Saturday, September 28, 2013

More afterwords (My gap year, part 8)

Today I transferred the cassette recording which I made of all the songs that I wrote in my gap year along with those of the final party to the computer, and in doing so, I discovered that I had inadvertently left out one of our number.

So, in addition to those mentioned here, I must remember Mike B. He hadn't been a member of Habonim before that year but that wasn't a stumbling block. His party piece was an impression of Gary Glitter (as a singer, not as a sad old paedophile in Thailand); he would sing, accompanied by Andrew and myself. I can even see a resemblance when looking at GG's pictures in his prime.

After we returned, Mike hang around on the fringes, living in Ilford. Eventually he married the younger sister of one of my emigration group and went to live on Kibbutz Bet Ha'emek, accompanied by his wife, brother and mother. As far as I know, they're still there (although the mother died some years ago). So that means that he was a successful graduate of our year of preparation.

Mike got an oblique mention here (the first paragraph).

The recordings of Erica and myself are hilarious. We recorded a few songs off-stage in which it's difficult to tell who's playing what, along with three songs on-stage. We rip through the live songs at about 150% of the correct speed and Erica's voice sounds like she'd been inhaling helium. It's a shame that we never recorded more under better conditions.

Idly googling Erica with her surname and place of birth, I have just discovered that she too emigrated to Israel and as of 2009 was living in Ra'anana.

Reading books

Over the past ten days I seem to have read a large number of books, so I thought that I'd share them with you.


Quiet - Susan Cain: an excellent book explaining introversion. I have to admit, though, that I am finding the later chapters less interesting. This might be an attempt to spin the book out or it might just be me.

Up in the air - Walter Kirn: after having watched the film, I had to read the book. I've only read the opening chapters so far but stopped as I found them slightly boring. If a film is based on a book, then normally I prefer the book, but in this case I prefer the film. Maybe it's a psychological bias of preferring whichever came first.

The perks of being a wallflower - Stephen Chbovsky: unusually, the author of the book was allowed to write the screenplay and even direct the film. I didn't think much of the book, probably because it was supposedly written by a very callow fifteen year old. Even so, the narrator is supposed to be good in English so one might have expected richer language. The film is much better.

I am Ozzy - Ozzy Osbourne: sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, or rather booze, drugs and rock'n'roll. A complete waste of time. The only part which is vaguely interesting is before Osbourne and Black Sabbath became famous. Otherwise it's one long party which exceeding tiresome to read.

The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared - Jonas Jonasson: as opposed to Ozzy Osbourne, I have a great deal of time for this book. It was recommended to me by two people who I met at a bar mitzva, the only connection between them being that we were all sat at the same table. One of them said that it was like a Swedish Forrest Gump, a comment which makes sense only after having read the book. At times, it reminds me of the Cryptonomicon, in terms of the strange adventures which can happen to someone (although here there are no computers to be found). A very original romp through the 20th century and highly recommended.

Tune in - Mark Lewisohn: a massive tome (the hardcover edition runs to 960 pages and this is the first book in a trilogy!) telling in minute detail the story of The Beatles. This first book runs from 1940 (with John Lennon's birth) up to December 1962, with the recording of 'Please please me', when four louts became T*H*E* *B*E*A*T*L*E*S. I don't really care to read about John's paternal grandparents, but this shows the amount of research which Lewisohn carried out. He is able to bring to light new aspects of what I thought was a well-known story and in certain cases, to change completely one's understanding of what happened. The most important instance of this is the signing of the record contract with George Martin in 1962. I appreciate that not everyone will be interested enough to read the entire book with concentration, but I imagine that it will be easy to dip in and read extracts. I was fortunate to read this whilst having nothing else to do.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

More holiday

I haven't been sitting idly at home for the past few days. Every day I've been studying for an hour or two; I'm bogged down in the two statistics chapters and will have to devote a great deal of time to them. Although each little part is not difficult, there are a bewildering number of different approaches and each only has one example, not explained too well. I think back to the finance course of the MBA - I had no difficulty with the material whereas most of the class was struggling. This material should be slightly easier than the finance course, which means ....

Here's an example: Kell Gardens have recorded the number of visitors over the last six weekends. The numbers are summarised in the following table

DayWeek 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6

Test whether the average number visiting on a Sunday is significantly higher than on a Saturday.

As the data refer to a Saturday and Sunday each week, this has to be treated as a paired test. The factors, such as the weather, that encourage or discourage visitors are likely to be very similar on the Saturday and Sunday in the same week.

[Here is the maths part which I will spare you]

As t* lies in the centre of the distribution, it is highly likely to come from the distribution under the null hypothesis (average number visiting on a Sunday is not significantly higher than on a Saturday).

The formal decision is Reject the alternative hypothesis. The conclusion is that the average number visiting on a Sunday is not significantly higher than on a Saturday.

I suppose that I could analyse the data from my CPAP machine in the same manner to see whether the average number of apnea on Friday nights is significantly higher than on a Thursday, or whether the average number of apnea on days when I travel is significantly lower than on days when I don't travel.

I shall continue to beat my head on this material.

