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

 

 

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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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Confuse, confusion: Curate, curation

I tend to listen and watch the news these days much less than I used to.  I get about four minutes in Hebrew between 6 and 7 in the morning followed by a few minutes on the TV with breakfast a quarter of an hour later and that more or less does me for the day.

These days, I’m more confused than ever.  It’s not just that I can’t figure out whether the numbers of people with Covid infection, with serious Covid infections, with serious Covid infections and on ventilators, and those dying from Covid are rising or falling or if one feels the need to travel outside one’s country of residence whether one needs to test before departing, after arriving, quarantine for a few days of whatever.   All this is difficult enough as definitions and rules seem to change just about every other day.

It’s just that the news in the UK over the past couple of days seems at first glance to contradict what we were being told in the weeks before that.  A week ago the news headlines were full of global warming and the large quantities of carbon dioxide in the air that seemed to be the source of all out problems.  However, over the past two or three days — in the UK, at least — the dire warnings concern increased wholesale prices of gas, leading in turn to the shutting down of plants that manufacture carbon dioxide, a compound apparently of utmost importance to the food processing industry, which, say the doomsayers, will lead to food shortages in the near future, a possible implication being that in addition to dying of Covid, people will start suffering malnutrition — and this is the UK in 2021.  Well, my confusion stems from the fact that I now cannot tell whether there is too much CO2 or too little CO2 about, and if it’s the latter, I can’t fathom why the stuff can’t be distilled from excess that we’re constantly told appears to be in the air.  Make up your minds, folks!  Much too complicated for a simple mind like mine.

The week started and finished with what is oft referred to by some as “culture” with Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement sandwiched in the middle.  At the beginning of the week, I took myself off to the British Museum to see the exhibition “Nero: The man behind the myth”.  Nero is someone about whom I knew little more than zilch other than that “he fiddled while Rome burned” and my abiding memory is of Peter Ustinov in Quo Vadis from 70 years ago.  It wasn’t exactly an exhibition that left me with a feeling of utter exhilaration and although it was interesting, I felt that it hardly justified the entry fee that the British Museum deemed fit to charge.

The visit began, as things sometimes appear to these days, with a shuffle along in a queue prior to being approved as “Covid-passable”.

Off to view Nero @ The British Museum.

As I had arrived at the museum early, I was granted access to the building but had to pass time viewing what was on show for free.  The Polynesian house materials were interesting, to say the least although I’m not sure that these are what I would like to greet me when I come home every day.

Also on view while I was awaiting Nero (or while Nero was waiting for me) was the Lion of Knidos, which, we were informed, weighs in at over 7 tons and was carved from marble that originated from a site near Athens, and “came from” an ancient tomb in Knidos in south-west Turkey.  There was some additional information about the tomb and other burial chambers contained in it.  However, there was no explanation about when and how this heavyweight lion found its way from the Aegean Sea to Bloomsbury.

Finally, the time came for me to check up on Nero, 1,950 years after his suicide.  On entering, almost the first thing I came across was this brief synopsis of the short life of the young emperor.

As I read the blurb, which read that:  “[He] had to steer a vast empire through a period of great  change.  Faced with conflicting demands and expectations, he adopted policies that appealed to the people but alienated many of the elite …”, I couldn’t help thinking of another [not-so] young ruler in another part of the world and at a different period who might one day face a similar situation within his own party.  Given that following Nero’s suicide there was a brief period of civil war during which between June 68 and December 69, there were four emperors—Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian—who ruled in quick succession, one can only hope that when BoJo’s end eventually comes, his Praetorian Guard will have done a better job than Nero’s in protecting him, that the succession will be more peaceful and that the citizens of the United Kingdom will be free from similar bloodletting after he goes (not that he’s planning on going anywhere at the moment).

On this visit of personal edification, I also discovered from viewing the head of Emperor Claudius that was on display that there was only a slight resemblance between Claudius and his alter-ego Sir Derek J-j-j-jacoby.


 

 

 

 

Then the following day, I decided to take myself into town to view what is called “The Marble Arch Mound”.  While there, I overheard somebody describe the name as more like the title of a sex novel than an artificial and temporary part of the urban landscape only to hear in the next sentence that she admitted to suffering from sleep deprivation when that thought came to mind.

The Mound is a viewing platform that has been described by some as “London’s worst tourist attraction”.  This man-made monstrosity was commissioned by Westminster City Council and cost about £6m, at taxpayers’ expense, of course, which is apparently almost double what is was forecast to cost when the idea was dreamed up by City Councillors and their advisers.

I initially became aware of this thing while listening to a BBC radio news item a few weeks ago.  It reported that Westminster City Council had decided not to charge people a £5 entry fee before they remove the structure in January 2022.  It had ostensibly been erected in order to attract tourists back into the West End. This, of course, is something of a misleading joke, because all you can see from the top of the Mound is a partial view of Marble Arch itself, the entrance to Marble Arch Tube station and some buses going up and down Park Lane.

None of this justifies the 130 steeper-than- usual steps to the summit, so in my humble opinion, the people in charge seriously needed to warn all rather unfit 76-year olds of that hazard before they started the ascent (the steps are actually so steep that it felt like there were 330 not 130).

Even without a £5 entry fee, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Marble Arch Mound is currently the leading candidate to be the biggest rip-off in London, an issue with which I was in complete agreement with an Irish couple from Athlone who had journeyed in from their residence in outer South London to do exactly what I was doing.  Perhaps if Westminster Council had made it 200m taller, it might have been worthwhile trying to reach the top but then we might have to have been catapulted to the summit.  There was a rumor that there was a lift (elevator) but I didn’t manage to find it and it wasn’t advertised.
However, I have to admit that on the way down I was told by one of the attendants that I hadn’t reached the end, as inside the mound (for like many things these days, a one-way system is in operation), they had a darkened space with lights that formed geometric shapes. This is where visitors can experience Lightfield—a one-off light exhibition designed and put together by an outfit called “W1 Curates” and it was infinitely more interesting than the rest of this bloody blot on the landscape!
The innards of the Marble Arch Mound

 

Lightfield (1)

 

Lightfield (2)

 

Lightfield (3)

And what else this week?

