The Revenge of the Elders of Zion

by

Dan Sofer

Attracted by the intriguing title, I read this book in its ebook version on my phone, and as I tend to read books on my phone only when I’m waiting to see the doctor or dentist, it took me rather a long time to read it. The convoluted plot and considerable length (sixty-one chapters) also contributed to extend the time involved in finishing it. However, I persevered despite an ever-increasing need to extend the bounds of credibility, so that it was curiosity as to how a particular predicament would be resolved rather than intrinsic interest in the plot that kept me reading.

As the story begins we are introduced to David Zelig, a young man living in New York, who finds himself elbowed out of the family firm in the movie industry by the man appointed to manage it. David is doing his best to survive while at the same time trying to avoid being drawn into the well-oiled world of Jewish fund-raising. In a moment of inspiration, or perhaps desperation, he recruits two friends, young Jewish men living in New York, like himself, to attempt to combat the rising tide of antisemitism. Taking as their motto the derogatory term used in the notorious antisemitic text produced in tzarist Russian and then disseminated throughout Europe, i.e., the so-called Elders of Zion, the three set out to infiltrate and undermine the Moslem-financed antisemitic organisation which happens to use the same misnomer.

It is beyond my ability to recount the various surreal escapades, adventures and misadventures endured by the three in the course of the book’s sixty-one chapters, suffice it to say that priceless Fabergé eggs, esoteric Christian relics, desert islands inhabited by czarist dissenters, billionaires in private jets and Islamic terrorists are all involved at one stage or another. There is also a romantic side to the story, as David falls in love with the beautiful FBI agent appointed to help him, and their relations give rise to all manner of acts of derring-do and implausible acts of courage.

Without giving too much away, the book ends with a satisfying settling of accounts, and the prospect of everyone living happily ever after. Unless, of course, the author is already at work on a sequel of equal improbability.

Holy Days and Holidays

I suppose the etymology of the two phrases (Holy Days and Holidays) is the same, but their significance in this day and age is very different. Holidays are a time for enjoying oneself, whether relaxing on a beach or trekking up a mountain, whichever suits your taste. Holy Days are a time for contemplation, prayer and – in the case of the Jewish religion – observing the various practices that are enjoined by the religious authorities to which one adheres.

For most people, religious practice follows the pattern set out by one’s family, with traditions handed down through the generations. In my particular case I decided to break with the traditions of orthodox Judaism, finding that living in Israel was sufficient to satisfy any inclination I may have had to follow the customs I imbibed in the parental home. Each family, each ethnic group has different traditions and different ways of observing them, making for a wide variety of modes of observance.

Some traditional modes of marking the festivals, primarily those connected with food, seem to have become embedded in the way they are observed. Many of these traditions are determined by the availability or non-availability of certain foods at certain times of the year. Since the origin of many of the Jewish festivals is connected with the agricultural year and seasons, this is reflected in their observance even in countries for which this partiularl aspect has no relevance. After all, Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel over two thousand years ago, but clung to the traditional seasonal routine imposed by the Jewish festivals. Now that some Jews are back in Israel the festivals seem to be celebrated at their appropriate seasons, but that isn’t always the case for Jews living in the diaspora.

The same goes for the observance of the Jewish calendar day, starting the evening before the day of the festival, and ending when there is no more daylight. When I was growing up in England, which is situated further north than Israel, that meant that in the summer the Sabbath didn’t begin until ten o’clock at night on the evening before, and ended around midnight the next day. Thus, all the prohibitions and injunctions associated with the holy day (not driving, using electricity or cooking) had to be observed at times that caused a major disruption of our usual routine (when to sit down to eat the evening meal, for example). Even in Israel today those rules and regulations require setting routines and mealtimes in accordance with the time of the setting of the sun, which varies in winter and summer. I’ve ditched all adherence to such arbitrary rules and the family sits down to eat at 7 p.m. come rain or shine.

As the Jewish New Year approaches there is an upsurge in sales of honey in Israel because everyone (myself included) wants to partake of something that symbolizes a sweet year. I am even prepared to eat an apple with honey, remembering my mother’s table with its shiny, polished red apples waiting to be consumed. But I refuse to go down the road of various ethnic groups which consume an array of different foods symbolizing the plentiful bounty of our ancient forebears, culminating in that much-prized delicacy ‘the head of a fish.’ As far as I’m concerned that is the ultimate insult, both physically and psychologically.