I have resumed work transferring cassettes of songs recorded 40 years ago. I am discovering songs which I had completely forgotten about, mainly three chord ephemera which I had probably written on the spot. One tape opened with such a piece  called "John's song"; this had me scratching my head for several reasons. First of all, I don't recall the song nor do I recall anyone called John. There's a badly recorded acoustic guitar playing chords with me singing, alongside a more cleanly recorded lead part which sounds suspiciously like me playing (I can differentiate between my playing and Robert's); could this mean that Robert was strumming while I was singing and playing lead inbetween?

The recording of the next song also had me baffled at first: where has all the hum from Robert's cassette recorder gone? Why is the song recorded in stereo (guitar on one side, vocal on the other)? Slowly it dawned on me that I must have recorded these songs on my own in London, probably in September 1974, on my newly purchased stereo tape deck with two separate microphones. The opening track was probably an attempt at multitracking, with rhythm and vocal recorded, then played back on a mono cassette recorder whilst I played along. I was to get better at this. The songs, though, were written between March and June 1973 and presumably were recorded then; what happened to those recordings?

I was monitoring the transfer from cassette to computer with headphones connected to the transfer machine, so I could hear the stereo. Unfortunately, the recording program on the computer was defined to record in mono; when I listened to the recording, I got an earful of guitar - and no vocal. I then redefined the program so I could transfer in stereo.

After chopping up the 40 minute recording into separate songs, I started cleaning up each one. At first I saved the stereo file as mono, thus combining the guitar and vocal, then resaving as stereo, so that I could have turn the recording into 'fake stereo', where a small delay is added to one track and both tracks have different equalisation settings. The result was ok, but a bit brash.

It occurred to me later on in the evening that due to the clean separation (I would record with one mike inside the guitar's sound hole, which would not pickup any vocal, and one mike for vocal, with a little guitar picked up), I could split the stereo file into two separate mono files. In my multitrack recording program, I included the same guitar track twice: once panned left, once panned right. One track has a little delay and one has some chorus, making a nice stereo sound. The vocal was panned down the middle; as this was a separate track, I could apply the same tools that I use today to improve the vocal sound: compression, equalisation and reverb. I draw the line at "tuning" the vocal!

The result is a much better sounding track than the fake stereo version, so I've been converting all the originally recorded in stereo tracks into this three track format. It takes about fifteen minutes per song, as I'm also cleaning up the beginnings and endings. These recordings are much cleaner than the Bristol ones, but they still need some editing.

I completed my Sandy Denny covers album with a recording of 'The Sea'; this is the third song which I've taken from the eponymous Fotheringay album. As I wrote earlier on this subject, Sandy's songs are always verse based (this one has four verses, one of them instrumental), but the chord sequence is unconventional and adventurous. Married to an uneven phrase structure (the first phrase is five bars long whereas the second is four; the third is four and the fourth phrase is five bars long), the song provides an interesting challenge.

As always, the first steps were the hardest: I played around for a few days with instrumentation and styles until I landed on something good. The lead guitar of the original is replaced here with a recorder, enhancing my imprint on the song. I was tempted for a while to have the recorder play the original lead guitar solo (but not the obbligato part) - this was one of the first solos that I ever worked out - but decided to go for something more original.

I estimate that I spent around 20 hours working on this song, including mixing. This is probably about the same amount of time that most recording artists devote to their songs (if not more), but it's a far cry from the amount of time that I used to devote to a recording 40 years ago. If all the songs were written, I could record 'an album' in an afternoon! Of course, there was no possibility of editing, only rerecording a song, so obviously I didn't "look at songs under a microscope", as the expression put it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


If 4 Sept 1973 was a very important day in my life, then 25 Sept 1978 was the most important day in my life: it was the day when I emigrated from Britain to Israel. After years of talking about it and months of planning, the actual day arrived, and of course it was a bit of an anticlimax.

My parents drove me from Cardiff to Heathrow; I have a picture of the three of us standing outside our house, along with a suitcase, two guitars and a mandolin. Most of my belongings had been sent in advance to Israel in a 20 ft container, along with those of my group; this was scheduled to arrive some time in December. 

Joining me on the plane were two of my companions. Altogether, there were maybe ten of us emigrating that year from British Habonim, but everyone had their own plans and  separate departure dates. 25 Sept was a compromise date and was based on my return from America on  one hand and a desire to arrive in Israel before the New Year (that year it fell at the end of September) on the other. I was disappointed to discover that the airline - El Al, of course - didn't serve us champagne as new immigrants.

After we touched down in Lod Airport (as it was then), we were escorted to a side room where we filled in some forms and received official documentation of our status, along with our identity card numbers. Then someone took us to Kibbutz Mishmar David, which was to be our home. I had already spent some time here - one month in the summer of 1976 and two weeks in the spring of 1977 - so it wasn't a complete unknown.

Looking back on it now, the first year was structured in a similar manner to the year of 1973: first we had a period of three-four months, which I call 'the phony war'. We acclimatised to living in Israel as Israelis and to a new kibbutz. I wasn't able to find a suitable place to work so ended up running the kibbutz laundry machines on my own for this time. I didn't like the work and was isolated, but I also knew that it was only for a few months.

