigmatic smile, which is  intensified by his upturned moustache.


There was also a special exhibition of dog portraits and in addition to paintings by such well-known animal painters as Stubbs and Landseer, there were also several by David Hockney, with a special section dedicated to sketches of his dog called, of all names, Stanley.

And then it was off to lunch as the kids had been provided with healthy packed lunches.  However, during the time we were inside the Wallace Collection, the overcast morning weather had been transformed into a sunny early afternoon.  There were lots of benches along the route but all were occupied and we ended up in Cavendish Square where I was sure we’d find somewhere to sit but we ended up on the grass with the pigeons and some people.  The gentleman in the picture below turned out to be no so gentle.  I thought that one person occupying a bench for three was a bit much but didn’t say anything as the look that I got was more than enough to tell me that the bench was his and observing the passers-by, obviously looking for somewhere to sit but not a soul approached him with a request.

Meanwhile, the kids enjoyed their lunches among the pigeons so I thought it might be an opportune moment to introduce them to Tom Lehrer by letting them hear his Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.  To my dismay, they were suitably unimpressed!


I had originally thought of taking them to the Tate Modern so Isabel and I set out a few days earlier on a “reconnaissance” trip.  Taking the Tube to Embankment Station, we walked parallel to the river along the Victoria Embankment and decided that the weather was really too good to spend a couple of hours inside — but it was the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival and sights along the route were fascinating as people either made their way to or from Notting Hill, dressed as they were.

And we were equally fascinated by this kora player, performing on an instrument that advertises its African origins and which was set up for amplification.

Returning on the Tube, I  was intrigued by one of the two men sitting opposite me.  I’ve never really understood the meaning behind or the reason for tattoos, not to mention nose rings and as I looked at them several questions came to mind.  Was he really born with horns?  Does he play noughts and crosses on his right thigh?  How does he manage to blow his nose if it becomes runny?  &c. &c.

Finally, you might have noticed that I’ve avoided anything remotely smelling of politics.  I’ve learned a lesson this week in that if you respond to articles and comments in newspapers, you are might be prone to suffering verbal abuse as a consequence!

So I’ll leave you with three photographs to ponder.

This is not a bird!



This not a mobile home


… and this is not “wall art”


The Silly Season is now even Sillier

One, two, three — Take-off!  Prepare for a full-scale fulmination!

In the country in which I am writing this, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give it its full name), there is a  period in the summer months,  more or less from mid- July until early September, which is known for frivolous news stories that appear in the mass media.  The Silly Season, by which name it is sometimes known, apparently came into common use in the mid-19th century and was described as that part of the year when Parliament and the Law Courts were not sitting.  The parallel name in North America appears to be the slow news season, which says more or less the same thing but with far less humour.  In other places, it’s called some variation of  “Cucumber” or “Gherkin” Time and that’s a turn of phrase that was also apparently used in England in the 1800s to denote the slow season for tailors, although I can’t imagine why!

I came across the “silly season” when I was young and it was explained to me that this was because it was the period in which the County Cricket Championship season was drawing to a close and it was before the soccer season had begun.  However, that is hardly the case now as County Cricket is not quite what it used to be, having been augmented by something called “The Hundred”, which seems to be a variation of baseball played with a cricket bat in which the batter (one can no longer refer to batsmen because the game now includes women) attempts to belt every ball as hard as possible over the boundary rope (scoring 4 runs) or without the ball bouncing (6 runs). In other words, there’s no elegance, and very little in the way tactics or strategy.  Moreover, the soccer season these days never seems to end at all let alone begin again.

I’m shell-shocked!

As if that were not enough, and I’ve written it here in one form or another more than once, we are now living in an era of round-the-clock 24/7 news on radio and TV and in the print media, which all have to fill up their allotted hours or columns because there can’t be a situation in which there’s nothing to report.  The upshot is that we are subjected to events that some editor or other has considered “newsworthy” at any given moment when it happens, only for it to be repeated hourly throughout the day and night until it is superseded by some other event which that same editor or an equally visionary teammate has deemed worthy of subjecting the public to.

And so it has been in recent weeks in the UK.  Last month’s big story in the UK concerned  one, Huw Edwards, an apparently respected BBC journalist, the frontliner of BBC News, who was taken off air after several weeks of rumors and innuendos and who faces being in that situation for quite some time after the BBC embarked on a fact-finding mission to examine claims against its leading newsreader following a report in the Sun tabloid newspaper (one of the Murdoch stable) which had published allegations that he had paid £35,000 over a period of years to a young person with a drug addiction in return for supplying him with “sordid images”.  The rag (the Sun) subsequently backtracked on its implication that Edwards may have committed a criminal offence by buying pictures when the individual concerned was just 17 and the police issued a similar statement.  In addition, the young person’s lawyer issued a statement to the BBC, claiming the main allegations were “rubbish” although the young person’s parents didn’t seem to see it that way.  The story dragged on for a week, hour by hour, and anonymously (“a senior BBC journalist”) until Mr. Edwards’ wife decided that we should know the name of the person involved after which the story was terminated (for the present).