Be that as it may, and however you mark the High Holidays, may you have a joyous year, with health, happiness and all you wish for yourself.

Back to Reality

The first thing that hits you as the plane starts the descent towards the airport in Israel is the difference in the colours on the ground. If you have just left one of the countries of Europe, as we did, there is a noticeable difference in the shades of green that you perceive. The brilliant emerald green of the fields of rural France (or Germany or England or wherever), even in the summer of 2022 when temperatures rose to unprecedented heights and there were restrictions on water usage, remained in one’s visual memory, only to be erased (or at least put in the shade) by the greys, browns and dusty dark greens of the Holy Land. And, of course, the ever-present white of the stone buildings.

Yes, it’s good to be home, to be back in our own comfortable home, in the bosom of our family, and to find a note on our door left by our kind neighbours welcoming us and inviting us to come and get the basic provisions they had bought for us. Who could wish for a warmer welcome? The neighbours in the village in rural France were hardly aware of our appearance in our house there, and wouldn’t dream of buying provisions for us. To each his or her own, and his or her own habits and customs.

The adaptability of the individual to changing situations is something that really deserves deeper study. In (almost) one bound we left behind the serene, silent tranquility of rural France, where the roads are wide and relatively empty, and drivers are almost invariably courteous and considerate, to find ourselves bogged down in endless traffic jams being hounded by anxious, stressed-out drivers who tootle their horns with glee whenever the fancy takes them.

After a couple of days back in Israel we are still driving as if we were in the Creuse, not hooting or pushing in but waiting patiently for every other car to join the lane we’re in. I’m not sure that the ‘Creuse effect’ will last very much longer though. I pride myself on having managed to drive to the supermarket, buy some provisions and return home more or less unscathed. It may be pathetic, but I consider that to be no mean achievement.

One of the great consolations of our life in Israel is the presence of friends and family. And also the cultural, especially the musical, life. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend a grand performance of Mahler’s monumental second symphony (The Resurrection) soon after returning, and that alone was enough to fill our spiritual and cultural batteries for some time to come. And of course, throughout the year there are the usual concerts, whether symphonic or chamber music, as well as operas, to look forward to. Not to mention our traditional Friday evening family meals when we’re able to catch up on the comings and goings of our children and grandchildren. The musical offferings in rural France are fewer and further between, and often involve driving for a long time to reach the venue.

In rural France we were more or less cut off from the news media, apart from the weekly French newspaper, but it so happened that the news of the passing of Queen Elisabeth reached us when we were visiting relatives in the south of France. It was interesting to see the involvement of the French media in the event as one TV programme after another focused on the life of the Queen and the developments in the Royal Family. It enabled us to exercise our French and share in the developments in England and elsewhere.

At home in Israel we’re enveloped by the news media, whether printed, broadcast or telecast, and the effect on one’s nerves is unavoidable. Add to that the constant barrage of information about political parties coalescing or separating, individual politicians bombarding us with news and views and predictions of impending election results, and it’s goodbye to tranquillity.

There really is no place like home.

The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel’s weighty tome of over 870 pages follows the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal and Viceregent of King Henry VIII from the execution of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, in 1536 to the execution of Cromwell himself in 1540. In the intervening period Cromwell was the king’s closest advisor, powerful administrator and the instrument whereby Henry furthered his aiims. Thesse included enriching the crown through the dissolution of the monasteries, finding another wife and ensuring that England severed its relations with the Pope in Rome and the Cathoic church and established Henry as the head of the church in England.

However, this book is no mere outline of history as we learned it at school, it goes far and away beyond that. It takes us inside the heart and mind of the man who was – next to the king – the most powerful man of his time in England, the scourge of those who adhered to the old faith and an individual whose low birth proved no hindrance to his rise to nobility and wealth.