In the early months of 1979, we went to the development town  Arad for three months, for an extensive course in Hebrew and Israeli culture. As opposed to previous seminars, we were allocated to self catering flats; we ate breakfast 'at home' and lunch in the seminar centre; dinner would either be 'at home' or at other people's flats. Our fellow students were two groups of American immigrants, similar to us; they came from two different kibbutzim in the Negev desert. 

For a while, I was quite taken by some of these people, and even spent one weekend with them in the hot desert, but I realised that I would never be able to survive there because of the heat and so discarded any idle thoughts that I might have entertained of jumping ship from Mishmar David.

I was in the top Hebrew class and as befitting our status, we had two teachers. One was the head of the seminar centre and taught us Hebrew grammar, whereas the second was a journalist (possibly out of work) who taught us how to listen to the news on radio and how to read the newspaper. They both taught us invaluable material. Unfortunately some of the Americans in my class (there were maybe ten of us in the class of which only two were British, so it was inevitable that it would be Americans ...) took a strong dislike to this teacher and caused no small amount of tension, both within the class and towards the teaching staff. I don't remember how the situation was resolved, but I do recall that the other British student (a girl who whilst being from British Habonim was in a year younger than mine and had only joined our emigration group at the last minute) and I were invited to the home of the seminar head for tea one Shabbat afternoon where we talked about life and the social schism.

In the final month of the seminar, I was elected to be the general representative of the entire group; this was quite a surprise as I didn't - and still don't - consider myself to be leadership material. I liased with all three groups along with the seminar staff and arranged a day trip to somewhere (I don't recall now where we went). 

I was one of the few people who went home for the final weekend - I think that the seminar finished on a Sunday or a Monday (I went home on Friday and intended to return on Sunday). On Friday evening, I went to some evening activity on the kibbutz; when returning to my room, my sandal enclosed foot brushed against what I thought was a twig, drawing a little blood. After a few minutes, this scratch started to hurt and someone suggested that I see the kibbutz nurse. It turns out that a black scorpion - poisonous but not fatal - had bitten me; fortunately we were able to deal with this in time before my entire leg became paralysed. I spent the rest of the weekend - and a few days following - stuck on my bed, unable to move. Of course, I missed the graduation ceremony at the seminar in which I was supposed to take a leading part.

After the seminar finished (and my leg returned to normal), I began working in the kibbutz kitchen. It was intended that at some stage I would be running the kitchen (planning menus, purchasing the food, etc) and I insisted that first I learn what it was like to be 'one of the workers'. I was interested to see what the kitchen was technically capable of doing and learning how the cooking devices (large hot plate, steam heated pots and electrical oven) could function.

Sometime in August 1979, I went with a few others to the closest office of the Ministry of the Interior in order to change my status from temporary resident to citizen. This meant, of course, that I would eligible for induction into the Israeli army within the next six months or so. I'll leave that story (or at least, the parts that I can tell...) for another time.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Quiet perks

Over the past few days, I've been reading further chapters of 'Quiet', by Susan Cain. I recognise in the book so many episodes which have occurred in my personal life or at work; maybe I'll even learn how to deal with them in a better manner than I have until now. I haven't noticed that Cain has mentioned 'social intelligence' yet; I suppose that there are introverts with high levels of SI just as there are those with low levels. In my teens, I used to think that I had a reasonable level of SI, but that seems to have evaporated over the years. 

Presumably, reading this book has made me more aware of introspective behaviour. Meeting my daughter's fiance's parents was a very good example, but I don't want to write about that. Instead I'll take a short cut into serendipity: I read about 'Quiet' in some article published in a Harvard Business Review blog. I found this site the other day and read several articles, which I very much enjoyed. Unfortunately, I found most of them too short; I would have preferred more length and depth. 

Another article mentioned a book called 'Up in the air' by Walter Kirn and to my surprise, I discovered that the film of the book was to be shown on television the following day. So I set up the equipment to record the film and watched it a bit later. The character played by George Clooney was certainly not an introvert - all through the film (except the end), he wore a confident (and slightly silly) smile. It makes me wonder how much he empathised with the people whose jobs he terminated. The character played by Anna Kendrick was more introspective and introverted; ironically, this character was added for the film and does not exist in the book. Reading a precis, it seems that the book is more sardonic and bitter than the film (as is normally the case), and I'm not too sure that I would enjoy reading it. 

Yesterday evening we saw on television a film called 'The perks of being a wallflower', which is very much about an introvert, Charlie. His behaviour at parties seemed extremely familiar to me; once again I was thankful that I am British and went to a direct grant grammar school where nerds were plentiful (the word 'nerd' had yet to be invented but basically it was a school for nerds). What can I say? This was exactly the film to be watched after reading 'Quiet', and was the sort of material in which I wallowed during my teens.

