Murphys B&W

A fortnight of self-isolation leads one to beat one’s drum with Irish stout

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 10.27.16

And here is some real Irish stout




… and I wonder to myself if the vernal equinox might be a complication arising from Covid-19.

It’s now established practice.  I get to the kitchen first, make my coffee, have breakfast and the girls follow at their leisure—or when I’ve prepared breakfast for Vivien and then skedaddle.  I look forward to Shabbat breakfast because that means challah and jam instead of the usual fare of tehina or peanut butter or almond paste!  This time, one slice of challah with the date and orange jam that Roz brought on her last visit and one slice with the seedless raspberry jam I brought back last week from the UK (actually, I brought two back and that ought to do me until the end of confinement, whenever that may be!)

And then, prohibited from going outside, I ready myself to face the stairs and the exercise bike.  This time, it’s 19 circuits (950 steps) and 45 minutes on the exercise bike. After that, it’s time to settle in to the new norm.  In other words, things repeat themselves and it’s a little bit of reading, a little bit with photos and so on.

I find that not being able to get out at all adds to the general tedium.  I’ve been back 8 days and in real life, I see Vivien and Arneath but keep my distance, I’ve seen our neighbour with whom we share the building once, when I went for some air in the small area in which the cars are parked and he motioned to me that I shouldn’t really be outside at all.  I chose to differ and said that the restriction was to stay within the home and as far as I am concerned, the car park is part of the home.  And I also said hello to the neighbour from across the street who was out walking his dog so I warned him that potentially, I’m a social leper in that I spent a few days abroad and as punishment must stay away from healthy people.  He laughed and we exchanged a few words.

Lunchtime, afternoon, dinner.  All came and went and then we settled down to watch a some drama on TV and our choice this time, The Knowledge, a play originally broadcast on BBC TV over 40 years ago and written by the late Jack Rosenthal, which traces the trials and tribulations of several men and one woman who sign up to take “The Knowledge”, the examination that London cab drivers must pass in order to become licensed drivers of a black cab, which involves knowing all streets, street numbers and buildings of interest within a radius of 6 miles of Charing Cross.  We watched the first half with the second coming the following night.

The examiner, a Mr. Burgess, played by Nigel Hawthorne of later Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister fame, gave a superlative, unforgettable comic performance based on a real-life, notoriously sadistic examiner, ably abetted by a strong cast, which included Jonathan Lynn, who was later to write, with Antony Jay, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.  In the play, Lynn plays the star pupil, a person whose close male relatives are all cab drivers and he passes with flying colours before all the others.  As a celebration, two of his Knowledge buddies take him for a drink, which he initially refuses stating that he’s Jewish and doesn’t drink.  He ends up inebriated, rides his motorbike home and is breathalyzed, loses his licence, is banned from driving for a year — and then decides to emigrate to Israel!

Writing this reminds me of an instance about 20 years ago when we were living in Belsize Park in London and for some reason, I took a cab home from Central London, something I rarely ever do.  I got into the cab and gave the driver the address and off we went.  Just before we turned into Antrim Road, the driver asked me if I wanted the library end of the street (there was a public library directly opposite our flat) or the other end; he then explained that he hadn’t been up that part of London for over 25 years.  I was astonished as all I had said to him was the address (street and number).

Having said all this, it was time to retreat for the day, and before I knew anything about it, it was …


06.10.  I’m early this morning but I’ve got a busy day ahead!  (Laugh along with me).  I’m too late to hear the 6 o’clock news so I hang around after I’ve eaten till the news comes on at 7.  Five minutes in the morning and five in the evening are as much as one needs.

I receive a message from my nephew, Daniel, who last night took a picture from his apartment of the Ma’ariv (evening) service at the synagogue next door to him. A minimum of 10 adult males needed for the deity to take heed, but a minimum distance of 2 m needed to prevent the virus, if present, being spluttered on to a neighbour. So the solution couldn’t have been simpler — pray spaced out in the street.

Maariv P-T

Maariv P-T 1

Then it’s up and down, up and down followed by time on the bike. I manage 1,000 steps (Yes!) but only 30 minutes on the bike because today I have my first online exercise class scheduled for 10.00 hrs with Tamar, the person who runs a Gyrotonic studio where I’ve been going for the past few months once a week. I described the Gyrotonic training method as leaving me in something of a quandary: is it a variation of the Chinese torture method or some sort of mediaeval torture for dealing with miscreants.  Actually, it’s described as a training method based in principles of yoga, dance, tai chi, and swimming. The emphasis is on rotation and spiraling movements that don’t have end points and it also builds core strength, balance, coordination, and agility. So at 10.05, there’s a buzz on the computer and I log on with Zoom and have a lesson that lasts for an hour and after which, and I find this hard to believe, I feel better than after a face-to-face session.  Really hard going but definitely worth it.

Just as I finish with that, the telephone rings and it’s the order from the supermarket.  The order had been confirmed on Friday afternoon but they had changed the delivery time from between 3 and 5 in the afternoon to between 5 and 7 and here they are at 11.15 in the morning.  I mention this to the delivery man who is screaming something in Arabic into his mobile and he tells me that the schedule has been changed, which was obvious to me without him having to tell me that.  He dumps the goods into the elevator and leaves me to see to the rest, which is probably just as well.  By the time Vivien and Arneath return from their morning walk, I’ve managed to put everything away in its place though several things are missing from the order but I had more or less expected that.

