Highlands and Holy Lands: Observations from Civilisation

While I find a ten-day getaway, each year, to some remote part or other of the British Isles to be conducive to my state of mental well-being, it can also leave me feeling rather worse than when I left, constituting a much-needed break from life in this mad little place, on the one hand, but also a painful reminder of the ‘small’ things that we can never enjoy here.

Pulling into passing spaces to give way to oncoming cars on single lane country roads in the Scottish Highlands in June – always accompanied, of course, with a courteous, if perfunctory, wave of the hand – it occurs to me that such an arrangement could never work back home . . .

With the British and Irish, there is instant, mutual understanding of which vehicle of the two should enter the space, based on an assessment of relative: proximity to it at the point of cognition, velocity, vehicle size, etc.

With Israelis, however, such mutual consideration, and respect for the unwritten rules of the road, would, instead, turn into a potentially lethal game of “chicken”, with the driver with the more chutzpah and chest, back and shoulder hair winning the day.

I also enjoy, on my trips, the endearing ability of the English (especially) to talk enthusiastically on any subject, however ostensibly mundane. In an Ardnamurchan Peninsula hotel bar, one evening, I sit spellbound through a half-hour discussion, between the English proprietor and a patron, of the establishment’s problematic central heating system. Until the Croatia vs. Spain Euro 2012 kick-off brings a premature end to the excitement, I learn that boiler “recoverability”, not capacity, is what really matters.

I attempt in vain to imagine a similar scenario – and without audience mutterings of “ya Allah” (dear God) and “me’anyen et hasavta sheli” (literally, it interests my grandmother) – back home, where Iran, high-level corruption, making a fast shekel and plastic media ‘personalities’ appear to be the only subjects which animate.

The realization that my all too brief reintroduction to civilisation is at an end is always harsh and sudden, upon arrival at the Departures check-in desk, with the invariable, tense standoff between incredulous gentile airline staff and my adopted compatriots, as well as Stamford Hill charedim, muttering of anti-Semitism and beseeching that:

  • the 20 kilo hold allowance really allows up to 35 kilos;
  • the one-piece-of-hand-luggage rule does not preclude it being stuffed with weights or being accompanied onboard with an unlimited number of plastic bags; and
  • the airline’s hand luggage size frame is not really binding, but for guidance purposes only.

Just in case I hadn’t  noticed that I was back in the country, on arrival at work the following morning, I am pinned to the rear elevator wall as I attempt to exit on my floor. The natives exhibit quite curious elevator etiquette: when elevator doors open here, those on the outside, rather than letting people exit, immediately stampede in, as if they have been tipped off that a buffet of burekas – cheese, potato, and spinach – awaits them at the back.

And my mind drifts back to those dreamy passing spaces . . .

The Old Forge, Knoydart Peninsula: Britain’s remotest pub


28 responses to “Highlands and Holy Lands: Observations from Civilisation

  1. Philip Witriol

    Delightful Bank Holiday reading – though you might want to include some rush hour North London bus journeys on your next trip for a more nuanced view of “British” mutual consideration…

  2. Funny. Do israelis really love spinach borekas that much?

  3. Charles Philip Lehrer


    In some ways you are so right. However in others I beg to differ (Is that spelt right?). As a practioner of martial arts, I have learnt to use the DEATH STARE. This works about 97% of the time in Europe, 3% of Europeans (now with an influx of our cousins, slowly reaching the 4% level), being psycopathic bullies on whom this has a very minimal effect. Here it only works on about 93% of the population, for the same reason as quoted above. Up to now I have been lucky, barring the premature entry both to lifts and trains (very rarely use the bus), by the rowdy natives, before their compatriots exit, who do flinch at the “Death stare”, this, always it must be added, followed by an endearing smile (which actually intrigues them), AFTER they have done my will.

