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.
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 …
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.
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.
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 —
Finally, autumn is definitely here!