Monday, July 31, 2006

I write this only because I'm in total shock.

As you know, I'm on the google front page for british gas three star contract, and I used to be the top hit, which was ironic, because I'm not a utility provider. And also, they don't officially call it a Three Star Contract anymore.

And, as you also know, I had some fun and games with them about three years ago, which I called the British Gas Years. , and then again in 2004.

But get this. Friday, I get a phone call. "Your service isn't due for a month, but can we do it early? Like, Monday?"

And they just arrived, and it's fine, and the bloke even bled my radiators, which is a little pathetic of me to ask, I grant you, but I have a lot of learned helplessness around household maintenance. My shower has been broken for a month. Although I do like painting.

So, no news. Good, huh?
OK, this is freaky.

I mean, synchronicity, OK. Like, yesterday, I went to check out a place in Notting Hill for someone, and when I was there, I saw the brother of a school friend I haven't seen for years. We kinda we're eyeing each other up, out of context, is it you.

So I wrote that Dorothy-click-your-heels reference five minutes ago. And then I was thinking about The Wizard of Oz.

Did I mention my neighbour's a DJ? We've had a lot of conversations about it. A lot. Usually it's descarga and Marley and hard-core house, but suddenly... it was Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I'm not kidding. To a bass beat and loud, sure, but strong and sweet and ... kinda freaky, let's face it.
I have just discovered the Jewishblogging website, which appears to have catergorised me as "orthodox Judaism" even though I defy categorisation, and am deeply uncomfortable with the phrase orthodoxy. Observant, frum, involved, Torah-Jew, maybe, but orthodox? Doesn't sound right to me.
Now we know what Mel Gibson really thinks. Although he's apologised.
It's Tisha B'Av on Wednesday night/Thursday - the ninth of Av, a fast day, and pretty serious day in the Jewish calendar.

It's about commemorating all the bad things - and let's face it, Jewish history is the narrative of "they tried to kill us" - and it feels particularly intense this year.

Truth is the first casualty of war - but reading and not reading what's happening in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, I'm having a hard time. This feels like, in so many ways, it's the worst it's ever been.

While you may not be that interested in my personal Jewish journey, I'm getting frummer. It's a surprise, even to me. And of course, I'll never be that frum, because I'm sort of modern and post-denominational and all those things. But when I came to choosing between the Masorti and Federation shuls that I largely frequent, now, when it feels like it's really important, the chips are down, I need to be in the place that feels most like home.

Like in the Wizard of Oz. You just click your heels, and say, "there's no place like home."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Also yesterday, I got into whole conversation about how to travel green. Like, I don't really believe in short-haul flights, or any, really. And I definitely think air fuel should be taxed.

So in an effort to live my values, I have looked on the internet. Always the first port of call. Port in a storm, and all that.

We had the idea for a website called or something, but turns out the guy in Seat 61 has worked out how to travel to both Amsterdam and Jersey (both trips I am considering making).

I am increasingly aware of my carbon footprint. You only live once, and all that. And there's only one planet.
Apropos of a conversation I had yesterday about the impending war* (which is a code for my version of the breakdown of society), turns out I thought exactly the same in 2002. Least I'm consistent.
This tangentially reminds me of a converastion I had during the week, where it became clear to me that I'm probably not prepared to live anywhere in the UK where there was a Jewish massacre or blood libel. I mean, I like London, I'm not currently thinking of moving, but, you know. Which counts out York, Lincoln and Norwich (although, obviously, Norfolk in general is a lovely place to visit).

Luckily, the UK's geo-demographics have changed somewhat since the twelfth century, so I'm unlikely to want to go and live in a former medieval market town. But nowadays, that would be Birmingham, Leeds... big, urban cities with big(ish) Jewish populations.

I'm guessing a lot of English people don't know about blood libels and massacres. I remember arguing with my A-level history teacher because we did Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, and while we mentioned the Spanish Inquisition (and of course no one forgets the Spanish Inquisition), we managed to get through the whole sylabus without mentioning the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. She said it wasn't on the sylabus.

And, just for completeness sake, in case you didn't know, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, and re-admitted by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. And you wonder why people are sensitive.
I am moderately incensed that I have just heard a journalist on the BBC's Sunday AM ask a Tory pundit if they're going after "Jewish donors."

Now, I switched on as he said that, so there may - outside chance - be a small chance that there's a perfectly legitimate reason to ask that question. I had a late night, I had some vodka, but I can't imagine what it would be.

I don't know* if it's antisemitic to ask that, but it makes me feel damned uncomfortable.

* I do, but I'm not (totally) saying. Jews and money stereotype, anyone?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Incredible art from Beirut artist Laure Ghorayeb.
Great adverts all over the shop for the Noise Concern website.

Who's the DJ? My neighbour.


A little hard to see, but this is Stonehenge, as viewed from the rather picturesque A303.

Portobello van

So back in 2002, before these guys had a website, I'm guessing, I briefly became the google top hit for Portobello Van Hire. And then, driving back from Cornwall, crossing the Portsmouth ferry, I think, I saw one.

You always remember the first time you see something so meaningful. Sadly the BMW in front obscured my view slightly. But here it is - a geunine, bona fida Portobello Van Hire van.

Who knew?
So the transfat debate has come back - check out today's piece on proposed food labelling.

You probably remember that I got into all this over three years ago when I discovered the Don't Partially Hydrogenate Me campaign (although I don't have the t-shirt). And I even wrote about it again in 2004.

I have to say, for the last three years, I do look at ingredients list, and there are biscuits I used to buy that look all healthy and home-made, but actually are full of partially hydrogenated crap. Which is not good for you. So I have been... mindful of this stuff, although I think you need to know where to look, and if there's better labelling, that'll be good for everyone.
Tech-support request

Does anyone know if there is a difference between DNS and name-servers? I think I have done something bad, but I can't tell, entirely.