    When on the roads, I do things differently. Whenever tailgated, I turn on my warning lights and slow down, then the culprit passes me on the inside, at which point I speed up, flash him repeatedly, indicating repeatedly on alternate sides of my vehicle, get next to him and tell him to indicate, which invariably, he only does, after again, having been hectored by me. My calculation is that at the age of 66, I haven`t got that much to lose and educating the general public or, if you prefer, the great unwashed, is an altruistic way of making my mark in this great country, which has its good points, mainly the nice weather and the pretty women, who you, as no other, know to be almost as deadly as the men.

    See ya.

    Saint Philip

  4. Brilliant post Mike and really very funny indeed – especially the lift experience. But, without wishing to cast a damper on the mood, as a successful Oleh (you) to me – an unsuccessful ‘Yerid’ (? as in ‘ye’ well ‘rid’ of me ?) – can you explain how you endure it? How you even got to a stage where you think of the place as “home”? About a month before I finally gave up and returned to London I was crossing a road in Netanya on a zebra crossing. I was about half way across when a small saloon accelerated at me from about thirty yards away, at such speed that I literally had to dive to the curb to avoid being run over. As I was picking myself off the ground and wiping all the filth and leaves off my grazed and bruised arms and legs I noticed that I was being shouted at from someone in the saloon which had now pulled over about twenty feet up the road. I say “shouted” at, but in truth, a man was leaning out from the passenger window screaming and swearing at me as if he wanted to kill me. Then I noticed that the saloon was covered in the livery of the local driving school, and that the insane lunatic wishing me dead was the driving instructor. As I then walked towards him to give him my opinion of what had just happened he wound up the window and had his student drive off at speed. The really sad thing for me about this incident – one in a long line of similar – if not always quite so dangerous – incidents during our four years in Israel, was that despite my shock, I was not the slightest bit surprised by what had happened. It was just par for the course, but it was at that moment that I realised that Israel, for me at any rate, would never be “home”.

  5. Artistic license, Nadine. I am sure you learnt about that at JFS . . . or was it Hasmo Girls? . . . in which case, you probably didn‘t! 😉

    I think I might give the “Death Stare” a miss, Philip, if only because it’ll probably come across as more of a “Come n’give me a smack Stare”!

    As for “how [I] endure it”, Adam, and the even more pertinent question of why I do, I guess I just feel at home here like I never really did in Blighty . . .


  6. LOL MIke anyone would think you don’t like living here!! I agree these amazing British backwaters are a world away from our reality – like the Kirkstone Foot in the Lake District, the highest pub in England, and I LOVE all my trips back to Blightly and farther afield, especially where it is cool green and mountainous! Having said that, it is what it is – an escape, a holiday, a break. And as I get to the check out desk at El Al and am greeted and can converse in Hebrew I feel such a strong surge of emotion and the feeling that I am home – for better and sometimes for worse!! It’s a bit like family – in fact it’s a lot like family – you put up with their annoying habits and eccentricities because you have this blood bond – you love them and they love you!!!

  7. Charles Philip Lehrer

    Alexa, I think you`ve hit the nail right on the head. Always carry a hammer with you.

    Saint Philip

  8. “the culprit passes me on the inside, at which point I speed up, flash him repeatedly . . . My calculation is that at the age of 66, I haven`t got that much to lose and educating the general public or, if you prefer, the great unwashed, is an altruistic way of making my mark”

    While showing crap drivers your ‘gear stick & furry dice’, Philip, is certainly a novel approach, I only hope that they are less unwashed than the “great unwashed” you are “flash[ing]” them to!

