A sense of an ending

It’s what they refer to as Bank Holiday weekend in England this weekend.  Other than the fact that the banks might be closed on Monday (if there are any branches left at all to do business in), it’s things as normal except for extra mayhem on the roads, trains and planes.  And then a couple of days after that, it’s back to the schwitz that is Tel Aviv in late August.

I go back to Israel with very mixed feelings.  I’m not sure which I prefer — the [increasingly serious] ballyhoo around anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party or the corruption that is rife among Israeli politicians, especially having just read Bibi—The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, the new biography by the Haaretz journalist, Anshel Pfeffer, who is also the Israel correspondent for The Economist newspaper.  

I was in two minds whether I should invest the time reading 400 pages about a man I’m not too keen on (I tend to turn off the TV or at least mute the volume when he appears) but, as it turned out, the book was almost as much about the state of current Israeli politics (in which Bibi plays a central role) as about the man himself.  It was well worth the read, not that it makes me any happier or more optimisticor the future of Israel or for the Jewish people, especially those of us who are not of the varieties of Judaism usually described as Orthodox or Haredi.  I thought it was such a good read that it should be required reading for anyone remotely interested in modern Israel’s political scene.  I was so taken with it that I posted a review on the Amazon website, which I do occasionally, the link to which I give here.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/customer-reviews/R31HA3X576NAES/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1849049882

In addition to the return to Bibi’s Israel and the Tel Aviv heat and humidity, there is also the small issue of having to survive what have come to be known as Chagei Tishrei.  In British Jewish English, they are referred to “the yomtayvim”and in Americanese, “The High Holy Days”.  What it means is that we are already in the run-up to these 3½ weeks of religious kerfuffle in which rams’ horns are blown in the synagogues and sometimes outside, too, and during which we are constantly reminded of what went on regarding sacrifices in the Temple thousands of years ago.  

A week later, there’s a day when people can choose, if they so wish, to sit all day in the synagogue while fasting. This, in its turn, is followed by the seven days of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), which celebrates the ingathering of the harvest and commemorates the protection the Almighty is regarded to have provided for Israelites on their exodus from Egypt. Really keen sukkoteers spend their days and nights in a foliage-covered booth  (a sukkah) and those slightly less keen only have their meals in these temporary little boxes that spring up on balconies and in gardens throughout Israel.  Sukkoteers also bless and shake four special species of vegetation—a citron, a palm frond, three myrtle twigs and two willow twigs— reciting a blessing over them on each day of the festival except the Sabbath, waving them to the right, to the left, forwards, up and then down, and finally, backwards.   There are all sorts of explanations for this but I can only say that variety is the spice of life.  

As a postlude, there is one day on which the cycle of reading the weekly portion of the Torah starts again and which, among other things, is an excuse for a drink or two.  All in all, it’s a month out of the calendar in which very little, if anything, actually gets done, very much like Xmas/New Year, except on hormones.

However, as the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He and I haven’t exactly been on speaking terms for some years now, I have a couple of good books to catch up on and some music that I’ve been promising myself for years that I’d listen to, so I think that that would be far more productive and more spiritually uplifting (to me, at any rate) than spending my days in the synagogue.  Enough said. 

And now, to business.

Dorothea Lange at 16.30.48

The highlight of the past week was undoubtedly a visit to the Barbican Gallery to see an exhibition of photographs by the American documentary photographer and photojournalist, Dorothea Lange, a woman best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Her photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and had considerable influence not only on the development of documentary photography but on the plight of the people she photographed.  If anyone personifies the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely it must be she. 

Dorothea Lange at 16.24.35

She started out as a portrait photographer—there was an early portrait in the exhibition of her mother which, in terms of composition, was about as perfect as a photograph could be and her skill and experience as a portrait photographer is, more than anything else, what stands out as she immersed herself in documenting such subjects as the Dust Bowl and its effect on emigration, the Depression and its accompanying poverty and misery, the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and so on.

Dorothea Lange at 16.28.15

Lange was a photographer who is best remembered for a single photograph, one which, even if you know absolutely nothing about photography you are likely to immediately recognise and that photograph is Migrant Mother, located at a pea pickers’ camp in Nipomo, California.  This iconic image sums up almost everything that needs be said about the Depression in 1930s America.  

