Monkey Business and more

Not really in the mood

I know I’m late with this one (not that I work to any strict timetable) but I needed to be in the mood and have a little more time for reflection than usual before I put pen to paper (or index fingers to keyboard) this week.  Does one write a blog post and ignore events less than a week after they occurred, in this case after the President of the United States appeared on television screens in America and around the world appearing to give the green light to tens of thousands of his supporters, who had descended on Washington to back his groundless claim that November’s presidential election had been “stolen” from him, to march on the Capitol and demonstrate against this “theft” of what was “rightfully” his?  Giving him the benefit of a teeny-weeny modicum of doubt, perhaps he was unaware that mingled with those who truly believed his claims were assorted thugs and anarchistic groups with agendas and, seemingly, operational plans of their own, who found that the President’s egging on of his own supporters presented them with an opportunity to wreak havoc to American democracy by threatening the lives of the duly elected legislators who had gathered to give formal legitimacy to the results of the election that had taken place a little over two months earlier ?

Spiralling out of control?

His words were more than just a call to thugs and other assorted idiots to march on the building that is the home of American democracy but to disrupt—if not bring to a complete end—the democratic process of rubber-stamping a result that everybody had been aware of for weeks, i.e., that Trump had lost the election.  Perhaps a man who cannot bear to be labelled a “loser”, whose narcissism was dealt a mortal blow, was not entirely aware that his words would be taken so literally and beyond.  What followed this seditious call for an insurrection and the overturning of the will of the people to replace it with the will of Trump just beggared belief.  This was happening not in Belarus or in Libya or Zimbabwe or some other banana republic but in the country which has prided itself as being the embodiment of democracy, a showcase for the rest of the world, armed with ironclad institutions to protect it.

The President of the United States had just incited a mob to disrupt —and perhaps prevent— the peaceful transfer of power from himself to his democratically elected successor.  Perhaps he intended that they just create a rumpus outside the building and intimidate those inside from afar; perhaps he did not did not plan that they enter the Capitol and lay waste to what they found there—but that’s what happened.  And the fact that so many Republican legislators seemed to think that it was all okay — until the mob entered the building, that is — is scary enough but that of those who voted for the Republican Party at the last election think so, too, is scarier still.  His call later in the afternoon, while the hoodlums were on the rampage, “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens you see the way, others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home and peace.” would have sounded like a bad joke if only it wasn’t serious and frightening — not just for the USA but for the world as a whole.

The unreadiness of the Capitol police to foresee what was about to happen and to do anything about it when it started it was equally terrifying.  Meanwhile, the Capitol has been turned into a large camping space for part of the 20,000 National Guards who will (hopefully) protect those at the Inauguration of President Biden.  It’s not America and how it prepares for elections is perfect — far from it.  Just think on the one side of the crusades to register “people of colour” and on the other,  legislation to make it  more difficult for them to vote.  Or the perpetual deeds of gerrymandering to influence the results of the election before people cast their votes at all we begin to understand how divided American society is and has always been.

But how America has changed! It used to be if that if there were a close result here or there, after all the recounts and examination  of claimed irregularities had been exhausted, the losing candidate would deliver a concession speech and pledge allegiance to the new President, his administration and Constitution or whatever.  Not this time around.

And while I was listening to Trump’s angry incitement last week and to the reports coming from Washington, I had also started reading Bob Woodward’s Rage, his second book on Donald Trump and had got to the following description from four years ago, just after Rod Rosenstein, who had occupied the second spot at the Justice Department for just 12 days, came in charge of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had just recused himself from the investigation.  Rosenstein had just appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate this, telling one of Trump’s aides that the president should be encouraged because Mueller was going to expedite this and find out whether Trump aides had coordinated with Russia but not to get Trump. A special counsel investigation, he said, would be best for everyone. When Trump was informed (and this was in 2017!!!), he said, “This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked!”

“In line with Rosenstein’s assurances”, wrote Woodward, “the official White House statement from Trump released … that evening said: ‘As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.'”

According to Woodward, “Trump’s placatory tone was the opposite of his mood. The following morning Trump tweeted … that he wondered why there had been no special counsel for ‘all of the illegal acts’ of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. ‘The Russia investigation’, he said, ‘is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.’ … Trump’s anger, more than any previously seen by his inner circle, was uncontrollable. He oscillated—stormed—between the Oval Office and his private dining room. ‘We barely got by,’ said Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary. Trump is a large man—around 6-foot-3 and about 240 pounds, almost the size of a football linebacker. On the move and in a rage, he is frightening. Why Mueller? ‘I didn’t hire him for the FBI.’ Trump had interviewed Mueller for perhaps another tour as FBI director and rejected him. ‘Of course he’s got an axe to grind. Everybody’s trying to get me.’ Impeachment talk was on the TV. ‘What power does a special counsel have?’ Trump asked. ‘Virtually unlimited’, Porter, a lawyer, explained. … Trump stayed mostly on his feet, continuing to move between the Oval Office and the dining room. ‘I have to be fighting,’ he said in a frenzy. ‘I am the president. I can fire anybody I want. … ‘”

Seemingly little has changed in four years—five years, actually if you count the first Trump election campaign—so America had plenty of time to get used to the idea of a crazed man being in charge, a crazed man who has emboldened or perhaps scared into quiescence and pliability the right wing of the party he has led as well as spawning more extreme members of the other party to behave likewise.  As for the witch hunt, according to the President yesterday, it’s still ongoing and is now the worst witch hunt the whole world has ever seen.  Paranoia magnified by ego and self-obsession gone mad.

