The difference a day makes

City at Sunset

City of London at sunset—Gherkin, Cheese Grater and Walkie-Talkie.  

We had an earlyish start on Tuesday morning of last week in Tel Aviv.  Our flight was at 10.15, so the taxi picked us up at 7.15 on what was an already steamy Tel Aviv morning.  [We had joked the previous evening that we’d get up at 5.30 provided out bodies hadn’t adhered to the sheets during the night—and that was with the ceiling fan working full time.]

Nine hours later at Heathrow Airport in London we emerged to what was a noticeable difference in temperature—and humidity—yet with the sun beaming through the living room window later in the afternoon/evening, it seemed almost as hot and humid as Tel Aviv and the following day had us running to extract our solitary fan and turn it up to maximum and proceeded to get through our “zombie day”, which is how we refer to the day after travel.  It wasn’t quite Tel Aviv but still  quite disagreeable and we braced ourselves for an uncomfortable few days.

However, nil desperandum.  This is London, and of course Thursday brought one of those true, really true, summer days that we’d been dreaming about for weeks.  Obviously, the tee shirts I’d been wearing comfortably in Tel Aviv for weeks were no longer appropriate and the big questions of the morning became whether I should wear a long-sleeved cotton sweater or go straight for a woolly one, should I wear a shirt (a real shirt, that is, replete with collar and sleeves) under it and should I take a raincoat with me on my walk?  There’s nothing like some little British uncertainty to sharpen the brain and brace the body for what might or might not come! 

However, it’s not just the weather that marks the distinction between the country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean whence I had come and this one, the last but one most westerly large island off the coast of Western Europe. Listen to the news on the radio or television or read the newspapers and you might well think you’re on a different planet. (And here, for those of you who usually read the text that appears in this blog and don’t just look at the pretty pictures, I give due warning of a forthcoming fulmination by a grumpy old cynic.  This shouldn’t be taken too seriously but things like this happen from time to time and I feel better when it’s over and done with!)

In Israel we have a Prime Minister who has been in office on this watch over eight years already.  It’s now 21(!!!) years since he first became Prime Minister.  In a democracy such a length of time as this strongly suggests that he is well past his sell-by date.  Two decades is time enough even for a gourmet cheese to begin to rot and reek!

[Yes, I know that Winston Churchill first entered the Cabinet in 1911 and stayed around for 44 years on and off.  I also know that Mr. Netanyahu likes to compare himself with Churchill so that in his worldview Iran ≠ Nazi Germany, Israel ≠ Great Britain and Bibi ≠ the voice in the wilderness.  However, although Churchill made many errors in his career prior to becoming Prime Minister, when his time came, he was the great unifier whereas unification is hardly Bibi’s strongest suit.]

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Bibi has never exactly been a noble from Gruyère; I prefer to think of him as a piece of industrially-produced plain-old American mozzarella in a vacuum-tight plastic bag, eminently stretchable and malleable when melted and something that goes with anything one can think up — hamburger and steak (each with two differing kosher certificates), roasted vegetables, the lot.  Moreover, we also know that plain old mozzarella is stacked on shelves like white bricks, which it pretty much resembles.  Most commercial mozzarella is desiccated to give it longer shelf life; however, the corollary of this is that with less moisture, there’s less taste.  In fact, it’s tasteless, just like you-know-who.  Nevertheless, bags of pre-grated mozzarella are extremely popular with consumers in America and elsewhere even if they’re only fibrous strings of some remotely dairy-like substance that has been dusted and injected with preservatives. But it’s what culinarily backward consumers have been led to enjoy, what they’ve been told is good for them, so why not give it to them—even if it’s potentially lethal and makes them ill?  Comme-çi Bibi and the Israel electorate.

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Surrounded by one scandal after another if not yet engulfed by them (“They’ll find nothing because there’s nothing there.”), all dreamt up by a cabal of leftist journalists and others who have engaged in a prolonged witch-hunt to discredit him (does this sound familiar?), he soldiers on, unleashing his attack dogs, his poodles and his common or garden mongrels to decry the false accusations against him and berate the press.  And the more threatened he perceives himself to be, the more irrational and unpredictable his decisions and the more potentially detrimental to the country and the wider Jewish population as when he signed up as an honorary Republican in the last two American presidential elections, or when he consorts with neo-fascists in Hungary (to engender their help in changing EU attitudes to Israel), or created an unnecessary crisis with Jordan, or calls for the execution of terrorists and so on and so on. (All irrational except when you realise that he’s competing with others over his core supporters and then it becomes rational.)

