Are Hurricanes Shakespearean?

Published 16/10/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

As I type this I’m looking out of my window at a sky that is somewhat hazy. I’ve been told it is because of the sand that has been whipped up from the Sahara by Hurricane Ophelia. Shakespeare’s Ophelia merely lost her mind and drowned herself, but today’s press is confirming that the storm of the same name is the most powerful to travel this far east of the United States, and deaths are already being reported in Ireland. In the UK we are getting the very mild remnants of this tropical storm, which reminds me of my experience with Hurricane Irma when I was in Cuba last month.

Our holiday was interrupted by the arrival of Irma a couple of days after we had arrived on the island. Instead of our proposed itinerary we were told that we would be evacuated to Varadera for safety reasons, to a hotel that had been built to withstand hurricane conditions.

Before our vintage American car journey to the coast, we were able to spend two nights and one day in Havana. It most certainly was the lull before the storm and a day in which I spotted this painting of (literally) the eye of the hurricane, which struck me as a piece of ironic art.The Eye of the Hurricane September 2017 (2)

Our 1950’s Chevvie dropped us off early in the afternoon and we were advised to prepare for the imminent arrival of what had now been upgraded to a category 5 hurricane, the strongest Cuba had experienced in 85 years. Like other fickle people, Irma had changed her mind and her course and was forecast to pass directly overhead.

By nightfall the humidity had risen and the air was strangely very still. We went to bed, but woke several times during the night, disturbed by the wind and the realisation that the electricity was no longer running, with the subsequent loss of air conditioning and the sudden silence of the refrigerator that was no longer humming. The power came back intermittently, and eventually went off completely. By morning we were awoken by hotel staff bringing us food. This carried on throughout the day, except it started to become cheese and ham sandwiches and bottles of water. With no functioning fridge it was difficult to keep food fresh or drinks chilled, but we all kept calm and carried on – even those who weren’t British.

As the day wore on the winds got stronger and the glazed balcony doors began to rattle ever louder. I recalled King Lear’s speech during the storm in the play of the same name: ‘Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout / Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!’

With no power we were rationed candles: one for the bedroom and the other for the bathroom. Some of the guests (we found out the following day) had blockaded their balcony doors (which had already been protected with criss-crossed tape) for protection. Around 5pm we were advised that Irma was getting closer and, as we would now be in her eye, we should spend the next few hours in the bathroom, which was made of solid concrete with no glass, and would therefore be a safer place.

We tried to make the best of things. I took the upholstery cushions off all available chairs and laid them out on the bathroom floor. It was so hot and humid that my other half refused to shut the door, so we couldn’t both lie on the floor. He chose the bath and I stretched out and managed to doze off, awaking some time later to the realisation that rainwater had been blowing in wherever it could, and that my cushions were soaking up the liquid like sponges. What do you do in a dark room with the wind whistling overhead and the rain battering at the windows? We played I Spy until we got bored and eventually tried to sleep some more. Finally (around midnight) the storm began to abate and we went back into our bedroom and attempted to sleep. However the floors were all wet and we were paddling in about an inch of water. At least our windows had not blown in like those of some other guests.

On the second morning we peered cautiously out of our room door to take stock and found others doing the same. We tried to mop out our rooms and were treated to tubs of ice cream and vanilla yogurt. I assume they had to use up the perishable food that could no longer be refrigerated or frozen. A little before midday the hotel staff allowed us out of our rooms and our hotel blocks and we went to investigate the damage.

The structures had all held firm, but cladding and roof tiles had been dislodged. Vegetation had been uprooted and palm trees had lost limbs. As the hurricane approached I had watched the tree outside our balcony waving its arms frantically in all different directions at the same time, like a creature possessed, and now some of those very branches were lying on the grass, exhausted.

Hurricane Irma2 September 2017 (2)

 

After Hurricane Irma September 2017 (3)

However we were safe. The hotel staff had taken good care of us, although the Minister for Tourism visited and gave instructions to close the hotel. With only one generator working out of three there was no electricity or running water and no fresh food. A little over 72 hours after our arrival we moved to another hotel for the duration of the holiday.

We were the lucky ones. Many Cubans lost their homes and their lives, Havana was under water for several days, and towns were without electricity for far longer than we had been.

In the words of my sister after I arrived home ‘Why on earth did you go to Cuba during hurricane season?’

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YYY

Published 01/10/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

Why YYY? The above heading may baffle you, so I’ll try to enlighten you.

As a Jew we have just celebrated(?) the most solemn and serious festival in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, during which we spend 25 hours (from sunset the previous night until sunset the next day) fasting and repenting our sins. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and festivals always commence at sunset on the day before the actual date. Worship begins with the Kol Nidrei service, which coincided this year with the start of the Sabbath on Friday night, and then resumes the following morning (in our case at 10.30) to continue throughout the day until sunset, when the end of the festival is announced by the blowing of the Shofar, a ram’s horn.

Shofar

Twenty-five hours without food is not as arduous as it may seem as you are focused on the prayer book, the liturgy and the songs. The hardest part is going without fluids, but the drop in blood sugar can make you feel a little as if your brain has turned to a mush as the day wears on.

My second ‘Y’ is for Yizkor, the Hebrew word for remembrance. One of the constituent parts of the afternoon service on Yom Kippur is the Yizkor service, when we remember those we have loved, both friends and family members, who are no longer with us. As a child my mother used to insist I left the sanctuary for that portion of the prayers as I still had my parents. It can be an upsetting time as we are encouraged to meditate on, and say prayers for, those who are no longer with us in bodily form.

My final ‘Y’ is Yahrzeit, which is literally the Yiddish word for season. We commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of our loved ones by lighting a special candle, a Yahrzeit candle or a memorial light, on the anniversary of their deaths according to the Hebrew calendar. My mother died on the day before Yom Kippur, so her Yahrzeit will always fall on the Hebrew date of 9 Tishri, although the English date was 3 October. We light the candle at sunset of the evening before, but as we also light another candle in memory of everybody we are remembering, I light another one the following evening at the start of the Yom Kippur festival.

Yahrzeit candle

All three are now over for me for another twelve months, or thereabouts, but I always approach this time of year with trepidation and unease as there are too many burdens and sad memories to be overcome.

As the inscription on my mother’s tombstone reads: ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. To sum up, we may feel grief when we remember our loved ones who have now departed, but they still remain with us.A

 

Please Help my Daughter to Heal

Published 25/02/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

There can’t be a mother in the world who doesn’t pray for the health of her unborn child throughout the nine months of her pregnancy. However, delivering a healthy baby is only the beginning. It has not all been plain sailing for our family and one of my daughters is struggling with a cruel combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Toxic Mould Poisoning.

As a writer, poet and facilitator of creative writing workshops (although she is not well enough to work at present) Roberta can tell her story much better than I can. I am linking to her appeal to raise enough money so that she can relocate to a warmer and healthier climate for as long as it takes for her body to have an opportunity to heal itself.

We are grateful for all donations, and I would urge you to feel free to share this among others, who you feel would be able to respond.

Click here to read the story/donate

I CHANGED MY LIFE IN THREE DAYS

Published 13/01/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

When I updated my Facebook status and shouted out to my friends that I had spent the most amazing weekend of my life and had been re-born, I had one or two sarcastic responses asking if I had joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have not turned my back on my Jewish faith, but I was finally able to believe in my heart what my head had always known.

You’ve probably lost me by now, so I’ll start from the beginning. All my life I have lacked confidence and criticised myself when others weren’t doing it for me. I remember being given a pep talk more than 40 years ago, when I was crying with a broken heart (given to me by an immature man who treated me like a doormat, and who got a third party to phone me and dump me: the 1970s equivalent of finishing a relationship by text). I was advised then that nobody would really love me until I learned to love myself. I’ve had a shedload of talking therapies and have made changes over the years, but was never able to make the major shift until last weekend.

My yoga teacher had often talked of the Landmark Forum, an organisation that had helped her to turn her life around, and when she invited me to her house for more information I went along, somewhat reluctantly, after trying to talk myself out of going. What made the major impact on me was when I was told that I would be able to free myself from the past that I had spent my whole life dragging with me, and that was always facing me in the future. It took a while for me to process the idea that my past was permanently in my future, but once I understood the idea I was on my way, and signed up for a course a couple of months hence. Even then I was still placing obstacles in the way as the course was due to take place over my 65th birthday weekend and I was a little apprehensive of the intensity of the commitment (9am to 10pm each day, plus homework).

 

Last Friday morning I made sure I was at the London venue by 8.40 in the morning, collected my name badge, and found myself a seat among 180 others who, like me, were schlepping their life’s baggage with them and were hoping to free themselves from their past constraints and beliefs.

You’ll have to forgive me for omitting some of the detail, but it was such a powerful weekend. My brain is still processing some of the events and ideas, but I know they continue to work on me, both asleep and awake.

Many of us shared situations and events from our lives, even though it was often painful to do so. It wasn’t unusual to find ourselves welling up as we listened to the stories of others; even our forum leader was teary from time to time. Meeting up whilst queuing for the ladies’ loos at the breaks we regretted not having brought make up with us to repair our non-waterproof maquillage.

We learned how we had been living, about the little voices in our heads that we were always listening to and which were talking to us. We were on a quest to look good (or not to look bad), but the voices resulted in negative resignation or cynicism. We came to understand how we defined our lives by past events that we have interpreted wrongly, and how we readily applied labels (both to ourselves and to others) and then tried to live up to them. After reaching an awareness of these behaviours, we understood that we have been living inauthentically.

An assignment we were given was to accept that our parents, whatever our relationships with them, had managed to get their job done. Most of us have issues with the roles played by our mums and dads, but the realisation that they have done their best, and a phone call to them to remind them that we love them, produced some touching results. More than one middle class Englishman reported that assurances of love had not been commonplace in their families and that some parents were worried and questioned whether their offspring were suicidal when their children affirmed their love.

The second day of the course was probably the hardest. We were asked to close our eyes and face up to our biggest fear. This was a huge opening, especially for those who had bottled so much up for so many years. The sounds of others crying, sobbing and screaming out in pain like wounded animals was both powerful and emotional. Eventually our feelings of despair were turned around by urging to imagine the world’s biggest cosmic joke, converting the tears to laughter.

By the third day, after which many of us had already had various breakthroughs, we reached the hardest point of all. However, it eventually dawned on each one of us, although not all at the same time, that we had spent our lives responding to stimuli in a machine-like way. The past was now in the past and it was time to start again with a clean slate. Life is for living in the now and in the language of the Landmark Forum we were on the verge of ‘a New Realm of Possibility’.

It’s difficult to convey how transformed we all felt on that Sunday evening, but there was so much optimism in the room that it was palpable. We had shared our fears, emotions and histories and emerged transformed as new people. The overriding feeling everybody seems to take away from having done the Landmark Forum is the desire to encourage every person they talk to sign up and make their own personal transformation. In addition, there is the experience of having shared so much, and of wanting everybody else to make the final breakthrough as a new person. Whether from England, or other countries of the world, we each shared in everybody else’s joy and happiness, left our reserve and inhibitions behind, and wanted to do no more than to hug one another. It was a three-day journey like no other.

It was a three-day journey like no other, and people have remarked that I seem lighter and different. I now wake up with a feeling of anticipation for the new day, and I have stopped criticising myself.

 

 

Religion? Belief? Spirituality?

Published 11/10/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

I’m writing this a few hours before the start of the most solemn day in the Jewish religion: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It is the last of the Ten Days of Repentance that begin with Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. These are days of introspection and repentance, a time when Jews the world over look back over the past year, examine their wrongdoings and look forward to the coming twelve months with every intention of being a better person. Depending on the level of orthodox or liberal belief, we are taught that these ten days encompass the period when the Book of Life is opened and those who will live or die in the coming year are inscribed on its pages. Yom Kippur commences at sunset on the previous evening and ends at sunset 25 hours later. During these hours we don’t eat or drink, and we spend the day in prayer.

This time of year also has a particular poignancy for me. My mother died two years ago on Erev Yom Kippur (the day before the Day of Atonement that begins with the evening Kol Nidrei service). One of the Yom Kippur afternoon services, known as Yizkor, takes place and provides an opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us. As my mother left this world the day before the Day of Atonement, and as this date is commemorated according to the Hebrew calendar, it means that I light a Yahrzeit (literally time of the year) candle in her memory. This is lit at sunset the evening before and burns for 24 hours. Although mum died on 3 October, the anniversary always falls on 9 Tishri (the day before Yom Kippur) in the Hebrew calendar

This morning I left home under a perfect blue sky with a glorious sun shining over my head. It was chilly, in keeping with an October morning, but it felt to me as if the candle I had left burning at home had been superseded by the sun reaching out to shine on me. In fact, I became quite emotional as I convinced myself of this, and consoled myself with the belief that my mother’s soul was reaching out to me.

This was merely the culmination of events that began a few weeks ago when I found a clothes hanger (that used to belong to my mum) hanging on the outside of my wardrobe. I have no recollection of putting it there. Then my daughter (who is very intuitive) told me that she was receiving messages from mum to be passed on to me. Finally, a few days ago I was aware of an aroma that immediately took me back to my grandmother’s (my mum’s mother) home. It wasn’t a food smell. In fact, I can’t describe or recreate it but I knew that I had last smelled it at Grandma Jenny’s, and she died when I was 16. By the way my eldest child was born exactly 10 years to the day after my grandma died.

Make of it what you will, I can only relate what I have known and experienced.

Living in Limbo

Published 27/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

The  British Eurosceptics spent years whingeing about the evils and disadvantages of being in the Common Market, later the European Economic Community and then the European Union. If you feed your country enough lies and propaganda some of it is bound to stick, only we hadn’t realised the extent of the belief until a little over half of the electorate (or at least those who went to their polling stations on 23 June) voted to leave the EU. They viewed our membership through the prism of a half empty glass, and negative emotions are dangerous and harmful.

The fallout from Brexit has been unfathomable. Although we were warned that the Pound would plunge and take the FTSE with it, that foreign employers would pull out of the UK and jobs would be placed at risk, the two former journalists running the Leave campaign ran roughshod over the advice of the economists and financial institutions, whose expertise they dismissed with a withering ‘the country is sick of experts’. They fanned the flames of racists and xenophobes, who claimed that they wanted to take their country back. Back from whom? Back from where? This scepter’d isle sits where she always has. There were never any invaders lining up at our borders and ports. And even Nigel Farage’s poster of desperate refugees trying to enter Croatia-Slovenia last year, fraudulently making them appear as if they were in a long queue to enter Britain, was soon debunked for the Fascist lie that it obviously was.

Nick Cohen, writing for The Guardian, pointed out that Boris Johnson has been sacked in the past for lying, both to readers of The Times, and to Michael Howard, who was once the Conservative party leader: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/boris-johnson-michael-gove-eu-liars. During the referendum campaign Johnson was also taken to task for spinning the myth of the £350m that this country was reputed to have sent to the EEC on a weekly basis. He tried to answer the accusations with his usual bluster. However, on Friday morning, once the referendum result was known, Farage openly admitted on television that this had been a ‘mistake’, and the same amount of money, that they had promised to the NHS, would not be remitted.

The country may now be in an uncertain financial mess, but the other campaign that has, divided the UK (and still continues to do so) was immigration. This has been fermenting for a long time, frequently whipped up by the right wing tabloid press, and encouraging people to believe that migrants were coming here, either to take their readers’ jobs, or to claim benefits that the local population were unable to access. There have even been reports in the media of British people turning on those they perceive to be different, harassing them and venting their xenophobic vitriol on them. Apparently some Brexiters seemed to think that a vote to leave the EU would mean foreigners being immediately repatriated. And by ‘foreigners’ they mean people with different accents or different skin colours, even if they were born here.

What is going on? I only know of the 1930s from the history books, but uncertain financial markets, fascism and xenophobia led to the slaughter of millions of people, and I’m not talking about war combatants. Human nature needs a scapegoat, but we can’t turn on our fellow human beings and blame them for the mess we are now in. We have a long record of successfully absorbing migrants, even when they have been invaders or conquerors.

The Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes and Norman French have all breached Britain’s walls, but we survived. We have not been invaded since 1066, although there were threats in 1588 and during the Second World War. However, we have also provided asylum for those in need: Huguenot French seeking religious freedom, the Irish trying to escape the potato famine, Jews starting new lives away from the Russian Pogroms, and Ugandan Asians, who were expelled by Idi Amin from the country that was their homeland. We provided safety for the more than 9,000 children escaping Nazi occupied Europe and who came here on the Kindertransport between 1938 and 1940, many of whom have gone on to pay their adopted country back in numerous different ways.

Since the Soviet bloc began to disintegrate in 1989 and more Eastern European nations have joined the EU, we have been a magnate for those seeking to improve their lives. Current estimates are that around 2 million people from other European countries have now made Britain their home. We must also not forget that we once had an Empire and members of former Commonwealth countries have also had the right to move here. Their numbers are estimated at around 2.5 million since 1952.

We cannot change human nature, but we can try to calm down and look at facts calmly and realistically. In the early seventeenth century several playwrights were called on to make changes to a play about Sir Thomas More. Experts have confirmed that Shakespeare’s hand is the one that is apparent in the scene where Londoners are baying for the blood of immigrants who they believe are threatening their jobs and livelihoods. He turns More into a skilled orator, pointing out to the mob exactly what they are doing and suggesting they turn the tables and put themselves in the shoes of the migrants. He urges them to imagine themselves as strangers in a foreign land. Shakespeare may even have been referring back to the Bible: ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’[1] Perhaps some of the inhabitants of these islands should take these words to heart.

