Friday, August 30, 2013

Ethiopians and Black Africans in Israel

The front page of The Jerusalem Post on Thurs had two articles side-by-side. The first headline was "Govt. celebrates 'end' of Ethiopian aliya with arrival of 450 immigrants". The second headline was "Jerusalem finalizes plans to deport African migrants." What a juxtaposition.

The first article tells the story of the 20 year struggle to bring all of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. This has taken place in spurts and starts because of the indecision of various Israeli Governments. It took place in two overall phases, the bringing in of the practicing Jews to Israel and then the Falash Mura, Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity over about 100 years. Since many of the two groups were related it was relatively easy to identify the first group of Falash Mura, but more recently there have been some problems. However, the Jewish Agency now claims that all 7,000 of those who could be identified have been repatriated to Israel. The willingness of the Israeli Government and people to accept the Ethiopian Jews indicates clearly that there is no racial apartheid in Israel. Any visitor can see this anywhere in the country, where the black Ethiopians are integrated in all activities of life.

Similarly Black Africans, mostly Sudanese and Eritreans, who have immigrated illegally into the country have been treated well and many have been allowed to work here. But, since they are almost all illegal immigrants, they have no rights, and many of them are being deported back to their country of origin or elsewhere. That is excluding those who have claimed asylum or whose country is engulfed in war or repression. Thus, the South Sudanese were allowed to stay for many years, but since South Sudan is now a recognized country, they have been repatriated there with a nice financial package (I believe consisting of $8,000 each). Some Israelis are upset that the Government is deporting many Black Africans, but in fact the Govt. has every right to do that. Since some won't go back to their country of origin for various reasons, they are being deported to a third coutnry, probably7 Uganda, that has agreed to take them.

There are estimated to be ca. 55,000 Black Africans in Israel, mostly in South Tel Aviv, where the crime rate and violence has escalated greatly, By building a fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border (just as the US has done along the Mexican border) this has reduced illegal immigration to a trickle. The Govt. has done what was necessary to resolve these two problems.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Attack on Syria?

The question is, why did Pres. Assad of Syria allow his army to use chemical weapons on a large scale in the suburbs of Damascus? The answer is two-fold, first his forces were losing ground a few months ago, and then they started a country-wide campaign to regain ground lost to the insurrection. Second, last March when they used chemical weapons, Pres. Obama issued his statement about a red-line being crossed, but did nothing. Seeing this lack of response Assad and his military no doubt did not expect a serious reaction from the White House.

Chemical weapons are useful if your aim is to clear an area of people, mainly Sunnis who support the opposition. In areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army the civilians help, feed and support the rebels. Chemical weapons can effectively clear an area of civilians and fighters. In this case they killed ca. 1,300. However, their use is banned under international law, and specifically their use is a war crime. The international community cannot stand by and allow any regime to use such weapons against civilians, their use must be curtailed and stopped.

Some in Britain and the US are comparing the decision to use military force against Syria to that against Iraq. Remember the fruitless search for WMD at the beginning of the Iraq War. But, whereas most people believed that Iraq had WMD, in the case of Syria we know that they have WMD in the form of chemical weapons, and not only that they have used them numerous times. It is simply not credible that the resistance has enough chemical weapons to carry out such attacks as the Syrian Government and the Russians argue.

So the current situation is that the West is girding up for an attack against the Syrian regime. This includes the US, Britain, France, NATO and Australia. They don't want to overthrow Assad, but they want to punish his regime as a message to stop the use of chemical weapons. To do this they will probably target regime sites that deal a blow to the infrastructure and control of the regime, particularly using targeted cruise missiles. In all of this Russia and China are playing the role of spoilers, giving Assad diplomatic support and opposing any Western intervention. However, it is not thought likely that they would respond militarily in support of Syria, rather they will resupply Syria for any equipment lost to show their displeasure.

