Salvation and sludge

In the front garden

I’ve been curious about what I hear and read about the state of our mental health during lockdown.  I’ve been in the UK now for almost nine weeks, just about the longest continuous period of time I’ve spent here in the past 15 years and of those 61 days, 35 have been spent either self-isolating or in lockdown, and there still 10 more days of current lockdown to go.  Moreover, the thought of a further fortnight of quarantine once I return to Tel Aviv, I find a little daunting, to say the least.

This morning, I looked out of the window as I sat at the computer and realised that I’ve been observing the seasons transmogrify from autumn at its most glorious to the beginnings of winter.  This notwithstanding, I found myself last week looking at a blank wall and uttering profanities in its direction but, unsurprisingly, there was no response.  I mentioned this to a friend and she said that people our age shouldn’t be talking to walls, that we should really be talking to ourselves.  So I gave that a try but it didn’t really work as the acknowledgements I was receiving in return sounded too much like those of an old cynic with whom I’ve been familiar for a long time and they didn’t really do anything to improve the state of my mental wellbeing.  They only convinced me that what I have always felt is, in many ways, true. The truth is that I’m not really going nuts but I sense a certain unease and frustration—with the situation in general and with politicians specifically.  (You’ll notice, if you bother to read on, that this week’s post has no mention of a Bibi, a Boris, a Trump or any other politicos who more often than not enter these diatribes!  Difficult to do but it happens on occasion.)

So I just grit my teeth and get on with it.

About three weeks ago, I had a phone call from someone who introduced himself as representing the North Central London Diabetic Eye Screening Programme.  I had never heard of such a programme before and I wondered why they decided to call me and then it dawned on me that a couple of hours prior to his call, I had a conversation with a nurse at the local NHS clinic to review the results of blood tests I had had a couple of weeks after arriving in London in which she told me that I was “pre-diabetic”, something I’d known for a few years.  The young man, who had seemed more than a trifle confused, offered me an appointment at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead a couple of days later and told me that I would receive a text message confirming the appointment.  No such message arrived on that day so the following morning I called the Ophthalmology Department at the Royal Free and left a voice message with all my details, asking whether or not I really did have an appointment.  No response was forthcoming by the morning of said appointment and a further attempt to establish contact failed and, the weather being what it was,  I decided that a 40-minute round trip walking in the rain to get to a clinic where I might or might not have an appointment wasn’t worth it.

Then, last week, I received what I can only describe as a reprimand, a letter which began “We made an appointment for you to have your diabetic eye screening  examination … and our records suggest that you did not attend.”  How British!  Their records didn’t suggest; they screamed out loud.  I don’t like being rebuked when I don’t think that I’m the one at fault, so I emailed them back informing them why I didn’t turn up and I called the following morning and relayed the same message verbally.  I was given a new appointment (which I did attend, last week) and was told again that I would receive a text message for confirmation.  When, after half an hour no such message had arrived, I called again to ask them to which number the text message had been sent and was told that it had been sent to the number from which I was calling but that they would send it again just in case.  I am now awaiting three text messages. Perhaps they got held up in lockdown. But to my surprise, I did receive another email in answer to my rather tart rejoinder to the “letter of rebuke” apologising for the mix-up!  So some things work.

At any rate, I went to the NHS clinic in Kentish Town and had the eye scan.  I don’t particularly like eye scans especially when a rather bright light is aimed straight at my eye so I wasn’t looking forward to it.  However, on this occasion, there was no bright light at which I had to stare.  Rather there was one flash of the brightest yellow light I’ve ever experienced which blinded me (once in each eye) for perhaps a second or two after which the technician, looking at her computer screen, told me that there didn’t seem to be any serious problem with my eyes, which was good to hear.

After that, I decided to walk from Kentish Town to Belsize Park along Prince of Wales Road, a street I’d often driven along but never walked, I passed the Church of Christ just before the junction of Castlehaven Road, and given my state of mind re lockdowns and quarantines, my eyes were attracted to the sign that appears below …

… and there, on the adjoining poster, was spelled out the five-stage strategy for attaining salvation.

I studied these carefully and came to the conclusion that as I age, I seem to be increasingly hard of hearing so Stage 1 might prove difficult.  I also found that Stage 2 might be awkward because again, as I age, I appear to believe less and less of less of what I read.  With regard to Stage 3, were I to be provided with an organised list, I might be able to tick off what might apply but as that’s unlikely to happen, so that went by the board as well.  Re Stage 4, the only thing to which I might confess is that I have a tendency towards cynicism.  Finally, I’m not quite sure how the creators of this message envisage this re-enactment taking place and anyway, I have a fear of water.