Does it make a difference if I change the DNS and not the nameservers? Am I supposed to do both? Who knows.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

the walk to polperro

Just got my photos off my phone, and this is to remind me of the beautiful walk I did every day when I was on holiday.

I walked two or three miles to the nearest village along beautiful country lanes. The country is a lot nicer than Kilburn when it comes to greenery, let's face it.

I also discovered that there are red rubber bands in Cornwall, although they are more spread out, as the houses are more spread out. I even met the local postman. I did not, however, ask him to contribute to my collection.

blue graffiti man

Saw this guy on a little jaunt to Queens Park this morning.

I love good graffiti. It's genuine street art, I feel creatively... nourished when I see it. Which is lucky, because this is Kilburn, let's face it.

But the kids who have (badly) tagged the doctor's surgery? They need some lessons, craft.
So I'm talking to a friend, and I said that I was going to post him something.

Post? He exclaimed. That's so twentieth century. The only meaningful way to make an arrangement with me is to send an email to my work address.

Because he doesn't open his post, listen to the voicemails on his home answerphone, read his personal email account, or anything.

So, if you're going to post something in the old-fashioned way, could you send me email, telling me to look for it?

What have we come to? The over-communicated generation.
Turns out our power supplies can't even cope with the demand for air-conditioning: sweltering Soho hit by power cuts.
Another Times piece - from yesterday's paper - on positive deviants in the workplace.

It's not that I'm changing my newspaper allegience, honest. It's that I was walking past a newsagent, and I saw this headline that said "why companies need people who step out of line."

And I thought, that's me. When I had a job-job, I was always the person saying "why are we doing it like this?" (or more likely, why are we doing it this stupid way). I rocked the boat, I said what I thought. I mean, I was good at what I did, and I made lots of people lots of money, but I think I was a... maverick. I had my own questioning way of doing things, but everyone in my team always got more than their estimated bonus, because we met and way exceeded every target that was set.

Not least because I spent a huge amount of time in board meetings parrying the budget. What I realised was, like everything, you can game it. So, the first year, I set myself a tough, realistic target. That's what people did. But then, in the next budget year process, I realised that it's a negotiation. I put my bid in for the highest-cost-base, lowest-revenue scenario. Then we parried (although with manicures and highlights). Then I got something a bit more, but achievable. Then I negotiated something extra for the team for an increase over the target. Of course all the politicking meant I hardly ever saw my team, but as, at that time, I was quite shouty, they were probably quite happy. I was like an interpreter - I spoke our language and the board's, and was an intercessor between the two.

I remember once, having a whole conversation with my CEO about overheads (which were the thing, eventually, that made me leave). I was trying to negotiate a payment holiday. We talked about it for a few weeks, and then she said, "where did this payment holiday thing come from?" And I said, "my head" and the whole thing fell apart. She thought it was real.

Anyway, this is all sidetrackage. I thought this article was about people like me. But it wasn't, really. The people in the piece were less difficult than I was, although shared the... (I hate this phrase) thinking-out-of-the-boxness that I like. But interesting nonetheless. I commend it to you all. Also, it quotes someone I grew up with, who has clearly recovered from my sitting on his head when he was six months old.
So, in recent years I've become more at one with the ideals of the voluntary simplicity movement.

I've changed my life: stopped the city-style career, got less interested in acquiring things. In fact, I divested myself of quite a lot of my belongings, and continue to do so.

And when it's my birthday, I used to have a party and like 300 people would come over to my house and buy me a scented candle or something. And then, it would be like a scented candle shop. One of the reasons I stopped having big parties like that is that I couldn't really handle getting all this extra... stuff.

I have a lot of stuff. I come from a long line of refugees, basically.

Now, for gifts, I mostly get people charitable donations. Friends who have children, they already have a lot of clothes (unless it's a first child). Friends who get married in their thirties, mostly have a lot of stuff. Older people have everything, anyway (I tend to get my dad sponsorship of a rare book at the British Library. Not that he's older, of course. Just older than me).

I got rid of all my videos and DVDs, save for like a dozen, and now I rent or borrow stuff I want to see.

I gave a lot of clothes to a charity shop. Some cool things, I eBayed.

It's not that I'm against gifts. If a good friend buys me a book, or something I really want, or something that's useful, or beautiful, obviously I think that's lovely, and I'm touched. But if a lot of acquaintances buy me something silly, I just feel... silly.

I realise all this is at odds with my girly-shopping thing. People are contradictory. You know that.

Anyway, great piece in the Times about buying less, based on a book called Not Buying It by Judith Levine. (Who, surely, is unzerer, right?). Strangely, the book is reduced at Amazon. Sign of the - consumerist - times.

So here's the thing. I am going to some friends in Hendon for lunch on Shabbat, and I thought I'd walk there.

In this heat, it's kinda a little impractical to walk in a skirt. But I'd like to go to shul. But then, most shuls are not so at one with a moderately sweaty woman turning up in a hat, long sleeves (snius, sounds good so far) and trousers.

So I will probably go to New North London, which is fine, but it adds like two miles to the walk.

Of course, it's all good exercise.

It's interesting inside my head, right?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Guest bloggers...

Now that I've dealt with my 1,200 emails, chased some invoices, made some calls, got my feet under the desk, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to my guest bloggers.

It was weird being away. I had housesitters (friends of friends, who left me a lovely letter) in my real house, and blogsitters on my blog. It was like, even though I wasn't, technically here, everything carried on.

Jaq, Yoz and Justin did a fabulous job. Thank you. They managed to sort of infer the sashinka house-style without any real instructions or guidance (my guidance said: write whatever you want), and covered the perfect mix of geek, Jewish, interesting, observational. With the just the right amount of obsessional regularity.

