Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Updated version

I'm not going  to post why I haven't been posting.

What I will say is that there is always a light that shines somewhere for someone. It can be good or bad. In this instance and for the moment - there's always the moment - it's been good for 'Zach.' So I shall update you all. Or those of you who are still interested...

A number of years ago, when the book first came out (and I'm sure that I've already written this in another blog), someone said that they couldn't recommend my book because 'It didn't have a happy ending.' Whatever. What, indeed, is a happy ending? We all die, don't we? Is that considered a 'happy ending.' Again, whatever.

Last New Year's Eve we received a phone call from Zach. In it he told us that he had proposed to (let's call her Eve) and that she had accepted his proposal . In the same communication he informed us that she was pregnant and that their baby was to be born in August of this year.

Fast forward to August 2012 and, yes, indeed, a baby was born. A new little 'Zach.' He's not called that, of course. He's been called after Zach's much-loved grandfather. So, you see, there are small victories. Zach no longer appears to need his heroin fix and ketamin seems to be a fixture of the past. Of course, once addicted, always addicted and there will, obviously, still be one part of Zach where he would like to have just one more toke, a puff, a retreat into heroin slumber. However, he now has a son of his own and I do believe his very being will invoke in Zach a meaning to live as a real human being with responsibilities and not simply a cypher.

So there you have it. There's not going to be a follow up book. There's all sorts of things that I could write about. I'm an expert on how human relationships can fuck up your life. How damaging they are and how bad parenting can assume an enormous role in the make up and behaviour of one's offspring. I blame myself for naivety and trust. I've learned that one shouldn't embrace either sentiment. Let's hope that Zach does better for Jr.

Monday, 4 June 2012

What are friends? A continuation

So let's continue with the 'friends' issue. What is a 'good friend'? Is it possible for women to have men as good friends and, vice versa, men to have women as good friends? Obviously, regarding the latter, what comes to mind is 'When Harry Met Sally'. They started out as not such good friends when they were single and not such good friends when they were in partnerships with other people but there was an innate attraction, obviously sexual, all that time. And we know the ending: they end up in each others' arms, having come to the conclusion that yes, indeed, they loved each other and could no longer be 'friends.'

Can married men have women friends? When does a woman 'friend' stop being a 'friend' and start being a lover? I asked a question: "What do you call a good friend?" My answer: "Someone you like very much, whose company you enjoy and can share secrets with." If a married man is sharing secrets with another woman, seeking this woman's company for lunches and coffees and then discussing all manner of things, both normal and intellectual, then where is the boundary of 'friendship' and when does the sexual attraction and disloyalty enter into it?

Would a man wonder whether his wife's good male 'friend,' who she sees from time to time and meets for lunch once a month and spends inordinate amounts of time texting and whose mobile number she knows by heart, is more than just a 'friend'? Would he appreciate that she has compartmentalised him, her husband, into another sphere of her day-to-day life, without considering that perhaps he may be hurt by her sharing time and secrets with another man?

What are the boundaries, the lines, in marriage that should not be transgressed? When does the betrayal begin? From the time that these two 'friends' first met at all? When there was some kind of mutual attraction that drew them to each other so that, in spite of other commitments, they wanted to be 'friends' with one another? When did they start sharing secrets? Did they not perceive that sharing intimacies that they had, indeed, transgressed what was an initial friendship into something far more profound?

There is something in every one of us that seeks the rewards of a good friendship. Women generally have women friends with whom they will discuss their lives. Men, not so much. How many men actually discuss intimate aspects of their lives with their male friends? Perhaps it's because men are so competitive. Women are far more trusting of their friends not to judge them or their mates. Men believe that should a male friend know that things are not quite right at home or that if perhaps, there is a relationship with another woman, then they will be judged. Or maybe not. I was told that men and women think differently about relationships. It's certainly something to think about. What, indeed, is a friend?


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

'Friends' or shallow vessels

Who or what is a friend? Is a friend someone you simply drink coffee with and discuss the weather and what you are going to buy to wear at dinner on Saturday night and then natter about how wonderful the kids are because a) they're not junkies and b) they are brilliant? Or is a friend the one who, notwithstanding some kind of unwritten 'loyalty' to a spouse, spills the beans to you about his or her bad and dangerous behaviours or infidelity? Is a friend someone who you really don't know so well but because of a conversation, he or she can empathise with you and call you and write and worry and stand you with good advice, even though you've really had little to do with them in the past?

And the really good friends. They are the ones who share their lives with you too. There is a discourse and a meeting of histories and experiences and you feel secure in the knowledge that because they have been through adversity, then they know almost implicitly what you are feeling. In order to give solace, you have to have been through experiences, both good and bad.

I remember when 'Zach' was so sick and I had few, if any, friends who made any kind of show of compassion. One friend did call occasionally and I remember, at the beginning, going out to eat dinner with her when Zach was first in hospital. I was utterly traumatised and didn't know which way to turn but she did, at least, suggest a meal and I did over years meet up with her a couple more times to talk and try to eat something when everything else appeared to be collapsing, like the proverbial pack of cards. 'Sam' was no 'rock' for me when all was in turmoil. He buried himself in work and in his personal life and shared little with me. He was great in providing financially and occasionally physically putting himself out to share the load but I took most of it on my shoulders because I was at home and 'had the time' as he says to me.

Other 'friends' presumably didn't know just how to converse with me. The whole thing was so remote for them that they couldn't find  the words. There are those who I had hitherto considered as friends who never once called  to find out how things were. You have to wonder about the make-up of people like this. Of course if I see them now, as I do sometimes, I look at them and then look away because they are not worth the mental energy.

Then there are those doggy friends who I met up with and who were interested in asking and were not embarrassed by my sadness or anger. I very much miss a friend who I walked with for years when we both had our dogs. She and I would walk the boggy Heath in all weathers, the dogs getting muddier and muddier in the winter or dustier and leafier in the summer and autumns. We counselled each other and felt far the better for it at the end of the trek.