That more or less takes care of my morning and by the time I’ve eaten lunch, it time for a short nap.  When I emerge from my slumber, I feel the need to read something that isn’t news or about photographs so I scan the bookshelves in front of me and choose Roy Foster’s Luck and the Irish, delivered initially as a series of lectures at Queen’s University, Belfast about 15 years ago and concerning the changes that have occurred in Irish society and the Irish economy, mostly in the past 50 years.  Reading through the first chapter, it made me realize how conservative my secondary school education had been.  European history ended, basically, with the Counter-Reformation; nothing of note happened after that; Irish history was provincial in the extreme.  How Ireland has changed and I look forward to finishing the book later this week.

After our isolated dinners, it’s time to see what’s on TV.  I shun the news because I can always read the main points in tomorrow morning’s paper without having to listen to the almost panic-stricken voices of the newsreaders and commentators and without having to see and hear “that man”.  It’s interesting how the Minister of Health has been sidelined in all this confusion, which is just as well, as he seems to be telling people who ask him that the Messiah will arrive before Passover to deliver us from the bondage of the Coronavirus, just as we were led out of Egypt all those centuries ago!

We watch the end of The Knowledge and then, after some reading, so to bed… and it’s


Breakfast and then it’s out onto the stairs where I manage 21 circuits, i.e., 1,050 steps.  I surprise myself again.  Then 40 minutes of the bike, which is made a little easier by the appearance of the smiley that I had missed on previous days.


And I’m ready to face the day, which, it appears will be rather like the previous ones.  Somewhere in the middle of the morning, I go downstairs to check the mail in the mailbox where I meet my neighbour.  Instead of the usual “How are you?” I get “What are you doing here?  You’re not supposed to put a foot outside the home.”  Here, we have the same difference of opinion as the other day and I realize that the difference is lost in translation of the word “bayit”, which in Hebrew can mean either house or home.  I interpreted it as “house”, meaning that the parking area and the postbox are within the limits to which I can extend my activities.  He begged to differ.

Then followed more or less the same course as previous days.  After our disconnected lunches, I’m reading.  Whereas yesterday’s chapter of Luck and the Irish, dealt with the economy was a little dry, today’s chapter takes on the changing role of the Catholic church in Irish society and the increasingly liberal attitudes of the population, especially the younger population in the cities, leading to a large proportion leading secular lives.  This was a revelation, even though I knew it had been happening.

And in the evening, instead of a film, I discovered that the talks and discussions from Jewish Book Week 2020 that had been held in London the week I was there have all been either recorded of filmed and are online or downloadable as podcasts.  We chose to watch and listen to Norman Lebrecht interviewed by Trudy Gold about his new book Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World 1847 -1947, followed by Elif Shafak talking to Sam Leith about her latest novel, 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World, and her personal stories of being brought up by her mother and grandmother in a conservative neighbourhood in Ankara and about the street on which she lived in Istanbul.  Fascinating — as are her books.

And then it was sleeping time and before I realized it, I was at …


Breakfast, stairwell and exercise bike.  This is becoming the routine. Today, I do 1,050 steps (21 circuits) and 30 minutes on the exercise bike.  And on the last circuit, I notice that there are three weeks worth of newspapers that will have to be disposed of on my release from temporary bondage.

Three weeks of newspapers

After that it’s routine.  Write a little, play with some photos, read a little more of Luck and the Irish.  And then just after noon, a WhatsApp comes in from Gerry in Liverpool, a short piece of advice that he received from someone in Israel, a short essay written by a young epidemiologist at Yale University.  I read it — it’s short and very much to the point — and it explains that things will get far worse before they get better.  That’s the way epidemics and pandemics work and we need to understand that it will be several months before things get back to normal, but they will eventually.  Maybe by Chanukah/Xmas we’ll be over the worst.

Jonathan Smith on Covid-19

Here was somebody who understands spelling it out in plain English.  I sent to piece to people I thought might be interested and let them come to terms with it for themselves.

And then it was back to Luck and the Irish.  Chapter Three, entitled “The party fight and funeral”, deals with the transformation of Fianna Fáil, the “natural party of government” during the period, with the focus on Charles Haughey who was in and out of the office of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) between 1979 and 1992.  I can’t remember smiling and laughing as much for years while reading a serious book.  While the Irish economy and society was undergoing rapid and radical change, the politicians of Fianna Fáil were cashing in on the developments, Haughey the principal among them.  He enjoyed the good life and didn’t mind where the money came from and where it went.