In fact, I found it very wonderful. I don't look at my blog that often, because I generally know what's there. But this way, there was new interesting stuff. By people I like and respect who can write. It was kinda better than me.

So, they've kept their logins. I don't think it's quite turning into a group blog, but don't be surprised if you see the odd post from The Blogsitters.

They sound like an eighties band, don't they?
It's official, we live in the climate change era. It's in the papers, it must be true.

Here's what I've discovered so far about global warming/climate change:
  • Your washing dries a lot faster outside
  • It doesn't really matter if your lawn isn't green and luscious
  • There's still a lot of people out there who think it's a surprise, the unseasonably hot weather
  • It's going to be a lot colder in the winter

    And here's what I don't beleive in:
  • Buying electric fans (unless you have very small children)
  • Installing air conditioning
  • Saying "hot enough for you?" unironically to sweaty people you meet in the street

    And here's what I do believe in:
  • Opening the window
  • Drinking a lot of water (not carbonated, and not fizzy drinks)
  • Wearing loose, light clothes
  • Carrying a (paper) fan
  • Just getting used to it
  • Moaning as little as possible

    Some of these things are a hangover from my South East Asian experience. Some are common sense. I have a large, industrial type fan, from the 2003 heatwave, and I haven't got it out yet, this summer. I mean, if it gets really hot, I could, but I'd like to reserve it. It seems, somehow, counterintuitive to use more electricity (ie create more greenhouse gasses) to cool down when it's hot because we had a stonking great carbon footprint to start with. It's like a viscious circle. Do the damage, do more damage trying to fix the symptoms of the damage.

    Of course, I'm not commuting, so I may have a slightly rose-tinted perspective. But still.
  • Hands up if you believe in cranial osteopathy?

    The reason I ask, is that I'm just off to see mine. Possesive pronoun indicates it's a semi-regular/more than one-off thing.

    Over the years, I've flirted with alternative. Accupuncture, definitely. Crystals? Forget it (once, a friend of mine's mother came to stay for a few weeks, and she hung a crystal in my east window because the house spoke to her and told her that's what it needed, and I couldn't wait for her to leave so I could take it down. I didn't want to embarass her (not exactly halachic/nice), but I'm just not that flakey).

    Generally, I believe in science (73%) and fact, and the odd bit of hocus-pocus touchy feeliness (27%). I believe in listening to people, being nice in general, individuality (not alternative, I realise).

    I've had the odd problem with my back, over the years. There are those in my family who think that if I had a breast reduction operation all my (back) problems would disappear, but I'm not of that opinion. But I've done a lot of things: yoga (iyengar and hatha), pilates, Alexander Technique, lots of situps. All these things are good.

    I've also done cranial osteopathy, but I don't know why. On paper, I sort of don't really believe in it. Although I'm kind of interested when she says what she thinks my body is telling her, because it's often the truth. Although - rarely, but ocassionally - massively wide of the mark .

    But the thing is, even though I don't really beleive in it, it works. So she's done wonders to my back/neck, over the years, and really helped me out last time I got a bit stuck at L4-L5 (but then, so did the valium. Not that one should take benzodiazapemes, children, they are addictive).

    It's possible that this is a na'aseh v'nishmah situation. Or, as a wise friend said the other night, a sort-of Masorti approach, you kind of don't really believe in it, but you do it anyway.

    As you can see, I am in deep thought (very Hitchikers Guide) about Masorti v Orthodoxy. Even if I am post-denominational, so don't technically care. But it can be confusing.

    Maybe it's the back pain talking.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    So, a few years ago, someone said to me, in passing, that the Ice Age had finished at Finchley Road Tube station.

    And I was quite taken with this. It was before the seriously-google age. It was the age of early search. I probably put it into Altavista and found places to buy ice cubes in Finchley.

    I've often wondered, and I was talking to a friend about this, yesterday, which way the Ice Age was travelling. Was it the whole of the south east, and then by Kilburn it was spring? Or the other way around?

    So I was going to write this whole witty thing about urban myths and how one ever finds out anything. So I went to my trusty google toolbar, and guess what?

    Analysis of earth removed when tunnelling towards the station revealed that its site was exactly on the edge of the glacier which covered Britain to the north throughout the last Ice Age. The wikipedian oracle has spoken.

    So - kinda - mystery over. I mean, where they got the info, I don't really know, but hey, if it's on the internet, it must be true.
    We all know there's a difference between global warming and climate change. But, whichever, the smog and pollution are terrible.

    The last thing we need is to use more electricity. Go on, open a window. There's even a nice breeze on a stillish day like this. Really, believe me.
    So here's me, on a healthy-eating kick, and a Jewish-vegetarian to boot. And now this (which I've wondered about, the GM stuff, for a while) in todayu's Guardian: Whether you know it or not, you'll probably be eating soya today. It's in 60% of all processed food, from cheese to ice cream, baby formula to biscuits. But should it carry a health warning? Felicity Lawrence investigates.

    Welcome back to reality, it's like the Guardian is saying to me. With a bump.

    I'm back. I'm in London. It takes seven hours to drive back from Cornwall if you stop for a couple of restorative cups of tea and are not obsessed with the times/average speed per hour.

    Guess how many emails I had in two weeks? Go on, you know you want to.


    To keep up my longstanding flower thing - this is an artichoke flower. Can you believe? I mean, I thought they just grew in Sainsburys. And I had no idea they were purple.

    Sunday, July 23, 2006

    Cream of Port Eliot

    Closing afternoon of Port Eliot. What a weekend. In oh-so-many ways.

