Friday, September 30, 2005

New Year - and the same old stories...

Well, unsurprisingly, the Irish doc didn’t call (but then they never do, do they?), which is possibly just as well because to be honest I’ve been too busy these past couple of weeks to go out with anyone (medically trained or otherwise). It’s Jewish New year next week and I have been swamped with pre-New Year organising at my synagogue. All the things I love about my little intimate community (the informality, the hands-on organisation, the small numbers) are also the things that make it bloody hard work on the big occasions. There is no luxury of simply turning up on the day and finding the hall ready, the books in place, the prayers prepared. It all has to be done by the members in advance. So I’ve been rushing around for two weeks ordering chairs, shipping books from the States, preparing newsletters etc. I’d suggest that I’m feeling like a headless chicken but, given the ancient tradition of using a chicken before Yom Kippur to expel our sins, it’s perhaps a dangerous analogy to use. Although, in my almost-vegetarian household there will be no chickens laying down their lives for my misdemeanors. And I doubt that the Almighty would be impressed with a nut cutlet offered for a year’s worth of religious transgressions.

Of course, it’s great to have a festival to look forward to, even though Jewish New Year is not exactly the celebratory knees-up that it may sound like. New Year’s Eve on December 24th is a world away from Rosh Hashana. No wild parties and excessive alcohol consumption for us. We have a slice of apple dipped in runny honey and two days of synagogue attendance in store for us, with interminable sermons and the fire and brimstone warnings of what will happen if we don’t repent. The New Year liturgy, while certainly stirring and very moving, is not for the faint hearted. I dare anyone to sit through ‘Who will live and who will die; who by fire and who before his time’ without feeling a little humbled and a tad concerned for the future. Auld Lang Syne it certainly isn’t.

Perhaps I’m overplaying the serious side to Jewish New Year. It is a Jewish holiday after all, so there is the obligatory over-eating to factor in. I have already managed to wangle three invitations for dinner, two for lunch and one for afternoon tea into a two-day festival. That’s on top of the mountain of honey cake we’ll be eating in shul, the apple and honey on the first night and the new fruits on the second. By the time we’ve also had our four courses – meaty on the first night, dairy on the second (it’s the rule) we’ll be looking forward to the fast just to get back to our ideal weight.

In between the various New Year preparations I had Scrappino’s Chaggigat Hachumash yesterday. It’s a new ceremony that has been instituted at his school. Roughly translated it means ‘Bible Celebration’ and the children in Scrappino’s class were celebrating receiving their first Bible. Basically, it involved the children receiving a book they can’t read from a Rabbi they don’t know who addressed them in a language they don’t understand. So, your typical Jewish ceremony really.

All the parents arrived at school at 8.40 am and the kids went straight inside to get changed. The show began at 9.00 am. Or rather, it should have begun at 9.00 but we had to wait 20 minutes while the parents all waved, blew kisses and gesticulated wildly at the children they had last seen less than twenty minutes previously. By the same token, none of the children could stay still in position until they had made eye contact with their parents in the audience. The children performed a presentation on the story of Creation, where each day was explained via a song, a small sketch and a traditional Rabbinic parable. Given that each day took about eight minutes to cover, and there are six days of creation plus the Sabbath, we were in for the long haul.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow the story or the explanations properly since the children had been given absolutely no training in either throwing their voices when singing or holding the microphone far enough away from their mouths so that we could hear beyond the static hissing. Scrappino tried his best, but his microphone skills leave a lot to be desired. He held it so close to his mouth that he sounded like a gangsta rapper.