Dorothea Lange at 16.25.57

Many years later in an interview, Lange recalled that she saw “a hungry and desperate mother” and approached her as if drawn by a magnet. She could not remember how she explained her presence or the camera camera to her but she remembered that the woman asked her no questions. She made six exposures—all displayed at the exhibition—working closer and closer from the same direction but did not ask her name or her history. The woman, Florence Owens Thompson told her she was 32 and that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. She was sitting in a lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to perceive that the pictures might help her, and so she was a willing subject. Lange described this as a sort of equality.  

On returning home, Lange told the editor of a San Francisco newspaper about conditions at the camp and provided him with two of her photos. He, in turn, informed federal authorities and published an article that included the photos and the result was that the government rushed aid to the camp to prevent starvation.  Her boss thought the picture to be outstanding and that she never surpassed it.  However, it appears that Ms. Thompson was unimpressed by the accolades accorded to Lange and years later said that she felt that she had been exploited and misrepresented and that that chance 10-minute meeting with a photographer had turned her into a national icon with no discernible benefit to her or her children.

That said, many of the 200 or more black and white photographs hung on the walls at the Barbican are emotionally disturbing and I never thought I could be moved to tears just by looking at black and white pictures—but I was.

Dorothea Lange at 16.28.31Dorothea Lange at 16.27.57

A few days later, I decided to deviate from my usual morning routes and decided to walk into town through Camden as far as Tottenham Court Road Station, a route that I had taken many times by bus and car although as we have all learned, even travelling passively by bus is no substitute for using Shanks’s pony.

One building that I have seen many times but paid little attention to is one that was once the Carreras Cigarette Factory on Hampstead Road.  It’s a large art deco building noted as a striking example of early 20th Century Egyptian Revival architecture, erected in 1926-1928 by the Carreras Tobacco Company on the communal garden area of Mornington Crescent.  It measures 168 metres and is mainly white with distinctive Egyptian-style ornamentation, originally including a solar disc to the Sun-god Ra and has two gigantic effigies of black cats flanking the entrance and colourful painted details. The factory was converted into offices in 1961 and the Egyptian detailing lost, but it was restored during the late 1990s with replicas of the cats placed outside the entrance.  Today, it houses offices for the British Heart Foundation and Revlon, among many other companies. 

DSCF3174 Carreras from the bus

DSCF3155 Carreras

And while in the environs of Mornington Crescent, it suddenly dawned on me that I have ridden through that particular Underground Station hundreds of times but never actually been in it or even had a good look at exactly where it was situated.  And then it also dawned on me that there must be a street after which the station is named, and so it proved to be.  

DSCF3152 Mornington Crescent

Finally, in this succession of dawnings, I remembered that there once was a BBC Radio 4 comedy panel show hosted by ex-Etonian trumpeter, Humphrey Lyttleton — not just an old Etonian but the son of an Eton College house master and born at Eton College, to boot.  I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue was a show that satirised panel games and it consisted of each of the panellists in turn announcing a landmark or street, most often a station on the London Underground  with the aim to be the first to announce “Mornington Crescent”. It was interspersed with humorous discussion amongst the panellists and host regarding the rules and legality of each move, as well as the strategy the panellists are using.  Does that make any sense to you?  Did it ever make sense to anybody?  Not really—for it was a radio programme that could only have been devised in England.  

But as I stood there opposite the station, I wondered whether there might be anything to remind us of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Humph—and then, as I turned around through 180 degrees, there it was!

DSCF3153 Lyttleton Arms

As I continued south along Hampstead Road, just before arriving at the bridge over Marylebone Road, I came across a shop that from its show window, looked as if it might be interesting.  However, as it was just about 8 a.m., the shop was closed and the photo I took from the street didn’t quite do justice either to the photograph or to what they appeared to be be selling inside.

DSCF3165 Brass

So returning home, I wrote them an email and asked if it would be OK to come in at a later date and have a look and few clicks.  Much to my surprise, I was told that I could photograph to my heart’s content.  As the lyrics of the song say:

Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuo-
Sos, the cream of ev’ry famous band.
Seventy-six trombones caught the morning sun
With a hundred and ten cornets right behind
There were more than a thousand reeds
Springing up like weeds
There were horns of ev’ry shape and kind.

