Last Wednesday, the day before we were due to return to Tel Aviv, I decided to check the weather forecast to see what clothes we would need to have handy exiting the terminal building at Ben-Gurion Airport, so I decided to check the BBC Weather app on my phone. As the app opens automatically at the “current location”, I needed to choose Tel Aviv manually. Imagine my surprise when I saw what I saw! I knew that the weather in London had changed and that it had begun to feel not just springlike but even a little summery. By Thursday noon when the cab turned up to take us to Heathrow, it was hot and it turned out that we were leaving London on the warmest April day for 70 years. Given that we had arrived a fortnight earlier expecting winter, it was quite a turnaround. Quite! Quite!
It may very well have been summery outside but you might niot have believed it once you got on the plane. A fortnight previously, we travelled over during the intermediate days of the dreaded Pesach and as we waited patiently for the long line of passengers to disembark before us, I was hard put to observe even a single kippa (skullcap) among the passengers—an extremely unusual phenomenon to observe on an El Al flight—this time around, they were there with a vengeance. Family after family, replete with babes in arms and screaming kids, hatboxes for shtreimels, a type of fur hat that many Hasidic Jewish men wear on Shabbat, and festive days. (They are usually made of genuine fur from the tails of Canadian or Russian sable, marten, or American gray fox and can cost from $1,000 to $6,000 although you can buy an ersatz shtrimel on Amazon, complete with sidelocks, for $6.99!)
Just as we were settling into our seats, I observed (yes, I’m nosey) the passenger sitting in the window seat almost directly opposite us. Even though the case above him said “crew”, I don’t think he was. Now, it was 27ºC outside and as he reached his seat, he pulled off what I can only describe as a winter woollen overcoat only to expose yet another coat underneath, albeit of silk or ersatz silk which he wore throughout the flight.
Now, I’ve heard of Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist, but this yo-yo was the real thing, up and down, up and down throughout the four and half hours until his strength gave out and he succumbed to a sound slumber. Having completed my plane photography, I then settled down to watch Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film that was so violent, so American, so Trumpish that I managed two hours of uninterrupted viewing.
Whereas the first week in the UK was a reminder of the very cold, very damp winter they’ve endured this year, where everything seemed to be dark grey or a sort of grey green covered in mist or fog …
… by the second week, spring was demonstrating clearly to itself and the population at large that it had well and truly started. There’s something so refreshing to see newly-born leaves appear where just buds had been a couple of days before.
Even the amputrees along the street looked as if they were prepared for better weather than they had endured over the previous several months.
Trips into town on the Underground yielded the usual motley collection of commuters, some staring, some staring at their smartphones, some listening to music or to political speeches (who knows?), others asleep and yet others, perhaps unfamiliar with the city, trying to count how many stations left until it’s time to alight.
A visit to the City of London yielded this image of office workers at Broadgate out for a coffee or a smoke …
… while the walk back to Moorgate Tube Station yielded this stunnng image of a construction worker somewhat more flamboyantly dressed than a run-of-the-mill construction worker.
On another occasion, walking from St. Pancras Station to King’s Cross on the way home, I was fascinated by the constantly moving bands of colour in the tunnel connecting the two. It only goes to show what a little imagination can do as this would just as easily have been yet another subterranean tiled walkway.
As has become usual on a trip to London, I spend a day with a friend who also takes photographs [good ones!]. We usually select a particular place, spend a lot of the time chatting and take some photos. This time around, we decided to go to a photography exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the subject of which was “The Great British Seaside”. We also agreed to meet at Westminster Pier and take the river boat down to Greenwich and I suppose we could have chosen a better day (we also could have chosen a worse one—it might have poured or snowed) in that the cloud cover was low (understatement) and the colours varied from light grey to dark. In other words, we didn’t as much as take the cmaeras out of our bags this time but as a pair of 73-year olds dwelt on the current state of the world and how lucky we were to have lived through half a century in which th world seemed good. The exhibition itself, when we got there was interesting, although I must say that it evoked memories of being taken to the seaside at Malahide or Portmarnock when I was young, something I intensely disliked as the sea was always cold and then there was the sand. My abiding memory is of being rubbed down with a sandy towel while the wind blew and I shivered. Yuck!
I know I just wrote that we didn’t take the cameras out during our ride down the Thames but while waiting for Roger at Westminster, I did take a couple of pics of interest. It was cold and breezy and it was misty, too but this gentleman added a little colour to the scene in more ways than one though I’m sure it was cold and draughty from the knees up.
It was also a bit strange to see Big Ben under wraps as it’s such a part of the London scene. It was also, I think, the most extensive example of scaffolding that I’ve ever seen although I might be wrong on that count.
One of the joys of being in London is the opportunity to catch up with the grandchildren beyond the realms of Skype or FaceTime or WhatsApp. The day before we departed they decided that my hair or what’s left of it needed styling (it needed trimming but Jimmy, my Greek barber in Belsize Park around the corner from us, was closed last week). So there I sat, helpless on the sofa while they styled me according as their wills and their imaginations dictated. One of them was keen on producing a flattened head designed to create a feeling of elegance and smartness (some hope) while the other went for a back-combed (or more correctly a back-tugged) approach reminiscent of a rooster’s comb.
At any rate, I decided that I needed to visit the hairdresser as soon as we got back to T-A and sure enough, on Friday morning, in a semi-zombie state, I was shorn. However, if I thought that that was that, I couldn’t have been wronger because that evening, our Israeli granddaughters also decided that I need to have my hair styled! I was sure that there wasn’t enough left to do anything with but was mistaken yet again as they managed to retrieve enough to affix a clip to.
Now, one of the regular readers of this blog from faraway Australia told me in all seriousness last week when we met in London that the bits of the blog he most likes is when I give vent to some of my frustrations and rant on, to which I responded that the juiciest parts of the rants never actually make it into the blog as they have been effaced, expunged and excised before they even get there, which is absolutely unfortunate in my opinion but at the same time contributes to peace in the household, and I suppose that that’s the most important thing.
In this regard, just before we returned to Tel Aviv, I read a short book by Timothy Snyder whose book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning I wrote about in this blog three months ago. Snyder is a Harvard historian whose expertise is the history of Central and Eastern Europe. That book dealt primarily with the atrocities that took place in Eastern Europe between the period of the signing of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR in 1939 and when Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. The main contention of that book was that in those two years there was a demolition of state structures and the breakdown of all legal status, which aided the executioners and their collaborators. What happened then was that life itself was no longer guaranteed by any kind of legal and bureaucratic structure and slaughter could take place.
In On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, a book just 126 pages long, Snyder sets out 20 instructions to avoid the reappearance of totalitarian rule in the 21st century and it makes for extremely interesting reading. However, what made it chilling reading—and it took me until I was about halfway through—was that he was drawing parallels between the rise of totalitarian dictatorships in 20th century Europe and the rise of “populist” governments in this decade. In fact, it is a denunciation of Trumpism and Putinism and a call to be acutely aware of the chaos that Vladimir Putin and his lackeys in Russia are causing in the rest of the world.
In his most recent work, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, Snyder writes: “Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, communism had its own politics of inevitability: nature permits technology; technology brings social change; social change causes revolution; revolution enacts utopia. When this turned out not to be true, the European and American politicians of inevitability were triumphant. Europeans busied themselves completing the creation of the European Union in 1992. Americans reasoned that the failure of the communist story confirmed the truth of the capitalist one. Americans and Europeans kept telling themselves their tales of inevitability for a quarter century after the end of communism, and so raised a millennial generation without history. And that is truly frightening!
And in this regard … I’m always fascinated as to how the news differ from country to country. In the UK this time, there were two of the big stories. One concerned the attempted repatriation of what have become to be known now as the “Windrush Generation”, people who arrived in Britain over 60 years ago and have never lived in their countries of origin since childhood, people who have lived all their lives in the UK but don’t have paperwork to prove it their legal entry. It was, how shall I say it, embarrassing to watch Mrs. May apologise for this to leaders of the British Commonwealth meeting in London last week, especially as she had been Home Scretary (Minister of the Interior) for seven years prior to her elevation. And if that wasn’t enough, the other item appertained to whether or not there is anti-Semitism in the Labour party and whether Jeremy Corbyn, its undisputed leader, is even aware of it and if he is what he’s doing about it. Luciana Berger, Labour MP for Wavertree, Liverpool made an impassioned Commons speech about it and about the personal threats she has received as a result of her political views. If another young female Labour MP, Jo Cox, had not been gunned down two years ago in her constituency office for little more than supporting Britain’s remaining in the EU, I might have thought that Ms. Berger was exaggerating slightly, but no. And award-winning author Howard Jacobson had some enlightening things to say about the inflexibility of Mr. Corbyn’s views, which, as far as I’m concerned questions his suitability to be Prime Minister.
And in Israel, there are several big stories. As usual, one concerns Iran. Another concerned the illegality of shipping out tens of thousands of asylum seekers, mostly African, after it turns out that Israel has no agreement with any African country to a accept them. The third big story was the successful attempt by the Prime Minister to usurp the torch-lighting ceremony on the eve of Independence Day from the hands of the Speaker of the Knesset, whose big day this has been for past seven decades. Aided by his principal sidekick, the Anti-Minister of Culture, Ms. Regev, it was agreed to allow the Speaker seven minutes to orate to Bibi’s five and both sides signed up. In the event, the latter went hogged the limelight for a quarter of an hour. No wonder Natalie Portman decided not to come to Israel to accept her award from the Genesis Foundation because she finds the man anathema. No doubt Ms. Regev is upset mostly because it deprives her of another opportunity to denigrate unpatriotic leftists!
And oh yes, what about the symptoms of the pareidolia from which I seem to suffer? Well, London provided several juicy examples.
There was an open lavatory seat staring at me, actually guffawing although I’m not quite sure why.
Then there was the living room lamp that blared at me with a smile when I went to check if the bulb needed replacing (excuse the dust but it’s an uplighter and hadn’t been examined for quite a while).
But the top prize goes to the cigarette and gum bin owned by the City of London, glaring at me, trying to scare me. Wow! It really stood out from the crowd.
And it didn’t finish there because on my first morning out in Tel Aviv, I came across this pair of clowns looking at me as if I was doing something odd.
Finally, as I started with weather, I’ll finish with weather. I thought spring had reached Tel Aviv but winter’s not quite over yet, it seems. It’s mild outside but it looks as if we’re in for a couple of wet days and it’s the end of April. It’s always easy to spot the yoreh (Hebrew has words fore the first and last rains of the season) because it comes after about five rainless months. The malqosh is less easy to spot and can only only be seen retrospectively; maybe this is it, maybe not — and as I write at 10.00 am on Wednesday morning, the sun is shining brightly after enough spots of rain fell to make me think that the car might need cleaning again.
And a thought for the day—although my dietician would never approve.