After the film finished, I went to check it on the internet and found it had been based on a book. After a few more minutes reading about the film, something suddenly clicked in my brain: I looked at the bookshelf behind my computer chair and discovered a paperback copy of 'The perks of being a wallflower'! I have no recollection of reading this book, but I somehow remember that I bought it when we were on holiday in Prague exactly two years ago. I remember reading another teen novel ('Thirteen reasons why') on the day which I spent in the Prague laundromat - but not 'Perks'. Rereading that blog entry, I see that I mentioned the laundromat and 'Thirteen reasons why', but not 'Perks'. I shall read the book again.

Another coincidence: one of the first chapters of 'Quiet' is about a motivational speaker called Tony Robbins. Maybe this name would be familiar to me if I were living in America, but the material in 'Quiet' introduced this man to me. As some stage in 'Up in the air', George Clooney drops Robbins' name and I was able to say to myself - aha! Had it not been for 'Quiet', I wouldn't have known who Clooney was talking about.

As Richard Thompson prophetically wrote in his late teens, it all comes round again.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Enforced holiday

It's that time in Israel when every second day seems to be a holiday. As a result of this, aligned with rather light workloads, my company has decided to send everyone out on holiday. My last day of work was Tuesday, 17 September and my next day of work will be Sunday, 29 September.

What am I going to do with myself during this long period? Many Israelis have already left the country for a week's holiday somewhere abroad - the OP has gone to St Petersburg and Moscow for a week - but we're staying at home. I don't want to waste this time, so I wrote a list of things which I want to do (presented not necessarily in order of importance)
I think that those are enough things, but I've already completed some items!
I started reading this book today and am enjoying it very much. In a sense, it isn't telling me anything that I don't know already: being an introvert who is given to self-introspection, I had worked out a great deal of Cain's insights by myself over the years. Yet still, it is a fascinating book to read, and I think that the changes that I have undergone in the past few years (MBA, work environment) allow me to understand the book in greater depth than I might have done ten or twenty years ago.

I started telling my wife (no introvert, she) about the book and its primary conclusion, that the world is run by extroverts: she who speaks the loudest at meetings gets her ideas accepted, even if they are not the best. My wife said that this very much describes a friend of hers, another member of the kibbutz, who seems to be more introverted than I and is disliked because of the side effects of this introversion. She immediately wanted to buy him the book, but it seems that at the moment it has yet to be translated into Hebrew (the book was published only last year). Whilst her friend understands English, he would no doubt find the prospect of reading a 330 page book in a foreign language daunting - in the same way that I baulk at reading books in Hebrew.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The North Star Grassman

I wrote a few weeks ago about creating a version of Sandy Denny's song, "Nothing more". I am working, albeit slowly, to a full cd of SD covers, and the pleasure that I received from creating NM (and the positive responses) encouraged me to find other songs to work on.

It's not very easy trying to create personalised versions of Sandy Denny songs. Frequently they are in strophic form - one of my favourites, "Full moon" has five verses, each consisting of 24 bars, and most of the material on her "Old fashioned waltz" is similar in structure - which makes it hard on the arranger to find an interesting way of performing the material. Some of the earlier songs, though, are in different forms which makes them attractive. One song which I started looking at, "The sea", is strophic, but the micro-structure within each verse is far from straight-forward. At the moment, I have put this song to one side but I may well return to it.

I decided to try and sequence a version of the title track of Sandy's first solo album. I've probably mentioned this several times beforehand, but it's worth repeating: I bought this record on its release at the beginning of September 1971 and it had a very strong influence on how I viewed harmony. The title track has long been a favourite of mine but I've never really felt the urge before now to create my own version.

In terms of macro structure, there are three repeats of a structure composed of two verses and a chorus. The verse is fairly straight-forward: although it starts on a minor chord, it swiftly moves to the relative major: (in E minor) Em | G | D | C | C | G | D | C | Em | Em; all of these chords are in the key of G. The chorus, though, is something different; it starts out by modulating to the major subdominant of Em (or the supertonic of G) : A | G | C | A | A | G C | A | D | Em | Em. But the strength of the chorus is not only in its harmony but also in the bar lengths. One bar has two chords in it, but more importantly, both the third and the seventh would appear to have a beat dropped from them (in other words, the time signature changes from 4/4 to 3/4 for those two bars). I had always been aware of a strong accent on the fourth beat of the fourth bar; it was only when I was creating a chord map that I realised that this would better be represented by having a shortened bar. The second shortened bar arose when I tried singing the song; again, the accent was falling in 'the wrong place'.

My MIDI sequencer doesn't have a problem with multiple time signatures (although it is slightly difficult to copy such passages) but Reason can't handle them (or rather, ignores them). This is a problem when using drum loops, but this song required no drumming.

I worked out an interesting beginning (Em7|Em6|Em7|Em6) which made pitching the first note problematic but this could be fixed. Over this intro, I had a french horn playing a lick; a different lick was used for all the transitions between sections (two bars of Em) with the lick varying on each invocation. The french horn also played a solo, but after hearing this many times, I got bored and decided to transfer the solo to a different instrument. After 'auditioning' several instruments, I decided on a concertina, which certainly adds a different sound.

