Tag Archives: Israelis

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

On yer bike: The myth of the caring Israeli society?

I have not made the most auspicious of starts to the New Year.

Perhaps I am in some way to blame, having taken my bike out on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah . . . though I don’t really believe that He would have sent those brothers – one aged 14, the other around 10 – to crash their large korkinet (electric scooter) into me, head-on, on the bicycle path near the Mandarin Hotel on the Tel Aviv/Herzliya border.

The boys were riding the korkinet (resembling the one pictured, though with larger, fatter tires) together – little brother standing in front of big one, both without helmets – on the wrong half of the path (their left), heading north; while I was on the right (in both senses) side, cycling in the opposite direction. My front wheel (photographed below) totally buckled under the impact with theirs.

Following a knee-jerk “Atem meshuga’im?!” (Are you crazy?!), I surprised even myself with the speed of my composure-recovery time: “You are just kids,” I comforted the boys, who, while unhurt, were in visible shock from the instantaneous haematoma protruding like a golf ball from my right shin.

A long walk back to Jaffa – or, indeed, to anywhere – was clearly not an option. “Just call your father, and ask him to drop me home . . . oh yes, and tell him to bring some ice!” I was thoroughly enjoying my new found civility.

“I’ll take you part of the way,” said the boys’ father, Amir, on arrival on the scene – my bike still sprawled across the path – some seven or eight minutes later, “we’ve got guests coming in an hour.”

As it was, the 40-something couldn’t fit my bike into the boot of his snazzy BMW – just when I could have done with a 4×4! – and refused to risk scratching the cream leather seats in its rear; and he eventually drove us, boot open, the few hundred metres to his plush apartment complex (the boys returning on their unscathed korkinet), where he instructed the concierge to phone for a cab.

The aftermath

As we sat and awaited the taxi’s arrival, and still revelling in my bonhomie, I reassured Amir – who seemed like a decent enough chap – that I wouldn’t make a big deal of the incident, or of my injury, but “If [he] could just replace the wheel” (I own an expensive-ish bike, and feared that a new rim could set me back 500 shekels plus).

“We’ll settle it next week,” Amir reassured me. And, after debating the chag (holiday) fare with the cabby, he handed over the reduced one – of 100 shekels – for me to be driven home. Saving my number – he preferred this to giving me his – on his phone as I got in, Amir’s parting words were: “I assure you, I will make sure this never happens again.” I repeated to him that I had done far worse as a boy, and that he shouldn’t be too harsh on either of his.

Googling his full name – which he had provided, when asked, in the course of our conversation – I discovered Amir, who had said he was “in property,” to be a senior executive and shareholder at a leading Israeli investment house.

All that was on the Thursday afternoon. I didn’t go straight to A&E because, with my mother expecting me for Yom Tov dinner, I feared that it would be seriously understaffed. I had also once suffered a similar-looking injury playing football. So, I satisfied myself with a phone call to a doctor-colleague, who informed me that there was nothing that could be done anyway, and that I should just keep the haematoma well iced (the shin is still bruised and sore, some three weeks later, and I have been sent for an X-ray and ultrasound).

I was still somewhat surprised, disappointed even, that it took Amir until the Sunday morning – three days after the incident – to call and check on the injury caused by his children, though also by his lack of adequate supervision of them (I knew that, if the boot had been on the other foot, I would have called that very evening). I was in a meeting with my boss at the time, and whispered to Amir that I would call him back, which I did every day until the Wednesday, when the clearly overworked executive finally found the time to call again. He enquired about the state of my leg, but was extremely careful to offer no apology, just assuring me that he would no longer allow the boys to ride on the korkinet together.

Seeing as the phone call was clearly going nowhere, I decided to bring up the subject of the wheel. “I walked up and down Hashmonaim [Tel Aviv’s bicycle shop street] for an hour on Monday [not wishing to cause Amir too much expense, I had] and found the cheapest possible replacement, the odd wheel from a set. It cost 250 shekels [just under £45]. Where should I send the receipt?”

There followed a long, awkwardish silence . . . and then, “We should each pay half.”

Even amongst the rich tapestry of Israeli chutzpah, with which I have become all too familiar, I thought I was hearing things.