Haughey was said to have amassed €45 million due to corrupt dealings, which he denied until the very end, when Roy Foster quotes him as admitting in court, the straw in any reputation he might have had left in him well and truly broken: “I now accept that I received £1.3 million from Mr. Ben Dunne and that I became aware that he was the donor to the late Mr. Traynor in 1993 and furthermore I now accept Mr. Dunne’s evidence that he handed me £210,000 … in November 1991.  In making this statement, I wish to make clear that until yesterday, I  had mistakenly instructed my legal team.”  In other words, until the day before the trial, he had been lying through his teeth and now that the evidence was out in the open …

The Economist, the weekly newspaper I have read regularly for the past 50 years put it this way in his obituary in its issue of June 22, 2006: “Charles Haughey was a technicolour politician in a monochrome landscape. He burst onto the Irish political scene at a time when it featured dull men distinguished only by their austerity. Elected to the Dail in 1957, the flamboyant Mr Haughey quickly became the foremost member of a group tagged the “men in mohair suits” for their smart clothes and brash ways. … History may well judge that he was the most gifted Irish politician of his generation. But it is harder to argue that he put those talents to good use. … Mr Haughey used [the coffers] of his Fianna Fáil party as his private piggy-bank. He was a flagrant tax-evader: when the authorities finally caught up with him, he had to sell his estate to pay them. Even his greatest fans would not call him fastidious. It was best to call him simply “Boss”.… Days before his death he warned a British journalist who was getting too nosey: “My arms reach far, and people have been found floating down the Thames.”

However, what made me smile and laugh as I read this chapter was the scale of the corruption.  I mean, we know that several Israeli politicians have been imprisoned, other have been indicted and yet others are being investigated for corruption but Haughey and Co. were in a different league. Our guys couldn’t possibly even conceive of the scale of corruption that existed at the top of Irish politics three and four decades ago, let alone operationalize it. Compared with Netanyahu and some of his minions, Haughey was at the top of the Premier League while they are Third Division (North) or whatever it’s called today.

There was one quotation that had me laughing out aloud, very loud.  “ … in his early, more unbuttoned, days he was good copy.  To catch a vote, the playwright Hugh Leonard wrote, he would unhesitatingly ‘roller-skate backwards into a nunnery, naked from the waist down, singing “Kevin Barry” in Swahili’”.

At this point, I remembered Marlena’s entreaty from last week, which was that as I was unable to go out and take pictures of the external mundane, then I should attempt to take some of the internal mundane.   So …

Garlic & Ginger

Arneath enjoys cooking with garlic and ginger.  Great!

After that my mood lightened a lot and for afters, (after our separated supper, that is), we watched the first half of the Prom dedicated to the music and songs of Stephen Sondheim on his 80th birthday in 2010.  Wonderful.

And so to bed … and it became …


I’m beginning to realize that when my release date comes on Friday, I’m going to have nowhere to go.  I listen to the news and it seems as if new restrictions on movement to be announced this evening.  We’ll be able to go out singly but mustn’t venture more than 100m from the house so I’ll have to take a tape measure with me and work out how far away 100m is. (According to Google maps, it’s exactly 100m from the gate to the end of the street but as I’m allowed to buy food in the greengrocer’s, I can make it that extra 10m without incurring a fine or imprisonment. That regulation notwithstanding, I understand that I am still permitted to walk to the supermarket to buy food, 550 m away.  However, that advice from my daughters is that supermarkets are probably the most likely place in which meet a Corona-carrier.

So after breakfast, it’s the stairs again—22 circuits, 1,100 steps followed by 30 mins on the exercise bike.  After that, I find a couple of fiddly things to do before Tamar ZOOMs me up at 11.00 a.m. for an hour’s gyrotonic stretching and breathing.  Amazingly, I feel great after an hour and again I find that doing the exercises at home much more satisfying than going to the studio.

It’s time for another picture of the internal mundane!  My sister in London suggested  that she organize a family ZOOM seder, seeing that so many of us are going to be on our own this year.  Sounds like a good idea although it will probably be grossly abbreviated.  Holding the kids’ attention at the best of times isn’t easy but over the Internet?

Seder drawer

Checking the seder dishes

By the time the afternoon comes around, more or less finish this week’s edition of The Economist and it’s back to Roy Foster and the Irish.  It really is an entertaining book, well worth the read.  I wrote to him to thank him, hardly expecting a reply but got one anyway in which he wrote: “It was a mischievous little book in its way, published just before the economic crash which in some ways I intuited, in some ways didn’t. I was right about Mr H, though, and I suspect you are right about Mr N. Penguin’s libel lawyers went through agonies as Haughey and Co. were alive when it was going through the press.”

Evening brings attendance at a virtual shivah for our friend Zvi Silver who passed away last week from Covid-19.  Although the eulogies delivered by Zvi’s two sons, Jason and Gary, were very moving, I found the experience of being part of a virtual meeting of this kind to be very strange, indeed—but I’m glad we were there in spirit.

And before I knew where I was, it was …


I wake up late this morning — 07.00.  I can only presume that the silence in the street has something to do with that.  It’s as quiet as Yom Kippur and likely to remain that way for several weeks, if not several months.  The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus tracker reports almost half a million confirmed cases throughout the world, of which almost 2,700 are here in Israel.  Thus far, there have been over 22,000 deaths, eight of them in Israel.  We’re in for the long haul, it seems.

