It’s just been ages and ages

I think that this has been the second longest hiatus in the six years I’ve been posting to this blog and what’s more, I have no real excuses though I can produce some sort of an explanation if pushed.  I suppose that it’s a combination of an innate laziness and the Christmas/New Year period here in this barely United Kingdom, something I haven’t experienced for several years.  As far as I can ascertain, it’s a part of the year that rivals its Israeli double act, i.e. the run-up to Jewish New Year and all that follows it, a spell during which the most usual response to any simple request is “acharei ha-chagim”, in other words, “after the holidays”.  Here in the UK, the parallel riposte is “In the New Year” and then when the New Year arrives, there’s a period following which involves recuperating from the excesses familiar to that time.

The upshot of all this is that one loses track of time and during the period approximately between December 20 and January 8, what with Xmas, Bank Holidays, and those bridging days during which some things were open and others are not, not only do you lose track of dates but you also have no idea of what day in the week you’re at.  I found that my life had become even more improperly planned and controlled than what passes as the norm for me.  In other words, this coming week should be a  “normal” week once again.  Then when I add to all this the frenetic social life I’ve been leading over the past three or four weeks (but that’s another, rather lengthy, story entirely which I won’t be telling on this blog) then the absence of anything from me on this blog becomes understandable if not entirely pardonable.

Christmas is over, I suppose. London NW3. Early January 2022.

 

… for some. anyway  (InHealth Clinic, Waterloo Road, London.  Early January 2022.)

While I’m in London, I get around as much as I can via public transport.  I sold the car that I had had here for a decade as it hadn’t been driven in a year and a half and even if I had driven it, there’s barely anywhere to park it once you’ve arrived at your destination. (Having written that, I have to add that when the company came to take it away, it started first time after 18 months of inactivity.)  Mostly, using public transport involves the London Underground and London’s red buses and when they’re not available or when the weather is foul, I use Uber or some other form of taxi.  And that made me think one day last week while I was ubering to my son’s house how some things have changed so radically over the past few years.

There was time when in order to travel by taxi you either needed to phone a cab company and order one to pick you up or stand in the street (in the foul weather) and hope that an empty taxi passed by — and you also had to remember to have an adequate amount of cash in your wallet to pay for the ride.  Today, things are different.  Last week, I opened the Uber app and booked a car to take me to my destination.  By the time I’d got my coat on and gone downstairs to the lobby, I had received a notification that the car was just 2 minutes away, just enough time to check the registration number of the car and then see it drive up close to the building and off I went.  Twenty minutes later, I thanked the driver for getting me to my destination safely and as I exited, there was a buzz in my pocket as my receipt from Uber arrived and I’m there without as much as a penny having changed hands.  I find it rather incredible although there’s no rhyme or reason why I should feel that way other than the fact that I am rapidly becoming advanced in years.

Meanwhile, Covid rages on with Omicron surpassing Delta as the variant of non-choice.  (At the beginning, I was wont to make the facetious statement that O’Micron was only a well-known minuscule Irish virus that affected leprechauns and if you were unlucky enough to catch it but managed to see the accompanying rainbow you might come across a pot of gold and strike it rich.)  Funny though that may have been a few weeks ago, it’s been overtaken by Omicron’s rapid spread.

One of the things that this has led to is the increased use of lateral flow (antigen) tests, in particular when you’re invited to friends or going somewhere at which there’s a substantial number of people at high density.  It’s now de rigueur.

But now that the government here has seemingly succeeded in getting this through and into the national consciousness, (along with mask-wearing at least in public places) there are reports in today’s papers that these little things will no longer be provided gratis through the National Health Service and that people will be expected to pay for them, just like everything else.  And one of the consequences of getting antigen tests is acquiring a test kit and one of the consequences of that is that people are getting more exercise than normal as they tramp through the streets searching for a pharmacy that has any in stock!

Besides walking the streets searching for antigen test kits, I did manage to get out and about but before and after the extended Xmas period.  One of the exhibitions I did get to see was a wonderfully curated exhibition on Peru at the British Museum, one of the better presented shows I’ve been to since I got here.  But although it was only a few weeks ago, it seems to belong to the distant past. …

… and then last week I went to the Fabergé exhibition at the V&A.  It must be one of the most sought after exhibitions in the city air the moment for when I booked in mid-November, the first date I could get was January 7 and when I eventually did arrive, it was a very slow soft-shoe shuffle for an hour and a half as there were lots of people and as far as I could ascertain, many Russian speakers, obviously swotting up on their cultural history.