“Atah loh mitbayesh?!” (Aren’t you ashamed?!)

“You have to take your share of responsibility, too, for what happened.”

Naturally, if I had known that two boys were riding a motorized vehicle towards me in the wrong lane, and with little control, I would have got off the bicycle path altogether. But to equate our relative culpability was outrageous. Either Amir’s sons had fed him a load of porkies, or – more likely, to my mind – knowing that there were no witnesses, he just knew that he could get away with it. And I could only imagine the shtook Amir would have seen to it that I would have been in had the roles been reversed, with me being the one on the korkinet.

I told Amir to keep his 250 shekels, but that I would now be going to the police. And following a thinly-veiled threat – that “I shouldn’t misinterpret [his] [wait for it . . . ] softness”!  – I terminated the call.

Always one to feel guilty, however (even when I am far from), I still wished to resolve the matter civilly, and I sent Amir a text message, that evening, suggesting that he, instead, sponsor my upcoming charity bike ride (for which I had informed him that I was in training). Numerous folk, on hearing the sorry tale, have opined that Israelis, however wrong they might be in any given situation, never want to be – or, perhaps more to the point, to be seen to be – the freier. So I had given Amir a way out. Needless to say, he hasn’t taken it.

Perhaps I am too sensitive (and naive?) a soul, but the whole incident, to my surprise, has filled me with real sadness, saying so much, for me, about the current state of Israeli society and all too many of its citizens.

Of course it is “not everybody,” but what I can say with some degree of confidence is that the bollocks that we are often fed – that Israelis may be rude and arrogant, but that, when push comes to shove (how appropriate the idiom!), they will be there for you – is now at least, in the main, exactly that (i.e., bollocks): Whether in business, professional relationships, ‘queues,’ on the roads, in restaurants, shops or hotels, or with their children or dogs, my sad experience and conclusion – and that of most people (natives included) to whom I have related the unfortunate tale (some even expressed their surprise that I had expected anything more) – is that too many Israelis these days just couldn’t give a flying felafel about anybody or anything but themselves and theirs. It was once, I am told, very different.

Several days following the incident, I happened to be walking up my former happy hunting ground, Rothschild, as the individuals dressed up here as police officers were evicting the last tent dwellers from the Boulevard. And, after months of not taking the protest too seriously (see here), I now kind of recognized the attitude that has driven so many other Israelis – perhaps the ‘weaker,’ less ambitious and/or aggressive of the species – to despair.

My guess (and it is just a guess) is that Amir was an above-average soldier, who served in an IDF combat unit, perhaps even reaching the rank of officer. And as with a former friend – who, on the basis of such a CV (and all the while considering himself a noble human being), believes that it is just fine for him to screw other men’s wives – this (like the big-paying job he landed on military record, rather than intellectual/academic ability) gives Amir the arrogance to believe that he can do whatever he wishes in civil life, shitting on any poor bugger unfortunate enough to cross his path. (And, if this was how Amir saw fit to act in this situation, one can only imagine what he must be doing with client money!)

Naming and shaming  Amir – surname, position, company – has, of course, been hugely tempting. But this post is not the tool of my revenge. Perhaps, however, Amir will read it – I will forward him the link – and at least attempt to comprehend why I felt compelled to write it.

Perhaps, too, he will try to bring up those nice – and they were – boys into adults that this country can be proud of . . . rather than individuals, like their father, seemingly without moral compass.

Chag sameyach!

[http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/ . . . only 88 quid to go!]

Vedding?! . . . Ye call dat a vedding?!

Having ignored invitations to various Anglo-Israeli Royal Wedding bashes – quite apart from my already admitted davka-ness, why would I chance having to share such a uniquely British occasion with Israelis, Americans and, worst of all of course, French? – I watched William’s chasseneh, in Netanya, in the company of the person with whom I witnessed that of his parents, thirty years ago: my mother.

The Duke of Hazard

To be totally honest, I feel rather above such gatherings . . . which of course I am, my late father having served as physician to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Though, for the benefit of the commoners who read this blog, a soupçon of life with the Royals: On the evening before his first visit from the Prince, dad received a telephone call at home informing him of the correct protocol, essentially not to speak until spoken to. This was ironic, really, considering that dad had a very strong sense of propriety, while the Prince, on the other hand, is famed for putting his foot in it at every given opportunity. “If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat . . . are you going to ban cricket bats?” was his contribution to the gun control debate following Dunblane; whilst his welcome of the Nigerian President (who was in traditional robes) – “You look like you’re ready for bed!” – was what perhaps precluded a return invite to Abuja.

