Friday, April 27, 2012

Elitsa Todorova

Until a couple of weeks ago I had never  heard of this lady, even though she has twice represented Bulgaria in the Eurovision Song contest. As you can see, I've posted some of her videos next to the posts. The other performers are also well-known in their own right. Definitely worth your time.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My new Ipad 2

    Well, it certainly is a wonderful machine, but it has disadvantages that are not immediately apparent to a first-time-user like myself.
     First of all, after two days of fairly heavy use--which may be part of the problem--I have developed an ache in my right shoulder, the right side of my neck, the right elbow, and the base of my right thumb. I have not as yet noticed any problems with my left side.
     As far as I can determine at this early stage the main villain of the piece appears to be 'swiping,' the use of a finger to scroll pages on the screen. This is a bit tentative, but I've been doing more swiping than anything else up to now, and it is certainly not a natural motion. The constant pressing on icons may also pose a health risk: some of them respond to the slightest touch, but others must be pressed or tapped quite hard.
     It's possible that the swiping motion may be made safer by the use a stylus, but I haven't bought one yet. I did try to make my own, by taping a piece of bandage round the end of a pencil, but the ipad did not respond when I tried to swipe with it.
     According to some internet sites doctors are already beginning to treat stress injuries caused by swiping, as well as by the on-screen keyboard, and even by simply holding the device with the left hand for a prolonged period. Because of this, and also because it's a little difficult to type documents on the Ipad, I  bought a protective case containing a standard keyboard. This case is a trifle heavy, but it can be propped up when open, rather like a laptop, meaning there is no need to hold the Ipad all the time, something which puts too much pressure on the thumb. A further advantage of the case--or folio, as I believe it's called--is that the keyboard can be folded away behind the Ipad. The device can then be held like a book, or a large kindle, which is very convenient for reading. Not only that, there are Ipad reading apps where pages can be turned by the slightest touch on the corner of the screen.
    Even so, it might be best not to allow children unlimited access to an Ipad until Apple irons out the  problems I've mentioned, as well as others that will almost certainly arise.
     More to follow.
    (The folio case and keyboard I bought comes from 'Belkin.' Not cheap, but the keyboard is excellent, although the case can be a trifle awkward at first. By the way, if you decide to buy one, it's very important to remember to switch the keyboard off after use, not just the Ipad. If you forget, any pressure on the outside of the case can turn the Ipad on again, for some reason, something which does not happen when the keyboard is switched off. I don't know whether or not this is specific to the 'Belkin' keyboard.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Extracts from some of my short stories

                                             MUNCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
    By the time I was ten I was no longer surprised by the strange creatures my zoologist father brought home with him from his field trips to Mars, but when he came back with a Coddlewop even I was impressed.
    Today's children, of course, are surprised by nothing. How could they be when the postman is liable to be a seven-headed flying giraffe from Pluto, and singing rocks from Jupiter regularly bring down the house at the Albert Hall? In the 22nd century, however, we still possessed the gift of wonder, and the Coddlewop was just about the most exotic creature anyone could imagine.
    The Coddlewop's proper scientific title is the Greater Spotted Coddlewop. The origins of the name are a mystery, as there is no Lesser Spotted Coddlewop, and the Greater Spotted Coddlewop is invisible to the human eye, making it somewhat difficult to tell if it has spots or not.
    Its fame does not stem from its invisibility, however, or even the size of its spots if, indeed, it has any, but from its diet which, as every schoolboy will tell you, consists entirely of Corn Flakes.

Author's note: The name 'Coddlewop' is taken from the British slang word 'codswallop,' meaning absolute nonsense, which this story certainly is.

Review by: S J MacDonald on Aug. 14, 2011 : star star star star star
Imaginative story, great characters, well written and amusing. Thanks, Arthur Mackeown, it's a very entertaining read. I'll give this a mention on the Starships and Aliens website. :)
Review by: Miss Mae on Aug. 14, 2011 : star star star star star
What an incredible tale! Such originality and creativity! I laughed and chuckled all the way through this as I munched on my corn, hey, there's only half a box! Who's been eating my cereal???

                                                          THE BREAKWATER
    You’d have liked my uncle Henry. He was one of those people who are ‘sorely missed.’ There was nothing very special about him on the face of it. He never climbed a mountain or crossed a desert or earned a medal in the war. He was just a nice, elderly chap, who had a kind word for everyone, and you could always count on him if you were a little strapped for cash. He spent his entire life in our little sea-side town, and the world outside would never have heard of him were it not for the extraordinary manner of his death..
    The actual cause of death was a heart attack, but he didn’t die at home or in a hospital bed. Instead, his body was discovered early one morning by a fisherman, lying on the far side of the estuary below the town, directly opposite a beach known locally as The Flats.
    Now, The Flats is no place for the bucket and spade brigade. There are quick sands here, and deep holes that have the nasty trick of moving around with the tide. The greatest hazard of all, however, is the tide itself. Twice a day it surges with frightening speed up the narrow funnel of the estuary. As the water rushes past the town it becomes the great and deadly wave called the Walcott Bore. Cows, horses, even tractors have been swept away by it. Yes, and people, too. 
    The only way of crossing The Flats on foot is by navigating the ancient, slippery breakwater that spans the estuary at its narrowest point, where it’s less than 100 yards wide.  Not so very far for you and I, but no easy task for someone of Henry’s age.  Even so, it’s what he must have done because there he was, lying face down on the sand, just a few yards from the far end of the breakwater.
    The mystery was solved shortly after the funeral, when an envelope was discovered in the back of a drawer in Henry’s desk. It contained the following pages, written out in his old-fashioned copper-plate hand. I’ve left out some of the personal bits, but what remains makes it clear we didn’t know Uncle Henry as well as we thought.