Given that several people close to him have not only been interrogated by the police but also held by them—in separate cases potentially involving bribery, corruption, the giving of favours and such like, his multiple paranoias have been fertilised so as to cause them to blossom into their full splendour—and it’s only just beginning.  

In a democracy, we have to give the benefit of the doubt to those alleged to have been dishonest or who have been accused until s/he is found guilty, so perhaps they’ll find nothing because there really is nothing there to find.  But given that in recent years the police have recommended, the prosecutors have acted and the courts have sentenced, among others, a  former President, a former Prime Minister, a former Finance Minister, a former Interior Minister (who, believe it or not, after having served out his sentence and banishment from public life, is once more the Interior Minister and has again come  under scrutiny), nothing is impossible.  (But then the Ministress of Justice seems to think that the courts are also controlled by a [different] junta of leftist jurists!)

Compare this with the news from Britain, where apart from the continual reports about the Brexit negotiations, the talk is not about how to be rid of a Prime Minister who has been around for two decades but whether the incumbent will last out the calendar year.  After a year of indecisive decisions and famously flamboyant flip-flops, Mrs. May has gone away to break loose from the drudge of decision-making and to engage in one of her favourite pastimes — walking.  Not in Brexit Britain as you might imagine but in Italy and then Switzerland where she hopes, I suspect, that she might be able to escape the madding crowd (i.e., the tabloid press and other nosey-parkers).  She has avoided trekking in the UK this time round possibly because of the bad memories and the nightmares it invokes, as on her last walking holiday to North Wales in the spring she had this great idea of calling an early election and winning a large parliamentary majority.  As the Hungarian proverb so aptly puts it: “As one makes his bed, so he sleeps his dream.”  Or in this case, her cot and her cauchemar.

The big news since our arrival in London—and for weeks and months before—has been the harrowing story of Charlie Gard, an 11-month old baby dying from a rare form of mitochondrial disease.

The child was being treated at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, a world-renowned institution.  He had suffered seizures over half a year ago and as a consequence, the entire team treating him concluded that he had suffered irreversible neurological damage and that his life-support systems should be withdrawn. However, the parents refused to believe that his brain was damaged and demanded that the child should be transferred for experimental treatment to the United States.  The hospital refused, noting that no animal or human with the child’s precise disease had received this experimental treatment and because the neurological damage was irreversible, the chances of benefit were nil.  

The parents wanted what they wanted and the case went to court and it became public, very public.  The media took hold of the situation with relish and do what the media often do and worked the story up to fever pitch.  People demonstrated; people attacked medical staff at Great Ormond Street verbally and physically.  “Who were the doctors anyway to make decisions about a child’s life?”, they said.  “The decision to end it must be taken by the parents and the parents alone.”  People took sides and had opinions—without knowing, let alone understanding, the facts.

Finally, after the child had been examined and tested by the American doctor whose experimental treatment the parents had wanted for little Charlie, they relented and agreed that life support systems should be withdrawn.  But that wasn’t the end.  They wanted Charlie to die at home; the hospital and the courts said: “Impossible”.  They compromised and agreed to end his life in a hospice as the mob screamed “Murderers!” at the medical staff.  The judge in the case decided that the stay in the hospice should be as short as possible and the tale came to its sad but inevitable end on Friday afternoon.

The media have a lot to answer for, having blown up what should have been a private tragedy into a pandemonium!  If anyone wishes to read a more complete version of this story, there’s Melanie Phillips’ blog.  Normally, I’m not a great fan of Melanie but she gets it right here.

And à propos the media, on Wednesday, there was a story about the publication of a UK government plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide.  This includes banning the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars as of 2040 with the goal that by 2050, almost every car or van using UK roads should be emissions-free.  2050 is 33 years from now.  A noble intention, indeed.

However, on Thursday morning, the media were doing what they usually do and the story was played out in all its glory on radio and TV and in the papers.  I mean if cars are all going to be electric, how on earth will the power grid cope?  Will there be enough charging stations all over the country?  Good grief, if I’m cooking dinner for my family and all the neighbours are charging their car batteries, will my family have to eat their dinner cold?  Maybe this means that we’ll starve?! Once more (but this time at least only for one day) near alarm and hysteria prevailed until the next inane story came along.  And it’s not even August yet, the usual month of Silly Season.

Well, there you are.  This little rant is over and done with.  But goodness gracious!  I almost forgot to post some photographs!  So here are some from the past week.

Regent's Park flowers

Regent’s Park flowers.  If you had an army of gardeners, you could have it, too!