And this was all so beautifully summed up by Kal in last week’s edition of The Economist newspaper.

And then, what raced through my mind was whether or not something like that could happen here in Israel given the plethora of rightwing fanatics and desperadoes of all shades — secular, religious, strictly religious, Jews and Arabs — there are and, as repeated lockdowns have shown, prepared to ignore decisions taken by politicians.  But, it turns out that it’s already happened, albeit nearly 70 years ago and not because of a disputed election result.  However, it was something I had not been aware of before and which illustrates my ignorance on yet another issue!

https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/the-march-on-the-knesset-69-years-ago-1.510442

And I can’t help wondering whether or not it could happen again though I think that even Bibi Netanyahu, arch-panderer to Trump, might have been surprised by what took place in Washington last week.

 

 

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Cormorant

But then if we look back just 25 years ….   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhMF30VLZCA

 

And today? Cigars and Champagne

Meanwhile here in Israel, the campaign for the country’s fourth election in less than two years has been launched officially with the Prime Minister receiving his second dose of the vaccine, once more on live television.  Whereas I could understand the cameras being there when he received his first jab three weeks ago (setting an example to the population at large, &c. &c.), this time around when people had already seen him sitting, wearing the same black short-sleeved shirt as he did then, his stalwart self-satisfied smirk sitting smug on his mug, you knew for sure that the election was upcoming, and especially when the news reported yesterday that if things go according to plan, the adult population of Israel should have all received — or at least been offered — vaccinations by mid-March, i.e. just one week before the election

Mind you, last week was not without its funnier events, too.

Strictly unkosher (several times over)

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2021/jan/12/welcome-to-brexit-dutch-officials-seize-ham-sandwiches-from-british-drivers-video

So, before I go further off on a tangent once again, some photographs from the past few weeks since I returned to the Promised Land in addition a few “oldies”.

Avian Reflections, Yarqon Park

 

A tale (tail?) of angles. Yarqon Park

 

At Tel Aviv Port (1)

At Tel Aviv Port (2)

Not many of these in the neighbourhood!

 

 

It’s been a long, long time.  Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv

 

Hoopoe. Minding its own business and enjoying the sun

 

Nice n’ easy does it every time

 

I take things quite seriously

And for those of you who’ve got this far, why not relax with some music.  A concert from last July (the 1st and only one of a planned three before the government banned assemblies of more than ten people indoors) starting the following put paid to the 2nd and 3rd).  Enjoy an hour and a half of Haydn, Ligeti and Brahms.
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Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Countrymen …

 

Israel’s [first?] election of 2021.  YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU [R VOTE]

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

Adrift with the prospect of another election (yet again!)

Back in Tel Aviv, I completed my fortnight of self-isolation — well, almost.  By my calculation, I should only have been permitted to exit the house last Monday morning but come Sunday, Day 13, I really couldn’t face another day of sitting around inside so I took myself out a day early to buy some bread and coffee beans, not that anyone was checking, or so it seemed. And just as in the previous period after I had spent two weeks in self-isolation in this country, in March 2020, when I eventually emerged from quarantine, it was straight into a lockdown, which began so it was said, on Sunday evening at 17.00 hrs and which is supposed to last “at least a fortnight but probably three weeks — or more”.  Not that anyone seemed to be paying much attention.

It is intended that we not wander more than 1 km from our places of residence but nevertheless one is permitted to do so—for exercise, to shop for food, and several other mundane things.  Public transport is still running, the traffic seems as heavy as normal—people are allowed to travel to work—though many shops are closed.  Food shops are open, pharmacies too, and other outlets providing “essential services and goods”, such as stores selling mobile phones.  It is also intended that we stay away from contact indoors with family and friends but if you want to buy, say, a new washing machine or if you have a problem with, say, your water or electricity supply, there’s nothing to stop you having someone come in and install the machine or fix the water or electricity even though the technician who arrives in your apartment may have visited half a dozen others before he gets to you on that same day. Significant matters, like cultural events are still taboo and remain virtual although musicians and actors are permitted to travel to work to rehearse and record programmes for future streaming or broadcast.  I hate to say this because I understand the objectives of this lockdown but the way things are panning out, it’s really farcical, which is why I heard on this morning’s news broadcast that next week will see the introduction of a new “serious” lockdown, in which there will be greater enforcement of confining citizen prisoners in their cells.

Emerging from quarantine (officially), the first task on my list of things to do was turn up for Vaccination Shot #1.  The day after arriving back from London, I had a text message from Maccabi Healthcare Services asking me to call and arrange an appointment for inoculation. Inoculations in Israel follow a strict order.  First, the Prime Minister and the Minister or Health (on live TV, of course.  What else?), then members of the government and Knesset and the State President, then health care workers and then the “vulnerable”, which includes some people with underlying health issues and the old (i.e., the over-60s!!!).  I called the number within two minutes receiving the notification and got a recorded message (which I had expected) telling me that because of the situation I might have to wait a little longer than usual, so I put the phone on speaker, prepared dinner, then ate dinner, cleared up and then waited after dinner.  Normally, I would have hung up after 15 minutes but I guessed that if I did that the appointment given me would be later than otherwise.  And then, just over an hour after placing the call, it was answered and I received an appointment for 10:04 on December 28 with a second shot due three weeks later.  The instructions were to turn up wearing a mask (naturally) 10 minutes before the designated time to avoid crowding so I duly arrived at 09.56.  I joined the line at 10.00, had a needle stuck in my upper arm at 10.03, was done by 10.05 and was instructed to sit outside in the sunshine for 10 minutes and if I felt OK, I was free to go home. It was like an automobile assembly plant, a conveyor belt.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it before in this country for sure, or elsewhere for that matter.  As of today (Friday), over 800,000 people have already received the vaccine in Israel, quite an achievement indeed.