What is more worrying is that if Assad feels that his back is against the wall and he wants to punish the West in return, he will carry out a military attack against Israel. He could even try to use chemical weapons against Israel, why not, he used them against his own civilians? PM Netanyahu has issued a stern warning that this time Israel will respond massively to any such attack. Remember, that during the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein showered Israel with missiles in response to the US attack, Israel was asked by the US to do nothing and indeed restrained itself. That will not be the case this time. However, it is unlikely that Assad will want to invite an even greater attack on his diminishing forces. So we now wait to see what the West will do after issuing dire threats, and we Israelis must wait and see if there will be a counter-attack against us. We have our gas masks at the ready.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Anatevka

Every time I visit Great Britain I am ambivalent. In this home of parliamentary democracy where I grew up I was only beaten up occasionally. I was never just "a Jew," but always "a dirty Jew." Yet, I thank the Brits for their tolerance in giving us breathing space, time to recuperate from the excesses of Ukrainian peasant pogroms and Spanish-Portuguese expulsions. A place to recover the dignity of being a human among humans, even if not an equal. Not an honored scientist, but a "Jew boy," not a revered son, but a sojourner, at least a place to recover the ability to drag ourselves from the miasma and eventually fight back.

Some may think this view is overly harsh, after all isn't Britain a very tolerant society, with many Jews in high places and very little overt racism. Wrong, Britain is still a very racist country, with the highest level of anti-Sermitic incidents in Europe. Often this is disguised as anti-Israelism, selecting Israel out of all the countries in the world for specific criticism, not the Arabs of Syria or Egypt, or the many others who deny their citizens civil and human rights. Having visited Britain for two weeks recently and not experienced any negative reactions, I understand how easy it is to still live there as a Jew, as long as you are lucky to avoid anti-Semitism and keep a low profile. But, visiting and living there are two different things.

You might say, well, why allow the haters and the anti-Semites to determine your actions. But, you should, never stay where you are unwelcome and in danger. If only more of the Jews of Europe had taken the endemic hatred of them, that still exists, more seriously as a real threat to their existence. I am glad that I live in Israel, and that my children live in the US and Israel. They are safer there than living among their enemies. Like Tevya in "Fiddler on the roof " I was sad to leave my Anatevka, but after all it was necessary.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria and Egypt

The complexity of the situations in Syria and Egypt warrant a comparison. Ironically in some respects the two situations are diametrically opposed. In Syria the Army is an integral part of the Assad regime and is leading the fight against the insurgents, while in Egypt the Army is the opponent of the prior government and is leading the fight against the Moslim Brotherhood regime that suceeded the military dictator Hosni Mubarak. In both countries the opposition to the dictators Mubarak and Assad included the Muslim Brotherthood, as well as other Islamist groups, such as al Qaeda, and liberal, pro-Western democrats. But, in Syria they are allies opposed to the Army and regime, while in Egypt they are enemies, the liberals and pro-Western elements allying with the Army against the MB and other Islamists.

Is that clear (there will be a test)? How can I put it more simply - I can't. There is one clear indicator, what is in Western and Israeli interests? In Syria, it is that the insurgents, specifically the moderate pro-Western groups, defeat the Assad regime, while in Egypt it is in Western interests that the Army instal a pro-Western regime, leading eventually to elections, and that the MB be defeated.

Another way of looking at this is "who cares," as in "let them kill each other." It is clear that the Arab/Muslim world is in a relatively primitive state compared to the West, where secular humanism has largely triumphed. There is a lot that can be said against it, but it beats killing each other all the time. This seems to be the only way that the Arabs can operate. The concept of a "loyal opposition" is totally absent, they think "if you are my opponent, then you are my enemy and I must kill you." It could take another hundred years before they shed this feudal, religious, absolutist view of the world and become civilized.

Meanwhile, it is clan against clan, Sunni against Shi'ite, fundamentalist against liberal, and everyone against everyone else. And some naieve liberals expect us to make peace with them.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Chemical attack in Syria

As soon as there was a report of a major chemical weapons attack in Syria, with graphic footage showing people choking and hundreds of bodies, what do the Syrians do. They get a proxy to fire four rockets from Lebanon into Israel. Actually two fell short in Lebanon and only two hit western Galilee, one of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. No one was harmed but there was some property damage. Israel responded in a minor way, attacking the site from where the missiles were fired, but restrained itself to avoid exacerbating the situation.