“Wall Art”. Chalk Farm Underground Station, London

That done, the next story to run over several days concerned George Alagiah, a different BBC newsreader/reporter, a person much respected by his colleagues and who had died of bowel cancer, which had been diagnosed 9 years earlier and for which he had undergone multiple treatments. During the nine years of his illness, Alagiah had also used his affliction to raise awareness of bowel cancer and promote testing kits for the disease. What I found disturbing in both these cases was their work colleagues were those who had to announce the situations to listeners and viewers. In the first case there was noticeable shock in their voices and on their faces; in the second, there was discernible emotion as tears welled up while the news was being read.

Following that, there was short hiatus and then it was the turn of the late Michael Parkinson, who departed the land of the living last week.  Parkinson, too, was an English TV broadcaster, journalist and author who presented a television talk show Parkinson between 1971 and 2007, and whose relaxed style turned the “talkshow” into a talk show rather than an extended and not very interesting question-and-answer session.  I always enjoyed Parkinson although neither my late mother nor my late wife were equally enthralled of him.  Three days of Parkinson reminiscences were overlapped and outstripped by three weeks dealing with the Lionesses, the name bestowed upon England’s women’s football team who made their way through thick and thin to the final of the World Cup in Australia.  It seemed like the whole country was being whipped into a state of uncontrolled excitement, a frenzy of anticipation that these brave lionesses might be able to do what their male equivalents hadn’t managed to do since 1966, i.e. actually win a World Cup.  There was a very loud crescendo that was stretched out over several days leading up to the final to be followed by the inevitable heavy-heartedness and extreme melancholy that came with defeat, which was spun out into every news bulletin as the lead story for two days, followed by another two to cover their return from Australia and the inevitable tears shed as they related their sad final scene, of failing to be victorious.

But then the Lionesses had to compete over the past fews days with a much more serious issue that has occupied the news for several weeks, if not months and years.  This story rose to its climax last Monday morning when the judge in Manchester Crown Court delivered the sentence in the case of Lucy Letby, a 33-year old neonatal nurse who turned out to be a serial killer. She had been found guilty last week of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder seven others — not just babies in general but the most vulnerable ones of all.  He sentenced her to what is described as “a whole-life term” for her “sadistic murders” never be released from prison. (Whole-life orders are reserved for crimes of exceptional gravity.) The judge described her crimes as a “cruel, calculated and cynical campaign of child murder involving the smallest and most vulnerable of children”.  She had refused to be present in court when the parents of her victims described in detail the impact her crimes had had upon them. With discussion to change the law regarding whether or not a convicted person should be made to appear in court to hear their sentencing (currently they can opt not to but may be given a further 2-year sentence for failing to appear in Court; however in this case, two added years would be meaningless to someone sentenced to seven whole life terms.). However, that should keep the media on court, if you can excuse the unintended pun, for another while.  As one of the parents of a murdered child was reported to have stated, she wished Nurse Letby a very long life so that she can mull over what she had done while in prison.  However, fellow-prisoners have never really been welcoming of child murderers and Ms. Letby might well bear in mind the fate of Harold Shipman, an English family doctor and serial killer who murdered 15 of mostly elderly female patients under his care (and an estimated 250 others) and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000 with a whole life order and who committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell four years later.

And with all this,  I have a thing about the media.  I know that we need to be kept informed as to what is happening in the world but more and more I have come to the conclusion that in their search for “stories”, the broadcast and print media blow things out of all proportion while at the same time, the so-called social (antisocial?) media are open to anyone who wishes not to report the news but to lie about it.

Meanwhile, Israel enters its eighth month of street demonstrations in an effort to rescue its democracy and prevent the country becoming a messianic, fascistic dictatorship, because that is the direction in which it is heading — and all to save one man from standing trial and perhaps from spending time in prison.  It’s scarcely credible but unfortunately genuine.  The demonstrators have been labelled “anarchists” by the pro-fascist lobby but they are true patriots.  In contrast, several members of the current governing coalition have either spent time in prison, have been decreed unsuitable for military service, have refused to serve or been permitted minimal service time; some barely recognize the legitimacy of the State and only because what they can get out of it.

It’s really worth thinking about and bearing in mind!

And as this blog is called PhotoGeoGraphy, I suppose that after the diatribe that has preceded this, I ought to include a few more photographs.

Time for a manicure and some nail polish.  Catania, Sicily.


The tightrope walker. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv


Israel’s National Bird — the Hoopoe


Bottoms Up —What ducks think of the world, Ducky. Regent’s Park, London

Look-alikes.  See below!

And everywhere I look, I seem to see faces!

Walking from Kentish Town to Belsize Park a couple of weeks ago, I came across this sign and thought that it was rather early for supper.  But different people, different customs, it seems!

Church of Christ, Kentish Town, London.
Coiffure 1,  Oxford Street, London
Coiffure 2.  British Museum, London

But in case you’re thinking that I’ve done little else but listen to the news, there has been some culture recently.  A couple weeks ago, we went to The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see Le Cage aux Folles, a musical by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman based on a 1973 play by Jean Poiret, and tells the story of Georges, the owner of a Saint-Tropez nightclub, and Albin, a drag queen who is the club’s star attraction and Georges’ life partner. (The staging has the action transferred to a seaside town in the north of England, drawing out a touch of poignancy.) When Georges’s son announces his intention to marry the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician there is a potential catastrophe. Should George and Albin pretend to be something they are not for the sake of the son and his intended?  But it all works out in the end.  When it was first performed on Broadway over 40 years ago, it had to be a bit more laid back than in this production.   Given today’s culture wars, it was really “in your face”, especially as we were sitting three rows from the stage.  Except for two of the songs, “I am What I Am” and “Best of Times”, the musical side of things was nothing too much to write home about.  However, the choreography was glorious and the whole thing was out of this world!  (We were also very lucky with the weather as it was the first day in quite a while during which there had been no rain.