Using the language of the period to best advantage, Hilary Mantel shows us the workings of Cromwell’s mind, the way he achieved his aims, the discussions he had with friends and family, his conversations with the king, his way of life and the machinations he employed to attain his objectives. We are shown the way he and other wealthy families lived, what they ate, what they wore, the furniture and furnishings of their homes, and the minutiae of their daily lives as well as the grand schemes they devised and executed. But the book does not describe only the lives of the nobility, but also shows us in detail the way the ordinary folk lived, including Cromwell himself in his youth, as the son of a blacksmith in Putney.

Of course, executions were rife in those days, albeit hedged around with legal and legalistic reasoning. The prevalence of violent and cruel ways of dispatching enemies and anyone who did not toe the official line as regards Christian religious beliefs and practices was taken for granted. Special consideration was given to Anne Boleyn who was decapitated by an expert swordsman brought over from France rather than having to lay her head on the block and be subjected to having it hacked off by an executioner wielding an axe. Heretics were burned at the stake as a matter of course, and in cases involving common folk partial hanging and subsequent disembowelling were the method of choice. And everything was done in public before a cheering or roaring or weeping crowd. The visceral brutality of the times is enough to turn even the strongest stomach.

Almost inevitably, Cromwell made enemies in high places, and in time they managed to turn Henry against him. The reader shares with Cromwell the surprise attack by fellow-members of the King’s Council, the weeks spent imprisoned in the Tower of London, in relatively comfortable quarters at first, able to write letters, have his books brought to him (he wanted to start learning Hebrew), but for th last week or so he was moved to a smaller cell. That was the sign that his end was near. He was also granted the relatively merciful death of decapitation rather than disembowelment, despite his low birth.

Personally,I found Mantel’s oblique writing style rather difficult to swallow at first, but eventually I came to accept it and recognize it for its ability to reproduce the feeling of being in that time and place and to experience more fully life as it was lived then. This is the third volume in the series of Mantell’s books about this period, and in her Author’s Note at the end she states that it has taken her ten years to write. She also thanks the many historians and scholars who have helped her in verifying her facts, and it is to her credit that she has managed to complete this mammoth undertaking in a convincing and intellectually satisfying way.

Hair

Ever since I can remember, I have been concerned about my hair. Even in early childhood I battled to tame my mane of dark, thick, wavy, curly hair that was so unlike the straight, fair hair I so admired on the heads of my friends at school and in the London neighbourhood where I grew up. My mother claimed that she used to find clumps of hair that I had cut off and stuffed behind the mirror in the bedroom I shared with my sisters, but I have no recollection of abusing my hair in this way as a child.

As time went by and I grew up and, with the help of various hairdressers, became more able to manage and accept my hair it ceased to be the bane of my life and was even considered attractive.

But now that I am in the sere and yellow leaf of my life (to crib from Macbeth) my hair has assumed a less prominent role in my daily existence, though I generally do my best to keep it clean and tidy.

Easier said than done. When I’m at home I have my hairdressing routine with the tried and trusted hairdresser who has attended to my recalcitrant curls for many years now. But spending two months away from home creates problems in the hairdressing department.

When we first spent time in rural France I went to the hairdresser in the nearby small town (or large village), where an energetic lady of middle age supervised two beautiful young ladies who washed customers’ hair while she attended to the more complex tasks of the hairdressing profession. There I sat alongside the wives of the local farmers and tradesmen while the owner conducted lively conversations with everyone around her. Whenever a customer paid at the desk it was customary for her to drop a few coins into a glass jar placed adjacent to the till. At the sound of the tinkling coins the two young ladies would chorus ‘Merci Madame,’ to everyone’s gratification. Unfortunately, the efforts of the hairdresser to produce a satisfactory result on my head by means of what she called ‘un petit brushing,’ left me almost in tears, and after I’d had to wait for an hour to be attended to even though I had made an appointment I decided that this establishment would no longer enjoy my custom.

But getting to a hairdresser in rural France in the middle of summer is no light matter. Another local establishment told me they were booked up until mid-September, by which time we would no longer be in the area. The mobile English hairdresser who travels around to attend to ladies’ hair in their homes informed me he works on the basis of a wait time of between four and five weeks. So no go there either. This is the time of the year when almost all French people, including hairdressers, go on vacation.

The last resort was the rather formidable establishment in the nearby town which is considered the regional metropolis, with several large supermarkets, shops of various kinds, a garden centre, and a number of restaurants, cafes and bars. I managed to make an appointment over the phone and duly turned up as arranged.