Singing the song went fairly well, although as usual it took several attempts to find a good vocal sound. I ended up using a fairly strange - for me - equalisation setting, with a boost at 200 Hz as well as the more conventional 2 KHz and 5 KHz. At the moment, there's quite a deep reverb which gets hidden by the music (that's why I allowed myself a deeper reverb than usual). 

After listening for about a week, I hit on two improvements. In the link between the final verse and chorus, I used a triplet chord stream (ie Em F#m G) to lead into the A chord: this makes quite a difference. I also noticed that my vocal on the final chorus was slightly out of time; instead of rerecording it, I was able to lift the second chorus and paste this in at the end. To my pleasure, the edit worked the first time and I was spared the agony of inserting (or deleting) milliseconds of silence.

Having written all of this, I am struck by how much easier a musician has things in the 2000s: instruments can be inserted and/or exchanged willy nilly, bad notes can be fixed, solos can be changed, vocals can be moved in time and more importantly, put into tune. I am awed and humbled by how much harder it was in the 60s and 70s to create music: for that, the musicians had to be good and get things right almost first time. There was little room for second thoughts, which meant a great deal of pre-production. Nowadays, there's little pre-production but plenty of post-production.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Afterwords (my gap year, part 7)

To the best of my recollection, following are the names of those who took part in the fourth group of Shnat Hachshara, Sept 1973-June 1974: Stephen, Ian, Carol, Ruth, Trevor, Barry, Alan, Janice, Gill, Andrew, Mike, Lawrence, Jane, Diane, Moshe, Robin, David, Elaine, Lawrence, Karen, Lesley, Simon, Erica, Abigail and myself. I don't think that I've left anyone out, but I don't remember everyone's surname.

Of the above, Karen spent three years in London studying, then emigrated on her own. She married an American and, as far as I know, still lives on Kibbutz Grofit, in the far south of Israel. We spent some time together in the first year after our return. 

Janice, Gill, David and I emigrated to Kibbutz Mishmar David (Gill in 1977, the rest in 1978). Gill and David still live there, whereas Janice returned to Britain in the early 80s and I moved to Kibbutz Tsora in 1989. Obviously, I was in close contact with these three for years. 

I have a picture of some of the members of my emigration group, taken at the end of 1977. David and I are in the picture, along with Ruth, who must have joined at some stage. She dropped out a little later; we were never friends.

I spent most of my London years with Simon - he played drums and I played guitar in the little rock (or even punk) group that we had. I last saw him in 1977. I think that he became some kind of academic, and wrote a book about the history of British football grounds.

I once met Ian - to our mutual surprise - in Tsora around 1991; we hadn't seen each other since 1974 and haven't seen each other since that meeting. 

Alan lived in the same communal house as I during 1975-7 but didn't emigrate. We didn't get on well together and I don't know what happened to him. I met his sister once in Israel, at the end of the 80s. 

I have a memory of meeting Trevor in London in about May 1975, when Peter Hammill's "Rikki Nadir" album came out. I don't know whether we had been in contact before that but I very much doubt that we met at all afterwards. 

I remember seeing Robin around for a few months after we returned but he disappeared shortly afterwards. Similarly, Diane was around for a few months in 1976 when peculiarly she became my best friend's girlfriend for a time. 

The rest - vanished into thin air. I understand now what happened: either one was "on the bus", to use Ken Kesey's phrase, or "off the bus". "On the bus" meant buying into the Habonim ideology, probably being a leader in the youth movement and preparing for emigration. The year was very much a litmus test, and obviously many people felt that this kind of life was not for them. The youth movement had little to offer to senior members who were not involved with younger groups (this happened to me in my final two years) and those who lived outside of the major cities didn't have any real contact. 

I realise that I've glossed over some events and forgotten a great deal. As I wrote at the beginning of this series, this was very much a watershed year for me, a year in which a great deal of things changed.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

March-June 1974, my gap year part 6

This period was the longest part of our programme, and in a sense, the most boring: we worked every day with few external activities. As the primary idea behind the programme was to prepare for living on a kibbutz, it seemed only natural that we would live - as much as possible - as ordinary members of the kibbutz, and this meant working every day.

As far as I am concerned - certainly with the advantage of forty years' hindsight - one of the most important events of this period happened right at the beginning. It might have happened during the break which might have been between the Jerusalem and Haifa seminars, otherwise it happened when we returned to the kibbutz. One day after lunch, I was in the communal laundry picking up clothes, when I saw the adopted mother of one of my room mates (her husband was the hatchery manager). I have no idea what prompted me to say to her "We can't go on meeting like this", but I am eternally thankful. This lady was (and still is) only fifteen years older than me; at the time, it seemed like a huge gap, but the point is that she was somewhat younger than other "kibbutz mothers", or my own mother. As a result, we had many things in common, which we were to discover over the next five months or the next forty years.

I know that she is reading these lines so in a sense I have to be careful about what I write. Somehow, I recognised that she was a kindred spirit; not only that, she recognised the same in me. So slowly we became friends, talking about music and books. There were a few years in which our friendship (always platonic!!!) became intense and of course there were years when we were barely in contact. But at the moment I am writing about then: we didn't know what was to be, and of course we had to maintain a certain propriety; as a result, I used to go there for tea maybe once or twice a week (and probably not on the same days that my room mate went).