Anyhow, as for the wedding and immediate aftermath, I was less worried about Will’s and Kate’s rather pursed lip kisses on the Buckingham Palace balcony than I was relieved that Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wasn’t caught – for the few seconds that the TV cameras were on him in the Abbey – joining in with Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (more commonly, though erroneously, known as Bread of Heaven).

Neither royalist nor republican, I recognise the stability that the monarchy brings to the British political process, and believe that the nation would be a great deal the poorer for the loss of occasions such as Friday’s.

"Lionel who?!"

That evening, however, Hanna, an Israeli friend (of Moroccan parentage, if you are reading, Isaac), told me that the excesses of the wedding confirmed to her just how ridiculous the British really are. But it fell on deaf ears, seeming as it did to be akin to Bnei Yehuda’s finest, Pini Balili (right), telling Lionel Messi that he wastes too much time dribbling.

But it was not just Hanna. Sunday morning’s Haaretz was full of cynicism and sneers. On its front page, ‘journalist’ Shai Golden could only sum up the wedding as “a classic case of “Why didn’t you tell us your sister was prettier than you?”,” following that with an equally moronic reference to the newlyweds as “successors” to “the couple regarded as international British royalty,” David and Victoria Beckham.

"Victoria, there's a massive fruit gum on yer 'ead!"

As well as displaying the quality of (what my father used to call) being “well-balanced . . . having a chip on each shoulder,” many Israelis have an infuriating habit of pretending to understand – like they do ‘proper’ football (see Moti, you ain’t no Motty!) – other traditions and cultures (older, if not superior) . . . when, really, they know nothing about them. Golden no doubt watched the wedding on Israeli TV, and, probably only recognising Elton John and “Posh and Becks” amongst the invited guests, had to write about one of them.

“The monarchy has long been dead in Europe,” Golden, now the brilliant constitutional theorist, concluded, seemingly on the basis that “there will never be another like [Lady Diana].” Who could argue with such logic? (Though why am I still expecting anything other than ignorance and arrogance from the writers and pages of Haaretz? See Haaretz: Always hitting us when we’re down.)

As for “trash pop culture and empty celebrity hedonism” – of which Golden brands the Beckhams (of whom, incidentally, I am no fan) “the ambassadors” – he need look no further than his own doorstep for these, so sadly obsessed has this country become with crap reality TV and its inane participants. Indeed, who could expect your average Israeli, whose idea of a “spectacle” is the last night of Ha’Ach Ha’Gadol, to appreciate the magnificent pageantry that we witnessed on Friday?

It is impossible to even imagine Israelis, like the tens of thousands of Britons who lined the wedding route, camping out for days on end with such patience and stoicism: they’d finish their Yediot and garinim, get bored, spread the newspaper over the largest possible area – perhaps, if no one is looking, stealing a few extra inches – and then demand that neighbouring campers save the space until they return in three days’ time! (Anyone unfortunate enough to have shopped in an an Israeli supermarket will know exactly what I mean.)

Who wouldn't want the opinion of this man?

Another report in Sunday’s Haaretz, from the Tel Aviv party attended by the British ambassador, saw fit to quote Israeli singer Tzvika Pik (right), a ridiculous, ageing hippy who once wrote a few catchy pop songs: “I would have had him [Elton John] sing again in the church the way he sang in Princess Diana’s memory. You don’t need more than that.”

And, whilst you’re at it, Tzvika, why not also, after the service, bus all the guests down to the Blackwall Tunnel for a re-enactment of the Paris crash?

Most Israelis just don’t get it. One of the very few who seemed to was actor, Rami Heuberger: “we appreciate the British sense of humor . . . inviting us to an event like this has a lot of humor in it. Because what do we have to do with this? The only blue blood in our veins is the water from the Frishman beach.”

But to my fragrant English Rose, Pippa . . .

Would I . . . !!

