I must be one of the worst drivers out there. I just had my second two hour driving lesson and it appears I should not be on the road at all, not even with a horse and cart. Even though I have been driving for thirty or so years these lessons are necessary to pass the UK practical driving test. I studied really hard for the theory and did pass (I got two out of 50 wrong, which surprised me because I really studied), but this practical driving test is another matter. That have all manner of things they test you on and apparently are really strict. Reversing around a corner is a favorite, and I am just terrible at it. Also the whole MSM (mirror, signal, maneuver) is just not natural. Anyway, Jon my perfectly nice and patient driving instructor seems to think that with only a further 4 hours of lessons I should be ready. My practical test is at 8am on January 2nd, hopefully all the testers will be hung over from their New Years Eve parties. I decided, somewhat foolishly perhaps, to take my test on a manual (not automatic) car. Here is much of my problem. I have been driving automatics for many, many years with only the very occasional manual rental car for practice. So besides worrying about the mirrors, the blind spot, which lane to be in on the roundabouts and the correct time to signal, I have to also worry about not "coasting" too much (driving with my foot on the clutch). Truly, the train and buses are looking more reasonable by the minute.
Who said an evening walk cannot be exciting? Last night while strolling past the copse on Meadland Drive, Roxy and I came upon a badger. It gets dark very early at this time of the year, and around 4:30pm it's already pitch black. So we stay out of the forests and bush lands, and stick to the streets which have street lamps and the avenues, which don't. We were walking past the houses on Meadland Drive, when we nearly tripped over a badger sniffing about on the grassy verge. Roxy never noticed it at first, when it moved, she stopped, gave a squeak and started pulling furiously at her lead to get closer. The badger looked at her, she looked at the badger - I swear they on the spot decided the other was cool, they both have black faces with white lining after all. Unhurriedly the badger crossed the road, stopped in the middle to look back at us to make sure we were not following her home and then waddled off into the copse. Roxy, more surprised than alarmed, looked at me, then at the badger sort of shrugged her shoulders and on we walked. Not a sound besides the initial squeak of surprise. We carried on over Sandy Lane and into Arlington Road and its very nice houses, then turned into Lauderdale Drive with its even nicer houses. Roxy spotted something black and big on the pavement ahead and stopped dead. It was a double bass, complete with case, just laying on its side on the pavement. Now I know this is a nice area, and sometimes people put out old, but reusable furniture for the masses to collect, but this looked like a perfectly good, huge double bass. We decided that the best thing to do would be to ring someone's doorbell and ask, because there was little doubt that this was not a discard. Just then I noticed someone a few houses down futzing around in his garage. I "excused me" and mentioned that there was a "large musical instrument on the pavement (US: sidewalk) opposite". The man ran out his gate and nearly hugged me. He exclaimed (words I can certainly relate to) "My Daughter!". It seems, she plays in a local orchestra and apparently arrived home a few hours back, unpacked her bag and double bass, and promptly left it on the pavement, while her ride drove off. "8000 pounds you just saved me". The grateful father thanked Roxy and I profusely. We continued our walk back home. There is lots happening around Petersham of an evening. The little fox we spotted at the end of the lane behind the house as we got home is not even worth mentioning (although Roxy is was very interested).
It's hard to believe it's been 9 years since my dad passed away. I think of him often. He is the little bird sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear. I hope I am listening well. It's the fifth candle of Hanukah tonight and his yatseit. We struggled to find a yaseit candle here in this Christian land, but they finally came through for bwo at Waitrose. The only problem it's such bad quality it keeps going out. Dad would not be impressed.
Arik Einstein died last night. An event so important in Israel that bdo called me from her base and woke me to discuss this. His music was so much part of our lives in Israel, that it's almost impossible to image an Israel without him. His voice instantly takes me back to hot, dusty days in Raanana, sunsets on the beach in Herzliya, cold days in Jerusalem, all those distant images of youth. The outpouring of grief in Israel can be felt all the way here in my office Egham.