Returning from Marble Arch, I photographed the sign below at Goodge Street Underground Station.  I’m not quite sure that it was meant to convey because as everybody knows men always do this and not just in London but everywhere they go!

A couple of years back, I photographed this sign in Hampstead village and noted a couple of posts ago that the same dyslexic sign writer who could not distinguish his O’s from his Q’s had also been at work a little further up the street.  However, either someone else saw what I had seen or someone who reads my blog decided to take the law into his (or her) own hands, and to hell with the tiles.

And I love the wording in the sign below.  It seems that good manners appear to work as it’s difficult to find a bicycle (or anything else) chained to the railings.  Then again, it might be that the offending vehicles were forcibly removed!

I’ve always been fascinated by the James Smith & Sons “Sticks & Umbrella” shop on New Oxford Street and am amazed that I’ve never photographed it before.

And as for signs … it took me a while to figure out what was being advertised here.  I always thought that a curator was a person in charge of a museum or library or something like that.  So I looked up “to curate” in the dictionary and understood it “to be in charge of selecting and caring for objects to be shown in a museum or to form part of a collection of art or an exhibition” or “to be in charge of selecting films, performers, events et cetera to be included in a festival” or “to select things such as documents, music, products included was part of a list or collection…”  Apparently, this is a place where customers are allowed to make their own salads or can tell the person behind the counter what you’d like in yours.

 

And on the same street, another individual asleep in a cardboard box with a sign explaining to passersby that his life is a bit of a mess at the moment but that it wasn’t always that way — and meanwhile, he’d appreciate any help he can get.

At least he looks more comfortable than the guy below on Primrose Hill Road who sits on the same bench, day in, day out, looking just as uncomfortable each time I pass by.

 

Then, on Primrose Hill, I watched this little canine who kept his eye on the ball over and over again and concluded that he must be making a pitch to be picked for the English cricket team an outfielder.

 

Finally, the week ended as it began, fittingly, with some culture — a concert at Wigmore Hall …

… and a play at Hampstead Theatre.

 

 

 

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Figs, Sausages, and Kermit the Frog

What does one do when one has decided that four hours or more in a synagogue on Jewish New Year is beyond what one can take at this particular stage in one’s life?  Well, besides visiting friends and relatives and eating far too much, one can sit at home and read.

This year, I managed two novels—both of them novels and not works of history although either might have been perceived as just that.  The one, The Vixen,  by Francine Prose is based on the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were sent to the electric chair in 1953 for passing American atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.  The story centres around Ethel and is told by a young Jewish editor for a New York publishing company, a Harvard graduate refused a recommendation by his Harvard mentor to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago, and who has been given the job of editing a dreadfully conceived and awfully written novel about the affair, which, he discovers was composed by his uncle, his boss’s secretary, and his boss, who is a CIA operative, as was his Harvard mentor.  He — and the woman who was to become his wife and who had been formerly employed by the same publisher—both believe that Ethel was set up and are amazingly given a free hand by the authors to edit (i.e., rewrite) the novel and manage to have it published in its re-written form to the ire of the CIA and the detriment of the publishing house, which is forced to destroy remaining copies of the book and eventually goes bankrupt .  Compulsive reading and all 319 pages read in a single day.  Ann Sebba’s new biography of Ethel, the woman executed allegedly for espionage, now awaits.

The second novel of the holiday season, by Elif Shafak, someone who has become one of my favourite authors, was her latest, The Island of Missing Trees.  It is a novel about a “mixed marriage” involving two Cypriots, Defne, a Turkish Muslim woman and Kostas, a Greek Orthodox man, who have lived in London with their 16-year old daughter, Ada, born when they were in their 40s.  As the story develops, one learns that they were two teenage lovers who would meet at a taverna owned by a gay couple, one Greek and the other Turkish, the only place in Nicosia where they could meet in secret and in the centre of which, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree.  And as the story develops, Kostas flees to London in 1974 at the outbreak of the inter-communal violence on the island and the invasion of Northern Cyprus by the Turkish army, compelled to do so by his mother, who has already lost two sons that year.  He leaves only to return after a 25 year absence as an academic botanist of some repute where he meets Defne again.

But it is the fig tree that witnesses their hushed meetings and their silent, clandestine departures and the fig tree is there, too, when civil war breaks out in 1974 and Nicosia is reduced to rubble, and when the teenage romance suddenly ends. But almost 30 years later, Kostas the botanist returns, looking for native species but really searching for Defne who he finds through a mutual acquaintance and they decide to marry and to live in London. The taverna has been destroyed but the fig tree remains and they return to take a clipping from the fig tree, put it into their suitcase and smuggle it bound for London.  Years later, the fig tree in the London garden is the only knowledge that Ada has of a home she has never visited, as she seeks to untangle years of her parents’ secrets and silence and find her place in the world.  In this, she is helped by the arrival for a visit in London of Meryem, her mother’s recently divorced elder sister who takes it upon herself to inculcate her heritage into her niece’s consciousness.

Much of the story is related by the fig tree and that is what makes the story magical, for the fig tree has heard and seen everything over a period of almost half a century, and in the course of doing so describes all the living things that have visited the tree over the years — butterflies and moths, mice and birds— and discusses the differences between fig trees and other tree species, asking the question in one way or another of whether plants as well as animals have memories.  For that is what this book is about.  It’s a novel about memory and remembering, just as Ms. Shafak’s previous book, 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World, about a murdered sex worker in Istanbul whose body was found in a filthy bin by a group of four scavenging teenagers, is in the end a book about friends and friendship.