The visiting Rabbi sat in the audience alongside the proud parents while the kids danced, sang and mumbled their way through 45 minutes worth of Hebrew songs and Bible stories. It was bad enough for us parents; at least we could watch proudly from the hall as our little darlings performed for the crowd. And it’s amazing how educated and intelligent adults suddenly lose all sense of proportion as soon as they see their children perform on stage. I lost count of the number of parents who told me afterwards “I’m thinking of sending him/her to drama classes. He’s clearly got a natural talent for acting”. But the Rabbi had no such excuse and the whole thing must have seemed interminable for him. Still, he got his own back by launching into a ridiculous story in his pre-presentation speech that lasted almost as long as the kids’ show. For some reason he thought that a bunch of 8 year olds born in the final years of the 20th Century, would be interested in a story about a King and his trusted advisor Yankel. I could see all the blank looks on the kids faces as they looked at each other as if to say “What name??”. You can’t move in Scrappino’s class for Zaks and Ethans and Harrys. What the hell are they going to do with a story about a chap called Yankel?

By the time the Rabbi got to the part in the story where the king dresses up as a poor peddler the childrens’ eyes had glazed over. And frankly, I was ready to lick my own eyeballs from boredom. Poor peddlers? Houses in the forest?? Why do Rabbis always tell stories about merchants and fish and old women living in forests? Has nobody told them that we don’t actually live in Eastern Europe anymore? And that nobody we know who’s alive today remembers anyone who ever did. Why does every religious message worth spreading have to revolve around some Lithuanian outpost and a herring that swallowed some diamonds?

After the Rabbi had finished his Slovakian folk tale the parents and children were treated to cakes and biscuits. Lots of them. The table was positively groaning with food. All in all, I thought, the whole celebration was the perfect preparation for the High Holy Days. A Rabbi sermonizing on a different way of life for a different time; the congregation sitting on the most uncomfortable chairs possible for an interminable amount of time; children spending half an hour singing songs they don’t understand before over indulging on cake. It pretty much sums up the festival.

If you’re celebrating – have a sweet and good one!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What's in a name?

Okay. I have been debating whether or not to update the blog with this particular bit of news. Some readers (specifically, those related to me) are almost certainly going to be a bit annoyed/hurt/upset by this, but it's the only bit of exciting news I have to report. And in the world of blogging, no news is definitely not good news. No news is the road to blog suicide.

Of course, that's partly my own fault. When I set up this blog I made two fatal mistakes. Firstly, I started the blog as nothing more than an online journal, in the (what I realise now was ridiculous) belief that my life warranted the kind of daily exposure that a blog demands. What was I thinking?? Did I really imagine that I could fill a daily blog with tales of wild parties, encounters with celebrities and pearls of contemporary wisdom? If only! What on earth prompted me to imagine that my daily work-childcare-TV-sleep routine would be at all interesting to others? Secondly, I told all my nearest and dearest about the blog which is great in the first couple of months, when the hit-counter is king and you need all the visitors you can get to keep up the momentum and avoid the blog from self destructing. But now, nine (yes, nine) months on, it does make things all rather awkward. How much do I reveal? How much do I disguise? Do I really want people I know to read this stuff? Is it time to pack it all in and start again (only next time, keep it totally confidential?)

But it's too late to worry about that now. In for a penny, as they say. And, if need be, I can always claim the whole thing is wishful thinking and pure fiction. Let's face it, we could all do with some at one time or another. So, here goes. On Saturday night, I had a date. So far, so good. In fact, so far, so very good indeed. The chap in question was (presumably still is) a good-looking, tall, intelligent, doctor (consultant no less), who speaks fluent Hebrew and laughed at my jokes. What more could a Jewish girl (or her mother) wish for?

We met via a certain Jewish dating site that will remain nameless. (Remaining nameless is what the site does best. Every Jewish singleton in London knows about the site. They are almost all registered on it. And those who are not registered secretly surf it just to see who is registered. But nobody ever mentions it. It's the new love that dare not speak its name.)

The said doctor sent me an email via the site and asked me if I would like to meet him for a coffee. And in e-dating protocol, I ignored his message completely until I had checked out his profile, downloaded his photographs, emailed them to a couple of friends for their thoughts, and dissected what he'd written, line by line.