Nothing could go wrong, they said, except that just after I arrived home, I felt something sickly and then ticklish and took a selfie.  I looked incredulously and then shaved and it hasn’t returned.

I found it hard to detach myself from the Brexit trade talk, which (along with Covid-19) had been the bread and butter of all the news in the UK during most of my time there, and especially during the last month.  With all the song and dance act about “deal/no deal”, I always had the impression that something would work out before the deadline so that it could be approved by the UK parliament by December 31 and so it came to be.  The UK Prime Minister was ecstatic — he’d won back sovereignty, independence and all the rest though other politicians seemed a little less euphoric than BoJo. As things turned out, my attention had been drawn to a BBC television programme Have I Got 30 Years for You, which was a retrospective on a satirical comedy programme, Have I Got News for You, that has been broadcast weekly for the past 30 years.  The format of the programme, which satirises the news of the previous week (mostly), is that there are two permanent panel members (Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, and Paul Merton, a professional and improvisatory comedian, both of whom have been there from the beginning), plus two guest panellists and a guest host that change from week to week.  At any rate, you can see the “interesting” bit at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TXlLWOAZkU from 39 minutes and 19 seconds in, ending at 44:55—if you don’t want to watch the whole show.

Take a leaf from Boris’s book and address the voters looking good!

And here in Israel, it’s election time again.  The Knesset failed to approve a budget by the requisite date, so it was automatically dissolved with the result being a fourth election in the space of 23 months due on March 23, not that it is likely to change much.

The dissolution of the Knesset

And it’s taking place early enough in the year to enable a fifth election by the end of 2021 if necessary.  And if it’s not necessary?

Related to this, (yes, really) according to the Mayo Clinic, “Oral medications are often the first line of treatment for erectile dysfunction. …[M]edications work well and cause few side effects [and they include] Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra)… .”  So far, so good.  But it’s not erectile dysfunction that plagues Israeli society, for in addition to the Coronavirus, there’s actually something else that might be called “electile” (perhaps more usually referred to as ‘electoral’) dysfunction in which the country and its population is kept in a semi-permanent state of readiness to perform its duty, not that it seems to solve anything at all.  Actually, the real reason there’s another election on the way is because it seems as if the people get fidgety and neurotic if they’re not forced to stand in line to vote every now and then every few months.  It’s rather like having a jab against the virus and then getting a booster a few months down the line..

To say that people are apathetic might be going a bit too far because most of us understand why it’s all happening again but I fail to recognise anything resembling enthusiasm.  When I left the polling station after Elections, Round 2, on September 17 2019, as my ID card was returned to me, I (only half-jokingly) wished the young people checking the voters’ lists all the best and told them I’d probably see them again in the Spring.  This time round, I suppose I’ll tell them—only half-jokingly once more—that I’ll see them again in September-October unless the seemingly impossible happens and the voters manage to scrape together a majority that forces the sitting Prime Minister out of office,

SuperJew — The alternative Israeli Prime Minister?

thereby preventing him from obtaining the kind of immunity he really craves, an immunity of impunity that has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines or Coronavirus. 

… or perhaps this is he?

I wrote on this blog early in 2019 and at the beginning of 2020 that the Israeli electoral system is a mess and I frankly didn’t expect I’d would need to write similar words again so soon.  But as I mentioned on both those occasions, there was a time when as an active academic, I was interested in electoral reform and if I didn’t think that electoral reform was the epitome of an “academic” topic (in Israel at any rate), I might have stuck with it. But we’re landed with the electoral system we’ve got. It’s not that the voters are uninterested in changing the system; it’s just that they’re unaware that there are other electoral systems out there in the wider world that would serve them better.  (I don’t really want to use the word “ignorant” as that would be “elitist” of me — but they are). I find it odd that it’s never a topic that gets discussed in the media or elsewhere and that’s probably because the politicians, for their part, don’t want to countenance any change at all because they are comfortable with the system that exists and they know how it works (for them).

Waterman—Elections

Perhaps I’m just a little cynical (“A little?”, they murmur to themelves as they read this) but the main issue is that Israel’s elected politicians represent nobody but themselves and their buddies in their respective parties.  There are no constituencies or electoral districts; the country as a whole is just a single electoral district.  In order to get elected, a candidate has to be placed high enough on the list of candidates that the parties present to the Electoral Commission.  That means that each of them has to be active within his own party and is beholden only to the party members or leaders and frankly, for the most part, none of them give two hoots or two anything else about the voters.  So voters — ordinary, uncomplicated people like me — get to choose a list of people, most of whom are unknown to the electorate at large.  And in fact, although the lists exist, very few people know where to find them even if they wish to so voters end up picking a piece of paper with a letter or two or three printed on it, symbols representing the party, and stuffing it into an envelope and the envelope into a box. We can’t even express any preference by promoting or demoting a candidate on the list that we choose as is possible in some other countries that operate similar systems.  So given the method used, and my dissatisfaction with the parties and politicians contesting this election, my initial reaction was that this time, instead of taking one of the slips with printed letters on it and stuffing it in the official envelope, I would instead insert two pieces of lavatory paper, preferably used pieces, to make my point.  But I would, indeed, be spoiling my vote.  Consequently, I will probably do something less hideous if not a lot more sensible.  Anyway, lavatory paper is something that seems to enter public consciousness as a commodity that is susceptible to being in short supply during lockdown, so as a potentially scarce item, I shouldn’t waste it on something as frivolous as casting a vote.

At any rate, things stink.

In addition to the absurd lack of resonate responsibility in Israel’s electoral system, one’s vote can only be cast on the day of the election at the polling station designated by the address that appears on one’s ID card.  There is no such thing as an absentee vote; there is no postal vote.   And for a country as hi-tech as Israel is, there is no such thing as an electronic vote.  Very simply put, if you can’t be there on the day and at the predetermined place, you can’t vote—unless you are either a diplomat or a member of merchant marine serving out of Israel on election day.  It’s a absolute shame and a complete sham.

Israeli voters seeking out their polling booths.

In this regard, I had a call one day last week from a friend in London who rang me to find how how I was doing and then launched into a story about him wishing to know when he would be able to get an appointment to have the coronavirus vaccine (in London).  So he contacted his MP and receieing what he regarded as an unacceptable response, he contacted him again and then for a third time.  I listened patiently to this wail and tale of woe and when it concluded, I said simply that he was very lucky to have a representative to contact because in Israel, the populace has no such representative because the 120 members of the Knesset are in no way individually beholden to any recognisable group of voters in any specific geographical area. 

What is entirely lacking in Israel’s political system is something which generates a modicum of humility amongst its elected representatives, something that would remind them—as individuals rather than as members hidden behind a party leader and concealed within the blanket of a party list—that in order to be to re-elected, they have to show to a specific and distinct electorate that they are worthy of re-election.  As long as they’re invisible (or in some cases far too visible and audible) inside a list and the voters can’t “push” them down if they really dislike them, all they have to do is suck up to their party colleagues and they can continue be as corrupt or useless as they want to be.  Or, if they really get exasperated, they can leave and form a new party (see below).  Sadly, there is no electoral reform in the offing and nothing will happen in the foreseeable future or in my lifetime. In its absence, we will continue with the current charade because the only people who are qualified to reform the system are the members of the Knesset (referenda in Israel constitute another pipe dream) and they have no interest whatsoever in doing so!

However, I lost interest in electoral reform at the end of the 1980s, believing that I was wasting time and effort.  I’d participated in three residential seminars held in Tel Aviv, organised by the precursor of the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think-and-do tank that works to bolster the values and institutions of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, employing applied research to influence policy, legislation and public opinion and electoral reform was part of a more general discussion about a Constitution for Israel.  These seminars brought together politicians and academics from Israel and abroad to discuss the issue through formal presentations, round-table deliberations, and informal chats and discussions over meals.  It was all very enlightening.   One of the Israeli politicians, a former Speaker of the Knesset, said quite openly over breakfast one morning that he thought he had understood something about electoral reform when he agreed to participate in the seminar but that when he heard the discussions, he realised that he actually knew nothing and for a politician to say so in public that he doesn’t understand something was a revelation. But my overall impression after these meetings was that the Israeli politicians present had not the slightest interest in changing anything and would do their utmost to prevent people from discussing it.

So here we are, in January 2021 heading into another election campaign.

There is no shortage of political parties, new or old.  Far from it!  In fact, it seems as if new parties are being created and introduced to the unsuspecting electorate every day.  There are so many parties and so many current and potential Knesset members running from one party to the other that it’s impossible to keep track of who’s having it off with whom.  In fact, the politicians and their parties seem so promiscuous that the whole affair has become definitely orgiastic in nature.  Poltical promiscuity and debauchery seems to be the order of the day!  And the knives are out not just among parties with within them.

… and it’s not at all funny!

An Israeli voter hovers while she surveys the scene below and tries to decide which clump of yarn-spinners to vote for. 

Here we see Israeli politicians arriving to explain to the expectant public the policies of their party and thereby cadge votes from the electorate

Israel’s floating voter

 

But what they mostly do is turn a blind eye to the voters’ real wishes!

 

Here we see how they seek out potential coalition partners

Political bullying.  If you don’t join my coalition, I’ll eat you for breakfast!

This is just a quiet difference of opinion among close friends discussing the coalition negotiations

 

Sometimes things work out badly.  “You ratted on us. Now you’ve paid the ultimate price.”

 

Caught in the act. Jumping parties from right to left!

 

But if we join the coalition, we can offer you favours — for a price!

 

Coalition negotiations over! Exhaustion reigns.

 

Disgruntled.  Let me out of here (a retiring politician!)

 

We won!

 

But not everyone can!

 

The aftermath of the election campaign

Is it really worth it? Perhaps they’re all bats and a genuine dictatorship is what’s really needed!

 

Let’s hope that 2021 is a better year than 2020, a year I’d like to be able to forget but probably won’t.

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Five Years On — & a year to try and forget

 

This post will probably seem somewhat different to previous ones, mainly because I have been prevented from being able to go outside generally and to take photographs specifically.  As a consequence, what I’m going to write this time round might seem somewhat out of the ordinary, because what usually emerges is a “story” somehow linked to photographs I’ve taken recently but this time, the photos that appear have have been around for some time and some of the stories are personal.  So if you don’t want to read on, you can stop here and come back in 2021.  (BTW, I’m also taking this opportunity to note that this week marks five years since I began this blog—something that I hadn’t intended to happen when I set out, 20 posts having been my original aim way back in December 2015.)

I arrived back in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening last week at the end what turned out to be 3-month stay in London. The winter solstice has just passed but more importantly than length of daylight hours, it seems like I arrived back just in time, given the COVID-related events over last weekend in the just-about-still United Kingdom, as a new and more virulent strain of the Coronavirus was making its presence felt.  Had I decided to return a few days later, I might just have delayed my return till Easter, never mind the end of year holiday season and that’s because in a state of panic, it would seem, Israel has over-reacted by closing its airspace to flights originating in the UK.  Non-Israeli citizens were not permitted to board the last few flights from the UK to Israel at all and for Israelis in the UK and returning “home”, the government decreed that they couldn’t actually go home but were required to spend 14 days in a government-sponsored “Corona hotel” — but they didn’t discover this until the planes had actually landed in the country.  I attach a piece tweeted by one of these passengers and kindly forwarded to me by one of my daughters via Facebook.  (The translation from Hebrew is mine!).  If I had been on that flight, they’d have had to carry me off screaming — or I probably would have done what some others did and just waited until the plane turned around to fly back to the UK!  Corona Hotel

Actually, before I left London, my son asked me how long I had spent in captivity during the three months I was resident in the UK and the short answer, given a period of 14 days of quarantine, three days of torrential downpour (that was at the beginning of October when Saturday 3 October became the wettest day on record since 1891 for UK-wide rainfall and 84 mm fell on NW3 on October 2,3,& 4), then a 28-day lockdown and four days during which I was ill — a total of 49 days out of 89— 55% of the time I spent there.  Add to that another 14 days of quarantine in Tel Aviv last March, followed immediately when that ended by a month of lockdown in April and all that adds up to a long time locked up/down/in.  And next Monday, after yet another 14 days of quarantine, I am due to exit in order to receive a vaccination but this morning’s news at 7 a.m. informed me that as of 17.00 hrs on Sunday week, Israel starts a further lockdown of two weeks, which, if infection rates fail to come down will be extended by a further fortnight.  And through all of this, the callous cretins in charge of this country couldn’t agree on a budget by the date required by law, resulting in the automatic dissolution of parliament and yet another election on March 23, the fourth in less than two years.  Unbelievable but nevertheless you have to believe it because it will happen, COVID or not!

So I got back, safely at least, in time to experience some reality TV, as vaccination time had arrived for some.  The American Vice-President, Michael Richard Pence, appeared with his wife, Karen, the Second Lady (a.k.a. Tuppence), on live TV to bare their upper arms and receive the needle in an exercise to demonstrate to the American public in general and the League of Anti-Vaxxers in particular  that there is nothing to fear from receiving the vaccine.  Mr. Pence’s eyes even suggest that he’s enjoying his moment of renown; Tuppence, however, doesn’t appear to quite as happy about the situation in which she’s been placed but she bravely went through with it nevertheless.

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Back home on the range, it was the usual Bibi show.  Turn up with an army of handlers and bodyguards alongside the Minister of Health and make a speech in order to be and be seen as the first Israeli to receive a Covid shot (no modesty there) and thereby achieve immunity, even if it’s not the immunity for which he’s been searching for the past three years and as a result of which we will have endured four election cycles in the space of 23 months.  No doubt, he will try and make the case for achieving herd immunity by vaccination during the upcoming election campaign, hoping tat the herd will vote for him, whereas his rivals will make hay by reminding voters of his never-ending attempts to legislate immunity from prosecution for a sitting Prime Minister.  However, to his credit, I must say that it was one of the few times during which he has appealed for national unity and that people work together (by having the vaccine).

However, I noticed that his personal physician Dr. Tzvi Berkovitz who gave him the vaccine is not wearing gloves — so much for hygiene.  Personally, I would have asked his friend Trump whether or not it would have been better to have shot of bleach or disinfectant as the President suggested for curing “Kung Flu” way back when.  Then, after receiving the shot the Prime Minister was seated under observation for 30 minutes I order to discover whether or not he had an allergic reaction but all was OK.  

Fear Not! Nothing could go wrong!

Vaccine politicians - 1.jpeg

I suppose it’s time to insert a photo at this stage but photos have been few and far between over the past fortnight.  Nevertheless, here are the last picture I took before leaving London and the first I’ve taken since returning to Tel Aviv.

Back to the stories.  Several interesting things have happened to me over the past few weeks.

The first concerns my first week in London last September.  Last August, a few weeks before I left Tel Aviv, I’d agreed to review an article for a journal I’d been associated with for many years.  I rarely get papers to review any more, which is just as well.  However, every now and then something turns up (it’s as if editors maintain a database of potential reviewers from which my name has not yet been deleted).  I read the abstract and thought it might be interesting so I agreed to do the review but somehow the timing was off and I didn’t get around to it before I departed in September.  I took the printed manuscript with me and eventually, but after the deadline, I got around to reading the article (three times, as it happens) and felt it was less interesting than the abstract had suggested.  These days, requests for reviews are “anonymously” sent from the publisher’s website and in this case there was no interaction with the editor.  I submitted the review a few days past the due date (and I couldn’t do it on the website as a result) but having done the work, I decided to send the review anyway with a recommendation to reject the paper as it needed a substantial rewrite and I thought it unsuitable for the journal anyway and then, a couple of days later, I received a letter from the journal manager and thought that that was that.

So, imagine my surprise when, almost two months after submitting the reviews I received an email from the editor in which I read: “I wanted to write personally, to thank you for reviewing the above referenced manuscript. Reviewing takes a lot of time on top of and in addition to our already busy working lives. I appreciated your review.  I have reached a revise decision on the manuscript. Although this is at odds with your recommendation, the other reviewers felt there could be scope for a revise and resubmit so I have given the author this benefit. I have urged them to think seriously on issues of methodology and the positioning of the paper for our journal.  Thank you for your contribution and time in reviewing this manuscript, which not only assisted me in reaching my decision, but also enables the author(s) to consider their work in the context of expert assessment.”

I wrote back the following: “Thanks for your letter, which I very much appreciated.  I’ve been associated with [the journal] for over 35 years as an author, reviewer and member of the editorial board.  This is the first time ever that any editor has informed me of how my review helped them reach a decision. Occasionally, I’ve asked if I thought I might have gone a bit overboard and received replies.  I hope that this was not a one-off and that you continue to do this with other reviewers because although we do it because it’s part of the job, it informs us that our views have been taken on board.”

Then, the following week, I had a request from a colleague at the University of Haifa to ask me if I’d be willing to talk to the department’s doctoral students about how to prepare a journal article for publication.  I didn’t have to think too long about whether I wanted to do this because over the years I’ve learned a lot and thought that I actually might have something worthwhile to contribute.  Even though it’s a Zoom meeting, which I abhor, I’m actually looking forward to it.

A third event in this month of pleasant surprises was when I received an email from a Professor of International Relations at the University of Tartu in Estonia which read: “Dear Prof Stanley Waterman: I have your conference paper “Partition: Containment or Provocation?” which you were supposed to present at the 7th Mediterranean Social and Political Research Meeting, Montecatini Terme, 22-26 March 2006. Unfortunately, you were not able to make it at that time. I know this because I was one of the workshop organisers. I’m just writing to see whether you managed to get this paper published. If so, could you please send the copy. If not, may I ask your kind permission to make a reference to this piece?”

I laughed out loud as I read this in amazement because I had no recollection whatsoever of ever writing a paper of that title or of planning to be in Tuscany in March 2006.  And then it struck me.  I must have written the paper a few months before the said conference was held but the date of the conference was in between two moves — a short one in Belsize Park in London after which we returned to Israel after nearly six years in London and then moved from Haifa to Tel Aviv.  I must have decided that I wouldn’t be able to manage two moves and a trip to Italy.  However, Professor Berg sent me a copy of the paper I was to have delivered — and yes, I found it on the hard disk of the computer so I printed it out and read it and it actually reads quite well.  So, I might just—I said might—re-work it and see if I can turn it into a journal article!  Miracles never do cease!

And then in the week prior to these events, I had an email from an American colleague informing me about a chapter I had contributed to a book that he had edited.  My chapter was on National Anthems and has an “interesting history”.  More than 15 years ago, the same colleague had suggested that we jointly write an original journal article on national anthems, which  I thought it was a great idea.  So I put together a reading list, bought a CD collection of national anthems so that I could familiarise myself with them (they’re mostly insipid pieces of music) as well as the Ninth Edition of Reed & Bristow’s  National Anthems of the World so that I could analyse the words and play them on the piano.  I created files of themes used in anthems and everything else needed to write an article but after I began to write, managing about 4,000 words, I read it back and concluded that it didn’t really contain enough original material to be an article in a scholarly journal.  As a consequence, I wrote to my American colleague to say that I was abandoning the project.  However, as has been my habit when I forsake something I’ve worked on for some time, I leave it on the computer—just in case.

So, fast forward about a decade and I receive an invitation from another colleague editing a book, tentatively entitled Handbook of Geopolitics, with a request that I write a chapter for a section called Geopolitical Representations and Images with a suggested tentative title: “Geopolitics and Music”.   So, I re-read the partial draft I’d written in 2004, updated the bibliography, read the new material and rewrote the article draft so that it now read as a chapter in a book and got it back to the person who had commissioned it before the due date.  Seven months later, and having heard nothing, I received another email telling me (and another 16 people who had already sent contributions) that for personal reasons, he didn’t have enough time to devote to the project but that [perhaps] in a couple of years …

Well, I’d invested time and effort and it seemed like a pity that it should go to waste.  As a consequence, I sent it to the person who had originally suggested the topic a decade and a half before, simply asking if he could take the time to read it and perhaps suggest a possible outlet for it.  Imagine my surprise when he said he would publish it in a[nother] book he was editing and for which, incidentally, I had already written a chapter—and, more importantly, I didn’t need to make any changes.