Hanging crane

Platformed crane, City of London

Spies in the wall

Security cameras built into the pillars. City of London

Lloyds & Gherkin

Lloyds Building & the Gherkin. London

Houseboats on Regent's Canal

The Regent’s Canal, Primrose Hill

Regents Park foundtain

Fountain in the Park.  Regent’s Park

Drips and drops

A summer’s day in London

Walking doggie

A new take on walking the dog.  Primrose Hill


Picturing the Port

The sky is falling. January 2013

I think that this must be the greatest hiatus between posts since I started this blog thing quite some time ago.  “That’s no great loss”, think some of you while others might well say: “I knew something was missing from my life but I couldn’t put a finger on it” and others still may not have noticed at all.  Well, whatever.

Things were busy last week and that’s because a couple of weeks ago, ego fought with modesty while I dithered over whether to submit some of my pictures to a photography competition.  The story’s like this.  I don’t belong to a camera or photography club or any association of keen clickers.  This isn’t because I’m disinterested in what other people do our how they do it or that I’m uncomfortable with criticism.  After all, I was an academic and submitting one’s work for peer-review was a process that I had to live with for 40 years.  Reviewers could be horridly cruel at times and in fact the flip side of that coin was that as well as submitting my own work for criticism and review, I was also a reviewer and I didn’t suffer fools gladly and such a lot of what I had been asked to read over the years must have been written by exactly those.  (I also thought at times that some of those editors who sent these pieces out to us to review were much the same.  The rationale for that appraisal is that had they read the stuff before sending it out to waste people’s time, they wouldn’t have.  I also learned over the years that painful as it may have been to read criticism of something you had spent so much time on and eventually thinking you’d got it right, when you reread the reviewers comments after having put them in a drawer for a while, more often than not there were things there that would help you improve your work.)

But to come back to photography.  

It’s more because that with the little experience I’ve had with such gatherings in Israel—and for all I know it may well be the same elsewhere—there always seems to be a couple of know-alls in a group who have to impress all the others with their knowledge (or more often their lack of it) and experience.  As a consequence, they tend to monopolise discussions, turning them into extended monologues.  I’ve always found such people off-putting and, frankly, for better or for worse, I prefer to manage without them, probably a gross error on my thin-skinned part.

Anyway coming back to the hiatus.  A few weeks ago, I received an email from an organisation to which I must have signed up a couple of years ago to receive information about forthcoming events.  As a result, their mass emails come in regularly and they are just as regularly junked once I see that it’s irrelevant (to me, at least).  However, the one that came a few weeks concerned a competition and I was just about to do what I usually do (i.e., consign it to the trash can) when I noticed that there was a link to the shortlisted competitors in last year’s competition.  For some reason unknown to myself, I clicked and had a look and concluded, in all likelihood mistakenly, that some of my better images were at least no worse than some of those that made the 2016 shortlist.

This, of course, led me to think that maybe I should volunteer some of my own pics for the 2017 competition.  These things happen on the spur of the moment, with a rush of blood to the brain, you realise.  Ego makes its appearance in a sudden flash from out of nowhere, it seems, and suddenly you feel as if you can do things you really aren’t suited to.  

So I decided to egg on ego and have a go.  I read the instructions to competitors.  Submit between six and twelve photos taken in the previous five years, which constitute a “body of work” and which hadn’t been submitted to any other competition previously.  No problem, I thought.  I’ve got more than 30,000 pictures on the computer from which there shouldn’t be any difficulty is choosing a dozen.  Only about a quarter of the images dated prior to July 2012, the 5-year cut-off date, so there really shouldn’t be a problem.

Except that there was a complication, and a serious one, at that, which, I suppose might be described as an extreme case of messy-desk syndrome.  Just as I promise myself that one day soon—very soon—I’ll sort out the workspace on top of my desk so that I can see the workspace again after a lacuna of several months(?) or years(?), so it is with my photographs.  Instead of adding keywords each time I upload a set of photographs to the computer, I edit them.  By the time I’m done with that, I’m usually not in a mood for the rather simple task of classifying.  The upshot is that I have lots and lots of unclassified photographs.  Yes, lots.  

I was better organised before I had a major mishap and lost all my images a couple of years ago.  I managed to retrieve them — but unedited and unclassified — and that’s the way it has remained until recently.  Doing what I should have been doing day by day, week by week, for several years becomes a daunting task when you attempt it in a limited time period — but I have started.  Too late, however, for it to have been of much use to me on this little ego-trip.  