Then a few days later, it was off to the Royal Albert Hall for a Prom featuring the Budapest Festival Orchestra (an amazing ensemble) conducted by Iván Fischer with the pianist Sir András Schiff (a childhood friend of Fischer from their Budapest days) with music by Ligeti, Bartók and Beethoven—and during Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, Schiff was seated above the double basses as a member of the audience!

And finally, I took myself the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery to view 1,000 photographs taken by Paul McCartney when the Beatles toured the UK and the world in 1963/64.

I learned several things from this visit.  First of all, McCartney is a pretty good photographer.  Second, I discovered than John Lennon wore spectacles.  Third (although it wasn’t mentioned), their tour of the UK in November 1963 coincided with the Kennedy assassination, which reminded me that I was at home in Dublin listening to the radio and a Beatles song was interrupted by the news from Dallas so that I always associate the Fab Four with JFK.

Finally, while waiting for a bus in Camden this morning, I saw myself staring at the sign below across the road from the bus stop and couldn’t help thinking to myself that the chickens, about to become somebody’s dinner, were quite as happy as Sainsbury’s make out!

C’est tout!


On pigeons, organs and tyranny


Coalition building, 2023

I started off a couple of days ago thinking that it was time to post once again to this blog and I thought I had a photograph suitable to start the ball rolling.  I know the media were full of Trump last week when he put in [yet another] court appearance to plead not guilty to any wrongdoing whatsoever, and that it was a witch-hunt, prosecution=persecution,&c., &c. but then I thought what’s the point? If I start with a rave, I’ll end up with a rant and do I really need to raise my blood pressure to danger level once more?

What between the Trump, Niger, Modi, Imran Khan, Israeli politics and all the rest of the diabolical news with which the media have to fill up time slots and column spaces, I was reminded of what I felt years ago when a woman called Mary Whitehouse, a British teacher and conservative activist who campaigned against social liberalism and the mainstream British media, would appear on the television.  She would accuse both the print and broadcast media of encouraging a more permissive society and many accused her of being highly censorious and bigoted, her traditional moral convictions bringing her into direct conflict with advocates of the so-called sexual revolution, feminism, children’s rights and so forth. On the other hand, there were others who believed that she was attempting to halt a decline in Britain’s “moral standards.”  My reaction, I remember, from all those years ago when she would appear fulminating forcefully was to say out aloud: “The TV has a on-off button so if you don’t want to hear or see something, then press the button again and turn the thing off—you really don’t have to watch it, you know!”

However, I don’t think she was ever able to hear me.

Jaw, jaw, jaw.

Anyway, I have enough photographs to create a story so why spoil it (at least at the outset)?

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Tal, my 13-year old grandson with a photograph  attached, which he had taken on his phone when he was in Soho a day or so before.  When I looked at the picture, I thought that he has a good eye for a photo (I’d actually noticed it before when about a year ago he asked to borrow my camera when we were out walking on Hampstead Heath). However, he wanted to know if I could turn it into a black and white photo rather than colour, so I obliged and sent a b&w image back to him.

Then he returned with a further request: Could I make it b&w but leave the building in the middle in colour.  It took me while to figure out what to do (it was simpler than I had at first imagined) but I sent him more or less what had been requested and it seemed to satisfy the lad!

Now, to change the subject, I must say that every time I hear a report on global warming, I am inclined to smile a little.  This is not because I think that it’s not happening but from where I am writing this, the last six weeks or so have to have been the coolest and wettest that I can remember.  Yesterday, (Tuesday August 8) was not only extremely wet but also cold (for this time of the year).  Reluctant to turn on central heating in midsummer, I found myself reading in the living room wearing the heavy woolly cardigan that I had bought last winter and it was barely adequate.  Today, there’s a golden circle in the sky which, if I remember correctly, is called “the sun“.

All this reminded me that 10 days ago, we went for a few days to the Cotswolds, an area of outstanding natural beauty  in central-southwest England.  The area really is beautiful but unless one enjoys walking around under a grey sky in drizzle and rain at 18 degrees Celsius, its beauty didn’t exactly shine through.   However, the rain did abate for short periods so there are some photographs.

We discovered just as we were leaving that the cottage we’d been staying in had a visitor and he or she seemed to be comfortable and very much at home.

Perhaps he/she was related to the pigeon that had appeared to be posing for me the previous day.