I was treated in an efficient and professional way. I did not have to wait. The establishment was spacious, clean and aesthetic, and my hair was cur in a way that seemed to me to be satisfactory. I may have had to pay more than I bargained for as I was treated to a very pleasant) head massage, probably because I hadn’t quite understood the relevant question. But at least I managed to refuse ‘un petit brushing’ and emerged with my head feeling lighter and my appearance less akin to that of the Wild Woman of Borneo than before. I won’t call it Parisian chic, but at least I feel normal again at last.

Music For All

About ten years ago, when we first started spending part of the summer in rural France, we attended a series of concerts of varying standards and types (mainly classical music) given by visiting musicians in the ancient churches of the region. Some of these were outstanding, and I remember with particular fondness a performance of Allegri’s Miserere given by a choir from an English university. The acoustics of the church enhanced the power and beauty of the voices, and it was a truly inspiring performance. Another concert was given by a group of male singers from Sardinia, whose unique music and style of singing was an interesting but not entirely enjoyable experience.

But suddenly all that came to an end, and was replaced by a series of concerts entitled ‘The Noise of Music’ (Le Bruit de la Musique), and noise it certainly was. I attended one of the concerts, which was given in our local church. The place was filled to the rafters with an audience of people eager to hear this kind of experimental music. To my ears it was a mixture between a cacophony and some form of Chinese torture, but it was enthusiastically received by the audience.

All concerts stopped for a year or two during the epidemic, but now the experimental music performances have resumed with a vengeance. A few days ago the church near our house turned out to be too small to accommodate all those who wanted to attend the concert, so the doors were left open and the ‘overflow audience’ stood outside to listen. We could hear all manner of thumps, bumps and bangs emanating from there, but at least we could close our doors and windows and so avoid hearing more.

The following concert was moved to the larger venue of the open field next to the Mairie in the centre of the village. Tents were erected, food and drink was served, and before we knew what had happened our sleepy, remote, semi-deserted little village had become the focus of a major happening, attracting devotees from all over France (and even beyond it possibly).

Some consolation for those of us who are lovers of classical music (‘melomanes’ in French) is provided by the annual visit of a group of musicians from the Paris Symphony Orchestra who come to this part of France, where they have family connections. Each year these first-rate musicians prepare several programmes which include, inter alia, adaptations and arrangements of orchestral pieces introduced in a relaxed and conversational way by their leader, who is a cellist.

This year, for example, they gave some ten concerts in different venues in the region. We attended three of them, and were treated to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Mozart’s clarinet concerto at two of them. The third concert was devoted to music from films, but this consisted primarily of music by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, concluding with a moving rendition of the theme from Schindler’s List.

So our time in France continues to pass pleasantly and in an interesting fashion.

Mary Churchill’s War

Mary Churchill, youngest daughter of Winston, was just sixteen years old in 1939 when she started writing her diary. She starts her entries with rather typical and trite comments about being sixteen, and her concerns are those of a person of tender years. But Mary was no ordinary teenager (a term that was not in general usage at the time), and as her father was involved in politics, she followed his lead and interested herself in the events of the day.

For Mary, Winston was not a distant figure but a very beloved and admired father, who also showed affection towards her. Her mother, the beautiful and intelligent Clementine, was the dominant figure in the home, together with her mother’s cousin, known as Nana, who served as Mary’s nanny. It is tempting to try to regard Mary as just another teenager growing up in an ordinary family, but how can anyone be considered ordinary if their home is the stately home of Chartwell and her parents’ friends and acquaintances are leading politicians from both Englnd and abroad?

Still, like many girls of her age and social class, Mary loved riding her horse and was preoccupied by her religious beliefs, her schoolwork and her friends. But as the situation in Europe grew grimmer and the threat of war began to hover over England Mary begins to consider her future. She rejects the idea of going to university as she wants to remain close to her parents, writing: ‘I am enthralled by the magnitude of Papa’s brain and personality. I fear I have not appreciated him sufficiently or loved him till just lately – but now my heart has been awakened and thrilled and I am torn between pride and a deepening and ever increasing love for him,’ showing considerable maturity and insight for a girl of her age. However, only a few weeks earlier she writes: ‘I have come to the frightful conclusion that (a) I am insincere (b) a coquette (c) I bite my nails (d) I think too much about myself. Reform is needed and I am determined to be more natural and nice.’

