Autumn in London and all that

Autumn colours, Primrose Hill. NW3 (1) —  October 2020

I’ve been in London now for just under five weeks.  Actually, it net terms, it’s just half of that as the first 17 days were spent in splendid isolation—a fortnight—which was reinforced by three additional days spent inside during which the rain was so heavy that even going out for a a few minutes to buy a newspaper resulted in a through drenching.

I have more or less ceased to watch the news on TV.  Covid, Covid-19, Coronavirus, lockdown, self-isolation, fines, closure of pubs, clubs and gyms.  That’s it.  Each five minutes there’s someone with a new story, two people with differing opinions, four people who start new rumours and the like.  Every now and then, there’s another story to take one’s mind off the effects of the deadly virus for a day or so.  There was a story last week about an unfortunate history teacher in Paris who was beheaded by an individual apparently influenced by the social media rantings of the father one of the hapless decapitee’s pupils, who was incensed that in a civics class, the teacher had the audacity to show his pupils cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.  The deranged headhunter obviously decided that decapitation was the surest way to exact revenge. Well, at least it took our minds off the main news of the day, which has been the same for the past eight months.

So, if you don’t watch news on TV, what do you do?  Well, you can be entertained by documentaries and things like that.  A friend, who shall remained unnamed, suggested that I might like to watch “The Trump Show”, a documentary on BBC2.  Actually, she didn’t actually suggest that I watch it; she just told me that she had binged on the first two episodes so I thought I’d give it a try.  My goodness! I thought I understood that things were pretty bad and mad in the White House but if this is anything to go by, it’s beyond imagination.  Trump is depicted as a Mafia godfather (but American, first, you understand) who lives in Bedlam (there is such a place, officially Bethlem Royal Hospital, a.k.a. St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlehem Hospital) and it is a psychiatric hospital in London. Its famous history has inspired several horror books as well as the current White House).  In this madhouse, the present occupant, the President of the United States, runs a theatre of the absurd for the “outmates”, several tens of millions of Twitter followers (also commonly known as twits) who believe his every word—religiously.  To say that it was shocking would be the grossest of gross understatements!

Meanwhile, back to Covid-19 for it is what takes up so much of our time.  There is an interesting drama playing itself out here in the UK, which was resolved yesterday, in which the Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson and his chief enforcer, Mr. Gove, seem to have decided that Greater Manchester should be “elevated” (or demoted) to Tier Three, in other words that the restrictions of movement, on exercising, on drinking and all that should be tightened.  This is where Liverpool already is and includes no mixing indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens, no more than six people together in outdoor public spaces like parks, pubs and bars not serving food will remain closed and no travel will be allowed onto or out of the area.  Tough indeed.  Mr. Johnson says he doesn’t want a countrywide lockdown but that’s the way he seems to be moving, albeit piecemeal.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Mr. Andy Burnham, who had been the Secretary of State for Health about a decade ago, was and perhaps still is holding out for more cash from central government.  But if I heard him correctly on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, he seemed to be saying that there was no need for Manchester to be downgraded to “Tier Three” as Intensive Care wards in hospitals were not overcrowded and the increase in the number new cases was related to the return of students the universities, most of whom, should they contract the virus will hardly need hospital treatment.  However, Messrs. Johnson & Gove seemed to disagree but if they want that Greater Manchester be locked down, Mr. Burnham wants better compensation for lower paid workers.  (I had lunch with Mr. Gove once and he seemed a decent chap but now I’m not so sure.)  Anyway, as Tuesday progressed, Mr. Johnson used his prime ministerial prerogative and placed Manchester where he wanted it to be.

Israel has slowly started to emerge from its second lockdown, with kindergartens and creches opening and Grades 1-4 following, hopefully, in a fortnight.  The Prime Minister, as is his wont, has been patting himself on his shoulders for the success of the second lockdown, at least as compared with the earlier one.  Of course, the fact that he was responsible for overseeing the emergence from the first lockdown seems to have been forgotten and he has taken to blaming the Opposition for not doing enough to support the government in its current effort.  The fact that the “Independent sector” of he educational system (the Strictly Orthodox) opened their schools and study seminaries in contradiction to the rules laid down by the government and the Ministry of Health seems not to be on his mind. It’s actually scandalous.  It’s beginning to look like the Prime Minister’s shine has been badly tarnished this time and that the shots are being called by a 92-year old rabbi who is ill with COVID-19, deaf, and needs nursing care rather than the 70-year old Prime Minister for whom there is no alternative.  What a mess!

Enough!  Time for some photographs.

The Northern Line at Leicester Square Station at 10.20 a.m.