So having digested the message and come to the conclusion that this kind of salvation wasn’t really for me, I continued my walk along Prince of Wales Road and came across a rather handsome terraced block of flats.

Lockdown, however, doesn’t mean that I’m indoors 24/7.  The week before last, a walk along The Regents Canal with some friends yielded some satisfying photos.

One never quite knows what one is likely to see en route.  No sooner had we arrived than I saw an amateur acrobat strutting his stuff.  He was quite impressive if only because his body shape was not what one usually associates with acrobatics.  The first photo of the three is nothing much to write home about (not that I can manage myself) but my youngest grandchild does it each day as a matter of course.

His second movement was quite impressive and he held that position for several seconds.

However, it was the third exercise that had me stop and stare because he held that position for at least half a minute and, as I said, his overall  body shape didn’t seem to tally with what he had managed to accomplish.

And the pictures didn’t stop with just acrobatics but also contained some landscape photography!

The Regent’s Canal, Islington

Prior to the walk along the canal, we’d been to Newington Green to visit a public sculpture,the work of a British artist, Maggi Hambling, commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, a 19th century feminist writer and advocate and the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The sculpture, the culmination of a decade-long campaign, was unveiled on November 10 2020 and attracted a lot of media attention.  It is is sited opposite the Newington Green Unitarian Church that Wollstonecraft attended. The work is a representation of a naked female figure, emerging out of organic matter and was described by the BBC as “a swirling mingle of female forms”. Inscribed on the plinth is the quotation: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves”. The sculpture has been criticised for its depiction of nudity and objectification of the female form, something that several people considered inappropriate for representing a feminist figure but the artist noted that the figure in the work was not intended as a historical likeness of Wollstonecraft, saying that she felt that clothes would have restricted her as statues in historic costume seem as if they belong to history because of their clothes and it was crucial that she be considered relevant ‘now’.

Frankly, I don’t know what all the hoo-hah was about.  The naked lady is tiny and you have to have pretty good eyesight to view it.  I couldn’t see what there was to be offended about but then I couldn’t really appreciate it as a great piece of art.  Everyone to their own, it seems.

Walking back towards the car, I encountered something that looked as if it was an interesting happening.  The shop was shuttered and it seemed as if the gentleman wanted to get in but he hadn’t received permission.  I’m not sure what language he was speaking—perhaps Turkish—but there was a constant stream of words being injected into the letterbox, apparently with nil response from whomsoever was inside or whomsoever he thought might be inside.


And then, of course, there’s always Primrose Hill to offer its weekly complement of images!

Finally, Sunday afternoon brought 2½ hours of walking with the London grandchildren and their parents on Hampstead Heath.  They, being who they are, tend to shun the main footpaths  on the understanding that nothing could be more interesting and fun than strolling, slipping and sliding along little-used byways?  The operative words to describe this activity are “mud” and “fallen leaves” which were in superabundance.

I’ve never been a great fan of mud!  I was told that I must not use the word “hate”, so I just loathe it.


Fallen leaves, bare trees, and more mud

The activity started a little later than planned due to a misunderstanding regarding the meeting place and it seems that I misread the map of where we were supposed to meet up. After all, I’m (or I was) a geographer!  Fortunately, as I waited to be located, the weather was mild and the skies were more or less clear.

Waiting the arrival of family members on Hampstead Heath

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

However, one of the positive outcomes of this foray into ooze and sludge is that I was able to teach the other the chorus of The Hippopotamus Song, the Flanders and Swann hit from six decades ago.




America, vaccines and the end of autumn

It’s been an odd week.  Last Tuesday, Americans (at least, those who had not already voted in person or by mail) went to the polls to elect a new President or to re-elect the current one.  As I write the election is over and although it is clear that one candidate received more votes in more states than the other, the serving President refuses to concede that he lost the election.  He is bent upon spending what will probably amount to millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money (which, if we are to believe reports, a sum to which he contributed $750 last year) in attempting to prove that the election was “stolen” by votes that arrived late and which shouldn’t be counted at all.

If memory serves me correctly, we’ve been hearing claims like this from Mr. Trump for four years now.  In 2016. he was unable to admit to the fact that Hillary Clinton had received more votes than he had when the total votes cast had been tallied (not that the popular vote means anything under the American electoral system), claiming that several million votes had been cast by illegal immigrants to the United States. He also disputed the size of the crowds that had turned out in Washington to observe his inauguration, though there was no room for dispute there as counting heads is easy and when the media reported otherwise, it became “fake news”, one of the man’s favourite terms (it’s a phrase that’s easy to articulate because each of the two words contains only a single syllable) and the one he will probably be remembered by — along with “alternative facts”.