    ‘From the window of my study I can see right across the estuary and The Flats, to Caxton village, where I went to school. In the late afternoon it all looks so peaceful before the tide comes in and covers everything.  The whelk fishermen are still out, and the sun turns the rock pools to silver. There are several children playing next to the breakwater, and I would call down to warn them off if they weren’t so far away. Not that it’s necessary nowadays. The breakwater’s been fenced off ever since my best friend Billy Roberts fell off it and drowned during the summer holidays nearly fifty years ago.
    Of course, you’ve all heard about what happened to Billy, but what you don’t know is that it was my fault. If it hadn’t been for me he would never have been on that breakwater in the first place.

                                                          VAMPIRE'S NIGHT OUT
    My delicate vampire’s stomach heaved as the waiter reverently placed a steaming, aromatic plate of spaghetti bolognese on the table in front of my wife. He seemed not to notice how pale I had become and asked:
    “Does the lady require anything else? I particularly recommend the bread with garlic butter. Is specialty of the house, made with only freshest ingredients..."
    “Don’t you dare, Winifred,” I said to her.
    “Watch me,” she said, and ordered a double portion.
    Why, oh why did I marry a mortal?
    “And for the gentleman? We have most delicious Pizza Napolitana...”
    I glanced up to see if the fool was trying to be funny, (something that is not wise with an irritable vampire), but his face showed only professional concern for his customer’s welfare.
    “Oh, please don’t be angry,” my wife said.  “I know you didn’t want to come, but I do so hate eating out alone.”
    “But you know I’m allergic to...” I stopped short, unable even to pronounce the awful word.
    “Why, oh why did I marry a vampire,” she sighed. “I can’t take you anywhere. I should have listened to my mother, I really should...”
    “I know why,” I said, and smiled at her. “Because I bite. You like being bitten, don’t you?”
    “That’s true,” she said. “...Within reason; and only by you, darling,” she added hastily.
    Then she smeared the bread with a thick layer of garlic butter, and inhaled with her eyes closed.
    “Heaven,” she whispered. 
    I shuddered. “Just don’t expect to get bitten tonight.”
    “Don’t be crude. The waiter’s listening.”

Review by: Keara Kevay on Aug. 27, 2011 : star star star star star Cute and funny. Keep writing, Arthur.

                                                            THE EYES HAVE IT
    How I love to gaze deep into the eyes of a pretty girl like you and think: If you only knew what's on my mind. Of course, you think you do know, but you don't. I wonder what you'd say if I told you my true intentions. I wonder what you'd say if I told you you're my next meal. I've already said you look good enough to eat. We had a little chuckle together over that, didn’t we?
    I've always been an eye man. Right from the start. There are those who prefer the heart, or the liver, or the lungs, but for me The Eyes Have It every time. I'm not sure why. I mean, they're hardly a dish fit for a king, are they?  By themselves they have about as much taste as escargot—snails to you. And they look so forlorn staring up at me from my plate, it's really quite depressing. That little sparkle caused by wine and the bedroom eyes of yours truly doesn't last for long, and all that remains is a hint, just a hint, of terror. Perhaps that's the reason: it's the nearest I can get to actually feeding off fear...
    Your own eyes are so beautiful I might even add them to my collection. But not before I let you get a look at it, yourself, of course. I hug myself with delight as I imagine your face when I open that cupboard, and you see the rows of sealed jars with their pickled contents staring back at you. You'll be able to scream as loud as you like. There's no-one to hear.
    So now to the critical stage of the operation: getting you out of this club and back to my apartment without being noticed. That's the first rule of the game: never ever attract attention. Shouldn't be too difficult, as I've never been here before, and neither have you. If you had, if someone here knew you, I'd have tried somewhere else. But that would be a pity. You've already told me you've run away from your husband, and that you need a bed for the night. You've also made it clear, although not in so many words, that you are not averse to paying for the favour. And so you shall, my dear. And so you shall…

