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


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