DSCF3188 SaxophonesDSCF3195 French hornsDSCF3201 TrumpetsDSCF3204 Soprano saxophones

 

However, pride of place in this brass collection was something that caused me to ask the manager of the shop whether it was real, if someone played it and what it’s called.  As a consequence I was informed that, yes, indeed, it is real, that some people do play it and that it’s called a contrabass saxophone.  It’s rather large with twice the length of tubing of the baritone saxophone, with a bore twice as wide, is 1.9 meters tall,  is pitched in the key of E, one octave below the baritone saxophone and weighs in at approximately 20 kg.

DSCF3191 Contrabass saxophone

And yes, it has a price tag of £25,000.  And yes again, it is no longer the largest member of the saxophone family, because in September 2012, an instrument manufacturer, Benedikt Eppelsheim of Munich, built the first full-size subcontrabass saxophone, which is 2.25 meters tall.  Best of luck to them those with sufficient wind to play these monsters.

http://bassic-sax.info/blog/2012/jelle-stainer-subcontrabass-saxophone-video/

On another day, walking towards Hampstead Heath, I passed the Isokon Building, a piece of Bauhaus architecture that looks pristine.  I’ve photographed it from several angles many times and it’s appeared in this blog more than once.

Isokon

However, this time I noticed that a blue plaque had gone up on the wall facing the street, one that I didn’t recollect ever having seen before.  What the plaque didn’t say was whether or not this trio lived in the building at the same time and if they did, what sort of all-night discussions might have taken place there!

DSCF3114 Isokon

And returning from a walk across the Heath, I walked for almost 15 minutes behind this gentleman who appeared to be fully dressed for work some time later in the day.  And try as I might, I couldn’t quite walk fast enough to catch up and ask him which band of musicians he played with.

DSCF3087 Off to work

And as a sign of the times, that same morning, en route to the Heath, I came across this parking meter, covered in such a way that it was impossible to insert coins or a credit card into the meter.  What you could do was read the message, white on black, that you need to use your smartphone to park.  But what happens if you don’t have a smartphone or even a phone at all?  You keep driving, I suppose.

DSCF3117 Sign of the times

And while on the subject of signs, I’ve seen this on several lampposts and railings in the neighbourhood. There are still some true believers who haven’t yet given up the struggle.

DSCF3072 Bollocks

And then there was another sign that I came across in the Oxford Street area (it’s funny how my eye is attracted to misspellings).  What caught by eye this time was the thought that in a School of English, spelling might not be once what it was!

IMG_4930 School of English

And on the same walk, I spotted this woman using a vape, an e-cigarette.  Currently, there’s talk about allowing these things to be used indoors as they do not pollute in the same way that regular cigarettes do and anyway, they’re supposed to help addicted smokers give up the habit.  But as far as I can see, it’s much as Tom Lehrer sang half a century ago:

Pollution, pollution
Wear a gas mask and a veil

Then you can breathe
As long was you don’t inhale.

DSCF3171 e-smoking

And then in the City, I came across this couple relaxing.  I thought she was wearing a coloured sleeve — but no, it was just a[nother] tattooed arm …

DSCF3108 Tattoos

… which was almost as bright and colourful as the tattooed building  (one of several) in and around Camden Markets.

DSCF3140 Brazil

The grandchildren are all away on vacation, returning home this weekend.  Last week, my 8-year old grandson proudly showed me the book he had chosen when on a visit to Stanfords, the map shop  in Long Acre (well, it used to be a map shop but it has spread its wings these days and is now a specialist map and travel shop) with his dad.  I couldn’t help thinking that he might have thought that he should be well prepared should he lose his parents for a while when hiking around a Scottish island.

Tal's survival manual

Finally, to return to a sense of an ending. It means that it will be a while again before we can partake of the pleasures of Oliver’s Fish & Chips on Haverstock Hill, situated about 300 m away, and which always means that on an evening when we really don’t feel like cooking (and it does happen on occasion), there’s a proper meal to collect and take home in little more than 10 minutes after deciding that’s what you want to do.  You can collect; they deliver; you can order by phone—or online for a discount—or you can walk in off the street and wait a few minutes or you can choose to sit in the restaurant and eat in.  It’s smoothly run by Ash, who has to be one of the most imperturbable and unflappable people I’ve ever come across.