So how did I go about starting to see if I had a dozen photographs worth putting into there competition?  Well, the long way.  I decided on three categories of pictures, went through the lot (yes, the lot), gave them keywords and selected some that I thought might be worth showing.  I whittled each of the three “competition categories” down to about 25 pictures and then asked a friend who has more experience with this sort of thing than I will ever have for his opinion.  

It was just as well that I did as his comments came back promptly.  And just as he used to be when he was a journal editor (and he was the most professional editor I ever had the pleasure of working with), he was gentle but firm—very firm. It’s just as well I had had all that training as a practising academic because it taught me that there’s always something positive in a negative review.  Basically, the message was that the images were fine but with the exception of a couple, not terribly interesting.  I looked at them again in an attempt to understand quite why they weren’t all that interesting and it didn’t take long for me to figure it out once my attention had been drawn to the fact.  

At this stage in the proceedings, the issue then became whether I should go with ego and self-conceit and try again or just live with some diminished self-esteem and forget the whole thing.  I left things aside for a few days, which is always a good thing to do in such circumstances and then with prompting and prodding from family members decided to have another look.

Then I remembered that I am — or used to be — a geographer, which is defined in one of my dictionaries as “an expert in the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these”.  So I looked around for some pictures geographical and decided that I would concentrate my efforts on a limited geographical area, settling on Tel Aviv Port.  This is mainly because for the past 10 years or so, I go for a daily walk of somewhere between 5 and 7 km, and in Tel Aviv, at least half of those mornings take me through the port, which is no more than a commercial strip about 1 km in length along the Mediterranean, south from the mouth of the Yarqon stream.  What never fails to confound me is the variety of subjects on hand to photograph — the sea, the promenade, fishermen, joggers, cyclists, the cafés and restaurants, the odd shop or two and the birdlife—even the fire hydrants.  And what astonishes me even more is that on every walk, I always find something new, something I hadn’t noticed before. 

So I went through all the pictures again, marking those taken on the port and managing to extract about 200 possibilities, which I organised into several thematic groups.  I got them down to 26, which I then sent to several family members and friends, with a request that they choose no more than 12.  There was a reasonable correlation among the photos that they all chose although my personal choice was a little different to the others, something which seems to be the story of my life so didn’t surprise me at all.  The choice in the end was mine.

The body of work was entitled “Early morning (mostly) in Tel Aviv Port” and here they are, with a short comment accompanying each.  You might recognise some of those that have already appeared in this blog over the past 19 months.

I don’t usually walk towards evening but it happens sometimes.  What caught my eye here was the diffuse light just after sunset and the two chairs, that had, I assume, been used by a pair of anglers earlier in the day, and which had been abandoned until the morrow when they would provide that day’s anglers with somewhere to sit and contemplate whatever it is fishers contemplate.

Late afternoon. February 2016Late afternoon. February 2016


There are days in all seasons when the sea is rough.  Here, I’m looking out through the port entrance.  The clouds look ominous, the waves are wild and foaming but the two joggers seem to be having a good time.  The strength of the scene is enhanced by the black and white image.

Rough morning. December 2016Rough morning. December 2016


Three years earlier, I’d photographed a similar scene.  This one’s less pessimistic than the previous one — there’s some blue sky.  Still, the clouds, the sea and the birds add movement to the photo.

A rough space. January 2013A rough space. January 2013


Wide-angle lenses are fun.  Many people seem to think that they’re mainly for “getting as much into the picture” as possible but the truth is that they provide you with the opportunity to photograph scenes like this from somewhat unusual viewing angles and perspectives.

A quarter to 7 in the morning. January 2016A quarter to 7 in the morning. January 2016


This scene reflects one of the pleasanter characteristics of a Mediterranean winter.  It can be wild and stormy for three or four days, occasionally up to a week, but then there’s a break until the next storm passes through.  This picture was taken the morning after a storm had died away and blue sky had appeared. However, rather than photograph the blue sky, I preferred to its reflection along the promenade.  Enhancing the image with Photoshop’s watercolour filter seemed to augment the transformation from rain to sunshine quite well.

The morning after. January 2016The morning after. January 2016


I noticed this image as I passed by one of the former port warehouses, which today accommodates a retail store.  The three exhaust vents on the roof were worth photographing on their own but the workman standing on the roof at the same angle with head bent is what really created a picture.

The three & the one. November 2012The three & the one. November 2012


I usually find something appealing at the Friday morning farmers’ market and it’s usually the colours that attract my eye.  However, sometimes, it’s the shapes and patterns that does the trick, like the mushrooms in this photograph.

