Whistling, Masking, and Whiskies

I apologise for the long gap between the last post and this but one has to be in the mood and one has to have something to say!

Last week, I met up with a friend from Tel Aviv and who was visiting London, in one of Britain’s longest shopping arcades, the Burlington Arcade, which stretches 180 metres from Piccadilly in the south to Burlington Gardens in the north, before we ended up for coffee in the forecourt of the Royal Academy of Arts. Burlington Arcade was built in early in the 19th century at the request of one, Lord George Cavendish, a relative of the Dukes of Devonshire, a person later elevated to the peerage as the Earl of Burlington, hence the arcade’s name, in order that his wife could shop safely amongst other refined and respectable ladies and gentlemen of the day, away from the busy, dirty, and crime-ridden open streets of London.

From the perspective of 2021, it seemed to me and notwithstanding the shoeshiner that Burlington Arcade had lost some of its gentility and had moved somewhat downmarket, noted by the construction of a glass tunnel halfway down. This being England, there are several old rules one must abide by when one visits the arcade, as they are still enforced. Running or even fast-paced walking as well as riding bicycles, opening umbrellas or behaving boisterously are forbidden and, moreover, in the Burlington Arcade, humming, whistling, singing are prohibited, too, as I discovered to my detriment many years ago (I was whistling a happy tune).  The singing and whistling are banned because of the role that prostitution played in the arcade’s history. Apparently, its upper floors were often used as brothels occasionally (usually?) frequented by “respectable” gentlemen and as it wouldn’t do to be caught there, prostitutes and pimps used songs and whistling as signals that the police were about, the prostitutes also using such signals to warn pickpockets below when they might be spotted.

And while waiting until my friend had completed a discussion with her daughter about the suitability of a pair of shoes she had seen, I waited outside in the arcade looking at mens’ shoes for sale a couple of shops away.  I was so staggered by the prices, ranging from £400 to over £500 for a pair that I decided to take a photo. I think I might have been prepared to lay out as an absolute maximum a third of those prices for a pair of footwear — but no more than that.  Actually, what I was thinking as I stared at them was they looked distinctly like what my late father used to make by hand many years ago and what he might have missed out on when we moved to Dublin 70 years ago had he continued to practise what he excelled at, i.e. making upmarket shoes.

And while I was looking at the shoes, I felt a tap on my left shoulder and as I turned around, I saw an elderly man (he was probably younger than I am) who asked me in heavily Israeli-accented English if I was from Israel.  My response, in Hebrew, was my usual one — “from Tel Aviv, Dublin, London — it all depends on from where you start to count.  Take your pick!”  And then I asked him what made him ask that question to which he responded that it was because I was wearing a mask for as far as he was concerned, the only people in London wearing masks were Israelis!  I thought that he might have a point there but hearing Hebrew spoken on and off over the past few days, I think that he might have been in error.

However, the previous day, I had been to an NHS clinic in Kentish Town finally to have my annual flu shot (in my right arm) an to receive the Covid booster shot (into my left arm) and after the obligatory 15-minute wait following the injections, and on my way home, I noticed the sign below, which sort of summed up the whole situation re dealing with Covid in England.

And while on the subject of notices, friends out for a walk today in a park in Ilford in NE London sent me two photographs that they thought might interest me — and they did.



Exiting the Royal Academy on to Piccadilly, one couldn’t help but be reminded of the inequalities in British society that the Prime Minister insists that he is adamant they be “levelled up”.