He opened with the classic line "I am not your typical Jewish man". This immediately set alarm bells ringing because pretty much every man on the site describes himself as 'not your typical Jewish man'. Which is ironic, because over 60% of them are lawyers, 75% live in North-West London and 80% are bald. There's even a chap called Jeremy in Borehamwood who scores for all three. And even he describes himself as "not your average Jewish chap". So, needless to say, I was a little wary of his claims to individuality. But there was no reason to doubt. It turns out that he really is 'not your typical Jewish man', mainly because he isn't actually a Jewish man at all. He's a man. Just not a Jewish man. In fairness to him, he did make this clear in his profile. (And his full head of hair and 6"1" height should have given the game away too). But I must admit I did think it was rather odd. I mean, why post your profile on a Jewish dating site if you're not Jewish? What sane Anglo-Saxon male would specifically try to date a Jewish girl? Who are the role models that these men are inspired by? Ruby Wax? Edwina Currie? Monica Lewinsky? (Well, okay, I can see the attraction of a quick Lewinsky on a first date, but you get my point). What on earth would prompt an eligible English bachelor (and a doctor, to boot) to try to find a Jewish girlfriend.

I'm not one to ignore emails (least of all from tall, handsome, doctors asking me if I'd like to go out for coffee) so I replied to his question with a question (well, if he's dating Jewish girls he's gonna have to get used to that). I asked, quite simply "What are you doing on a Jewish dating site?" to which he replied "Having a fabulous time". Well, at least you can't accuse him of dishonesty.

So, we got emailing, and we asked each other all the usual pre-date email stuff - Where do you live? Where did you go to school? What are your brothers/sisters called? And the most amazing thing happened. I realised that I was asking these questions but had genuinely no idea what the answers would be. Usually, when you ask these questions, you don't really read the replies because you can guarantee a combination of 'I live in Hendon/West Hampstead/Edgware', 'I went to school at Habs/UCH/City of London' 'My brothers/sisters are called Simon/Michael/Sarah'. But this was different. There was no second guessing or same 'ol same 'ol about his replies. He's from an area of London that doesn't have 19 synagogues, 4 kosher bakeries and a Jewish primary school. He went to a school that has the word Saviour in the title and his brothers are not all named after Old Testament heroes.

Actually, it was the names that really brought home to me how 'other world' this all was. You think you're an integrated, assimilated member of British society, and then you go on a date with a non-Jewish chap and you realise that there's a whole other world out there. I'm not going to give his name here. I have enough misgivings about all the self-revelation; I'm hardly going to start exposing others. But let's just say that his name was, ethnically, along the lines of Seamus O'Malley. Or Eamonn O'Brady. You get the picture. And when we discussed the names of our brothers and sisters he came up with names like Brendan, Siobahn and Ciaran. Needless to say, there are no Ciaran's in my immediate family. And, by the same token, I doubt he is related to anyone with a gutteral letter in their name.

That said, he was a thoroughly charming person and I had a lovely evening. Would I like to see him again? Possibly. Will it all end in tears? Probably. But was it better than the date I had recently with a Jewish chap introduced to me via a professional Jewish matchmaker? Definitely.

And at least it got me out the house, and, in blog terms, writing about dates with Irish strangers beats updating on the progress of my bathroom or Scrappino's fixation with Freddie Flintoff any day.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

No present like the time

Oh, I do love a good pun. "No present like the time". Geddit? In case I'm not being clear enough, my five-year service award arrived today. You may remember (see post for August 3rd, '05) that I recently had to choose an 'award' in recognition of completing a half-decade of loyal service at work. Amid the competition for my affections were wooden carriage clocks, cheap ball-point pens, bird-watching binoculors and china figurines of Georgian urchins (the kind that your mum has on her mantlepiece). I chose the silver (plated) ladies watch and it arrived this morning, complete with 'Congratualtions' (sic) sticker on the tin and the company logo etched onto the side. My boss gave it to me this morning while he was handing out the FedEx boxes and the overnight faxes.