Review by: Mark Stewart on Aug. 05, 2011 : star star star star star
A good cleverly written story. The length was just right.
                                                                  ON THE HOUSE  
    At six o'clock on a cold February morning a taxi drew up on the corner of the square known as Djemm el Fnaa, or Place of the Dead. The passenger, an overweight Englishman called Thomas Jones, peered doubtfully through the cracked windscreen.
    "Are you sure this is it, mate?" he asked.
    "La Place de Morts, M'sieu!" said the driver, proudly. "Zee Place of zee Dead Ones!"
    Thomas could hardly argue with that: rarely had he seen a place which looked deader. Nothing moved but a couple of ragged drunks squabbling under a faded sign with the picture of a camel on it, and the words 'Wellcum to Marrakesh.' As Thomas emerged from the taxi one of the drunks shouted at  him and shook his fist.
    "Great," muttered Thomas. "Just great."
    He paid the driver and trudged over to the row of budget hotels on the edge of the square. Too tired to drag his heavy rucksack any further he opted for the first one he came to and went inside. In the cramped lobby several men sat together over a game of backgammon. When they saw Thomas they raised their eyebrows and grinned at each other; unshaven, fat, middle-aged tourists sporting pony tails and gold earrings are not a common sight in Morocco.
    One of the players got to his feet and addressed Thomas in French. Thomas pretended not to hear, and the man laughed pleasantly.
    "Don't worry, sir," he said in English. "I only asked how you are liking my country."
    "Great," said Thomas. "Couldn't be better."

                                                        ROCKING HORSE PAINT
    Wilfred Biggs was chief glassmaker of Caxton's Glassworks. His bread and butter was wine glasses, but he could also make yards of ale, paper weights, bubble-filled glases, and tiny, prancing horses. Sometimes, when there was a special order, he would amaze us with enormous, brilliantly-coloured fish as good as anything the Italians ever did. He was a bit of an artist in his way although he wouldn't have thanked you for telling him so. Working class chaps like us thought Art was for sissies, and Wilf was a man's man, well over six feet tall, with a black beard and a beer belly and a deep, harsh voice. The only thing he respected was hard graft, and he always said the same thing to a new arrival in his shop: "Forget the foreman. It's me as hires ya, an' it's me as fires ya, so ye can either shape up, or get out."

                                                        THEYELLOW ROAD
    Accompanied by a tired master in a wide-brimmed straw hat the crocodile of small boys trailed silently up the road in the twilight. The eldest was aged around ten, the youngest no more than seven or eight. Each wore a grey cap, a grey sweater, and a grey school blazer with a red and blue badge. Their trousers were grey as well, and so short they barely reached the knee, a throwback to the old Victorian belief that freezing knees would somehow make a man of you.
    Eight year-old Timmy Wilcox hated these Saturday walks. You could get out of them if you were sick, but if the nurse thought you were faking she'd dose you with cod-liver oil just to teach you a lesson. The only good part of the walk was being allowed to gorge yourself on ice-cream--paid for with your own pocket money, of course. This afternoon on the sea front he'd polished off two large cones of vanilla topped with chocolate crumble, and now his stomach churned as he limped painfully along behind the others.
    "Do get a move on, Wilcox!" the master snapped.
    "But Sir...Please Sir..."
    "What now?"
    "I've got to go, Sir..."
    "Why didn't you go before, when I asked if anybody wanted to?"
    "Because I didn't want to then, Sir."
    "Well, now you'll have to wait," said the master grumpily. "You don't want supper to get cold, do you?" The master's name was Mr. Forsythe, and he was the school's art teacher. The boys called him Paint Brush behind his back, not just because of his job, but because he was tall and thin, and his bristly hair stood up on end when he took his hat off.
    "And see that you do wait," the master added. "I'm sure you haven't forgotten what happened last time."

Sunday, January 15, 2012


One of the reasons I've been neglecting this blog recently is that I've started painting again. The picture at the top of the page is one of the results. Her name is Mazal, and she worked for some years in the kindergarden on my kibbutz. She's also a professional belly dancer.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lover Boy

   When I called this blog Writers Blog I thought I was being mighty clever, until I discovered how  many other people had come up with the name long before I did, so perhaps I'm not as clever, or as original, as I like to think I am.  Even so, this is still a writer's blog, and I've been so busy setting it up, starting my first Twitter account, and publishing and trying to sell my short stories online that I've rather neglected that aspect of things.
    The story I've just completed is actually an excercise from a London School of Journalism short story course. The excercise requires a short story about someone completely different from the writer, and on a subject completely new to him. (Or her--'scuse me.) Personally, I'm the kind of of writer who prefers to write stories based on what I know (apart for the odd lunatic fantasy about vampire Pekinese dogs, invisible Corn Flake-eating monsters from Mars, and the like, ) so I was a bit doubtful of my ability to write a realistic story on something I know nothing about.
    Anyway, here's the first part.You'll notice I come from a generation accustomed to traditional short stories, where the writer creates a backdrop for his story, rather than writing in a kind of shorthand. I understand the need for brevity in today's busy world, but even brevity can be overdone.