@ The Farmers' Market. April 2016@ The Farmers’ Market. April 2016


In addition to the walkers, the joggers and the cyclists, the people in the specially designed invalid tricycles can be seen all through the port, which provides them with a long straight run.  They come in several different designs but they constitute a hazard for ordinary mortals.  Braking is dodgy and warning bells, buzzers or whistles almost non-existent. 

This way & that way. March 2016This way & that way. March 2016


There are several different bird species to be seen in and around Tel Aviv Port although the egrets take pride of place.  Normally, you’ll see them just perching but occasionally, as in this photo of one about to launch itself off the edge, they’re on their way from somewhere to somewhere.

Egret. January 2017Egret. January 2017


Wide angle lenses, as I mentioned, can be fun, as in this image of joggers, in which the camera has been placed at ground level.

Joggers. June 2016Joggers. June 2016


There are fishermen angling all along the promenade.  However, in a decade of walking by the sea, I think I’ve only seen about half a dozen fish actually emerge.  Looking at the anglers, I imagine that I’m probably missing the point of the whole exercise and that these people who stand or sit for hours on end holding fishing rods and other paraphernalia are really deep philosophers of some kind.  Obviously, what attracted me to this photograph was the fan created by the 16 rods.

Gone fishing. June 2016Gone fishing. June 2016


The final photograph is a bit different from the others in that it isn’t strictly in Tel Aviv Port but just to the north of it.  Half-past seven in the morning and the couple in the green tent haven’t yet arisen.  Nor, for that matter, did she take her shoes into the tent as I guess they would have created a mess.  The backpack stands outside the tent; it might have hampered movement inside.  And the remains of last night’s barbecue are still there.  Obviously, the couple (and I’m assuming it’s only a couple)  were aware that there are no tides to speak of in the Mediterranean.

Romance by the sea. April 2017Romance by the sea. April 2017

Whether or not all these images constitute anything substantial is a moot point.  The issue at hand is that I enjoyed the challenge!


On auto-plagiarising, goats and mascara

I’ve written a blog about public transport before but I have no qualms about plagiarising some of my own work and passing it off as original.  It’s an old trick that I learned when I was an academic except that in those good old days, it was referred to as “getting the maximum return” out of what was initially a good (and in some cases, also an original) idea.  (You can listen to the clip below to understand what I’m getting at; if you’re strapped for time, skip to 1:00; if you’re really pressed time-wise, then skip to 1:28 and listen to 2:00!) 

When I first visited Israel over 50 years ago, one of my clearest memories is of having spent a couple of hours on a bus beside a woman with a goat.  Well, the truth is that the memory is not quite as lucid I thought it was because I can’t really remember where I was going to or from except that it was somewhere in the south, down Negev way.  Perhaps it was from Tel Aviv to Beersheba or from Beersheba to Arad — but it doesn’t really matter because the point is that in those days you might well end up sitting beside a couple of chickens, a turkey or some other non-human creature.  These days, it’s more likely to be just a pet (although, for all I know, the goat might have been one of those as well!)

Dog on bus

That bus ride was more unpleasant than it was scary but more than 20 years later, while travelling on a Dutch train from Amsterdam to Groningen on a family visit, a group of Moluccan immigrant youths boarded the train at Zwolle.  The thing was that as they settled into their seats on the opposite side of the aisle, a couple of them produced large jackknives with which they assiduously proceeded to clean the undersides of their fingernails, a slow process lasting about 40 minutes, as they progressed from finger to finger, and which only terminated when they disembarked as the train reached Assen.  This scene would have been worrying in itself except for the fact that I had remembered that several years earlier, seven Moluccans in their early 20s had hijacked a passenger train near Assen in an attempt to force the Dutch government to press for Moluccan independence and as a result of which three civilians had been killed by the terrorists.  So one had to behave as one normally behaves when sitting with lots of other people in an enclosed space on public transport.  In other words, you had to try to keep an eye on them while looking in another direction, not to be observed staring directly at them or otherwise appear to be paying undue attention.  

The whole incident was rather alarming and similar thoughts to my own must have been passing through the mind of the prim and proper elderly Dutch mevrouw sitting opposite us who managed to consume two rather large chocolate bars during the time the guys opposite were on the train.  But at least it was van Houtens’ Dutch chocolate, which at least made it a trifle more palatable.