Out on the stairs, 23 circuits, 1,150 steps followed by 40 minutes on the bike, all of which I report to the kids.  Up till now, the responses have been “Bravo” and “Keep it up”. However, today, the responses were: “Be careful; don’t overdo it!”; “This is great Abba. Just be aware of overdoing it, as your immune system is lowered a bit when exercising hard.”; “Make sure you stretch your muscles, especially calf and front thigh muscles. If you don’t they will eventually cramp.”; “Most Important is to stretch when you’ve finished, before your body cools down.”  So it’s nice to know the children are looking out for me.  Actually, the last circuit this morning was a little tough so I think I’ll limit it to 1,000 steps a day from now on.

And then it’s time for some more mundane interior photographs.

Language mostly

Language shelf (partial)

Picture books

Photography shelf (partial—coffee table books even though we’ve no coffee-table)

Cookery books

Kitchen cookery shelf

And then, nearby, the oil pourers had been cleaned so I looked closely at them and decided that if I moved them, they were no ordinary oil pourers but a pair dancing a very graceful minuet.

Minuet time

A graceful minuet on the kitchen worktop


In the evening I had the longest telephone conversation in my life (almost 90 minutes) when John Western called me from Syracuse, NY and among other things we discussed the content of the memory book I’ve written.  I now have a much better idea of what I need to do.  I’ll wait another couple of weeks and see if anyone else turns up with comments and review before getting down to the job of editing it.  And in the course of our conversation, we came across so many things that we had in common.  I couldn’t believe that it was over 30 years since we shared an office for a couple of weeks while each of us was on a short stay at LSE!

Vivien and I watched the second half of the Sondheim 80th birthday Prom from a decade ago and enjoyed every second of it and then it was time for bed — my own bed in our own bedroom this time after over three weeks elsewhere.

And then Friday morning came.  It was …



Daylight Savings Time as arrived in Israel and we are now GMT+3, with Europe following in the early hours of Sunday morning, so we wake up at 07.00 and listen to the news.  After Coronavirus numbers, we are fed a little more information about the strange happenings in Israeli politics that happened yesterday afternoon when Benny Gantz, who the previous week had been charged by President Rivlin with the job of trying to form a government, had himself elected Knesset speaker, allowing the formation of an “emergency” unity government with and under Netanyahu.

As in the past year and through three election campaigns, Gantz has over and again solemnly promised never to join a Netanyahu-led government, citing the premier’s likely indictment, his actual indictment and his impending trial, it will be interesting to hear how he explains this away to the hundreds of thousands of voters who thought they were voting for something else though I am doubtful as to whether he will even bother. It turned out that Mr. Gantz has learned the arts of politics and deceit over the past year and is no more than just another lying politician.  And he’s just another politician who will probably have to learn the hard way that a promise from Bibi (to rotate the Prime Ministership in this case) is rather like dipping your head into a barrel of sewage water.  It stinks.  And as many have discovered before, once he’s used you, he’ll dispose of you by tossing you straight back into the sewage system. As my Beersheva colleague David Newman posted yesterday on Facebook: “I think I know my way around Israeli politics. I didn’t believe anything new could surprise me any more. But ……”  I couldn’t have agreed more.  The age of the Israeli Erdogan has finally arrived!

It was weird to open the gate and go outside … into a street.  What a strange feeling.  Very little traffic, no public transport.  The sounds of the birds have taken over Tel Aviv.

Empty paper bags - 1

Paper gone!

Task #1, get rid of the papers and then go in search of bread.  Most of the people on the street are walking their dogs and the dogs seem pretty disinterested in what is happening around them. And why not?  I’m supposedly allowed 100 m from the house but can go further if I’m shopping for food.  Almost the first thing I noticed was the sign below draped on the balcony of the first  house on Bodenheimer Street, which made me smile.

Everything will be OK - 1
Everything will be OK.  47 Bodenheimer Street, Tel  Aviv

And then it was off to the bread shop where I joined a line to buy bread.  In we go, maximum of two people at any one time, it seems.  The man in the shop when I join the queue is masked and gloved.  The gentleman in front of me has a mask that almost covers his entire face, has plastic gloves and is wearing some kind of plastic apron and refrains from entering the shop at all, declaiming his order from the sidewalk.  I enter, buy some bread, pay the bill all within a minute and a half, pop into the greengrocer nearby for a couple of things and walk home.

What an odd fortnight it has been indeed!






The Meadway cab picked me up from at Belsize Park a little earlier than I’d expected it but there was no point in hanging around and at 18.30, it was off to Heathrow Terminal 4.  As we set off towards Avenue Road NW8, Kamal, the driver, asked me what country I was travelling to and when I said Israel, he pulled the car over and stopped. He said that he hoped I didn’t mind as he donned a mask.  I said it didn’t bother me one way or another and asked him if he wanted me to put mine on as well to which he replied that it was really up to me so as I find seeing clearly and breathing through the mask to be somewhat incompatible, I sat in the back of the car more or less silent for the ¾ hour it took to get to Terminal 4.

