Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Russians, speedos and a bomb scare on Tel Aviv beach

What is it with some Russian men and their speedo's? You can always tell them. They appear with pale, hairless bodies; some have tummies that protrude over their nether regions and they wear speedo's. There's absolutely nothing remotely sexy or enticing about a man in speedo's. Whatever his physique or youthfulness - or, rather, lack of it. Yesterday a man in a pair of pale blue speedo's was going through the transparent bin bags on the beach. He was looking for anything plastic - preferably bottles. I've no idea what he could be doing with them. There's cages on street corners specifically for plastic bottle recycling. I didn't think that there was a black market in plastic bottles. Who knows. Maybe he was a Russian involved in some kind of mafia type of bottle recyling that wasn't environmental. Nice oxymoron that. Russians and envionmentalism.

Lying as I was in my plastic chair, looking towards the sea and the lifeguard hut, I heard broadcast a warning. 'Would whoever has left a red and black bag unattended on the water's edge please come and reclaim it. Otherwise it will be dealt with.' A small crowd had gathered around the bag - not too closely. A couple, oblivious to events, were lying entwined in each others' arms but a few feet away. A young man in an orange t-shirt and carrying a walkie-talkie gave instructions to a faceless being in an office. No one came towards the bag who looked as though he was its owner. The young couple were asked to move on. The crowd were asked to move back. The swimmers in the sea were also oblivious, as were many others who a) did not speak Hebrew and b) were not paying attention. Again the warning was broadcast. This time with the addendum that it would be dealt with 'in no uncertain terms' should the owner not show/his her face.

I could see the bag about sixty feet in front of me. Poor thing, all alone as if it had the most awful BO or rampant halitosis. A red and black backpack standing upright, surrounded by beach-goers waiting to see if it was going to explode.The young man in the tee-shirt, speaking with his hands into the walkie-talkie turned around suddenly. Coming towards him was an older man in black speedo's. The man gesticulated. The crowd smiled. The young couple moved back towards their towel. Orange tee-shirt gesticulated back. He beckoned the older man towards him. No guessing what they were talking about. The older man nodded his head, opened his hands in submission. He was told off in no uncertain terms.

Who's to know what's in a seemingly abandoned back-pack on Tel Aviv beach? It could be anything. It could have been a bomb primed to go off when the bag was opened; it could have contained nails and bolts and poison, as so many of them have been. It was probably just a towel and some sun screen and probably a plastic bottle of water. At least Mr. Blue speedo may have been happy at that outcome!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

No 'elf and safety hats here during demolishment

Mahmud is next door. I know that he's called that because it's written in Hebrew above the window to his - I'm not sure what you can call it, 'digger,' caterpiller, large-yellow-machine-with- long-bit-that-has-huge-scoop-at-the-end so that it can scoop up a building and then place it on another pile of bricks in front of what used to be a block of flats. This thing pivots at 360 degrees and climbs junior mountains. It's a sight to behold. If it really does belong to Mahmud, then he's done really well because these things cost a shit-load of dosh. I remember a friend of mine here, back in the day when the Sinai and Sharm still belonged to Israel, he had an even bigger one of those things and it cost almost as much as a house. I can't see how this could have changed that much.

I'm happy that Mahmud has done so well and is working here in apartheid Tel Aviv. His friend across the road, waiting for Mahmud to finish scooping so that he could begin carting, almost threw a fit and ran behind another guy when he saw me walking the dog. The dog's not much bigger than a French Bulldog could be and, as I explained to him, while his other friend collapsed in mirth as he ran behind him, the dog doesn't bite! It's a cultural thing, you see. Even the Haredi girls do the same. If they see me walking the dog along the side of the religious beach, they scream and run for cover. It's hysterical.

So Mahmud and his pals were here because all of a sudden, without warning, they turned up two days ago and started to demolish the block of flats that is (or rather was) next door to us. I suppose that we should have guessed that something was about to happen because from one day to the next everyone had moved out and there were dead settees on the street, along with bed clothes, legless tables and garden chairs. Maybe they're going to renovate it, we thought. I saw a step-ladder in one of the bedrooms. Maybe simply painting it, although just a coat of paint would not have done it justice; it had generous holes in the walls and the trees were dying. Then, out of the blue, a noise of crashing bricks and cement and I looked out of the window and voila! our wall had been knocked into and debris lined the bushes and trees along the side of our building. So typical. No posters to say that this was going to happen, please close your windows. No Health and Safety notices on lamp posts along the street; no men wearing hard hats or the street being closed while various vans and lorries and general demolishing machines mend their way along to sit outside in a heap of dust.