However, on the first page of the book, as I started to read, I sat up quite suddenly.  This was because, in another life, I was a geographer and I wish I could have written what Elif Shafak managed to write in just 61 words:

“A map is a two-dimensional representation with arbitrary symbols and incised lines that decide who is to be our enemy and who is to be our friend, who deserves our love and who deserves our hatred and who, our sheer indifference.

Cartography is another name for stories told by winners.

For stories told by those who have lost, there isn’t one.”

The Island of Missing Trees is such as well-constructed story and is beautifully written.  Every now and then, there is something that the reader reads that either strikes a chord or that you’d never thought of before, such as this, which appears on p.34:

“It is a curse, an enduring memory. When elderly Cypriot women wish ill upon someone, they don’t ask for anything blatantly bad to befall them.  they don’t pray for lightning bolts, unforeseen accidents or sudden reversals of fortune.  They simply say: ‘May you never be able to forget.  May you go to the grave still remembering.’

 

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous.

One morning last week, listening to the BBC news headlines on Radio 4, we got the following story after which I discovered that it had also appeared in the newspapers.  In the Sunday Times, it appeared under the headline: “Too much sausage, not enough dog” and it concerned the announcement from the Kennel Club, that arbiter of standards in the canine world, that as dachshunds have become more popular, their sausage-shaped bodies and stubby legs are getting too long and they are moving too close to the ground as they are being being bred shorter and longer, presumably to meet popular demand.  As a result of this lack of canine consideration on the part dog breeders, guidance has been updated with the Kennel Club providing new rules to breeders in order to give the sausage dogs more ‘ground clearance’.  So if dachshunds had been suffering, they need suffer no longer.  Help is on the way!

The Kennel Club said the rise in popularity of dachshunds had created a trend for the dogs to be as long-bodied and short-legged as possible, because the exaggerations were ‘perceived as cute’

And then I decided that even if I am not in synagogue, I might one day be called upon to blow a shofar, a ram’s horn, an instrument which is tootled several times during the synagogue service on Jewish New Year.  I once tried to get a sound from a clarinet and failed miserably so I thought a master-class might be due—and as a result of my search and research, I have been schooled in the art of shofar-blozzing.

Last week, I took myself to Tate Britain to two exhibitions — one by J. M. W. Turner and the other by Mark Rothko.  I always find Turner’s painting and especially his seascapes and his use of light stunning …
… but I have a problem with Rothko, whose work I first saw years ago at an exhibition at Tate Modern.  I couldn’t make head nor tail of it then and I wasn’t any better off last week in that regard.  Some years ago, I remember watching a documentary on Rothko where he seemed to spend much of his time in his studio looking at his paintings.  Were I to spend several hours a day looking at large canvases ranging from black to deep mauves, purples and blues, I think I might have become somewhat depressed and on learning that the artist committed suicide, I wan’t entirely surprised—although I imagine that there might have been other factors involved, too.
But then there are others who don’t pay too much attention to what’s around them and just get on with their job!
The gallery operates a one-way system during these corona times and I lost my way looking for these two exhibitions but I managed to find a Tate employee and asked how to get there and the answer I got was: “Turn left at the Epstein and then continue straight.”  So I did just that.
Exiting the gallery and walking across Lambeth Bridge before turning to stroll along the river to Waterloo Bridge, I discovered that tourists have not quite entirely vanished from the London scene.  They’re there but it seems that there are fewer of them.
And then, on reaching Waterloo, and taking the bus back home, I noticed that there are just so many things to remember to do and not to do — and to take heed of — on a London bus.
And while on the bus home, a new passenger got on and sitting opposite me, she seemed to drift into deeper and deeper thought — and not necessarily happier thoughts, it would seem.
The view from Primrose Hill one morning last week was misty, to say the least …
… but I found that the notice that has appeared at each of the entrances to the park to be disturbing.
Still, during daylight hours, there’s room for everyone …
… as indeed there seemed to be the case in Golders Green.
 
And then, one morning early last week, while walking northward along Finchley Road from Golders Green Station and looking across the street, I thought I had finally discovered bliss …
… only to find as I jumped for joy and then skipped a a few steps further on that it was nothing more than a place to treat any injuries should I have had the misfortune to fall while jumping for joy!😅
One day, I will eventually get around to photographing the many personal notices attached to the benches on Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath.  Not all of them are as lacking in modesty as this one, though.
And then last week I passed a street sign directing me to the place pictured below and thought for a few seconds that it might have been rented out by Facebook as a place where friends can actually get together in person.
And walking around Hampstead, where there are English Heritage plaques aplenty (Henry Moore is few doors up the street and Piet Mondrian is on the opposite side), a new one was installed last week.  I had no idea that the Muppets were anything but American but it turns out that they were conceived in Hampstead, where their creator, Jim Henson, lived.  And the result? Another new plaque, of course.  Quite what The Muppets might have to do with English heritage is a bit beyond me but who am I to question the decisions of those wiser than me?
Finally, two pictures from Friday morning.  I took this one near South End Green at 08.50 hrs. of a seemingly homeless couple on the pavement amidst the dirt and squalor of Hampstead before the street cleaners arrived (they were on their way).  Yet I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.  And this is post-Brexit London in 2021!
Finally, when one is out with a camera, one is constantly on the lookout for things that stand out (at least I am!) — and here was one of them!
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Five years and eight months on — and still at it!

 

I don’t usually behave like this—but it’s the pink hair that turned me into a gorilla—instantly.  Camden Market, London

Little did I contemplate, let alone realise, that when I started posting to this blog five years and eight months ago I would still be doing it in 2021.  I had written a blog years ago—very intermittently—but stopped when Apple scrapped the application I had been using and with which I had more or less familiarised myself.