                                                                 Lover Boy 

    "Come up and see me some time," the woman said to Lover Boy, and laughed merrily, for they both knew there were no lifts here in Carton City, and no stairs, and no high-rises to put them in. She was actually quite pretty for her age, despite the old over-coat she wore, and the baseball cap that covered her greying blonde hair. Even so, Lover Boy just ignored her. Talking with women made his head ache. Anyway, she always said the very same thing whenever he passed her pitch on his way home. By now she knew she wouldn't get an answer, but she just kept right on saying it.
    Carton City is not a place you'll find on any map. A vast encampment of the homeless, it exists in no single spot, but is spread out in little clusters of tin shacks and other makeshift dwellings all over the greater city of which it is a part. Its residents are all kinds of people: some are simply down on their luck, and expect to make it out of there sooner or later, others are traumatised war veterans unable to adjust to civilian life, or alcoholics, or runaways,or people who have simply given up on things for one reason or another.
    One of these last was Lover Boy. No-one knew his real name, or where he'd come from--you didn't ask such things on the street--and Lover Boy never talked about himself. In fact, it was difficult to get him to talk about anything at all. He had come by the odd nickname of Lover Boy because of his habit of mooning endlessly over the photograph of a woman he'd found in somebody's wallet.
   His particular bit of Carton City stood among the columns of the over-pass that led to the automobile plant. It was a good location, with a couple of greasy spoons with over-flowing trash cans just down the road, and even a soup kitchen, if you could take the hassle that came with it. Best of all, he had a roof of sorts over his head--an enormous spare parts container skillfully water-proofed with sheets of transparent plastic, and furnished with a sagging armchair from a dump, a rickety table, and an old mattress. On the table was a tin box in which he kept the photograph. On the lid of the box he had printed a misspelled but graphic warning about what he would do to anyone who touched it. Not that there was much chance of that: despite his nickname he was good with his fists when he had to be.
   Lover Boy had spottted the wallet containing the aforesaid photograph under a bench at Grand Central. He was far too streetwise to open it on the spot--too many thieves about--so he resisted temptation until he was safely back in his container. By that time it was already dark, so he lit a candle and sat down to examine his prize.
    He was not pleased when he found only five dollars inside. but there was also something else: the faded black and white photograph of a woman. Considering the state of the photograph, and her forties-style clothing and hair-do, the woman was probably old enough by now to be his mother, yet here she was beautiful, tall and slim, with long, wavy dark hair and dark eyes, and she was smiling at the camera. When he turned the photograph over he found something written on the back: Madeline at forty. Forever young.
    "Well, wadddya know," he said out loud, suddenly remembering that today was his own fortieth birthday. He hadn't even thought about it until that moment, but he decided he ought to have a drink in honour of the big event now that he had, so he got out a bottle of beer and a chipped glass. As a rule he never bothered with a glass, but tonight he he had company.
    "Here's lookin' at you lady," he said, and emptied the glass in one go.
    Afterwards he took the photograph and gazed at it for a while. "Madeline," he said. "That's a pretty name." Then he propped it up on the table, and drew the candle close so he could see it from his armchair. It made the place seem less empty somehow, so he did the same thing the next night, and then every night after that.

    Is this a new masterpiece to brighten the literary firmament? The jury's still out on that one. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kid's stuff.

    I'm sure most of us have quite a store of funny things we've heard children say. When I worked with children on my kibbutz they often came out with some hilarious stuff, as well, although I learned early on not to laugh because they were usually quite serious in whatever they said. For some reason most of the children were girls, who out-numbered the boys rather as the Indians out-numbered Custer.
     Here are some examples of the things they came out with:
    A four year-old girl named Hila was crying and I said, "Why are you crying, Hila?" and she sniffled pitifully, and answered ,"Because Sharon hit me." This was no surprise: Sharon liked hitting girls until he discovered that the bigger ones hit back.
    "Yeah, and you pulled my hair first," said Sharon.
    "Oh," said Hila, and covered her mouth with her hands. "Ah. Yes. W-e-ll..." Then a really crafty expression appeared on her face and she said, in the most innocent tone imaginable: "But I didn't see you..."

    When I first started work in the Kibbutz kindergarten I was introduced to a young lady named Ziv. Ziv was three, and she had the most furious temper. So much so, that all the adult workers would creep cautiously around her as if she were a sort of baby atom bomb that could be set off by the slightest tremor.
    I soon found out what she was like for myself. When the kids woke from their afternoon sleep around three I was granted the dubious privelege of getting Ziv dressed before her long-suffering parents came to collect her. Ziv did not take kindly to this at all, and she kicked and screamed and howled and cursed--well, she didn't exactly curse, but it was obvious from the look on her face what she'd have said if she'd had the vocabulary--but all to no avail. No three year-old was going to get the better of me. In just over five minutes I had her parcelled up, and ready to be shipped out. Victory was mine, but Ziv wasn't beaten yet.
    "Now you can scream as much as you want," I said.
    Only she didn't scream. She scrambled down from the bench, stamped her foot, glared at me as if she was picturing my head on a plate, and said slowly: "I...want to say something...BAD," then ran off as fast as she could. 

    One of the most difficult things to learn when getting small children ready to go home is how to put their shoes on for them. This can be a lot trickier than it looks, and you'd be surprised what can go wrong. I remember one afternoon when I simply could not get one little boy's shoes to fit. The little boy sat there stoicly, secure in his conviction that I, the adult, would come through eventually. And so I did. After a little more than ten minutes I had the shoes on his feet and all laced up. Then, as I was rather pleased with myself for not having called for someone to rescue me, I said to him: "There we are. We did it. Aren't we clever?"
   "But they're not MINE!" he said.  