Ah yes, those were the days.  These days, the most out-of-the-ordinary thing likely to happen to me when riding the public transport system would be to have not “minded the gap” on the London Underground and thus have fallen into the mythical abyss.  Or worse still, to be sitting on a Tel Aviv bus while the rear end of a female teenager, vividly and graphically underdressed in preparation for a day to be spent (or wasted, depending on your point of view, literally or figuratively) on developing her tan on the beach, comes dangerously close, so close in fact that you shrink into your inner self in the hope that no  unintentional contact will be initiated thereby running the risk an accusation of being a pad-o-feel.  (In case you’re wondering, that’s a rather poor play on words related to a Dublin upbringing!)

Mind the Gap

Didn’t mind the gap — and the result?  Mouseamorphosis!

In recent years, my experiences on trains have mostly been related to the London Underground (and the odd shortish ride on mainline trains).  I posted the image below almost a year ago and wrote then that on a one-day visit to Manchester on a Virgin train (which I mistakenly thought would be one which hadn’t been used before), I had a call of nature and sought out the loo (toilet, washroom, rest room, lavatory) and found out that trains have indeed changed.  Whereas one used to open a door and walk in, these days, one presses a button, prompting a curved door to slide open noiselessly.  Inside, I discovered that another button closed the door at which point a disembodied voice announced stereophonically that the door was not locked.  My initial reaction to this rather startling announcement was that Richard Branson had had a CCTV camera installed in his train loos, which followed my every move, and that would have been par for the course in CCTV-mad Britain.  However, my fears were assuaged on learning that one button closes the door while another locks it and yet a third one re-opens it.  Then the ethereal voice made itself heard again, announcing the following:

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 09.01.02.png

This was obviously an attempt at a joke designed to appeal to plebeians, which made me wonder what announcement is made in the First Class cars).  As I raised the seat, smiling at the aural warning, there it was — its visual transcript.  

In contrast, the only admonition you got years ago on entering a train lavatory (in the British Isles, at least) was for you not to flush while the train was standing in a station.  The reason for that exhortation, of course, was that under the toilet bowl, there was no receptacle.  Rather, what you saw were just the naked tracks and sleepers.  So, while the train was moving along at speed through the countryside, waste was spread out evenly along the line and was hardly noticeable.  But in a station, things might pile up and become unpleasant.  

This, I thought was real progress.  Real cultural and social improvement at its best!

But to come back to using public transport.  The art of photographing people on buses and trains is not to appear as if that’s what you’re doing.  And, of course, a corollary of this is that like you, your subjects are at the same time trying very hard not to seem as if they are watching you or anyone else.  Of course, everyone is doing exactly that, i.e., keeping an eye on fellow passengers.  

Not that it makes much difference, of course, because if you noticed something odd, then what exactly are you going to do about it? Rather like the gentleman on the left-hand side of the picture below, who has obviously seen me and has his suspicions, I imagine (although I’m not too sure whether I noticed him as I clicked the shutter).  But did he say anything?  Not a word!  And what would he do, anyway?  Public transport is public space — by definition.  Still, I don’t think he was too happy.


In contrast, the guy below boarded a bus in Hampstead and then spotted me with the camera — not that I was about to photograph him or anyone else on the bus at that particular time.  I don’t think he was English because he actually turned to me and asked me a question.  Besides, his accent indicated that he wasn’t.  And it was the question that he asked that confirmed that he was non-British: he wanted to know how much I’d paid for the camera.  I thought about the response for a couple of seconds and then I told him — truthfully — but he refused to believe that anyone would shell out that amount of money for something so small (The Fuji X-series cameras are small and light — and quite excellent — which is why I moved to them from Nikon) and told me so in no uncertain terms.  Whereupon I clicked the shutter button and photographed him!

Camera cost

In the second decade of the 21st century, what it seems that most people do on buses and trains is fiddle with their mobile phones.  I can understand this diversion when travelling by surface transport — but underground, staring for half an hour at a 4 or 5-inch screen of a machine designed for communication but which can’t communicate is mind-boggling, not to mention what it might do to your sense of vision.

Mobiles 1


Occasionally, someone will jump on the train and sing you a lullaby whether you like it or not.  And there you are, in an enclosed space, in a subterranean tunnel, tens of metres below ground level, while some guy shouts in your ear and you’ve nowhere to go until the train arrives at the next station whereupon he beats you to the door and goes into the neighbouring carriage to continue to terrorise the customers there!


From time to time, you see something that commands your admiration — like this young woman on her way to work unflinchingly applying the finishing touches to her looks while the train bounced up and down en route to the West End.  It’s a finely honed skill that must have taken hours-worth of morning rides to perfect.