(And for those Jewish friends concerned with kashrut, one occasionally sees a kippa in the restaurant for unlike several other fish-and-chip outlets, Oliver’s does no meat, poultry or shellfish and if you’re into fried fish, it’s done in a matzo meal batter. Delicious but a perhaps little unhealthy—but once or twice a year, so what?) Unfortunately, Tel Aviv has nothing quite like it.  I haven’t tried their specialty dessert— deep-fried Mars bars (apparently a Scottish invention, possibly when the Scot responsible was not entirely unintoxicated)—and I don’t intend to but I’ve heard that it’s super!

Oliver's

And—a reminder—exactly 100 years ago yesterday, it happened—but you’ll have to make do with this clip from three decades ago!

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On Boris, Burqas, Bags

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The big story at the beginning of last week concerned the comments in a column for The Daily Telegraph by the by now former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, regarding the burqa, an outfit worn by some Muslim women and which has recently been banned in Denmark as part of a law that technically bars people from wearing any “garment that hides the face” in public places.

In his column, Mr. Johnson wrote that while he doesn’t support a ban on wearing the burqa, he does think that they’re “ridiculous” because they make women look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”  What he actually wrote was: “If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree,” Johnson wrote. “I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”, adding that if “a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber,” he would ask her to remove her face covering in order to speak to him. He added that humans “must be able to see each other’s faces.”  

Despite Mr. Johnson’s clear statement that he doesn’t support a ban on wearing the burqa, his statement caused an uproar, and this mainly because of the words that Mr. Johnson chose to describe his views. Many people regard Boris as loose cannon, which is roughly defined as “a person whose reckless behaviour endangers the efforts or welfare of others”.  I think otherwise and that most of what he says has been carefully thought out for the effect that it might have in raising Mr. Johnson’s public profile.  He is, after all, a politician with ambition who firmly believes that all publicity is good publicity.

And as he had planned and expected, his statement once again brought his public profile to the fore with all sorts of reactions ranging from those who thought his words highly offensive to those who supported him 1001%.  Not that most of his supporters or denigrators actually know quite what a burqa is.  However, the BBC website kindly chose to enlighten us.

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Writing in The Times, Rowan Atkinson, a man with two degrees in electrical engineering but better known as an actor and famous for his comedy performances as Mr Bean and Blackadder, weighed into the debate by saying that he thought Boris’ remarks were funny, writing that “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burqa resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.”, adding that “All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.” and that “You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.”.  Well!

I have to say that personally I do have a problem with the burqa and even with the niqab but that’s not because I think that people should be prevented from wearing them for I believe that people should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in wherever they are.  And if that means turning up at a business meeting in jeans and a tee-shirt or walking down a street bra-less and in a singlet, so be it.  Is it really that “clothes make the man”, a statement often attributed to William Shakespeare in Hamlet? (Actually, the quotation is: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man”;  “Clothes make a man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” is more correctly attributed to Mark Twain.)

No my problem is not with what people are wearing but with the fact that when I look at people, I like to be able to see their eyes (and preferably also their face) because eyes are such prominent features of our faces and it’s the eyes that we’re drawn to when we look at a human face and attempt to “read” its expressions and its inner thoughts; it’s the eyes we look at when we want to figure out what the other person might be thinking.  

And just think of the uses of the word “eyes” in English phrases.

“To be all eyes”—To watch attentively
“To shut one’s eyes to”—To ignore
“To keep an eye out [for]—To look out for something with particular attention
“To see eye to eye”—To be in full agreement
“To be up to the eyes”—To be very busy
“He’s making eyes at me”—He’s flirting

Eyes are often important in facial expressions in that they create the most obvious and immediate signals leading to the formation of impressions. Eye contact is considered to be an important aspect of interpersonal communication, guiding conversations, indicating concentration or participation, and establishing connections with others. Lack of eye contact is usually perceived as being rude or inattentive.  

