We arrived in London last Monday afternoon, having been warned that Britain, like the rest of Europe (and other parts of the world), was in the midst of a heatwave, the likes of which have not been experienced for four decades. As I start this post on Thursday, at noon, the shade temperature outside is 30ºC and is expected to reach 35º later in the day. Unlike Tel Aviv, where there’s air-conditioning everywhere, in London there’s nowhere to escape to or from. Three fans in the flat are working full-time around the clock but unless you’re seated directly in front of one, they might as well not be there (almost)—and how long can you spend beside the freezer section of the supermarket contemplating the choice between a packet of frozen peas or a tub of ice cream before someone observes you and all sorts of spooky suspicions come to mind? Mind you, we should have been ready for it coming from Tel Aviv, where spring has long since vanished into history and summer arrived in all its sweaty glory several weeks ago.
In fact, there are even signs that autumn is approaching as dates ripen on the palm trees in the Yarqon Park.
As well was everything else, the heat can do strange things to your perception and imagination. The usual faces I meet on the street are in the form of fire hydrants but every now and then, walking along the streets, one espies something else, such as this driveway not more than a quarter kilometre from where we live in T-A.
And having mentioned hydrants, three new-born “watery neighbours” appeared last week on the exterior of the newly constructed external wall of a newly constructed building that has been going up between us and the park over the past two years. They look so bright and shiny, so innocent and so interested in their surroundings but the ageing process will set in sooner rather than later.
At any rate, it was with some trepidation that we exited Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport into the 2018 London heatwave last Monday afternoon. Yet coming from Tel Aviv, it seemed like a pleasant day during that short period when spring announces its termination and summer declares that it’s getting ready to oppress us. Of course, the difference was not so much in the temperature (the thermometer in the cab said that it was 31º outside) but in the level of humidity. Having said that, it doesn’t feel like that today (Thursday)—and the forecast for tomorrow (Friday) is for slightly cooler weather accompanied by thunder and rain! I’ll believe that when we feel it. (Friday afternoon— it’s just rained and made a lot of noise announcing the fact but all that seems to have accomplished is to have increased the level of humidity even more.)
Actually, travelling from Israel last Monday was, in retrospect, something of a miscalculation as it was the day following Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, an annual fast day (one of several) for those in Judaism who go in for such spiritual self-flagellation. Tisha b’Av commemorates the occurrence of several disasters in Jewish history, but mainly the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (the First Temple) by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans. Consequently, it is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar (in which there are many sad days) and is regarded as a day destined for tragedy. Well, I should have known better and I have to admit that I had been warned.
This year, the 9th of Av was in point of fact celebrated on the 10th as one of the prohibitions of the day (yes, you’ve guessed, of which there are many) includes the 25-hour fast, which cannot be observed on the Sabbath. If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s a really downright miserable day as fasting for 25 hours in the heat of a Tel Aviv August is no joke (I used to do it when younger and more credulous). It’s the culmination of three weeks of mourning (mourning also being an altogether too frequent event in the Jewish calendar) the destruction of the Temples. These three weeks begin—yes, you can guess it—with a fast on the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, another summer day of alimentary self-denial, marking the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 69 CE prior to their dastardly destruction of the Temple. However, growing up in Dublin, these three weeks were referred to in Yiddish as the דרייַ וואָכן (drei Wochen), an appellation that the very young and tender me interpreted as a period in which no alcohol was to be consumed (remember, this was in Dublin!). And the drei Wochen mutate into the נייַן טעג or the neun Tage, (or as my younger self referred to it “the ninth egg”), a short period when no meat or poultry is consumed (as well as lots of other officially designated “pleasures”, all signs of acute mourning for the destruction of the Temples again), what you might well designate a Jewish form of mourning sickness!) But I remember it as a time when lots of cheesecake and ice cream would appear from nowhere at any time of the day, causing a surfeit of cholesterol.