Although it is certain that this chemical attack actually took place and that the Syrian Government forces are the only ones that could have fired chemical weapons-containing shells during their current offensive in southern Damascus, nevertheless the Syrian Government and their supporter Russia denied this and attributed the attack to the insurgent forces. British Foreign Secty Haig poured scorn on this suggestion, but Pres. Obama was once again hesitant. He wants further proof, such as an investigation by the UN inspectors, who are on the ground in Damascus, but are functionally useless. Once again Pres. Obama is showing that a red line is not a red line as far as he is concerned, and all his talk about severe consequences is so far just that, talk. Noone, least of all the Syrian Government, takes the US seriously anymore, they literally get away with murder.

The spill-over of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon is accelerating. Two large car bombs exploded in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, causing 45 deaths and hundreds of injuries. This was the biggest attack since the civil war ended years ago. Also presumably intended to take the focus away from the chemical weapons attack in Syria. The targets were Sunni mosques, and the attacks were carried out by Shia/Alawite allies of the Syrian regime. Retaliation by the Sunnis in the sectarian clash is expected soon.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Losing Egypt

I go away for 2 weeks and what happens, Egypt slides even deeper into crisis and the US is making a fundamental mistake in its foreign policy. Back to reality, Egypt is on the brink of a civil war, 24 Egyptian Army soldiers were executed by Islamic extremists in Sinai. The actions by the MB supporters in Sinai is intended to draw the Army forces into Sinai away from Egypt proper. Also, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood was arrested by the interim government and is due to be tried and the Army-dominated government has released former Pres. Mubarak from arrest.

When Pres. Mubarak was replaced by a popular uprising, the US did not know what to do, since Mubarak had been a US ally. Many analysts warned Pres. Obama that dumping Mubarak would be equivalent to Pres. Carter's dumping of the Shah of Persia, that led to the catastrophic loss of Iran and the advent of a fundamentalist Islamic State that has become the source of anti-American activity and terrorism.

But, Pres. Obama made the same liberal mistake, he supported the uprising as a democratic movement. But, the Muslim Brotherhood, an anti-democratic fundamentalist Islamic party, quickly gained strength and took over the uprising and their candidate Morsi was elected President. After a year of strengthening his power base and decimating the Egyptian Army command, Morsi was well on the way to establishing an MB dictatorship in Egypt. It was only the continuation of the uprising and the support by the new army chief General al-Sissi that prevented this. It is clearly in US interests to support the Army since it is on the side of the democratic forces opposing the MB and is the only guarantor of future pro-Western stability in Egypt.

However, once again a US President is making the same liberal mistake of opposing the Army and supporting the candidate of the anti-democratic forces. The US has hinted that military aid to Egypt would be cut, although they have stopped short of making that catastrophic blunder. Meanwhile, instead of focussing on the actual crises in the Arab world, including the civil war in Syria, the continued fighting in Iraq, Libya and Tunisia, and now the chaos in Egypt, the US Secretary of State Kerry is focussing on the wrong conflict, namely that between the Palestinians and Israel. It should be clear to anyone with any sense that the Palestinian conflict has no relevance whatsoever to what is happening in Syria and Egypt, and that the consquences of these civil wars are far more significant for the US and the West in general than resolving the Palestinian conflict. In fact, the Palestinians are a mere side-show to the deeper rifts that are sweeping the Arab/Muslim world.

By supporting the rights of the MB demonstrators, rather than supporting the Army in trying to bring stability out of the Egyptian chaos, Pres. Obama is in danger of losing Egypt!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Czech Torah scrolls, Alan Turing and L.S. Lowry