Now we have what looks like the remnant of a small battle lying next to us and the dust drifts over in Arabian proportions, mixed with sand and dog hair. I had thought of getting the windows cleaned last week. Pleased that I didn't. I don't know whether I'll be able to until after the new building is up and who knows how long that will take. At least Mahmud and Co. will be off for the holidays. Here everything stops until 'after the Chagim.' There's some solace in that.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tel Aviv Beach: No apartheid, no posturing pride

I think that Wednesday more than any day of the week is really Gay Day on the beach. I could be wrong. Every day is Gay Day! Around the cornerfrom me, at the end of Independence Park, is the beach. Across a major road, along which reside the British Embassy (now being renovated,) the Swiss Embassy and the Turkish Embassy. Last year there was a noisy demonstration outside of the Turkish Embassy after the Mavi Marmara fiasco. This year, notwithstanding the grandstanding by the Turkish Prime Minister, 'who cares about $10 million or $150 million worth of bilateral trade so long as we have our pride' Erdogan, no one is loitering. They still have their walls around the rather dilapidated building but no one is paying them attention. I think that everyone is rather contemptious of the Turkish government at the moment. Had the Palmer Report (that they themselves had inititated) exonerated them, then they would be shouting from the rooftops. As it is, they're just throwing their toys out of the pram and making lots of noises about law suits and flotillas and attacking southern Cyprus and continuing their massacres of the Kurds in northern Turkey and Iraq but as no one in the world gives a fig, they can get away with it.

Anyway. So the walk across the park, past the picnic tables and the childrens' playground and the adult open gym and the Hilton halls, where they host weddings and the like, the view is of the most magnificant blue Mediterranean Sea and the pristine sand. To the left, looking past the sea with its myriad yachts and swimmers and lifeguard huts and breakwaters, is the marina and the Gordon outdoor pool, surrounded by towering palm trees and the new Gordon gym. To the right is the dog beach, the segregated religious beach and Mezzizzim beach, leading up to the Port and the new baby 'Borough' Market.

But the Gay Beach is most definitely fun. There's a mixture of gay and straight; families; singles and the occasional dog that strays along and whose owner is then shouted at by the lifeguards who make it plain that the dog has his/her beach and this one is not for him. Many of the beachgoers are regulars, the same as for the swimmers at the Gordon municipal pool. They've been coming here for years (even before the new pool was developed.) They've established enduring friendships and have watched their kids grow up and have kids and the grandkids are now in the pool alongside them. At the Gay Beach there are a number too who have obviously been worshipping the sun for many years. Among them is 'Mrs. Brown.' We call her that because she's there every single day. She's probably even there during the winter months (or maybe she goes down to Eilat for her daily fill.) She's unusual because she's topless. She also wears a teeny, tiny thong. She's all one colour. The colour of the husk of a coconut. She's about 60 odd and her breasts are small droopy additions to her rather lumpy body. She stands on the sand and speaks to her pals. She goes into the water and gets wet. She lays herself down on her chair (she brings her own) and she goes walkabout, up and down the beach, catching the rays. She's quite a sight.

Further down towards Jaffa, there's another stretch of beach that's recently been redeveloped. It's just after the Dolphinarium where, in June 2001, an Islamic Jihad terrorist suicide bomber blew himself up outside and murdered twenty-one Russian teenagers who were waiting to enter the nightclub. Another 120 kids were wounded. The building is still there but it's unused and there's a small monument erected in front on which is written in Russian and Hebrew the names of all the kids who perished. A very poignant sight. Just past here the beach is frequented by many Orthodox Jews and Muslim and Christian Arab Israelis. Their kids play together at the swings and roundabouts. There are many picnics and lots of cookouts and the smells are divine on a summer evening. Zatar and humus and techina and large, flat pitta bread; challas and hard boiled eggs and crackers and cheese. Everyone munches along and the runners and cyclists and bounding dogs pay them no attention. Nor do they pay attention to the gays on the Gay Beach or anyone else especially. Everyone does their own thing. Perhaps someone from the Turkish Embassy should pay a visit. Go across the road and check out the beach and the tayelet and just see how everyone gets along. No pride involved.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A flavour of Kikar Hamedina, Tel Aviv - a demo

It was one of those evenings in Tel Aviv that only Londoners can dream of. Hot, sultry and sweaty but an aroma of lavender and wild thyme, aftershave and perfume hung on a gentle breeze. The moon, at one third, shone brightly, as the moon does, and the helicopters above circled the square, obliterating from time to time the stars and gleaming satellites.