The El Al security check was a little more thorough than usual.  In addition to where I was coming from, who packed my case, had anybody given me anything to bring back, I was asked for the names of immediate family in living in Israel and their birthdates (if they’d asked me for the ID numbers, I might have been put into self-isolation there and then on the spot).  I don’t think the young woman expected me to recite the information regarding my granddaughters but I felt that withholding such information might land me in trouble.  Then, having completed the El Al check-in, it was off to general security at Heathrow, which went relatively smoothly without anyone barking orders at me and without being asked to remove either shoes or my belt which meant that I could stand the scanning cubicle without tripping over the trouser bottoms or without having to hold the trousers up.

Then it was off the El Al lounge to hand about until boarding time.  En route to the lounge, I met Vivien’s cousin Estelle who was travelling on the same flight having spent a week out of a planned three in Dublin visiting her 98-year old mother, the visit curtailed because the care home had been closed for a fortnight and there was little point in staying on if she couldn’t visit Betty — but getting back to Israel was a bit of a headache.  She had flown to Dublin via Lufthansa but the German airline had cancelled all flights to Israel in the interim and booked her on Turkish Airlines back to Tel Aviv but there was a problem there too.  She had called me the day before to ask how and when I was returning and I had noticed just a few minutes before she called me that there were three or four seats left on the flight I was going on and I suggested she try El Al.  She did and here we were a  day later talking family talk for a couple of hours.

Estelle & Litzman - 1

In the boarding area, there was a mixture of people with masks, some with rubber gloves.  Some wore their masks as expected; others seemed to regard them sort of as fashionable headgear; one woman appeared to be using hers, which she had dropped below her chin, as a receptacle for collecting crumbs and other bits of food that was in the process of consuming. On the plane, I spotted one other person I knew, the daughter of a good friend; I hadn’t seen Orly for 20 years; she was travelling back from Melbourne where she’d been for 2½ weeks on a family visit.  Mask and latex gloves were the order of the day.

Masks Terminal 4 - 1

The flight was relatively uneventful.  I had been involuntarily transferred from the afternoon flight to the night flight, something that I abhor, so I paid a little extra for a seat where I could stretch my legs and tried to sleep.  I suppose I dozed on and off for three hours and might have slept except for the fact that I was awoken by a tap on the shoulder every now and then by a bearded passenger on the other side of the aisle who kept asking how long until landing.  When we did land, he then broke into a lecture on how we Jews had survived the Holocaust and that we would survive Covid-19 as well; he then he told me that Covid-19 was God’s punishment to Jews (and the rest of humankind) for our sins (as the Holocaust had been, too).  I asked him politely if he really believed that.  He did and told him that I thought that it was sheer nonsense.  He’d obviously never heard such twaddle from a human being before but I was grateful to have been able to contribute to his overall edification.

And then it was time to disembark, pick up luggage and find a cab to bring me home.

It had become …


I’m finally on my way home.  I get a taxi and ask the driver if he wants me to mask up or not.  He tells me that I’m very well-mannered because most of his passengers over the past weeks have all sorts of strange demands about wearing masks. He says it’s up to me so I declined, as he put his mask on and drove out of the airport at 05.40 (the luggage took quite a while to come through) and I’m deposited outside the house at 06.00, exactly the hour that I reckoned on probably getting in.

I enter the flat and find that the door to the bedroom is closed.  Vivien and Arneath, our Filipina carer, are asleep.  However, the door to my next fortnight’s confinement space was open and my sleeping attire and dressing gown had been left in place, so I parked the two suitcases and got into bed to try and sleep for a couple of hours to make up for the disturbed sleep on the plane.  And rather as on the plane, I dozed rather than slept and at about 9 o’clock, I came to the conclusion that that wasn’t going to work and showered and dressed and had some breakfast.

When I was sufficiently alert, I sent a WhatsApp to our young overworked family doctor to ask him what I was permitted to do and what I was forbidden.  This was because when I landed at Ben-Gurion Airport a few hours before, I (like everyone else) received an SMS from the Ministry of Health informing us to self-quarantine as soon as we get home.  I was also informed that violating the regulation would be a criminal offence.  It’s taken me a while to find out what the penalty for violation is but apparently, anyone caught violating mandatory home quarantine knowingly could face a prison sentence of up to seven years while those who do so out of negligence could get a three-year sentence.  They also provided us with a helpline to the Ministry of Health in case anyone needed further information and unsurprisingly, in this situation, the line was constantly busy, hence the WhatsApp to the unfortunate Dr. Engel.

Anyway, his response was that in principle, I am supposed to be in isolation, meaning that I should have no contact with Vivien whatsoever.  I’m supposed to be in my own room all the time.  At the same time, he said, that’s virtually impossible.  Close contact is problematic.  However, if I were to wear a mask and keep a distance of 1 ½ – 2 metres from one another as long as I don’t cough it should be OK.  If I’m unlucky enough to develop symptoms, then that’s another story, one which I wouldn’t exactly be looking forward to—all of which made sense.  It’s just that I wanted some confirmation.

The whole thing is — and I understand it — the self-quarantine is to ensure as far as possible that anyone who might be a carrier is locked in until the 12-day period during which such people are infectious has terminated.  However, in practice, the assumption seems to be that as you’ve been abroad, you are carrying a virus that could kill thousands of your fellow-citizens.  Consequently, I feel something like a leper who has escaped his colony!

