Fallen Leaves, Balls Brothers and Peppa Pig

I know!  I know! I’ve been neglectful.  It’s well over two weeks since I posted to this blog and I have no excuses.  No excuses perhaps but there is a reason.  I find that I have to be in the mood to write and then when it comes, it’s usually a straightforward business involving sitting down and writing a few words.

However, starting 10 days ago, I had a visit last week from my daughter Shuli who, like her twin sister Tami who came at the end of September for a few days, managed to squeeze in a short visit in between rehearsals and concerts.  Shuli arrived from Tel Aviv on Wednesday of last week and I knew it would be an intense four days.  The following morning was sunny but cold and she managed to accomplish target #1, which was a walk alone on Primrose Hill after which she felt she’d actually done something.  That same evening, we attended a concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall for an all-Mozart extravaganza in which my favourite pianist Sir András Schiff performed two Mozart concertos while conducting the orchestra and in addition, conducted Symphony No. 36 (the “Linz” Symphony) and the overture to Don Giovanni, which, in this case, served as an overture to Piano Concerto #20, which Shuli had performed several times the previous week with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in which the soloists were winners of the Rubinstein and Chopin piano competitions, so she was able to enjoy and take in the wonder that is András Schiff.

Schiff’s conducting style is minimalist to say the least, probably as far from the high-jinks of Leonard Bernstein as can be humanly imagine and in the second concerto which he conducted alternately playing at the piano, giving instructions to the orchestra from there and then standing up and moving towards the players on the far side of the piano, the music sounded like chamber music on a somewhat grander scale than usual.  When we heard András Schiff for the first time at Wigmore Hall in 1985 and he just in his early 30s, we knew that we were listening to something special and so it has proved to be over the years.

The following day was a family day for the most part. Shuli and I managed an hour and a quarter in the cold walking on and around and up and down Primrose Hill …

Father and daughter—Autumn on Primrose Hill.

… where Shuli had fun with the fallen leaves …

Autumn leaves on Primrose Hill

… and so did I!

One autumn leaf on Primrose Hill

After a short break, we walked over to Hampstead Heath to watch Tal, who is 11½, participate as the youngest competitor for Haringey Schools in a rather muddy all-London schools under-13’s 3 km race .

Done and dusted — or at least muddied!

Before — and ready for what lies ahead! Hampstead Heath, November 2021

The following day, we were off to hear some more music, this time at Wigmore Hall to hear three of the Kanneh-Mason family perform in a Sunday morning Mendelssohn concert.  (The Kanneh-Masons are a family from Nottingham.  The parents are from Antigua and Sierra Leone and not particularly musical but all seven children are and the family has achieved a form of celebrity status in Britain over the past few years, in particular since Sheku, the 23-year old cellist, won the BBC Young Musician of the Year music competition a few years ago.)

Arriving at the hall at 11 a.m., it wasn’t all that easy to enter as cameras and camera-operators, microphones and interviewers gathered on the pavement outside the entrance on Wigmore Street and were interviewing the parents and the non-participating siblings who, when that concluded, were followed into the hall by the cameras, the microphones, etc.)   The concert itself was pleasant, the cellist proving himself a league above his brother and sister.  That done, we proceeded to the Royal Academy of Arts to join Dov and family for coffee and cake to celebrate a family birthday.  We returned home; Shuli packed, managing to get most off her [mainly Primark] purchases into a single suitcase and was gone by 08.20 the following morning — and after four intensive days I became a zombie for the next 24 hours.

What else? It seems as if there have been three big stories this week.  The most recent concerned the warnings concerning the discovery of a new Covid variant in South Africa which has already found its way into Europe and Israel.  The comments of the “experts” have varied from “potentially very dangerous” to “no more dangerous that the Delta variant”, which has become predominant in recent months.  We have to wait and see how things develop as a result.  However, one consequence, whatever the dangers or otherwise is that no country can be seen to be taking any chances and masks and distancing, as well as restricting entrance to “foreigners” have once again become burning issues.

The second story concerns the increasingly nasty spat between France and the UK over the fate of those unfortunate people who, intent on reaching Britain, have been trafficked by criminals operating out of France, and having paid them [a lot of] money and having been placed in barely seaworthy rubber dinghies were sent on their way across the English Channel/La Manche, a journey that in the best of times would be dangerous and in the second half of November in choppy seas absolutely fatal and this week, 27 people — men, women and children — lost their lives in a single crossing.