  9. “They love you [???]” are you serious Alexa? or are you deluding yourself? That driving instructor sure had a funny way of displaying his love for me (him and about half a dozen other people I bumped into in Israel on a daily basis – more often than not in the checkout queue in the local Mega ba Ir). Your “family” analogy only works if you say you came from a dysfunctional family comprising a disproportionate number of belligerent, bullying, racist oafs – which I’m sure is not the case. Reading the sort of thing you wrote here, and even Mike to a certain degree leads me to believe that the secret to making a “successful” permanent move to Israel is to be blessed with the skin of a rhinoceros and a supreme facility for selective indulgence – i.e. indulgence towards belligerence, bullying, rudeness, oafishness, racism, vile table etiquette, etc., etc., just so long as they emanate from an Israeli and nobody else……

    But I also empathise with you Mike so far as I too don’t feel at home in “Blighty” either. I used to feel at home in North London, but not any more. Quite a pickle really. Fortunately I have this remote mountain retreat in southern Spain, at least until the economic shit really hits the fan here and they start looking for people to blame…

  10. Sadly, Adam, I can’t disagree with a lot of what you write. In spite of the natives, however, I still wouldn’t swap the life here for one back in Blighty. I do, however, fancy a summer home somewhere in the Highlands or in Kinsale, County Cork!

    One other thing . . . in spite of their many faults, I can at least talk to my fellow Israeli “on a level” and without fear of being called a Jew, or worse. In England, I always felt something of a guest.

  11. Also, Adam, I have just got back from Rothschild – Stuey likes his tummy aches at three in the morning – where I chatted with a bag man and lady, and didn’t have a care about being around any of the other waifs, strays, downs and outs who frequent the Boulevard in the middle of the night.

    Would you feel the same anywhere in London?!

  12. There are many, many wonderful things about Israel and about being a Jew in Israel, and not just the fact the many of the local tramps are nice people, some even with PhDs.

    I’m was merely explaining some of the reasons “I” found it an impossible place to live.This all reminds me of an interview I heard years ago of a football a Scottish football commentator who moved to Spain, went native (so to speak) and became the “Spanish John Motson”. When asked what it was that made Spain feel like home to him he said in his strong Glasgee accent that, ‘You know, there are about 95 things to hate about living in Spain and about five things which are wonderful, and conversely, there are about 95 things to like about living in Britain and about five things to loathe. Well, for me it’s those five wonderful things about Spanish life that make this my home, and those five loathsome things about the UK that made it impossible for me to stay…’ Sadly for me at least, it’s proved to be the other way around vis-a-vis Israel and England. (Apologies if I’ve already mentioned this in a previous topic.)

    As for other places I would try settling in given the chance or the compulsion – well, I’ve loved Melbourne every time I’ve been there, including the fact that there’s a thriving Jewish population in the suburbs with shop after shop selling the best cheese cake in the universe, and the Bainbridge Island off Seattle seemed pretty perfect…

  13. The British are delightful until you die alone in your home and your next door neighbours of 30 years only call the police when they can no longer stand the stench.

    A lot of this strikes me as a simple case of the grass being greener in that green and pleasant land. Anyone been to Glasgow lately?

  14. I think you missed the point John, all of them – with respect – firstly the guy in the story didn’t like Glasgow where the grass wasn’t greener!! Secondly, being a Jew who never feels at home anywhere has nothing to do with greener grass but a lot to do with questions of identity. Although by the time I’m finished trying to explain this I might need some grass of distinctly brown and sweetly pungent variety…my gosh!!

  15. My point, Adam, was not that “the local tramps are nice people”, but that, in many real ways, day-to-day life here is freer and feels – even with the Islamofascist reality surrounding us – safer. Ask any woman who lives alone in Tel Aviv (or even Jaffa), or a mother with teenage kids . . . so, using the Spanish Motty Ratio, I am still, in spite of my often disparaging posts, about 70:30 Israel!

    Re John’s Smelly Neighbour, however, I have rarely seen anything here, since my Aliyah in 1996, to suggest that the Caring Israeli, if not a total myth (see On yer bike: The myth of the caring Israeli society?), is now anything but a very rare species indeed.

    As an ex-Hasmonean, Mr. F can be excused for not knowing that Blake’s “green and pleasant land” does not include Glasgee within its scope, referring only to England. But I thank him, nonetheless, for providing me with the excuse . . .

    Sends shivers down yer spine!

  16. Sassenach!

  17. You bastard Mike! Got me right in me emotions.

  18. Though seeing all those upper-class twits – not a black, or even tanned, face in sight – must be enough to make you long for Netanya!

    And I owe John an apology: thinking that the poem was about Great Britain is a mistake that anybody could have made . . .

    And did those feet in ancient time.
    Walk upon England’s mountains green:
    And was the holy Lamb of God,
    On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

    And did the Countenance Divine,
    Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
    And was Jerusalem builded here,
    Among these dark Satanic Mills?

    Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
    Bring me my Arrows of desire:
    Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
    Bring me my Chariot of fire!

    I will not cease from Mental Fight,
    Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
    Till we have built Jerusalem,
    In England’s green & pleasant Land

  19. “Gear stick and furry dice” are practically unknown here as the motor vehicles are in the immense majority, all of the automatic persuasion, which probably makes the driving even worse. As to the aforementioned implements being less unwashed than the great unwashed, I think that the term “great” should put your mind at rest (if it is not in that mode already)

  20. You’ve been away too long Mike and your out of touch with the social nuances of the British/English class structure at play. You need to catch up on your Wodehouse! Upper class twits don’t frequent the Proms – ever, except under duress or in the line of Royal duty, which amounts to the same thing. The British upper classes are famously indifferent to anything with even a whiff of intellectualism or culture associated with it such as the Proms and Glyndebourne, Upper class twits are to be found at Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, where they happily mingle with the working class masses. The upper classes and middle classes mix rarely at anomalous events such as Twickenham rugby internationals, Lords tests, and in these relatively emancipated times, at the Henley Regatta.

    What you are looking at in this video – twits or otherwise – are exclusively the British middle classes letting their hair down. And by the way, even if there are few blacks (I counted one in the hall and a girl in a hijab) there are a disproportionately large number of Jews amongst the ranks of the “promenaders” – not as many admittedly as in those halcion days when the IPO was still a welcome guest at the festival, but still a very large proportion.

    As for Blake’s almost Nazi-like obsession with English-ness (middle class English-ness), I thought that was obvious. Anyway, it’s Parry’s wonderful score that gets the heart fluttering, not Blake’s lunatic verse.

  21. Thank you. I know the words.

    But tell me, was the Apostrophe s (‘s) passe by the time Marks taught you English? Too much effort for the ’80s generation, perhaps?

  22. Oh, you “know the words” . . . but thought Glasgow was in England?!

    As for the missing apostrophes, blame Wikipedia . . .


  23. No. As the son of a Scot, I thought England was in Scotland.

    You relied on Wikipedia?! There goes the neighbourhood.

  24. Alexa Raine nee Bloch

    Like!! Oh I forgot – this isn’t Facebook

  25. And as the son of an Irishman, I am delighted that you are admitting to be the stupid ones!

  26. Not THAT stupid. After all, we never laid any claim to Ireland.

    And I would remind you, Paddy, when you take a break from digging whatever tunnel to nowhere the British have you working on at the moment, that it was James VI of Scotland who became James I of England and united the two nations (albeit under two crowns until the following century).

    Scotland rules. OK?

    Anyway, at least Glasgow is best at something. According to last week’s Economist, Glasgow has the highest mortality rate of any city in the United Kingdom.

  27. LOL. I too return from my bi-yearly breaks in the British Isles and I try desperately to behave more like the friendly Scotttish farmer waving me on with a smile when passing on one of those one lane country roads…..It is one of those self control / self improvement exercises….not to be compulsive, not to be defensive….ie. see how long i can keep my hands of the hooter….
    Anyway, it usually lasts a mere week and then it’s back to middle-eastern roadwar.

  28. Australians are definitely ruder than Israelis. We went to the Sherbrooke Forest Waterfall a few weeks ago on Sunday. A 20 year old Aussie jogged past on the walking trail and my wife had to literally throw herself and the buggy out of the way to avoid being run over by the 20 year old head-phone absorbedee (I reserve the right to make up my own words).

    A couple of Israelis jogged past, slichah, todah… It’s an olam haphuch down under!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s