   There are a few more where those came from. I'll save them for next time. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

My camel adventure


     My interest in camels dates from early childhood, when the British Empire had only just come to an end, and school libraries were still full of nineteenth-century tales of hair-raising true adventures on the road to Khartoum, or Timbuktoo or Mecca, and the heroes of these adventures were almost always mounted on camels. As a result, even after almost 40 years in the Middle East, I'm still fascinated by them. Of course, I never come across any in Tel aviv, but small herds can easily be seen in the Negev desert on the way to the Red Sea port of Eilat, and they become quite commonplace in the Egyptian Sinai, or westwards along the North African coast. In Morocco and Algeria camels are still the principal mode of transport for the nomadic tribes. They are also very big business; in the camel market south of Cairo I saw vast herds that must have numbered in the thousands, brought together from all over North Africa.
     Nowadays, journeys to most of these exotic places can be accomplished in reasonable safety on public transport, but you can still get a taste of what it must have been like to do it the hard way by taking a camel safari, and the best place I know for that is not Cairo,  but Zagora, a French-built Moroccan town on the edge of the Sahara. Zagora is not difficult to reach if you're already in Morocco, just a long, bumpy bus ride away across the High Atlas from Marrakesh.

    I took my own camel safari out of Zagora in the spring of 1995. It started at dawn, when I was driven to a nearby nomad encampment, and introduced to a very unfriendly-looking camel. True, it had the most beautiful, long-lashed eyes, but their effect was marred by the sneering expression on the rest if its face, and the size of  its long yellow teeth. It also appeared to have a serious problem with wind.
    The camel did not seem any happier to see me than I was to see him, and it groaned miserably as the guide forced it to its knees in the sand. Then the man turned to me with a big grin on his face, and gestured towards the saddle. By this time I'd begun to wish I was back at the hotel. Unfortunately, however,I was not alone, because there was one other tourist, a young Englishwoman, who was already mounted, and waiting patiently for me to get up my nerve.
    Seeing there was nothing else for it I climbed into the saddle and hung on to the pommel for dear life, expecting to fall off and break my neck any minute, while the guide hauled on the rope attached to the camel's nose ring until the beast got to its feet by suddenly straightening  its hind legs, and almost throwing me over its head. This is supposedly the way in which the camel always stands up, but I wouldn't have put it past mine to do it on purpose.
    Once our guide saw I was as ready as I ever would be he led the camels out of the yard, and we set off towards the desert down a cold, misty wadi, lined on both banks by huge, thick-trunked date palms.  To my surprise I found it easy to adapt myself to the hypnotic rocking back-and-forth of the camel's gait as it delicately picked its way through the rocks, and it dawned on me that I might actually not fall off at all, and that the camel, despite its enormous teeth, had no intention whatsoever of eating me.
     About two hours out of Zagora,  we saw another camel train coming down the wadi towards us. When it got closer I saw that the riders were tourists like myself. They had obviously been out in the desert for some time because they were sunburned, and handled their camels with ease. Behind them walked the guides, leading other camels loaded with camping gear. 
    Around eight o'clock we reached the end of the wadi and entered the desert proper. This was the very edge of the Sahara, and we'd be traveling into it until breakfast-time, when the camels would rest, and then back to Zagora by a round-about route, arriving back there sometime in the early afternoon.
    There was little to see except sand and rock, and the terrain appeared to be  completely flat all the way to the horizon, with nothing to relieve the eye but the occasional, striped nomad tent. It was not as flat as it seemed, however, because the guide suddenly vanished. One minute he was there, and then he wasn't. This didn't appear to bother the camels in the least. They just kept padding on in the direction they were going.
    Before long we found ourselves heading towards another striped tent. The camels stopped in front of it, and our guide came out and invited us inside, where a teen-aged boy was preparing breakfast. With breakfast came a pot of Moroccan whiskey, which is what the locals call the hot, sweet mint tea they're always drinking. Afterwards the guide invited us outside to photograph the sights, which consisted of the camels, the tent, himself and, of course, the huge expanse of yellow sand.
    Four hours later we were back in the nomad encampment again, where a young woman waited with more tea and a  tray of biscuits. She was accompanied by another, older woman with a lined, tatooed face. When this lady saw me climbing  wearily down from my camel she marched up to me, kissed her palm, and shook my hand vigorously.
    That was the only time I got to play Lawrence of Arabia. I was quite sorry when it ended.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A question of identity