They say that there were about 400,000 people there. I tried to establish some kind of arithmetical modus of counting - Pompey, the Emirates, Wembley. Initially it was maybe one or two Wemblies. I guess it was more. As I stood at the corner of the square and Jabotinsky Street, wave upon wave of demonstrators arrived en masse, singing, chanting, playing drums, shouting slogans, while others in the crowd surrounding me clapped and wooped and waved their arms at them. There was an amazing feeling of oneness when entire groups arrived with their banners and matching t-shirts. I suppose that it must have felt like this during the Russian Revolution, before the Cossaks arrived. Of course no Cossaks were expected last night, although I was somewhat concerned that some idiot could have planted a bomb or decided to camouflage himself as one of the people. But that didn't happen. Fortunately.

How do you compare a demonstration like this to anything in the UK or Greece or France, when the 'populace' as it were, are agitating? Not one window smashed. Not one mugging or knifing or any kind of looting. No arson. No 'kettling.' In fact very little police presence, apart from those who were checking for bombs hidden among the undergrowth or behind lamposts or bicycles that were chained up to the railings surrounding the flowers and bushes. There was the occasional police car and I looked up above the flats, to the roofs, searching for the odd police sniper but couldn't see anything that resembled this kind of activity. Some of the police carried green fluorescent flashlights - but then so did the kids and adults.

The meeting was being held in possibly the best part of Tel Aviv - a comparison would be Knightsbridge in London. All the shops were there; Gucci and YSL, Prada and Ralph Lauren, even Zadig and Voltaire. It had closed down in Hampstead but was obviously doing better here. None of the stores had been shuttered for the event. There were no cameras to catch any kind of miscreant because, generally, there are none. Such is liberty.

It was a meeting of babies and buggies and balloons and young couples on bikes and the middle-aged with tummies and men with grey pony tails and women, tanned and svelt, holding expensive leather handbags and I-phones and I-Pads. This is Israel, after all! Dogs of all shapes and sizes and picnic baskets and music in the square, a la Glastonbury or Woodstock. Israeli hip-hop competing with simply amazing drums and cymbals from the crowd who were jumping and jiving and simply enjoying the whole beat. A little boy in a Rooney t-shirt and an older man sporting 'Have Another Beer.' It was truly good natured and, notwithstanding that it was a demonstration against discrepancies in wages, entrepreneurs were there selling their bottled water and beigeleh and the ubiquitous ice cream seller, 'Hello, Artic, mishmish, chocolate!' Portaloos dotted the roads leading up the square where people waited in line and queues were forming at ATMs. I wondered why. What was there to spend at a demo?

So many banners, cardboard signs, slogans and so many agendas. Gilad Shalit featured prominently. TV journalists and young women with the latest digital cameras slung around their shoulders, hanging from branches in young trees, trying to get the best shot.

Will it make a difference? There are about 7 million Israelis. 400,000 crowded into a square in Tel Aviv last night. The government has established a committee to address their concerns. There's no more that can be done. This was the crux of their agenda. Let's hope that the tents and general debris that has been left behind over this hot summer can now be cleared up and life can continue.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Different tales of insanity and inhumanity

Two really tragic stories in the press this week, among all the others. Notwithstanding earthquakes, Gadaffi's porn, Syrian murders and now a hurricane edging its way along the East Coast of America, I ask: is someone trying to tell you something? The stories that grabbed my attention were set far apart but so alike. In China an old woman is searching for a carer for her son. She's in her 70s and he in his 40s and he's been tethered to a wall, naked since he was 17. He suffers from a severe mental illness. In Austria, that country, the beacon of light where they elected Herr Hitler and celebrated the Anschluss, an octogenarian has been accused of imprisoning, raping and keeping as slaves his two 'mentally ill' daughters.

We here in the UK tend to believe that social services 'care' for our unfortunate. There are 'slips' but, still, there is usually something available, if you are able to take advantage of it. Consider China, where there is such a total contrast between those who have been able to take advantage of the huge new wealth and priviledge and those who remain on the outskirts in their almost feudal way of life. Austria, we are led to believe, should be among the most 'modern' of our democracies but how many times have we been privy to an insidiously depraved mixture of insanity and evil from that country?