The Czech Torah Scrolls Museum: My son and daughter-in-law took us to see the Czech Torah Scrolls Museum, a small private museum in Kent House in Rutland Gardens in Knightsbridge. This was actually the London home of the Duke of Kent and now houses the Westminster Synagogue, with which the Museum is connected. This museum came about because starting in the 1930s, and seeing the deterioration of Jewish life throughout Bohemia and Moravia, that now make up the Czech Republic, the Jewish Museum in Prague began collecting Jewish artifacts from all over the country. There had been ca. 360,000 Jews in the region, but as war approached the number rapidly decreased, 80,000 were murdered by the Nazis and only ca. 10,000 returned after the war. There is a myth that the Germans were collecting these Jewish items in order to make a "museum of the dead race," but recent research has shown that this was not true. There are many pictures taken before and during the German occupation in which Jews alone are carrying out this collection and documentation. It seems that the Head of the Museum during the Communist era used this story to gain Government support. Anyway, thousands of Torah scrolls were collected over a period of years and stored in an obscure unused synagogue in suburban Prague. After the war someone came across them and had the idea to "rescue" them. Money was provided by a donation and 1,600 Torah scrolls were purchased from the Czech Government and trucked to London in 1964. Volunteers began to work on them and a group of professional scribes were retained to check and repair the scrolls. We were taken around the museum by Rabbi Ariel Friedlander, who is the daughter of the former Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue. She explained that it was felt that it was not appropriate to keep the Torah scrolls purely as museum pieces and as the scrolls became available about 90% of them were loaned out to synagogues across the world. My son and daughter-in-law's synagogue, Beth Emek of Livermore, CA, was one of the lucky shools to receive such a loan of a Torah scroll, that they have now dedicated to the forgotten Jews of a town in the Czech republic. This was a moving and inspirational visit.

The Globe Theater - Macbeth: I was waiting all the time for someone to say "To be or not to be, that is the question" but noone said it - wrong Shakespeare play. I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, quite familiar, although some of the kids were less than enthralled. Later we also watched the movie "Anonymous" about the origin of the Shakespeare plays, which is a bit of a mystery, so we were steeped in it.

The British Museum: We decided to give the BM a miss since we have been many times before. Our family especially liked the Rosetta stone, since they all learn about it at school. My son was impressed by how much the British mnaaged to steal from around the world when they had an Empire.

Alan Turing: One reason for visiting the Science Museum at S. Kensington was that they had a special exhibit on Alan Turing (1912-1954) entitled "Code Breaker." Turing was the mathematical genius who was the first to predict in 1936 how a modern computer would work, long before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Alan Turing worked at the code breaking department at Bletchley Park during WWII and was responsible for breaking some of the Enigma machine military codes. He published an iconic paper in 1950 predicting how artificial intelligence should work, that introduced "the Turing test." He was a homosexual and was quite open about it, but at that time it was a serious matter and he lost his security clearance and committed suicide in 1954. The British Prime Minister apologised in 2013 for how Turing had been mistreated by the police and security personnel.

Lowry exhibition: At the Tate Britain Gallery there was a large exhibition of the paintings of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) entitled "Lowry and the painting of modern life." To those unfamiliar with the work of Lowry, he painted mainly industrial landscapes in the north of England, with factories belching smoke and people rushing back and forth to work. In that respect, he represented the British artist's response to the reality of the industrial revolution that was all around him, and he sought beauty in it's grimy ugliness. He depicted the plight of the working men and women scratching out an existence among gritty landscapes, yet he was not a socialist, but a Tory, who foresaw that through this process of industrialization would come a better life with more jobs and less pollution.

Shopping in Oxford Street: Apart from shopping in Cambden market and Spitalfields market, various combinations of us went down to Oxford Street and made forays into the stores to acquire clothing and presents of various kinds. All survived.

Hampton Court Palace: We chose not to go to HCP, although it is a lovely place to visit, one of the favorite palaces. The kids always love the maze ("I went through it in 5 mins!") and the adults were fascinated by an actor who played Henry VIII who was enjoying the excesses of the palace. Not many people know that during the plague when the court was at HCP some of Shakespeare's plays were put on in the great hall there and never seen publicly at that time.

Marlow Bottom: After the families left to get their kids back to school in time, Naomi and I had a lovely lunch with some friends and then returned with Barbara to her home in Marlow Bottom. We spent a leisurely day shopping in High Wycombe, before she dropped us off at Heathrow which is quite close by. Altogether a great and eventful holiday and we had lovely weather, for the most part mild and cloudy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What we did on our vacation

In this blog I will attempt to summarize the main activities during our recent visit to London:

Cambden Town Market: We went to the market at Cambden Town mainly because it was close (we were only 5 mins walk from Archway Station on the Northern Line) and because the kids would like it. They bought some funky things and we enjoyed eating in the open air market there.

