My life and times

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Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Published 03/10/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Tel Aviv is a sprawling modern city, more European than Middle Eastern.  The shops sell many of the same labels that can be found around the world, and most of the cafés boast free Wi-Fi.  Wandering along Dizengoff, the main street, is just like any other busy shopping area, except that it’s probably much hotter.  An hour or two of this was enough and we made our way to Jaffa , a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Jaffa, by contrast, still retains many of its Arab origins.  Its age is reinforced by the shops selling antiques or second hand goods.  We wandered and browsed until it was time for lunch, an Israeli delicacy called Shakshuka in a restaurant called Dr Shakshuka.  This is a delicious vegetarian stew of onions, peppers and tomatoes, topped with a couple of lightly poached eggs.  All we needed was some bread   for mopping up the juices, and a plate of local couscous.  Yummy and healthy.  If only the drive out of Tel Aviv and back to the main highway had been equally enjoyable.  How on earth can rush hour start around 2.30 in the afternoon, and how can the car ownership of such a small country be so extensive?  Do all Israelis learn to drive in Italy, Paris or Athens, or do the instructors come from those places to teach them?

A Jewish girl finally makes it to Israel

Published 03/10/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

I know I should have visited Israel  before now, but each attempt I’ve made in the past has been thwarted, so when I had the chance to join a cruise that disembarked in both Ashdod and Haifa, the chance was too good to pass up. 

Two relaxing days at sea were followed by three and a half days spent in the heat of the Holy Land.  Arrived at Ashdod (what an ugly port, not destined for tourist ships), I offered my first shaloms spoken in Eretz Yisroel  and rapidly reminded myself that Israelis can be the rudest and most offhand of all nations.  No matter: I was in Israel and that’s all that counted.

First stop on dry land was to collect the hire car that we’d pre-booked.   We couldn’t believe how they could rent out a car with so many scratches and marks; even the front number plate was wonky!  However it wasn’t long before we encountered the standard of driving on the local roads and soon found out why our car was far from pristine.  The roads were easy to navigate, although our Hebrew is so poor that we could only cope with the signs that were translated into English.  It didn’t take long to get onto Highway 4 and famous place names started to appear: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa – places I’d only ever heard of or encountered in the Bible.

Our destination on our first day was to Ra’anana, a suburb of Tel Aviv, to meet friends and business colleagues.  We pulled off the main road for a light snack of Israel’s national dish: Falafel in pitta bread.   However we didn’t realise that Bnei Brak, the town we’d chosen, was ultra religious.  Coming from London we were used to Chasidic Jewry in Golders Green and Stamford Hill, but this was something else.  I must have been the only woman wearing short sleeves and no head covering or wig (sheitl).  Even the snack bar we chose was Glatt Kosher, despite not selling meat products.  Anyway we enjoyed our food, shared with a couple of Israeli soldiers, and continued on our way.  We eventually found our destination, made friends with a beautiful, elderly, cross-bred spaniel-dachsund and had our first proper meal on Israeli soil in the seaside resort of Herzlia.   Israeli food is hugely influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine, and owes very little to traditional European Jewish cooking.  The food was delicious, although not kosher (there were prawns on the menu), and my pudding of a semifreddo of Halva was too delicious to leave, although I was rather full by then.

 A late night drive back to the ship, by which time the traffic had calmed down immensely, where a good night’s sleep was imperative to set us up for the next day’s trip to Jerusalem.

First Aiding

Published 14/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

I had the offer of a free three-hour first aid course yesterday and jumped at the opportunity.  Our teacher was trained in first aid, and teaches in schools and in industry.  Some of the class didn’t bother turning up so there were only about seven of us in the end, which made for a small, compact group.

We went through the basics of the primary survey, using the DRABC sequence.  Basically this means that you make a quick assessment of the scene to make sure there is no risk of any Danger  to the casualty, bystanders and yourself.    You then check to see if the casualty is conscious and gives any Response.  There were few giggles when we tried this out with our partners.  You should trying lying on the floor, pretending to be injured and unconscious, and not giggling when you are shaken by the shoulder and repeatedly asked ‘are you alright?’ At this point you should also shout for help, if anybody is nearby, but you should never leave the patient unattended.  The next step is to check the Airways and to tilt the head and lift the chin of an unconscious patient until the airways are open.  After this you need to check for ten seconds to see if the casualty is Breathing.  If this isn’t the case then you must commence CPR. 

The final step is then to check for any Circulatory problems.  By now a call to the emergency services must be made, if it hasn’t been done already.  So I now know that the initial survey sequence when coming across somebody who has been injured or in an accident is remembered using the mnemonic Doctor ABC.