But then I read a blog post written by a person I didn’t know and who had undergone a serious operation in which he described several things that had been happening to him. On reading that, I decided to start using the application that he had used and found it easy-peasy. I had actually wanted to restart the blog as for several years, I had been getting out and about most mornings either in Tel Aviv or London.  In Tel Aviv, “out and about” usually meant the Yarqon Park and Tel Aviv Port, returning home via the streets of North Tel Aviv, with occasional forays elsewhere.  In London, it was a similar story — south to Primrose Hill, sometimes through to The Regent’s Park and into the West End, sometimes east and north to Hampstead Heath.  I almost always carried a camera with me on these walks, noticing and noting the many and varied activities going on while taking lots of photographs. However, l became increasingly frustrated by my inability to disseminate these images. For a time, I sent email attachments to friends and acquaintances but that was hardly adequate.  Now and then, I posted a picture or two to Facebook but as I have no desire to be inundated daily with hundreds of posts, I limit the number of my Facebook friendships to a quantity I can deal with (more or less).  

And then I remembered that in June 2014, I had given a seminar in the Department of Geography at the University of Haifa entitled: “The changing eyes of a human geographer: How being a geographer has influenced what I photograph and how to do it”.  I had intended it as a “serious” seminar, one that I might work on and convert into a paper (I was still in “academic mode” at that time.)  But in the event, the presentation was postponed only to be rescheduled for the last day of the school year and as such, it had been intimated to me that I might like to “lighten” the content as the folks were celebrating the end of another academic year and weren’t up to anything as heavy as an earnest seminar. Consequently I gave a “slideshow” — but a high quality one, I might add.

Anyway, not having looked for over a year and a half at what I had originally prepared for that presentation, which, in retrospect, was 6,000 words long, and at least twice as long as would have been justified for a seminar, I decided to re-read it and on reading what I had written once more, I discovered that the original presentation was quite coherent and could be built on somehow—but how should I proceed?  An article for an academic journal perhaps? I might have done that once but as a retiree, such things no longer interested me all that much and I didn’t think I had the patience to submit a paper to a journal and deal with snooty editors and snotty reviewers (of which I had been one for 35 years).  Perhaps a picture book that my photography mentor had suggested to me that I produce earlier that year, a book on the park and the port in Tel Aviv.  However, after some contemplation, I concluded that a book was too big a project at the stage I was at then. I needed to try something a little easier at first and if it went well, perhaps I might turn it into something a bit more serious. So I decided on an SW photography blog — something where I could show and explain some of the many images I have taken over the past few years.  Consequently, when I restarted the blog in December 2015, my aim was no more ambitious than to see if I was capable of producing just 20 posts and I set out to post my first piece.

The Regent’s Canal, North London

So here I am, nearly six years later, still churning it out, approximately one post every eight days, text (usually frivolous or based on whatever happens to have vexed, irritated, piqued or amused me in the week prior to posting) and photographs (usually taken in the 10 days or so before posting), loosely (if at all, although I usually try) related to the text.  And yet, there are still the faithful few who seem to read what I write and look at the photographs.  And what is more, there is even a small number of diehards who bother to comment, either on the content or on the images, sometimes even leading me to material or ideas that had never before entered my mind.  The other thing I had to remember was that I’m not writing an academic paper but something else entirely and that meant shaking off the language of “academese” and writing in a more informal manner.  An what a relief not to have to worry too much about this word or that or starting a sentence with a conjunction or whatever — although I do have one reader who frequently corrects my spelling mistakes, or inserts commas and semicolons where needed but I take it all with good grace — after gritting my teeth for not having twigged on to these errors myself before posting.

And today, it’s post #250—and I haven’t got the slightest idea what I’m going to write except that it might—I say just might—be a little longer than usual.

In addition to hardly believing that I’ve been doing this for as long as I have, I also find it difficult to accept that I’ve already been in London for four weeks.  And how things have changed in just four weeks. And I’m not referring to the weather, either.  When I arrived, there seemed to be nothing on the TV other than Olympics and Covid, with the odd murder or wildfire thrown in for good measure just to make people feel at home.  And how things have changed during what used to be called “the silly season” — the Afghanistan débâcle(s), fires, floods, and now it’s the paralympics and Charlie Watts, the original Rolling Stones drummer, about the announcement of whose death BBC TV news broke into a serious discussion on Afghan refugees. And of course, there’s still Covid, the numbers about which I can make neither heads nor tails any more, except to learn that it’s still about and will be for a long time. And as I’m in the the UK, and whereas everybody I seem to know in Israel has had a third booster shot, I think I will have to wait until I return to the Land of Milk and Honey before I have mine.

And now for some photographs.

A couple of years ago, while walking up Haverstock Hill in NW London, heading towards Hampstead, I came across this street sign, which I simply interpreted as an error on the part of someone a few years ago.

However, a little further up the street, I had to change my mind, because it seemed as if the same street sign technician had been let loose some time ago and managed up to put yet another dyslexic street sign in place.  I was always told when younger to “mind my P’s and Q’s” but the guy responsible for this obviously didn’t mind his P’s and O’s.  Incidentally, directly opposite this sign is an older one (you can tell it’s older because Willoughby Road, now in London NW3, was once just in London NW.)  Willqughby Road is in NW3!

This stamp dispenser stands just off Primrose Hill Road and it’s been there for a very long time.  I photographed it about 10 years ago and was wondering the other day how often it gets used in these days of FaceTime, Facebook, WhatsApp and all the other devilish pieces of social media that I don’t know about and have never even heard of.  The only time I ever saw this dispenser is use was when Alan Bennett bought four stamps prior to posting a letter — one of the few occasions on which I didn’t even have my camera with me!

And not far from the same place, I came across this couple out for a walk, he wearing the shortest shorts I think I’ve ever seen in this part of the world!

And while walking around Hampstead, I came across a plaque on one of the houses on Pilgrim’s Lane.  Obviously, Jacqui was insufficiently famous to warrant a blue plaque but managed to be remembered by way of a local one (as well as, of course, her many recordings).