There are the friends who you never considered close but who are there for you now. They offer you a shoulder, a listening ear and a bed if you feel that you can't take it any more. You didn't expect it of anyone and are amazed and astounded that such people exist. But in comparison there are the friends who are all about listening to you and giving you nothing of themselves so that you are speaking into a vacuum. The 'friend' who is fearful of breaking a 'confidence' and allowing you to suffer, is not a friend. Sometimes people have to be brave and break a taboo in order to protect someone more vulnerable than the one with whom they are 'friends' with. It's then that you know who your real friends are.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Modern technologies and those inherent dangers

What is it about Facebook that people feel the need to write about everything that happens to them? I don't quite understand what the pull is to jot down some mystery, wrapped in a riddle, in order to demonstrate how terrible/great/awful/amazing/terrifying - you get it - life is on a minute by minute basis. So you get shoved in the queue at the bus stop. 'Fuck!' you write. 'Shoved in the line. How I hate commuting...' Does it make for interesting reading? Then there's the other type of howl. 'fuck fuck fuck fuck... i hate them all...' Right. So what brought that about then? Sometimes it's downright scary. 'I want to kill myself' was what I read the other day. This was displayed beneath the name of an old, good friend. However, when confronted by these words by his mother and his worried friends, he admitted that no, it wasn't he who wrote them and he threw himself at his computer, desperate to discover who would have done such a thing.

And Twitter. What is it about Twitter? Who really, really, really wants to know what music you are listening to at whatever hour of the day it is or what book you're stuck into? Doesn't anyone have a private life any more? I suppose that depends on what you call a 'private life.' I guess that can mean anything. It used to be the case that people had their own thoughts that they shared with their alter-ego in the knowledge that actually it's not terribly interesting to know what someone else is thinking at a particular time. Are we all so bereft of individuality that we have to be incessantly au courant with what those we are following are doing with their lives? It's puerile. It's infantile. It's pathetic and immature. Political, environmental and news is of some interest but whether someone is enjoying Brighton pier with their kids or having a tattoo is as boring as hell.

Addiction to the new technologies brings dangers too. We think that it works for us but there are times when we can't control the output of the pods and pads and macs and androids. Life, love and marriage are put in danger. It's all there for us to see but who pays attention? Messaging is now phone sex. Titillating tit-bits are sent into the ether. It's not necessarily the recipient who will view these either. Something to bear in mind for those who are unable to keep their fingers from the key pads. Put the phones away and think before you commit. What's in writing, in whatever form it takes, cannot be discarded and binned so easily. 

On to a lighter note: There was finally some sun today. It manifested itself from behind the clouds a number of times and it was a delight to see it glinting on the new leaves that have suddenly appeared on the once naked branches outside. It was good to take a walk without the need for inner linings and an umbrella or a hat. It's still only May. There's plenty of time for warmer rays. Hopefully not before these special long, spring days are too far behind us.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

'Homeland' Why no realistic depiction of mania?

Just for once I wish that they would get it right. Just for once. They had every opportunity to get it right this time and, as per usual, they didn't. I'm talking about 'Homeland' here. There was a truly believable depiction of a breakdown leading to a manic episode. Beautifully acted by Claire Danes and this was well written and heartbreakingly depicted but then the screenwriters had to concertina belief into absurdity.

A manic episode in general takes time to evolve. It's certainly not going to be all-encompassing and then responding to medication in the space of five days! Lithium and anti-psychotics take weeks to produce the brain chemistry that absorbs the psychosis. Why couldn't they get that right? It's frustrating. For people who know so little about manic episodes, here was the perfect place. Is it laziness? Arrogance? Ignorance? What is it about film and tv that scriptwriters will never do the proper research?

Then the final lie: Electroconvulsive therapy. The Cuckoo's Nest. ECT. A treatment that is only now incorporated into treatment when everything else has failed. Carrie's character has functioned well on medication. She says that she goes to various meetings. She has a strong family where both her father (who also appears to be a sufferer with the disease) and her sister (a doctor) are fully supportive. This whole episode lasts five days. Then why does she need ECT? She states that she can't go on like this. But it's not even a week!

I know. I understand. This is tv. People have short attention spans. Ideas have to be encapsulated into a precis. But what could have been an outstanding demonstration for the unitiated into what is the most 'normal' depiction of a manic episode, leading to the suicidal depression, became a shlock-fest of an American soap. Lazy, complacent and shock-inducing rubbish.

I'm disappointed. I wonder how the Israeli version has dealt with Bipolar disorder. Per capita more Jews suffer this illness than other members of society. There's certainly a well of experience to draw from there. I hope it's more intelligent. Less pandering. Who needs to be left with visions of a young woman, shackled down to a gurney, IV line in place, rubber shoved between teeth to stop her from biting off her tongue and visions of the agony of the medically induced fit, just so that the viewer is enticed with a memo of the episode to come?'

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Boris bounces Livingstone. No to cynical anti-Semitism

At least Ken Livingstone didn't get in. Boris did. Almost one million Londoners voted for Ken though, either by first or second choice. This means that almost one million Londoners have no qualms in voting for someone who is blatently anti-Semitic. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? What a choice we have in our politicians. You enter the voting booth and hold your nose and vote for the one who you think would do the least damage. This appears to be a worldwide problem. No one with any integrity goes into politics. It's all lies and graft and greed and power. The coalition in the UK is losing voters by the bucketload. Nick Clegg's party is almost emasculated. Perhaps if there was no coalition, then things would be better? Who knows.

It's still grim. Colder than any other May that I can remember. Our enduring grey skies appear full of remorse and we expect a 'spring' frost tonight. The winds are heading down from the arctic. Streams that were dried out last month are now plentiful and the reservoirs are refilling. But the hosepipe ban, we are informed by those powers-that-be, will remain until December. Sunshine and blue skies seem like a long time ago. I know that they still exist and that people somewhere are sitting out under parasols and sunshades and enjoying long, alcoholic cocktails and barbequed steaks but my imagination is stymied. I think that the gloom has permeated my neurons and the dopamine is depleted. I'm looking forward to the tropics. To wearing summer dresses and sandals and holding my face up to the sun to feel its rays. It may rain but it will be warm rain and a tiny umbrella to keep the drops off my head will suffice. The palms will blow in the breezes and the smell of plantain and sugar cane and every imaginable tropical fruit will make me heady.