Earlier this week, I finished reading Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain by Pen Vogler, which was published a year ago and which has just come out in paperback. It was a fascinating read and deals with the histories of everything from napkins (serviettes?)  to fish knives, gravy (sauce?)  to tripe (which I omitted to read but I will get back to it eventually to see if I might have been missing something in life.  Ms. Vogler asks such questions as how can it be that a foodstuff can signal sophistication in one age, and the complete opposite in another? And how does this connect to social class (with which England is rife), to geography, and even to gender? As an example, she notes that bread and butter has almost disappeared from the tables, at least as something in its own right and that a hungry manual worker today takes carbohydrates in several alternative forms. Or, she asks, If a someone today admitted to love pease pudding, would it suggest they had roots are in the north-east of England or could just as easily be a trendy youth who likes to eat way-out things?  It wouldn’t necessarily mean as it might have done once, that they are poor (as in the nursery rhyme, “pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot nine days old”) which might have indicated some food to be stretched out over a week or more.  What stands out in this book, as much as anything else is the breadth and depth of the author’s reading, her ability to impart information on the meaning and origins of certain dishes and foodstuffs and her ability to make political comments without necessarily offending anyone. Super book.

And then, last weekend, I read a review of a new book in the Financial Times Weekend, written by Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid, a historian specialising in urban terrorism, at the University of Sheffield.  The book is We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 by Fintan O’Toole, a longish tome of 624 pages.  In my ignorance, I had never heard of Fintan O’Toole let alone read anything by him but then again, I haven’t read the Irish Times since 1969 and Mr. O’Toole, among his many accomplishments, is the deputy editor of that paper and has been a regular columnist for many years but reading  the review was sufficient to whet my appetite.  She (the reviewer) writes “This is not a memoir in any conventional sense, yet in the first half we encounter O’Toole as a Zelig-like figure with an amusingly personal chain of connections to the great events and characters — from serving as altar boy to the imperious and omnipotent John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, to a chance meeting with the composer Seán Ó Riada whose Cór Cúil Aodha choir revolutionised Irish music. …There are villains, for sure: the avarice of Haughey is almost incredible, while he castigated the Irish for “living beyond our means”. The Catholic hierarchy that moved abusive priests from parish to parish. Bishop Casey, who fathered a child, embezzled diocesan money for his son’s upkeep, and fled the country. The brazen bankers and useless regulators.”

So I searched for the book on Amazon (where else?) and downloaded a sample and after reading the first chapter, the whole book.  What attracted me to the book, I suppose, was that although our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different and I’m 15 years older, I learned that we grew up a couple of kilometres from one another.  “The end of our garden was a grey pebble-dashed wall about fifteen feet high. It was the boundary of Dolphin’s Barn Jewish Cemetery. From my grandfather’s bedroom, which became mine after he died, you could look over almost the whole cemetery. It was also the view from the upper floor of the primary school at the end of the road and, when the secondary school was built in 1969, from those classrooms, too. Half of it, the part next to my primary school, was densely packed with gravestones, some standing upright in what we regarded as the proper Christian manner, but most set out in symmetrical rows of stone memorial slabs, laid flat and level, so that the dead seemed to repose all the more serenely. The other half was empty, just well-cut grass and a line of half a dozen neatly trimmed cedar trees, its unused expanse indicating a community too small to fill its own resting place.”  The cemetery, of course, is where my parents and most of my relatives of that generation and some of those of my own, are buried.

I’m halfway through the book and it’s unputdownable (except that I have put it down to write this post).  It’s extremely well-written and composed with just about the right level of anger, disgust and cynicism to appeal to someone like myself.  But most of all, notwithstanding the age gap between me and the author, he’s describing events and places that I haven’t thought about for years and in such a way that I can remember exactly where I was at the time the events happened, whether it be the destruction of Nelson Pillar on O’Connell Street, an IRA bombing in Sackville Place where I had passed less than 24 hours previously, or a description that reads “[s]hortly after eleven o’clock on the night of 8 December 1962, about sixty young men and women crushed around the door of the police station on College Street in the centre of Dublin city. Many of them pushed inside and ‘began a systematic search under the tables, chairs and benches’. They claimed there were leprechauns in the station and ‘they just had to find them’. They had been convinced of their existence by a French hypnotist, Paul Goldin, whose show was playing at the nearby Olympia Theatre. The grand climax to his arduous performance came when he seemingly convinced his “pupils” that they had each just lost a leprechaun and as the curtain came down a group of docile young folk suddenly erupted into a wild scramble around the theatre searching for their lost leprechauns.

