On this day 35 years ago (25 July 1972), I bought a copy of Richard Thompson's first solo album, "Henry the human fly", from a record shop on Kilburn High Street. I know this for a fact, because I wrote the date on the record sleeve, but that's not what's important. What is important is why was I on the Kilburn High Street at that time.
In the summer of 1972, I made my first visit to Israel, along with most of my peer group from Habonim. I had gone up to London a few days beforehand, and I spent those days helping out here and there. I spent I-Day minus 2 with my friend M. in Stanmore, passing a pleasant day together, but realising that our paths were divulging as she wasn't interested in what Israel represented. That summer was really the make or break year for most of our age group in the youth movement; after this summer, things would start getting serious, and we would change from the being led to becoming leaders (albeit junior) ourselves.
From her house, I went to a park in Willesden (if memory serves correctly) and met up with the group for a social evening. After getting reaquainted, we ran around the park and played all kinds of social games, of which we knew a large number. That evening we all slept in the Habonim main building in Finchley Road.
The next day we had a 'seminar', preparing us for what was to come in the next month (presumably I skipped out to Kilburn to buy the record during a break). Although 90% of the people attending had been attending Habonim camps for years and so had built a strong social fabric (there were several whom I had first met in 1967), there were also a few new people. One of them was a girl, G, with whom I fell in love at first sight.
The first few days in Israel were spent naturally in Jerusalem, at a seminar centre in the far south of the city, just off the Hebron road. After that, we went on a three day trip to the Negev, centred around Be'er Sheva, and that's where I connected with G. I have a memory of us sitting on railings around a basketball court (maybe a school?), speaking French to a Moroccan girl. G spoke very good French (her mother's tongue), and mine wasn't bad at the time, although in subsequent years I forgot all of it as I learnt Hebrew. C'est la vie.
After that, we returned to Jerusalem for a free weekend. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed at the seminar centre with a few others like me. On the Shabbat, we probably walked into the Old City. That's something which I would not do now. First of all, I haven't been in the Old City (or rather the market) since the first Intifada, which was in 1990. Secondly, it's quite a long walk (maybe three kilometres), and there's no way that I would walk that distance in the heat that we have now - say 35 degrees centigrade. Obviously the heat affected me less then. I was also younger.
On the Sunday, we all collected in the cafeteria. This was my 16th birthday, and I felt like I was holding court. After lunch, we travelled to Kibbutz Mevo Chama, which is on the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee: a magical view. In the evening, we had a short "get to meet the kibbutz and its people" as well as a birthday party for me. A wonderful evening.
We spent a week on the kibbutz, although now I don't remember very much about what we did. I know that on that first night I slept on a badly crumpled mattress, which caused me dizziness every time I turned. In the morning when they woke us for to go to work, I threw up, and so was excused work that day.
We were divided up into pairs in order to visit members of the kibbutz, who became our "kibbutz parents", a common concept of the time. By chance, G and I were together, and we visited a nice couple H&T, who had a young daughter. We had some pleasant afternoons together, talking about the kibbutz and Israel, as well as learning Steeleye Span's "The Blacksmith". I seem to recall that we spent one evening baby sitting. Although we weren't to know it at the time, H was to die within the coming year.
On the penultimate day of our stay, I arranged for us to go and see the Army entertainment troupe who were appearing not far away. In those far off days, these troupes were the best entertainment in Israel, and we saw the best of those troupes, in one of its best line ups. Not that we understood a word of what they said! But the songs were great.
I'm not too sure of our itinerary after that, but I recall that we spent a few days in Tiveria (Tiberias) and a week in a field school near a kibbutz called Ma'agan Michael. The one thing which I do remember clearly was that G broke up with me and I consoled myself by singing Peter Hammill's "Lost" (following are the words to the second part) ...
I wore my moods like different sets of clothes but the right one was never around and as you left I heard my body ring and my mind began to howl. It was far to late to contemplate the meaning of it all; You know that I need you, but somehow I don't think you see my love at all. At some point I lost you, I don't know quite how that was. The wonderland lay in a coat of white, chilling frost; I looked around and I found I was truly lost... without your hand in mine I am dead. Reality is unreal and games I've tried just aren't the same: without your smile there's nowhere to hide and deep inside I know I've never cried as I'm about to ... If I could just frame the words that would make your fire burn all this water now around me could be the love that should surround me. Looking out through the tears that blind me my heart bleeds that you may find me or at least that I can forget and be numb, but I can't stop, the words still come: I love you.
From Ma'agan Michael, we had a free weekend which I spent with some people my parents had met in Netanya. Whilst I was there, I managed to buy the 'soundtrack' album of the Army entertainment troupe's show, which was to occupy my attention for many years to come.
I returned from Netanya to Jerusalem in a taxi, squashed up with several other people. My hosts had given me a bag of guavas for the trip to share with my friends, but this is the most evil smelling of fruits, and so I ditched that bag as soon as I could after I arrived in Jerusalem.
The final few days were a bit of a blur; we seemed to spend most of them going to the Old City again, after I had made up with G. We bought fancy embroidered cotton shirts - mine was in a virulent shade of pink, for some reason. I think that the shirt lasted one wash and was then thrown out.
So that was my first visit to Israel which lasted a month, in which we saw a vast amount of the country as well as spending time in several cities and settlements. I was entranced, and on my return to Britain, I vowed that I would be returning as soon as possible.