Fast forward a couple of years, to three weeks ago, in fact, and I get an email reading: “Greetings… ! I have attached the latest download data for [the book] chapters. Note that some chapters have been available online much longer than others, so chapters at the bottom may catch up in the coming months.  We will send a new list sometime in 2021. The total is now over 50,000! Congratulations on a job well done.”

So I looked and this is what I saw.  I was a little unbelieving and wrote back to say so but was reassured that the numbers were correct.  I was really pleased!

 

Finally, a couple of [mostly unrelated] photographs, but this blog is called PhotoGeoGraphy.

Menage a trois.jpg

Ménage à trois

 

Huldai Clean Government 2011

Clean Government!  Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv’s Mayor

 

Stormy day

A stormy day at Tel Aviv Port

 

Boris's folly.jpg

Boris’s Folly

 

Mitzpe Ramon

At Mitzpeh Ramon, October 2017

 

Baby (Royal Academy).jpg

Antony Gormley’s “Baby”.  Royal Academy, London.  December 2019

 

Puppy (Bilbao).jpg

Jeff Koons’s “Puppy”.  Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.  May 2015

And Season’s Greetings and let’s hope that 2021 is a better year than the one just passed!

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It’s all to do with timing

How do many of us get our news these days?

Why?  Via the Web, of course!

I’m very “late” with this post indeed and, as I sit down to start writing it, which is already a few days ago, I should have been one a plane from London to Tel Aviv at the start of this week. However, the reality is that as things stand, I’m still in London, which, this time, was not something of my own choosing.

On Monday morning last week, I had the beginnings of what is sometimes euphemistically called a “stomach upset”, a pain in the gut, which over the course of the morning led to all the symptoms one would expect in such a situation and I won’t bother you with all the grisly details.  Suffice to say that walking (or shuffling) the eight or nine metres or so from bed to bathroom was a major effort accomplished with more than a little difficulty.  By the following morning, things felt a little better but far from well.  As a consequence, I called the local NHS clinic and asked to speak to a doctor and I was informed by the receptionist that I would be contacted that afternoon. (It’s a group practice and in a group practice one never knows which doctor is going to answer the call).  Sure enough, early in the afternoon, just after what would have been lunchtime had I been in the mood to eat, one of the doctors called me and I described to her pretty accurately all of the gory details of the previous 36 hours.  She listened, asking relevant questions, and then told me what I had guessed anyway, that it sounded like a viral infection but that it was “nothing to worry about” as it usually clears up within 48 hours.

The following morning, however, and feeling a good bit better, I got a shock when I looked in the mirror as I prepared to shave and was got a rude awakening by what I saw.  And what I saw was that I was covered in red blotches from neck to midriff as if someone had taken a pot of purple paint with a paintbrush and aimed the brushed, dripping with paint, straight at me. And the thing was that it seemed to be spreading across my body before my very eyes.  There had been nothing there at all the previous evening as I went to bed yet during the less than two hours from the time I first observed it, just before 6 a.m., it had spread to my thighs.  I looked like some modernist abstract painting in the shape of a man.  Here I go, thought I, I’m on my way out—my end is nigh.

So I phoned the clinic as soon as it opened and later in the morning yet another doctor from the group practice called me and I described the actively developing situation to him.  He sounded cheery enough and he, too, said “Nothing to worry about”. “Urticaria”, he said, “a common reaction to a viral infection”.  Urticaria, I discovered, is just a fancy word for hives, which up to then I had thought was what young children occasionally got as a reaction to eating something like strawberries or raspberries.  The last time I had hives was when I was about seven or eight.

Just to be on the safe side, I sent the pictures of mottled me to my GP in Tel Aviv and asked him his opinion. After a couple of hours, back came his response: “Urticaria”, he said, “a common reaction to a viral infection”.  So, I was treated to a week of antihistamines during which the purple blotches have faded to a phantom what they had once been, the palest pastel pink.

So, I re-booked a trip back to Tel Aviv and hope that next Tuesday evening, at the FOURTH time of asking, I’ll make it—steeling myself for yet another round of what’s become my most frequently played out activity game of this weirdest of years—quarantine/lockdown.  Hopefully, as I move into 2021, I will qualify to have a vaccination against this nasty bug that has upended the world over the past year.

Taking about vaccines, it looks was if at some stage between Chanukah/Christmas and Easter/Pesach, we will have a choice of several different products.  There was great excitement here in UK last week at the announcement that the first vaccine had been approved and was being shipped in bulk from Belgium to the UK and when the first, 90-something year old person received her jab, the event was covered by the media and as she was wheeled away in her wheelchair following the short procedure, she was cheered on by all the onlookers.

As usual, politicians have been at the forefront of the ballyhoo about vaccines.

Matt [wu]Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, smiled for what seemed to be the first time in many months (and given his job, he hasn’t had much to smile about) when he announced that British regulators had approved the Pfizer vaccine. Then he and some other Conservative colleagues put this speedy approval down to Brexit and the fact that the soon-to-be fully re-independent UK did not have to wait for European regulators to take their time over approving it.  (Meanwhile, 4½ years after the Brexit referendum, Brexit talks seem to be drawing to their almost inevitable conclusion that there will be no trade deal, although by Sunday, everything might change on that score.) The fact that the vaccine was developed in Germany by a Turkish immigrant couple seems to have escaped Mr. Hancock’s attention last week.)