To my simple mind, these unfortunate people were set on restarting their lives by seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.  Whether the reasons for this are economic betterment, escape from tyrannical regimes elsewhere in the world or simply their ability to speak English rather than French, is incidental.  It is a tragic situation that will, lamentably, repeat itself in coming months.  These migrants seemingly have no desire to seek asylum in France and it strikes me that the French authorities have no great reason for wanting them to do so, hence their continuing movement across dangerous waters. The quarrel intensified this week when the British Prime Minister made public via social media a letter of complaint to the French President on the issue of the people smugglers and what he perceives of lack of action on the part of the French authorities.  Not quite the way to conduct diplomacy, it would seem — but then Boris is Boris.  The upshot of that little matter was that the British Home Secretary (Minister for Internal Affairs), Priti Patel, was disinvited (uninvited?) to a meeting of EU ministers in Calais to discuss the very issue —  in which the UK is a major party to the action, so it all seemed distinctly unpretty —  but then Priti isn’t all that pretty when she says what she says and whenever she says it.  The fate of these asylum seekers is just as dire as those unfortunates trafficked by the President of Belarus towards the Polish border and now trapped between armed frontmen of Poland and Belarus and barbed wire fences as winter sets in — and nobody is doing much about that either.  (Incidentally, an interview that Lukashenko gave to the BBC correspondent, Steve Rosenberg, was aired yesterday and to write that his (Lukashnko’s) utterances were absolutely incredible would be an unsavoury understatement!)

The third story to make the news in the UK this week is undeniably cringeworthy as it concerns the definitely unkosher Peppa Pig.  Peppa Pig, it turns out, is a British preschool animated TV series, Peppa being an anthropomorphic female pig and the show is about her and her family and peers. So just how did this humanistic hog become part of the news?  Well, last Monday, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, while addressing the Confederation of British Industries (the Director-General of which I discovered is Tony Danker, a member of a very rare breed, by being both Jewish and from Belfast) lost his place in his speech—or it seems that the order of the pages upon which his notes were printed had become a shambles—and in the kerfuffle, Boris de Pfeffel began to shuffle the sheaf of papers in his hand in a vain attempt to get back on track. And while de Pfeffel shuffled, his muffled voice could be heard over and again muttering to his ruffled audience: “Forgive me”, although there’s no suggestion that anyone would, as he hasn’t yet been fully exonerated over the scuffle caused by Brexit.  When he eventually emerged, he found himself in Peppa Pig World, where he had been the previous day with his son, obviously enjoying himself and when he asked his audience whether anyone of them had been to Peppa Pig World and only one of his apparently startled audience admitted to having been there, his response was “Not enough!”


I could have offered The Prime Minister a little advice through my own experience if he had only asked me, for when I receive a piece for review from a colleague or a journal, the first thing I do if I print it out and it’s lacking page numbers, is to jot down the page number in large characters on the top right-hand side.  Saves kerfuffle, ruffle and puffle not to mention embarrassment.

As the Lord Finkelstein, formerly the executive editor of The Times wrote in that newspaper the following day, ” … Boris Johnson is not going to change. After [he] lost his place and woke up in Peppa Pig World, the BBC reported a senior Downing Street source as saying: “There is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM. It’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes, otherwise it’ll keep getting worse.…If they don’t insist, he just won’t do anything about it.”  “Which is true”, wrote Finkelstein. “But if they do insist, he won’t do anything about it either.” … Because people don’t change.  … Boris Johnson is who he is. … It is impossible to identify a single individual who has become prime minister and during their term has undergone a significant transformation. There are no reasons to believe that Johnson will be an exception.”

Finkelstein went on: “After his speech, a reporter asked the prime minister if he was OK. This was a witty question, but also missed the point. This was him being OK. Johnson didn’t lose his place, imitate a motor car and ramble on about Peppa Pig because something was wrong with him. He did it because extended metaphor, subversion of the form, shambolic messiness and disorganisation are how he gives every speech — how he has given every speech for 40 years. Often it works brilliantly for him. This time it was catastrophic and disrespectful to his audience.  … What it wasn’t, was some sort of inexplicable accident. And what it also wasn’t, was some sort of mildly bad habit that can be put right.…The speech was authentic. He governs like he spoke …” .


And what else was news these past few days?  A visit to an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts entitled “Late Constable”, which has absolutely nothing to do with a policeman who didn’t turn up on time or who has died but which displays a representative sample of painting from the late period of the master, John Constable, one of Britain’s best-known artists whose climb to fame is closely tied with the history of the Royal Academy itself.  That notwithstanding, this exhibition is apparently the first major retrospective of Constable’s work and spans the period between 1825 his sudden death in 1837 and explored his late style through his paintings and oil sketches as well as watercolours, drawings and prints. These years were characterised by expressive brushwork, developed in his oil sketches from nature, and full-size preparatory sketches. He also turned to watercolour with an enthusiasm missing since the early 1800s, and some of his late drawings show the same freedom of expression as his paintings from the same period.