So when I can’t see someone’s eyes, I feel very uncomfortable—and which is also why I find that a video call on a telephone is easier to deal with than audio alone.

Other than Boris and the burqa, it’s been rather an uneventful week in what used to be called the “silly season”, that period in high summer regarded as the season when newspapers tend to publish trivial material because of a lack of any news that might reasonably be considered important.

So, the football season is under way again and the cricket season is in full swing, especially for the fast bowlers in the English cricket team, which demolished the batsmen of the Indian side that is currently the world’s top rated cricket team.  The last test match (international cricket contest for those of you unfamiliar with the term) lasted less than four of the scheduled five days (and the first day was completely washed out due to torrential rain) at Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood in NW London.  On the third day of the match and on my way home, I got off a bus opposite the London Mosque and continued up towards St. John’s Wood Underground Station hoping to catch some elderly gentlemen walking down the hill wearing the yellow and orange jackets of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club)—but no such luck and I had to make do with men with the tie and I leave it to your imaginations as to what they would look like wearing jackets of the same colours.  Perhaps clothes actually do make the man?!  Silly season, I suppose.

DSCF3007MCC

DSCF3004MCC

Regent’s Park remains Regent’s Park — a green and floral oasis in the middle of the city populated by joggers, walkers, exercisers, people sitting or sleeping on park benches, armies of gardeners and much else.  This includes, of course, the squirrels, which many people seem to think are sweet until they take to grasping your trouser legs or upskirting the women and then the sweetness turns into a mild panic.

DSCF2899Squirrel feeding

Squirrels need never go hungry in Regent’s Park

DSCF2901Squirrel feeding

Finish a leaf?  Just turn around and pick another

 

DSCF2894Calisthenics Regent's Park

Calisthenics in the Park

DSCF3022Squirrel calisthenics

… and the squirrels do it, too

Last week, as usual, we took a trip down to the National Portrait Gallery to have a look at this year’s BP National Portrait Award collection.  Somehow, we felt that the quality this year wasn’t quite up to the very high standards of previous years.  The winning portrait (and you have to remind yourself all the time that you’re looking at paintings and not at photographs) this year was entitled An Angel At My Table by Barcelona-born Miriam Escofet and is a portrait of her mother, of whom she said: “My mother has a wonderful inner stillness and calm that I really wanted to convey in this work. She is at the centre of the pictorial space and the perspective of the tea crockery leads to a vanishing point contained within her.”

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Good as it is, we actually (separately and together) preferred a different one—but who are we to judge?

DSCF2916Old woman

The journey to the gallery was by bus and one of the delights of riding a London bus is that as you sit there (or in my case, stand there), it seems as if the whole world passes by.  Although I’ve done it hundreds of times, it’s one of those things that amazes me every time—and they make such a fuss about migrants.  Here, in London, at least, immigration doesn’t seem to be a major issue.

DSCF2925On a London bus

A couple of days later, shopping at a supermarket on the busy Finchley Road just north of Swiss Cottage, I stumbled across this gentleman strewn across the footpath on the lee side of a bus stop.  At first, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at and couldn’t discern whether or not there was a person in amongst the bibs ands bobs and bags.  But as I closed in on the scene, there was someone there.  Should I or shouldn’t I?  That’s the question that the amateur photographer almost always asks in such a situation whereas the professional just goes an shoots multiple images.  But this one was too good to miss.

DSCF2870Not a care in the world

Then as I approached the entrance to the shop, I was able to get a better view.  This wasn’t an ordinary, run-of-the-mill homeless person.  He came replete with umbrella/parasol to shelter him from either sun or rain; some of his belongings were in the trolley that he had “borrowed” from the supermarket.  He seemed pretty well stocked with food items—mango, Nutella, coffee and so forth.  I couldn’t see any evidence of alcohol so I mustn’t prejudge his situation but he was sound asleep—with the emphasis on sound as he was snoring heavily.  He quite honestly seemed as if he hadn’t a care in the world and was oblivious to all and sundry.  And the most amazing thing of all was that on looking around after I’d taken the photographs, I seemed to be the only person who was paying him any attention whatsoever.  But then I was on the lookout for “interesting” images, wasn’t I?