    I've listened to the Madrigirls, seen Immodesty Blaise, Saltpeter, heard (and danced to) Alex Bellos and his forro band, saw A Skin Too Few (Jeroen Berkven's amazing Nick Drake documentary), head Alexander Masters read from Stuart, talked through Alain de Botton (but then it was quite like his TV show), went to the AGM of the Could Appreciation Society, saw Martin Parr's photography exhibit of Port Eliot interiors, watched Barbara Hulanicki (of Biba fame) make clothes out of odds and ends, heard Rowan Pelling and Maria Alvarez talk about gothicity, madness and women, see Skye Gyngell (from the Petersham Cafe) cook with Wendy Fogarty (slow food movement, and seen Wendy's short based on Toby Litt's Rare Books story.

    And I've probably forgotten some things, too. I've had a little too much sun, but not that much to drink. I've met old and new friends, and sort of wandered round this huge, beautiful estate like I'm a cross between a private party and a very large summer weddding.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    I am at the Port Eliot LitFest in St Germans.

    I am sitting in the Eliot Arms, having lunch while I wait for D to get in at the train station in Liskeard.

    All the people from Hamstead and Notting Hill and those kind of places are here. There are a lot of birkenstocks. I ran into S, which was nice, because I figured I might not know anyone. And D2 texted to say he's on his way, too.

    Here are some fragments of overhead conversation so far:

    "If I sort myself out to have a baby, I mean, I'm on my own, but if I do, will you stop me from brining it up to be a real spoiled brat? I can't bear Only Child Syndrome."

    "That one, she's passed on her food fads to her children. Natasha/Georgia/your contemporary middle class name here will have bulimia, soon."

    "Of course she has allergies. Everyone does nowadays. She's a clean freak. She hoovered over my hoovering."

    I think it's going to be fun here. And, there's free wireless.

    This morning, when I left my lovely barn, I had a long cup of tea with L, the owner, which covered a whole range of subjects. I'm pretty sure she's putting wireless broadband in. It's not that I persuaded her, honest. I mean, it was kinda nice to have to drive twelve miles to get online. Really.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006


    * apologies for the length. I should probably put this somewhere else, which I might do when I get home. The luxury of having time to think.

    Sometimes, I feel like I have a heightened sense of community – Jewish – and belonging – ditto – and I can’t help wondering why.

    Except I know. I grew up in a place like no other. Of course I imagine that everyone thinks the place they grew up in the best place on earth – I’m guessing – but I know it to be true.

    How? Well, between 1992 and 1993 I lived in about fifteen countries. It’s a long story – aren’t the best ones always? – but I’d just left college and got a crazy job with a media company as an internal marketing consultant (tech-enabled variant) and I went round a lot of places, renegotiated database contracts, installed database systems, trained people, wrote manuals (oh, those paper-heavy days, although I do remember researching the burgeoning online help market) and had a trail of technical support queries that followed me around the globe.

    I was very self-contained. I had a – the heaviest – laptop, a suit, a pair of jeans, a swimming costume, and a colleague called Margaret who I now realise was having an affair with the IT guy, who turned up, coincidentally, or so I thought, at all the same installations.

    While I often think that being Jewish is a bit like being in the diving club, or enjoying hill walking or bridge or particularly fine wines – essentially, a cult-of-sorts – that’s patently not the case. Because everywhere I went, I had an open-sesame to a group of people who – broadly – did/believed in the things I believed in.

    First stop, Singapore. Brief detour to spend Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur in New York with a (then) anorexic friend who broke our collective fast on a bag of cashew nuts. Singapore was hot, steamy, other. I hadn’t, then, got the hang of Asia, and the whole place smelled to me like a steam room in a Willesden municipal swimming pool that was due for a speedy refurbishment. I had all the wrong clothes and couldn’t get the hang of how to be in hot weather (something I’ve still not entirely mastered, although I do carry a Chinese fan in my handbag, hangover from my 97% humidity days).

    So I went to shul on Succot, and Simchat Torah and Shabbat, and it was like arriving in Cheadle – sefardi style. A Bagdadi community with a nusach like none I’d ever experienced, it was a small community, lots of passers-through and incomers, but with a Family that ran the show, and a Guy who ran the shul and broiguses, money, failed invitations and disappointed spinsters. Maybe all communities are the same?

    People were enormously welcoming to me. Given that about forty travellers turned up in shul every Shabbat for the free lunch, the community was particularly nice to me, once they’d realised I was there for a while.

    On the second Shabbat, an old woman who looked like the old women at sefardi weddings who wear black and ululate all through the chuppah (apparently, to remind us of the destruction of the temple, like breaking the glass), invited me home to marry her nephew. I mean, to have lunch.

    People don’t change. Wherever they are.

    I had a great time there – made great friends, felt totally part of the community, even “ate outside” on a Friday night (which did not mean on the terrace, as I had supposed it would), and then suddenly I was shipped off to Amsterdam.

    There was a rabbi – Frank someone? – passing through Singapore my last Shabbat, and he said to me, my old friend XXX lives in Amsterdam, you must look him up. He gave me a phone number. Frank was himself in his early forties at the time, I estimated.

    I arrived in Amsterdam mid-winter with only my summer clothes to my name (a short stretchy skirt from the Gap that I wore with a t-shirt, and put a jacket on if I had to go to a meeting). The first morning, I went to a great shop called Pauw (means peacock) opposite my new apartment in Amsterdam Zuid (behind an excellent bar called Wildschut, if any of you remember it). This shop was great – not cheap, but not that expensive, and I bought two or three outfits (I still have one skirt).

    In the office, all the women were staring at me. It was only after some weeks I discovered that Pauw was – then – the most expensive shop in Amsterdam and they were all jealous/thought I earned a fortune. Not true. Although I did have an urgent need for winter clothes.

    And I called Frank’s friend, who told me to meet him outside shul on Friday night. I was kinda shocked that they ask you for your passport on the door at shul, as I hadn’t even thought to bring it. And then I hung around for ages, looking for a young(ish) guy. Eventually, a properly old man came up to me , “sasha?”. He was like seventy. But he was Frank’s friend.