A visit to the Royal Academy also involved another traipse through the Burlington Arcade and this time I  found myself gawking through the window of one of the jewellers there.  If I’m to believe the prices on display, this one — and it was only one of several — contains rings that together are valued at between £200,000 and £250,000.  Not for me!


The day before Shuli arrived, I spent a few hours with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, wandering around in the City of London with cameras and chatting — mostly chatting.  We swapped photos that evening after which I truly felt that I am no more than a moderately talented amateur!



The Lloyds Building



Autumn colours in the City of London


Lunch Break in the City of London


At the beginning of our walk, we found ourselves at Austin Friars, which in its heyday had been an Augustinian friary in the City of London, a short distance to the north-east of the modern Bank of England.  Between when it was founded, in the 1260s, until it was dissolved in 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII, it had a resident population of about 60 friars (monks — they had nothing to do with fish & chips). There was a church at the centre of the friary and behind it a complex of buildings that provided accommodation, refreshment and study space for the brothers and visiting students.  Today, the most prominent sign in the street advertises a wine bar and while looking at the sign, I thought it so appropriate to have been located on Austin Friars!


The leaves vanished rapidly this week and winter is already here! (1)


The leaves vanished rapidly this week and winter is already here! (2)

I also managed another trip to the Royal Academy to view the architectural photography of Hélène Binet, which I found thought-provoking, if only to comprehend what could be done (mostly) in black-and-white, while concentrating on shadows and light.  However, I also learned that sometimes it might be beneficial to check out videos of an exhibition (if they exist) at home before travelling all the way into the West End, rather than after having been there.


Penultimately, when, a few days ago, I thought I wouldn’t have any nonsense at all to write, I decided that I would do one blog post comprised entirely of photos that I’d taken over the years and which I particularly like, so I chose some at random from the collection.  As I did manage to write >2,000 words of [mostly] nonsense, I decided I’d leave with just a small selection!

Sagres, Portugal


Onions and Garlic. Hampstead High Street


County Mayo, Ireland. September 1966


The London Eye


Half-prepared for winter.  Primrose Hill

And  finally, although the leaves may have fallen off the trees, nobody, it seems, has bothered to explain that to the trees, which have already started to think about spring!

Haverstock Hill, London NW3.(Late November, 2021)



Guido, Horatio and Reynard the Fox

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run …”

So wrote John Keats over two centuries ago.

Season of mists: City of London from Primrose Hill

Autumn colours. Haverstock Hill, London NW3

And although the poet lived about 15 minutes walk away from where I am writing this, it seems as if he never had to trudge his way through fallen leaves or the mess they cause and the hazards they bring to simple pedestrians.  Mind you, some of them are pretty to look at when they’re still on the trees, adding colour to the mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Autumn colours—clearing the mess (1).  Victoria Tower Gardens, London

Autumn colours—clearing the mess (2).  Victoria Tower Gardens, London









So much for autumn!

In my last post about a week ago, I mentioned that I had started reading Fintan O’Toole’s We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 and over two days and a bit, I read all of the 700 or so pages, and seeing that I read it on the Kindle and iPad, that was an achievement in itself.  I stayed in my seat with my eyes glued to the screen(s) and was in a state of mental exhaustion when I came to the end for not only was the book informative but the author’s writing about corrupt Irish politicians and the equally corrupt members of the Roman Catholic church—and how these were intertwined—contained just about the right level of anger, frustration and cynicism (venom?) to keep my attention without wavering.

While reading the book, it made me realise how much of a closeted, cocooned, and cushioned life I had led in the bubble that was the Jewish community in Dublin  Yes, I knew some of my neighbours on the street and was friendly with two of the Catholic youngsters where I grew up — one became Vice-President and Registrar of University College Cork and the other a High Court Judge who would play the mournful Uileann pipes in the back garden on summer evenings.  My parents wanted me to attend Wesley College but I wanted a Jewish school so the bottom line was that I knew hardly anything of what was going on around me as almost all my friends were Jewish.  This was in stark contrast to my father who grew up in the Northern Irish town of Downpatrick and had only non-Jewish friends (Protestant and Catholic) and was never really at home in Dublin.  And even when I spent four years in Trinity College Dublin as an undergraduate and another year completing a Ph.D dissertation, the student body was almost 100% Protestant, from the Republic and Northern Ireland or they were English with some Irish connection. Catholic students, if I remember correctly, had to receive a written dispensation from the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, (about whom and his minions Mr. O’Toole has more than a little to say) if they wished to study there.  And after Trinity, I married at 21 and went to live in Israel  — and was basically ignorant about Ireland.