With the constant work days, I became proficient at work and hopefully made a contribution to the hatchery. I know that I helped train a few Israeli youngsters (they were actually older than me) who spent some of their army service on the kibbutz. What I got out of this period was the knowledge that I could work very well, given the chance and the right circumstances. Probably around this time I discovered that I couldn't work outside: I remember a few days spent on another kibbutz and feeling physically sick whenever I stepped into the sunshine but feeling fine when I was in the shade.

There used to be Israeli dancing sessions once a week; we had attended a few before the war started and in between, the wife of the kibbutz member responsible for the group would teach some of the dances to those interested (such as myself). Presumably, the sessions were suspended during the immediate war period but they must have started soon afterwards. At the beginning, the dining room used to be full of people (some would come from a neighbouring moshav), but in the post-war period, fewer people came. I remember one sparsely attended evening; in the middle arrived a (male) member who used to dance very well - in uniform. He took off his boots and joined in the dancing. Later on in the year, the attendance returned to its original level; those from my group who attended were now much more confident and even joined 'the inner circles'.

Towards the end of the year, we began planning the end of year show. As opposed to the show which we held at the end of November, I was much more involved this time. With Erica, I worked up a short 'set' of three songs: one of mine ("our affair"), one by Fleetwood Mac ("man of the world") and one by Kaveret ("the grocery store"). Erica did most of the singing, but I sang a fair amount as well. I did most of the 'twiddly bits" on guitar, but we swapped roles during the songs, so at one point I would be playing rhythm guitar, then playing a solo, whereas at times she would be fingerpicking under my solo then playing lead over my rhythm. I would like to think that we played well. At some stage in the near future, I will listen to the recordings that we made: some off-stage, playing around, and some in our final performance.

The opening number of the evening was "Welcome" from "Cabaret". We recorded the music and singing in advance; my co-musician from "America" played piano, Simon "sang" and I played bass guitar. Somehow I managed to work the tune "Wandering star" (we had recently seen the film with Lee Marvin crooning the song) into the arrangement.

With one of my room mates and another friend, I wrote the traditional Habonim calypso: this was usually satirical lyrics set to an existing tune and sung at the end of a camp, where the lyrics dealt with various incidents which had occurred over the duration of the camp. To be honest, I don't remember what the lyrics were about this year, but I do have a recording, should I wish to be reminded. What I do remember is that we were writing the lyrics (in Hebrew!) in the kibbutz dining room (we wouldn't be disturbed there and the lyrics would be a surprise); at some stage, we became aware that there were a lot of people around, carrying walkie-talkies and guns. It was the evening of the Ma'alot massacre, which was taking place less than 20km from where we were. This dates the evening to May 15, 1974. We were advised to go to our rooms as quickly as possible.

We had several discussions on the subject of the show's finale: I was all for singing the Kaveret song "Nichmad" (nice), whose lyrics seemed to be more than suitable (they were also in Hebrew and well known), but for some reason, the Fairport Convention "hit", "Si tu dois partir", was chosen. Theoretically I should have been for this (after all, I was a heavy Fairport fan), but I tried to argue that the lyrics are in bad French which no one would understand, and anyway they were hardly suitable for the occasion. Overruled,  we asked someone to write down the words (we couldn't understand the bad French and Sandy Denny's diction wasn't always too clear) and I decided to play concertina for this song. Fortunately the song only had a few chords which I could manage successfully on the concertina (echoing Richard Thompson's accordion in the original). Everyone sang (or mimed) and two others played guitar along with me. We took it turns to come to the front of the stage and bow; if one listens to the recording, one can hear a place when the guitars drop out and only the concertina can be heard. This is when the musicians were bowing.

We stayed for a few more days after the show, working on and off, and saying goodbye to all the friends we had met. At the time, I was treasurer of the group; I spent some time with the kibbutz accountants, trying to make a reckoning of how much we should be paid. I imagine that we would have been perfectly content to have spent the year there for nothing, with our work paying for our activities, but the kibbutz was actually prepared to give us money over and above. Every day I posted a figure - which seemed to increase every day - of how much each person would receive at the end of the year. People were leaving early and we weren't spending much, so we had more money to divide between fewer people.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

December 1973-February 1974: my gap year, part 5

In mid-December 1973, cold and rainy, we moved to Jerusalem, to the seminar centre in the southern part of the city where I had spent some very happy days in the summer of 1972. Unfortunately, the tone of the 1973 days was far removed from that of the previous year.

I wrote in the first part of this series that the group was heterogenous: this became most apparent during the Jerusalem stage when vicious arguments broke out all the time. Don't ask me now what they were about - probably nothing. I know that I was discontented because of our living arrangements. 

As opposed to the ten rooms which we had on the kibbutz, I think that we had five or six larger rooms, with obviously more people sharing a room. There must have been some wheeling and dealing before we moved to Jerusalem, because when we got there, I discovered that the 'compatible people' had already filled their room and I was to sleep with the 'incompatibles' or 'unwanteds'. 

I don't remember whether we continued our Hebrew studies but we certainly learnt about Jewish and Israeli history, both ancient and modern. Of course, the war cast a certain shadow over the studies. We came into contact with other similar groups, and I learnt some very interesting Israeli songs.

Forty years later, I remember virtually nothing of this time. I don't know whether this is because I blanked the memories of what happened or whether this is due to the natural process of forgetting things, especially if they don't ever get remembered. I do remember that at some stage we moved to Haifa for a week, although I don't remember whether this was directly after Jerusalem or after spending a week or two on the kibbutz.

Haifa was more lectures, mainly about contemporary politics - Haifa was definitely the appropriate location for this. Again, living conditions are the only thing which I remember: the rooms were for two people each, and my two room-mates decided that they would prefer to be with each other than with me. As a result, I found myself sharing with a girl who also was without a partner. Normally I would have been very excited at this situation, but unfortunately my relationship with this girl at the time was very poor: in my eyes, she was guilty of the crime of selfishness (God knows what I was like then) and we were barely talking. We laid down some ground rules at the beginning of the week then spent the following days as strangers in the same room, barely acknowledging the existence of the other.

At this stage, two new girls joined our group. Instead of spending the first few months on the kibbutz, they had gone directly to the seminar centre in an alternate programme. One girl was new to me (and I think to almost everybody) but the second was someone who I had known for a few years. We had played guitar and sung together so we became a musical duo. We may not have connected on a personal level, but the joint interest in music certainly made the sometimes hard days easier to bear. So hello, Erica and Abigail.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Late November/December 1973: my gap year, part 4

Before the programme started, we were told that the year would roughly be broken into three parts:
  1. Introduction and learning Hebrew (3 months) - Bet Ha'emek
  2. Seminars (2 months) - Jerusalem, Haifa
  3. Work period (5 months) - Bet Ha'emek
By the end of November 1973, we were approaching the end of the first period. Despite the chilly national mood, we decided to put on a show for the kibbutz, to show our thanks for their hospitality over the past few months and possibly even to bring a smile to some faces.

I don't remember having very much to do with this show. Along with one other person, I worked up an arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel's song America; I had never heard the original and learnt the song from my co-performer. After the rest of the group heard our arrangement, it was decided that a few others would appear with us, bolstering the singing (I wasn't singing at all).

Presumably the evening went down well. The following night, I was having tea with the adopted family of one of my room mates; the conversation was mainly a post mortem about the show. After a while, my room mate left, but for some reason, I stayed. The father of this family was the manager of the hatchery, and presumably I wanted to take this opportunity to discover why I wasn't being allowed to work there.

The answer was unlike picking oranges or collecting eggs, working in the hatchery required a certain amount of training, and at the time, they didn't have the work power to allow this (the 'work boss' had been conscripted into the reserve army and wouldn't return for another few months). I asked how we could get around this, and it was suggested that I turn up for work every day: on the days when I had Hebrew studies, I would work for two hours before breakfast then continue to learn Hebrew. On my work days, I would work however long was needed, and not let off early because I was part of the group. I agreed to these terms.

That same evening, our work organiser was extremely surprised - and possibly happy for me - when he told me that I was working in the hatchery the next day. This arrangement lasted for about two weeks, which was the time left to us before we went to Jerusalem. In those two weeks, I learnt a certain amount about how the hatchery worked and about the life cycle of chicken embryos. I probably spent no small amount of time making cardboard boxes in which the newly hatched chicks would be placed, but I also got to take part in the other main activities.

The gestation period of a chicken is three weeks and the hatchery worked on a three day cycle: one day would be "incoming", one day would be "transferring" and one day would be "outgoing". So even after two weeks, I was able to go through a few cycles. The eggs would arrive on day one, they would be cleaned, placed on trays then stored in an incubator. After a certain number of days (I don't remember everything!), we would take those trays out of the incubator and invert the eggs.

On day 21, the chicks would begin hatching; we would take the trays out of the incubator and place them in front of selectors, who were able to determine the sex of newly hatched chicks. All the chicks were placed in front of the selectors; the males ended up on one side of the selectors with the females on the other side. Chicken runs growing chickens for meat would keep the chicks segregated, so it was important to determine the sex. 

Such hatching days would be very long; after all the chicks had been sorted, we had to clean the rooms thoroughly to ensure that there would be no chance of contamination between different batches of chicks. On hatching days, we would start work at 4am and finish whenever, whereas other days would start at 6am and normally finish at 3pm. Some times, the hatching day would include some of the following day's activities, meaning that there could be one long day followed by a short day. In 1975, there was a day when I worked 14 hours (I came back to my room and fell asleep fully clothed) but the following day, I worked only three hours.

I remember that one day in this period, we walked to the neighbouring Arab village of Abu Snan to meet with one of the village elders. As I had already been up and working for a few hours, I actually dozed off during this meeting.