Walking through the market town with the lovely name of Stow-on-the-Wold, I noticed a gentleman listening to what appeared to be a lecture on a subject concerning I know not what.  The topic of the talk, which I couldn’t hear, did not interest me one whit because it was the gentleman’s headgear that had really caught my eye.  It was only when I transferred the image from camera to computer that I noticed the name of the organization which owns or leases the house or room and the name of which appears on the window on two large posters which read: “NFFF Members” and “OFFICIAL MEMBER”.  Is asked myself what NFFF meant and reading backwards and in reverse, I discovered that it is an acronym for “National Federation of Fish Friers”.  How English!  And that reminded me of a paragraph in Pen Vogler’s 2020 book Scoff, a history of food and class in Britain, where the author quotes from an 1846 book entitled The Jewish Manual by Judith, Lady Montefiore, for young Jewish housewives, in which fried fish has an important role.  Fried fish, incidentally, is one of the reasons that I became a geographer but that’s another story entirely and if anyone would like some more information on that particular episode, I’d be happy to fill them in (privately!).


While we were in Stow, a couple of other pictures presented themselves to my camera.  I came across the gentleman below sitting on the passenger seat of the Jaguar waiting for its driver to return.  As I passed him, I mentioned to him that I thought he suited the car very well and we struck up a conversation in the course of which, he informed me that I didn’t sound as if I was local (so what’s new?).  I mentioned Dublin and he then launched into a discussion of his wife’s family who had been the principal organ builders for churches and things in Ireland for many years and some of who still live, he told me, close to the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin.  Fascinating.

Across the street, there was another English phenomenon — an ice-cream seller.

We moved a few miles from Stow-on-the-W0ld to Bourton-on-the-Water,  passing a building on the main street, Victoria Street, called The Victoria Hall and on either wide of the entrance were two plaques, the one on the left commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 and the one on the right commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, an interesting pairing!


There must have been a time when Bourton was a normal village with normal people who did the normal things that villagers do but the day that we were there, it seemed as if it was straight out of Disneyland, with people who looked like they’d come from all over the country — from all over the world, in fact, walking up and down the pathway beside the small stream or canal. It straddles the River Windrush, and is known for its low bridges and traditional stone houses — one description compared it with Venice but is was blind to any remote resemblance to Venice and that’s about it, I’m afraid.

Yet there was a sign that not only caught my eye but also begged me to to enter and find out how it got to Bourton-on-the-Water.  Turns out that Shalom, The RainbowShop is a Christian Bookshop, with  three sections, the first one of which sells Bibles, cards, books, & gifts, all of like subject matter; the second section sells children’s toys, books, gifts, and more and the last section sells music, posters and gifts.  It also has a large secondhand book section run by donations as well as a prayer corner.  The woman who spoke to us was very friendly and helpful indeed, so much so that I felt as if I had to give her a [very] short Introduction to the etymology of the Hebrew word for peace.  It turned out that the shop was named for Jesus who preached peace and the rainbow was named for Noah who survived the Flood.  Shalom, Bourton-on-the-Water!

But as the weather wan’t getting any better, we decided to leave a day before we’d planned and head back to the big city.  And then looking through photographs that I’d taken over the past couple of weeks, I remembered that we had visited the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy.  We must have spent an hour there but except for a small number of exhibits, I wasn’t unduly impressed .  One of he better ones appears below …

… and then, as I turned around, I came across two exhibits that reminded me that’s hard to get away from certain things these days!


On the way back from the Royal Academy, we exited the Tube at St. Johns Wood Station and I noticed this at the exit and wondered why it hadn’t been entered as an exhibit at the place I’d just left!

However, there’s one more photo that I had taken in the Cotswolds that’s worth reproducing. The red telephone box is a British icon and I felt that this one says a lot about the United Kingdom in 2023.  Nevertheless, each person can interpret it as they will.

And then one morning last week while getting dressed, I happened to look at the window and saw what I saw.  I knew that there wouldn’t be time to get the camera out so wrapped in a towel, I got hold of the phone and made it over the window and managed to get this photo before the tiger moth (I think that’s what it was) flew away about two seconds later.

A couple of days ago, this time armed with the camera, walking up Haverstock Hill in Belsize Park and just before turning for home, I espied these two insects moving about and through they would make a nice photo before they, too, flew away,

I’m almost done but I include one additional London photo.  A couple of weeks ago, while walking from Oxford Street to Leicester Square I found myself behind this young woman for several minutes and wondered whether I should or shouldn’t.  She was having so much trouble keeping her thing above her thong as she strolled down the street that I decided I would so I did and here it is!


Finally, I”m back at where I didn’t quite want to start off this post.

A couple of weeks ago, there  appeared in the weekend edition of The Financial Times, in the Lunch with the FT section, (https://www.ft.com/content/9a23b1a7-da4e-466b-99f4-9f7f369fe128) an interview with Yale historian Timothy Snyder.  I’d read several of his books over the past couple of years — Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning; The Road to Unfreedom:  Russia, Europe, America; Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and was deeply impressed by his scholarship and knowledge.  Then I remembered that I’d also read his On Tyranny, published the year after Trump had been elected President of the USA.  It’s a very short book—about 120 pages with large typeface and divided into 20 chapters.  It can be read in little over an hour or so, so I decided to re-read it last week given the goings-on the USA and Israel, as well as other places.  It’s quite amazing how much one can say in so few words.

The chapter headings are reproduced below and this short masterpiece should be compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to continue to live under a liberal democracy.