I’m not sure that I was there that specific night but I certainly did see Mr. Goldin’s show (Goldin wasn’t a “French hypnotist” as Mr. O’Toole describes him but an East End London Jew).  I must have been to see the show twice because I went up on the stage as a “volunteer” to see how Mr. Goldin chose his “victims” and there were those who obviously wished to be hypnotised and those skeptics like me (I was young and innocent then had not yet mutated from skeptic to cynic) who had no interest whatsoever in falling under his spell.  Moreover, it was easy, as I looked around, to ascertain who was which — and if it was easy for me, it must have been child’s play for the showman himself.  As to the young people “searching for their lost leprechauns”, I can only testify that one of those I saw on the night I was there had been in my class at school and was at the top of lamppost looking for his little leprechaun—and if there’s anyone out there from those days reading his and who wants to know who the fairy searcher was, write to me privately and I will divulge!


What else is news?  Well, I had the privilege of attending a concert at Wigmore Hall a couple of weeks ago given by the French Ébène Quartet.  I’ve been listening to string quartets (as well as other ensembles and soloists) at Wigmore Hall for over 35 years and I’ve heard most of the current (and some of the older) quartets but I’ve never heard a sound like the one I heard that evening.  I thought from the volume of the applause at the end that the walls of the venerable hall might collapse. They are, as my daughter informed me when she asked me if I enjoyed the concert, simply “the tops”.

I passed the notice below on a bus stop on Haverstock Hill there other day.  I looked at the price and remembered the last time I participated in an evening like that, at an Institute of British Geographers annual conference in Edinburgh many years ago.  I paid £2.50 and then listened to an interesting lecture given by a member of the Edinburgh’s Faculty of Engineering, which lasted about 45 minutes.  However, the organisers made the mistake of opening the whiskies to be tasted after about 20 minutes and pouring them into small glasses and suddenly the smell of Scotch began to waft through the air in the lecture hall causing the (mostly male) audience to become overly restless and fidgety in their seats.  When the talk ended, the rush to the back of the hall was immediate as 200 or so would-be tasters struggled to taste in the correct sequence from light to dark single malts—the glasses were very small!

Today, notwithstanding Brexit, much of the world put the clock back an hour as summer officially came to a close as Daylight Savings Time ended.  Autumn has well and truly arrived as today’s rain and gales have proven.  It can be picturesque, as the image below taken on Hampstead Heath illustrates …

… but at the same time, it can be messy as you scrunch your way up the street through piles of dead leaves

My 10-year old granddaughter has become a Rubik Cube maven, the “cubes” now coming in various shapes and sizes.  She studies, as she puts it, “the algorithm” from a YouTube video and then learns the sequences.  Current record to complete the task — under 90 seconds.

Finally, travelling on the Tube, one never quite knows what one’s going to see.  Last week, I found this sitting opposite me.  What she was recording, I haven’t a clue.  Perhaps my heartbeat?  My breathing pattern?  My rumbling tummy?  She stayed on the train for one stop and then marched off to record others.

    … and while on the Tube, other things appear.  As I said earlier in this post, this is England, so one can expect almost anything …

… and I didn’t have time to check whether the dog wanted to be a tap dancer or ballet dancer.

Finally, a scene of the City of London as photographed from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath.

City of London from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath. October 2021


Cloaks, Clocks and Fossils


Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, from The Tate Modern

As I’ve written more than once or twice before, I try to avoid listening to the news more than is absolutely necessary, i.e. more than few minutes in the morning, which consists of 4 minutes, usually around 06.00 hrs when I listen to a bulletin from Israel and when I have a breakfast any time between 06.30 and 07.00, on BBC TV.  Most of the time it’s rubbish, sometimes it conveys items of some importance and at other times things that are just piquant enough to keep ratings up.  However, over the past three days, the item that has attracted most attention here has been the murder of David Amess, a Member of Parliament of 38 years standing and a man whose name I had never heard until Friday.  From what I could gather from the interviews with people of very different political persuasions, he was a man with rather right-wing political views who dedicated his career to his Essex constituents and causes that he cared about most and, it seems, he was one of those rare MPs who earned respect from politicians of all parties for the conviction he brought to his opinions and the campaigns he supported.