So I'm whiling away the days, waiting for the plane west, and watching 'Homeland.' It's an addictive series. Brilliantly conceived from the original Israeli format, 'Prisoners of War'. What's interesting is that Claire Danes plays a CIA intelligence analyst with a 'mood disorder.'  She can't divulge her mental health problems to the CIA, otherwise she wouldn't have her job. It's not as if anyone else in the CIA has mental health issues! So far, and I have one programme to go, there's been no actual real evidence of her problems, other than her not being able to go to a registered psychiatrist in order to have her meds prescribed but I understand that she goes into full-blown melt down in the last episode.
By comparison, and in keeping with the gray theme, I'm reading 'The Man the Gray Flannel Suit,'  published in 1955 by Sloan Wilson. In this somewhat pedestrian book our protagonist is offered a job with the head of an advertising agency who, somewhat surprisingly to him, has been contacted by a group of forward thinking doctors who wanted to publicise the 'too little public understanding of the whole question of mental illness.' The agency boss wished to make a name for himself by taking on this cause and Tom Rath was to assist him in this. Then, as now, Sloan Wilson pointed out that more hospital beds were occupied by the mentally ill than by cancer and heart patients. Our hero, however, is at a loss. It is a tainted idea. No one in  the advertising agency is enthused or energised by the concept of publicising the plight of the mentally ill.
I ask myself then, have we moved on much since the 50s? We can make programmes in which a character suffers from depression or a mood disorder. Viewers will accept that but the general stigma, as evidenced above in 'Homeland',  still persists. Carrie can't divulge to her employers that those blue pills are not for headaches but for psychosis. Her colleague is shocked that she is working for a government organisation while in the throes of mental illness.  How do you explain to the uninformed what exactly is psychosis? One can assume that there are most certainly many explanations for the description. One of these can apply to London: Is it not somehow psychotic that almost one million people feel safe in voting for a man to carry out the office of mayor of a major city who is a proven tax dodger, a lover of terrorists and an anti-Semite?

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A gentle moan to protect our green and pleasant land

They keep on telling us here that there's a drought. Tell that to my boots. Yesterday I managed to escape the confines of four walls and a tv and headed out to the Heath in the hope that I might manage to expend some energy. Leaden grey skies, gale force winds and an ominous prediction of yet more rain. I walked onto the Heath for probably about three hundred metres and then the heavens opened. Once more I was drenched. I cut short the walk, not jealous of the dog walkers with their heavy winter anoraks and their wellies and umbrellas following doggy footprints. Difficult to see the footprints, depleted as they were by mud and squelch.

I made my way back towards the Village and coffee. Rain gushed from overloaded drainpipes onto the streets, causing mini-rivers that gurgled onto the roads and into flooded gutters. It made sense to avoid them, otherwise my boots would have been drowned. As it was, the rain teemed down onto me, soaking my all-weather coat and my hood, pulled down over my eyes so that I was almost blinded, hardly shielded me from the onslaught. The hosepipe ban remains. It has rarely stopped raining for the three weeks that I have been back here. Where's it all going? Why is there no plan in place to retain what is a natural phenomenon in spring time: rain?

I have a moan. 'Oh, no.' I hear you murmering. 'Not another one!' But yes. When is this country going to move into the twenty-first century? Why can't any government put into effect legislation that actually saves water, much in the way that some other countries do, instead of manifestly enabling the water companies to waste so much? Our fount-of-all-knowledge, the village newsagent, he who knows everything that happens in the locale, takes note of all water leaks and then informs the local authority. The last broken pipe endured for weeks and it was only because of Mr. Fount's continual phone calls that the council did something about it. However, this retarded action was only after unaccountable thousands of gallons of water dispersing among the rats and foxes and sewers of London. What a prodigious waste of a natural resource that we the populace are told to preserve but that the elected government does nothing to protect.

So I'm sitting here, looking outside and the rain continues unabated. The sky is deep winter grey and huge great drops soak the decking that we should be sitting upon in garden chairs and drinking spring cocktails and eating salad. Oh, to be in England now that spring is here!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dead laptops, muddy dogs and doric columns

My computer died. Over the last few months it had been sending me messages. Mostly like 'help!' and 'save me!' It was over six years of age and in these times of new technologies, that was positively ancient. It used to heat up so much that I didn't need an electric blanket. You could feel the heat emanating from the poor dear. So it finally left me on Sunday morning. I turned him on and nothing. No light. No heat. No warming hum. Just a blank sound of a dead machine. It was as if he had been a friend to me. Now I have to make friends with my replacement. I'm still looking for favourites that I had secreted into files. Secreted being the right word. Where ARE they? Anyway, everything is pure and pristine and clean and shiny. How long it remains like that is anyone's guess.

I'm also back in the UK. It's cold. It's also grey and wet and windy. I am NOT used to this! Where's my sun? Well, actually, the sun does doff his hat occasionally between the showers. I'm spoilt. I know. April in the UK is supposed to be like this. I well remember walking the dogs on the Heath on April mornings and coming home with them completely soaked and full of mud . The hose would be out and the towels would be spread around and the flat would smell of wet canine. Do I miss that? Not really. Then, again, I'm lucky because I have The Win to walk around in TA. He's of the Frenchie breed and he hates the rain. He dodges the puddles and the showers and huddles under shop awnings even if there's the slightest tinge of damp in the air. He's quite adorable though and I'm quite the Frenchie lush these days. I saw a tiny puppy yesterday, cradled in her owner's arms and I had a thought... No. No, not really.