Quite apart from your boyfriend (or, rather, momentary aberration) clearly being an absolute dope – who retires at 27 from an extremely promising career as an international cricketer . . . to go into finance?! – I think you will agree that “Pippa and melchett” has a beautiful ring to it.

And you need not worry your lovely legs about what my mum and her Netanya ladies will think/say . . . just the thought of all those hats again – and in real life, this time! – will win ‘em over.

So, Pippa sweetness, you know where to find me. And I am willing to wait if necessary . . . unlike my adopted countrymen, I am extremely patient!

Bitch, her 4×4, and other irritants

There is this woman in the neighbourhood – for argument’s (and accuracy’s) sake, let’s call her “Bitch” – who, every morning, parks her 4×4 on the pedestrian crossing next to the kiosk (‘our’ café on Rothschild).

Bitch is in her mid-thirties, has a body to die for (and knows it), and couldn’t care less how many old folk, mothers and babies, schoolchildren, or people like me, walking their dogs, can’t safely negotiate the road while she sips on her hafuch (latte).

And ever since, a couple of months ago, Bitch hooted me from behind – essentially, for having the temerity to be on the same road as her – I have fantasized about rubbing something long and hard against that body while she sleeps. A key.

Hallelujah!

Size and status are everything to these terrorists of the road. And, whilst I am loath to agree with anything that emanates from the poisonous gob of Ken Livingstone, the very fact of owning a “Chelsea Tractor” tells us everything that we need to know about that person, making him or her fully deserving of our unbridled contempt.

Strolling home with Stuey and Dexxy, the other morning, after suffering Bitch at the kiosk, I thought about all those folk who I allow to aggravate me these days (and shouldn’t). Even excluding matters religious or political, against the law (for example, littering), or out of people’s control (most unfortunately, being French), I still managed – on the short walk back to Melchett – to come up with the following list . . .

1.  Tel Aviv cyclists: Both the menaces who harass you with their poxy bells – I swear that, some day soon, a surgeon at Ichilov is going to have his oddest retrieval yet from an Israeli rectum – and those on their ridiculously expensive bikes, in equally ridiculous designer cycling gear, for the 10 km round trip to Holon.

2.  Anyone – not using the site for commercial or publicity purposes – with more than 400 (ballpark) “friends” on facebook. To be deeply distrusted.

3.  Males, essentially new immigrants with tiny todgers, who post photos of themselves in IDF uniform – and holding their only weapon of any potency – to facebook. Tossers.

4.  Females who market themselves on Internet dating sites in their bikinis . . . and who then moan that all men ever seem to want is to get their “kit” off.

5.  Israeli women – again, often provocatively clad – who talk inconsiderately loudly in cafés as a result of feeling deprived of attention to anything that might be going on above their shoulders. Shut the f*ck up.

6.  Wannabe actors and, especially, actresses who are in complete denial of what everyone knows: that they are talentless f*ckwits. Tel Aviv is crawling with them. They shamelessly post videos of themselves on facebook in performances that they could only persuade their grandmothers to attend (and, then, only until the interval). There are also those attention-seekers who film nothing very much on Tel Aviv’s streets and boulevards in the hope that passers-by will think that they are actually doing something with their lives. We won’t. Get a job.

7.  Overuse of vacuous expressions such as “sound” (as in cool), or – in Hebrew, and I won’t bother translating . . . there is no point – “ke’eeloo,” “walla” and, most infuriating of all, “sababa.” F*ck off. You are not a student anymore.

8.  Anyone who smokes a cigar with a diameter of more than half an inch outside of a cigar lounge. A middle-aged guy walked past the kiosk with one, last Saturday morning. It was so thick, we thought it would split the webbing of the fingers it was wedged between. He was wearing a look of “See, I’ve made it.” We were saying “Look, what a prick.”

9.  Wearing cowboy boots without actually being a cowboy. Dexxy chewed the trouser leg of one such pillock at the kiosk, last year. It is amazing what dogs know.

10.  Non-Arabs who wear the keffiyeh (okay, that one is a little political . . . then again, they are twats).

11.  Anyone who listens to Coldplay outside of an elevator or a supermarket.

"Anyone know the way to Old Trafford?"