(Leszek Kołakowski was a Polish philosopher and historian of ideas, best known for his critical analyses of Marxist thought.  Due to his criticism of Marxism and the Communist system, he was effectively exiled from Poland in 1968, spending much of the remainder of his career at Oxford  and was a major inspiration for Solidarity.)

Shall we stick together and get on with one another?


Or would we prefer to be mutually hostile?






Difficult Times, Methinks

Front pages of today’s Israeli dailies

I may be in “voluntary exile” in the UK from the country in which I have spent most of my life but that’s not to say that I don’t take an interest in what’s happening there and since yesterday’s vote in Israel’s parliament, I’ve been in a state of enhanced disquiet.

Democracy — The March to Jerusalem, July 2023 (with thanks to Shuli Waterman)

I’ve been putting off posting to this blog again for several days now in the vain hope that Israel’s politicians might see some sense and come to an agreement over the proposed “judicial overhaul” announced by the country’s Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, a man whose great uncle was commander of the Altalena ship and member of the first Knesset, representing Herut, the right-wing precursor of Likud and a man who was held by Herut’s first leader, Menachem Begin, at his circumcision (judaization??) ceremony 54 years ago.  For those unfamiliar with the history of modern Israel, the “Altalena Affair” was a violent confrontation that occurred in June 1948 between the newly created Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the Irgun (also referred to as Etzel), one of the right-wing Jewish paramilitary groups in pre-Israel Palestine that were in the process of merging in order to establish the IDF.

The conflict involved the Altalena, a cargo ship led by Eliyahu Lankin, a senior Etzel commander and Levin’s great uncle, which had been laden with weapons and fighters by the independent Irgun, but arrived during the problematic period of the Irgun‘s absorption into the IDF. Following the United Nations General Assembly vote recommending the Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine on 29 November 1947, Jewish leaders proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 after which a provisional government was established and the IDF came into being. Absorbing all military organizations into the IDF was tricky, to say the least, with several paramilitary groups continuing to be active outside it, one of which was the Irgun, which planned to ship weapons and fighters and a target date for the Altalena‘s arrival from Europe was set for mid-May 1948.

In June 1948, the ship sailed from France but no cable was sent to the Irgun command in Israel, fearing that it might fall into the wrong hands. Nevertheless, it set off with 940 Jewish volunteers and a large quantity of weapons on board, arriving about at a place several kilometres north of Tel Aviv and unloaded its passengers and the weaponry. Menachem Begin, the commander of the Irgun was aboard the ship at this stage and ordered it to sail to Tel Aviv. After fruitless discussions between the provisional government and the Irgun, David Ben-Gurion, head of the provisional government and later Israel’s first Prime Minister, gave the order to fire warning shots above the ship, one of which hit it.  The decision was not a popular one within the newly formed Israeli Navy, Army or Air Force but the ship was nonetheless sunk.  The worry then was that it might have led to a civil war but it didn’t and many years later, Mr. Begin became Israel’s Prime Minister.

I only write this as an introduction to the pedigree of the person most involved with the current “judicial overhaul”, something which might go some way to explaining Mr. Levin’s fervour to remodel Israel’s judicial system, originally formulated by the then “left-wingish” government into something more in line with right-wing views that imagine elected politicians as exercising the “will of the people” in contrast to an unelected judiciary that simply perpetuates the control of politicians by a so-called and imaginary “elite”.  In this respect, Mr. Levin is ably abetted by Simcha Rothman, a member of the Religious Zionist Party, (for whom my brain somehow always seems to conjure up the mnemonic “Simcha Rottweiler”) who was appointed chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and yet another “leading politician” who served but a stripped down army service.

At this point, and without wishing to be overly academic, I need to say something about the Israeli political system.  The Knesset, Israeli’s unicameral parliament has 120 members. That’s part of the problem, of course, because unlike many other democracies, there is no upper or second house to “keep the lid” on the psychopathies of those elected “representatives of the people”.  The problem is, of course, that the elected representatives of the people do not represent the people at all.  They represent themselves and the controllers and overseers of the party to which they nominally belong.  They never have to answer directly to any group of voters as Israel operates a list system.  In other words, when voters go into the polling booth, they do not choose a candidate but select a party.  And unlike other countries that operate list systems, such as The Netherlands, Israeli voters cannot change the order of the candidates whose names appear on the lists, moving more favoured candidates towards the top and those less-liked ones further down, thereby affecting who becomes a parliamentarian and who doesn’t.

In addition to the absence of a second parliamentary chamber and the lack of any personal answerability to the voters on the part of the “elected” members of the legislature, Israel does not have a law allowing referenda. So, unlike countries such as Switzerland or Ireland which use referenda to permit some issues to be decided by the electorate as whole, that method is closed to Israeli voters was the members of the Knesset would have to legislate such a change and they are unlikely to say that the people know better than they.  (And this is not to say that I believe that a referendum is always the best way of solving political issues, as the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom well illustrated.  I wonder how many people who participated in that vote actually understood all the issues at hand.  Very few, I would assume — I couldn’t have pretended to!)  In other words, with the exception of the Supreme Court, Israel is severely lacking a system of checks and balance, something that characterizes other democracies.  And in addition to these deficiencies, Israel has no written Constitution only a series of Basic Laws which can be amended or overturned by the Knesset members by special majority.