I eventually managed to get out and about, taking myself to the Tate Modern, a space that always amazes me, to see one of their current exhibitions, pictures by Andy Warhol.  I had asked a friend the pervious week what was the best way to get out and about in London during these times in which, as Seán O’Casey’s Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock put it, “The world is in a terrible state of chassis”.  I had been using the rental company Uber for short trips but she told me that the buses are OK and that the Underground, if I were to travel outside of “rush hour”, would be fairly empty.  And so it turned out to be.  The train at 10 a.m. was sparsely populated with a group of masked passengers, some of them gloved, and by the time we had reached Leicester Square at 10.20, usually a fairly busy station even at that time, three or four passengers got off and none got on, so I decided I’d better take the photograph.  I was in two minds as to whether to request the one remaining passenger besides myself if she wouldn’t mind alighting at the next station so that I could make it a more dramatic picture but then I thought that that might be somehow misinterpreted so I left things as they were.

The Warhol exhibition at the Tate Modern was, to my uncultured mind, a disappointment.  But then, I suppose it was always going to be like that because how many cans of Campbell’s soup, Marilyn Monroes and Elvis Presleys can you see when you’ve seen them all before?

Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol (via SW)

But I’m always in awe of space at the Tate Modern, the Turbine Hall of what had been in the Bankside Power Station, providing space for the sorts of things that really don’t fit anywhere else.

As it was a nice day, after the Tate, I decided to walk past St. Paul’s Cathedral, along Ludgate Hill to The Strand and Aldwych, familiar from a sabbatical stay at LSE 35 years ago where I caught the 168 bus home.  The walk had started at the Tate and then across the Millennium Bridge to the cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge (formerly the Wobbly Bridge — until it was fixed). October 2020

My second venture to something “cultural” was an early morning visit to the National Gallery on Monday, which featured an exhibition of works by Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter of the early 17th century, now considered one of the most accomplished artists of her time, initially working in the style of Caravaggio. Many of her paintings feature women from myths, allegories, and the Bible, including victims, suicides, and warriors.  They’re subjects that we’ve all become familiar with but in her paintings, painted from a woman’s point of view, they are nothing short of stunning (and most of the canvasses are large), and many of them pretty gory, too.

There are several self-portraits that I couldn’t take my eyes off…


Artemisia as a lute player

… and there was one, in particular, Judith and her Maindservant from 1625, on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts, in which the lighting was so stupendous that I just stood and stared at it for several minutes before moving on.  But this being Coronatimes, when I asked if I could back into the room in which it hung (two rooms back) to view it again, I was informed that because the gallery was operating a one-way system and that viewers/visitors were admitted in quarter-hour slots, if I wanted to see it again, I would have to exit and rejoin the line of others who wished to view the paintings a second time.  Fifteen minutes later, I was back in and it was worth it!


Judith and her Maidservant. The National Gallery Exhibition, October 2020

Exiting the gallery and making my way towards Haymarket, I passed a building (below) that I’d never noticed before.  I waited and waited but Borat never appeared!

Waiting for Borat. Pall Mall East

Walking along Regent Street and Oxford Street was an eye-opener.  Many shops closed, including cafés; several boarded up and not looking as if they’re about re-open soon.  The streets themselves if not exactly bereft of people were pretty empty.  Oxford Street at midday, even on a Monday in October, usually involves a shuffle because of the density of the pedestrians; this time around, the shuffle was caused because of the shuffler’s age.

HMV, Oxford Street. Once a magnet for me. Now the voice has been silenced, not just hoarse! October 2020

Walking around the neighbourhood and surrounding areas, it’s possible to feel the effects of Coronavirus, lockdowns and other restrictions.  Its affects almost everybody and everything.

This sunflower is feeling the worse for wear after a difficult past few months.

Nevertheless, the trees on Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill and everywhere close by seem to be doing their “autumn thing”.

Autumn colours, Primrose Hill. NW3 (2) —  October 2020    

 And while doing some local shopping and waiting for a bus, just as I was about to board it, phone and shopping bag in hand, I managed to photograph this advertisement on the side of the bus stop.  I thought I’d seen some interesting signs over the years but this one (the quality of the picture is somewhat lacking) made me laugh out loud.  (I don’t know what the bus driver thought of me!).  And I have arthritis in my thumbs!