O’Toole refers several times to the phenomenon of “the unknown known”, i.e. what people knew was going on (corruption, abortions, etc.) and what they had to pretend they didn’t know or talk about.  In fact, the level of corruption was so high and well-developed among politicians and “dignitaries” of the Catholic church that I might never complain about Bibi Netanyahu & his associates again, for he’s a like a toddler in pre-kindergarten learning how to be unprincipled and criminal, when compared to the likes of Charles Haughey & Co. and those to preceded and followed him. (n.b. I wrote “might”!)

The book is a real eye-opener and should be read by anyone who wants to learn about the country and its people in modern times, perhaps in conjunction with Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland if one really wants to learn about the IRA, Sinn Féin—and about the enigma that is Gerry Adams, in particular.

The news this week coming out of the United Kingdom mostly concerns the goings-on in Glasgow at COP26 where it is expected (or at least hoped) that there may be some agreements reached over how to make the climate change so that by 2100 levels of what are called “greenhouse gases” don’t rise so high as to stew us all.  The only things I can say about all that is that in 2100 I won’t be around to check things out— which is not the same as saying that I don’t care.  I’ll have to ask my next-door neighbour here in London who, the last time I saw him a fortnight ago, was off with his wife and child to represent Poland at COP26.  I suppose the reason that we’re hearing so much about it all is that it’s all happening (or not happening—we’ll find out at the weekend) in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, one of stars of the show is Greta Thunberg, all of 18 years old, whose mother, I discovered is a Swedish opera singer and whose grandfather was an actor.  From that, I take for granted that she’s well-versed in stagecraft as she demonstrated by taking  aim at climate platitudes with her utterance of “All we hear is blah blah blah”.  Or, more accurately, taking aim at Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi, she is reported to have said: “This is not some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging”, and “Fighting climate change calls for innovation, cooperation and willpower”, and that the science did not lie.  Or as she is reported to have said in Milan the week before Glasgow: “Built back better Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah,” … “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.”  Without wishing to belittle Greta’s activism, I cannot but help think that she’s rehearsing for her future role as  populist politician herself — and is doing so very well, too.

The other news, of course, concerned the resignation from parliament of a former cabinet minister who used his good offices to represent two commercial companies for pay, which the parliamentary Standards Committee called “an egregious case of paid advocacy” and recommended he be suspended for 30 days.  Now, the basic annual salary of a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons is £81,932 and in addition, they can claim allowances to cover the costs of running an office and employing staff, and maintaining a constituency residence or a residence in London — but obviously, this is inadequate.  So, the person concerned  became a paid consultant for two companies for which he is paid by one £8,333 a month for 16 hours work and £2,000 every other month from another for 4 hours work, which by my reckoning comes to an additional £112,000 annually.  Not bad.  His reaction was to criticise the decision and the way the investigation was carried out and the Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, suggested that the person concerned had been given insufficient opportunity to defend himself and that the rules should be changed!  Within 24 hours and a cross-party outcry, the government had backtracked on its decision/recommendation and the MP resigned, concluding, perhaps, that he might not be re-electable!

Of course, this is not regarded as corruption, which is defined as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery” but sleaze, which is defined as “immoral, sordid, and corrupt behaviour or activities”, which to my simple mind is much the same thing.


About three months ago, I went to the Tate Modern to see the exhibition, The Making of Rodin, an exhibition evoking the atmosphere of the artist’s studio. There were plaster casts in all sizes illustrating how he continually experimented with fragmentation, repetition and joining existing parts in unconventional ways. I was particularly taken by “The Burghers of Calais”, which was represented by the newly restored original plaster.

However, in my ignorance, little did I know that there is a bronze cast near the Houses of Parliament, which I passed while walking from the Tate Britain at Millbank to Trafalgar Square and in addition to the London cast, there are additional ones in Calais, Copenhagen, in Belgium, Philadelphia, Paris, Basel, Washington, Tokyo, Pasadena, NYC and Seoul.

I had been to The Tate Britain to see Hogarth and Europe—Uncovering City Life, an exhibition of paintings regarded as William Hogarth’s greatest works along with those of some of his co-workers in Europe, including Guardi in Venice, Chardin in Paris and Troost in Amsterdam, suggesting the cross currents and parallels across borders.  Society and culture across Europe had changed greatly in the middle of the 18th century, an age of opportunity and change, enlightenment and innovation, materialism, exploitation and injustice. Europe was becoming affluent and more cosmopolitan with the beginnings of modern empire, revolution and global war.