As the man has another 70 days to complete his term of office, the mind boggles at what chaos he might cause not only among government bureaucracy and not only to the United States  but to the world as a whole.  We can only hope that his finger isn’t touching the nuclear button when it becomes itchy or twitchy.

Anybody who runs for elected office (or dictators who get to the top without having to undergo the burden and barrier of something as demanding as an election) has to have a certain inflation of ego (that applies no only to those seeking high political office but also to those who run for lower echelon jobs like a department head of a faculty dean in a university.  But the 45th President of the United States brings whole new meaning to the word EGO to the point at which the


becomes totally detached from reality.  I mean that if things worked normally, all he would have to do is add an aitch to the word, insert a space and


would become


but that would be admitting the impossible, i.e., defeat, and thereby being labelled a “loser”, something which in Mr. Trump’s limited lexicon can only be applied to others.  So the world must suffer on for another two months and a bit.

The other story in the news to break from the tedium of Trump and Covid was the news that Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, died of complications arising from Covid-19 in an Israeli hospital, Hadassah Hospital, in Jerusalem.  Whereas this fact was hardly mentioned if at all in UK news broadcasts (Jerusalem was mentioned but not the fact that it is in Israel), it carried a certain irony.  Mr. Erekat was desrcibed as a negotiator who spent 25 years negotiating with Israel over recognition for Palestinian independence or self-government or call it what you will.  I’m not sure that either side, after the signing of the now defunct Oslo Accords, was actually negotiating anything.  More to the point these were exchanges of ideas between two sides that were suffering severe hearing defects.

The irony is that there has been a significant decline recently in the number of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians receiving treatment in Israeli hospitals, mainly because the Palestinian Authority ceased paying for their treatment, something which emerged from Erekat’s campaigns  against “normalisation” with Israel and for a boycott against it.  Yet when he became dangerously ill with Covid, he knew where he was most likely to the best medical care the region could offer, an opportunity that he cynically denied his own people.

Such is life, I suppose.

And then there’s Covid.  The good news, perhaps the only good news this week, has been the positive reaction to the announcement that a vaccine against the disease will possibly be ready early in 2021, if not earlier.  And by that time, there should be further vaccines available.

However, making plans with Covid around is like betting on a rank outsider in a horse race.  Originally, I was due to return to Israel at the end of October, but extended it by 17 days till next week.  Then to continue where I left off in the last post, at the beginning of last week, I received notification from British Airways, which read “You’re currently due to travel to Tel Aviv with us soon. Unfortunately, due to the UK Government’s national restrictions, your flight will soon be cancelled as we’re temporarily suspending our flights on this route.”  I called BA and was told that flights would only be suspended after November 11.  My attempts to book a flight on November 11, 10, or 9 were met with responses that the flights were full.  I called BA again only to be told after half an hour’s conversation with a very pleasant man called Krishna that I could only rebook after the flight had ACTUALLY been cancelled.  Checking my email the following day, there was no notification of anything from BA but when I went to manage my booking online, I discovered that the flight had ACTUALLY been cancelled.  So I rebooked yet again for a couple of days after Boris J promised the British people that lockdown would hopefully end.  However, with today’s news that Covid deaths in the UK had risen to over 50,000, I’m not sure about that.

Meanwhile, I hear from Israeli friends that the government there is considering a further (third) lockdown to coincide with Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which could easily be renamed this year, the Festival of Murk and Darkness.  On hearing that news, I made a rough calculation.  Since March 13, when I last landed in Israel, I’ve done 14 days’ self-isolation, followed by 1 month of lockdown.  Then arriving back here, 17 days of self-isolation (14 days official + 3 days of rain stopped play) and now another 28 days, perhaps followed by another 14 days of self-isolation and possible lockdown again.  More than 90 days locked up or down or in and I haven’t even committed a crime!  Nor, having spent so much time with myself, can I claim to have gotten to know myself any better.

When we lived in London 35 years ago, I used to be amused by the announcements on the radio that this railway line or another was out of action for that particular day because of “leaves on the line”.  Walking around the neighbourhood these days, I understand better why this was a real problem and not at all funny!

The beginning of the week contained one beautiful misty morning, though not quite as ethereal as the one Facebook reminded me of last week, which contained photos shot on November 5 2015 and which I subsequently shared once more on Facebook

Still, I couldn’t help being struck by the changes in the trees on Primrose Hill in the few weeks I’ve been here, especially in the last three weeks.

As to the clump of six trees that draws me towards them each time I’m there, I now think that I’ve photographed them at all times of the day, in all sorts of light and in every weather condition — except snow.  And given the way that this stay in London might be going, I might well succeed in that endeavour this year!