After this the dummies (well heads and torsos, minus legs and arms) were brought out for practice.  We had to ask (a dummy?) if they were alright, use the head tilt and chin lift to open the airways and then learned how to perform chest compressions  with rescue breaths.    Now if somebody is not breathing, I know how to position them, and myself, and perform 30 chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths into the patient’s mouth, whilst pinching their nose to keep it closed.  In addition we learned about hygiene and using special face masks or shields, in case of concerns about infection, and how to turn a patient on to their side if they vomited. 

We were shown how to move a casualty into the recovery position and then had to practice on our partners. There was a short film demonstrating the Heimlich manoeuvre,   alternated with firm blows between the shoulder blades in the event of choking. 

We finished with a quick talk on how to treat somebody who may be having a heart attack or a stroke and how best to treat bleeding,  burns, asthma attacks and seizures.  All in all a very useful three hours, and we came away with a handy book Emergency First Aid Made Easy,  

and a certificate that is valid for three years.

I’m not sure if I could put this all into practice in an emergency situation, but at least I have some basic knowledge.

It’s a volunteer’s world

Published 12/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

The noughties were hardly the best time to return to study, acquire a BA, an MA an ECDL and then assume there might be the vaguest possibility of finding a job.  Although it is supposed to be illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age, and there is no requirement to put your date of birth on your CV, any prospective employer could easily work out my age very roughly, just by reading through said CV.  So, having given up on the idea of lucrative paid employment using the skills I believed I’d acquired as a secretary, a mother, a self-employed retailer, and finally my higher education qualifications, I decided to launch myself on the voluntary market.  We’re told we’re all in the Big Society together and everybody remarked on how useful the extra skills and qualifications would look on my CV.

I started off helping out the Visitors’ Officer in Southwark Cathedral.

I jumped at the possibility not only because the Cathedral is close to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, but also because my masters is in Shakespeare and the Cathedral was once the parish church of the early modern theatre players and writers.  Returning to an office environment helped to re-build my confidence and reinforce my computing skills, but after a few months I was getting bored.  There was no chance of the job offering any more of a challenge, and definitely no possibility of being paid for what I was doing, so after about six months at Southwark, we agreed to part company.  However I had also acquired a couple of certificates in Health and Safety along the way.

I then came across an advert for somebody to give Internet Taster Sessions at my local library.  I’ve been going in on a regular weekly basis and usually spend three-hour long sessions showing older people how to use the internet, shop online, set up email accounts, and all the basics that so many of us take for granted.

Another opportunity presented itself in the guise of the Sixtieth Birthday Anniversary Celebrations for the 1951 Festival of Britain.  After filling in forms, attending for an interview, and then a training session, I was launched as a Team Leader on the South Bank.  My passion for the arts prompted the initial application, although there was less involvement with inside the Royal Festival Hall, and the work was centred on the area along The Queen’s Walk, between the Royal Festival Hall and the river.  As a Team Leader I was responsible for two shifts of volunteers, one of which clocked on at 11 am and worked until 4 pm, and the second group overlapped with them, starting at 1 pm and finishing around 6 pm.  Intellectually the work wasn’t hard, although we were supposed to act as tourist information guides above and beyond our training.  We all found ourselves learning on the job, finding out answers to questions we’d never considered, and then not ever being asked the same thing again.  Anyway I’m now a mine of information and can advise you where the nearest cash point is when the one in the RFH is out-of-order, where to get accessories for your digital camera, where to find the nearest pharmacy, and how long it takes to walk from the South Bank to London’s Bankside.  Oh, I nearly forgot, I even told somebody how to reach London’s Hard Rock Café from Waterloo.  We generally walked around the entire area of the Festival, but spent most of our time by the Beach Huts, with their individual installations, along the Queen’s Walk beside the river.


We had a lot of fun and made friends with each other, as well as enjoying chats with many of the visitors to the South Bank, especially the older people who remembered (often with a jolt) that they’d been at the original Festival and that sixty years had elapsed between the two events.  We were offered the occasional perks in the form of free tickets for South Bank events.  I never did take up the offer of a free guided visit to the Tracy Emin exhibition, but spent an enjoyable day at the Vintage Festival, culminating with a concert starring 10CC and Sandie Shaw. 

