MAYDAY: an international radio distress signal used by ships and aircraft
It’s hard to believe that there’s going to be a General Election here in a little over a week. Even just 10 years ago, the streets — walls, windows, lampposts and any other available hanging space would have been plastered with election paraphernalia — posters, placards and all the rest. I noticed a similar non-occurrence of visible electoral material in Israel the last time around although here, in NW London, it’s almost completely absent. I suppose that most of the electioneering is done on “Social Media”, email, tweets (whatever they are), and so on. What I’ve learned is from radio and TV and The Guardian newspaper — and even there, there hasn’t been much in the way of election material during the past week, most of the time and space taken up by the Manchester mass murders and their aftermath.
That said, on Bank Holiday Monday, there was a buzz from the intercom downstairs and a disembodied woman’s voice announced that she was canvassing for the Labour Party and asked me if I’d made up my mind yet who I was about to vote for. Were I to vote, I don’t think I’d be voting for her man, Sir Keir Starmer QC, the current Labour MP for the constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. Undoubtedly an intelligent and extremely competent person (he was the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Head of the Crown Prosecution Service for five years from 2008 to 2013), he represents an area that voted 75% “Remain” in the referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union last year. That did not prevent him, however, obeying party orders and voting to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the process of withdrawal from the European Union.
In my naïveté, I was under the impression—seemingly mistakenly—that in a constituency system, the Member of Parliament is elected to represent the voters who put her/him there! But party discipline and political ambition apparently eclipse the will of the people represented. So the question is why should one bother to vote for him this time around? It wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome of the vote in parliament but it would have kept his slate clean, as it were. However, with 52.9% of the vote in the 2015 General Election, I suppose Sir Keir will have no difficulty getting himself re-elected this time around.
Visible signs of the election may be missing from the streets but on Monday night, television viewers were treated to a spectacle provided by Sky News and Channel 4 jointly, when the leaders of the two main parties, Conservative and Labour appeared on the same programme sequentially, i.e., separately, one after the other. Each answered [prepared] questions from members of an [invited] audience, followed by an interview with Jeremy Paxman.
For readers unfamiliar with Paxman and his interviewing style, I can only describe it as something resembling the friendliness of a ravenous piranha or a single-minded bull terrier with its teeth embedded deep in its victim’s thigh. Whereas both politicians appeared reasonably at ease with the Q&A (Corbyn perhaps a little more so than the Prime Minister, who elicited some guffaws from members of the audience and if you can lipread, you can see what one member of the audience thought of her by checking out the YouTube recording of the programme and skipping to 1:02:26!).
In contrast, however, both of them were toasted and then roasted before they were flipped over and battered and fried (in a deep batter, too) by Paxman, whose long-tested tactic is to ask a question and then repeat it over and again until he receives a non-evasive answer. (He is notorious for having asked Michael Howard, then Leader of the Conservative party the same question (“did you threaten to overrule him?”) twelve times before letting go without an answer.) Tenacity is irrefutably gross understatement for describing his approach to dealing with politicians and both Mrs. May and Mr. Corbyn emerged from the beating both tyrannised and bruised.
As Paxman battered away, the Labour leader’s facial twitches revealed his unease, especially when he was asked about some of his “shadier” past acquaintances—in the IRA and the Arab World—who he has described on occasion as “friends”. The Prime Minister, appearing as smug as a bug in a rug, physically squirmed in her seat, in particular when he asked her how she had managed the transformation over a few days last year from when she had been a supporter of “Remain” to be able to utter that by now infamous “Brexit is Brexit.” She’s been asked this question dozens of times and she must have been expecting it but she found it difficult to hide the fact that she didn’t really have an answer except to say that “We asked the people” and “the people decided”—which, to me, has always sounded like “followership” rather than “leadership”.
It’s not as if they didn’t know what they would be letting themselves in for. Self-immolation indeed! And in these exchanges, Mrs. May might perhaps have won on points but they were like two boxers who had almost knocked one another out in a long slugging match. It was good entertainment, though. I think the best each might have hoped for is that not very many people bothered to watch!
As they performed and did their best to escape with as few injuries as possible, I kept thinking that the Prime Minister of Israel has never appeared in his 11 years in power on anything like this. He doesn’t mind talking to foreign interviewers every other weekend but I can only remember one interview he has granted to Israeli televiewers and that was a highly stage-managed event in which the interviewers were placed in a position of absolute obsequiousness. Perhaps some unprincipled soul could invite Paxman to Israel?
Anyway enough of this. We’ll know the result soon. The only palliative feature of this whole election campaign is that it is so short. Just over a week before the election and the parties are still unveiling their manifestoes.
Meanwhile, here we are in London for a fortnight and in addition to brushing up on the rough and tumble of British politics, we’ve been doing the rounds of family and friends. So after three weeks curled up behind a camera in Tel Aviv watching, photographing and listening to young pianistic virtuosi, it was a particular pleasure to attend music assembly at our grandson’s school and listen to him perform two short pieces after just four lessons on the instrument with some aplomb. At the same time, as if I might have had enough of pianos, I am reading Play it Again, by Alan Rusbridger, who was editor The Guardian newspaper for 20 years and an accomplished amateur pianist. In diary form and with much name-dropping, he describes how in 2010-11, having set himself the almost impossible task of learning to play Chopin’s Ballade #1, Op. 23, in order to perform it before an audience at a piano camp in Italy, and how he went about it. While he was doing this, of course, he was editing the newspaper during a period in which he dealt with the paper’s publication of Wikileaks, the News of the World‘s phone-hacking scandal and a trip to rescue one of the newspaper’s correspondents in Libya just days before British and French airplanes began bombing there.
In between all this, there have been the usual early morning walks and one of the things that never fails to amaze me is how unobservant I can be. I mean, I walk the same routes over and over again, and each time I come across something I hadn’t noticed before or if I had noticed it, I had missed its significance.
And so it’s been this week. There are flowers everywhere. Sometimes they grow wild, as on Hampstead Heath; more often, they are in gardens. However, as often as not — at least in this urban part of the world — they’ll be growing out of walls and it’s remarkable how they can prettify what is otherwise a very ordinary street landscape.
And walking on and around Hampstead Heath, I must have passed St. Johns Church on Downshire Hill dozens of times without having photographed it once — and then, with the very dark grey backdrop, there it was. The angle wasn’t great and there were too many cars parked on the street to make it even a good photograph. Nevertheless, it was worth it because I don’t know quite when the light will appear the same again.
And one day, when I’m not distracted by other things, I really need to traverse Hampstead Heath systematically in order to record the inscriptions on the park benches. Some of these are highly personal yet all the benches have a limited life and, I presume, are gradually replaced as the inscriptions fade and the bench is worn away from use.
Then, just around the corner from St. Johns, on South End Road, are gates to two private houses, both of which I have passed perhaps hundreds of times in the past 20 years. I’ve photographed the one at #77 before, but the stark “Keep Out” message is always worth a click. However, the one a little further up the street at #95, I don’t recollect ever having discerned before—although my eyes must have seen it. Seeing but failing to catch sight, I suppose.
Again, as I’ve noted before, my eye is attracted to signs — or more correctly, I suppose, to the words borne by the signs. Sometimes, the words and the instructions or other information contained in them leave me wondering what is meant, at least until I give them some thought. This sign on the door to a set of Harley Street consulting rooms left me wondering if, indeed, the bell is disabled, what you are supposed to do with it.
The picture below of a door at 246 Haverstock Hill, a section of the main drag between Camden Town and Hampstead village, illustrates well the concept of migration. Now, apparently, inhabited by the Chauhan family, replete with what I take to be Hindu icons, had previously had Jewish occupants as illustrated by the mezuzah on the right doorpost.
In town, the large redevelopment of the once notorious Centre Point building from offices to apartments continues apace.
Close by, the work on Crossrail, a 118-km railway line running through parts of London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Essex also continues. Its central section, which runs through London, is due to open in December 2018. Meanwhile, its periphery yields some interesting images, not least the ferocious-looking security guard.
About 250m from where we park ourselves in London lies this milestone telling me it’s 4 miles from the Post Office … if only I knew which post office and where it’s located. I suppose that without too much ado, I could find out but like lots of other things, I haven’t got around to it yet.
As usual, the view from Primrose Hill is quite some sight, even on grey days when there’s a lot of cloud about.
Finally, although I noted at the top of this post that there are few visible indications in the urban landscape that there’s an imminent General Election, one does occasionally come across a sign on the window of a flat or shop expressing a voter preference. Mostly, these seem to be something like “I’m voting Labour”; I haven’t seen any for the other parties yet. Perhaps Tory supporters are too ashamed to state publicly that that’s what they are. The sign below appeared about three days ago in the window of what had been for years an Italian restaurant near us. I say “Italian” because externally, the dishes looked Italian and had Italian names but there was always something lacking in the flavours even though the pizzas were amazing. This isn’t all that surprising because the owner and sometime cook was Alok, a member of a rare breed, a Hindu from Bangladesh who was/is married to Jamilla, a Muslim woman from somewhere in the Caucasus. A year ago, the restaurant appeared to be abandoned, with shutters down and door open — and that’s the way it has remained for the past 12 months. But it appears that somebody has access to the establishment and s/he is going to vote Labour next week.
I wonder if ???