So we are now making 'arrangements' and I have my dress. Who said that there's no 'happy ending'? We know that the only real ending is the one that leads to worms and dust but on the way we can digress, can't we? Lovely photos appear of the happy couple and there's smiles and laughter and cheering news. My dress is very pretty and colourful. It's perfectly apt for the occasion and I only hope that I don't fall over and break my neck on the shoes that I have bought to accompany it. Maybe I'm being too complacent. Maybe I think that I'm younger than I am and my balance is as it used to be. Maybe I just want to look good! Beth has hers too. Vivienne Westwood, no less. It's going to be a hoot, what with Mariachi bands and doric columns and heart shaped swimming pools. But, really, who cares. More to follow.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Britain's snoops to freedom of thought in the Middle East

Isn't it scary what's happening in the UK? I'm talking about how even our emails and blogs and, no doubt, comments on articles will now be vetted by local councils. Facebook and Twitter too. Whatever happened to that once lovely island? When did we allow these intrusions into our day-to-day lives? We are continually watched by CCTV cameras. Every traffic light hosts a camera in order to see that we don't dare use our common sense to traverse a road - even when the traffic light is so temporary that the hole it is overseeing rarely sees a car coming in the opposite direction. How long will it be before the thought police break into our homes because we even mention someone of the opposite faith or we criticize the government?

The government has full knowledge of the hate preachers and the terrorists in our midst. Surely it needs to concentrate on these before it concentrates on us! Why doesn't the government crack down on those hate sites posted on Facebook? Why not go after the nauseating 'films' of beheading and suicide rallies that feature so frequently on YouTube? Why not simply deport those whose presence on British universities is so divisive and who have no connection to the country other than to whip up further hatred towards one particular race and country? The French government can do it, why not ours? Because it's easier to snoop?

They started working next door at 6.30am this morning. I was awake. I was not ready for the banging. I took myself into the kitchen and even though it was early and the sun was just making its way over the heads of the buildings opposite, it magnified the dust. I'm not a bad housekeeper but, as is often pointed out to me, we are in a desert! Not entirely a desert but there's enough sand and dust around that it often appears to me to be a total waste of time to continue with the dusting. However, we would then be covered in the stuff if I didn't bother! Every day I go around with the mop and the duster but it's a thankless task. We've had some amazing weather the past few days. Hot and sultry and very summer-like. Of course the dust is combined within the heat - a symbiosis of the two. Very Middle Eastern.

There was another demonstration in Kikar Rabin last night. It's Tel Aviv's major square for all kinds of large gatherings. It was renovated recently and is a really delightful place to sit and watch humanity. There are newly landscaped green areas with fish ponds and comfy chairs and the Philippino care-givers take their charges in their wheelchairs to sit and chat while watching the karp and the goldfish swimming among the reeds. Just recently the municipality created a bike lane at the side of the square and it is graced by tall, elegant palms and seating and floral arrangements every few metres. The fountains have been cleaned and painted and the paving slabs that once hosted tanks at Independence Day events have been replaced. Last night apparently a few hundred people managed to get themselves together again to protest the cost of living rises. I'm always in favour of protest when it's due but I do get irritated when it spills over into egocentricity. From demonstrating one topic it seems to follow on that you impede the traffic or get in the way of other people carrying out their own lives. So two or three hotheads were arrested. I wonder whether their Facebook pages will now be vetted by those above or their Twitter accounts taken offline. I doubt it. We still seem to have some autonomy here. Let's hope that it lasts.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A small diversion into accents and 9/11

This is my third term at Ulpan. I've been attempting to learn more Hebrew. It somehow escapes me. I learn the words and then they disappear. It's interesting that the word ulpan is actually Welsh. It means 'studio.' The room that we learn in is in a building that used to be a bank. It has now been divided into separate offices and we share a floor with a firm of lawyers, a party company and a jewlery workshop. Quite eclectic. Downstairs, at the entrance, is a watchmaker who looks as though he has been in situ since 1948. He looks as if he has stepped out of one of those 1940s French movies. Shutters within shutters.

We are a diverse lot in the classroom but there are very few of us. One of my classmates is an elderly (in age) gentleman from Michigan. He has been here in the country for about five years. He's the youngest looking eighty-five-year-old that I have ever met! He takes the bus every day and wears jeans and a canvas bag strung across his chest. I once asked him about his family. What about his wife, I asked. Is she here too? He didn't answer that question but he told me that some of the courses that he takes at the university are paid for independently. He often apologises for welling up when speaking. It could be something as uncontroversial as the weather. You see, his son was killed in New York on 9/11. I only knew someone else tangentially who was killed during that churban. A friend of a friend of Zach. This time I really felt those goosebumps and had no idea how to respond. All I could say was that I was 'So sorry. So very sorry...'

It's part of the landscape that you don't know who you can come across here. One of the guys at the building site next door is an African. He doesn't look Ethiopian or Eritraen. He's possibly from the Sudan but I often hear one of the other workers, who generally sings along in Arabic, speaking to him in English and explaining what it is they want done. He doesn't look displeased to be sweeping up after the huge and noisy lorries once they have deposited their cement every Sunday from 7.30am. In fact he looks jolly happy at the end of each day when I see him swinging his arms towards the car that will take him back home. He's deposited his hard hat with everyone else's. No doubt he considers himself one of the lucky ones. If he did come from the Sudan, as so many other refugees have done, then he would have had the most awful journey. We really don't know the hardships that these guys have gone through to get here. It can't be so terrible here if they, knowingly, deposit thousands of dollars with the Beduin in the hope that they will somehow smuggle these hundreds and thousands of desperate from darkest pits of Africa. We often hear of how they are tortured and raped for even more funds and how often the Egyptians simply shoot at them. Yet they continue to make their way.