The party: We had a party for 40 friends and family on Tues night Aug 6 at the rented house in Highgate. We catered this with kosher food, for which there was plenty of choice. We had platters of various kinds of food, including sandwiches, cold cuts, rolls and cakes. There was wine, drinks, tea and coffee. Altogether a nice spread. I tried to visit with all the visitors, that included some I had not seen for many years, such as my cousin Tony and his wife and David Ross, our former visitor in Bethesda.

Visit to the West End: We thought the easiest way to get around the West End was in the open top buses. We went to Green Park and caught the "Big Bus" from there. The narrative provided by the guide was lowest level with almost no serious historical information. We got off at Westminster and walked down Whitehall to the Abbey. Some of us went to the Abbey and some to Churchill's bunker nearby. It was very impressive. We then went to Westminster pier and caught a boat down to the Tower. This was the best part of the tour. Then some took a tour with a very humorous beefeater guide and visited the Tower, the crown jewels and the dungeons, while others sat and had a nice cup of tea.

Visit to the East End: Naomi's nephew Mark took us around part of the East End. We went with him to his pub "Macbeth" on Hoxton Street in Hoxton. This is an area of London that was dangerous for Jews, even though Mark's grandfather actually grew up there, as it was a hive of fascist activity before WWII, but has now been gentrified. From there we walked past Shoreditch Church, built by Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral. I used to live on Brick Lane about 10 mins walk from this Church when I was a kid and used to play in its gardens. Mark took us to the "Overground" a new series of lines with air-conditioned (!) trains and we went to the Monument, a spire that commemmorates the site where the great fire of London started in 1666. In the City of London we found Bevis Marks Sephardic synagogue, the oldest in London that was founded in 1701. We stopped there for lunch since they have a famously excellent (and expensive) kosher restaurant.

Visit to Highgate cemetery: We went for a walk in Highgate and, of course, where did we go, but to the famous landmark - Highgate cemetery, where the famous and infamous are buried together. The most famous grave is that of Karl Marx (not related to the Marx Brothers) whose writings in "Das Kapital" changed the world. Since it was Shabbat and they charge an entrance fee, some of us could not go in, but when the guard saw us turning away he asked why and when we told him he waived the fee.

Wicked: My family thought we should all go to see the musical "Wicked" that is very popular. As far as I am concerned it should be popular with 5 year olds. I found it silly, predictable and the singing was replaced by loud shouting. We left during the interval, but the kids enjoyed it.

The White Rabbit: Mark, my wife's nephew, is a food entrepreneur, he now partly owns a pub, a restaurant and a bar. The restaurant is called "The White Rabbit," and is in Dalston, a place that was basically very down market when I was a kid. Now it is having a resurgence and Mark's restaurant has been part of the cause for that. His innovation is to prepare food not in the usual style of starter and main entree, but in three sizes, small, medium and large. People then share the contents of these three sizes of dishes. At first I found it a bit strange to be sharing, but you get used to it. Some of the dishes themselves were strange, such as mellon balls with peas, but others, such as mackerel or chicken were regular. It was an original dining experience and the ambience of the restaurant was young and buzzy.

Cambridge: We lived in Cambridge from 1961 for three years and have very fond memories. Although I have been back a few times, this was the first time my family had visited. We walked around a bit, but it was sad that the colleges now charge for entrance. We were able to see my former college, St. Catharine's, without payment. The highlight was getting in a punt and being punted up and down the river by a student. I don't remember if there were commercial punting companies when I was there, but now it is a regular tourrist industry. It certainly was the leisurely way to see the "backs," and everyone enjoyed it.
To be continued.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trains, buses and oysters

OK, so there are many reasons not to drive on vacation in England: 1. It's the wrong side of the road (left-hand side) driving; 2. The roads are extremely congested; 3. Every moment in the narrow lanes one expects a crash, so there is the stress of driving; 4. There is essentially no parking, the parking attendents (usually called by less pleasant names) are extremely vigilant, since they earn a percentage of their take. While we were there my friend Barry received two parking tickets, one when the voucher he placed on the dashboard was blown off when he shut the door of the car and a second when the attendant disputed the way he had filled out the form. It is massively unpleasant and expensive.