Then it was lunchtime and after Vivien and Arneath had vacated the kitchen, it was time for Vir (my Latin moniker—not an abbreviation for Viral Man) to take his place at the table and eat.  This pattern was repeated in the afternoon (attempt to sleep to be rid of zombie state, eating, etc.) after which we watched some TV, at the required separation distance and as soon as we knew it, it was bedtime.

This time around, I fell asleep around 22.30 and before I knew it, it was 06.45 and I had succeeded in dezombying.  And here we are, it’s …


Isolation Room

Incarceration space (1) — Bed & Chair

Isolation Room 1

Self-isolation space (2) — Computer and books

Isolation Room 2

House Arrest Space (3) — Closet and Bed


I have breakfast before Vivien and Arneath are up and then retire to my cell and start to wonder what I might do here for the next 13 days.  Well, one of the things I can do is just this so I began.

Then I thought that if I’m really going to be stuck here for a fortnight, I might as well do two things that I’ve been putting off for years.  One is to rid the place of excess documents.  There was a time when bank statements, bills and such like arrived as paper whereas these days, most things arrive online.  One doesn’t have to keep paper forever, so I might as well make a start.  Shredding paper is an absolutely mind-numbing activity but a quarter of an hour or so a day for the next 13 days should just about do it.  And then there’s the task of once and for all reorganizing my books so that like sits beside like of the shelves.  It was partially done when I set the place up 14 years ago and underwent another selective reshuffle about three or four months ago but it needs to be done properly.

An old Haifa friend called yesterday evening and asked what I’m doing for exercise if I can’t go out. I hadn’t actually thought too much about that so she suggested that I climb the stairs in the hallway for exercise. There are 25 steps altogether, so that that makes 50 steps for a whole circuit. I did that seven times and found it a little more strenuous that I would have imagined.  I followed that with 25 minutes on the exercise bike in the living room watching, courtesy of the Wigmore Hall and YouTube the concert that I had  contemplated attending on Wednesday evening — but didn’t in the end.  I can continue watching that over the next few days while on the exercise bike (it was a long concert, so just as well I didn’t attend in person).

Arneath is off in an hour for the weekend and we await the arrival of Galina, her temporary replacement.  Galina doesn’t stay the night — she’ll be here till about 21.00 hrs and returns tomorrow morning, so we’ll have to see how we manage under the circumstances.

Managed fine.  Galina turned up at 16.00, chatted away to Vivien while I played with photographs.

6 Trees

My favourite six trees at Primrose Hill, artistically adapted for this blog

We ate supper at the kitchen table about 2 metres from one another, about as far away as we could be.

Then heard the Prime Minister explain why Israel is closing shop for the foreseeable future.  No clubs, pubs, cafés, or restaurants.  There’s food enough for all for months to come but try explaining that to the people and making them believe something that comes from a politician.  Nobody to sit less than 2 metres from someone else, which made me laugh as all the ministers seemed to have forgotten what they’d just decided until at the last minute, they shuffled their chairs about to separate from one another by the required minimum distance.  No assemblies of more than 10 people in the same room so one wonders how all this will pan out in the synagogues and yeshivot (Jewish educational institutions that focus on the study of traditional religious texts).  Great fun.

23.00 hrs.  Bedtime.  Separate rooms, just like all the old folks do.

And then it’s …



06.45.  Breakfast —and that’s the end of the coffee beans until “Liberation Day ” at the end of next week (hopefully).  Fortunately, I had thought of popping around to Marks & Spencer at South End Green last Wednesday and bought two packets of Kenya AA ground coffee, which should last until me until I’m freed.

Then I don the mask and rubber gloves and get Vivien up and into the kitchen, where the rubber gloves come off and porridge, prunes and morning medications appear.

Then I have a quick look at the newspaper, which confirms what I heard last night.

Israel will shut down “cultural” establishments.  This includes cafés, restaurants and all leisure venues, to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.  Bibi announced that he had asked the Justice Ministry to approve the use of “technological means” to track people who came in contact with known carriers, explaining that it’s a technology that has  been used in the past to combat terror.  That’s sort of scary because they could pass a law during this emergency and then forget to unpass it after it’s all over, assuming that it finished eventually.

However, essential services, including supermarkets, pharmacies and banks will remain open and fully stocked—so they say.  The public should avoid unnecessary travel and recommended that those who can should work from home.  The education system, from pre-school and special education schools to universities, is in lockdown for a month at least and it confirmed that gatherings of more than 10 people will not be allowed as of this morning.

Needless to say, I’m not able to go outside and check any of this out for myself; it might all be hearsay.  Interesting times.  Let’s see how it works.

And of all the nonsense photos and video clips that have sprung up in the past weeks as a result of Coronavirus, this one explains a lot to me personally. It read “When the CDC recommends washing your hands for the length of a song but you only listen to Mahler Symphonies”, this is what happens.

Screen Shot 2020-03-15 at 8.24.30

And then, surprise, surprise, I just read in today’s paper the following headline Netanyahu Trial Postponed as Justice Minister Freezes Courts Over Coronavirus Emergency. It went on with the news that earlier today, the interim Minister of Justice, a close Netanyahu ally, had announced that emergency measures would be put in place to counter the spread of coronavirus, affecting Israel’s courts in that court activity will be frozen except for urgent hearings. These instructions came four hours after a press conference at which Bibi and representatives of Israel’s public health system and the Treasury presented the emergency measures designed to curb Covid19. Netanyahu himself did not address the issue of the court’s activities—that’s what he’s got lackeys (sorry: close allies) for.  As I say, surprise, surprise!

And then it’s strange how your mind wanders.  I started to wonder if Coronavirus is perhaps philosemitic.  After all, here in Israel, we’re told that we’re in a better situation than many other countries. There have been just over 200 confirmed cases in a population of around 9 million spread over 21,000 sq. kms.  In the United Kingdom as a whole, there are, as of this morning, 1,140 confirmed cases with the number expected to rise sharply. However, these thousand and more unfortunates are spread out over 242,495 km2 within a population of 67,000,000.  In Greater London, with a population more or less the same as Israel, there have been 313 cases within its 1,569 km2and in the Borough of Camden, where I spent almost all of my 9 days in London—most of it indoors—there have been 19 cases within its 22 km2 .

Therefore my question is: Why am I being picked upon and locked up for a fortnight while people who have been free to roam around the streets of Tel Aviv, which is hardly  any less dangerous than Camden, get off Scot free—or Israel free?

And then I read on the BBC website that Matt Hancock, the U.K. Secretary of State for Health, confirmed that the government will soon tell people over 70 that they will need to self-isolate at home for up to four months to protect themselves from the disease.  Apparently, his terminology caused some confusion, with Scottish officials stressing that elderly people would not be asked to avoid all contact with other people. Interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that asking the over-70s to stay self-isolated would be “a very big ask”, [understatement] but that it was part of the government’s action plan because it would be necessary to protect them, saying that this would be announced in the coming weeks. Given the seeming about turn by the British government when compared with last Thursday’s laid back press conference, older people in the United Kingdom might be asked to play Scrabble and Solitaire, dominoes and Sudoku at home until after Xmas!  I gather Matt is thinking of changing his name to Wu Han-Cock. Just as well I came home, it seems.

Anyway, the rest of the day went as expected.  Galina left about 3 and Arneath came home an hour later.  I looked through two books I bought last week when I was in what was still a normal place: Robert Frank’s The Americans and David Gentleman’s My Town.   And then it was time for supper, eaten sequentially rather than concurrently.  At 8 o’clock, what’s there to do but watch the news, which, of course is Coronavirus-time again with a little bit of politics thrown in for good measure because today was the day upon which the State President, Mr. Rivlin, consulted with the leaders of the political parties about who he should invite to try and form a government and the invitation will go to Mr. Gantz tomorrow morning.  However, immediately after his decision, Rivlin summoned the current Prime Minister and Gantz for an “urgent conversation” in which they discussed the “possibility of forming a government immediately”.  So it looks like nothing is about to change in the short term.

And although the government has banned assemblies of more than 10 people in a single room, Haredi schools remain open as do the yeshivot.  One of the leading rabbis, the most senior of the Lithuanian rabbis who “uphold the standards of ultra-Orthodox ideology and piety”, had decided that suspending Torah study, even for a single day, was a greater risk to the survival of the Jewish people and of the world than the fears of infection from this virus they’re all talking about.  Talk about a law unto themselves!  If these people would occasionally use their own common sense, if they had any, rather than prattling on, things might change but then, they really don’t want anything to change, do they? I guess that if and when the first yeshiva student is diagnosed as a carrier things might yet happen—but I wouldn’t bank on it.

And the picture of the day from all the bits and pieces that appear on my phone apparently out of nowhere—is one of Israel’s Minister of Health. He appeared on TV on Purim, a Jewish holiday, last week wearing his shtreimel (a fur hat worn by many married Strictly Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish men, especially Chasidim  on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and other festive occasions).

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 10.36.16

But given his job as Minister of Health in these Coronavirus days and all the photoshopped pics and video clips that seem to appear out of nowhere on to mobile phones, Mr. Litzman’s shtreimel seems to have been manufactured of a material that has become scarce and expensive these days!

Estelle & Litzman - 2

Then a few minutes of snooker from Gibraltar on TV and off to bed till tomorrow morning, and it has become …


 … 07.15! I’ve overslept.

I’m up and off to the kitchen where the ladies are busy at breakfast so I wait my turn until the room has been cleared and then it’s a coffee and bread roll and time to get dressed and organise the days calisthenics.  Out on to the stairwell where I manage (it was easier and longer than yesterday) 500 steps and then ½ an hour on the exercise bike.  It looks like at the end of this enforced isolation, I might be fitter than when I started — not that that would be all that difficult to achieve.

And then it’s time for the first laugh of the day when someone posted that the difference between pre-Corona times and Corona times is that whereas previously, one might cough to disguise a fart, today one might fart to disguise a cough!

Well, if you can’t laugh, what’s the point of it all?











Memories of Coronavirus-19

I know.  I’ve been absent for a couple of weeks but there’s been a very good reason.  I voted in Israel’s third general election on Monday of last week and the following day, I travelled to London for a week and two days.  I can’t believe that this was only last weeks because it feels like it’s part of another age.

The real reason I left home for a week was that over the past 2½ months, I’ve been writing a Memory Book.  A friend and colleague, having sent me a memoir written by a  mutual acquaintance in which he thought I might find some interest suggested that I might to try the same.  At the outset, I thought he was joking but when I realized that he was serious, I decided one day in mid-December to sit down and see what came out.  What I found was that quite a lot did.  Memory fed memory and memory fed on memory.  I was quite astonished at what I had managed to write.  Here I am, less that three months later, with a manuscript of 92,000 words.  It’s undoubtedly too long and needs paring and cutting but I needed this week to be be able to read it through without too many interruptions and that’s what I did over my first four days on this stay.  It has been an interesting exercise but I need to take a break from it now.  I did say to myself that I wouldn’t look at it for another month but given that I am about to be sequestered in my work space for a fortnight, it might happen sooner than that!

When I left, there were travel restrictions on people arriving in Israel from several countries, including several in Europe.  At the time, the United Kingdom was not one of these although I knew that there was a possibility that it might be added while I was away and so it has.  The direct upshot of all this is that whereas I was supposed to fly back to Tel Aviv with El Al, Israel’s national airline this afternoon (Thursday) but was informed yesterday that the flight has been cancelled and that I have been transferred to the night flight, an experience I absolutely abhor and avoid whenever I can — but I can’t this time because I wasn’t given the choice.

Coronavirus at play

So in order to kill some time and await the arrival of the transportation to take me back to the Promised Land, where I will effectively be under house arrest for a fortnight while the authorities wait to see whether or not I’m a carrier, whether I will develop a fever and then a cough and then have breathing difficulties.

However, one has to be extremely cautious with Covid19 and the signs on the London streets reflect this.

Be vigilant

Be Vigilant!

The Coronavirus is causing all sorts of problems for everybody even such mundane problems as …

Cauli leaves

And I read somewhere that sales of Corona Beer have been affected by this pandemic and that they are now marketing their beer under a different name.

Ebola Beer

Meanwhile, I’ve been practising in front of a mirror on how to keep up appearances, and generally how to manage with the threat of Covid19 hanging over my head.  I still haven’t quite worked out a way of breathing with the mask on and still be able to see through my spectacles but I suppose that with some practice, I will get the hang of it OK if it doesn’t suffocate me first.  What bothers me, though, is the conflicting advice about self-isolation/self-quarantine/house arrest when you’re sharing the space with other people. It ain’t going to be easy as I have to coordinate with the other residents to avoid being around them and it’s not as if the apartment is all that large.  So I suppose I will be confined to my workspace, which will double as my sleeping space and emerge when the coast is clear.

Corona Me

As for exercise, well, I guess it will have to be the exercise bike in the living room before the others arise for the day and/or take to the park at 4 a.m. before the Corona Police come to check up to see that I’m behaving like a responsible citizen .

Screenshot 2020-03-12 at 12.36.01

Corona Police, Tel Aviv

I suppose the alternative might be to try sleeping out although it still might be a little chilly at night time but at least the air would be fresh.  Oh, but I forgot, I’m not allowed to be outside.

The man (with the hand)

The hand

… although I might end up looking something like this by the time Libaration Day comes around on March 26!

What the hand belongs to

Meanwhile, I gather that in Israel during the week I’ve been away that gatherings of over 100 persons are forbidden, which means that musicians and the like are effectively without jobs until the powers-that-be decided otherwise.  If I understand things correctly, that means that the opening of the Knesset, for which we had elections last week will have to be postponed (I wonder whether there might have been some political connection between this decision and the fact that there are 120 Knesset members — and oh, yes, the Prime Minister’s trial is due to open next Tuesday in Jerusalem but I wouldn’t be willing to bet that there won’t be a Corona-related justification for postponing that as well.

Meanwhile, spring had arrived (more or less) in Tel Aviv before I left …

Spring has arrived

…and there are many signs that it is on the way in London as well.

Spring on the way, Primrose Hill

Springtie in Belsize

Magnolias in Belsize

Meanwhile, Primrose Hill on a clear March day is as pretty as ever.  It’s not often I visit this place in the afternoon but it was absolutely stupendous yesterday.

Primrose Hill, afternoon

Trees, Primrose Hill, afternoon

At Primrose Hill, London NW3

Squirrel — Jump

Squirrels abound in Belsize Park, London

And when I had completed what I came to do, I went into town one day to spend an hour at the exhibition of portraits by David Hockney at the National Portrait Gallery.  En route there and from, people in the streets with masks (all those I spied seemed to hail from East Asia)

Mask 1


And this time around, the number of homeless (mostly) men on the streets seemed to be even more than I’d become used to over the years.

HomelessnessHomelessness 1

Oh, and as usual, the Hockney exhibition was amazing.  His portraits, including many self-portraits done over the past 70 years, were incredible, especially those drawn on his iPad.


See you all next week after a week’s fermentation!