One cannot help but admire the girl’s sincerity and honesty. Growing up in a household where politics was the driving force it is hardly surprising that Mary was concerned about reports in the newspapers criticizing her father, and very much took to heart the various political skirmishes and infighting that characterized politics then and now. A slew of newspapers were doubtless delivered to the house every day (unlike the single newspaper in the average home of the time), and Mary’s life was obviously far from average. She lunches in London with her mother and various relatives, meeting Dr. and Mrs. Julian Huxley, for example, then goes to the zoo for a ‘private audience’ with the baby giant panda, concluding with a visit to the House of Commons where, from the Speakers Gallery, together with her mother, she watches and hears part of the debate about conscription. Only a few months later war is declared and, after a brief interlude, her father becomes Prime Minister. For Mary this means moving to 10 Downing Street and also spending weekends at Chequers while her beloved Chartwell has to be closed up and abandoned.

As the war proceeded Mary, together with her close friend Judy Montagu, joined the ATS and was posted to anti-aircraft battery duty. Army life was not easy for the cossetted child of English aristocrats, but she was determined to do what had to be done and in fact excelled in fulfilling her duty. As the war continued Mary still managed to enjoy life, whether on leave or at weekends, when she was often wined and dined by eligible young men, went to parties and night clubs, quaffed champagne and ate caviar and other delicacies. How she managed to do this during wartime, when food was rationed and blackouts prevailed, is beyond me, but the diary entries record all this as happening, together with shopping expeditions to Harrods and tea at Fortnum and Masons.

Affairs of the heart also concern Mary greatly during the war years, and she enjoys the company of English as well as American servicemen, spends time in France and Canada as aide-de-camp to her father, meets President Roosevelt and many other prominent personalities, and is an eye-witness to events that changed the course of world history.

The book of Mary Churchill’s diary ends as the war comes to an end, and jubilant crowds, including Mary, celebrate outside Buckingham Palace. In a note at the end, Mary’s daughter, Emma Soames, writes that just two days after ending her romance with one suitor Mary gets on the train taking her from Paris to Rome, having briefly met Christopher Soames, the junior Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Paris. On an impulse, young Soames jumped onto the train taking Mary to Rome to visit her sister, and by the time they arrived in Rome Christopher had proposed and been turned down. He proposed again, on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, and was accepted.

And so, as we now know, the young girl who embarked on writing a diary at the age of sixteen, continued to have a happy and fulfilled life. Together with Christopher Soames, she had five children, wrote books, was involved in public life, and died at the age of ninety-one. The account of her life as the daughter of a distinguished man is fascinating and surprisingly well written.

An Unbeatable Experience

My family’s association with soprano Ilona Domnitch goes back many years, to the 1980s, when my parents moved to Israel and were active in the activities of Bnai Brith there. One of the projects which that organisation undertook at the time was to help new immigrants from Russia integrate into Israel. One of those recipients of aid was a teenager called Ilona who, as a new immigrant, was unable to pay for the books and equipment required by the music academy high school she attended.

To cut a long story short, when the aid from Bnai Brith came to an end my father, whose sole income was his pension from England, found ways of helping the young woman to further her career. Today, Ilona is an established singer, based in London and performing all over the world.

When we were in London a few weeks ago, at the height of the horrendous heatwave there, Ilona came to our hotel to see us and said that she would be singing the very demanding title role in Puccini’s opera Tosca. It transpired that one of the performances would be at a music festival in the Correze region of France, not far from where we would be spending part of the summer. France is a very large country so ‘not far’ involves driving more than two hours in either direction. But we decided to make the effort and undertake the journey in order to attend the performance, which was to take place in the grounds of the Chateau de Saillant.

On the appointed day we packed a picnic and set off in good time to get to the place, enjoy our food and attend the performance, having been forewarned by Ilona. To our surprise, we found that we were the only people who had brought their own picnic along, everyone else queued up at the very elegant stall providing drinks and finger food. The queue for service was very long, making us feel smug at having brought our own provisions.