Tomer explained his pain best on Facebook (If a little too dramatically):
התאבלתי על קרט קוביין שהיה בשבילי הנעורים התאבלתי על יצחק רבין שהיה בשבילי האופטימיות מתאבל על אריק איינשטיין. בשבילי הוא ארץ ישראל
הנעורים שלי התאבדו, האופטימיות שלי נרצחה... ארץ ישראל מתה הערב.
Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few days. We have had visitors. My brother and s-i-l are in town and it's been wonderful to have them stay with us on Petersham Road. On Sunday we took a drive down to Runnymede to visit the Ankerwycke Yew. The ancient yew tree is at least 1400 years old (some sites say it's closer to 2500, but at that age no one cares). It stands on the opposite bank of the Thames to where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 - some like to call this the beginning of democracy as it required King John to accept that his will was not arbitrary (punishment only according to the law of the land). The tree is also said to have been the place where Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn in the 1530s. We have visited it before. I love how people hide little notes in the branches just like in the wall in Jerusalem. We walked along the Thames and through the muddy fields in the area. Roxy had a wonderful time. We then walked up the slope to the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede. Quite fitting, as it was the 50th anniversary of his death on Friday. The ladies enjoyed a hot tea in the tearoom while we trampled up the hillside in the light drizzling rain. All in all a very nice outing, and close to home.
It was dark when I took Roxy out for her walk yesterday morning. Dark and icy cold. The full moon was trying hard to throw some light through the clouds. We walked down the path, going left this time towards Petersham Road. The frost crunch, crunched under foot. We turned right onto Sandy Lane and walked along the tree lined pavement. The wind blew in small gusts, very fresh. Sycamore trees stand high on either side of the road. Now that it's autumn, their leaves have turned light brown. Somehow, possibly because of the frost and the gusty wind, Rox and I were showered in falling leaves. They swirled around, thick like heavy snow. You could barely see ahead. I could not help laughing aloud. It was magical.
I explained a few weeks back about the whole "life tape" thing. Where we made mixed tapes (or USB sticks) identifying important music that epitomize transitions in our lives.When I was young, the movie "Phantom of the Paradise" seemed to show up time and again. I remember seeing it at the Habonim Bayit, at the school hall, at birthday parties and even at camp one year. The music reminds me of those days. The film, which I have not seen for many years, has probably not aged well, but I still like the music. I wish I could post the actual clip from the movie for this "Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye". All the words are deeply engrained and I enjoyed chanting "Eddie believed the 'Merican people had wonderful, love giving hearts..." and so on to the kids in the car while driving up north. I really takes me right back to those difficult teenage years. Perhaps it's time to try find the movie again.
Last week when I was in Israel, I noticed the rubbish. I drove from Raanana to Haifa one morning and was surprised to see all the junk collecting alongside the Coastal Road. My favourite part of this road is a little north of Atlit, one one side you have the blue, blue Mediterranean and on the other, in the distance is the Carmel range. I could not help but notice all the broken bottles, cans, plastic bags and general junk lining the road on both sides. It seems I must have become used to this after many years in Israel - I remember it used to bother me when I first arrived from SA all those years back. So much mess. Everywhere. My eyes have grown accustomed to the English countryside. It's surprisingly clean here. People don't throw stuff out of the car windows, and tend to pick up after themselves. Since arriving I have been amazed at the lack of dustbins in the UK. There are only two on the long walk between my house and Teddington Lock, which meant I had to carry Roxy's poop in the little sacky-kaky for around an hour yesterday. There are no public dustbins anywhere near the house and when I asked the UK squints about this, they claimed it's left over from "the troubles". But, they have not had an IRA bomb go off in the UK for a while (looks like 2001 according to Wikipedia). Still there are very few bins around. Even at the station they have these suspended plastic bags, two for the whole platform. Even with this surprising lack of places to turf your rubbish, the UK is very clean. In the fields around our house, there are some discarded beer cans and left over boxes of fireworks from Guy Fawkes, but in general, the woods are full of trees and leaves. I have occasionally noticed some of the old people in the neighbourhood walking around with garbage bags picking up trash. I have never seen anything like that in Israel. Visual pollution - it really bothers me.