However, no sooner had I emerged from Pilgrim’s Lane and was walking down Rosslyn Hill/Haverstock Hill, I came across a different cellist, obviously en route to a recording session in AIR Studios at the corner of Haverstock Hill and Lyndhurst Road, in what used to be a church (signs of the times).

A week ago, I had a guest stay for three days in the apartment and we decided to visit the Tate Modern (a building with which I’m in love) to see an exhibition focussing on the importance of plaster and other soft materials in Rodin’s sculptures. Although he is best known for his bronze and marble sculptures…

… he also worked as a modeller, capturing movement, light and volume in pliable materials such as clay, plaster and terracotta.

Rodin’s giblets

 

Rodin, The Burghers of Calais. Tate Modern, London

And there was also an opportunity to capture how the Tate (and British society) has changed in the past two or three decades.

And just before exiting the gallery,  I took a photo of the enormous play space that has been created for children on the ground floor of this amazing building.

BTW, the picture below is not of a statue by Rodin but was taken not too far from the Gallery. Given that he didn’t move for five minutes, he might as well have been sculpted by Rodin.

And en route to the Tate, while walking down Kingsway, and passing part of King’s College London with portraits of famous graduates on the wall, I was reminded that I have a dental appointment this week!

… and emerging from the gallery after the visit en route to find somewhere too have a bite, I came across yet another young woman full of selfie-confidence

Leaving the house the other day for a walk on Hampstead Heath, there was a parked van with a story to tell.  A vegan activist, known as Earthling Ed just set off on a tour of the British seaside a couple of years ago in a vehicle named ‘The Off the Hook Truck’. He has stocked the truck with free vegan fish and chips – also known as tofish and chips – which, apparently, is one of the best sellers at a London restaurant of which he is part-owner.

No visit to London would be complete without a walk to Primrose Hioll — this one on a misty early morning walk.

And another visit to the same venue brought me this week’s avian picture—of a starling, a beautiful bird I’d never seen from close-up before!

And as a sign of the times, one entrance to Primrose Hill announces “No skating”, “No cycling”, “No amplified music” — and as a sign of the times, a lock and chain have been put in place to close off entrance to the park at night time …

… something that The Economist had a thing or two report about a fortnight ago!

Economist on Hampstead Heath

This gentleman below can be seen most mornings walking down the hill from the direction of Hampstead, replete with sleeping bag and belongings, from where he presumably found somewhere to rest his weary head and body …

… and then he can be observed later in the day walking up the hill from the direction of Camden with what would appear to be his favourite tipple—vintage cider!

And coming home on the Underground one evening last week, I was struck by the slumbering couple on the other side of the carriage …

… and also by the notice on the carriage window next to them.

 

 

Younger people, this actually means “Get off your bike here and now”!

And here are some styles observed in the heart of Camden Town.

 

 

Meanwhile, Tal, my 11-year old grandson has suddenly become interested in taking photographs with his phone and I thought I’d include a couple that he took a few days ago while looking for subjects to do with nature.  I thought it was pretty good for a first try!

Finally—and I’ve never done anything like this before in over five years of blogging—I’m including a so-called “scholarly piece” for your edification. Every now and then, one surprises oneself. A couple of weeks ago, that’s what happened to me. About 20 years ago, I contributed a chapter to a co-edited a book. Looking at the year in which it was published, 2002, I must have received a copy when I was living in London and the book remained here, never making it back to Israel.

Then, one wet afternoon, rather than go out  for a walk in the rain, I did an hour and a half on the exercise bike and took a book off the shelf to take my mind off pedalling.  I vaguely remembered that I had a chapter—“States of Segregation”— in that book. Recalling the writing process, I actually do remember writing it (it started life as five chapters of a book never completed) and I also recalled an exchange I had with the copy editor at the time.  However, having said that, I can’t remember ever reading it after it had been published. So I read it while pedalling and found that I had to keep asking myself if it was really I who wrote it. I reckon that it is one of my best pieces ever—even interesting and free of jargon. What a pleasant surprise it was! But buried inside a book, I wondered if anybody had ever read it!  So here’s your chance!

States of Segregation

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Alice, Bags and Insanity

I really can’t believe that it’s been almost a fortnight since I last posted so I suppose if it’s time again.  I also can’t believe that I’ve been in London for over a fortnight — and what have I done except reorient my body from extreme heat and humidity to greyness and coolness interspersed with something resembling summer sun and temperatures every now and then?  I can’t say that I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for and I also can’t say that I don’t like it — although a little more sunshine might be in order.

I finally “awoke” on my fourth day here, a Monday, and was even alert by the following day, at which point I needed to get out and “do” something.  I had watched a TV programme which was part of a series on museums during lockdown here in the UK and the one I watched was about the Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) and part of the programme dealt with an exhibition based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass.  Alice in Wonderland, as it is commonly known, was written 166 years ago and, as everybody knows, is a tale about a young girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures.  It’s regarded as a wonderful exemplar of the genre known as literary nonsense and it’s a story that appeals to both children and adults and it’s its play with logic that provides the story with its lasting popularity.  Alice has never been out of print and it has been translated into 100 languages. It has also been adapted for stage, screen, radio, art, ballet, theme parks, and even  board games and video games.

As the author apparently imagined the story and then told it on a boat ride with Alice (Alice Liddell was a very real person) and her sisters and started to write it down the following day. Alice was was aged 8 at the time and one couldn’t help but wonder what 21st century paedophilophobes would have made of an adult male riding in a boat on a river, telling three young girls fantastic stories, is anybody’s guess.  Moreover, Lewis Carroll was a keen amateur  photographer who enjoyed photographing children; several of his photos depict nude or semi-nude children—but nevertheless Alice in Wonderland  has been read by millions.