    There is a question that is asked so often I decided to have a stab at answering it myself. The question is: Who is a Jew? This is an odd question, because I have never heard anyone asking who is a Belgian, or a Tibetan, or an Apache, or an Irishman. or anyone else, for that matter. It's understandable when asked in the context of the Law of Return, the Israeli law that grants automatic rights to settle in Israel to anyone recognised by Israel as Jewish, and the answer then is simple--anyone born of a Jewish mother, or who has converted to Judaism according to certain recognised rules.
    Of course, there have been many Europeans of Jewish descent who couldn't have cared less about Jewish ancestors in their family tree. These people saw themselves as French, Russian, Polish, Italian, and so forth; some of them even thought they were German until Hitler came along and explained things to them. In fact, some Jews didn't even know of their Jewish ancestry at all until the Nazi authorities confronted them with it. I once read of a British man in Germany during the early 1930's--a journalist, I believe--who was arrested for some reason, and found himself sharing a cell with Jews who had been arrested simply for the crime of being themselves. One of these was a blonde, blue-eyed young man who, until recently, had been marching in torchlight parades, and roaring out the Horst Wessel song with the best of them. And now, here he was, raging at his idiot great-grandfather for having dropped all his unsuspecting descendants in it by marrying a Jew. 
    Which brings me to myself. I am Jewish on my mother's side, and her great-grandparents arrived in Britain from Portugal. My father is a Scots-Canadian, from somewhere in the frozen north, which means I could have a bit of Native American in me as well. I was not brought up in a Jewish household, and my favourite holiday as a child was always Christmas. My main reason in coming to Israel was because I thought the Middle East would be an interesting place to live. (How right I was.) Finally, I have always seen myself as more British than anything else, and have never tried to conceal this.
    An Israeli friend of mine--who could be called an Arab Jew, as his family emigrated from Syria--recently said to me: "It doesn't make any difference in the long run how British you consider yourself to be--because if ever they come for me, they'll be coming for you as well."
    So I suppose that's about it, really; however we define ourselves, it's our common fate that really has the last word.   

Friday, October 21, 2011

Let's See YOU try it...

    Any budding writers out there? Here are a couple of writing excercises for you. Try writing a 55 word story like the examples given below. Then try a 100 word story. This is actually far more difficult, because you are allowed to use each word only once.

55 words


    I've got off at the wrong stop. Again. Bloody blackout. Bloody Luftwaffe.
    Odd, but I don't actually remember doing it.
    My fellow passengers are here as well; why did they get off?
    I hear sirens howling and bombers droning overhead. Another raid. In the street a bus burns fiercely.
    Our bus?
    "Direct hit," whispers someone.

                                                       TOOTING CAR-MAN
    The schoolboys gazed at the golden mask.
    "He's called Tooting Car-man," said one.
    "Tooting who?" said another.
    "Tooting Car-man," repeated the first.
    "They didn't have cars, stupid."
    "My auntie lives in Tooting," stated a third. "And she's got a car. Only she's not a man."
    Tutankhamun sighed.
    He wished he'd stayed in Cairo.

    Locked in stone since before time began I have waited patiently for my deliverer, and now my imprisonment is ending. The heady ring of chisels and hammers echoes through the solid rock, calling me out to freedom. Worlds vibrate as Michaelangelo's strong, callused fingers draw me from this marble womb.
    He will call me David.

 100 words.


    Alone in this cold, dark place I dream of bloody freedom. Stout coffin walls enclose me, damp clay presses overhead, but neither boards nor mud or any other earthly substance can long contain hate such as mine.
    So very soon those hypoctitical, wailing 'friends' who accompanied my poor carcase on what the fools hoped was its final journey will be mourning themselves, while faithless sons wiping dry eyes with silk handkerchiefs and chuckling secretly over their marvelous good fortune are about to inherit that which they truly deserve.
    We shall all meet again when these new teeth have grown sharp.


   Piece of cake. 


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


    Not surprisingly, the Israeli media yesterday dealt almost exclusively with the prisoner exchange between Israel and the Hamas--one Israeli soldier for more than 1,000 Palestinians. Will it end there? I doubt it. Why should it end, when you can beat an Israeli to death in public, then wave your blood-stained hands in the air to an ecstatic, screeching crowd, and then get to resume your normal life as if nothing had happened? Of course, that normal life may well be interrupted by a few years in jail, but oh! what a welcome and what a payday will await you when you finally return home in triumph.
    No, it won't end there...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Masks of War