He was stabbed to death “multiple times”, as the media kept on telling us, while he was holding his constituency surgery, an attack that dumbfounded both his constituents and his many colleagues of all political views.  (“Constituency surgery” is the term used to to describe meetings that are held in the parliamentarian’s constituency (voting district) on a regular basis and by which, in theory, the elected representatives can meet the people they represent face-to-face and hear what’s on their minds).  This is something of a fundamental the UK’s system of representative democracy, but one not without its dangers, as the murder of Jo Cox, a Labour MP, by a British neo-Nazi just over five years ago and a few days before the Brexit referendum five years ago illustrated. (Ms. Cox opposed Brexit and the invective against some of those who preferred to remain within the European Union had become particularly vindictive.

After half a century of living in Israel, the idea of a “constituency surgery”, at which an elected politician can meet the people who voted for or against the elected member in a specific geographic area and hear their views, is so foreign, that I can only imagine that people there have no idea of what hit the headlines here and why; those elected politicians in Israel who might somehow understand must be thanking their stars that they don’t have to endanger their lives in such a manner and can remain personally unaccountable and at a distance.

As it happens, the news of David Amess’ murder came, literally, as I had just finished reading They, by the journalist, broadcaster and documentary maker, Sarfraz Mansoor, which I found very emotional and left me both sad and angry—and not a little scared.  It’s an interesting book but to my mind, it’s less about Muslims and non-Muslims and more about the culture of immigrants to Britain from rural Pakistan and the difficulties that those immigrants and their children — people of Manzoor’s generation — had in acclimatising to their new environment.  Manzoor spent several years travelling through the United Kingdom talking to these people and putting together what is an informative and generally well-written book—though one which could have been substantially shorter without causing any damage to the stories he wished to impart.  (He might also have made use of a better proofreader!)  What stands out above anything else is the extent of residential segregation and the little if anything that was done by government and NGOs—and the immigrants themselves—to bring the immigrants and the host population together so that they could get to know one another as human beings.


The other big stories of the past few days have concerned the various shortages that the UK is facing now and in the run-up to Christmas, which is just a few weeks off.  There’s a chronic shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. In the face of mounting fuel, food and goods shortages, it was announced that 5,000 visas would be granted to lorry drivers until the end of February 2022 but by last week, just 20 visas had been issued to HGV drivers from abroad. The Chairman of the Conservative party said there were a “relatively limited” number of people applying for the jobs, with just about 300 applications received and “just over 20” fully processed, not surprising as the government was also going to limit the number of deliveries they could make in a singly week to two! (since changed).  In addition, a further 5,000 visas could be applied for by poultry workers that would last until 31 December 2021 (meaning turkeys for Xmas) and an additional 300 butchers could be brought in to slaughter pigs, as Britain doesn’t have enough hog liquidators of its own to help bring down the numbers of pigs on pig farms and convert them into pork, instead of having them killed and incinerated onsite on the pig farms!  Really, this is the news!


Last Friday morning, before all this occurred, I took myself to the British Museum as I wanted to visit their clock rooms, somewhere I hadn’t been for many years,  I also wanted to see the Mildenhall Treasure, a hoard of Roman silver, which I had seen many years ago and about which Roald Dahl, the children’s and short-story author, had written a short story many years ago; it was not one of his better known stories but it’s worth reading nevertheless.