At any rate, I decided to travel to the V&A in South Kensington where I had spent several enjoyable days a decade or so ago participating in two photography courses from which I took away a lot. Before I set off, I booked my entry time for in these COVID days, and notwithstanding Boris Johnson’s “Freedom Day”, many institutions such as museums and galleries operate a form of social distancing based on times of entry.

Having got there, I joined a line for the Alice Exhibition.  I must have been in the line 10 minutes when I was approached by one of the museum staff who asked me if I needed help and I discovered that I was in the right queue but when my turn came, the information I received was that tickets for “Alice” are distributed on Tuesdays and this being a Wednesday, there were none left, which left me somewhat annoyed (I almost wrote a euphemism often used in common speech but I restrained myself at the last minute) as I’d travelled across London to get there.  However, I then enquired whether if I took out membership in the V&A, I could see the exhibition that same day as a member and along came the response “Of course”, so reckoning that I’m like to go again once or twice over the coming months, that is exactly what I did and I was able to see what I wanted to see, and, in addition, another exhibition entitled “BAGS: Inside Out”, which explores the style, function, design and craftsmanship involved with transportable containers for all sorts of nicknacks of all sorts of value, from handbags and purses, rucksacks and knapsacks to despatch boxes, Birkin bags, Louis Vuitton luggage and trunks that the over-wealthy used to take with them on ships and into which would be placed anything that might be needed at the end of a voyage.  Super interesting.  And all from the V&A collection.

… and then it time for Alice.  All I can say about it is that the curator’s imagination ran wild and there’s something in this conglomeration of objects based on Alice for everyone of every age.  I even came home and read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again for the first time in perhaps 60 years or more.

When Hollywood discovered Alice! (Just look at who’s in the cast!)

 

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (i)

 

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (ii)

 

The Queen of Hearts (accompanied by the King)

This week, friends asked me if I’d like to go with them to Kew Gardens.  Although the weather when we set out was far from perfect, Kew is a pleasant place to visit.  The fact that getting there took an hour or so and getting back even longer, left us about an hour and a half at the gardens, but the company was great, the chat even more so and there were some pictures to be taken as well.

Kew Gardens on an August afternoon

One of the more spectacular trees at Kew is the monkey puzzle, also known as the Chile Pine (Araucaria araucana).  Araucaria was also the nom de plume of the Rev. John Graham, the Guardian crossword setter, over whose solutions I used to study for years (the crosswords themselves were a little difficult for me although from time to time I had partial successes).  The Rev. Graham also set puzzles for other publications, including The Financial Times, in which he used the pseudonym Cinephile, which every crossword setter and solver would immediately recognise as an anagram of Chile Pine,  &c., &c., &c.

 

 

The Hive, Kew Gardens.

My other outing this week was to the Hampstead Theatre (with socially distanced seating) to see one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser known plays, The Two Character Play, in which the two characters are actors on tour, a brother and sister who find themselves deserted by their acting troupe in a decrepit “state theatre in an unknown state”. Faced (perhaps) by an audience expecting a performance, they enact The Two-Character Play – an illusion within an illusion, an ‘out cry’ from isolation, panic, and fear. The plot is somewhat confusing and difficult to follow, and there is little sense of a resolution. It has a concurrent double plot, a play within a play in which the brother and sister characters are psychologically damaged from witnessing the traumatic murder/suicide of their parents, remaining recluses in the family home since the incident though they are attempting to make hesitant contact with the outside world. Because the actors dip in and out of performance—there are only the two of them left since their company has abandoned them—improvising parts not memorised or not yet written, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate the actors from the characters and reality from illusion.  At the Hampstead, both of the actors were brilliant and the staging was out of this world.  The play is apparently in part autobiographical. The female actor and character are loosely based on Williams’ sister, Rose, who was schizophrenic, and the male actor and character based on Williams himself, who cared for her.

Beyond museums, galleries and theatres, just walking around the neighbourhood has provided its own complement of photographs.  For instance, I know I’m in England when I see a number like the one on the door below…

 

  

… and the bridge over the railway line just before entering Hampstead Heath has been decorated and beautified since I was last here.

Meanwhile, although I’m living in an urban area, there is still wildlife around — even when I take out the garbage…

… or when I look out of the [not too clean] living room window.

Kew Gardens provided me with two of this week’s avian photos

… while this pigeon in The Regent’s Park was only doing what pigeons do — taking the sun.

The Regent’s Park always amazes me — any time of the year, there are flowers and colours.

Meanwhile, on the way back from a morning walk on the Heath, I came across a scene that one can observe almost anywhere.

Too late! The deed has been done!

And while at Kew, it wasn’t all trees and flowers and birds — and there was time for coffee as well.

And moire locally, in the immediate neighbourhood, you can see all sorts of interesting things if you keep your eyes open.

Past its best before date. (Fleet Road, Belsize Park.)

And in a way, this post box, which I’ve been meaning to photograph for years already sort of summarises the current state of the United Kingdom

And the birds at the end of the garden are indicating that perhaps the apples on the trees that I can see from the living room window are already ripe.

Finally, daughters and granddaughters escaped from the heat and humidity of Tel Aviv for a couple of days to the Jerusalem Hills (before the wildfires) and while walking in Jerusalem, Lily (on the left) noticed a poster advertising an “End of Summer Festival”, which contained a drawing that Shuli had done for the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s children’s concerts a couple of years ago.  Great excitement all round, I’m told!

 

 

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Heat and humidity—Wind and rain

It’s Monday afternoon, the second day of August, and I find myself once again in London, the capital of what has been designated by the Government of Israel as a “red country”, a high-risk country, although true-blue conservatives and Conservatives might balk at that description.

The fact that the Israeli government designated the United Kingdom as a “high risk” destination upset whatever fragmentary plans I had for the second half of this summer.  All of a sudden, 10 days ago, I had to decide whether I should travel a fortnight earlier than I’d planned (if indeed I was able to change my booking) or wait until Israel looked upon the UK more favourably.  I consulted with the person who has acted as my travel agent for the past three and a half decades and with another person familiar with the travel business and decided that there was no real alternative.  In fact, changing the booking was the easiest part of the whole process.