    I spent a wonderful few shabbatot with their incredibly warm family; their grandchildren were my age. They were unbelievably hospitable, but that is also true of my Dutch workmates, many of whom invited me round to their house for a meal. The difference between watching a place and guessing and truly experiencing it like you live there, is if people are warm.

    And it’s one of the reasons, if I ever meet anyone passing through London, I invite them round to my house. I know the incredible difference it made to me in so many places – Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Bangkok – and I feel like it’s some kind of global karma. I don’t expect to be able to reciprocate to the people who were so generous to me – sadly, I don’t even remember lots of peoples names – but I think I hand that on to whoever I meet next.

    And also, I grew up like that. My parents’ Friday night dinner tables were always replete with interesting people, people who’d turned up in shul, people who’d called up out of the blue, students. Years later, I was involved in a London shul, and we were trying to organise how to be more hospitable (not a conversation I believe a provincial shul would have) and I suggested that we all invite someone for lunch every week. And this woman, I’ll never forget, said “but what if you haven’t made enough lunch?” And I thought my lunch, and my mother’s lunches, and most of my friends’, would stretch. Shabbat lunch is not a portion-controlled plated experience: it stretches as far as it needs to. It’s not about the food. Also, everyone over-caters.

    The thing about Amsterdam, the Jewish community, is that everyone (my age)’s grandparents spent the war in a cupboard. Otherwise they wouldn’t be here. So there’s a lot of guilt. And a lot of people leave (because of the guilt, I’m guessing). Frank’s friend had an amazing story about how he’d genuinely put a message in a bottle, trying to find his lost family, and years later bizarrely received a message in a bottle via a circuitous route, from some Russian (Jewish) musicians and he brought their whole family out of Russia and acted as their guarantor. He didn’t even know them. He just had the karma.

    So, in that couple of years, I went to a lot of shuls. Communities. Hong Kong, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Jakarta… (Margaret took Oz/NZ and all the northern European countries). I think the list is longer, but it’s on my CV and I can’t remember and I’m in a field in the middle of nowhere. Imperfect data.

    But what I remember, from then, and even sometimes now, is that searching feeling. Don’t get me wrong: I went to some wonderful places and was welcomed into some immensely warm communities and families. But everywhere I went, the little voice in my head was… searching for Cheadle. Yeshurun. Trying to find that special feeling that characterised how I grew up.

    It was the seventies. My parents house looked exactly like the CD cover of some exciting (contemporary-now) retro seventies band. All purple swirls, big flowers. They are very stylish. I remember Julie S’s parents had black shagpile carpet and a red piano. Or maybe it was the other way around. Some houses were not unlike the interiors of the Ice Storm.

    I didn’t appreciate then, what an amazing community it was. From the strong female role models, taking an active – nay vociferous – part in the running of the community. The huge cheder. Local Jewish school. Walking down the street, just running into people you knew. It wasn’t like the shtetl. It was rose-tinted. My two best friends lived the other side of Kingsway (the great divide) and we spent a lot of time sitting around on a shabbes afternoon playing the catalogue game (they read you a description and price, you have to guess what it is). We found this a lot of fun, don’t ask me why. It was before the internet.

    And the people I grew up with? I still see quite a lot of them. A couple of weeks ago, I went for a long walk with someone I was at cheder with, batmitzvah with. The people I grew up with, strangely, are writers, actors, directors, film makers, musicians. I mean, not exclusively; there are obviously lots of doctors and lawyers. Obviously.

    But it felt like this vibrant, magical time. Maybe it’s just the rose-tinted past. But I learned what it’s like being in a real community (when there’s a Ladies’ Guild catered do, and that woman can’t bake, don’t let her go home with an unappealingly unopened cake. Take a slice out of it, and throw it away. She won’t feel so bad). Also I learned how to make tomatoes in the shape of flowers. There was a lot of catering.

    But catering was about community – whether for shivas, or model seders, or regular kiddushim. We knew – I knew – that we weren’t all the same. People had bigger/smaller houses/cars/jobs, but it felt like we were all pulling together, going in the same direction. The doorbell was always ringing. People were always dropping in. Between 1971 and 1977 – in my mind – was one very long cup of tea with three of my mum and dad’s next door neighbours (all of whom I called auntie something till I was about seventeen).

    As a kid, the rhythm of my life was dictated by the Jewish year. Much as it is now, some things don’t change. So I remember model seders (practice runs in cheder, the week before), building the succah. Making cheesecake or hamantashen with my mum. Shlepping the pots down for pesach (I recently learned a great lifehack from an Australian friend: have separate Pesach cupboards in your normal kitchen, then just seal the regular ones and open the pesach ones. A lot less work).

    I remember funerals and shivas. I remember when my grandpa died (I was four. In news at school I apparently wrote “my grandpa died, we have parties every night”). I remember my grandparents in and out of our house, and we theirs, and our lives totally intermingled.

    It felt like life was one huge celebration of everything that’s Jewish. Although a lot of it was also about interior d├ęcor, house prices and who was wearing what for Yom Tov. But that’s part of those kinds of communities, and I think of it very warmly.

    And every community I’ve ever visited since? They’re benchmarked. Almost Cheadle. Not Cheadle. Not quite Cheadle. Not ever Cheadle.

    Right now, I’m involved with two communities.

    One, Masorti (conservative), is fabulous. Large, but fabulous. It really is a community that lives its values. People are not so showy (although some still spend a lot of money on clothes, just less showy clothes). It’s a community of 1,600 people where the rabbi will still call you up if something happens in your life. And about four people invited me for seder. The other, Federation (frum), equally wonderful in its way, and with which I have a … troubled relationship. I love all the people there, but it’s… complicated. But it’s the place, strangely, that feels most like home. It’s smaller, more intimate, the politics are more obvious. Maybe the warmth is that a lot of people there are also from smaller, provincial communities, originally. Strangely, the Rov still calls you up if something happens in your life.