It was the first exhibition I’d been to since August where taking photographs was not permitted. I presume that that had something to do with copyrights and so forth.  I found some of the pieces on display very beautiful and exquisite and the workmanship (or is one supposed to say workpersonship today?) extraordinary but couldn’t help thinking about how many of these very skilled people had problems with their backs and their vision as well as other things as a result of slaving away day after day to satisfy the very privileged very few!  And it was for this reason that I also found the whole thing somewhat obscene.  But there you are.

And one cancelled theatre performance just before the Xmas break was replaced by an Ottolenghi lunch …

… which in turn led to a visit to some of the most interesting street art it’s been my pleasure to view, outside the old Spitalfields Market.

And it wasn’t just dogs and rabbits either!

 

Spitalfields Market. December 2021

And, of course, I did manage to take some “regular” photos over the past couple of weeks as well, the first of which surprised me because it manage to escape the constrictions of the “Green Machine”.

 

Yuch!!!!!!!  Haverstock Hill, London NW3

 

Smile — and the world smiles with you. Near Chalk Farm Tube Station, NWLondon

 

Tom, Dick & Harry permitted, of course!

 

Free Flow Encouraged! Chalk Farm, London

 

London on a Winter’s Morning. Primrose Hill

 

On Primrose Hill on a clear Winter’s Morning

 

On Primrose Hill on a clear Winter’s Morning

 

Finally, a piece sent to me by a good friend as An Obituary printed in the London Times.  Even if it’s been re-posted on WhatsApp and many other sites over and again and even if it never actually appeared as an obituary in The Times, it still makes for interesting reading in this weird period in which we are currently living!

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– And maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.      It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death,
-by his parents, Truth and Trust,
-by his wife, Discretion,
-by his daughter, Responsibility,
-and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 5 stepbrothers;
– I Know My Rights
– I Want It Now
– Someone Else Is To Blame
– I’m A Victim
– Pay me for Doing Nothing

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.
If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.

 

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It’s been a long, long time

It really has been a long, long time since I last posted to this blog and I have no excuses other than the fact that I’ve been out and about in between waiting for the joiner to clear up the mess that the plumbers left when they installed a new toilet a few weeks ago.  So far in this regard, there have been several “false alarms” such as when I arrange a date and time for the man to come and two hours after the appointed time and after several texts and attempts at calling he calls back to say that he’s not feeling too well and will be in contact again next week.  Meanwhile another morning ruined fruitlessly killing time.  And that was five days and several reminders ago—and I’m still waiting.

The big news of the past few days (for me at any rate) was the decision of the Israeli government to designate the UK once more as a “red” country.  As the Israeli daily Haaretz reported in today’s issue:

“The Health Ministry [has] expanded its list of “red” countries on Sunday … to include the United Kingdom and Denmark, amid the omicron variant’s spread in Israel, the ban on travel [going] into effect on Wednesday evening. Entry to Israel from these countries is forbidden as well, but permission may be granted by the ‘exceptions committee’.”  The term “Exceptions Committee” stinks and strikes me as the latest variant of the well-known Israeli social virus, commonly referred to as “protektzia”.   Thus, Britain (and Denmark) have added to a list of 49 countries that include most countries in Africa.  Oddly (or perhaps less oddly than imagined) Belgium, too, had been placed on the list and then removed, to which my cynical self said to my jaundiced self that somebody in the Ministry of Health forgot that there are around 20,000-25,000 Jews living in Antwerp, mostly identifying as Strictly Orthodox, and they like to travel in order to be with their family members and friends who live in Israel so why mess up their lives?

Altogether as of a couple of days ago, the national total of people in Israel diagnosed with the omicron Covid variant is less than 100 with another 100 or so suspected of having contracted it.  However, it appears that more than 40% of Israelis are not fully vaccinated and therefore have  a lower level of protection against this omicron variant of COVID-19. So Israel has definitely adopted a policy of better safe than sorry.  Yet, if they only knew that O’Micron is a well-known Irish virus that attacks leprechauns and it you accidentally catch it, you may find yourself next to the proverbial pot of gold, they might change their mind.