I sent the picture to a friend in the USA who is familiar with London and within five minutes he responded with: “Don’t you know the “Shit London” picture books?” and I had to admit that I didn’t.  So, off to check on Amazon, which resulted in yet another purchase!  In addition to being two books, “Shit London” is also a Facebook group, described by its founder as containing “photographs of the unintentional human comedy that surrounds us in the city. It’s the flotsam and jetsam of city life, the overlooked minutiae, the tragic, the grotesque, and the basest of base. It’s the adapted posters, the dirty joke on the back of a van, the misspelled signs, the glory hole in the public loo, that weird shop down the end of your road, and the knob graffiti strategically placed for maximum effect”.

Watching TV the other say, I came across an interview with the actress (or, as you’re supposed to say these days, the actor) Maureen Lipman.  Asked by the interviewer, Mark Lawson, about “being single again after a happy marriage”, i.e. about how she felt after the death of her husband, Jack Rosenthal, she responded with:  “Being a widow, you are a refugee in a strange country where you don’t know the rules.  People tell you how to … Oh, you’ll be angry for three months and then you be depressed for four … oh, you know … it’s balderdash … you will be as you are.”.  Well three months have passed by already and to my mind, Maureen’s description is about right.  I can’t believe where the time has gone.  It seems both like only yesterday and also a long time ago simultaneously.  But “you will be as you are” seems to be more or less it.

As an extra, I’ve included the Introduction to a “memory book” that I’ve been writing on and off for the past 10 months.  It’s more or less complete except for a final proofreading.  I suppose that as I wrote it mainly for myself and my children and grandchildren, I can’t really imagine that a commercial publisher would be interested in it and I don’t think I have the patience to do the rounds of publishers trying to find out.  I had thought of putting up an single chapter with each blog post over the next few months and I still might but on second thoughts, if you read this and feel like you’d like to read the whole lot, drop me a line and I’ll send you a PDF of what there is.

Book Introduction for Blog



Lockdown, lockup, lock-in, lockout!

Lockdown, lockup, lock-in, lockout.

I’m really fed up watching the news. Covid, Covid, Covid; sometimes they use a more complete version of the name of the disease COVID-19; sometimes, they refer to coronavirus or to use its full name: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, SARS-coV-2.

The past week saw a lot of Donald Trump in and out of hospital, telling the American people that they’ve got it licked, that America has the best medicine and the best treatments in the world (a wonderfully sympathetic statement to make to American citizens who can’t afford even basic medical treatment), that he was leaving hospital and returning to the White House, which has a rather diminished staff of loyal devotees because of COVID-19, a place into which even several erstwhile supporters of the president hesitate or refuse to visit. The highlight of his week in and out of hospital was his appearance on the balcony of the White House where he scornfully ripped off his mask, stuffing it in his pocket, and then appeared to struggle for breath. By the end of the week, however, he had declared himself fit as a fiddle and ready again for the road to read his MAGA gospel to the unswerving, unwavering, adulatory  adherents. Yippee!  Stay positive, Mr. President!

Then, addressing a virtual gathering at a virtual Conservative party conference which was not in Birmingham or Manchester but probably somewhere in London, a rather thinner and more haggard looking than usual British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told his (apparently now somewhat less than) faithful followers: “… I don’t know about you but I have had more than enough of this disease that attacks not only human beings but so many of the greatest things about our country—our pubs, our clubs, our football, our theatre and all the gossipy gregariousness, our love of human contact that drives the creativity of our economy”.  It’s well worth noting the order of things important to the Brits as expressed by Boris: (a) pubs, (b) clubs, (c) football, &c. Local government leaders are unhappy that they have not been consulted or informed about decisions made regarding the parts of the country for which they are responsible and lots of people seem to think that they are being picked upon as further restrictions on activities and movement are due to be announced.

Meanwhile, I try to keep up with what’s happening in Israel by listening to five or six minutes of news in the morning. There the problem is not pubs and clubs and football but how to keep people from annoying the Prime Minister by demonstrating outside his front doors in Jerusalem and Caesarea. The way he attempted to effect this was by calling a lockdown throughout the whole country from the day after I left Israel three weeks ago and which is still in place. Movement of people is restricted to a distance of 1 km from their houses and a further attempt was made to restrict the distance to 200 m but failed. But all this political manoeuvring managed to do was to disperse the demonstrations against the Prime Minister from two or three major locations to almost every bridge and major junction throughout the whole country. In other words the demonstrations became localised and recruited many more people than had demonstrated before, thereby having the opposite effect to that which the Crime Minister and his dogsbodies had wanted.

At a local anti-Bibi demo, Ramat Aviv

I’ve been in London for just over three weeks now, the first two weeks of which was spent in self-isolation, which I can’t honestly say I enjoyed. In theory, I could have gone out on Friday 10 days ago when self-isolation ended but Friday and the following two days were days during which London received the average precipitation that falls during the whole of October so my release was delayed until Monday.