The large concave silver platter with beaded rim on which the entire upper surface is decorated in raised relief executed by chasing with details added with the use of fine incised lines appears below.  The picture isn’t mine because when I got there, I discovered that it is not on display, forgetting that most of the stuff on display at the larger museums is only a small part what the museum holds.

Platter from the Mildenhall Treasure. The British Museum

Anyway, before booking a timed entry (one of the things that one has to get used to during this time of Covid) I checked to see if the Clock Room was open to the public, having discovered over the past three months that not all rooms and galleries are open in the museums.  The British Museum website told me that it was, so off I went.  On arriving, I made my way to the information desk and asked exactly where the clocks were on display only to be told that the clock rooms were closed and had been since the closure of the museum at the beginning of the pandemic.  I told the woman who informed me of this detail that when I checked a couple of hours earlier on the museum website, I had received different information but she just shook her head and said “Closed”.  However, on my way out, I mentioned to the security man on duty that I was “pissed off” (that’s the term I used) and on inquiring why, I told him.  He thought it strange and asked me to follow him; we took the elevator to the Third Floor, where we discovered that, lo and behold, the clock rooms were open.…


… After an hour or so of looking at clocks and watches, …

… I then spent some time in the Roman collection which, although it didn’t have the Mildenhall Treasure on display, did have other things that more than compensated, such as …

The Corbridge Hoard and Jug

and …

The Emperor Hadrian (of Wall fame) — Don’t mess around with him!

On my way out, I returned to the Information Desk in order to update the woman there that the clock rooms were indeed open.  I don’t think she recognised me but when she heard what I had said she once again shook her head, telling me that it was closed.  At this point, her colleague nudged her and said to her that “the gentleman said “Clock Room” and NOT “cloakroom”.  The cloakrooms, the places in which you leave your cloaks, your coats, and your other possessions while you traipse around the museum or gallery, have indeed been closed since the pandemic caused the museum to shut its doors — at which point the woman said: “You said “klokroom”, and I thought you said “klokroom“.  I think a native English speaker at the information desk might have been helpful.

Exiting the museum, I came across something I’d never seen before — a fossil shop.  There was a nautilus on display in the window that looked to me to be too perfect to be a fossil but despite my skepticism, you can have it for your mantelpiece by handing over just £320!



Earlier in the week, I’d been to the Tate Modern again to see an exhibition that had been recommended by a good friend.  This was the first UK retrospective  of work by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, one of the foremost abstract artists and designers of the 1920s and 1930s. It brought together her principal works from major collections in Europe and the US, never seen before in the UK. Her multidisciplinary work, it appears, inspired innovative artists and designers around the world.  Her creative output was extraordinarily diverse and occasionally controversial. She made embroideries and paintings, carved sculptures and edited magazines, created puppets and mysterious Dada objects. She combined traditional crafts with the vocabulary of modernist abstraction, challenging the boundaries separating art and design.

A marionette with stripey arms and legs and a white ruffled dress



I also managed a concert of the London Symphony Orchestra with Simon Rattle at the Barbican, with a violist, Antoine Tamestit, the soloist playing a piece by Bohislav Martinu.  When I told my violist daughter, Shuli, she asked who the violist was and when I told her, I got a reply that I’m still not quite used to: “A very good violist … played chamber music with him in Nantes about 15 years ago.”

And no blog post from me in London would be complete without a few pics from Primrose Hill.

Early morning exercises. Misty morning, Primrose Hill, NW3


Early morning exercises. Misty morning, Primrose Hill, NW3


Early morning exercises. Sunny morning.  Primrose Hill, NW3


The Shard from Primrose Hill on a misty October morning


An ‘original’ spider’s web. Primrose Hill Road, NW3

And while on Primrose Hill, I finally discovered the reason that the local pigeons all seem to well-fed!…

… in addition, there are also  people who make a point of feeding these winged vermin regularly in the streets!

And walking through the park, I was reminded that I perhaps need to cook myself a mushroom omelette for supper — but then I have no mushrooms!

And just a single photograph from a bus window —

Refuelling.   Taxis .v. e-Taxis



Urban wildlife, in preparation for winter.  Haverstock Hill, NW3

Finally, autumn is definitely here!

Autumn colours. Primrose Hill, NW3
Autumn. Belsize Park, NW3
Autumn. Belsize Park, NW3




Company, concert, Kenwood!

It’s been longer than usual between posts and the reasons for the delay might become apparent as you read through this week’s news—although it’s somewhat longer than normal.

Let me start in what is, I suppose, a somewhat unusual manner, with a piece of “fan mail”.  A couple of days ago, I received an email from an acquaintance in Haifa who reads my stuff.  She wrote as follows: “Stanley – these are fun and I always enjoy the pics and your wit …… but they don’t help me cope with Israel!!”  I wrote back the following:  “Dear *****, I was puzzled for a short while over the phrase “help me cope with Israel”— but then when I thought about it for a bit, I thought I might be beginning to understand. However, they do aid me, by taking my mind off “heavier things”— like Israel, which is part of the reason I’m currently in London.”  Not expecting a reply, I nevertheless received one, which read: “I meant that I love your descriptions and photos but they don’t help me because they highlight what I miss about the UK – lovely extensive green parks, fascinating exhibitions and CLEAN STREETS!!” and then I wrote an addendum: “Just think Boris and the accompanying mess and you’ll get over your UK nostalgia!”.  Having sent that, concluding that perhaps I had been somewhat less than humane, I also sent the following to cheer her up…

The scene from Kenwood House. Late afternoon, late September.

… to which I might have added:

The London scene from Kenwood. Late afternoon, late September.

The news here in the United Kingdom is at the moment, how shall I say?, miserable at best so that my morning 10-15 minutes in front of the TV while I eat breakfast is being gradually reduced so that I will make do with 5 minutes on the radio at 6 after I’ve had my 4-minute dose of depression from Israel radio.  I’ve discovered that I’m slowly developing an even greater disdain for politicians than I had before—but that’s another story altogether.  Whereas when I arrived in the UK a couple of months ago, the news seemed to consist of reports from the Tokyo Olympics or of the numbers of people ill, seriously ill or dying from Covid-19, accompanied by a few items about destruction due to forest fires or floods and global warming — as well as the odd murder here and there thrown in in order to make us feel thats we’re living in a normal world, today Covid has been banished to the latter end of the news while volcanoes and political party conferences take “pride of place”.

However, having been through items as varied as too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing global warming, too little carbon dioxide being manufactured thereby adversely affecting the food processing and packaging industries,  the story that has made the headlines more than any other over the past couple of weeks concerns a shortage of drivers of heavy goods vehicles causing long queues at filling stations as people try to top up while the filling station tanks need to be filled but are not—because of the shortage of truck drivers.  This is something which is also affecting the delivery of food to supermarkets and the like. Meanwhile, the government is issuing temporary visas to foreign lorry-drivers to relieve the situation at least until Christmas and I seem to have heard somewhere that the December 24 cut-off when these people were to be sent home to celebrate Xmas with their families, presumably, is being extended.  In addition, army drivers have been recruited to relieve the petrol delivery situation.  People are being told by the Prime Minister that it’s a matter of supply, not demand; in other words, there’s enough petrol around; it’s just that there’s no way it can be delivered to those who need it! The pandemic is doing its bit but it’s a little hard to believe that Brexit hasn’t been a major factor here — as has the lack of planning for the shortage of drivers, because as I listen to the news (even though I try, I can’t avoid it), it’s a situation of which politicians and people in the industry have been aware for a long time but have done next to nothing to alleviate, by doing things  like paying drivers more or training younger people to join a profession that increasingly seems to be an essential industry.