12.  “Glory boy” supporters of Manchester United, Chelsea and, now, Manchester City, who have never visited their team’s home ground . . . or, at least, never did when they were shit (City still are) and poor. These ‘fans’ deny their former lack of interest in football – pre-1993, 2005 and 2008, respectively – with a dishonesty that would make David Irving blush.

And the message of all of this? Don’t be an intolerant, grumpy old sod? Get a life? God knows. Perhaps there isn’t one, and I just wrote it to vent my spleen . . . though it would be interesting to hear (via comments below) what – otherwise legal – behaviours cause readers of melchett mike to spit out their dummies.

[I am off to Kenya for a charity bike ride – it is not too late to sponsor me (many thanks, once again, to all of you who already have) – and, should you experience (understandable) withdrawal symptoms in my absence, I can heartily recommend the following websites to occupy yourselves until my return: boys/girls. To whet your appetites, there is a new sub-series of Hasmo Legends in the melchett mike “oven”, which I guarantee will offer a unique insight into the madhouse.]



Taking the SMS: Avi the Texting Masseur

Just when you think that the chutzpah can’t get any worse, the Israeli will usually surprise you . . .

During a massage, last week, in her holiday home in Herzliya Pituach – the hot destination, these days, for British “Deckchair Zionists” – my friend Donna’s blissful indulgence was intermittently disturbed by a faint clicking sound.

She ignored it.

Opening her eyes, however, towards the end of the one-hour session, Donna caught her masseur, Avi, with one hand on her foot and the other typing a text (SMS) message on his mobile phone.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I would say that a masseur on 300 shekels (50 British pounds) an hour can reasonably be expected to use both hands!

The incident reminded me of a university flatmate whose girlfriend, in the middle of doing something to him that he could not do to himself – would we males ever leave the house? – looked up to find him channel-hopping with the TV remote. (In his defence, there was footie on the box . . . but she gave him a mouthful anyway. The cheeky chappie, meanwhile, eventually migrated to his natural habitat . . . Israel.)

Such chutzpadik multitasking was also exhibited by an Israeli first date of mine who, on arrival at the pretty garden café handpicked by me – and having evidently resolved that I was not as attractive as I considered her – insisted on sitting inside, so that she would not miss any of the goings-on in the Israeli Big Brother house.

Indeed, the Israeli is a multitasker nonpareil, who can, for instance, smoke, devour garinim (sunflower seeds) and cuff the kids and/or missus . . . all while driving at excess speed, with one foot on the dashboard, cursing down his mobile and gesticulating at other road users.

While now – having lived here for over ten years – conditioned to Israeli chutzpah (and not averse to dishing out some of my own when required), I am also far less likely to put up with it . . .

Overhearing, in my local hummus place on Sheinkin, that I was flying back to London the following morning, an Israeli woman who I know from the area enquired whether I would mind taking something for her son, sojourning in Wood Green (of all places).

“Of course not,” I foolishly replied.

The woman scuttled away, returning a quarter of an hour later not with the latest Amos Oz novel or Arik Einstein disc, but with a plastic bag – from the makolet (supermarket) over the road – weighing several kilos and bursting with family-sized bottles of Osem tomato ketchup.

“He is used to it,” she declared, as if that should have been of interest to me.

Some years earlier, I would have been so taken aback by such chutzpah that my only reaction would have been momentary paralysis, an awkward smile, and a hasty unpacking of my suitcase to accommodate the condimentally-challenged nincompoops. And I may even have thanked her for selecting me for the honour.

But no longer.

“I’m not taking that,” I laughed, almost contemptuously. “I am already overweight.” I wasn’t. “Anyway, what’s wrong with Heinz?!”

What could she say? She had been outchutzpah’d.

You see, it is just that on encountering foreign accents – usually accompanied by indications of (relative) meekness – many of the natives see a flashing “Freier!” (sucker) sign.

And not to be taken advantage of here, one, regrettably, must become like them.

Avi “the Texting Masseur” no doubt calculated that – unlike his Israeli clients – Donna would not mind him sending SMS messages while he was supposed to be giving her a massage . . . and that, even if she did, the English lady would not say a word.

And he was, at least, half right.

http://www.justgiving.com/melchettmike

In the Rudest of Health (The Israeli, Part III)

“You’ve got too much to say!”