So once we returned our rented car we had instead to travel by public transport or taxi. The London Underground is a marvel of organized efficient rapid transport. BUT! In each station each line (we were on the Northern Line) is deliberately complex. For example the Northern Line has two bifurcations, making 4 possibilites and sometimes you can't get there from here. One day there was a problem with the signals on the Camden Town side during the rush hour and so we had to squeeze into the railcars that were absolutely full, you literally had to push yourself in against a wall of humanity. Simon and Sharon gave up and went up to the surface and took a cab, but the rest of us managed to travel. As I was being pushed from all sides in an extremely hot, humid car (no air conditioning) I dreamed of a sleek Mercedes rental car. But, that was an illusion.

And it is exhausting to get around, the train lines are placed maximal distances apart so you have to traipse along tunnels and corridors and up and down stairs and escalators following the signs and if you get lost forget it, there is no way out. Here is an example, we were in Knightsbridge visiting the Czech Torah Scroll Museum, and afterwards the others had decided to go to the British Museum. Since we were one stop from South Kensington station I decided we should visit the Science Museum there. But, when you come out of S. Kensington station there is an underground tunnel that stretches for miles, it literally vanishes into the distance and you trudge along this depressing thoroughfare with the crowds for miles and miles. On the way back I couldn't stand it, so we actually walked above ground. If you are going to the Science Museum why can't they transport you, or even have a modest escalator, its yesterday's technology, but they manage to have them at airports?

Then there are the Oyster Cards, don't ask me why they call them that, noone I asked knew. They are pre-paid cards that allow you to swipe a yellow surface on the automatic doors to go into and out of the system. By buying them you supposedly get a discount on each trip and you don't have to buy tickets for each trip. But, they charge an enormous amount for the cards (we paid £35 each) and then they stop working (wrong zone) and you have to "top them up," which also costs an arm and a leg. But, one advantage is that they also work on the buses as well as the Underground.

However, the Oyster Cards do not work on British Rail, the mainline trains, so when we went to Cambriudge it would ahve been very expensive, but Simon called and spoke to several people and found that they have cheap day family returns that cost only £11 each instead of 25. So a family of four can go for 44 pounds and an extra child pays only 1 pound. So we all went to Cambridge for less than 100 pounds.

I know you are wondering about the Czech Torah Scroll Museum and what we did in Cambridge, more of that next.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Know your limitations

Yes, I'm back! We have returned home to Israel after a wonderful and eventful two week stay in London. Although it went very well, it started out disastrously!

I had ordered a 9-seater mini-bus since there were 9 of us altogether, my son and daughter, their spouses and three grandchildren. Nevertheless, several people had warned us against driving in London, not only from the point of view of the congestion and the charges, but from the "wrong" side of the road driving, as as well as the difficulty in finding parking anywhere.

Six of us arrived at Heath Row from Israel at 8 pm on Aug 4 and we were at the car rental place by ca. 9 pm. They brought the van around and I was surprised to find that it was a manual shift, since I'm sure I had specified automatic. But, they told me they don't have mini-buses with automatic shift, so there was no choice, Hobson's choice. Driving on the wrong side of the road is bad enough but with a stick shift is worse, since I haven't driven one for years, and the van seemed enormous. But, I was confident enough in my abilities to take the challenge and so we drove off into the night.

It was a nightmare journey, with my son-in-law, Jeff, navigating. We had clear printed directions as well as a GPS on his i-phone. But, since I was not used to the width of the van on the wrong side of the road, we came close to the kerb several times, and Jeff screamed out in fear. I actually hit the kerb only twice, but it caused no damage, so we were basically alright, although when we arrived I must admit that Jeff was white.

We arrived on Highgate Hill and we saw number "62." Since we wanted "56" where I had rented the house we stopped and assumed we had arrived. But, there was no number "56." We looked around for a while and several of us thought it might be a scam. We went across the road to the pub to ask them and they were not able to help, but they allowed us to use their phone (we had two English phones waiting for us) and we called my friend who lives in Highgate. He told us that the number we wanted was probably further down the hill, so we continued driving for a way and sure enough the numbers changed and then began to rise again, until we found "56."