Succot, Day 1. London. Wet

Finally, I was able to emerge from quarantine and as is my wont when I eventually get to this part of the world, I walk around to Primrose Hill.  Mind you, it was still wet the morning after the rain ceased!

Still rather wet!  October 5, 2020


Primrose Hill, first outing 

The first week of quarantine was pretty miserable and although the weather was fine, I didn’t reckon that it was worth the risk of a fine of £1,000 should someone from UK Immigration bother to check up on me. (Friends who had returned from France a few weeks earlier had been contacted twice during their period of quarantine.)  It wasn’t altogether complete isolation.  I saw the grandchildren and their parents twice — in the garden behind the house, and Dov’s in-laws once, in the covered car park while a sheet of water came down from the heavens a couple of metres away.  I also saw my sister three times, twice outside and once when I convinced her that it was warmer in the living room.  And then there were the virtual conversations with family and friends—the conversations were real but there was a lack of face-to-face contact).

By the second week, I was getting used to things.  Anyway, there was “work” to be getting on with as I had planned to rewrite my memory book — Journeys of a journeyman geographer — (I suppose some people might call it a memoir although I think that that’s too grand a word to use for it.)  Anyway, that, at least the third draft has been completed except for final proofreading, although quite what I am going to do with this piece, I really have no idea.

Anyway, on Sunday. the sun came out again (in the morning, that was) and it was off for a walk around the perimeter of Primrose Hill again for a chat with my sister, who I’ve seen for just a couple of brief meetings since I arrived.

Primrose Hill in the autumn sun

Primrose Hill also presented us with its iconic vista over the City of London, Docklands and the West End …

… and by the time that the morrow dawned and the view was from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, not only had the angle changed but also the colours.

And one can’t help but notice the reminders to keep your distance all over the place — whether on buses to the Underground, in stations …

… and even in the public loo at South End Green, although quite what I’m being instructed to do here was unclear to me.  Am I supposed to aim from a distance or not spray sideways!?  And anyway, I only have two feet, not six!

And while I was out, I came across some interesting things.  For instance, this new-fangled way of refuelling seems to have become more common in the seven months I’d been absent from the city…

… and Transport for London has gone artistic with its logo on at least one station.

… and while I’ve been away and the family has been locked down in Tel Aviv, they’ve been honing their artistic skills there, too.

Abstract. Shuli Waterman, October 2020

And while I’ve been quarantined (i.e. holed up), I’ve had an opportunity to do something that I hadn’t done much of for several months—read.    Strangely, the first three books I chose were one by a forensic anthropologist and one by a forensic pathologist, and sandwiched in between them, a novel Black Sun, based on a true story that dealt with the attempt to develop a hydrogen bomb in the USSR six decades ago, a plan that was aborted — or at least altered — because the scientist directing the project feared that the power of the bomb might be so great and the nuclear reaction it might generate so strong that it had the potential to obliterate the world as a whole.  It was actually a gripping novel.

Currently, I’m reading Andrew Marr’s latest book Elizabethans.  Andrew Marr, for those of you who are unaware, is a British journalist and a television and radio presenter, and a former newspaper editor; he is, to mind, one of the better journalists around and is certainly extremely well informed and writes very well.  The book is brilliant and highly informative and entertaining; it’s a living history of the modern UK tracing how radically Britain and Britons have transformed through Elizabeth II’s reign from 1952(!) through to today.  It tells the story through the people who shaped it, each chapter based on an individual or individuals, and including such luminaries as actress Diana Dors and her friend the murderer Ruth Ellis, the poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, singers Elvis Costello and Bob Geldof, architect Zaha Hadid and inventor James Dyson, naturalist (and much more) David Attenborough and the Beatles.

There are several informative and some very amusing anecdotes.  One, in particular caught my eye yesterday evening as I was about halfway through the book, in the chapter that dealt with the diminution in size and effectiveness of the British armed forces and which centres around the character of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband, who fought hard to maintain the strength of the Royal Navy. It was a quote attributed to Sir Gerald Templer, then the Chief of the Imperial General Staff who was reported to have said to Mountbatten: “Dickie, you’re so bloody crooked that if you swallowed a nail you’d shit a corkscrew”.  I laughed out loud and thought as I read it that is was something that could be applied to so many politicians, present and past (and probably future as well)!


And finally, one photograph that doesn’t belong to the last couple of weeks but which I took about ten years ago in Jaffa but which I came across while looking through the collection for something that I eventually found.

Wide-angle photography, Jaffa