    If I had to choose between a Rov and a Rabbi, I think I’d choose a Rov.

    So I’ve rambled for quite a long time (the joy of being on holiday), but what I’m really saying is that I grew up with an incredible model of a vibrant community, that’s etched on my brain, my mind’s eye. When I go back – things change, I know – it’s just not the same. It’s not bad. It’s just different. I often discuss this with R, who lives across the road and equally fondly remembers the Cheadle heyday. The people I know are older. The people I don’t know moved there for the vibrant community, but don’t necessarily know that it’s a two way deal. They seem… disappointed that the community hasn’t delivered for them.

    What they don’t seem to know – yet – that living in a community is a relationship. Actually, it’s a carefully constructed spiders’ web of relationships – who collects the etrogim after succos to make etrog jam; who repairs the siddurim, who can blow the shofar if someone’s sick, who does tahara when someone dies, who’ll collect your kids from school if you’re stuck – that is balanced on years and years of give and take. It might not even be you who gives and takes equally, or at the same time. And not all the relationships are about bad things: it’s also about who celebrates your children’s exam successes with you, who sends you flowers when you have grandchildren. It’s about sharing life’s experiences, good or bad.

    I talked recently with a friend about the whole stupid celebrity thing that goes on now, and he used the phrase “living your life in front of a live studio audience.” I think this may have been in relation to my desire to blog, to put (some of) my personal experiences online. But what I think, is that life is deeper, has more meaning when you share it. I read something recently about positive psychology/happiness, and apparently people with strong family and community ties are happier. So while Cheadle might not have been a live studio audience – there were, as far as I know, no cameras in the bedrooms – living that interconnected, entwined existence, with friends and neighbours, gave our lives an added depth, dimension. Which is something I still have now.

    The joy of a community is, when you can give, give. When you need to take, take.

    And lots of places I lived, all that time ago, I wasn’t there long enough, in deep enough to see that. But I still benchmarked. I still checked. But what I know – now – is that that Cheadle, the one of my childhood, only exists in my memory. Now.

    But that feeling – warmth, collective experience, even davening, sharing, cooking – is something I couldn’t imagine not having in my life.

    Monday, July 17, 2006


    View of the Polruan harbour, glimpsed through a door on the walk down to the quay.

    I have learned a whole load of boat/water/shipping vocabulary that I never thought I would need.

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    The beach at Looe

    Paddled at the beach at Looe, yesterday.

    Something I've noticed about this part of Cornwall: there are lots of places that start with L: Looe, Liskeard, and hundreds of small villages I've passed with hard to pronounce names.

    In sympathy with minhag hamakom - local custom - I am listening to the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order.
    Shabbat Shalom from Cornwall.
    In answer to Justin's question; I have just spent over three hours in a wireless coffee shop, on the strength of a strawberrie smoothie and two camomile teas. And they've been all smiley and nice.

    banjo pier

    The Banjo Pier at Fowey. Can you believe how perfect and blue the sky and the sea are? I'm turning into a real scenery junkie.


    Who knew that raspberries were Britain's greatest fruit?

    I am so taking a total holiday from hyperbole, copywriting and marketing.


    I feel that in some way, this photo proves that I am holiday. I am wearing flip flops. There is that faded wood you see near the sea. The sun is shining (although you can't see it in this photo) and I am relaxed (whichis also hard to see from this self-portrait, but hey this is the internet, there's only so much I'm going to show you, let's face it).

    the view from my window

    This is the view from the window of my barn. Luckily, there is a small B road three fields away, and I can hear the faint hum, ocassionally.

    It's nothing, clearly, on theKilburn High Road.
    Cornwall Update

    So it only took me four days to find internet access. I'm in Fowey, apparently home of Daphne du Maurier, surfing on free wireless at the Toll Bar. I will almost certainly be back here.

    Fowey (pronounced Foye) is like the Hampstead of Cornwall, as far as I can tell. I was just sitting next to a family where the parents had clearly had their teeth whitened, and their kids were called Sebastian, Atticus and Mathilda. I kid you not.

    What've I done?

  • A friend flew across the water to hang out, and we walked the coastal path, went shopping, went out for dinner, talked, caught up... very relaxing

  • I have taken my car on a ferry. This is a slightly disturbing experience, although I will also have to do it on the way home

  • Walked quite a long way up country lanes that appear to go nowhere

  • Just done nothing. Which has been remarkably nice

  • Got a lot of early nights

  • Written. Read. Re-read. Re-written.

  • Been to a lot of shops that sell surf clothes. I do not surf.

  • Let a lot of people pass me at the passing places.

  • Talked a lot slower. There is less immediacy here.

  • Unintentionally, got a slight sun-tan.

    I am delighted that my house-sitting-bloggers have said everything I would want to say: a careful concoction of geek, Jewish, what's going on in Israel (that I am getting in a totally fragmentary way here)... thank you all.

    I feel like... there's a lot more I'd like to say, but I'm out of practice, communicating on a moment-by-moment basis.

    More, later.
  • Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    I may be gone some time...

    I may or may not have sporadic internet access. I have rabbinical students coming to live in my house. I have a boot full of printer and paper (and walking boots, which were made for walking).

    I have sent sashinka logins to six trusty friends/readers, who will or will not do with this blog what they wish. Watch.

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Building collapses in Manhattan - apparently, not terrorism.
    I can't be the only person who's noticed that Sunday's Observer, when reviewing Howard Jacobsen's Kalooki Nights, seems to be calling him Howard Johnson. Easy mistake, I guess. Trade a Mancunian, Jewish author for a chain of mid-range American hotels. We could all do it.

    kill * a * instinkt

    There's a lot of things about modernity that you have to get used to.

    Like, I often think, if my grandma came back, what things would be surprising to her?