Autumn is truly giving way to winter and the trees shed their leaves ever more rapidly …

… and in other cases where they’ve helped on their way by the tree surgeons, as this amputree amply and aptly demonstrates.

The inevitable squirrels are busily looking for food to tide them over the winter although in Regent’s Park, they needn’t worry as the humans provide them with so much of what they want that they don’t have to worry too much about winter.

Lockdown there may well be but some of the lamps can still get together to party and have a good time while nobody else is looking …

Meeting people from outside your [lockdown] bubble is only permissible these days if you meet outside in a public space, so on Sunday, my sister and I met up for a real live chat instead of the almost daily virtual one.  This time, we met in Regent’s Park, one of the Royal Parks that is like an oasis in an urban desert.  Even in the bleakest of seasons it tends to look immaculate.  And the photograph below indicates that it’s almost time for a face-lift again, providing the park’s armies of gardeners with work — that goes on the year round.

And it may well have been November but last Sunday was mild (I was overdressed) but at least one person the park thought it was summer …

Looking out the window the following day, I was struck by the cloud formation which I thought deserved a photo all of its own, reminding me that although most photos are taken at eye level you also have constantly to keep your eyes open and look upward and downward.

And while in Regent’s Park, older men do what older men have to do, more frequently than I seem to remember in the past.  Entering the loo, I was reminded of a piece of advice I was given some years ago by someone exiting exactly the same public toilet.  There’s a charge of 20p to get in through the gate and (a) as I didn’t have 20p on me at that time (it doesn’t give change and couldn’t use a credit card and (b) I thought 20p for one pee was an exorbitant rate of exchange, I was in a quandary.  But the same gate that opens with the insertion of a 20p coin opens automatically for someone leaving, so my loo advisor just said to me that I should wave my scarf or coat or tee-shirt across the back of the gate and lo and behold, it opened.  And what worked some years ago also worked in 2020 as I removed my camera from around my neck and swung it back and forth to open the gate.

When I succeeded in doing what must be done, I noticed the social distancing instruction that appeared on every second urinal.  From the notice, was I to understand that if I were spray neither to my right nor to my left but aimed straight ahead, then I would be preventing the spread of coronavirus.  Really?  Seems rather like the power or prayer, perhaps!

Finally, while walking home, I espied this welcome sign.  I think the dog isn’t too sure about welcoming visitors and somehow it reminded me of the welcome that Biden might be receiving from his predecessor at the White House on January 20.


It’s all in the timing


I’ve been in London for six weeks now and that was my original plan.  Then, about 10 days ago, having endured 14 days of self-isolation/quarantine in an enclosed space, with an additional three days of the same due to the fact that London received its October average rainfall over three days, the total length of my confinement was 17 days after which time I started seeing family and friends and getting out and about. Then about 10 days ago, I realised that I’d been here over a month but in real terms, it was only half that length because of my Covid-imposed incarceration.  I wasn’t looking forward to returning to Tel Aviv to spend another 14 days locked up so soon after just ending the previous one so I did something I don’t like doing and I changed my plans and my ticket by 17 days, expecting to return on November 17.

Watching news on TV (I’m not obsessed by 24/7 TV news but I watch over breakfast for about 15 minutes and do another 5 minutes towards evening and usually discover that nothing much has happened during the day).  Most of the time, it’s Covid this, and Covid that and nothing else, which leads to a glut of information which tends to confuse and/or depress most people.  Occasionally, there’s something to divert the attention elsewhere, such as an event that will take place in the United States on Tuesday, but which has been in operation already for several weeks as people cast their ballots early or send them by mail, in the faint hope that they might reach the right place by the right time.  Listening to the newsreaders regale the election rallies staged by that theatrical monster, Donald Trump, is as dispiriting as hearing dispatches about Covid.   Another beheading in France in the name of God, of course, several stabbings and shootings (in the name of God, again), a Turkish president whose egomania seems to know no bounds, and yes, Liverpool is top of the Premier League again.   Oh, and Seán Connery is no longer.

Yesterday, however, it seemed to me that timing is of the essence and that my timing had been a little out or a little off tis time round, for the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, appeared on television around 7 p.m. to announce that England would go into a month’s lockdown on Thursday, November 5, ending on December 2.  His sidekick, Michael Gove, is reported to have said that it may go on for longer than this.  (I might add that the devolved regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland came to the conclusion that something was amiss a little earlier suggesting that Boris & Co. were somewhat remiss.  The governments of several European countries seemed to be ahead of the game as well.)  November 5 in England is Guy Fawkes’ Night (or Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night), and this year, it might act as an excuse to burn the whole place down.  Who knows?