So we moved our luggage in and parked the car outside, which we were assured by the representative of the rental company who met us, was alright on Sun night until 8.30 am Mon morning. It was a great house and we were all happy with it, except my grandson who had to sleep on an airbed that had a leak, so he moved to a couch. The next morning we went out to the van and there was a parking ticket on it for £65! Later we called the company and they agreed that we should not have been charged and said they would take care of it.

So Jeff and I drove back to Heath Row on Mon morning to meet my son and his family coming in from San Francisco. When we arrived back at the the airport we could smell burning, but there was nothing we could do about it. We met my son and his family and the five of us drove back to Highgate. But as we drove the smell got worse and finally about 10 mins from the house the van refused to go anymore and I was lucky enough to be able to pull into a gas station, but they did no automotive work there.

So we called the rental company and they said they would send someone to fix it. I told them I didn't think it could be fixed there, since it was probably the clutch or gears and they should send a replacement vehicle but with automatic shift. There had unfortunately been an accident on Archway Road, one of the two main arteries in the area and so the traffic was backed up and hardly moving. Simon and family went off in a taxi and Jeff and I waited for over 2 hours until the repair man arrived. He confirmed that the van could not be fixed there, but he called his company not the rental company. Finally they admitted that it could not be fixed and agreed to send a substitute vehicle.

This took a further 2.5 hrs, so we were stuck there for 5 hrs altogether, from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm, when a nice silver Mercedes arrived on a tow truck. We were given the new car,with automatic drive and drove off back to our house. But, we could not park there, so we drove around for a while to look for a parking place, but could not find one. So we drove back to the house and as I was parking I hit the kerb, and would you believe it, I punctured a tire! It was clear to me that the kerbstone was razor sharp and that the Brits send people around to sharpen them to cause foreigners to have such punctures.

At this point I was essentially pissed off, if I were a woman I suppose I would have broken down and cried, but as it was I just gave up and went to sleep. Jeff decided to change the tire, but Simon said we had insurance so why bother, and he called the company and while I slept they came and replaced the tire. But, then we had a meeting and decided that we could not use the 5-seater for 9 of us, but I think it was because they feared what I might do next to the rental car. So we called the company and we cancelled the rental and asked them to take it back.

I parked the car in a nearby pub parking lot overnight and they charged me £20 and the next morning the company came and took the car away. So from then on we were on our own, facing the rigors of public transport.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Having a break

I was crawling around on the floor under my desk. Was I seeking enlightenment? No, actually I was sorting out the wires of the computer that I had just moved, when I stretched a bit too far and felt a sudden sharp pain in my lower right chest area. At first I thought I had pulled a muscle, but since it persisted and was very localized on the surface I thought it might be a broken rib (this happened to me once before). Of course, I could have blamed it on my grandson Rafi for forcing me to carry heavy furniture and boxes (that's meant to be a joke), but I decided to go to the doctor anyway.

I was taking a chance in going to the doc because he could have said, "yes its broken and you can't fly," when we are scheduled to leave for vacation in a few days. But, he gave me a permission slip for an x-ray and said "go and get one if it doesn't get better." Well, I had to know, so I went straight to the x-ray clinic and had a scan and they told me, "yes, you have a break, but its a very small one." So I was thinking what to do and I decided that I would not go back to the doc in case he told me I can't fly, when he called me while I was still in the car (yes, they are that efficient here). He said "I saw that you have a break," so I said "yes, a small one." So he replied, "well, since there's nothing we can do about it, come back to see me in a month and we'll do a follow-up x-ray." In other words, knowing that I'm flying next week, he was letting me off the hook.

So this is a warning to everyone, no strong hugs and no playful punches in the rib area. If it doesn't get worse then I'll be OK, and I have a painkiller to take. But, I won't be able to do any work such as cleaning up and clearing dishes, etc. I must rest as much as possible. How convenient since I'll be on vacation anyway.

So now I'm taking a break (ha, ha!), while I rest up in Jolly Olde and perhaps see some sights. Enjoy the rest of the hot summer, from your favorite blogger, Jack. And don't forget, "break a leg, or whatever..."