     A friend of mine is convinced there’s going to be another war. He doesn’t say why or when, or with whom, but he’s a Border Police officer with direct responsibility for the security of the kibbutz in which both of us are members, meaning he’s privy to information he can’t make public. Some of the signs, however, are plain for all to see: he’s checking the air-raid shelters, which have become store-rooms for all kinds of junk over the last few years, and making sure they’re emptied out and ready for use, and his dark-green patrol car, and those of other police officers from outside, is much more in evidence, cruising slowly around the kibbutz with lights flashing. Unlike the previous security officer, we rarely see him out of uniform, or without his M16.
    Of course, carrying guns openly around here is nothing new. I remember being the photographer at a large children’s party on our kibbutz, where armed security guards hovered not-very-discreetly in the background. No-one who saw them even blinked an eye. Not only that, some of the fathers who brought their children to the party had pistols strapped to their hips as well and no-one, not even the children, blinked an eye at that, either. This was during a period of relative calm, but then, we all know that calm in the Middle East is almost always the prelude to yet another storm.
    A more serious sign of trouble, if it comes, will be a general call-up, when people of military age disappear overnight, and then re-appear in uniform. In addition to that, the general public will be summoned to the gas mask distribution centres, where the gas masks they were issued during the first American invasion of Iraq will be checked out and, if necessary, replaced with new ones.  The masks are for protection against certain kinds of gas only. Unfortunately, some Arab citizens who did not trust in the good will of the government when these masks were first issued, went and tried them out on domestic gas. Not surprisingly, they didn’t work, and the authorities were accused of deliberately handing out defective equipment.
    Shortly before the first Gulf War began we were ordered to start carrying these masks with us at all times. Children who were too young to do this, or who were unable to put on the masks quickly enough during an emergency, had to be accompanied everywhere by an adult. Babies and very young children each had a gas-proof container in which they would be placed whenever an alarm sounded. In addition to all this everyone carried small cylinders containing the antidotes to poisoning or injury caused by exposure to harmful chemical or biological materials, and we received dire warnings regarding the consequences of mixing them up. During rocket attacks some people panicked and injected themselves on the spot, forgetting they were supposed to do this only when they were convinced they had already been exposed.
    On a lighter note--if a lighter note is appropriate here—the next war will probably see the return to our television screens of a certain Civil Defence advertisement. The purpose of the ad is to remind us never to leave home without our gas masks during a period of emergency. As far I can remember, the plot goes something like this: a horribly cute little girl of eight or nine is about to go out somewhere with her mummy and daddy. As the family leaves the house the little girl stops and says, “Oh, Daddeeee! Haven’t you forgotten something?” “Forgotten what?” says Daddy, then slaps his forehead as he remembers. “Of course, I forgot the gas masks. Oh, what a silly Daddy I am!” (Or words to that effect.) Then they all go off to wherever they’re going, with the little girl skipping happily between her parents, and waving her gaily painted gas mask.
    Funny. Isn't it?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Going Back With Google

                                                                  FOR NEWTS AND STICKLE-BACKS

    When I was ten my parents divorced, and my mother packed me off to the first of a series of awful boarding schools whilst she, herself, moved in with my wealthy grandparents. My grandparents lived in a rather exclusive part of Edgware, a town just north of London. Their large, elegant residence (perhaps larger and more elegant in my child’s eyes than it actually was) stood towards the far end of Canons Drive, close to a public park and a walled-in King George V memorial garden which is today a National Heritage site. For some reason my childhood memories of this garden are as clear as if I had left it only yesterday. Not so long ago I decided to visit Canons Drive again--not in the flesh, as I hadn't been in the UK for more then twenty years--but courtesy of a technological marvel called Google Earth. .
    The aerial view showed the drive to be little changed. The infamous ‘urban sprawl’ had left it virtually untouched, and it was still as green as it had been more than fifty years before. Its best-known landmarks, the huge white pillars at the entrance, were not visible from above, but others were immediately recognizable. First of all, about two hundred yards up from the entrance and to the left of the road lay The Basin, (not that I knew the name at the time,) a large artificial pond where I used to catch stickle-backs and newts with a net on the end of a bamboo stick. Just across the road from The Basin was a turn-off which once led to the home of a famous entertainer who was all the rage in the nineteen fifties
    Some five hundred yards further on, also on the left, I made out a more personal landmark. This was the corner where my grandparents' house had stood--was, in fact, probably still standing--but all I could see from this angle was the roof, and a back garden whose shape looked vaguely familiar. Just behind the houses opposite what I thought was my grandparents' house was a lake at least ten times larger than The Basin . I remembered the lake iself, but I had forgotten how big it was. It was the joint property of all the residents of the drive, and my mother always forbade me to go near it, as it was very deep and I couldn’t swim.
    Another three hundred yards and there was the park, which now had a tennis court and the occasional building where once there was only grass and trees. Even so, there was still plenty of greenery left. Not far from the tennis court stretched a copse which I was sure was the very copse where I had chased grey squirrels and played cowboys and Indians; always by myself, of course as the local kids, who all went to private day schools where the teachers probably called them ‘mister,’ were way too snobbish to bother with a mere boarding-school boy such as myself.
    One thing did not appear to have changed at all: the oblong memorial garden next to the park entrance. This was a spot I remembered from my earliest years, because my mother would sometimes bring me here when I was a toddler and my parents were still together. When I zoomed in I could clearly see the ornamental fish pond in the centre, and a wooden bench, perhaps the same one on which my mother had sat to keep an eye on me in case I fell in. 