So North-West London’s most famous French teacher would often chide his loquacious (he preferred “yapping”) pupils.

And not always having to say something – especially if, as my parents would remind me, that “something” is not worth saying – is an English attitude that the Israeli would do well to consider. Indeed, while silence and Jerusalem may both be golden, only one of them is “blue and white” too (for the time being, at least).

As I have documented on these pages (here, here and here), most Israelis are of the view that it is not only their God-given right, but also their duty, to give their opinion – even to complete strangers – on absolutely everything, whether or not that “everything” even concerns them.

Most common is advice . . . in my case, dating, dieting and doggy (dogging is, I am informed, something completely else). Earlier this week, for instance, there was the elderly lady on Rothschild who deemed it incumbent upon her to inform me that I was endangering the lives of Stuey and Dexxy by not observing the Do Not Walk sign (wonderfully altruistic, I thought, considering that Hezbollah is now in possession of scores of missiles capable of reaching, and destroying, her bidet).

The Israeli, however, does not limit him or herself to the purely prescriptive . . .

Two Saturdays ago, I drove Stuey and Dexxy to see Tal, a friend’s 6-year old daughter – housebound and miserable due to an upset tummy – who is particularly fond of my hairy flat mates, and who had summoned them to Hod Hasharon to cheer her spirits.

It might have been wise, before tucking in, to have spared a thought for the cause of Tal’s stomach ache. And, lo and behold, a short while after being amply fed by my Moroccan hostess, Tal’s mum, my bowels started to feel the effects of her schnitzel and couscous (delicious though they were).

While Edna’s apartment is small, and WC smaller still, I have brilliantly refined, over the years, the subtle art of camouflaging my lavatorial activities in other people’s homes. I don’t wish to give too much away – if the Made Simple or For Dummies people are reading this, you know where to find me – but it involves cleverly synchronizing  eruptions, emissions and plopping (to quote my earlier Blog on the Bog) with the ebbs and flows of living room discussion and/or peaks in television volume.

And on this particularly delicate – the smaller the abode, the greater the risk of social disgrace – occasion, I put in a typically sterling performance. Indeed, even the absence of a canister of air freshener in the poorly ventilated shoebox did not worry me unduly, as I had noticed that Edna had only just exited. The true professional, you see, leaves nothing to chance.

Fortune and fate, on the other hand, are vicissitudes for which even the ultimate pro cannot legislate . . .

Whilst washing my hands in the adjacent bathroom, I heard (who I immediately understood to be) Edna’s ex-husband (and Tal’s father) – whom I had never met, and who was totally oblivious to my presence – enter the apartment, and head straight for the toilet.

“Shit!” I exclaimed to myself. “What stinking luck!” One always likes a few minutes grace after visiting one’s host’s WC.

And my worst fears were confirmed at once, with the uncouth bellowing of “Ed-naaa . . . eifo ha’spray (where’s the spray)?!”

“Shut up!” I silently begged. “Pleeease!!”

I had, now, nowhere to hide.

I mean, I hardly expected a momentary awkwardness, followed swiftly by a forced (and redundant) clearing of the throat and an off-the-cuff comment on the day’s weather – the inevitable English response – off a Moroccan! But, meeting the corpulent, hairy native in the narrow corridor, neither did he deem a cheeky grin and a wink to suffice . . .

La’briyut, gever (good health, man)!” bellowed the great oaf – clearly delighting in my lavatorial faux pas – as he shook my hand in traditional, Gever Gever Israeli style (i.e., as if trying to yank my arm off my torso).

I was reminded, by way of contrast, of an incident from my youth – at a friend’s parents’ dinner table in the genteel London suburb of St. John’s Wood – when a contemporary’s risqué crack was instantly met, by our friend’s mother, with a totally straight-faced “More meat, Jonathan?”

But the thought of saying nothing on the subject – or, at least, nothing that would heighten my considerable discomfort – had not even occurred to Edna’s ex. And I wouldn’t mind, but it is not as if your average Israeli male has exemplary toilet habits (see a philistine with a small pee).