Queuing to refill. Haverstock Hill, London NW3


Driver shortages. Haverstock Hill, London NW3

Of course, in addition to the petrol shortage, something that has been seen to be lessening in recent days (except in London and the Southeast) is the worry now is that there won’t be enough turkeys for Christmas, which is not altogether bad news as it might be good news for some turkeys.  However, this issue has been addressed recently by none other than The Financial Times, which had an article last week, part of which read:

Millions of British Christmas dinners are to be saved by turkeys imported from Poland and France after UK farmers were forced to slash production because of fears of labour shortages.  UK supermarkets and restaurants will have to import hundreds of thousands of the birds from the EU for Christmas after British farmers reared at least 1m fewer birds, the poultry industry has warned. …  big turkey producers belonging [in Britain] had slashed production by about a fifth this year … after Brexit cut off their supply of cheap labour. … “Now we will be forced into buying turkeys from the EU.”  (Note that, Boris!) The warning came as the government reversed its policy of limiting 5,500 emergency work visas for the poultry industry to the turkey sector in an attempt to “save Christmas”. The visas, announced last weekend, would be available to any poultry workers, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs … said on Friday. … [Moreover, a] shortage of butchers has created a backlog of 120,000 pigs on farms and the pig industry said it was on the verge of an ‘acute welfare disaster’… … [The] chair of the National Pig Association, said conditions had grown “considerably worse” in the past three weeks and that a mass cull of pigs, involving animals being shot and incinerated or rendered, could be needed within weeks.

The New Yorker summed the whole situation up in a cartoon last week.

That done, I went to a  talk at Jewish Book Week the other day in which the American author Joshua Cohen was interviewed about his recent novel The Netanyahus.  This is a novel with a difference and while reading it, I had to constantly remind myelf that it’s fiction though it’s fiction based apparently on an event that really happened some six decades ago and in which the literary critic Harold Bloom, to whom the author was attracted, was involved.

The novel is set in a fictional college in Upstate New York c.1960, a college which then had just a single Jewish faculty member and in which the Department of History was encouraged to find another as it was a time in which universities were beginning to diversify their faculties and student bodies.  Ben-Zion Netanyahu (the father of …) applies for the job and Ruben Blum, the sole Jewish faculty member, is appointed to the selection committee and  tasked with looking after Netanyahu for two days.  Without divulging too much of the story, Netanyahu Snr. (a complex character if ever there was one, vide Anshel Pfeffer’s wonderful biography, Bibi, from a couple of years ago) turns up replete with wife and three sons.  The campus lodging arranged for him falls through and the Netanyahu family stay overnight with the Blums and wreck the house, with the the middle son being the wildest of the three.

As Joshua Cohen puts it in the novel and has Ruben Blum describing the situation: “Edith [Ruben Blum’s wife SW] set their shoes down to dry on the mat, Tzila [Ben-Zion Netanyahu’s wife SW] gave their ages as 13, 10, and 7, respectively, and I remember noting that spacing and thinking that was just about the only disciplined and orderly thing about them—about these Yahus, which was immediately how I began referring to them in my head; these uncouth and rowdy Yahus who’d charged into our home and snowed up our floors and were now upright again and wandering the den like they were casing it for a burglary; Jonathan and Benjamin [Bibi, SW] making an inspection of the mantel, examining its Mayflower and Speedwell ships-in-bottles, manhandling the tin wind-up toys of Hamilton and Burr, and overloading the pans of the antique pewter balance scales with weights that kept clattering. Iddo was between their legs, poking at the andirons and digging in the hearth, and then rubbing at his face and smearing it with ashes.…”

I’m sure that the thought crossed the mind of the novelist, as it certainly did my simple and uncomplicated intellect, that the Yahoos were legendary beings in Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, (which was written about a mile from where my grandparents had their grocery shop), and were described by Swift as filthy with unpleasant habits, “a brute in human form,” resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of Gulliver who found the calm and rational society of intelligent horses greatly preferable.  The Yahoos were primitive creatures obsessed with “pretty stones” that they find by digging in mud, and represent the distasteful materialism and ignorant elitism that Swift encountered in Britain. So the term “yahoo” came to mean “a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person”.  Make of all that what you will!  It’s a novel worth reading because there’s much more in it than just being a story about the Netanyahus. (According to the author, the book is to come out in Hebrew translation this week and he’s expecting litigation but doesn’t imagine it will come to anything.  We’ll see!