Walking back home in the sunshine after this morning's attempt at grammar and pronounciation, I stepped behind a couple of women merrily chatting at full speed. One was an Israeli in her forties and the other a Philippina. How I envied her. Her Hebrew was effortless, flawless and colourful. She spoke it with a distinct accent, in the same way that any non-resident would do. I'll bet the guy on the building lot will also be speaking flawlessly within the next year or two too while I continue to take courses.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Weddings, hair and baby carriers

Interesting talk of weddings. Amazing how they differ from each and every country. Here they are an intrinsic part of life. With weddings come children and children bring such joy and heartache. Around the corner are an endless supply of wedding outfitters. They call this place 'Start Up Nation.' I guess that you can call anything a 'start up' simply because you are starting up from nothing - if it's yours to start up. It's the same with hairdressers. Go to school and learn for a number of months. Work for a bit in a salon and then pingo you open your own place with, hopefully, a following. I mention this because yet another hairdresser is now plying his trade locally, joining the other three that have opened up within the last few months. North West London and we have estate agents. Here we have hairdressers and wedding dresses. What does this mean by comparison?

It is, finally though, fully spring. This means that we have sun and heat and then mist and chill and to top it all, we are expecting rain again this week. I had put the brolly away in the hope that I wouldn't have to take it out again. When descending the steps outside the building a heady perfume of orange blossom hits the nostrils. It's the most evocative of all scents. The blossom escapes at the same time as the oranges fulfill their promise and then plop off their branches onto the street. The bouganvilia has also spread its way along the walls of flats and houses and the hues of the pinks, reds and purples are a sight to see. Tiny birds dart in and out of the branches outside my sitting-room windows. They resemble hummingbirds but without the long beak. They sport a brilliant blue back and one of them made its way into the kitchen recently. He was so tiny and disoriented that  he got stuck behind a pillar twixt window and blind and was unable in his panic to find his way out. It must have been interesting to see me clamber onto the sink, having first put on rubber gloves, and coerce him into my hands. Poor little might was shaking pitifully. It was a bit difficult clambering back down again while hoping that I would not suffocate or let him lose again. The window was open and I pushed him out into the air and he flew off once more. Maybe he's one of those outside who sips from the blossom, only  this time looking in.

Because it was a beautiful day yesterday, I sat on the decking that leads up to the new port. An unbelievable array of humanity passed before me. It was extraordinary. Groups of families with young children and grown up children. Fathers carrying babies in carriers of a complexity of designs and pregnant mothers pushed tiny babies in buggies before them. It's a fashion here to have four children. You don't have to be religious. They are very conventional (believe it, or not) and if fashion dictates four, then four it is. I've no idea how they manage. It's expensive and there's not the sort of benefits that everyone in the UK feels is deserved. However, I do hear that the maternity facilities are excellent. So I watched the Saturday parade. Every kind of colour. Every religion. Every sexual orientation. Every country represented. So many more tourists carrying maps and trying to keep out of the way of the bikes and roller blades, skateboards and scooters. It was a moment to be joyful and to feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

It's my birthday again next week. I can't believe that another year has gone by. When I spoke to Zach last night he reminded me that it was a year ago that he started on his venture. One could most definitely call it a 'start up.' It's continuing. He laughed when he also reminded me that I wanted to send him to a rehab facility in the north for the chronically depressed and addicted. He can't remember the last time that he stuck to something in the way he is now. 'You said,' he told me 'that this would be the best kind of birthday present...' It is. And I'm making notes of what these weddings here entail. Because you never know...

Monday, 19 March 2012

From Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv to a tragedy in Toulouse

Yesterday we sat at 'La La Land' on Gordon Beach. It was an absolutely brilliant day. After all the rain and the cold and the winds and the storms it was a delight to laze in a deck chair, drinking Lemonana and eating pita with humus. The whole area was packed and it was difficult for latecomers to find somewhere to sit. The predominant language that surrounded us was French. I read today that there are 700,000 Jews in France. I find that hard to believe but when one considers the huge immigration of North African Jews - those from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia post War and during the '50s  - then, I guess, it's not surprising. It really helps to speak a number of languages here. French and Russian are certainly in order. As are, of course, Arabic and English. I'm still breaking my teeth trying to pronounce Hebrew and straining my throat to get the right inflections. They tell me that the more I work at it, the easier it will be. I think that Spanish would be easier, although whenever I produce my five words of Spanish, they come out in Italian!

Sitting in the easy chair, under the sun, and watching and listening to the French, I wondered how it was that so many of them still make their way here month after month, year after year. In a taxi the other night the driver spoke of what a difference the new French immigration has made to this city. It's tangible. The shops are smarter; the estate agents more prolific; the houses more expensive. After L'affaire Dreyfus in the late Nineteenth century, there was an out flowing of Jews from France to other European countries. Many of those Jews were tragically caught up by the Holocaust. Over the last few years, while anti-Semitism has worked its way around that country, many thousands more French Jews have made their way to Israel and settled here. Today, another atrocity aimed at the Jewish community, will convince more French Jews that their time in France is limited. Almost every day we hear of some kind of attack against Jews somewhere in France. This news is not always disseminated by the press. Maybe the media outlets are inured to it, disinterested because it is now so common, or simply disbelieving.

This morning in Toulouse, a young Israeli Rabbi and his two young children were murdered outside of a Jewish school, as was the child of the school's Principal and another teenager is most seriously wounded. Whoever carried out this most heinous deed knew exactly who his targets were and he had no compunction regarding their age or sex. For this monster, so long as they were Jews, then they were legitimate targets. At 7.30am this morning, a young family was getting ready for another school day. At just after 8.00am, a young widow was created. But it wasn't enough that she lost her husband. She also lost her two sons.  How does she deal with this? How is it possible to transcend this pain? The irony, if one can talk about ironies at this awful time, is that the family were Israeli and from Jerusalem - the scene of Intifadot and suicide bombings. Did this family believe that they would ultimately be safer in France?