Today we visited the Alice Holt Forest. Excellent place (I'll let the pictures talk for themselves, just look at the fall colours). Lynn and I and Roxy walked the Lodge Pond Trail, while bwo sat at the tea room and created zentangles (more on this some other time). We had a wonderful walk, Roxy just loved it, she ran and jumped and darted everywhere. The smells and trees and mud. Dog Heaven. My chip butty (basically a roll with french fries inside) made the perfect post walk snack. This weather is perfect for these kind of walks, it was not too freezing although there was frost on the ground in places, more crisp than cold. A part of the forest has been given over to "go ape", it's a sort of tree top adventure, where you cross rope bridges, Tarzan swings and zip lines - all high up in the trees. Just the sort of thing the UK squints could love, I think we should do some team building here. The ride home took longer than usual to avoid Twickenham as England vs. New Zealand rugby was on, but I still got home in time to watch the game.
I have been careful to avoid bwo's ire when choosing blog subjects. I am having too much fun here in the UK and am afraid she may punish me by taking me back home to Israel before I am ready. Nevertheless, I feel it is necessary to risk telling the story of the marshmallow mattress (actually mattresses). When we moved into this house on Petersham Road, I had a single request of the landlady. Please get us reasonable beds and mattresses (the place came furnished). There is nothing worse than old saggy beds that are too soft and pokey. She kindly bought new beds for us, but let's just say these are not the Rolls Royce of sleep furniture. The mattress (possibly an Ikea special) was a little, how can I put it, one dimensional. Soft, then hard, with a touch of metal spring digging into your fleshy parts. Bwo was unhappy. So I approached the relo people and they agreed (on producing a doctor's letter re: bwo's back) to replace the mattress. Great, I thought, I could finally get a good night's sleep. Alas this was not to be. Bwo decided that what we needed was a "memory foam" mattress topper, to go over the sub-standard mattress She quickly ordered one off Amazon. It cost multiple hundreds of pounds, but she assured me this was exactly what we needed to solve our sleeping distress. The thing arrived in a huge box, weighing about 900 pounds. We dragged it upstairs, tried it on the bed. Oh dear! it was way too big. Seems the bed had shrunk from the time bwo measured. This heavy clumsy thing lay around on the spare bed for a few weeks while bwo thought of a solution to the size problem. Perhaps we could cut it to size, or buy a bigger bed. The answer was simple, she simply ordered another one, the right size this time. I then heard the dreaded words "no worries, I'll just return the other one". (Never happened, It sat on top of the dog's kennel for a few months, now it's hidden somewhere in this house, along with the dozens of other parcels waiting to be returned - but that's a story for another time). So we now have this "luxury memory foam" topping for our mattress. It's like sleeping on marshmallows. Rolling over is exhausting. It's boiling (I even wake up bathed in sweat when it's zero degrees out). It's like sleeping in quicksand. I often find myself dreaming that I'm struggling to swim in a sea of thick custard. But bwo loves it, which is all that matters.