I hope I'm not sounding ungrateful. It really was a very nice gesture on the part of my employers and the watch is actually lovely. And I also know that the trick to successful living and a happy heart is to find the positive in any given situation and avoid the lure of the 'if only's and the 'what if's. But I must just say that whenever I have day-dreamed and imagined someone giving me a present of a silver watch and saying 'Happy 5th Anniversary', this wasn't quite what I had in mind.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Cricket update...

Oh, me of little faith! We did it - we bloody did it. Far from having to placate an inconsolable 8-year old, I found myself having to calm down an uncontrollable one. By the time Scrappino got home from school, victory was pretty much in the bag. But that didn't make the final couple of hours any less exciting. And when confirmation finally came that we'd won the match, the two of us screamed with delight. No, really, we did. If this was an audio-blog I'd prove it to you by talking in my now nearly-hoarse voice.

Already, the tabloid souvenir pull-outs, DVD replays, and commemoration posters are on sale in the shops. My boss arrived at work today with a "We won the Ashes" T-shirt. And Scrappino noticed in the high street window an advert for a playstation cricket game with Freddie Flintoff on the front of the box. I'm not sure playing computerised cricket is going to teach Scrappino to play as well as Flintoff. It's playing the game for real that counts. And, as if to prove the point, this morning on the radio there was an interview with kids from Freddie's old junior school who were being coached in 'little cricket' by the same teacher who'd taught Freddie. That's how to get the kids playing the game. Even Sid Perks knows that (oh, an Archers reference. And it's only taken me eight months...)

I asked Scrappino if he plays cricket at school. The answer, unsurprisingly, is no. Although, he proudly reminded me, the school now has a multicoloured ladder and hoop thing in the hall. Great. That'll be just fine. Who needs dedicated coaching and early skills training in a world class sport when the kids can jump off monkey bars onto a rubber mat??

Monday, September 12, 2005

Howzat!

It is impossible to concentrate on work this morning. I am trying not to think about the cricket but it's proving hopeless. I resisted the urge to install the bbc desktop test update thingy in a bid to get my head down and do some work. But my colleague is following the game religiously and keeps jumping up out of his chair whenever the tension gets too much for him. I can keep track of the score by counting the number of times he leaves the office; every time a wicket falls he dashes out for a cigarette. So he's had 5 fag breaks in one morning. So much for sport keeping you healthy.

Meanwhile, I am already worrying about what state Scrappino will be in when he comes home from school and discovers that we are heading for another classic England batting collapse. Yesterday we sat glued to the box. I could hear my mother's voice in my head "It's a beautiful day. What are you doing stuck inside??" But we just couldn't budge. And when Australia were finally bowled out we jumped for joy. Literally. Not an easy thing for a 30-something female to admit to. Mind you, I did have to raise a smile when the crowd at the Oval cheered when the Umpires declared bad light and halted play. Imagine spending 100 quid on a ticket to watch a live match and then cheering when play is suspended. Still, if the sun keeps shining, our wickets keep falling and Warne keeps spinning there's not going to be much to cheer about tonight. Watch this space...I may need some emergency tips for placating an inconsolable 8-year-old...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Nothing to report

I feel I should update. Sadly, there is (as the title suggests) nothing to report. I have had no reply to my email to Jonathan Freedland, inviting him to join my shul (August 10th post), though he seems to manage to respond to invitations to whitter on with abandon on the Today programme (3 times this month?!); my bathroom (August 5th post) has still not been fitted. The builder was delayed by some dodgy pipework that needed to be replaced and a bit of aggro from my neighbours who were unhappy with the noise. But it's all right now because he (the builder, not the neighbour) is currently enjoying a week's holiday in Antigua while Scrappino and I brush our teeth in the kitchen sink and shower in our friends' houses like refugees; meanwhile my five-year service award (August 3rd post) has still not arrived. Call me churlish, but how long does it take to dispatch one imitation-silver ladies watch? I'm tempted to ask one of those convoluted maths questions "If it takes an American 6 days to send a convoy from Washington to New Orleans, how long does it take to send a watch from New York to London". Or would that be in poor taste, given the circumstances?