And then there’s the Prime Minister himself.  What should I say?  Probably nothing — but I can’t really remain silent.  He’s now 73 and it’s 27 years since he first became Prime Minister and he’s held that position for about 18 years altogether, rather long for a politician in a democracy.  He’s a well-educated man and in positions that he held before he became Prime Minister, (Permanent Representative to the U.N., Minister for Science and Technology, Housing and Construction, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Economic Strategy, Health, Pensioner Affairs), it’s generally agreed that he did a reasonable—even in some cases a good—job.  However, his years as Prime Minister have been, from my warped point of view, nothing short of disastrous.  For a start, any other politician from his Likud party who he perceived to have had “prime ministerial potential” or ambitions either left the party, left politics altogether, or was offered a job that they found difficult to turn down such as ambassadorships — which meant that they ceased to be Knesset members and thus potential rivals.

This has meant that Likud has been left with individuals, some who might consider themselves to be Prime Minister in the future but who seem to my malformed opinions to be, how shall I say, wanting.  We should also remember the speech he delivered almost 30 years ago to a mob of anti-Oslo Accord supporters at Zion Square in Jerusalem when the chants of “Rabin boggéd!” (“Rabin is a traitor!”) from the mob were so loud that Netanyahu, speaking at the microphone and who had egged them on, had to take a break several times until the roar died down so he could hear himself.  It was a meeting in which the language was so noxious that several of his erstwhile Likud colleagues walked away so as not to be associated with it!

Israel has always been divided into camps (former State President Reuven Rivlin named them some years ago as Secular, Religious, Strictly Religious, and Arab and stated that they have to be able to live with one another, which, in a way, until the present government came into being, they more or less managed.) However, perhaps to manage his personal problems (Mr. Netanyahu is suspected of crimes involving fraud, breach of trust, and bribes and has been indicted, enough in a true democracy to have brought about if not a resignation then a temporary break from holding office), he chose to put together a coalition of right-wing parties, supposedly led by the largest one, Likud.  However, it also contains two extreme right-wing religious nationalist parties.  One is headed by a man who has probably been investigated by the police more often than any other politician and who was rejected by the army as undesirable.  He is now Minister for Internal Security (i.e., in charge of the police); the other, the current Minister of Finance, is a man who several years ago was reported to have said: “It is natural that my wife would not want to lie down next to someone who just gave birth to a baby that might want to murder her baby in another 20 years.”, something that might be termed racist if said in another country. The coalition is completed by two strictly Orthodox religious parties, each made up of different factions, one of which is ideologically opposed to army service and even to having males work, and thereby pay taxes, both of which are component parts of a great confidence trick.  The other is headed by a man who served time in prison for taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as Minister of the Interior.  He came back again into government — as Minister of the Interior but on 18 January 2023, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that he was not permitted to be a cabinet minister due to his conviction for tax offences and as a result, was  ejected from the cabinet four days later.

It is this wide and widening fissure between the coalition, which is increasingly seen as constituting a possible future fascist theocracy and those opposed to it (mostly but not entirely) secular who believe that Israel belongs in the modern world where it is regarded as a leader in hi-tech, that has brought about the idea that Israel is heading towards becoming a dictatorship.  I would like believe otherwise but am finding it increasingly difficult to disbelieve my inner thoughts.

And for this awful situation that has come about, one man is responsible and that one man cannot acknowledge that he has been anything but a positive force in Israeli society when in fact he has been the most divisive Prime Minister Israel has ever had.  And what is true for dictatorships appears to be coming true in Israel — dictators generally don’t nominate successors and if they do, it’s often a family member — in which case, there would be little positive I could consider regarding Israeli society!  One cannot help but feel a little bit sorry for Mr. Netanyahu as he sits at the head of a government in which the shots are called by people who have turned him into the person who probably possesses the most moderate views in the government!  And that is something I never thought I would ever write!

One can only hope, as the historian, philosopher and author, Yuval Noah Harari wrote in yesterday’s Financial Times, “… Government members call the  demonstrators and army reservists “traitors”, and demand that force be used to such the opposition.  Israelis worry that we might be days away from civil war. … But the hundreds of thousands of us protesting in the streets feel that we have no choice. It is our duty to ourselves, to Jewish tradition and to humanity as whole to prevent the rise of a Jewish supremacist dictatorship.  We are standing in the streets, because we cannot do otherwise if we are to save Israeli democracy.”


Finally, before yesterday’s catastrophe, I have been working on “filtering” my 42,000 photos to get the number down to a reasonable size.  After going through them —a process that took considerably longer than I initially bargained for—I now have them down to just over 3,500 and the second filtering session will be much easier.

Anyway, and in the spirit of the two photos above, I give you a few signs that have entertained me over the years.

Irish origins!

Israel 2023?

Seen in a Tel Aviv shop window

Same thing, really!

Just spray evenly either side and everything will be fine!

Oxford Street, London

Maybe he should be in Tel Aviv rather than on Oxford Street, London?

This one was (is???) in Tel Aviv

Marxism in action?

… and then my thumb fell off!