DSCF2871Not a care in the world

And “stumbled across” is obviously what someone else did as I photographed these on Parkhill Road on my way back from Hampstead Heath.

DSCF3011Crutches

Almost as out of place as the snoring man outside the Waitrose supermarket was the tent that I saw pitched across the railway bridge between Primrose Hill and Chalk Farm.  I’ve seen tents inhabited by people who have pitched them in parks on warm nights but on a railway bridge?  I thought about approaching the residents for an explanation but then thought better of it (chickened out).

DSCF2974Tent on bridge

And as regular readers of this blog might be aware, I just love misspelled signs, so I couldn’t ignore this one at the ATM (cash machine) outside the Tesco store on Englands Lane.  Political geographers (and Poles and Germans) might react to it by saying “Not Neisse”.  Hebrew-speakers might look at it and say to themselves that it’s not worth trying here because it’s got no change).  (Think about it, Hebrew readers, and you might see what I saw.)

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Finally, while entering Smithfields Market yesterday, my attention was drawn to the advertisement below.  So, as requested, I called Fred and told him I was interested in the job but after a short interview, he informed me that I might not have a background that was suited to this particular job (not to mention the skills) and mentioned that he thought I might to be able to find an udder job if I tried hard enough, as a milkman, perhaps.

DSCF3041 Pork cutter

Having come to the end of this post, I have to return for a moment to the topic that opened it.  Thinking back over Boris Johnson and the burqa, having Boris make any comment at all about what other people have on their heads is a little bit rich, don’t you think?!

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Rule, Britannia! Really?

DSCF2772 St. Paul's & river

St. Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge from the Tate Modern

Once upon a time, I could escape the Israeli summer heat and spend a few weeks in London enjoying the cooler weather and the cricket.  I could also escape Israeli news, which is broadcast incessantly, except when a major incident/disaster occurred.  That was once upon a time.  These days, with the advent of internet newspapers and internet radio and television, even that bit of luxurious peace of mind is well nigh impossible.  

So we have now taken to listening to the 8 a.m. news on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet at 6 in the morning BST, which is very much the same as the 6 a.m. bulletin that we wake up to in Israel except that it usually contains one or two quotes from some politician or other who had been mouthing off on the chat show that follows the six o’clock news for a couple of hours.  What this little exercise has taught me, however, is that five or six minutes of news each morning tells you more or less all you need to know for the day and that anything else is essentially superfluity.  If something really nasty happens and you want to follow the nastiness minute by minute, you can always tune in.  And if you don’t, it will be reported or misreported, but definitely commented and speculated upon, by all the news media, meaning that you can catch up in your spare time.

DSCF2664 I told you so

The Finger of Suspicion.  Primrose Hill, NW3

Before we left Israel almost a fortnight ago (only 13 days—and it seems like we’ve been here for so long, so easy is it to fall into a routine), there was much talk about Jeremy Corbyn, his Labour Party and the anti-Semitism seemingly rife within it.  I was under the impression that there was a certain amount of Israeli hyperbole about the nature and extent of it, given that Zionism ultimately strives for the eradication of the Diaspora through a process of cajoling all Jews to emigrate to the Promised Land.  The picture painted was of a rampant group of Corbynistas who accept and embellish his dislike of Jewish people in general.  And then I arrive in the UK and find, somewhat to my surprise, that almost every newscast has something to say about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.  Either way, it’s not particularly positive news for British Jewry—or for that matter, the British Labour Party.

What it does illustrate, however, are the dangers in having a leader so rooted in his ideology that he can’t see the forest for the trees.  True leadership, as I understand it, means being pragmatic, adapting to the issues of the day, recognising that you belong of this world and not some imagined one and admitting, if necessary, that you’ve been wrong if you’re shown to have been wrong and changing your views and your policies accordingly.  Obviously, a leader can’t do this too often as then s/he suggests that s/he has not really been a leader.  Of course, it’s not only Mr. Corbyn who suffers from this defect; Israel’s prime minister is a victim, too, as the legislation of the totally superfluous, unnecessary  and ultimately utterly detrimental “nation-state” law passed a couple of weeks ago has illustrated.