I remember the heartbreaking photographs of children and teenagers also tethered to their cots and beds in mental asylums in Romania. Even though these children are desperate for homes, the Romanian authorites have forbidden their adoption outside of the country and there they remain in their most unwarrented and unwanted circumstances. Is there much difference between them and the young man in China or the women in Austria? When will the world spend less on conflict and more on humanity?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Good old Sky's Alex. A real journo for the 21st century

When I was a kid and even later and we had wars and journalists went out to cover them, they looked the part. There they stood, usually at the side of a beaten-up old jeep, generally in the desert sand, microphone in hand, explaining to us mere mortals what had been happening in their parallel universe. We could almost smell the shrapnel and the cordite. We experienced the sand in our eyes; the glare from the sun glinting off the camera into the shiny sunglasses worn by our romantic reporter. Nowadays we viewers tend to see our TV journos in the front of SUVs or Range Rovers, together with the rebels of whatever confrontation they are covering. You see, there's no impartiality any more.

There's no greater demonstration of this than the BBC's man-in-Tripoli, our Rupert of the double-barrelled nomenclature. There he was last night and this morning and basically throughout the rest of the day, in the back of the jeep, with the 'rebels,' on his way into Tripoli along the seafront, exclaiming just 'how peaceful it was,' until the cars in the front of the convoy were 'attacked!.' Well, jolly dee. Isn't that what happens in a war. He was so upset, he was, in his flak jacket and helmet and various bits and pieces strewn across his brave chest. 'Run, run!' he screamed, or was it turn, turn!' Or even, sod-this-for-a-laugh, let's get out of here... In any event we viewers were privy to his fear. We almost saw his legs turn to jelly as the sound of gunfire came close and his jeep jumped around like a jelly bean on acid. Off they turned, either into or out of the sunshine. You couldn't tell. Pity, really, because I was just getting a good look at downtown Tripoli and, apart from the gaggle of 'rebels', it looked quite nice, all considering.

So that then brings us on to Sky's very brave and all-purpose Alex Crawford. She's been there forever. She must speak Arabic fluently by now. Off topic though is how well all those guys she's been interviewing speak English. Amazing how many we've educated here in the UK. Or could it be that the really, really nasty dictator that they're just about to heave-ho, managed to have a good English language school there? Anyway. Alex. Gosh. There she was this afternoon. She was interviewing a doctor in the 'only hospital left standing.' She'd taken off her helmet. Poor thing. Did you see her hair? I hope that Sky send in a hairdresser to her. Looks like she hadn't washed it in weeks. And her face! She had panda eyes! And her skin! All sunburnt she was. But that's the price of being in the front of the action. Not leading from behind like the BBC. I think she was jolly good. In spite of her flak jacket and her silly helmet and the bits and pieces strewn around her jacket and hanging out of her pockets. She looked like a real war journalist. Hemingway would be proud.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Intentional hubris - is it August 1914?

Don't politicians have any morality any more? Or is that an oxymoron? Presumably one loses any pretence of morality once one has decided to be a politician. How can you explain that David Cameron is now going on his fifth holiday of the year? Everyone deserves a holiday, says he. Or that Obama and his wife take two private jets up to Martha's Vineyard. Let them eat cake, indeed. This is while in both countries the economy has tanked and the stock exchange is crashing. And Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker to the House. She's now on Big Brother. I mean, what's this about? Has she no shame? Obviously not.

Then we can go further along the line of hubris and hypocrisy. The erstwhile Egyptian government has recalled its Ambassador to Israel because some Egyptian soldiers have been killed in the latest terrorist attacks along the borders of Egypt and Israel. That they were killed, inter alia, by the very terrorists that Israel is fighting against is irrelevant. It's the fact that Israel was involved. Oh, and by the way, Assad Bashar's government in Syria are routing out and killing Palestinians from the refugee camps that they have been deliberately kept in over the years. Fine to use these same 'Palestinians' as pawns against Israel but also fine to murder them when the Syrian government sees fit. Let's add to the pot the Turks who are now carrying out hundreds of sorties against Kurds. How many killed? Who knows. The BBC doesn't think it worthwhile mentioning.

Nice to know that while the world implodes around them that our 'leaders' are on their hols. Eating ice cream and bashing around in the surf. God forbid that they should actually work in order to deserve their salaries. We're informed that they don't really have holidays; they take their work with them. Oh, yeah. And now we see the 'end game' in Libya, except of course that no one actually knows what the end game is. Who knows who the 'rebels' are. Presumably that's why no one is going to say 'boo' to Bashar. Whoever comes next could, in fact, be even worse. And the Arab League, that bastion of humanity, human rights and transparency, is lambasting Israel because, having been attacked continually over the last four days and losing many innocents, has the temerity to protect her citizens. Who says the world hasn't gone mad.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Riots, Arson and Looting in the 'holy' month of Ramadan

I heard say that August is the 'new' November. Something that I could quite happily (well, not so happily) have believed yesterday. The streets were awash with rain. Cars careering along at 60mph, totally drenching passers-by. What's happened to humanity? Doesn't anyone have respect or even empathy for anyone else? I guess that in the light of what happened to England last week, then the answer has to be a resounding 'No?' Five people were killed in rioting and where arson was seen to be a party to 'demonstrating.' I wonder whether the arsonists will be meted out sentences that merit. I remember that once arson was deemed even more heinous than murder. Just think who could have been in those buildings set alight, or the animals. There could have been a multitude of deaths.