    First off - and this is probably more urban London than the Manchester borscht belt - is graffiti.

    So this one, across the road from me, in deepest Mapesbury (technically, a conservation area, but hey) is an interesting example. I like urban art - there's a real skill to the loud, urgent lines of well executed graffiti. When people do bad tags, though, I don't like it. I think if they're going to practice, they should practice on the inside of their own walls.

    This one, I'm ambivalent: good type, but not a fluid hand. Needs more practice, definitely needs more colour.

    Next peice of modernity: the amount of time people spend untanging their headphones/wires to their peripheral - but vital - technology. Even in the wireless age, there's just a lot of extra things to do.

    Final - on current list - the whole approximeet/verging on vaguely rude approach to social engagements. Don't get me wrong: I'm as guilty as anyone else, but I have my Grandma's (appointment, not personal) diary from 1939, and it's full of wonderfully drafted little notes of theatres, and dinners (surprising, given the imminent war) that I imagined were planned well ahead. Nowadays, most of my friends don't have an event horizon bigger than a fortnight, and for some, even that's pushing it.

    Sunday, July 09, 2006

    lost glasses

    Like, you really do feel the world is a benign, wonderful place when someone leaves your lost glasses on a tree, so you can find them.

    Of course, without your glasses, it might be a bit tricky to see.

    for your eyes only

    painted - rather artistically, I felt - on a tree stump. From far away, they definitely look like they're looking deep within your soul. Or, as Woody Allen would say, deep within the soul of the boy sitting next to you.

    ducks in a row

    Walking on the heath, this morning, across to Kenwood from Swains Lane, we figured they are tied together, right?

    The last couple of weekends have been wedding-city, and you get to spend time with your friends, and their families, and it's generally a good thing.

    What I've noticed is, that a lot of my friends have grandparents. Some friends who got married last April had three grandparent sitting on the front row, and one who couldn't travel up to Yorkshire. Yesterday, there were two (married) grandparents, who'd been married since 1953. Which is a long time, in anyone's book.

    I think I miss my grandparents. I haven't had any since I was at college, and when I look at my friends, and the relationships they have - for good or bad - they add depth, history, context to their life.

    My father's father died tragically young (although I was a very small child, and couldn't tell). During the shiva week, my grandma told me had gone to heaven to help Gd with the angels, and if I looked carefully skyward, I could see him. I sought him out till I walked into a lampost.

    That grandma died when I was at college, I think, and towards the end, she only spoke in Yiddish. I think I would like to sit and discuss antiques and books with her.

    On the other side, my grandpa had had a stroke well before I was born, so I never knew him as he was. To me, he was a shuffling old man, who couldn't talk, who basked in my grandma's love and attention. I like to think that I get some of my interest in community and commitment to public service from him.

    My grandma is, for some reason, the grandparent I feel closest to. Even though she was, at times, a difficult woman (although never to me: she was my main supplier of jelly babies), I feel a bond with her. Once, I went on holiday to an unreformed Mediterranean-damp thirties hotel in the Dead Sea and took the waters and had some over-built (female) Russian emigre pummel me like challah dough, all in the name of a massage. And as I wandered around this place - the name will come to me - I kept thinking of my grandma. And then, when I got home, my mum told my grandma used to go there, frequently.

    Like, I have some of her clothes, and acessories, and I kid myself that I have some of her style (she was very stylish). And I went through a stage of wearing a lot of brown and thirties acessories, because I felt like that was what she would have worn in the olden days. But apparently, the olden days were just not as good as we thought. Although there was a lot of brown.

    I fantasise about what it would be like if she was here; we would go shopping and meet for coffee. She would tell me to get a manicure (she was very committed to her manicure, as I remember her). She would be a benign, if firm, loving force in my life, and we would discuss recipes (I suspect she did not cook so much, but this is a fantasy), and family history, shopping, fashion, theatre.

    There's a Jewish tradition, that under a chuppah - wedding canopy - all your grandparents, and family that aren't here anymore, come and stand with you. I think it would be nice if it was like that all the time.

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Too much is never enough.... a phrase that's been in my head for a few weeks, now.

    Turns out there's a book, too. Afluenza, I like the sound of that. Although I was thinking about other things.
    How often does a person who lives in London, descale their kettle, I wonder?
    Long google-trail (work-related, honest) - John Wanamaker invented the "truth in advertising" slogan, and price tags (to stop people haggling, because we're all equal before Gd, apparently).
    And today is that anniversary. 7/7. I remember at this exact time last year, my very annoying neighbour knocked on my door to tell me there was a power surge problem at Liverpool Street, but I shouldn't worry, his wife was OK. My significant other should have been going through Liverpool Street at that exact time.

    I know we live in scary times. But I think life in all it's glorious technicolour details just carries on. Although, obviously, you can't help thinking about the enormity of it. All the what-ifs.


    I have had a small-ish sum of money invested in Premium Bonds from National Savings & Investments for the last few years. And I do a monthly standing order.

    And, I've never won. One single penny. And, I don't know if I know anyone who's won. Maybe, if you win small, it's hardly worth mentioning. And if you win big, you don't want to mention it.

    So, I'm thinking. Given my lousy luck thus far, should I just put the money in an high interest account? Or should I just keep gambling/hoping?

    I guess, it's not as bad as doing the lottery. At least I can get my money back.
    Obviously I don't believe that I have special powers - apart from c***king things up in a right royal fashion, every now and then - but it's odd that just when I've started to go a little easy on chocolate, the whole scare over salmonella in chocolate widens. Can't help wondering whether this is a message from the universe.
    For some reason, I can't forget this article.

    I read it in the Observer in October (the internet tells me) about the New Puritans. I know they sound like an eighties comeback band, but it's really about ethical shoppers and the worthier-than-thou. You should read it. I'd really like to know what you think.

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    You know how the world is - there's lots going on around you, you just don't always know.