About ranting and raving and photographs

It’s time for another post to this blog but to be quite honest, I wasn’t sure where to begin last Thursday afternoon when I started it.

I had spent some time catching up with a young man with whom I had worked with 20 years ago here in London on the previous day.  (Actually, he’s not so young any more, is married with three kids and has lived more than 10,000 miles away from here for a decade and a half.)  He reminded me (I’d forgotten, as I tend to do so often these days) that we’d actually met for the first time several years before we worked together when he came to discuss his MA dissertation with me while I  was a visiting academic at the London School of Economics. In the course of our conversation, I also learned that he reads the posts on this blog and just as we were parting, he mentioned that (a) I should keep it up—something I had intended to do anyway and (b) he hadn’t read one of my “rants” for some time.  The reason for the absence of that particular bit of these posts is not that I have nothing to sound off about or pontificate on rather that there is such an overabundance of topics to fulminate over that I can’t quite make up my mind which might be worthy of subjecting my readers to.

As a consequence, I’ll start this post with something closer to home.  All three of my children are involved in music and last Tuesday night in Jerusalem, there was a concert in which Shuli, who is the principal violist of the Israel Camerata orchestra, was performing.  She’d sent me a WhatsApp to remind me to watch it live on the orchestra’s YouTube channel so I dutifully tuned in.  The orchestra, the soloist and the conductor appeared on stage and just before he mounted the podium, the conductor turned to the audience and mentioned that the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog and his wife were in the audience.  He then mentioned to the audience that he had discovered a connection between the orchestra and the President and that that connection could be found in the viola section.  Then pointing to Shuli, he told those present in the Jerusalem Theatre that her grandmother (my mother) hailed from Dublin, as did the President’s father, the former President Chaim Herzog (they were born six weeks apart in 1918) and that my Ma’s brother, Ucky Fine, had taught Chaim Herzog to box.  Ucky had told me this piece of family legend several times and to which my reaction (internally but never uttered, of course) was always “Yeah, yeah, yeah”.  Anyway, about 40 years ago, Chaim Herzog visited the University of Haifa and at the reception given in his honour, I approached him and introduced myself, telling him that I, too, came from Dublin.  He asked me my family name and as my father was not a Dubliner but from Downpatrick, a small town in Northern Ireland, I thought it better to tell him that my mother’s family name was “Fine”.  He looked me and smiled and asked if was a related to Ucky Fine and I responded that Ucky was my uncle—at which point the President told me that Ucky had taught him to box!  (Posthumous apologies to Ucky.)  (Ucky also encouraged me to learn to box but one visit to the Dublin Maccabi boxing club and a punch on the nose delivered by one, Melvyn Davidson, was sufficient to convince me that words might be more efficient than whacks!)

Anyway, at the interval, President Herzog went backstage and sought out Shuli and they had what I understood to be an emotional and nostalgic conversation, involving people much loved and long gone.  (I mentioned to Shuli the following day that Chaim Herzog’s given name in English was Vivian (a direct translation of the Hebrew name Chaim because apparently it was difficult for his colleagues to pronounce Chaim when he served in the British Army in WWII) and Shuli’s mother was also Vivien.  She knew about this little bit of serendipity but there wasn’t time do discuss it in the limited time available.).  I found the whole story rather moving.


As it happens, I’ve been busy doing something for the past week or more, something I’ve been putting off for years but knew that I would eventually have to do. (So, David, you’ll have to wait a while for another rant!).  What I’ve been doing is “filtering” the photographs on my computer.  Whereas people in the “develop and print” era used to do such filtering by choosing the photos they wished to keep, creating photo albums in the process, in the digital age, when photos are mostly taken not to be saved but to be sent to “friends” and relatives on some social media platform, they tend to remain digital, i.e., on some sort of electronic device.  This does not necessarily mean, however, that the photographer (or at least this photographer) is any better organized than those who stuck their pictures in albums, thinking or hoping that their children or  grandchildren might be interested in viewing them, more often than not running into the questions of “who was that?” or “where was that?” or “what was that”? or “when was that?”.  At least digitally, you can date when the photo was taken and see what it is although the “who” and the “where” questions often remain unanswered.

Starting from before I bought my first digital camera about 16 years ago (I scanned some of the many transparencies I had taken prior to 2007) and working chronologically, I have now reached the summer of 2018 and have been picking out those images that I think might be worth retaining.  And when I’ve completed that and got as far as summer 2023, I’ll go through the ones I kept and be more ruthless in the next sweep.  Rather than all of this taking a week or so, I’ve been at it for almost a fortnight already and reckon that with a bit of luck, I might be done by the end of July — but it will have been worth it.

So, if I’m not going to rant and rave as requested, I thought I’d insert some of them (chosen not quite randomly) into this post and add a short story concerning the whys and the wherefores of how I came to click when I did.  Incidentally, people often ask me what kind of photographer I am — what kind of photos I take — and my response is usually that I take whatever passes the camera lens and I consider to be interesting at that time.  I might add that a lot depends on what lens I have on the camera at any given time for those things for which the lens is unsuited, I generally ignore.