On top of the above problems, the state of limbo is incredibly unsettling. The referendum polling stations closed a little over four days ago and several hours later David Cameron tendered his resignation. The country has no Prime Minister since David Cameron tendered his resignation on Friday morning and more than half the shadow cabinet have resigned while Jeremy Corbyn still clings to power. And yet Boris Johnson, the man who most of us believe campaigned to leave the EU in an attempt to build his own political CV and achieve his ambition to become Britain’s Premier, appears to have gone to ground. The Brexiters don’t appear to have a plan (at least not one that has been shared with the country) to proceed, Article 50 (the initial step to triggering our formal withdrawal from the EU) has not been invoked, the UK has lost its treasured AAA credit rating, and we are left in a limbo of no-man’s land. And to add insult to injury, the England team has gone out of football’s European cup. Is this really happening or are we all living in some kind of shared parallel existence from which we will wake up to find that it’s all been some kind of horrible dream? What was that slogan half of the country was chanting last week? I think it was something to do with taking back control. Sorry, I think I’ve missed something. We have never been more out of control.

Winning the referendum is the equivalent of drinking from a poisoned chalice, not least because it toppled Johnson’s former friend and schoolmate, brought the above problems with it (and we were warned), and could well precipitate the dismantling of the United Kingdom and a possible further fracturing of the European Union. The Great seems to have fallen out of Britain.

 

 

[1] Leviticus 19:33 The Jewish Study Bible (Second Edition 2014) Oxford University Press (eds Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler

Has the World Always Been this Nasty?

Published 22/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

A young politician is murdered, probably because of her political views, and a husband is left to bring up their two young children without their mother. Fifty Americans are murdered in a nightclub just because they are gay and have possibly offended a radicalised Muslim. The gloves are removed in the UK referendum debate: truths are distorted, lies are peddled and foreigners are blamed for the country’s woes in thinly disguised xenophobic and racist slurs. Back across the pond Donald Trump demonises Muslims and declares (if he becomes President) that he will get his southern Mexican neighbours to build a wall to keep them out of the United States. Locally in Harrow my bus was on a diversion, much to the rage of a man who let rip with a stream of swear words, used both as nouns and adjectives (believe me his vocabulary was very restricted) and threatened to drag the bus driver off by his beard.

Why are we being so cruel and mean to each other?

As a baby boomer growing up in 1950s Britain I was given a certain set of values, albeit slightly Victorian. However, they have remained with me to this day. I try to have and to show respect for other people and retain an awareness that others share this planet with me. This is not about halo polishing, but I volunteer with others less fortunate than me, and I feel better for it. This world has given to me for more than 60 years and I want to return some of that goodness when and where possible. I hope that others may do the same for me as I get older and may need their support and friendship.

Why show anger? It’s a negative emotion and only succeeds in breeding more ill feeling and certainly doesn’t make you feel good unless you deal with it swiftly and move on. Nothing diffuses rage better than smiling at the person exhibiting the gloom and cynicism of that feeling. Try it next time somebody turns their fury on you.

As a Jew I’m constantly aware of the concept of Tikkun Olam – literally ‘repairing the world.’ We are urged to make our planet a better place by performing acts of loving kindness, becoming involved in charitable works and having a strong sense of social justice. You don’t have to be Jewish to have a similar attitude to the world: you can help anybody, anywhere and donate as little or as much time and energy as you can spare. Until you try you have no idea how much people appreciate even the smallest acts of kindness. Making them feel better is infectious and makes you feel good about yourself. I know that warm, fuzzy glow is a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Try it yourself and see.

This afternoon an email dropped into my inbox. It came from Hope Not Hate, a movement that was originally set up to combat racial hatred and divisions. The founder, Nick Lowles, is urging us to carry forward the legacy of Jo Cox, who was murdered last week and who I referred to above. In the aftermath of her death family, friends, colleagues, constituents and strangers have all come together to grieve for her loss, but also to emphasise her goodness and desire to make a difference. She was that rare breed of politician who wanted to help others and not to feather her own nest. Hope Not Hate is asking us all to Love Like Jo. I can’t think of a better sentiment, especially on the eve of a cruelly divisive referendum campaign. Tomorrow we will cast our votes and decide whether or not to continue as members of the European Community. Before the polls open we can all pledge to Love Like Jo.

Love Like Jo

Image courtesy of Hope Not Hate