If, possibly, there is any good that can come out of this event it is that maybe instead of visiting, then more French Jews will find their way here and say goodbye to Europe, the home of the Shoah. It's enough already. C'est suffit.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Blog stats and those pretty charts that reach around the world

The thing about writing a blog is that you have no idea who could be reading it and where. You're writing into a vacuum and in the hope that someone will read what you have written and that the time that you've spent thinking about what to write and then actually doing the physical thing is not wasted. If you're a journalist, then you are paid per word and you can be guaranteed that there will be some kind of an audience but with a blog...?

Now 'Sam' has joined us for another big birthday weekend. It's 'Beth's'... I won't say which number. I don't know just how emotionally tied she is to what she was and what she is now. Suffice to say that it's worthwhile repeating what my late father said: 'You should only have birthdays...' Quite. We're celebrating tonight. A trendy restaurant in an area that was once the 'schmutter' district of the city and is now gaining a name for its great restaurants and bars. Of course there are still a number of quite unique stores with buttons and bows and a myriad number of fabric emporiums...

Anyway, to get back to Sam and blogs. He showed me a stat counter. He's started his own blog and is now much more au fait with new technology than me. I'm not a Luddite but haven't bothered to keep up to date in terms of layout and links and advertising. I simply look at the numbers at the bottom of the page when I've published the blog and hope that maybe they will increase. It never occurred to me to actually look at the stats. As it is, I'm full of amazement. I have discovered readers from countries as diverse as Georgia, Germany, the USA, the Netherlands and Iran. Iran? Well, why not. There are certainly enough Iranians who speak English and I'm absolutely certain that there's plenty of mental health issues in Iran that are comparable to anywhere else in the world. I can't see who precisely is reading my thoughts or exactly how many people, or even if it's just the same person, but I'm pleased that it's being read there. Then, again, it could be some Revolutionary Guard element who thinks I'm a subversive. So enjoy!

Looking at the pretty charts, I've delved back at the comments that have been left over the years since I began writing. One particularly insightful epistle was penned by 'Lenny' in August 2010. A piece quite reflective of what 'episodes' or 'mental breakdowns' do to entirely otherwise sane people. If any of my readers is interested, then do take a look and consider. It's not very pretty but the picture it paints is of someone who really is not residing - (notwithstanding his assertion that he is 'on a ward') on planet earth, although to some extent I do sometimes wonder myself whether I am on a sane planet or somewhere down the rabbit hole with Alice and her friends.

As an aside, the Mac is now mended. That in itself caused inordinate stress. I really should impress upon Zach that he should treat it as he would a baby. Would you put a baby on the table and spill a fizzy drink in his face? Would you put her on the bed and watch while she fell to the floor? These things do happen. I really, truly hope that they don't happen again chez Zach. Does he read my blogs? I doubt it but if he did, then that would show up another interesting aspect of its  reach.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

So much for 'ineffective' rockets and ceasefires

I suppose that there must be some kind of Blitz mentality carrying on in the South. How else do you get through the days? Almost continual rockets, notwithstanding the 'ceasefire.' There's also the gallows humour: make sure that you're not sleeping in the all-together or taking a shower when there's a 'red alert.' I think that I would also be carrying around my make-up and a toothbrush and toothpaste. What else? Clean knickers. I mean, these are essentials.

We have what is called a 'Mamad' in the flat. It's a reinforced room that 'Beth' sleeps in. It's the room that you're supposed to go into when there's a war. You're supposed to keep your gas mask there as well as provisions. We keep talking about when we'll buy the provisions. There's not a lot of room. A double futon, bed-side table, desk, chest of drawers, rail full of clothing. There's also countless shoes and, then, where do we put the dog? He generally sleeps on the bed. I hate to have think of what he would wear in case of a gas attack. I guess that we all take a breath each. Let's not go there...

One of these so-called 'ineffective' rockets killed a horse in its stable. Grads and mortars have also landed on chicken coops and flattened cats and dogs and that's apart from the terrible emotional trauma these poor animals have had to go through. It's not Bonfire Night. No one reports on these aspects of 'resistance.' But, then, these so-called 'resistors' don't have much value on human life, let alone the feelings of innocent animals. And then there are the birds on their way to their spring mating grounds. They're not put off by 'apartheid Israel' and they come in their thousands and thousands every spring and autumn. Just walking in our local park is a veritable aviary for every kind of winged specie. Only recently I saw a group of people who, having spied something very unusual in bird-life, stopping and taking out their cameras and i-Phones in order to record this most unusual sighting.

Over a million people - Jews, Arabs, Bedouin, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Thai, Sudanese - all no more than a handful of miles away from a coastal enclave whose leaders care so little for their own that they use them for human shields. The newspapers shout their moral equivalency: too few are killed here. Maybe it's because everyone is hunkered down in a shelter, grasping onto the dog, the cat or the bird cage. Hopefully they are all dressed for a chilly night and no one is wet from a last minute bath. I must remember to buy water and tuna fish in cans. Must also look for the can opener.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A Spring Saturday and a Mitzvah

So today was my great-nephew's Bar-Mitzvah. Unbelievable to think that my nephew is old enough to have a son who is old enough to be Bar Mitzvah. Thankfully the rain held off while we traipsed from the Sephardi Synagogue (no, not that one) to the Ashkenazi Synagogue. They were one opposite the other but otherwise difficult to tell apart. Looking at the names on the outside of the first building, I realised that no, this was the wrong place. The sky was threatening but we stayed dry as we walked across the concourse and entered the building.

The most amazing thing about going to synagogue, shul, temple, if you are of an Ashkenazi background, is that you could be in almost any other city throughout the world. I think that the original synagogue architect drew up plans that are to be followed ad infinitum. All synagogues appear to be designed in order to look practically identical. The colours of the interior, the wood, the smell of books and velvet and wine. They somehow bring back such memories of childhood. Some kind of nostalgia of being small and having someone care for you.

When I was a child, our synagogue, in the East End of London, was often the scene of some kind of bitter desecration. Many was the time that my father, along with other members of the congregation, would be on watch against some kind of fascist. The last and final desecration of our beautiful, tiny (in retrospect) shul was arson and it was burned to a crisp some time after it had been closed down. The membership had dwindled away and mass immigration into the area had entirely changed its landscape. The land is now used for a block of flats. One of the benefits about being here is that burning places of worship rarely, rarely happens. The less so, the better.

It was a lovely affair, however, and the Bar Mitzvah boy did extremely well, his voice as yet unbroken, singing his portion clearly and tunefully, as have done many millions before him. Coincidentally, it must have been the exact same portion as Zach's, as the birthdays are one day apart and Zach's too was held during a leap year.

This year, many years after his Bar Mitzvah, Zach is waiting for other things. One is for the Mac that is, thankfully, under warranty and, therefore, won't cost the earth to fix. The other is for a day a few months hence that we never thought would happen. In fact there are two days that we are aiming for. How time and people can heal. How people on continents apart can somehow come across one another and heal each other.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Happy Birthday Zach - Goodbyes to Heroin sick

Today is Zach's birthday. What a milestone. Two years ago there was doubt that he would survive for much longer, so deep were his addictions and so profound his episodes. These illness were symbiotically entwined. They fed off of one another, like ticks on the backs of elephants. For the last fifteen years or so we would celebrate Zach's birthdays by going out to eat. Many the time he would eat and then disappear into the loo in order to void himself of what he had enjoyed minutes earlier. Heroin does that to you. Heroin sick. Black muck that stains whatever it hits.

In our old house, where all this began, I had taken over my daughter's bedroom. We had built into the loft and our bedroom and bathroom were above Zach's room. 'Beth' had moved into our old bedroom and I had transformed her room in my study. It was there that I moved my books and laptop and where I attempted to research and write my doctorate. A wide, wooden desk overlooked the road outside and I could keep tabs on who came and went. On the left hand side of the room I had put in place a pristine white futon. It was hardly used. Sometimes I would simply move from typist chair to futon just to see how it felt to lay down on it. The room was bright and airy and faced south, so that the sun bathed it in a glow from noon on wards - when it shone, of course.

One night, whether it was a birthday or some kind of celebration, Zach came back home with friends. To this day I can't remember who it could have been but they had certainly been 'over-doing it.' As was the general rule of thumb when Zach lived with us during his teens and later years, the noise level rose over the small hours. I remember hearing the banging of doors and considerable retching. I feared going down to see what was happening. It all sounded too familiar.

In the morning, entering my study, I found puddles of black spew surrounding my futon. The futon itself was covered in patches of wet, grey stains; rorschach patterns. It appeared as if a hurried attempt had been made to clean off the vomit but what was left was even worse. It was ruined, never to be clean again. Later on I gave it to Zach and he used it from apartment to apartment. Fortunately he covered it. I was happy when we finally discarded this piece of furniture when Zach decided to 'live' again. Heroin chic indeed.

I rang Zach earlier today to wish him a Very Happy Birthday. I asked him how he felt to be this exalted age. His voice came back, measured and modulated. 'I feel incredibly sane,' he answered me. 'They say that with age comes sanity...' And hopefully no more black bile.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Of weddings and hair dos

Tuesdays and Thursdays are very much the days here on which to get married. Around the corner are a plethora of hairdressers, each one dedicated to creating the most imaginative and amazing hair style. The photographers and the video makers follow the bride around, from bedroom to breakfast and hairdresser to make-up artist. They await in a bored gaggle outside the beauty salons while the brides-to-be, in their jeans and t-shirts, have their hairs teased into (sometimes) the most outlandish of coiffeurs. Indeed, the entire hairdressing salon in question is devoted to that one wedding and all its experts (or not) are busy washing, blow-drying and teasing hair to curl or brushing it to the brilliant most-wanted sheen.

I've often wondered why on earth a bride would want to have her day followed in this manner. Who really wants to see her hopping out of bed into the shower and then followed from teeth and sweatsuit, to the moment that she steps into her dress and then out of the salon, fully loaded, to have the rest of the photos taken?

And then what do the photographers do? Where do they take the happy couple - for it is the happy couple together before the wedding - for the photos that will be a piece of history in a hard back album? Over the road to the beach, dragging the poor dress behind. Woe betide if it's a windy day. I've often seen the poor bride vainly attempting to keep her hair-do in one place (notwithstanding the inordinate amount of hair lacquer that's been hosed onto it) and the dress from blowing all over the place. The groom's fine. He's in his suit. Not too much can happen to him. Then there's the other venues: next to a large green waste bin because the photographer feels that there's 'art' in common street furniture, or standing on the steps in the ancient port while the sellers are tidying up their wares around them. I suppose it's all a matter of taste.

The cars are pretty jolly though, often decked in purple ribbons attached to door handles, boots and bonnets. I saw one today: a black Caddy, almost entirely decked out in pretty blue ribbons, all tied in bows. The groom and his best man sat in the front of the gleaming saloon and the bride, tottering out of the hair salon, along a white satin rug, on her extremely high heels and clutching at her dress and the ornaments on her head, attempted to make her way into it. I don't know how she did it. I think that she went in head first because all I could see after her first effort was a large white confection, not unlike a shiny merangue, topped off with a glossy crown.

And talking of weddings, I wonder how they do them throughout the rest of the world?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Needed: Fizzy wet repairman for Mac

Amazing what a day can do. Well, actually, two days. I appear to have caught some kind of virus. Maybe from cat. Either way I spent yesterday in bed, after having been up yet again all night previously, losing my innards. Not nice. From midnight until 5.00am. Why is it that we always manage to get back to sleep between 5.00 and 5.30am? Is there some kind of body clock that says 'enough is enough... Go back to sleep already!' Then, stupidly I got up to go to Pilates. Not really an educated choice. My stomach growled throughout and so I heaved my weary body home to flat coke and bed.