The performance took place in a converted barn in the grounds of the Saillant chateau, with a central stage and seating on three sides of it. The production took the limitations of space into account, and the orchestral part was played by the very capable pianist Bryan Evans on a Steinway grand. Each and every one of the singers was outstanding, with powerful voices and a wealth of expression that would do justice to any major operatic performance.

And of course, Ilona was outstanding as Tosca, a real diva, using her silvery voice to maximum effect and displaying impressive acting ability into the bargain. When she sang her principal aria, seeking mercy from the Lord and invoking her piety and her devotion to art, she managed to display such conviction that it brought tears to many eyes in the audience (including mine).

The reaction of the audience, which included local resident and former President of France, Francois Hollande, at the conclusion of the evening was rapturous. The cast was called back to take a bow at least ten times, the audience stood and clapped, shouting‘ vo!’ for many minutes.

When we left the auditorium and started to leave the grounds, there was Ilona (still wearing her Tosca costume) coming towards us, eager to kiss and hug us as we congratulated her and shared our delight at having been able to hear and see her sing so well. And to crown it all, she made a point of saying that having us there in the audience that night was almost like having Manfred (my late father), to whom she owed so much, there.

What more could anyone ask? It was an unbeatable experience, and the memory of it will continue to delight us for a long time.

Home Sweet Home

Once again, we are spending some of our summer in France, savouring the niceties of life in la belle France. The countryside certainly is beautiful, with rolling green fields, meadows and hills as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by stately-looking trees and hedgerows serving to define where one farm ends and another begins.

After a rather hectic week in London, where the unusual heatwave had given rise to some form of mass hysteria with people too scared to get on a train or bus to get from A to B, it was quite a relief to find ourselves once again in the depths of rural France, where no one ever gets het up or excited about anything much. Life goes on at its usual stately pace, with cows ruminating in the fields, restaurants serving their usual meals to their usual customers and trucks trundling along the highway delivering goods from all over Europe to other parts of Europe.

Although I try to stay as quiet and still as possible, and even manage not to get annoyed by the church bells telling me the time every hour, I can’t avoid having to go shopping at the supermarket in the nearby town or visiting the adjacent pharmacy. But those occasional forays into the outside world are kept to a minimum as my kind-hearted OH has undertaken to get the morning baguette from the boulangerie in the nearby village, and also to bring me the Friday newspaper with all its coloured supplements, enabling me to keep abreast of French life, culture and language.

So I really have no cause to complain. The only problem is my deteriorating brain and body. Travel isn’t good for people who can’t remember where they put things or even what they’re looking for. I lose things (what on earth happened to the navy-blue cardigan that went with everything?), misplace things and forget where I’m supposed to be. My poor, longsuffering OH is unvaryingly patient and forgiving, but I wonder how long he can keep it up. After all, saints aren’t supposed to wear jeans and T-shirts and roll up their sleeves to cope with plumbing disfunctions.

And as for my deteriorating body – the less said about that the better. That’s just another aspect of life that isn’t helped by being schlepped on and off trains, planes and buses and taken from one country to another. Gone are the days when I would happily cope with luggage, passports, handbags and the novel I was in the middle of reading as we moved from one destination to another. My days of Wanderlust and living the gypsy life are over, and it’s just about all I can do to tag along behind OH or sit docilely in the passenger seat of our rented hybrid car, admiring the view, as he forges ahead along yet another highway or byway.

So let me just sit in my comfortable armchair, enjoy the music on the radio and allow the general aura of peace and tranquillity that pervades this lovely area to enter my soul.

Never Say Never

Travel these days is not for the faint-hearted. If one is not deterred by reports of overcrowded airports, lost luggage or delayed or even cancelled flights, one can but summon up all one’s courage and venture out into the wide, wide world.

So that is what we did. Neither of us is young any more and although OH doesn’t seem to flag at the sight of endless corridors or station platforms along which our suitcases have to be rolled, I must admit that I found it all a bit too much to take. Call me a little old lady, if you want, because that’s after all what I am. And little old ladies should stay at home, sit in an armchair and keep as still as possible. The sight of this little old lady schlepping suitcases along the endless stretches at Paddington station in London was enough to make anyone cry.