None of this interests me very much at the moment, though, because there are still 5 weeks left in London before I am due to find myself once more in the Tel Aviv metropolis and as things like travel restrictions change daily, and sometimes twice daily, I’ll being to take an interest in a month’s time.

As for news in the UK, beside omicron, there’s the ongoing discussion as to whether or not parties were held in 10 Downing Street a year ago, who attended them, who knew who attended, were they actually parties or just business meetings with drinks at hand, were the drinkers/revellers/partiers at arm’s length from one another (orangutang’s arms, of course), and most importantly, who forgot to tell that Harry Houdini (Whodunnit?) of British politics, the Prime Minister, what was going on in his own backyard, because we all know that he didn’t know for he only needs to know what he wants to know, and so forth.


What emerged from all this, in addition to the establishment of and the green light given for various parliamentary committees to investigate these matters, was the resignation of Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s former Press Secretary who resigned from her government job in December 2021, after footage had been released of her joking with colleagues about that Downing Street Christmas party at a “press conference rehearsal” during lockdown in December 2020.

Hired, apparently, because she was able to tell the truth, something that is sorely missing from within BoJo’s coterie of loyal followers/appointees, she at least had the decency to read her declaration of resignation in the street outside her home from within a flood of tears (sans makeup)!  What a difference a year makes!

Meanwhile, London has said goodbye to autumn and has more or less welcomed in winter.

The tree in the garden at the front of the house is convinced that autumn will stay forever…

 

… whereas the trees in the rear suggests that it is passing

 

However, the first frost on the roofs opposite suggest that winter has really arrived

I was also under the impression that squirrels hibernate in winter and perhaps some do — but those in the back garden seem livelier than ever so maybe they’ve decided that in order to stay warm, they have to keep active rather than sleep.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I went with friends to the Imperial War Museum for the first time. What they wanted to visit was the new “Holocaust Exhibition” on display there.  My impression was that there was “too much in a too-enclosed space”, a sort of practical class in Holocaust Studies 101 although it may have provided information for people who know nothing or next to nothing about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

However, I did find one exhibit in the display particularly informative, and it read:


…which I thought made for interesting reading in itself.

 

There were a couple of events last week that were particularly pleasing.  I attended a concert of the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall in which the guest leader/concertmaster was none other than Sergey Ostrovsky.  I’ve known Sergey for nearly 25 years, from the time that Shuli became a member of the Aviv String Quartet and have heard him perform in all sorts of places.  However, this was something special.  And the added plus was that the orchestra was performing Mahler’s 4th Symphony, which is one of my favourite pieces of music.  Great!

The following day, it was back to pictures with a visit to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, a place I had not been to for some years.  Truly an amazing art collection in such a relatively small space.  The collection includes such masterpieces as Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies Bergère”, which I could have looked at for hours. It’s a painting that features a modern setting in the then most famous and modern of Paris’s café-concert halls, which was noted among other things for its electric lighting. The brushwork is Impressionistic and its framing was influenced by the new art of photography.  Nevertheless, its meaning is obscure, and it deals with a problem that occupied Manet throughout his working life: the relationship between reality and illusion. The picture seems to be a straightforward; it’s a frontal image of a barmaid serving behind her marble-topped counter, who looks out the viewer/customer. But behind her is a huge mirror with confusing reflections, for her reflection has been moved rightward while at top-right, there is we see an illusory image of a man who appears to be directly in front of her, and whom she is leaning forward to serve.

Apparently, the painting conforms to a one-point perspective view as Manet actually constructed the scene not from a frontal head-on position, but from a viewpoint slightly to the right, from which angle, the assumed ‘conversation’ between the barmaid and  the man is an optical trick – the man in fact is standing outside and to the left of the new viewpoint, and is looking away from the barmaid and not standing directly in front of her and anyway, he frontality is also optically deceptive. Instead of standing parallel to the bar and looking straight ahead, she is facing slightly to the right of the picture as we see it, facing the new viewpoint.  So, it seems that Manet was not trying to manufacture an illusion in the mirror but simply portraying reality, the illusion stemming from his pretending to paint the barmaid head-on.

The bottles, the fruit and the vase of flowers are arranged on the counter and are reproduced with all the precision of a still life painting.  Other interesting items include the legs of the trapeze artist which appear in the top-left corner of the picture, Manet’s signature, which appears on the wine bottle at bottom left as well as three of Manet’s friends among the blurred images in the mirror.

Edouard Manet: A Bar at the Folies Bergère

And the Manet was not the only exceptional painting in this wonderful collection, which included [again] Constable and several wonderful Impressionist paintings, as well as one of Vincent van Gogh without his right ear!

 

 


And before entering the exhibition itself, there were the merry skaters having a wonderful time in the courtyard, “Skate at Somerset House” returning this year, sponsored by Moët & Chandon, with the ice rink transforming this neoclassical courtyard into as indispensable winter destination.

The previous weekend, I’d visited Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath, to see what they called their “Winter Wonderland”.  It was rather spectacular even though walking around was a little more difficult that I would have liked.

 

 

The London Skyline at night from Kenwood House

 

Kenwood House in its “Winter Wonderland”

 

Trees at Kenwood House

 

The Light Show at Kenwood House

However, notwithstanding all these visual gems, the highlight of the past two weeks was neither books nor orchestras.  Nor was it paintings or anything like that.  Because last Saturday night, I went to see Steven Spielberg’s remake of that musical theatre classic, West Side Story.

Despite reports that it has grossly underperformed at the box office in its first week, this film is absolutely amazing; it was simply a feast for the ears and eyes, not to mention the emotions.  I think it is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, it not the best.  Of course, one has to admit that Spielberg had wonderful material to start off with, what with the fantastic music by Leonard Bernstein that has become so familiar to us over the past 60 years and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics which were and are a perfect match for Bernstein’s music; the new dialogue by Tony Kushner is also superb. But Spielberg managed to turn West Side Story into the most amazing dramatic film I’ve seen in years. There were scenes that just left you in tears.

Everything about it was fantastic — Bernstein’s music, Sondheim’s lyrics, which I heard clearly for the first time, Kushner’s dialogue and the choreography were out of this world, the photography and the lighting were outstanding, the acting for the most part was top-class. There was hardly anything wrong with it.  It’s really quite incredible and, of course, all the time there’s Bernstein’s music in the background, the orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

Mind you, not everyone agrees with my take on the film.  Richard Brody, a well-known film critic and someone who —obviously—knows a lot more than me about lots of things—wrote in The New Yorker :

“A rich and famous artist spends a hundred million dollars to revive a corpse with the blood of young people. The creature is still alive, but barely, and the infusion leaves it deader than when it started. This is not the plot of the latest horror film from A24 but the unfortunate tale of Steven Spielberg’s efforts to remake “West Side Story,” the movie musical about love and ethnic rivalry among New York City gangs. With the screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg has attempted to fix the dubious aspects of the 1961 film, including its cavalier depiction of Puerto Rican characters and its stereotypes of a hardscrabble New York. But, instead of reconceiving the story, they’ve shored it up with flimsy new struts of sociology and psychology, along with slight dramatic rearrangements. They’ve made ill-conceived additions and misguided revisions. In the process, they’ve managed to subtract doubly from the original.”

And then Brody finishes his review with:

“The story of the original “West Side Story” is that of white Jewish artists (Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins, later joined by Stephen Sondheim—yes that’s what he wrote but, of course we have to remember that this is 2021 and that Brody is a self-styled atheist Jew—who planned to make a musical play about Jewish and Irish gangs and then, worrying that they were heading for cliché, shifted their focus to people they knew nothing about. The result was a big stage and screen hit that has always been diminished by the blind spots of its script and its casting. Spielberg didn’t open up the story to involve new ideas and experiences, nor did he reckon with the cultural and political forces that gave rise to “West Side Story” in the first place. In a year that has also seen the release of “Tick, Tick … Boom”,  a meta-musical about the composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson, one wonders about the meta-film of “West Side Story.” Perhaps the behind-the-scenes tale of its creation and its compromises was the audacious new musical that the moment was ripe for. Dismayingly, Spielberg didn’t have the courage or the insight to imagine it.”

Sometimes, I really do think that the media and the critics really live up to the accusation that they just do no more than fill a given number of words or column inches within a certain time period in order to be paid their salaries on time.

You just have to see and hear the movie and live through its 2½ hours to conclude that what some critics write is, as often as not, pure bullshit!

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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!”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-59373237

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 …” .

Unfortunately!

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.

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/video-tour-helene-binet-light-lines

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)

 

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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.

BUT ENOUGH OF ALL THIS!

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!

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Whistling, Masking, and Whiskies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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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.