The thought of escaping the heat and humidity of Tel Aviv (34ºC, 80% humidity today) and swapping it for the rain and wind of London really didn’t bother me in the slightest although I imagine that after a week of rain, etc., I might be wanting a bit of warmth!

View from the bedroom window that day after arrival

Having completed Stage I (i.e., changing the booking), I then had to put the apartment in Tel Aviv in something resembling order in the space of five days rather than the two and a half weeks I had originally contemplated as I had rented it to an old friend for the duration of my stay away from Tel Aviv.  Given that I am not the most organised person on the planet, what was never going to be an easy task turned out to be nightmarish but I think that by the end of the fifth day, it was sufficiently acceptable to accommodate a guest.

I was due to travel on the Thursday morning but it was only on the Monday that I started to deal with the bureaucracy of travel during the Corona era.  First off, I had to book a Covid test in order to exit Israel.  Although it had been difficult enough to find a time and date, I had already booked an appointment at the airport the day before I was originally due to travel but, of course, that had now become passé.  And as the test results had to be printed in English, that meant that getting a new appointment meant either travelling to somewhere in South Tel Aviv and waiting or, alternatively, paying a little extra and have someone come to the flat to do it.  I chose the latter and was given a time slot by the organisation carrying out the tests—Tuesday 27 July between 10.00 and 14.00.  At about 10.30, I had a call from a woman who introduced her self as Poll, who spoke English with a Manchester accent and told me she’d be with me within the hour to administer the Covid test but no sooner had that conversation ended when the doorbell rang and I was informed by a man called Rami from the same organisation that he had arrived to stick a swab down my throat and then up my nose.  What ensued was an argument between Polly and Rami lasting over five minutes — on my cellphone —  as to who would do the job.  It ended when he came up to the apartment and did what he said he had to do.  The conclusion that cynical me arrived at was that the swab deliverers work on commission and while this whole business of Covid testing may well be a necessary precaution, it is also a racket, a conclusion which was confirmed over succeeding days!

By evening I had received a negative result signed by a senior physician at Tel Aviv’s main hospital that I was “fit for international travel” and I sighed a sigh relief — but, boy, was I naïve!  I had also received notification from El Al, the Israeli airline with which I was due to travel, that my flight had been changed from the reasonable hour of 10.10 to 08.10, which meant a 4 a.m. rise and shine. On the morrow, I filled in a form to satisfy the authorities in the United Kingdom that I was “fit to stay”.  I provided them details of my flight number, my seat number on the plane, where I was going to stay, how many people were travelling with me, how many other people were going to be in the place I was going to live, etc. and I received confirmation once more that I was “kosher”.  Relief — again.

However, there was one more hurdle to cross and that came on the Thursday, the day before I was due to travel.  Just as in England, where they want to know who is entering, the Israelis want to know who is leaving; so 24 hours before the flight time, I filled in the appropriate form and sent it online to the Israeli Ministry of Health and received a response within 30 seconds that given the data that I had supplied, I was forbidden to travel and that I should contact the airline!  I tried again — same response.  I tried a third time, this time in English — and guess what?  So I rang my travel agent of 36 years and asked what might be wrong and she told me that she had entered my Irish passport number on the booking but that she would correct it.  I waited an hour and then tried again — but got the same response.

So I called El Al and got on to someone who tried to be helpful, and asked him if there was an Israeli or Irish passport number on the booking.  “Israeli” was the response, so I tried a fifth time. No good.  At this stage, it seemed as if the only sensible thing to do was to call the Ministry of Health.  Logical? Perhaps.  Sensible? Hardly.  I dialled the number and after 10 minutes of constant ringtone, it hung up on me — which is what I expected.  I was beginning to visualise having an argument with some petty bureaucrat at the airport at 4 a.m. the following morning, something which didn’t really appeal to me. So what did I do?  I called the airline again, as instructed, where I had an altercation with the rudest woman I have ever spoken to (it wasn’t really a conversation but a monologue uttered fff) who ended up screaming at me that the only thing to do was to call the Ministry of Health and that she, an El Al employee, was not responsible for my problem.

Given my experience with the Ministry a few minutes earlier, I didn’t expect anything much to happen but with little alternative, I called “Customer Services” (or whatever it’s officially called) again — and lo and behold, a woman’s voice answered within 30 seconds.  I explained my predicament and she responded with “I understand”.  I was flabbergasted.  Then she asked me to wait for a couple of minutes, returned and went through the process of filling in the form, while I plied her with responses over the phone.  She repeated each response [in English, with an Israeli accent, something that had never happened before] and when we got the question that related to travel to a “high risk” country, she informed that this was my mistake, because Britain would only become a high risk country in the eyes of the Government of Israel on Thursday night at midnight!  We finished the exercise and she then informed me that everything was OK.  I asked for confirmation and I spelled out my email address and waited — and I’m still waiting.  So I reckoned that if it had been OK’d, I would try again myself and so it was.

Armed with a bagful of paper certificates, permissions and whatnot, I turned up at Ben-Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv at 05.00 the following morning and a couple of hours later, I had completed Stage II of the journey and was on the plane waiting the arrival of the other passengers.

Several hours later, and after a total of 11 hours masked up, I had arrived at my destination.

I was a zombie for two days, a result I suppose, of 10 days of stress and tension but I finally woke up yesterday morning and was almost functioning normally.  Today, (Monday), it was cloudy but I decided to go for a walk and dressed reasonably warmly, only to discover as I was on my way, that the sun had decided to emerge and I discovered that I was overdressed.   Notwithstanding, I made for Primrose Hill, which is usually my first stop when I arrive in London and when I can see the London skyline from the summit, I know that I’m here for sure.  I’d been there a couple of days ago but the sky was a bit overcast but the skyline was there and that eased things.

It was certainly different from what I’d become used to photographing recently in the park in Tel Aviv.

Early morning family exercises. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

 

08.00 hrs, Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. Environment: Tel Aviv summer. Clothing: Polish winter

 

08.00 hrs, Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. Fully dressed and ready for the day.

 

“Dalmatian” pigeon. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

In London, the only disappointment at Primrose Hill was when I walked around the park to view the five trees that I have been photographing at different seasons and at different times of the day and in different lighting and their curvature which I regarded as mimicking the curvature of the hill itself was the discovery that the southernmost tree had been “decapitated” …

… part of the general “pruning” process that has been going on in the park.

On Saturday morning, as I walked up to the top of the hill, there were two park employees clearing up the litter that had been strewn about by the previous evening’s revellers.  Talking to the older one of the two and remarking that one can view similar scenes in parks everywhere, he drew my attention to the shards of broken glass that were scattered all over the place, with the comment that “It seems like they can’t have a drink without smashing the bottles before they leave!”  This was  as simple case of understatement …

… and then I noticed something that had never been there before and had never needed to be.

It seems as if being cooped up in Covid lockdowns has had its repercussions.

And now that “Freedom Day” in the UK has come and gone, it was interesting to observe what happens when the government leaves it to the individual as to whether or not masks should be worn.  As an example, I travelled from Belsize Park to Edgware, a 20-minute ride in the London Underground, seven stations altogether.  Supposedly, the public is not given the option to choose or not to choose to wear a mask but on public transport as it’s obligatory.  There were no more than a dozen people in the carriage in which I was travelling at any one time and a rough estimate is that about half of the passengers were wearing masks and the other half were not.  However, by my rough estimate, all of those not wearing masks were under 30 years of age!  Obligatory it may be but it seems as if it’s impossible to implement.

Mask on wrist. London Underground, Northern Line.

Still, NW London provides interesting opportunities for photographs.

A London hydrant. No gaudy red here!

 

A member of the local inhabitants’ Association, The Regent’s Park, London.

And the BBC Promenades season has opened and just as I was walking home, I came across this Blue Plaque on the house at 4 Elsworthy Road, in Belsize Park, in which the founder of the Proms once lived!

And here I am, at the computer, writing this blog post and looking at a familiar photograph that a good friend gave us many moons ago.

And I might just as well write as there’s nothing much to watch live on television at the moment save for reports from the Tokyo Olympics or reports on the numbers of people ill or dying from Covid-19, accompanied by a few items here and there 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, I suppose.

Still, there are things called “books” to read and that is what I am going to do until next week, folks.

Have a great week!

 

 

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“Freedom Day” — Really?

In Keeping On Keeping On, Alan Bennett relates  the following in his diary for the year 2014:

15 April. Watch five minutes of “Have I Got News for You” with Nigel Farage the guest and Ian Hislop and Paul Merton their usual genial selves. I never quite understand why they are happy to sit on a panel with Farage, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Clarkson et al. Their reasoning would, I imagine, be that this gives them the opportunity to have fun at the expense of Farage and Co. And so they do. But the impression an audience comes away with is that actually nothing much matters and that these seemingly jokey demagogues are human and harmless and that their opinions are not really as pernicious as their opponents pretend. And even if they are what does it matter as politics is just a con anyway. Whereas Johnson, the bike apart, doesn’t seem to have a moral bone in his body and the batrachoidal (frog- or toad-like) Farage likewise. ‘So where’s your sense of humour? It’s only a joke.’

Well, well.  What’s new?

Add to Alan Bennett’s view of the British Prime Minister the words of Johnson’s former top aide, Dominic Cummings, who was finally interviewed by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg — while, of course, remembering that Mr. Cummings is a person who has very much his own agenda to manage, his own axes to grind, and his own grudges to bear —  it makes for worrying reading, especially as I am planning to spend some time in the UK from the middle of next month.  According to Cummings, Mr. Johnson denied last autumn that the National Health Service would be overwhelmed and said that he was not prepared to lock the country down in order to save people in their ’80s.  Johnson held out on reimposing Covid restrictions because he was slightly rocked by data on Covid fatalities, with a median age of 82, which, he said, was above life expectancy—and could be expected to die shortly, although he didn’t actually say that. So, according to Cummings, BoJo was of the opinion that one should get Covid and live longer and texted him so.  He really didn’t believe that the National Health Service being overwhelmed (even though he, himself, had been seriously ill with the disease earlier in the year.  I presume that once his antibodies had kicked in, he lost interest in the NHS — although it saved his own life.  The interview cast further doubt over the Prime Minister’s actions in the run-up to the November lockdown (when I was in London myself on a visit planned to last just a few weeks but which turned out to be three months).   And, according to Cummings, Johnson repeatedly ignored the advice of his chief scientific and medical advisers — which we have seen once again in the past fortnight.

Meanwhile, here we are mid-July 2021, and England launched yesterday (Monday) what has come to be known as “Freedom Day” whereby many of the government-imposed restrictions on movement, gatherings and mask-wearing transmogrify from being law to becoming recommendations as to how people should behave.  The government in England (if not in the rest of the United Kingdom) seems more determined than ever to trust in people to act in their own best interests and in the interests of those around them. Is that naïve of what? I suppose the question is whether England is making the stupidest decision ever or whether it’s leading the way for the rest of the world to follow.

The United Kingdom with a population of around 66 million is turning out c. 50,000 new Covid cases a day whereas here in Israel, with a population of around 9 million, there are just under 1,000 new cases a day and they’re worried.  If you do the sums — and it’s not that difficult — then there is a world of difference between the two situations.  The Israeli government is being cautious — perhaps even overcautious — with the Prime Minister and other ministers seriously advising citizens not to travel abroad at all and making it difficult for them to do so and awk