OK, I need to confess. I bought something that was not at all black. I admit it. I bought a high visibility, bright yellow (with reflective horizontal stripes) waterproof jacket. It was a matter of life and death, it's really a matter of Pikuach Nefesh(פיקוח נפש). I was walking the girly in the dark, early morning a few weeks back, when a car reversed out of their driveway and nearly ran us over. I was dressed in my usual, black shoes, socks, underwear, T-shirt, shirt, sweater and North Face. So I suppose they may have had trouble seeing me and my black (with white accent) dog. I decided I must have one of those high viz jackets that almost everyone who spends any time outside in the UK wears. You see these on cyclists, policemen, joggers, road crew, motorcyclists, firemen, crossing guards, and dog walkers. The postman has one, as do all the garbage men, even the Amazon delivery chap has one. Amazon did not have the one I really wanted in stock (from Mountain Warehouse). Bwo tried the store in downtown Richmond, but they were fresh out of stock. They did give her a coupon for free shipping. So we bought one from their webpage. All of £14. I waited patiently for it to arrive, careful not to be run down on our dark walks. The webpage promised 3-5 days delivery. Well, a week went by, then another. Still no jacket, and all the while me dodging cars and trucks and buses in the dark. So I called customer service. It seems "something unusual happened" between the order and the warehouse - basically nothing. They had lost my order, after apologizing profusely they promised to send it out next day. Oh, and to only charge me £7. The jacket arrived in all its bright yellowness the next day. I am pleased to say I am now visible from space.
While not many flights are pleasant, last night's trip back to London was, for some reason, worse than usual. It seemed we had many more stupid people on the plane than is typical. You know the type, people (often religious) who spend way too much time arranging their bags in the overhead compartment while blocking the aisles, men (often religious) who obsess about placing their hats in the lest efficient way taking up way more room than is needed, families (often religious) that have way more children than the parents (often just the mother) can possibly control, people (often religious) that just don't smell so fresh. The plane landed at Heathrow Terminal 1, just a little late, but there was an aircraft parked at our gate, so we had to move. I have never in all my travelling had to walk so far from the gate to the terminal, never. I got home around midnight. It was cold this morning when I woke. I took Roxy out to the copse around 6:45am and this is what it looked like.
Yes, indeed, that is frost on the ground. The crunch, crunch of the frozen grass, is quite pleasing. Roxy just loves this kind of weather and was friskier than ever, running up and down, bringing me all sorts of sticks and branches for inspection. Apparently this is the first frost of the winter. The car's thermometer read 0 degrees on the way into work, and I had to scrape ice off the windscreen. It's a little different from the 28 degrees C in Tel Aviv yesterday.
It's all about the food. When you are younger it's all sex and drugs and rock and roll, but now days it's all about the food. As I said a few days back, I never realized just how much I missed the fresh food here in Israel. I have been eating salads and vegetables, humus, tehina and cucumbers. Even the sandwich I had for lunch the other day was packed full of delicious fresh veggies along with baked sweet potato and eggplant. No starchy cheese and pickle, or "cheese and salad" sandwiches - while the cheese is tasty the salad comprises some sad, old, shredded pieces of boring Iceberg lettuce. Last night I met Yuval for dinner at Etna in Ramat HaSharon. It was fantastic. Antipasti that had real taste, and a simple "Salad Aravi" with Tehina that made me want to sing. Not to mention the fresh bread. I am going to have to do something about my miserable eating habits when I get back to the UK.
I slept badly last night. I just could not get comfortable. Either too hot or too cold. It's perfect weather outside, a little chilly but not cold, nevertheless I just could not find myself the right position. And there was noise. Bdo had some friends over and even though they tried to be quiet, some of them spent the evening (till after 2am) directly under my window. I am just not used this noise at night. We live on a busy street in London (Petersham Road) and there is constant traffic, but it is in the background, behind the double paned windows. We can't even hear the rain from our bed. The only noise at night is Roxy's occasional furious barking at something that messes with her mind (a fox? cat? mouse?). There is so much noise here in Raanana. Besides the kid's friends, there's the sirens on Ahuza, the house alarms (two went off in the early morning), the scooters delivering the newspapers at dawn, some kids coming back from Tel Aviv across the road and listening to music in their car. There is the constant hubbub of Israeli life outside the windows (which are open). I am just not used to it.