The first photo below was taken in County Mayo in western Ireland in September 1966.  I had not long before bought a camera and the photo was taken on my honeymoon.  We’d stopped for a break and the four nuns were walking down the road in the opposite direction and as soon as the camera appeared, they responded with smiles.  Looking at the picture almost six decades on, I should have clicked a few seconds earlier and then all four of them would have been in the photo but it’s fine as it is!

Get thee to a nunnery

About 30 years ago, we were somewhere in rural Sussex and went for a walk and as we got back to the car park, the picture below is what confronted me.

Mother and Son

Anyone who reads this blog regularly is probably aware that every now and then I post a picture or two of a fire hydrant.  Most of these pictures were taken in Tel Aviv because typical English understatement means that hydrants are just a hole in the ground covered with a metal plate with with a large “H” on a wall or railing marked close by.  Other countries, including Israel, are more forthright than the UK in this regard.

It was the “faces” of the hydrants that drew my attention to them in the first place and ever since, I  seem to see “faces” everywhere as well and not just when I  look at hydrants..

The “eyes” have it!  (Bloomsbury, London)

Every now and then somebody will send me a picture of a hydrant because perhaps they think I’m a bit eccentric or just plain mad but that will nevertheless appreciate it.  My own diagnosis is that I’m quite normal I am nevertheless grateful for the attention which some people occasionally bestow upon me.

Misbeehiving! (with thanks to Irma Zaslansky)


String Quintet (quartet and double bass) by Franz Josef Hydrant (caption acknowledgement: Professor Yoel Greenberg)

Every now and then, an edifice stands out to such a degree that it demands to be photographed.  One example is the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens opposite the Royal Albert Hall, which is one of London’s most ornate monuments.  It’s been around for over 150 years and still looks pretty spectacular.

Another London structure worthy of a photo is the London Eye on the south bank of the Thames.  I have several different picture of this very popular London rip-off usually taken from unusual angles but I’ve chosen this one from across the river and this “doctored” version is far better, I think, than the unedited version.

Years ago, I spent a few hours one morning with a friend at Highgate Cemetery, amongst other things to view the memorial to Karl Marx (I might have chosen Mahatma Gandhi in Tavistock Square or Sigmund Freud in Belsize Park both of which I’ve photographed more than once but old Karl won the gold medal.  What I found fascinating about visiting this tombstone was the number of people of like minds who wished to be buried as close to their hero as possible — but that’s another story altogether.

A couple of weeks after the Grenfell Tower disaster the same friend and I visited what remained of the building.  Grenfell Tower was a 24-storey residential tower block in North Kensington, most of which was destroyed in an appalling conflagration in June 2017. Seventy-two people were killed in the fire in a building from which there was little possibility of escape. The scene was nothing short of horrific.



I rarely take pictures of sunsets but it does happen occasionally.  On a walking tour of the City of London a few years ago, the walk ended just as the sun was setting and we were on the roof of a tall building overlooking the City.  It was pure luck of course, this being London and the sun shining.


Looking eastward towards the City of London

Occasionally, though, I do behold a sunset that’s worth recording.

Sunset over the Mediterranean at Tel Aviv

And then there are those people who like to dress up and pretend to be a sunset!

Off to the Test Match at Lord’s.  St. John’s Wood, London

Misspelled signs always appear to catch my eye (in English, at any rate)

All the beer that you can drink (from a can?) in what seems to be hot dry weather, it would seem!  Tel Aviv


Smoking might be relaxing but it’s also bad for your health! Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv …

… and this lady is the living proof of that!

Sometimes, it’s just colours that attract me, as in this shoe shop in downtown Barcelona …


… or  it might be colours along the sea on a morning in Tel Aviv


… and then there are “food processors”.   Over three days, I observed this man butcher a tuna in the fish market is Siracusa, Sicily.


However, as the crows crow “it’s not only humans who cut things up”!

Breakfast at Tel Aviv Port

On occasion, I just take simple photos of people.

Near Taormina, Sicily


Tango in the Park. The Regent’s Park, London

Another example of something photogenic is when people just have to make their views known to others, like this man on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv who jumped out of nowhere while the traffic was stalled and decided to engage the unfortunate driver in a prayer session!


Prayer session. Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv


I photographed this happy older couple on a bus in Tel Aviv — but I did ask them beforehand if they minded — and they didn’t!


Then, on occasion, you pass something inanimate that just cries out: “Take my photo, please”

Spider web on a cold wet day. Belsize Park, London

Sometimes, I see something and a caption just jumps out at me, like this shop window in North Tel Aviv that said “Brexit, Brexit, Brexit!”



Towards the end, here are two photographs that I really like.

Coming home from a walk on Hampstead Heath some years ago, I came across this scene of a man and a young girl and a scooter.  As soon as I saw the scene, I knew that the picture had to be in black and white but the camera was set for colour but the picture in colour was a nothing.  However, as soon as I got home, I turned it into a b&w image and this is what resulted.


Finally, another favourite of mine, taken about 15 years ago, not long after I started walking the streets in Tel Aviv. In the Yarqon Park, not far from my flat in Tel Aviv, this is the image I saw one morning and I knew immediately that it would be a great photo given the angle of the drops from the tap and the corresponding angle of the tail feathers of the bird, which is purposely not in focus.

Well, this has been a different kind of post, so the next one might be a rant as there’s more than enough in this world to shout and scream about!