Mascara 1Mascara

Lots of people just read and they range from the not-so-serious to the serious, from the over-your-shoulder types who haven’t picked up their own paper or haven’t brought their own tablet with them, to the strictly professional.  And then there are those who use their otherwise idle travel time to pray or even study religious tracts.  (And that reminds me that over 30 years ago when we were living in outer northwest London, I actually wrote the first drafts of  two published papers on my ride on the London Underground to the LSE!  Really!  It was the single memorable advantage of living out in the sticks where I could take the Tube and, because it was the last (or first) station on the loveable Northern Line, I always got a seat!


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And then of course, there are the occasional diversions — as one of the two youngsters discovered.  (And she knew what she was doing and hammed her rôle to the full!)

Diversions 1Diversions

And finally, there are those who see public transport little more than as a means of living just a little dangerously and having  a little bit of fun!



Heavy with summer

I was in something of a quandary as I sat down to write this piece.  I had in mind to deal with a serious topic albeit in my usual frivolous way but decided otherwise.  I suppose at some later stage I will get around to discussing the issue of what one does for half an hour or more on a ride using public transport when you share an enclosed space with several other people while you observe them but at the same time try very hard to  make sure that you’re not being observed while observing them.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of public transport, it is a shared passenger-transport service at the disposal of the general public and differs from means such as taxis, car pools, or hired buses.  It is thus quite different to things like private cars, which are beloved of many who can afford them but who wouldn’t dream of sharing their space with others and which, in urban areas tend to barely move.  By sitting in their cars, these hapless wretches miss out or being able to stare at other folks who are also staring into the ether. )

The reason that I’m leaving that topic till some time in the future is that July is here and summer has well and truly settled into—rather, sunk heavily upon—Tel Aviv and with not even a hint of an apology.  At a quarter to seven in the morning, walking through the Yarqon Park feels much like how I imagine it would feel in a nightmare situation in which you’re wading through a tank of warm chicken broth.  It was—and is—repulsive in extremis.  “Yucky” is probably a simpler word.  Überyucky probably isn’t a word that exists in the lexicon but I’ll vote for it as a neologism that expresses what it feels like to be beyond the walls of the flat—outside.  Half an hour outside will have you reciting Lewis Carroll repeatedly, something that you will continue to do as they wheel you away a straitjacket.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 11.03.00

This was last year—but today isn’t much different — and this doesn’t measure humidity

However, this in no way deters the joggers or the really serious runners, the cyclists and the dog-walkers, the rowers and the other assorted individuals who take to the park in order to escape their air-conditioned homes and get into the “fresh” air.   These days, the park is overflowing with people who seem to revel in testing the efficacy of their bodies in exuding moisture through their skin by exerting themselves physically, i.e., sweating profusely.  Madness reigns.

Sweaty 1Sweaty


Not everyone in the park is there to take exercise, though.  I’m not sure how to describe those unfortunates who can be seen in towns and cities everywhere often with “borrowed” supermarket trolleys.  Urban scavengers, I suppose, is an apt term.  I watched this one as he made his way westward in the direction of the sea going from rubbish bin to garbage can en route.  There was something different about him and at first I couldn’t quite figure out what.  I could understand him collecting the bottles as the purchaser pays a deposit of NIS 0.30 (about ¢8.5 or 6.5 p) on each plastic or glass cotainer, refundable on return so it’s really money for jam so much so that some people seem to make more than just petty pocket money from it.  And then it struck me what this guy was doing.  Yes, he was extracting glass and plastic bottles from the garbage but he was also examining each one before he threw it into the trolley — and it was then that I saw what was really going on.  Each bottle that in its active lifetime had contained wine or beer was raised to his lips, upended and completely drained prior to being cast away — which must have made the whole exercise less unpalatable and almost bearable.

Wine, beer, cola

And while of the subject of alcohol, one day last week, I came across this pair on a bench close to Ibn Gvirol Street, one of the main north-south drags in the city.  I thought that they were perhaps feeling a little under the weather, too.  Maybe they had just knocked off night shift somewhere (it was 8 in the morning) and were just very tired.  Well, it seems that they had—but the night shift hadn’t involved anything particularly productive.   And they were there, on the very same bench, the following morning.  And then I realised, silly me, that they weren’t entirely of this world and that the reason for their feeling the way that they did lay at their feet — and was labelled Riga Black Vodka.