    Well, yesterday, someone mentioned in passing that there is a lot of negative feeling about Jerusalem World Pride, scheduled for August 2006.

    Apparently, the (Sefardi) chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has written to the Pope, to ask him to issue an edict. And there's general bad feeling and petitions from the charedim and right wing. Good summary here from PinkNews, although they do describe the Beth Din as "ultraorthodox", when, really, it's just orthodox. Nuances are perhaps not so helpful.

    I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Being Jewish is (not exclusively, but is) about warmth, openess, standing up and being counted. Jews have been the "other" throughout history, and to treat others within our group with such disgust is not - to me - any kind of Jewish value at all.

    Like it says in Pirke Avot: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
    I have played missed-call-tag all afternoon with a friend. Because, in modernity, why bother actually leaving a message that they have to pick up, play and delete? He can see I called. I can see he called. What more do you need?

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    I have quite a lot of work on. May go a little quiet. May not.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    I'm feeling a little pleased with myself.

    Partly, because I've had the most evil headache for most of the afternoon, which I thought for a while was me going mad, and I've just realised this weather, it's kinda like being in Gibraltar, with the Levante. I thought I was truly, truly losing it. But I'm back.

    Did I mention that I'm a reformed chaos-merchant, a recovering confusion-junkie?

    Well, I think I last got on my bike... three, four years ago, maybe. And today I thought I'd just get it out of the shed, ride round the garden, remind myself if I can still do it. Although, theoretically, it should be like riding a bike, right?

    Anway, I get in the shed, and the former-me (equally security-minded) has sensibly put the mother of all bike locks on my bike, so it's not going anywhere.

    I wonder what to do.

    Then, I go inside the house, and try and work out what the efficient-me would do. Put the key somewhere safe. Somewhere sensible. There is an M on the bike lock, and it's a proper key, not like those fake suitcase keys that all airport security guards have copies of.

    So I go straight to my hall table, and get out the little bowl of keys I keep there, and there it is. A key with a big M on it. My bike lock key. First try.

    I'm still a little nervous about having a go, though.

    It's so nice when things work out.
    So, if you're over eighteen, you can play Naughty America The Game, launching "this summer."

    It is summer. When does summer end? And we all look exactly like that, too.

    Metaversim abound.

    great Jewish hair

    Obviously, you never see your own hair from behind, but at M&A's chuppah on Sunday, I was sitting behind L and someone I don't know, and I was thinking how fab their hair was looking, and hoping the people behind me had as good a view of mine.
    At the weekend, when discussing the relative sub-groups of the Jewish community, a wise friend said this:

    Masorti is guilt but no rules.
    Orthodox is guilt and rules.
    Reform is no guilt, no rules.

    What say you?
    And also, it just doesn't help negotiation to call your adversary "the zionist enemy."
    I am praying for Gilad Shalit.
    Sony Vaio Update

    Strangely, I am feeling slightly benign about this, even though my wireless is basically intermittent. Bigger things happen in life, perspective, etc.

    I've had a lovely letter from Adam that he'd prefer I didn't mention online. So I won't.

    But I'm stuck - should I call first line tech support? I feel unconfident in their skills? Should I call third line? I don't feel like there'll be any real options. Or should I just send the whole thing back?

    Three is a genuine option, but I can't bear the thought of having to spec a whole new computer and set it up. And also, the Vaio is sexy and light.

    And also, I feel like it's some kind of meditiation: I'm all immediate, and want everything to work immediately. Maybe this is a message from the universe to be calmer and use wireless less. I'm a lot less angry about the whole thing than I would have been, say, three years ago.

    Gd, but I'm turing into a hippy. Help.

    Monday, July 03, 2006

    You may have noticed that it is rather hot.

    I daily thank the gods of freelance-work-provision that I don't have to don a suit and commute to like Aldgate.

    My windows are open, I can hear birds, there's even an ocassional breeze.

    But boy, are English people bad at hot weather. I realise it's unseasonably hot (but with global warming, I guess we'd better get used to it. Although there is a difference between weather and climate, apparently), but it's getting silly.

    Like, there's hot weather advice from DirectGov. And I keep seeing/hearing those adverts that tell you to phone NHS Direct in hot weather. You know what they'll say to you? Drink more water.

    In the nineties (do you think we'll ever say the naughties?), I lived in some hot countries. Singapore, Hong Kong, Bankgkok, Jakarta. For a few weeks or months each, and it was hot. Damn hot. But you know, sure, there's a lot of aircon, but you just get used to it. You have a lot of fans, generally one in each handbag, and houses are ... cooler, because they're built for hot weather. Back then, exercise was anathema to me, but there were people in Singapore who played polo and rode in hot weather, and I thought they were mad, but they said it was good.

    It's all about mindset. Sure, it's hot, but you have to stay relaxed. Of course, if I was commuting to an office at Leicester Square, and the aircon was broken, and I was sitting next to someone who hadn't showered since Sunday, I might feel a little different.

    And you so know what people are going to say. In fact, a woman in Somerfield this morning said to me, "hot enough for you?" English people and weather: weird mixture, do not go there.

    So I'm drinking a lot of water, and calling a lot of bankers, and uploading a lot of photos from M and A's wedding yesterday.

    What are you doing?

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    It's the hottest day of the year, or something, and I'm going to both my cousin's batmitzvah (this morning) and two friends' wedding (that's one wedding: two friends who are marrying each other) this afternoon. I have packed lots of water, sunscreen, and moderately sensible shoes.

    I'm never 100% convinced about wearing party-clothes on a day like this, but needs must.

    Enjoy the weather...
    I heard in shul that Louis Jacobs - the founder of the Masorti - conservative - movement in the UK died yesterday.

    Unbelievably, someone's already updated his Wikipedia entry.

    Baruch dayan ha'emet.