As for Mr. Corbyn…

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Three years ago, I asked a neighbour here in London, a long-time Labour supporter, what her opinion was regarding his elevation to Leader of the Labour Party, a man who had voted against his own party whip on 428 occasions during Labour’s time in power and then expects his colleagues to do his bidding.  But before I recount her response to my query, I need to add a few words about Pat.  

I attended her funeral 10 days ago at the Golders Green Crematorium, having brought her to hospital on our last visit to London and waited with her while she was admitted for an operation on a cancerous growth.  At the time, I had no idea that that would be the last time I’d see her. Prior to attending the funeral, I hadn’t a clue as to what I would experience except for the fact that I knew there would not be a gram of religion involved in it as she was a staunchly Jewish atheist.  

Pat was 87 and had been, if I remember correctly, a runner for the Irgun Zva’i Leumi, an organisation of pre-1948 Jewish freedom fighters (a.k.a. terrorist organisation) in Paris, a volunteer health worker in Israel for three years from 1948, a committed Communist in her 20’s, who had moved to Germany and lived there where she was a member of the Communist Party.  On returning to the UK and somewhat mellowed, she threw herself into amateur theatre in Islington and was a representative for the Leipzig Fair in London.  She was a rather outspoken person.  In understatement, she was a no-nonsense straight talker who didn’t suffer fools gladly.  She also had some strongly held views—but these were not ideological in the sense that if you could convince her that she was wrong (in itself, no easy task), she could admit it and say so without any awkwardness, something that Mr. Corbyn finds difficult, it seems. Her funeral was attended by about 50 friends, neighbours and family and we were all asked to chat to the people sitting close to us in the chapel about her, how we came to know her and what our association with her was.  It was cathartic and a most enlightening and emotional experience—the only funeral I’ve been to where people left smiling.  Rather than being funereal, it was a celebration of a full life that had come to an end.

Anyway, re Pat and Corbyn three years ago.  Answering my question, she started with “Humpf!”… and then said: “A joke.  He reached his level of incompetence handing out prizes to amateur drama groups in Islington!  Prime Minister?  A joke! A bad, bad joke!”  Well, she said it, not I.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/aug/03/jeremy-corbyn-labour-is-not-a-threat-to-jews-in-britain

But enough.

Just under a fortnight in this place and even though it’s August, there’s still plenty on.  I caught the Monet and Architecture show in the National Gallery just before it ended. Much as the paintings were wonderful, the show itself was something of a disappointment although in retrospect, the fact that I was there on the day before it closed might have had something to do with it.  Although we tend to associate Monet with his garden and the lilies, with Rouen Cathedral and with the large canvases that depict foggy scenes along the River Thames in London, there were many other pictures of picturesque villages and rural scenes and much more.  My problem seemed to be not so much the number of people who had come too view the exhibition the same time as me but the fact that the 77 paintings were shown in seven relatively small rooms so that it was difficult to step back and view a painting that seemed to be particularly interesting.  Still, one shouldn’t complain.

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The shimmering “Monet Effect”  caused by a shaking hand while using the iPhone

Then last Thursday, it was off to the Tate Modern to see one of the other blockbuster shows in town, Picasso 1932.  

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Getting in the mood — en route to Picasso

Picasso was 51 and living in Paris at the time and was both celebrated and wealthy but also aware that he was losing contact with his artistic contemporaries and that critics were questioning whether he was still capable of creating radical new work.  It was also a year in which his marriage began to break up (or is it break down?) and he embarked on a new long-term relationship with a woman much younger than he.  So, as if to put an end to criticism and speculation, he embarked on what can only be described as a fit of diarrhoeic artistic creativity and turned out several hundred pieces during this unusually productive year for this unusually productive and restless man.  Here, at the Tate Modern, there was more room to view Picasso than there had been at the National Gallery for Monet and the exhibition was arranged not by subject but by month.  In fact so prolific and inventive was he that it is almost impossible to even begin to take in what’s there in a single visit.

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Having spent some time with Picasso, I decided to have a look at the other show on the same floor entitled Shape of Light, which was right down my street and which will require another, longer, trip to Bankside in order to spend the time necessary to appreciate this show, which carries the subtitle 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.  It attempts to uncover photography’s role in a broader history of abstraction and explores the history of artists who have worked with light to create abstract work; many of the photographs are indeed placed alongside artistic works created in different media, showing the relationship between photography and abstract art. Great stuff.