Today marginally better but what stunning vistas greeted me when I did wake up. Blue, blue skies and sunshine! But so cold! Last night it went down to five degrees and that is cold for here. Everything is stone and is geared for heat and whatever heat surrounds us for a while from the AC only lasts while it is on. Added to the fact that three sides of the sitting room is windows, floor to ceiling, then you get the drift. Chilly. The best place is bed. I took the dog out for a short walk onto the boardwalk and the sea was cobalt blue and full of windsurfers. I don't quite understand why they are there when the sea is far more benign than it had been over the weekend, when the waves were literally crazy. Guess that the surfer dudes don't want to drown in the notoriously dangerous whirlpools and eddies that are a feature of the sea around this coast. They did look remarkably pretty though, as did the sail boats dotting the waves further out. Picture book.

Meanwhile I've heard no more about wet Macs. Fizzy wet Macs. We did manage a call on the house phone though and that's progress. That apparently also has its moments, when it doesn't favour working. Missed calls and fade-outs. Zach sounded remarkably sane about it all and we did have a laugh but I do hope that it gets fixed. Considering that it wasn't him who did the dirty deed but his love life. How much do you have to love in order to reconcile and forgive? I often wonder. Would have hated to have viewed that fallout, knowing what it would have been like.

The weekend is over there too. Shops are open. Repair shops and retail shops too. Let's see what the days bring.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A tail of cats and storms and water damage

Amazing what a few words can do and a request. I've had answers! And comments! Thank you all. Even the page count has mounted. Let's keep it going...

Today was remarkably cold and wet and windy. I took myself for a walk along the beach, buffeted against the wind. There were no kite surfers, nor wind surfers. It reminded me of Southsea. It smelled of Southsea. Wet sand. The wind was so ferocious that it blew the sand around and about us. The water had made its way so far up the beach that a debris remained of plastic bottles and plastic bags, odd shoes and part of a railing that had somehow disentangled itself from its home and had been hurled along the water, so that it now rested at right angles to a wooden beach hut. The municipality had engaged its workers in establishing sand dunes along the paths that led away from the beach to the beach-side cafes to prevent sea water from breaching land and flooding them out, as it did in a terrible storm last year. I don't think that the storm did so much damage this year but it was impossible to walk along the boardwalk, so high and blistering were the waves that bashed themselves over the walls. It was quite something to see.

Now I just have to contend with cat who has been caterwauling (literally) for the past two days. I tried to go to sleep last night, worrying about whether he was stuck somewhere, his shrieks so piercing and awoke at 3.00am only to hear him continuing his shrill. I had got up earlier, around midnight and dressed myself again, so concerned was I that this animal was somehow in terrible danger. The winds were howling around the building, so I stepped into my Uggs, over my pijamas, together with hoodie and scarf and jacket and made my way downstairs.

I thought that I would try and disinter cat from whatever it was that was ailing him. Nothing. No cat. Just the wind blowing through the steel sidings that have been erected by Mahmoud and Ali and Yosef next door, where they have recommenced the building works. I made my way back to bed and slept late while cat reappeared and recommenced his shrills. Making my way out this morning, somewhat disheleved and bleary-eyed, cat was sitting on the stone steps. He eyed me while I eyed him and started his song again. He appeared quite fat and well. A striped tabby with piercing green eyes. I'm beginning to dislike him because he believes that we all want to hear his song. He's no Sinatra. Later on I saw him dangling on the high wall to the house next door, tail wagging, kissing a ginger feline. If he wakes me up tonight...

And then back to Zach. I had waited months before I posted yesterday, in the belief that it's better not to write anything good, just in case that something bad would happen. I suppose that's called reverse superstition, or something. It's like the two-steps forward, one-step back. Only here it's maybe one-step forward and two-steps back.

All the time that Zach had been away, communication was always difficult. He's not the greatest with technology, having buried countless pcs over the years - usually ones that I passed on to him and even one that I had (foolishly) paid off for so that he would be able to at least send emails. Recently he had been reliant on other people or internet shops. Our messages would be short, if they were sent, or nothing at all. We could speak by phone (expensive) but he was unable to receive text messages (infuriating.) This was rectified two weeks ago when he purchased a new pc. Emails! Skype! Messaging! How marvelous it all was. Ah, but that doesn't take into consideration the frailties of the human: water.

Thus fear entered the soul and who knows what fall-out will ensue. Hopefully nothing. But keep reading.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Dumping 'H' and seeking sobriety

I know. It's been a long time and I didn't realise how many people read my blog. Of course the problem is because people read and don't comment, it's pretty much impossible to know whether my words simply vanish into the ether. There's a visitor count at the bottom of the page but it disappears and reappears at random, so, like newsprint, it's difficult to believe it! But I'm back. If you're interested.

I remember when I first had my book published that someone I knew told me that she couldn't recommend it because it 'didn't have a happy ending.' I think that at the time I wrote about that remark here in my blog. As far as I know, life itself doesn't have a particularly 'happy' ending. We either get eaten by the insects while we decompose, or get burned to a crisp. Of course there's water stuff, but that's less common. So what's a 'happy ending?' When does what appear to be a daily tragedy turn into elation? Who can compare what is one person's happiness to another's? It's all quite relative, isn't it?

I'm onto the theme of 'happy endings' because there is some good news. In fact, it's news that two or three years ago I would not have thought possible. I still have to pinch myself when I consider it and I touch wood, avoid ladders, won't step on cracked pavements and go 'peh, peh, peh...' when I think about it but Zach appears to have turned a major corner.

I have a friend who told me that once Zach reached into his thirties, then he would finally adopt adulthood and change his modus vivendi and reattach himself to the real world. Whether the real world is worth it, is a moot point. However, it seems as though he has. That is, he's back among the 'living.'

Zach knew that existing where he was in the area that he was living was bad news. He therefore took himself away from his day-to-day life that hitched itself to looking for the next narcotic hit and fumbling to remain alive. He dumped the dealers and the hangers-on and pitched himself into sunlight and heat and sobriety. No more heroin. No more cannabis. The cigarettes are a part of his history and even now, so is the booze.

Are you interested?

To be continued.