    Fascinating as the aerial view was the view from street level was even more rewarding. From this angle I could see the tall white pillars, one on either side of the road, that mark the principal entrance to the drive. These pillars once supported the gates leading into the eighteenth century Canons estate from which Canons Drive takes its name.
    As a child I knew nothing of this. of course. The only thing I did know as I passed through those pillars on the first day of the summer holidays was that school, with its grubby dormitories, swishing canes, and cold, lumpy porridge, was behind me. At least for a while.
    The first thing I wanted to ‘see’ again on my present cyber-visit was The Basin, where I had spent many a happy hour terrorising the local pond life by imprisoning it in jam jars, or throwing stones at it when I couldn’t catch it. And there The Basin was, exactly as I had pictured it so many times--green and cool, with a weeping willow on the small island in the centre, and ducks floating idly by just as other ducks had done all those years ago. Hang on, though: there was one difference; in the middle of the pond stood a pole with a sign on it. The sign read: NO FISHING.
    There was nothing else there to linger over, so off I flew on my Google magic carpet in the direction of No. 39, the house that once had belonged to my grandparents, shooting up the road between the tall pine trees and the tasteful mock-tudor houses peeping discreetly from behind well-tended hedges, until…there I was. Or was I? I was certainly on the right corner, because I recognized the turn-off next to the house. It led to a small ring of houses around a central roundabout, amongst whose trees and bushes I had once hidden because I didn’t want to be sent back to school.
    The house, however, was completely wrong, all angles and pillars and glass. Then I realized my mistake. My grandparents hadn’t lived on the corner, but one house down from it, so I put the carpet into reverse, and I was back. This truly was the place, although the present owners had made quite a few changes. The house was no longer faced with dark red brick, and it had a large wooden porch that hadn’t been there before. It had also undergone a thorough Tudor make-over in keeping with much of the rest of the drive. Even so, the diamond-leaded windows looked the same, and the general proportions seemed familiar. And there was one final proof: on the trunk of the fir tree on the lawn was the number 39.
    Strangely, the old phone number for this house suddenly popped into my head: Edgware 2435. This was the number I had dialed from boarding school in the summer of 1958, one year after my grandmother died, because my mother had stopped writing to me. “Oh, she’s gone,” said my grandfather. And so she had, upped sticks and gone to Australia with a new husband who didn’t want to be burdened with another man’s child. My father got custody of me soon after, and I never saw my grandfather again.
    But enough of all that. There was one more place left to visit: the park where I used to play.
    Unfortunately, the magic carpet stopped dead at the entrance. This was literally the end of the road. On one side of the entrance, however, I could just make out a tree-shaded wall of dark brick, beyond which lay the memorial gardens. It was through a heavy wooden gate set into this wall that my mother used to wheel me in my push-chair so that I could see the gold fish in the pond. But not even Google can take me through that gate again. That's something I'll have to do for myself.
    One of these days.    

The entrance to Canon's Park

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How To Annoy A Rhino

    It is not difficult to annoy a rhino. A child could do it. I've done it myself, and I wasn't even trying. All you have to do is to be where he is. That should do the trick nicely, but if you can arrange to be traveling through his jungle in a slow-moving jeep full of excited tourists, or riding a bicycle right under his nose, as some courageous locals do, success is guaranteed. According to one guide book nothing irritates a rhino more than a bicycle.
    My own close encounter with a rhino took place in Kaziranga, a game reserve in eastern India. According to the guide books rhinos are everywhere in the reserve, but when we took a jeep in search of them,  (accompanied by a mandatory armed guard) we spent almost an entire day without seeing any animals at all apart from the occasional monkey. 
    We finally spotted rhinos late in the afternoon, when we drove round a bend in the trail and saw a group of them in the shade of a small grove of trees. Some of the rhinos were huge, a good six feet at the shoulder. I later learned that an adult male can weigh as much as two tons, and is capable of attaining speeds of up to forty-five kilometres an hour.
    The driver parked the jeep about fifty yards away and we got our cameras out. Then the guard whispered "Snap!" Before we could take a single photo, however, the rhinos discovered us and the pastoral scene became a potential war zone. One rhino, in particular, got very excited, bouncing up and down and hopping from to side, all the while shaking his massive head and snorting furiously. 
    The next thing we knew it was coming straight at us.  The guard started yelling and waving his rifle about, which didn't impress the rhino at all, so the driver put his foot on the gas and we tore off down the track with the monster crashing along behind us in a cloud of dust.  
    If he'd caught us you'd be reading someone elses' blog. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How To Look Foolish In Bethlehem


    Some friends of mine decided to to go on a day-trip to Bethlehem, and asked me if I'd like to come along. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn't? I'd only been in Israel for three months, and a visit to this fabled place would be a dream come true. The thought that we would also be visiting the quite recently-conquered West Bank never crossed my mind until we were already well on our way. Not that it mattered, once we'd got there; despite a fairly large military and police presence around the holy sites the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and the local people didn't seem to be the least bit bothered by our being there.
    After visiting the churches we set off for one of the  most fascinating parts of any Arab town--the Sowk, or market, traditionally a vast, rambling place, full of sound, bustle and colour, and the scent of exotic spices. The market in Bethlehem was a perfect example, and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering round it, stopping occasionally to buy fruit, or to drink thick, strong coffee served up in tiny white cups. After coffee we gorged ourselves on 'Baklawa,' a tiny, sweet cake dipped in honey. A single carton of this delicious stuff contains enough calories to sink a battleship.  
    It was late in the afternoon when we reluctantly decided to call it a day. On our way out we passed a number of locals sitting outside a coffee house. One of them, a large man with a dyed red beard, called out to me.
    "Hey, Johnny!" he yelled. "How you like Israel?"
    "Er...Very much, thanks," I answered.
    When he heard this the man turned to his friends and said something in Arabic which caused them all to laugh so hard they nearly fell off their chairs.