On the other side of the Atlantic, three former American presidents, Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton volunteered to have their Covid-19 vaccinations publicly televised once it has been approved by regulators and recommended by US health officials in a move intended to boost public confidence in the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines, a good idea.

We were also treated to President-elect Biden introducing his Health team to the media and the American people in what seemed to me like a patriotic and conciliatory speech that sounded like an attempt to begin to heal the rifts in American society.  He, probably somewhat over-optimistically, set a goal of 100 million Covid vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, starting January 20 and although he realistically said that his first months in office would not end the outbreak and he gave few details about a rollout plan, he said he would change the course of Covid-19.  He also urged Americans to “mask up for 100 days”.  All of this might have been a little far-fetched but it at least indicated to those listening and viewing that he understands that there is an urgent problem that needs to be dealt with.  The BBC News programme that transmitted Mr. Biden’s pitch to the American people then switched to a “Coronavirus event” at the White House chaired by his erstwhile rival, the sitting President, who spoke for about three or four minutes about how wonderfully America has managed the pandemic (really!!!) before switching to a tirade on what has become his favourite hobby horse, about how he had been robbed of the election by people wheeling out illegal votes in suitcases from underneath tables and telling viewers that he won millions of votes more than any other sitting president.  However, he failed to mention that notwithstanding his record-breaking number of votes for a sitting President, his erstwhile rival had received 7 million more votes than he did — but then they were all illegal.

The Israeli Prime Minister couldn’t be left in the cold and remain silent so, in similar vein and is the wont of vain politicians, he announced that he would be the first person to receive the vaccine in Israel, as if we didn’t know already what a brave and thoughtful man he really is!  Given that he has manhandled and mishandled the whole Coronavirus episode as a one-man show, why not bare your arm in front of the nation and receive the first vaccination, thereby protecting himself and allowing us the privilege of being led by him for yet another decade at least.

Having written all this nonsense, let’s hope that by the summer, and with the help of the vaccines, we will be able to rid ourselves of notices and situations such as these and feel healthy again, shiny all over.

 

Post-Coronavirus Man. The Regent’s Canal, London

Looking at the notices on the tunnel wall on the  London Underground, I sometimes avert my gaze and look down and wonder what would happen to those whose English might let them down.  I suppose that if it lets them down, then down they go!

 

Lockdown and ancillary restrictions help bring out initiatives and inventiveness in people—even though entering someone’s home to offer them a haircut or a shave might not be considered by some not to be observing Government guidelines unquestionably.

On the other hand, this gentleman, who was located close to the entrance to Angel Underground Station in Islington was doing nothing wrong, just showing initiative and getting with the job at hand!  (One person who saw this last week observed that initially he thought it might have been the former Leader of the Labour Party seeking a disguise but on closer inspection realised that it wasn’t.)

Ostensibly, I came to London in mid-September for a six-week family visit and somehow through a series of unfortunate series of mistimings and other events out of my control, I’ve seen off a gorgeous autumn and been here to welcome a cold winter.

However, although winter is well and truly here, there are already reminders that spring isn’t all that far off.

… and not everyone or everybody is necessarily cold, including this little furry thing (male)!

And one day the week before last, en route to Hampstead Heath to meet friends, I came across this and wondered what the ½ really indicated.

Really???

And last week, feeling well enough to get out, I managed to do something that I never thought I’d manage on this trip to London and walked along Eton Avenue to the Hampstead Theatre and saw a LIVE performance in a socially distanced auditorium—55 minutes of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.  Frankly, I didn’t care what it was — just the feeling of being able to sit in a theatre and watch to live actors strut their stuff was enough to leave me on a high!

… and to those to whom it applies, a Happy Chanukah!

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Salvation and sludge

In the front garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Regent’s Canal, Islington

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Fallen leaves, bare trees, and more mud

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

Waiting the arrival of family members on Hampstead Heath

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

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

 

 

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America, vaccines and the end of autumn

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

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

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

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

EGO

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

EGO

would become

HE GO  

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

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

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

Such is life, I suppose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s all in the timing

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, time appears to be completely screwed up.

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

Dilemma; Uncertainty; Quandary.

 

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

Autumn colours. Hampstead Garden Suburb

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

VOTE LEAVE(S)

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

A morning stroll on Hampstead Heath

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

A working spinster. Parkhill Road, Belsize Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Adam Korman

 

 

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Autumn in London and all that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough!  Time for some photographs.

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

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

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

Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol (via SW)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Artemisia as a lute player

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

 

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

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

Waiting for Borat. Pall Mall East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Introduction for Blog

 

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Lockdown, lockup, lock-in, lockout!

Lockdown, lockup, lock-in, lockout.

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

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

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

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

At a local anti-Bibi demo, Ramat Aviv

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

Succot, Day 1. London. Wet

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

Still rather wet!  October 5, 2020

 

Primrose Hill, first outing 

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

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

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

Primrose Hill in the autumn sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract. Shuli Waterman, October 2020

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

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

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

 

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

Wide-angle photography, Jaffa

Standard

Glorious Isolation/Insulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf isolation. London September 2020

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

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

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

After a few days, you begin to go bananas …

Going bananas

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

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

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

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

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

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

… toothless grins of inanity and insanity in the bathroom … 

… just black and white in the kitchen … 

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

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