I woke this morning quite peckish after a reasonable night's sleep in our firm Israeli bed (a story for another time). Sadly, the food situation in the house is a little desert-like. So I went to Tiv Taam. The Raanana store is open 24/7, which is quite something for this conservatively religious leaning town. I bought some fresh pitah bread, some nice black, heavy Russian rye, some humus with harif and some red cabbage salad. On the way to check-out (the store was as empty as I have ever seen it at 7am on a Saturday morning), I spotted the shiny red peppers in the vegetable section. If there is one thing I miss in the UK (besides the kids), it's the fresh vegetables and salads here in Israel. While you can find any kind of salad vegetable at your local Sainsbury's, they are expensive, and worse yet do not have any taste. The peppers are small and lack that excellent crunch we so take for granted here. So I picked some red peppers, paid the typical grumpy Russian checkout lady and headed out. I was thinking of going for a walk on the beach, but my stomach took charge), so I came straight home. I cut the peppers into quarters, cleaned out the seeds. Scooped in some humus (with harif) and topped each slice with some red cabbage salad. I ate this in my usual way, standing over the sink in the kitchen looking out onto Rehov Hanevel. Completed by a double Lavazza espresso (after cleaning out the used capsule tray as the machine has not been used in my absence and there was actual mould growing on the spent coffee capsules) it was sheer heaven. Sometimes Israel hits the 80% without even trying.
Today I'm back in Israel. I flew out of Heathrow this morning. I lucked into one of the six empty seats on the plane next to me, so I can't complain. I did not have to wait the usual hour at the Hertz counter to get my rental car, although I did throw a bit of a wobbler when none of the four Hertz dudes in the parking lot would note down the damage already present on the huge minivan they gave me. That all sorted, I drove home to Raanana. The house looks better than the last time (I threatened the kids that if I came back this month and the house was not in better shape I was moving them to their grandparents). It was 6 degrees C in London this morning and 28 here in Raanana this afternoon. And boy, is it dusty. I forgot about the dust everywhere and that faint taste of sand in your mouth, everything you touch leaves a gritty feeling on your hands. I am so used to the eternal dampness of England. The kids and I went to the family for dinner. It was good, but I was feeling a bit disorientated, I suppose it just felt a little strange to be there without bwo. Probably I'm just tired. It has been a very busy week with an early flight this morning. Well, I plan to sleep in tomorrow.
We had the whole family in the car on the way up north to Leistershire for our narrow boat trip a few weeks ago. Bwo and I took a leaf out of cousin Jordy's book and decided to get all of us to make a "life tape". The idea was to make a mixed tape (actually a USB drive) with the songs that marked important points in our lives. Basically songs that defined an important period or person or place. I started out with 10 songs, and soon after some thought (it's harder than you think) I came up with 53 songs (one for each year). We played them in order from Richmond to somewhere near Nottingham. I told the story behind each song. It was great. A special experience and something I recommend. Anyway. The first song on my list was Norwegian Wood by the Beatles. It reminds me of growing up at 35 Mill Park Road. My sister was an avid Beatles fan. She would scream each time any of their songs came on the radio. For some reason this song has always typified that time for me. I was lucky to have an older brother and sister, who had reasonable musical tastes in the late 60's. Listening to this I can close my eyes and I'm around 8 years old lying on my back on the floor in the passage near the front door, listening to the old "radiogram" in the study at number 35. I had a great childhood. PE was paradise.
Judging by the number of fireworks seen and heard over the last few nights it's Guy Fawkes today. Much more important it is our lovely daughter, bdo's 20th birthday. Yes, Jeckle (of Heckle and Jeckle fame) is 20 today. She is spending the day at her army base. Her officers made a fuss of her last night, and the cooks sang Happy Birthday, so it's not all bad. As usual, I have to repeat the two most important pieces of advice from father to daughter. One, All boys are fools. Two, judge people by what they do and not by what they say. We have the most wonderful, funny, sharp, beautiful, smart girl. It makes me smile just to think of her. Have a wonderful day and an extra special year, girly-bird. While the last 20 years have not always been easy, I would not swap them for the world.