Anyway, flanked by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, they reported that the rise in new cases of Coronavirus in England was exponential and if nothing was done immediately, England might experience 4,000 deaths a day in December whereas their reasonable worst case scenario for the winter had previously predicted a maximum of around 800 deaths a day.   All this moroseness was pretty glum news but being human, I started asking myself where this left me personally.

Things are quite unclear, though and the Sunday papers are reporting all sorts of things.  If I stay here, I am considered a single-person household and as I understand it, I am part of an “exclusive” support bubble, which allows a single-person household to meet and socialise with another household, i.e., my son and daughter-in-law (I hope).  However, I am also allowed to meet one other person outside for “recreation” as well as exercise.  But more to the point, I am concerned that my flight on November 17 might be cancelled as the report also stated that “most outbound international travel will be banned”.

However, trying to get information out of British Airways at this stage is impossible as they don’t seem to know anything yet, a recorded message stating that if my flight is cancelled, I will receive due notification and will be able to rebook.

Meanwhile, time appears to be completely screwed up.

I’m usually loth to change plans once made and I’ve already made an exception to that rule once already.  However, it seems to me that at the moment, there are three options open to me.  One would be to try and find a flight to Tel Aviv before lockdown starts in the UK in four days’ time, meaning that if I append 14 days of self-isolation in Tel Aviv, I might be able to emerge into the world again by mid-November.  The second option is to wait out until the end of lockdown in London and then travel back.  The third option is to wait and see whether British Airways will still be flying in a fortnight’s time and travel as (re)planned, becoming liberated at the beginning of December, which is possibly what would happen if I stayed here in London.

Dilemma; Uncertainty; Quandary.


Walking around, autumn is still very much in the air although evenings tell us that “Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm” …

Autumn colours. Hampstead Garden Suburb

… yet it struck me the other day how easy it must have been four years ago for the Brits to “Vote Leave”, for in this season, they “Vote Leaves” every year.


And I’m not the only one out walking and looking at leaves.

A morning stroll on Hampstead Heath

And every now and then, you come across something a little different, unrelated to Covid or autumn.

A working spinster. Parkhill Road, Belsize Park

Out with friends at the beginning of the week, we agreed to meet outdoors near Primrose Hill and perambulate around the perimeters of the park and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the clump of the half dozen trees that I had photographed so many times before.…

… from there, it was just a short climb to the top of the hill. I usually do this walk (to the top of Primrose Hill) in the mornings but on tis particular afternoon, the sun was shining and the visibility was excellent, the light was perfect.  One hardly ever sees it like this.  So, one photo did the trick.

A few days later, I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath.  It was cold and windy but there was still light around and I managed one picture that I think isn’t bad.

The day following Primrose Hill, I went with another friend to the British Museum to view the exhibition: Arctic: Culture and Climate, which was fascinating — but not a place for Jews to live, I fear.  Caribou and reindeer might well have cloven hooves and thus be candidates as food, but the indigenous peoples live on the basis of “Waste not, want not”, so by the time they had used all these animals for food and clothing — and as far as I could see, nothing is wasted, there would be nothing left for the shochet, a person certified by a rabbi or Jewish court of law to slaughter animals for food in the manner prescribed by Jewish law, to do.  And obviously, as seals and walruses and such like don’t have cloven hooves, they’re not part of the equation at all.  As for vegetarians, there didn’t seem to be much vegetation around, so they would go hungry, too.  And, were observant Jews to visit the Arctic, arriving late on a Friday, some time in late autumn, they might find themselves having to observe a sabbath that lasted until spring!

After the exhibition, I had time to sit in the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court at the museum, the largest covered public square in Europe.  I’ve done this several times before, fascinated by the triangles and hexagons and diamond shapes that are visible.  As my mind wandered a little, I started to wonder what I could do with this — nothing particularly original, of course …

… so I first removed the colour so that I had a  black and white image …

… and then I transferred it to Photoshop, something that I rarely do, played around with for a while and got what I felt was a pleasing result.

Waiting for a bus home in the rain, I noticed an updated version of a London taxi, though who would want a ride on one of these eco-friendly cabs on a rainy day is a bit beyond me.

And, of course, I am in a land in which Halloween is celebrated, except that this year, the celebration was rather muted and the “trick or treating” non-existent although there did seem to be considerable noise in the garden behind the building.

Meanwhile, from Israel, in the absence of concerts, Shuli decided to bring her viola to the luthier for a cleaning.  It looks good.  I hope that when I get to be 421 years old, I’ll look as well as this!

Photo: Adam Korman