Riga Vodka 2Riga Vodka 1Riga Vodka 3Riga Vodka

A little further away I came across a man walking his dog, looking in my direction, smiling broadly at me and waving electrifyingly.  “Umm”, thought I somewhat worriedly, “the hooch affects this guy differently.”  And then as he got within handshaking distance, I realised he must just suffer from myopia as he mumbled sotto voce that he thought I was somebody else. “Obviously”, thought I, and said so all smiles. And then I told him that he had such a friendly face that it would “cost” him a photograph and to my great surprise — he complied whereupon he produced this and I clicked happily.


On another morning, while rounding the corner at the northernmost corner of Dizengoff Street, one of the café/fastfood places was just about to open for business and as I passed, I espied two containers of tahini. Now, I love the stuff and it usually takes the place of jam or honey on a slice of bread for breakfast.  The stuff is also in demand each time we travel to London where our one and only considers himself something a tahini maven and is very specific in his request as to which brands of the substance we should bring.  What I didn’t know is that it can be bought in buckets weighing in at 17 kg.  However, were I to try and pack one of these into a suitcase for personal export to the UK, I don’t think I’d get much further than the airport security interrogation room and if I were to tell them that my British grandchildren’s wellbeing depended on it, they would probably wrap me in a a strong garment with long sleeves which can be tied together.

Tahina x 34

Walking the streets early in the morning, you come across all sorts of unrelated things and situations.  Here, the driver was very simply deep in the Land of Nod.  In other words, he was comatose.  Fortunately for him and other drivers, this state of somnolence did not envelop him on a particularly busy street.  Still …

Fast asleep

And here, I missed the accident, which judging from the state of the arm and the leg had happened just a few seconds before I turned the corner and arrived on the scene.

Injured, not out

And if you keep your eyes open and your wits about you and look at notices affixed to cars and trees and lampposts, you discover all sorts of things.  

The note below illustrates the premium put on parking spaces in Tel Aviv.   Carol and her partner are looking to rent out their parking space in a good location — and I’m willing to bet that they have had several offers already.

Parking space to rent


In the lower picture, the advertiser, Amichai, is a scribe.  He writes that you can buy from him—directly—the most elegant tefillin (phylacteries), a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Pentateuch, worn by observant Jews (formerly exclusively male but today also amongst egalitarian feminist, mostly American, aggressively progressive Jewesses) during weekday morning prayers, on one arm and around the head so that the box leans on the forehead.  Two types of tefillin are being advertised here, going for the bargain prices of 1,400 and 2,800 shekels (c. £310/620 or $400/800), respectively, because Amichai doesn’t believe in using middlemen when selling his goods.  He also tells you in several different ways that putting on the boxes each morning and what goes with it is good for your spiritual wellbeing.  (Well, so are Beethoven’s late quartets, Mahler’s symphonies and Bach’s Goldberg Variations!)


And for some peculiar reason, my eye is still attracted to fire hydrants, such as this little trio of Blind Mice or unseeing eyes.

Blind man's buff

And then back to the park.  The other morning, I spotted this night heron, immobile on a thin branch above the river.  I photographed it several times and it only moved its head on a single occasion.  I display the final attempt here.

Night heron

Finally, I followed this mynah from where it emerged from among the reeds near the southern bank of the river into the park where it would undoubtedly terrorise or otherwise madden some unsuspecting and completely innocent family who were happily picnicking until this vicious little creature showed up.  It couldn’t be bothered flying either but had to announce its arrival using Shanks’s pony. 

Why did the chicken … ?

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?  A: Mynah your own business!

Well, that’s it.  I managed to get through this without mentioning any of the many news items this week that my cynicism could have run riot with, such as the release of ex-Prime Minister Olmert from jail after serving two-thirds of his sentence for bribery and corruption, the ongoing investigations into current Prime Minister Netanyahu and the current Minister of Welfare and Social Service, Haim Katz, which may or may not yield some scandal that will keep the reporters, politicians, the courts and the ordinary people busy for quite some time yet.  There’s also the issue of who gets to convert gentiles into Jews and who’s allowed pray with whom at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, both issues which over which the Israeli cabinet took decisions a week ago to pacify the Strictly Orthodox parties who hold the coalition up to ransom when it pleases them and which have only served to broaden the gulf and deepen the chasm between Israel and those American Jews who do not ascribe to the rules laid down by Orthodox rabbis of varying stripes.  But enough!  I mustn’t allow my prejudices and cynicism take hold of me now.

Meanwhile Wimbledon starts next week, so it would be back to strawberries and cream except that the strawberry season is over in Israel until the end of the year. (Yes, my friends who live in those affluent countries where all fruits and vegetables are available all the year round, there are still some parts of the world where seasons determine what will be consumed!)

Oh, and yes, the street is still a mess.