A barefoot Sandie Shaw wearing a very short mini skirt

We’ve all got old together, but I suppose some have aged better than others.  Vintage was fab, especially the outfits worn by many of the attendees.  There were some amazing forties and fifties costumes.  I suppose a lot of women chose those decades because the clothes, hairstyles and makeup were much more glamorous and possibly feminine than nowadays.  There were some really accomplished forties hairdos, accompanied by seamed stockings, and everything in between.  The fifties look was also a popular one, with full skirts worn over stiff lace petticoats, and set off with back-combed and beehived hair.  Some of the men also went the whole hog, including some of them in officers’ uniforms from WW2.

We were very interested in what we thought were vintage, reconditioned juke boxes.  The ultimate let down was that one was actually retro and even had a remote control and digital information.

During the early part of the Festival there were many free lunchtime concerts in the RFH’s Clore Ballroom.  One particular musical band had everybody dancing, from toddlers to seniors.  The music was so infectious that it was difficult to stand still.

When the weather was fine (which was not generally the case this summer) the South Bank took on a holiday atmosphere.  It was almost like being at the seaside with the displays in the various beach huts along by the river, especially with the addition of the sandy beach that was imported from Southend-on-Sea.  On sunny days it was a delight to watch many of the younger children playing on the beach.  In these days of foreign travel, I don’t think many children actually know what it’s like to play on an English beach.  There is also the water fountain outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  I’ve rarely seen children (and teenagers) enjoying themselves so much as they tried to cool off and dodge the ‘walls’ of water that sprang up and died down at random.

We also had a lot of fun with the Photo Booth.  People could come into the booth and pose for photos, singly or in groups.  If they wanted they could also write something on the white boards provided and hold them up while they posed.  A lot of people were sceptical at first and didn’t believe us when we told them that the service was entirely free; we only needed them to enter their email address on the keyboard below the screen and the photo would be emailed to them.  We were very aware of the English reticence and reserve, but persuaded loads of tourists and Londoners to pose for their pictures.

Trying out the Photo Booth on its first day of operation

There were also the ‘Real Food Markets’ that took place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The smells were so inviting and some of the foods on offer were so delicious that you were pleased to come back again the following week and sample them again, or try something different.

Sadly all good things come to an end.  I worked Fridays, and the final Friday of the Festival was a glorious day.  Summer reappeared (and we’d had some atrocious Fridays where we’d spent more time dodging the rain than doing anything else) and the South Bank once again took on a holiday atmosphere at the very end of the school holidays.   I should have let sleeping dogs lie, but decided to go in for a final stint the following Monday, the closing day of the Festival.  The weather changed again and my memories of a sunny South Bank were soon dispelled.  However I got to keep my polo shirt and fleece proclaiming ‘Festival Information’.  And I had my portrait painted by Lady Lucy.

The second man in my life

Published 20/04/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

I often joke to my husband that he has to share me with William Shakespeare.

My first encounter with Will was neither auspicious nor ephiphanic. We had to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream at school when we were eleven years old; frankly I found him rather boring.  However, we met up for another date five years later, having been re-introduced by a Scotsman called Macbeth.  At the age of sixteen I had acquired the maturity to understand what this man, born more than four hundred years before me, had to offer.  He wooed me with his stories, words, turns of phrase, imagery, revelations of inner psychology, doubt and ambivalence.  I have never forgotten the explanation that the usurping king’s words ‘this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnardine, / Making the green one red’ can be read more than one way.  By the time I saw the play acted on stage (with Paul Scofield in the title role) I was well and truly in love.

Shakespeare has been a part of my life ever since then.  I read him in private, savour the language, marvel at the huge range of characters and their exploits, enjoy the puns, and find myself amazed at his non judgemental abilities and how powers to coerce the reader and the playgoer.  How can I love a villain like Richard III, when I know what a nasty piece of work he really is?  How can I give credit to Henry V, when I am aware the dramatist is producing Tudor propaganda, whilst using the Chorus to countermand the plot?  Can I really believe that non-identical twins, Viola and Sebastian, can truly be mistaken for each other?  Do I truly accept that women like Mariana and Diana can take men like Angelo and Bertram to their beds, and that these men have no idea who is receiving their sexual favours?  Like Coleridge I’ve learned to suspend my disbelief, especially when I see the plays performed, and find even more pleasure in the experience.  My lover even surprises me when new productions of his works reveal things to me that I’ve never considered before.

Ours has not been a clandestine affair.  My husband and friends and family are all aware of my double life.  I came out to the world when I completed an MA in Shakespeare Studies at University College London. My friends need to remind me that there are plays by other playwrights and that I don’t need to restrict my theatre going to works written more than four hundred years ago by a man from a town in the West Midlands.  My answer is simply ‘That in black ink my love may still shine bright.’