On the other hand, perhaps I am just, still, a little too sensitive to that male. After all, the episode was nowhere near as humiliating as that experienced by a friend, backpacking Down Under, who – from overenthusiastic eating on suddenly being reacquainted with home cooking – chundered over the seder (Passover) table of his Australian friend’s parents, whom he had just met that same evening.

It was also far less excruciating than that suffered by another travelling friend, who chose the family home of an American girlfriend, no less, to discharge matter that stubbornly refused to be sent on its fetid way. Seeing no alternative – and I jest not – he fished the offending object out of the bowl, wrapped it in toilet paper, and smuggled it out of the house.

Nonetheless, hardly just reward for a well-intentioned visit to a poorly child.

http://www.justgiving.com/melchettmike

Giving too much of a f*ck: kiosk counselling

I took Tali to the kiosk on Rothschild for the first time on Sunday morning.    

Bringing a new girlie to the kiosk is no less of an ordeal or a statement than introducing her to your mother (not least because wake-up coffee is the clearest indication that you are no longer sleeping only with your dogs).    

Avi “Borsa” (so-called because of his preoccupation with the stock market), who rarely descends from his stool once parked on it, made an immediate point of coming over to take a good look. Indeed, I was half expecting him, like an inquisitive child in Madame Tussauds, to reach out and touch Tali’s nose.    

Anyway, by the following morning, when I was at the kiosk on my own, the news was clearly out – it was official: (to those not already cognisant of my formidable record with the ladies) I was definitely not now gay, celibate, or just incapable of pulling.    

Dalia, a fifty-something mother of two, was disappointed, even frustrated, to have missed Tali the previous day (having departed her perch slightly earlier than usual). Avi, however, had already updated her.    

“So, who is she?” Dalia enquired, before my bottom had even hit the stool.    

“Just a girl,” I replied nonchalantly.    

“She’s nice,” Avi interjected, and then repeated, providing the affirmation he believed I must have been waiting for.    

“Thank you, Avi,” I replied, playing along as genuinely grateful to have received the green light to continue the relationship.    

“Take her to a nice restaurant,” Dalia instructed. “To Pronto,” she immediately followed up, as if I was not capable, on my own, of identifying a nice restaurant.    

Omitting to mention that Tali’s mother had invited us – and with an unjustified, therefore, air of self-satisfaction – I informed Dalia that we had already been to Idi, a classy fish restaurant in Ashdod. Dalia gave Avi a look as if to say: “You see. I told you. He is not such a clueless twerp after all.”    

Having passed (even if by cheating) that test, Dalia moved onto her next piece of advice. “Take her away somewhere nice for the weekend.” Avi, 49 and single – though, on this showing, clearly not because he knows not the ways to woo a lady – nodded enthusiastically. I ignored them both.    

“How long are you going to wait?” Dalia – on a now inexorable roll, and only just moving into fifth gear – continued, “Ilan and I got married after two and a half months.”    

“We are just getting to know each other, Dalia!”    

She rolled her eyes. My mother would love Dalia for all of this.    

“Anyway,” I said, “I am too young to rush into anything.” Dalia doesn’t get my humour (or attempts thereat).    

But how does an Englishman deal with such unbridled directness and complete lack of boundaries? Dalia and Avi are, after all, kiosk friends and no more. 

The kiosk, however, is not unlike the kibbutz chadar ochel (dining room) – it is as if, by merely sitting there, one waives one’s right to a private life. 

Perhaps, however, I waived that simply by making aliyah. Indeed, the Diaspora Jew’s guiding principle – “Don’t get involved” – could not be more alien to the Israeli. In fact, he likes nothing more: from advice on dating, to my current weight, my taste in clothes, to how I might better train the dogs (see Who the f*ck asked you?!

The flip side, of course, of all of this is echpatiyut, Hebrew for caring. In England, no one gives a f*ck, often even about those close to them (never mind virtual strangers).    

Anyway, perhaps it is it just that Dalia believes that a guy like me is not going to take the plunge without a little (or, in her case, not so little) push . . . and that it is her duty to inform me that, at 42, I must take whatever I can get.    

I saw Dalia again yesterday morning, when even the seemingly imperative question of where I pick up my gas mask could not distract her.    

“You have to take Tali to meet your mother,” she reopened the issue.

After all this, my mum is going to be a walk in the park.    

The kiosk, Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv