Friday, October 28, 2005

Hot chocolate

I have debated over the past 24 hours as to whether or not I should blog this. It’s a rather personal story (nothing new there then), not just about me, but about Scrappino as well. Indeed, it reveals far more about Scrappino that the usual ‘he loves to play cricket/he watches too much Dr Who’ than is generally found on this site. For my part, I’ve willingly entered the egotistical, self-revelatory arena of blogland and I have to take any uncomfortable exposure that comes with that. But Scrappino hasn’t. He’s only here by default, and I am conscious that it’s not fair to expose him to too much public scrutiny.

That said, I really do want to share something that happened over the past couple of days. So, with the requisite advance apology to Scrappino, here is the story.

On Tuesday, I took Scrappino to the O2 centre in Finchley. It’s a small(ish) shopping centre with a lot of restaurants and cafes, a cinema and a branch of ‘Books etc’. Scrappino and I go once every couple of months and, Scrappino being a creature of habit, we enjoy the same routine every visit. First we have lunch at Nandos, then we watch a film and then we pop into Books etc on the way home and treat ourselves to a book. It’s the same thing every time. Lunch, film, book, home.

So, on Tuesday, we went to the O2. We had lunch at Nandos, watched a film (Wallace and Gromit) and then went into Books etc and had a browse. I chose a guide book to Athens (have I mentioned that I am going on holiday to Athens next week?) and Scrappino chose a Dr Who novel (yes, they make books of the bloody thing too). I paid for the books and gave the bag to Scrappino to hold while I went to sort out the ticket for the car park. And then we went home. So far so good.

We’d been home for about an hour when I decided to check out the Athens guide book, so looked in the bag for the book. Inside the Books etc bag was my Athens guide book, Scrappino’s Dr Who novel and a bar of chocolate. I was puzzled. Scrappino often asks me to buy chocolate if we’re at the supermarket or in a shop queue, (shopkeepers always leave the chocolate on a shelf perfectly placed for kids to see them). But I knew for a fact that he hadn’t asked me for any chocolate that day, and I certainly hadn’t paid for any. How did the chocolate bar get there?? It would have been simple for Scrappino to quickly knock a bar of Galaxy into the bag while nobody was looking. It was the only possible explanation.

I know that all kids go through a stage of stealing sweets. We’ve all done it. It’s part of growing up. A right of passage. But it’s also part of parenting to come down like a tonne of bricks the minute you first catch your child stealing. You have to make them realise the consequences of their actions; drum home that there are some misdemeanours that are just not acceptable, which go beyond the odd sarcastic aside to the teacher or forgetting to do your homework. And stealing is one of those. You have to stamp it out from the start.

And so I asked Scrappino, quite calmly, given my horror/anger/shock/disappointment. “How did this chocolate get in here?” Scrappino looked shocked. “I don’t know” he replied, and looked me straight in the eyes. I recall reading somewhere that you can tell when a child is lying because they look straight at you and their eyes don’t blink. Scrappino was wide-eyed, unblinking and definite in his answers. I knew he was fibbing.

“Scrappino” I explained, “I’m not going to shout. I just want to know how the chocolate ended up in the bag”. Scrappino, still maintaining eye contact, replied “I really don’t know. I’ve never seen it before”.

I began to feel exasperated. “Okay, look” I said, “I know how much you love chocolate. I guess you saw it there and really wanted it. And you knew I’d say no because we’d just had lunch and so you thought you’d just, you know, take it. Is that what happened?”

Scrappino didn’t flinch. “No. I don’t know how it got there”.

I started to worry. Not only has my pride and joy nicked a chocolate bar from right under my nose, but he’s doing a brilliant job of lying about it. I tried changing tactics and opted for the old George Washington approach.

“Look Scrappino. I’m really not going to get cross. I’m not angry that you stole the chocolate. Well, I am, a little. But I’m more upset about the lies. Tell me the truth. Did you steal the chocolate?”

“No” said Scrappino, “I didn’t steal the chocolate”.

I was clean out of ideas. I’d tried gentle persuasion, accusation, reverse psychology, the lot. And he still wouldn’t own up.

“Fine. Well, until you tell the truth, and admit what happened, the chocolate is going in the bin. And you can’t read your new Dr Who book. Okay?” and I took the Dr Who book out of the bag and put it on the top of my cupboard out of Scrappino’s reach.

All that evening I thought about the chocolate. About Scrappino stealing it. And about his refusal to own up, even after being caught red-handed. And all night the new Dr Who book sat in the top of my wardrobe, unread and the chocolate lay in the bin, uneaten.

The next day Scrappino and I went to shul (we do occasionally) where we met some friends. They invited us to join them that afternoon at the O2 centre to watch a film. Scrappino and I gave each other knowing glances, but agreed to tag along. And so, 24 hours after the great chocolate robbery, Scrappino and I found ourselves back at the O2. (Nanny McPhee this time). Before the film started Scrappino’s friends decided to pop into Books etc and we went along as well. I noticed a book that I’ve been trying to find for a while and so, while the kids were mucking about in the ‘Kidz Zone’ I went to pay for the book. The chap behind the counter took my card, and as I was signing the credit card slip, he put the book in a bag. He then took a bar of chocolate from behind the counter and put it in the bag. “We’re doing a special promotion this week. A bar of Galaxy with every purchase. Enjoy”. And he handed me the bag.

I was struck dumb. Then mumbled “erm, thanks. Excuse me a moment. I have to apologise profusely to my son….”

During the entire film I couldn’t help thinking about the whole episode. What does it say about me? That I jump to conclusions? That I can’t tell when Scrappino is lying (or, as it turned out, when he’s telling the truth). That I was so convinced that I was right that I couldn’t hear what he was saying? And what does it say about Scrappino. That he’s not a thief, clearly. But also, I thought quite proudly, that he stuck to his guns. He knew he’d not nicked the chocolate. It would have been so easy for him to just admit it to stop me going on about it. Or to get his new Dr Who book back. But he knew he’d not done anything wrong and, as it happened, was much better at sticking to the truth than I’d given him credit for. There was no bending under pressure or faltering or saying what he thought I wanted to hear. He doggedly stuck to the truth.

He accepted my apology very gracefully. “Told you” he said. “Oh, and does that mean I can eat the chocolate?”

“Yes” I replied, “you can eat the chocolate.” And he did.

And I ate humble pie.

Friday, October 21, 2005

"...you will dwell in booths for seven days..."

I am feeling rather the worse for wear today after a very late night building a succah. I know, we're already four days into the festival - this should have been done last week. But I'm not talking about a real succah (be fair - I live in a first floor flat with no balcony or garden). I'm talking about a model succah for Scrappino's school succah building competition.

I thought it would be a piece of cake. After all, when we were kids, we used to build our model succah in less than an hour. Take one shoe box, cut out a door and a couple of windows, lay a few random twigs on top, draw some miniature pictures on the walls and plonk a few lego men inside. And hey presto - a scaled down tabernacle fit for a king!

Not any more. Nowadays succah building is a lot more sophisticated. An old Clarke's box just doesn't cut it. The models on display in the school hall are nothing short of state-of-the-art. I saw one yesterday morning with a sliding roof, complete with fully functional pulley system that slides the roof off to reveal an immaculately laid table with real food. I kid you not. Marzipan chicken on the plates and marzipan wine in the tiny silver (foil) cups. Another had a battery stuck to the back wall which operated real coloured lights in the s'chach.

Kids today are so competitive. Or, more accurately, the parents of kids today are so competitive. Years ago, our parents would put some old loo rolls, a packet of felt pens and some tissue paper on the dining room table and just leave us to it. Now, the parents are hands-on and fully involved. One of the mums told me this morning that she had started work on their model succah in mid-September. That's over four weeks ago! Admittedly, the final result was a masterpiece, with home-made model people holding miniature lulav and etrog and curtains that opened and closed in front of real (well, cellophane, but still definitely see-through) windows.

What used to be a competition for kids to build a model succah out of scraps of rubbish left round the house has become a lucrative business for the local stationers and art shops. Shoe boxes are out. Sparkly hologram boxes with tinsel edging is in. A couple of twigs and a handful of leaves for the roof is out. Silk bouquet stems with miniature fruit and flowers is in. And this stuff isn't cheap. If you want to build a winning model succah you have to be prepared to put your hand in your pocket.

Personally, I think it's a real shame when the kids' efforts are so obviously the work of their parents. And the sad thing is that the one kid in the class who actually does make the model himself doesn't have a cat in hell's chance of winning because, frankly, compared to the others, his succah looks crap. Who'd vote for the shoe-box with random dinosaur model inside (well, not everyone has lego, and Scrappino went through a very long dinosaur fixation) when the competition is fully carpeted throughout, with understairs storage space and a moveable roof?

As a result, Scrappino decided that his entry into the competition needed a bit of updating, so he took it home again on the sly yesterday and revamped it somewhat. Out went the dinosaur and the matchbox table. In went pipe cleaner people (some standing, some sitting down), a table with real material tablecloth (one less handkerchief for me to use when bird flu hits London) and, the piece de resistance, rolled up leaves snipped off my birthday roses to serve as hollishkes (you can't have a succah without hollishkes, can you?). He managed to sneak it back into the school hall this morning without anyone realizing that it had been and gone overnight.

I'm not sure that Scrappino is going to win. Our last ditch attempt to improve the original version is unlikely to compete with the Foster-inspired tabernacle architecture on offer. But at least we gave it a go. I had to stay up late putting the finishing touches on the model which is totally against the spirit of the competition. But if you can't beat 'em, you've got to join 'em. It's a dog eat dog world out there.

The parental meddling in the Succah competition was not the only cruel introduction that Scrappino has received this week into the unsavoury side of adult life. He received a letter yesterday from a firm of insolvency lawyers, inviting him to a creditors meeting. It seems that a small publishing firm (I can't even remember the name, they're that small) has recently gone bankrupt. Not groundbreaking news in itself. But this firm happens to publish a kid's magazine called 'Find Out' for Dorling Kindersley. I bought Scrappino a year's subscription to the magazine for his birthday. Well, I figured it was better than the Simpsons comic, less terrifying than Dr Who Monthly and it is (well, it was) delivered to the door. And Scrappino loves getting post. Unfortunately, six months on, we found out that 'Find Out' has gone under. Scrappino is still owed six issues and so has been invited to the creditors meeting to discuss the insolvency arrangements. I'm not particularly confident that he has much hope of recovering his £13.80. I suspect the Inland Revenue might have a heftier claim to settle first. Still, that money would have come in handy. Think of the model succah we could have built with that cash.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dr Who?

Q. When is a heart throb not a heart throb?


I may have mentioned that our home has recently become a shrine dedicated to the religion (and it really is just that) of Dr Who. Scrappino has never been a sci-fi fan, and I have only vague (and frankly terrifying) memories of watching Dr Who as a child. So it was with only mild interest on both our parts that we sat down earlier this year to watch the new series of Dr Who, starring the rather lovely, but at that time almost unknown (to me, at any rate) Christopher Eccleston.

By the time the end credits rolled 45 minutes later, Scrappino and I were both hooked. He was smitten with the fantasy, the story telling and the adventure. I was smitten by Eccleston’s smack-yer-mother good looks and hard Salford accent. The next week we were both ready and waiting to watch the second episode, and then the third. We were Dr Who addicts for 12 long, glorious, Gallifreyan weeks.

Now the people at the BBC are very clever. They know how to keep addicted viewers supplied with their sci-fi fix. Within weeks of the series’ end, the DVDs were on sale. Not the whole series in one go, obviously. BBC pushers are too clever for that. They released the DVDs one by one, over a period of four months, so that we could experience the same anticipation, the same excitement, the same rush of fulfilment with each release that we had enjoyed during the series. (And it only cost me £12.99 a pop).

Now the thing about kids is that, if they like a particular TV programme, they’ll happily watch it over and over again, regardless of how many times they’ve seen it. And Scrappino really likes his Dr Who. So he began watching them on a loop, to the point of being able to recite whole scenes, whole episodes almost, off by heart. Whenever my friends called and asked what I was doing, I replied “watching Dr Who”. Before long, they stopped asking what I was doing and instead inquired “what episode are you watching now?”

So, slowly but shortly, in 45 minute increments, Christopher Eccleston seeped into my psyche. He may have notoriously protruding ears and a ridiculously (some would say Semitically) long nose, but compared to the Daleks, Autons and other alien competition, he began to appear extremely easy on the eye. Obviously, I had to get over the slightly paedophilic relationship between the 900 year old Dr and the 19 year old Billie Piper (not easy, considering that the last time I’d seen her she had been dancing in the street with a bunch of 12 year olds singing “Because we want to! Because we want to!”). But relationship age-gaps and CGI effects notwithstanding, Eccleston became a constant feature in our living room. And who can blame me? I defy any red-blooded, single, 30-something woman to spend hours watching Eccleston in leather jacket and hob-nail boots, staring broodily at the Dalek fleet, and not feel at least the slightest heart flutter. Put it this way, the fantasy was not restricted to alien invasions and stellar landscapes. While Scrappino stared at the green monsters, I stared at Eccleston. And on some nights, after a glass or two of red wine, I could have sworn that Eccleston stared back.



Anyone who knows me well will testify that I am not one to do things by halves. If I do something, I like to do it properly. When I went through my Beatles phase (does 20+ years and still going strong count as a phase?) I didn’t just own every LP (remember them?). I collected every song, every book, every photo, every newspaper article I could find. Others might accuse me of being obsessed. Personally, I like to think that I was just being thorough. It happened again when I discovered David Gray. I don’t mean ‘discovered’ in that sense. I’d not have just spent three months fitting a standard MFI bathroom if I’d discovered David Gray. But you know what I mean. When I first became aware of his music I had to own every CD he’d released. I scoured record shops for his entire back catalogue. Owning White Ladder wasn’t enough. I had to own his entire output. (Some might say that, in the case of David Gray, owning one CD is pretty much tantamount to owning them all, since all his songs sound the bloody same. But people who say that have no soul.)

Anyway, I am digressing. The point is that when I become fixated with something, or someone, it doesn’t take long for fixation to become obsession. And that’s exactly what happened with my Christopher Eccleston fixation. First off, I searched the internet for information about what he’d appeared in. I bought DVDs of TV shows he’d starred in. I started with ‘Our Friends in the North’. (A masterpiece, by the way. Admittedly, there is a hell of a lot of dialogue about housing policy, but it sweeps through forty years of British history, taking the viewer on a journey of four decades of love, betrayal, dreams, despair; all of life is there. It’s the kind of TV you can watch on a mid-week evening and not feel remotely like you’re wasting your time. And Eccleston, it goes without saying, is magnificent in it.)

Next, I watched ‘Second Coming’. Written by Russell T Davies, it tells the story of the 2nd coming of Jesus, who returns to earth in the form of a 30-year old chap from Manchester. The basic premise is this: if you believe that Jesus will one day come a second time (and, let’s face it, billions do), he’s likely to look and sound like one of us. So, what would happen if he looked and sounded like, say, a 30-year old chap from Manchester. Or, put another way, what if he looked and sounded like Christopher Eccleston. Now I’m not saying that Christopher Eccleston is a god. Not even I could be that blasphemous. But that’s the premise of the drama. And it’s very cleverly developed. Interestingly (and I use that word advisedly. I mean, of course, interestingly for Christopher Eccleston addicts who have also watched every episode of the ninth Dr Who), the writer of ‘Second Coming’ wrote most of the Eccleston episodes of Dr Who. And the two have a very similar style. Christopher Eccleston’s Dr Who does, on occasion, sound like Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount before he saves all of mankind forever. Which, seeing as he is about to destroy the very last surviving Dalek in the galaxy, I suppose he is.

And so, in the space of a week, I treated myself to 14 hours (it didn’t seem like that at the time, but now, reading the DVD inserts, I see that that’s what it was) of total Christopher Eccleston immersion.

Like any addict, I had to have more. I knew he had starred in Cracker. But after a hard day at work I couldn’t face the thought of wallowing in such misery, not even to catch a glimpse of Christopher Eccleston. Though I’m told his murder scene is terrific. Plus, in our house at least, Robbie Coltrane is one thing and one thing only. And that’s Hagrid. I can’t risk Scrappino stumbling into the lounge and being confronted with the sight of the loveable giant wizard drunk and swearing and cursing every woman he’s ever known.

I had similar misgivings about watching Christopher Eccleston in the film Jude, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. I’ve only read two books by Hardy. The first was Tess of the D’Urbevilles, a book so utterly depressing that it’s enough to plunge the most elated of readers into the depths of despair. I thought, erroneously, that this was a one-off and so I then tried Jude the Obscure. I have never read a book so unremittingly miserable as this. Just when you think the plot can’t get any more gloomy, you turn the page and it’s even more awful than the last one. Every character endures a fate more terrible than the last, so unrelentingly desperate that by the end of the book, the reader is ready to slash his (or her) wrists just to forget the plot. There was no way I was prepared to sit through 120 minutes of such desperation, no matter how fixated I might be with the lead actor.

A cursory search on Google then led me to reviews of ‘A Price Above Rubies’. The reviews, I’m sorry to report, were almost universally negative. They admit (happily for this die-hard fan) that Eccleston’s performance was excellent, but the film as a whole, its plot and its premise, were slated by all the reviewers that I came across. The story, it seems, revolves around a Jewish woman, played by Rene Zellweger, who is married to an Orthodox Jewish man (from the photographs I suspect he’s Lubavitch) who falls in love with, and eventually has an affair with, her equally Orthodox brother-in-law. (I wonder if he had her after Shalom Aleichem). The brother-in-law is played by Christopher Eccleston. And this is when my Christopher Eccleston fixation started to falter. One film site generously posted a huge number of still shots from the film. There, in full technicolour glory, was Christopher Eccleston, dressed in hat, suit, tzitzit, tallis and, in one photo, massive black velvet kippa. There is even a photograph of Christopher Eccleston holding a silver cup, about to make Kiddush. And so, with one click of the mouse, the Eccleston pack of cards came tumbling down. How is a girl supposed to fantasise about a ruggedly handsome Northern hero when he’s dressed in tallis and tephilin? The Eccleston fest is officially over. Fun while it lasted, but now, very definitely over. As I stated when I began this post.

Q. When is a heart throb not a heart throb.

A. When he looks uncannily like every rabbi you have ever known....

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Filling the gaps

I feel I should explain my 10 day absence from blogging. I won't give you a blow-by-blow account (sadly, no pun intended) as it's just not possible to fit 10 days into a single post. So, instead, here are the edited highlights.

1. It was Yom Kippur. Given my frank and oft-repeated admissions of religious guilt on this site, you will appreciate that I needed every one of the 25 hours of the Day of Atonement to do justice to a year's worth of sins and misdemeanors. And, considering how difficult I find it to stay in synagogue for two hours on the occasional Saturday morning, an entire day spent in shul is more than enough to afflict my soul. I must admit that I didn't manage to attend all five services. Of course, not even I could miss Kol Nidrei. In fact, I actually turned up, with the correct shoes and prayer book, on time. I also did something that I never normally do in synagogue. (No, I didn't pray, don't be ridiculous); I made Scrappino sit next to me in the main service while the Chazan (well, actually it was a Chazzanit, but that's a whole other story) sang the Kol Nidrei prayer three times. I'm not sure why I forced him to stay in for this service. Nostalgia perhaps? I remember sitting next to my mother, squirming for the entire service on the wooden chair (why is synagogue seating so bloody uncomfortable?) and thinking we'd got to the end of the prayer when suddenly the Chazzan would begin all over again from the beginning.

Don't get me wrong. Kol Nidrei is a beautiful prayer with a stirring tune. And it would be a shame for Scrappino to miss out on this as he's growing up. But I have to admit to being quite pleased that Scrappino found the whole thing so interminably dull that I am confident it will have put him off shul for another year. Which leaves the way clear for 52 weeks of lying in on a Saturday morning, with a mug of tea and Home Truths, without an excited eight year old tugging off the duvet and nagging me to take him to the children's service.

On Yom Kippur itself I wasn't able to stay in shul for the whole day. I arrived just in time to do my maftir and haftara and left early enough to miss the rest of the service. There is a special tune on Yom Kippur which I do not know. Fortunately, my brother (something of an expert in these matters) kindly offered to record it for me on tape. Unfortunately, in these days of MP3 players and CD surround-sound systems, the only tape recorder he has is a Fisher-Price bright yellow 'My First Radio', complete with microphone shaped like a space rocket and the sound quality of an early 78 gramophone player. This was compounded by the fact that my brother and I share a genetic inability to hold a tune and by my decision to leave it til the night before Kol Nidrei to learn the whole thing. As a result, some of the notes were a bit wobbly to say the least. This might not have mattered in most synagogues where the person leading the service has to compete with a congregation chatting incessantly about who's wearing what, why they look dreadful, and trying to cadge free professional advice from the person sitting next to them. But in my synagogue, where there were less than 130 people, all of them earnestly following the service in silence, you could hear a pin drop. Sadly, you could also hear every flat note, every mumbled chord change, every dropped verb. Of course, when I finished everybody said it was excellent. But then on Yom Kippur, what are they gonna say?

I went home during the afternoon and came back just in time to break the fast. I missed Neila - the concluding service. It means "Locking of the Gates" which sounds dramatic, but to be honest, is the dullest lock in I've ever attended. I know. I should sound more contrite so soon after the Day of Atonement. But at least I'm honest. So, if nothing else, 'thou shalt not lie' is covered.

2. It was my birthday. 33 - since you ask. I didn't want to make a big thing of it. It's not young enough that I'd want it advertised or old enough that I'd need commiserating. In fact, I was more than happy to let the day pass without a thought. But a conversation with A at work convinced me to at least invite some friends round for a drink on the day. I sent out a hasty email, a week before the big day, inviting folks to join me for a drink or two. Almost everyone emailed back to say they already had plans. I forget what it's like to have a full social calendar with stuff arranged for months in advance. I'm lucky if I know what I'm doing this time tomorrow. But luckily I have enough friends with similarly empty diaries that I didn't start my 34th year feeling like an utter billy-no-mates.

Scrappino loves a party. He still remembers my thirtieth. Whenever he has a particularly late night (we're talking half nine sometimes!) he always asks me "Do you remember the time you had a party and I went to bed at quarter past midnight" and his eyes are wide open like it's the most amazing thing he's ever done. At the time he could hardly conceal his excitement. As the clock struck twelve (well, as the LCD display became 00.00) he dashed from guest to guest shouting "It's tomorrow! It's tomorrow" like a kid possessed. This memory made it very easy for me to sweet talk him into helping me prepare for this party. So Saturday afternoon was spent pushing the trolley round the supermarket and filling the basket with dips, nibbles and wine.

I think the indication that you're getting old is when the food:alcohol ratio in your shopping basket starts to favour food instead of drink. I was practically crippled trying to push the trolley round the aisles. I'd packed it fit to bursting with guacamole, salsa, crisps, nuts, fruit, cake, biscuits, crackers, snacks, chocolate, cheese and French bread. But it was only while we were queuing at the check out that I suddenly thought "wine!" and rushed back to get a couple of bottles each of red and white. Proof, if proof were needed, that I'm turning 33 rather than 23.

On the day of my birthday I laid the table with all the food I'd bought. It hadn't really hit me until then, but as I looked at the table, with the dips and cakes and crackers for egg salad, I suddenly felt very middle aged. Less 33 and more 53. I'm not sure where I'm going wrong, but I'm sure your 33rd birthday party table is not supposed to look so much like a kiddush?

As it turned out, the party was fine. Scrappino managed to contain his emotions when we got to 11.45 pm and I still hadn't told him to put on his pyjamas. My friends were in fine form and it was great to celebrate (if that's the right word) another year older and wiser. And possibly, best of all, I was able to show off the brand spanking new, and finally completed, bathroom. They say that all the best parties end up in the kitchen. This one ended up in the bathroom. Not as kinky as it sounds. When you get to 33 years of age, and you have a party spread that would make the ladies' guild proud, with one bottle of wine happily serving 20 guests, you don't expect kinky bathroom party stories. You expect everyone to be commenting on the border tiles, the style of the taps and the swivel mechanism of the mirror. Which is exactly what they did. Welcome to middle age.

Friday, October 07, 2005

New Year digest

Happy New Year to one and all. I had a lovely Yom Tov, thanks, although it wasn’t exactly restful. I managed to arrange an invitation for every meal – except for second night dinner which I had at my flat with my brother’s family. So basically, it was two days of none stop eating, with a frantic rush from the synagogue to lunch to dinner to home to synagogue. For two days. I’d like to say that there was some prayer and self reflection thrown in, but I have to be honest, I’ve never really been big on praying. I did get to hear the first 30 blasts of the shofar though, so it wasn’t a completely wasted effort. And I must admit that after all the food of the first day and a half I was tempted to put in a prayer on the second day to ask for some relief from the over indulgence.

As is traditional we had some apple and honey on the first night. The thing about apple and honey is that it’s great in theory but in practice is not nearly as sensible. First of all, it’s absolutely impossible to get runny honey onto a piece of apple and then pass it along the table to the people sitting at the far end of the room without dripping honey all over the table cloth. I’m not sure why, but there seems to be a tradition at every Jewish festival for eating food that is bound to spill or stain the tablecloth. On Pesach we’re told to drink four cups of red wine late into the night when we are at our most exhausted after a week of non stop cleaning. So there’s always one cup that spills and ruins the white table cloth. On Chanucka it’s traditional to eat jam donuts at five o’clock when the kids are still in their white school shirts. Cue yet another edible spillage.

The tradition for honey at this time of year is doubly ridiculous because we have to carry on eating it until Succot. Who had the idea of telling an entire community to eat their meals outside, in autumn, when the bees and wasps are at their most violent, and, to put the icing on the cake, tell them to take a big pot of bloody honey outside with them? Every wasp in the northern hemisphere makes a beeline (no pun intended) to the Succah to eat your soup before you do.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. No need to worry about Succot yet. Back to Rosh Hashanah. As well as the apple and honey I also enjoyed the other Rosh Hashanah tradition, which is comparing shul services. As soon as I arrived at my friends’ house for lunch on the first day the tradition began. We all began asking the obligatory questions that everyone finds themselves asking, despite not really caring about the answers. You know the kind of thing. How many people did you get at your shul? What time did you finish? Who blew shofar? Was he any good? And everyone gets very competitive about their shul to see who had the most people and who finished the earliest. It’s the same conversation every year and always reminds me of my grandma who always wanted the gender breakdown of the congregation. She would ask “How many people were in shul?”. “About 400”. “Was that just the men?”. Then she’d ask about the overflow. “How many in the overflow?” “About 150”. “Was that just the men?”

Talking about overflow, I haven’t updated about the bathroom for a while, so here’s the latest news on the longest bathroom installation in living memory. The bathroom is now pretty much finished – the bath is in, the shower is plumbed, the sink is connected. There is a new floor and all the tiles are in place and the grouting is done – only 3 months after the builder first started. But there is a downside – the toilet. The builder has discovered that the waste pipe feeding my toilet is made of lead and so we have to get a specialist chap to come in to remove the lead pipe and connect some environmentally friendly piping in its place. I’m hoping this is the last fiasco that we’ll encounter on this job otherwise I’ll probably be coshing my builder on the head with the lead pipe in a cleudo-style murder. And that wouldn’t be a great start to the New Year.