So why was travelling last Monday something of an error of judgement, you may well ask? Well, many religious Jews leave off travelling during the drei Wochen and begin their summer vacations the day following Tisha b’Av after they have drained themselves of tears and laundered their sackcloths. Well, I did mention that I had been warned and arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv at 7.15 a.m., it seemed as if Israel was about to become considerably more secular for at least a fortnight. It was both a sight and a sound to behold. The central area of Terminal 3 was teeming with people—mostly, from the shape and size of their headgear so-called modern Orthodox Jews, off to wherever in their thousands and with their children in their tens of thousands. I have never seen such an amalgam of people all keen on making their duty-free purchases and, judging from the announcements over the PA system at the airport, almost missing their flights as a result.
I suppose the gentleman in the photograph below sums up the whole cacophonous melée. He is covered by his prayer shawl; his phylacteries are tightly wound around his left arm and hand; he is either reciting his morning prayers or reading Psalms, either or both of which may help him over his nervousness of flying. But most importantly, he has already completed his duty-free purchases.
London is as she always is although a little hotter than usual. And as I am in the habit of doing, in order to make myself sure that I am really here, I walk to the top of Primrose Hill to the north of Regent’s Park and then around its perimeter. I’ve been doing this walk for 17 years and I have photographed it in all seasons and from all angles. However, never have I seen it so brown and yellow. It might as well have been renamed the Steppes of Primrose Hill.
Even my favourite clump of trees at the south-western corner of the park were looking a little the worse for wear.
And walking around the neighbourhood, all sorts of interesting things appeared. The area around Primrose Hill is, I suppose, arty-farty middle-class, the sort of place where you run into Alan Bennett or Andrew Marr in the local grocery store, Derek Jacobi in the local fish and chip restaurant or a ruffled and barely awake Helena Bonham-Carter taking her kid to school. And what more to appeal to the artsy-fartsy middle-class than a new restaurant that offers them artisanal eating of high quality? Or maybe the owners of this new eatery have been playing with words and cluelessness and just wish to fool their patients (sorry: patrons) into eating really heavy stodgy food?
In addition to the bicyclists and the joggers, there are all sorts of other means getting around such as this one-wheeled scooter on which the rider (?) scooter (?) nutter (?) moves not at all and simply places his life in the greatest jeopardy.
And then, something you see really reminded that you are in England, the ultimate land of eccentrics (well, that’s my take), when you come across a sign that informs you that cultural mores and norms are different to those you’re used to. In a post last March, I noted that a neighbour across the street in Tel Aviv had posted notices on the lampposts around the area that her pet cat, Mitzi, had gone missing and, as she was new to the neighbourhood, she might have been—well—well and truly lost. And being me, I couldn’t contain that bright flare of sardonicism that flashed into my mind with the macabre thought that the hapless Mitzi might have unfortunately dropped into one of the many manholes along the street while it was undergoing its upgrade and was caterwauling her way through the sewers of North Tel Aviv in search of her comfortable basket in her comfortable home. In other words, I reckoned that the chances of anyone finding Mitzi, let alone bringing her home, were about nil. So you can imagine my wonder at the notice on a lamppost a couple of streets away in Belsize Park! Notwithstanding his protruding lower left fang and the fact that his owner seems to think he may have been chipped (or am I misreading?) given the price on his head and that the notice had been posted almost a kilometre from where old Hari had last been seen, his optimistic owner must be missing him terribly but thinks that everyone in NW London is an ailurophile. Nevertheless, I reckon that with a price of £600 on his head for whomsoever finds him, Hari has a far better chance of being restored to his owner than his poor old cousin Mitz in Tel Aviv.
The heat does do strange things to some people. I observed this guy park his car along the northern perimeter of Primrose Hill and then don his walking gear. Where exactly he was planning to go with all that liquid strapped to his belt is beyond my ken and I really didn’t hang around to find out for fear he might have extracted an AK-47 as well — but I thought it was sufficiently out-of-the-ordinary to record.
And, as I said, the heat does strange things to me as well and as I walked east in the direction of home along England’s Lane, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes and had to look twice before I figured that the soaring temperatures were making me see things that weren’t really there — which greatly relieved me as my own contribution had been involuntarily donated over 73 years ago!