But, after the long summer, life is getting back to normal, pretty much. Scrappino is back in school and seems to be enjoying himself. So far he's had no homework other than being told to back his exercise books with sticky backed plastic. I did the first one for him, but with little success; I managed to stick the front side of the book to the carpet, crinkled the back so badly that it looks like an old lady's veiny thigh and ripped the first couple of pages clean out when they got caught on the sticky plastic by mistake. He insisted that I leave the others for him to do himself. Kids today are so ungrateful.

On Tuesday I went to a 'Meet the Teacher' evening. She was lovely (actually she was gorgeous - if Scrappino was a few years older I'd be looking for the tell-tale signs of his first crush). She's a northener, and endeared herself to me by referring to the school "class" (rather than 'clarse'). Scrappino still finds it hysterical that I tell him to have a "bath" instead of a "barth". I wonder how he'll cope with a double-pronged northern accent attack from mother and teacher?

After we'd met the teacher we sat in the assembly hall for a talk given by the headteacher. I'd expected an in-depth discussion on the curriculum for the year, what period of history they'd be learning, what books they'd be reading, what maths level they would be attaining. Instead we were treated to a half-hour demonstration of the new PE equipment. (All the parents have been religiously collecting Sainsbury's vouchers for the past year and finally the money was spent on a new gymnastics system for the school hall. I say gymnastics system. It's really a couple of ladders, a wooden hoop and monkey bar. Oh, and I think there's a rope too. Thousands of pounds worth of kit kats and yogurt and this is what we had to show for it.) So instead of telling us what academic level the kids will reach this year, we were assured that PE is now the school's number 1 priority. Who needs basic arithmetic and the ability to spell when you can land safely, remembering to bend the knees? Perhaps I'm being unfair? After all, there is more to school than just books and lessons. And they do say a healthy body makes a healthy mind. But it's not exactly going to look good on his secondary school application. "Scrappino is unable to spell but can shimmy head first through a wooden hoop and balance for five minutes on a rope ladder." (I don't think shimmy is the exact gymnastic technical term they used)

When he's not doing sport at school, Scrappino is watching it at home. He has caught the cricket bug from my Dad, although it seems to be taking the whole nation by storm, and I can't escape it for a moment. Yesterday, he watched the test match from the minute he got home from school and even tried to do his homework while Richie Benaud prattled on about silly-mid-off and inside-leg. Unsurprisingly, he couldn't concentrate on the ball-by-ball coverage and on covering his books with sticky backed plastic and so managed to make as much of a pig's ear of it as England made of their first innings. That'll teach him.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A fond farewell to my Grandpa

Thank you to everyone who called, emailed and wrote to me over the past couple of days. Your very kind thoughts are much appreciated.

When I started this blog I hadn't intended to include so much personal information. I'd wanted to keep a discreet distance, not letting on my name, whereabouts or personal comings and goings. But it's taken on a life of its own and I've found myself disclosing more personal thoughts than I had anticipated.

So, I'll beg your indulgence one more time. My wonderful Grandpa passed away on Wednesday. I had the amazing good fortune to spend much of last week with him in Bournemouth and we had a fabulous time. The sun shone and Grandpa, in spite of his 90 years, was in wonderful health, as he'd always been. We played crazy golf, sat on the beach, treated ourselves to a traditional Dorset cream tea, and took lots of photos. My brothers and sisters were there too, with their children, and he was so thrilled to spend time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And it's such a comfort to us to have such happy - and recent - memories to hold on to.

On Tuesday he called and told me that he'd played a round of golf that morning and was just about to go out and play bridge. And on Wednesday morning, he passed away peacefully, at home, and with dignity, healthy and vital to the very last. What a blessing to live so well, so long, and so happily.

It's tempting to wax lyrical about him now. But since we only ever speak well of the dead I'm reluctant to go overboard, for fear of readers assuming that my thoughts are the usual platitudes that are offered after a death. What really matters is how we are regarded in life. So, for the real affection and love that I had for Grandpa - read my entry for March 7th 2005. That's how I'll remember a much loved, and greatly missed, Grandpa M.