People used to be locked away for life for arson. Will that happen here? Or will the limp-wristed liberal do-gooders who are now hysterical at the sentences that the looters and instigators are being dealt have their way and implore the judiciary that it's just not fair that these poor, misunderstood 'youth' are being locked away in some kind of 'knee jerk' reaction. Isn't it simply because of the effete judiciary handing out sentences that have not fitted the crimes over the last number of years that this has been allowed to happen?

How has it been that someone who commits murder only gets four years? Why can someone be jailed for not paying their tv license? What's the point of ASBO's? I read that one of the looters is a woman who has 67 previous convictions! Wow. She's a professional. She has a career. I suppose that Dickens would have made her into a Fagin. No doubt she has a really good heart and cares for her cats and dogs and wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm going off on a tangent here...

So it's rainy, autumnul August again and there are riots. It's Ramadan and there has been a complete upsurge in the most hideous attacks on innocents - from Israel to Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Somalia and Iraq. Eight Israelis killed yesterday and today a synagogue attacked in Ashdod. Yet another day for the Religion of Peace. Another 'holy' month. I guess it's just semantics, really. What's holy for some, certainly doesn't mean holy for others.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Sobriety ten months on?

Ok. So much happens. You start. You stop. You wonder whether anyone is interested. You post on Twitter. What's that all about? Then someone says, 'why don't you continue? You had followers.' My answer is that who cared? Maybe people do. I'd like to hear about that. Maybe the numbers will increase again. God knows there's enough to write about. Where to start?

Well, I guess I'd better get up to date about 'Zach.' He was, after all, the purpose of this blog. To continue where I'd left off in the book. Keep those of you interested enough privy to those throes of madness or, even, sanity. So I will.

Last year we had a blip. This time of year. Maybe it was the subliminal fear of winter approaching. Those short bleak days and long black nights. The cold. The grey skies. The impoverished sun. A five day section in the local medical facility, then out again with little help, comme toujours. Back onto the smack and then the realisation at the end of November that he couldn't do it again. Couldn't live in London with proximity to the dreaded addictive curse. Made the decision that the only way to stop it was to put it as far away as possible and enter a kind of rehab facility. One where it's warm and sunny and there's no heroin on the street corner. Additionally, a place where he wasn't being mugged every day because that was what was happening here...

Ten months down the line. Health. Self respect and a belief that there are better things to look forward to. When I hear the phone, I still worry. When I speak to him, I'm still aware of the change of tone or a leaning towards pressurised speech. He looks so much better. Gone the skeletal frame. Gone the sweaty face, the deadened eyes. It's only ten months. Once an addict, always searching, thinking about the addictive choice. Strength of mind and character has to be so potent. Hard but so rewarding.

To be continued...

Monday, 14 March 2011

Itamar. The insanity clause won't work here

Religion of Peace? Please. Don't.

We talk about madness. We talk about how psychosis does terrible things. What we don't talk about is the calculating madness that teaches children to hate and then that hatred festers and, having festered and circulated the organs like the tentacles of a malignant cancer, it has infected the working brain and the moral compass. This, then, is the consequence of these psychotic teachings.

Five members of a family in the Israeli town of Itamar in the district of Samaria were brutally murdered while they slept in their beds on Saturday night. Can there be another word for 'brutal'? Let's see. Violent. Cruel. Pitiless. Heinous. Vicious. More? Inhuman. Moral insensibility. A brute can be someone described as 'mindless.' Can the perpetrators of this most inhuman act be thus described? I doubt it. They say that there were two of these noxious monsters. They knew what they were doing. They knew where they were heading and the knew when they got there just what they were going to do. You see they had knives. They broke into the community and then they went to a house where seven people were asleep. Two adults and five young children. Yes, young. The youngest was a three month old baby. A little girl. Three months old.

I'm putting a link to the family here. You can see the before and after photos. The proud father. The mother at the sink while her son smiles shyly into the camera. Another of a beautiful blond cherub with ringlets and a kippa. How can you describe a photo of a baby knifed to death? How to describe the blood? The ripped body? The children spreadeagled on their beds, blood surrounding them?


We talk about mental illness and insanity and give reasons for it being present in so many of us and we make excuses. There is no excuse for this.