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Under Blackfriars Bridge

Of course, when one goes to the Tate Modern, one goes as much to partake of the grandeur of the building itself as for what’s in it.  This time, the Turbine Hall was devoid of installations or other interesting phenomena and could be viewed for what it is — a gigantic exhibition space.

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And now that there’s a viewing platform at the top of the Switch House (now the Blavatnik Building), taking the elevator to the 10th floor has become a must on each visit just for the views it provides.

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In addition to the galleries and the exhibitions, there’s also theatre — again, more than you can take in a single short visit unless you are into theatre marathons.  Two plays so far — one, Genesis Inc., in the local theatre, which dealt with the privatisation of IVF.  Ir was supposed to be a comedy but there were so many subplots going on simultaneously that the comedy took a back seat and the much of the drama was lost.  However, the subject matter itself was interesting and the message was that the greater the number of IVF failures, the higher the profits for the companies offering IVF treatments.  

The other play was at the National Theatre and is one that has now become a classic, Brian Friel’s Translations, set in the quiet community in Co. Donegal in NW Ireland in 1833 in which most of the inhabitants have little experience of the world outside the village. Despite this, Latin and Greek are spoken in the small local unofficial and illegal hedge school in which Irish is the principal medium of instruction, so that tales about Greek goddesses are as unremarkable as those about the potential failing of the potato crop. It’s a play that we saw probably about 30 years ago and needed to be seen again. Friel uses language as a tool to highlight the problems of communication — lingual, cultural, and generational so that the Irish and English characters in the play “speak” their respective languages.  In actuality, onstage, English is mostly spoken by the actors, thereby allowing the audience to understand all the languages as if a translator was provided—but onstage, too, the characters cannot comprehend each other because of a lack of willingness from both the English and Irish to learn the others’ language.  The play tells of the struggle between England and Ireland at this time and focusses mainly on (mis)communication and language to tell of the desperate situation with an unsure and questionable outcome.  Much concentration was needed but it was worth it.  Interestingly enough, from my seat near the back of the theatre (the last one available), the four young people seated in the row in front of me were conversing fluently in Irish.

Given the weather, we took ourselves down to Regent’s Park one morning and this oasis in the middle of a bustling city looked as well as ever.  It’s only when you spot the odd gardener at work that you realise the number of gardeners needed—the Royal Parks employ a veritable army of gardener sin order to keep the park looking as spruce as it usually does.

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Gardener at work, Regent’s Park

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Bees at work, Regent’s Park

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Big bird at work, Regent’s Park

 

Meanwhile, in and around the neighbourhood …

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That must have been some party last night.  Primrose Hill, NW3

 

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The post-Grenfell decladding operation continues a year on.  Adelaide Road, NW3

 

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One way of requesting money.  Tottenham Court Road, London

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Another way of requesting money (no cash, please).  Leicester Square Station, London

 

Penultimately, always on the lookout for hidden people as I walk along the streets, I spotted this little guy waving to me from the top of a post box on Englands Lane the other day.  I’ve subsequently noticed several of his relatives in various places although I’d never paid any attention to them before.

DSCF2639 … and how are you today?

Finally, Brexit seems to have taken something of a back seat recently, mainly, I suppose because government ministers and Members of Parliament are away during the parliamentary summer recess, probably in Europe and perhaps, over a glass of French claret with baguette and Brie or Italian chianti with ciabatta and Gorgonzola, some of them  possibly contemplating the fate of their holiday homes after the disaster that awaits them and is about to engulf them.  

Strangely, I always thought that in a democracy, representatives were elected to legislate and a government chosen to govern.  Here, however, although almost everything I read and hear tells me of the negative effects of Brexit on the British (and on the EU) economy, “Brexit is Brexit” and the elected representatives who must by now be aware of the approaching catastrophe seem not to be doing the job for which they were elected and the government has abdicated its responsibility to the people at whom so many falsehoods were aimed just over two years ago!

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KAL, in the current issue of The Economist

Rule Britannia!  

Not for long, I fear!

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