In Britain, Hogarth had become well-known for paintings and prints that captured this new modern experience. But across the Channel, European artists were creating vivid images of contemporary life and social commentary about rich and poor, immoral and self-deluding, the selfish and the selfless.  All became characters in pictorial stories that caught people’s imaginations and took art in novel directions, including the production of prints for the new missile classes.

In this period of rapid economic growth and profound social change, many artists enjoyed new creative freedoms and explored new modes of working, engaged new audiences and represented everyday experience in novel ways.

Urban scenes painted by Hogarth and his contemporaries may appear liberated and socially relevant and some of the images may still be currently relevant whereas others might appear subversive. Many of the works express critical views of society but also reveal an entrenchment of racist, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. Though they celebrated individuality, the artists also made disturbing or dehumanising representations of people.

The two pictures below depict “Before” and “After”, and depict the prelude and aftermath of a sexual encounter and according to the curator, it seems clearly to be rape scene, vide the man’s crotch and how he grabs her skirts while she claws at his face and upends the dressing table and mirror.  In “After”, she regards him imploringly, after the deed has been done.

Similar things can be observed in “The March of the Guards to Finchley”, in which disciplined guards in the background march to meet the Jacobites while the foreground shows mayhem  violence, groping and whatever.  What would Margaret Thatcher have thought of her beloved Finchley, which she represented in parliament for so many years?

And then, among the final pictures in the exhibition is one of six of Hogarth’s servants — obviously, he was a decent chap who did well by painting!

In addition, there are a couple off paintings by Canaletto, this one entitled The Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens, which I’d seen before and which although not as grand as some of his other London paintings, not to mention his work in Venice, was still grand to look at!

Canaletto. The Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens.


And now for some pictures.

If I started with autumn leaves then here are some more.

Autumn Leaves, Primrose Hill. November 2021


Autumn Leaves, well-trodden and flattened. Westminster,  November 2021

I never blink! Westminster. November 2021


Passing the Houses of Parliament, I was reminded that November 5 was Guy Fawkes Day. Also known as Guido Fawkes he was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics involved in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a conspiracy to assassinate King James I and members of the Houses of Parliament.  Fireworks are the order of the day and fireworks used to be set off on just one night.  On the experiences of this year, it seems that Guy Fawkes Day has morphed into Guy Fawkes’ Week  And there were sufficient armed police around parliament last Friday morning to make one think that Guy Fawkes and his entourage were on their way back!

And once again, there was a very clear notice, that left little opportunity to err !

And continuing up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, I was pleased to see that Horatio was still keeping his one-armed, one-eyed watch on the British government.  Boris, look out!

Then on the way home on the Underground, as the doors of the train opened at Euston, and one might even have been deceived into thinking that perhaps it wasn’t autumn verging on winter outside and that it was still very much summertime!

Finally, the garden behind the apartment block where I’m living is teeming with squirrels and pigeons.  Gali, my 10-year old granddaughter in Tel Aviv, is very keen on squirrels (at least she’s very keen on images of them although I’m not quite sure how she’d feel if she got close to one.  I tend to regard them as rats with bushy tails, and the pigeons with which they seem to share the garden as winged vermin, but then that’s just me).  At any rate, I send her photos of the squirrels and she seems to be happy with them.

One that I sent last week prompted Tami, who had taken up painting in watercolours during the first lockdown, to send me a squirrel portrait that she had done in response to what I had sent.

And then a couple of days ago, I observed a squirrel posing in the garden and ran to get the camera.  However, by the time I had changed the lens and got back to the window to take the photo, the original bushy tail had vanished only to be replaced by a different and equally handsome one, in this case, Reynard the urban fox.

Finally, although I’ve posted pictures of the iconic Bauhaus Isokon building before, just a 12-minute walk from here and which wouldn’t look out of place in Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus “White City”, each time I pass by I feel that I need to take another photo from a different angle.  It really is a grand building.

And as I discovered last week when I visited the Isokon Gallery, which is a refurbished flat on the ground floor open at weekends from spring to autumn, the three individuals whose names appear on the blue plaque lived there at more or less the same time, as did Agatha Christie for seven years.  They would have entertained other left-wingish Hampstead intellectuals in the café bar on the ground floor, which was unsurprisingly called the “Isobar“, which was, I suppose a place where all were equally under the same pressure to finish their drinks before closing time!