The main reason that I’ve been lax in writing this post is that I had a short visit from my daughter, Tami, who managed to get away in between rehearsals and concerts for all of six days.  The company was wonderful and we managed to do several things together — galleries, concert, theatre — as well as see family members.  Her short visit only added to my cynicism re Covid tests.  Although she was only away for 6 days in total, she was required to take a PCR test before travelling (which cost money), book and pay for a “Day 2” test before she landed in Britain (cost more money and didn’t arrive and which needed to be rebooked) and the results of which had not been received before she departed, another PCR test less than 72 hours before departure to Tel Aviv (even more money) and yet another, the fourth in a week, on arrival in Israel.  It’s as if — not it’s not as if, because it IS — nobody trusts anybody any more.

A “priority” postbox from which to send PCR tests and if lucky get results the following day.

We managed a visit to The National Gallery, which, because of the dearth of visitors and the one-way system in operation, allowed us to view not just the pictures but the glory of the building in which they are housed.  There were also visit to the V&A, Wigmore Hall and Hampstead Theatre, and so we throughly enjoyed our time together.  It was a pleasure to be with Tami.  She had begun painting during the first lockdown 18 months ago and she paid attention to the sort of little things I never see in art galleries — brush strokes, composition, &c. Her level of appreciation was much more developed than mine!  The same was true at the concert at Wigmore Hall where six string players of international repute played Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht.  Tami has performed this piece and understood everything she heard whereas I just enjoyed it but am no more than a pair of ears.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London

And I had been to the Tate Modern again a few days before Tami arrived and managed yet another picture of my favourite London bridge.

The Millennium (ex-Wobbly) Bridge

And there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Tate Modern

And now for some pics — from the National Gallery, Tate Modern and elsewhere

Busy, busy, busy. The National Gallery. September 2021


Materials. Tate Modern


Miralo’s Babel, Tate Modern


Miralo’s Babel (Close-Up), Tate Modern


Paolozzi’s Newton. British Library.


Newloundland Siblings. Kenwood. September 2021


Canaletto. Regatta on the Grand Canal, Venice. The National Gallery, London


Detail. The National Gallery, London


More Detail. The National Gallery, London


The Cherry (with the fly). Trafalgar Square


A fly on the bedroom window, with raindrop


Enjoy your breakfast!


At King’s Cross

(I often wonder whether these trousers are dearer or cheaper than “normal” ones.  In other words, does it cost less because there’s less material or more because of the work that goes into “styling” them?

Once a red bus — now what Transport for London will only do for money?

Mostly when I look out of the living room window, I see squirrels and overfed pigeons …

… However, occasionally, there are more interesting things—although in this case, I shan’t be seeing this again as summer is well and truly over and autumn is here with a bang.

The view to the neighbouring garden. Late September 2021

And the last picture?  Coming home on the Tube from the concert last week, this guy opposite me was literally asleep on his feet.  At each stop, he opened his eyes and then just settled back and used his shoulder and arm as a headrest.  (Note: mask-free)


Finally, the one sad thing about the past fortnight was the passing of a neighbour and friend, Mervyn Taylor, who lived on the floor above.  Each trip to London over the past decade or more has involved an evening with the Taylors where he would regale us with stories of Irish politics, of which he was part for many years (and notwithstanding my scorn for politicians, Mervyn was the antithesis of how many regard them.  His children organised what was advertised as a “Zoom Gathering” a few days later and it was without a shadow of a doubt the most moving meeting — Zoom or otherwise — that I’ve ever attended.  The obituary, one of several. that appeared in The Irish Times on September 29 says it all.

Mervyn, Irish Times 29:9:2021.pages