And London was not as welcoming as it has been in the past. It started with the hotel room we were given by the hotel at which we have stayed almost yearly for the last fifteen years. Although we specified when booking that we wanted a room overlooking Russell Square (which I enjoy painting from the window), we were given a room overlooking the side street. This room was so small that we were unable to sit or even stand anywhere comfortably. When we protested and demanded a room in accordance with our request, we were moved to a better room the next day. Then we realised — the room they had given us originally was in fact a single room! A new definition of British Chutzpa!

Then there was the weather. Anyone would think the British spent their holidays at the North Pole, the way they were carrying on about the heat. People were warned not to travel anywhere any time in or around London. And the scare tactics caused many people to avoid leaving home for the week or so of the hot weather. In fact, people did still move around and use public transport, as we did, and nothing went amiss. The many Israelis who were holidaying in London didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather, and carried on enjoying themselves as usual (as we did, too). It’s true, our room did not have air-conditioning so got rather hot, but we were given a fan, and we could sit in the air-conditioned foyer (the Atrium), which was very pleasant.

London theatre is as enjoyable as ever. Not only did we see an interesting and original play (Life of Pi), but at our hotel we were able to participate in the ‘Faulty Towers Dining Experience,’ which combined a slap-up evening meal with actors portraying the characters we know and love from the TV series of many years ago. It was a lot of fun!

At the National Gallery they were showing an impressive exhibition of works by Raphael, and at the Courtauld Institute, with its amazing collection of Impressionist paintings, there was an intriguing exhibition of work by the Norweigian painter, Edward Munch.

We managed to meet some of our friends in person and speak to others on the phone, so we felt that our journey had not been wasted. But considering the physical, mental and financial effort involved I wonder if it’s such a good idea for people of our advanced age to go and travel again.

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Travel these days is not for the faint-hearted. If one is not deterred by reports of overcrowded airports, lost luggage or delayed or even cancelled flights, one can but summon up all one’s courage and venture out into the wide, wide world.

So that is what we did. Neither of us is young any more and although OH doesn’t seem to flag at the sight of endless corridors or station platforms along which our suitcases have to be rolled, I must admit that I found it all a bit too much to take. Call me a little old lady, if you want, because that’s after all what I am. And little old ladies should stay at home, sit in an armchair and keep as still as possible. The sight of this little old lady schlepping suitcases along the endless stretches at Paddington station in London was enough to make anyone cry.

And London was not as welcoming as it has been in the past. It started with the hotel room we were given by the hotel at which we have stayed almost yearly for the last fifteen years. Although we specified when booking that we wanted a room overlooking Russell Square (which I enjoy painting from the window), we were given a room overlooking the side street. This room was so small that we were unable to sit or even stand anywhere comfortably. When we protested and demanded a room in accordance with our request, we were moved to a better room the next day. Then we realised — the room they had given us originally was in fact a single room! A new definition of British Chutzpa!

Then there was the weather. Anyone would think the British spent their holidays at the North Pole, the way they were carrying on about the heat. People were warned not to travel anywhere any time in or around London. And the scare tactics caused many people to avoid leaving home for the week or so of the hot weather. In fact, people did still move around and use public transport, as we did, and nothing went amiss. The many Israelis who were holidaying in London didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather, and carried on enjoying themselves as usual (as we did, too). It’s true, our room did not have air-conditioning so got rather hot, but we were given a fan, and we could sit in the air-conditioned foyer (the Atrium), which was very pleasant.

London theatre is as enjoyable as ever. Not only did we see an interesting and original play (Life of Pi), but at our hotel we were able to participate in the ‘Faulty Towers Dining Experience,’ which combined a slap-up evening meal with actors portraying the characters we know and love from the TV series of many years ago. It was a lot of fun!

At the National Gallery they were showing an impressive exhibition of works by Raphael, and at the Courtauld Institute, with its amazing collection of Impressionist paintings, there was an intriguing exhibition of work by the Norweigian painter, Edward Munch.

We managed to meet some of our friends in person and speak to others on the phone, so we felt that our journey had not been wasted. But considering the physical, mental and financial effort involved I wonder if it’s such a good idea for people of our advanced age to go and travel again.

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