In the second week of December 1973, we finished the first stage of our year and prepared to move to Jerusalem. At this stage, we said goodbye to one of our members: a girl a year older than me. For reasons which weren't stated clearly at the time - "incompatibility" was the general explanation, I think - she had decided (or maybe it had been decided for her) to return to Britain. I think that I was one of the few that missed her, as we had been quite friendly and often spent time together. I think that we had met for the first time in the summer of 1970, when I attended the 'wrong' summer camp; we met every now and then (I even spent a few days at her house at some stage) and then we spent three months together in 1973, as friends. Such is the way of the world - especially the Habonim world - that once someone left, they were never seen again. So forty years late, goodbye Lesley.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Late September/Early October, 1973 - My gap year, part 3

I don't remember a thing about the New Year celebrations on Kibbutz Bet Ha'emek, late September 1973. On the other hand, I do remember the celebrations held there two years later, and I will assume that, with minor corrections, the same things happened in 1973.

This would mean that the entire kibbutz had a celebratory dinner on the lawn outside the dining room, everyone sitting at long trestle tables. Before the meal, there would have been a short ceremony with a few songs played by kibbutz musicians, along with a few readings. As the New Year is the only festival celebrated in Israel over two nights, the whole thing would have been repeated the following night, although without the ceremony. 

[For those that don't know, outside of Israel, every festival is celebrated for two nights - this is because "in the old days", people in the Diaspora couldn't know when the actual celebrations were taking place in Israel, so this way they were making sure that there would be at least some overlap.]

For me, there were a few differences between 1973 and 1975: in 1975, I was one of those 'kibbutz musicians' playing the songs in the opening ceremony on the first night. For the second night, I fried seven hundred pieces of chicken shnitzel: it didn't bother me to work on a holiday, seeing that I was only on the kibbutz for a short time, and anyway, I still would have one day off.

A week and a half later, it was Yom Kippur. In 1973, this fell on a Friday night (many years later, I was to research the Hebrew calendar and discovered that Yom Kippur can only fall on certain days of the week; the length of the year has to be adjusted by inserting days to ensure this). It was October 6, the birthday of one of our group. After a few years of not fasting, I had decided that year to return to the habit of observing the fast, although this didn't preclude me from doing other things, like listening to music.

At around 2pm, I and a few others were in our clubhouse, listening to records played on the sole record player available to us. One of my room-mates shared my love of Van der Graaf Generator, so 'Pawn Hears' was on the turntable. As anyone who knows the record will be aware, the final sections of the second side are somewhat extreme - so extreme that we didn't realise for a moment that the noise we were hearing was not a combination of Hugh Banton and David Jackson, but rather air raid sirens. The Yom Kippur war had started.

Like almost everything else at the time,  we understood little of what was happening. Everyone gathered outside the dining room for the meal which concludes the fast, but already male kibbutz members were beginning to be a rare species.

We awoke the next morning to new circumstances: we would spend the next few weeks picking oranges in the rain, supervised by our contemporaries: the kibbutz youth who were in their final year of school. After a few weeks, we returned to our previous setup of learning Hebrew one day and working the next day, but of course, everything had changed.

I don't want to make light of one of the most important events of modern Israeli history, but although I was there, I wasn't really there. We didn't know - at least, not at the time - what was happening at either front. I assumed that if anything really bad would happen, we would be airlifted out, but that assumption was never put to the test. At that time, I had yet to form any connection with people who were drafted into the army, and later on, those who returned weren't exactly enthusiastic to tell about their experiences. The English language newspaper didn't contain very detailed information (presumably due to censorship) and we didn't understand the little that was printed. On the Saturday after the war started, we were woken at about 6am by the air raid siren so we stumbled off to the nearest shelter. Eventually we were told that a plane had been seen over the skies of Haifa but that we were not in any danger.

The immediate result of the war was that our entire programme changed overnight. People often weren't available to carry out activities which had been planned, resources country wide were reduced, areas of the country were out of bounds (our trip to the Sinai peninsula was greatly affected) and our youthful exuberance was at odds with the general demeanour of the country. For example, in November, we wanted to hold a fireworks party; when we finally managed to find someone who sold fireworks, he refused to sell us any, saying that the country wasn't ready for such a party.

So we had a completely different experience to the group that preceded us. I don't know which year 'had it better': they probably had an easier time, but we saw things that they didn't.

A new member joined our group: one of the "Birmingham Simons" had stayed on at school for a third year in the sixth form, presumably to study for the Oxbridge entrance exams, but once the war had started, he left his (optional) studies behind and came to join us. This was not the Simon with which I had spent some of the summer of 1971, but rather "the other Simon". As it happens, we were to spend the next few years together (I certainly do not imply any gay relationship) and became good friends on certain levels (but not on personal matters). When I wrote a few months ago about academic failures, I wrote that there were a few reasons why I didn't repeat my final year at school. If moving from Bristol to Cardiff were one very good reason, this war was an even better reason.

After bringing the orange harvest, I don't remember anything until the end of November. I don't remember where I worked: I think that I put in a few pointless days in the kibbutz maintenance stores but apart from that, nothing springs to mind. I didn't work in the hatcheries nor in the chicken runs, which means that I must have been employed in some form of agriculture - but I don't remember (obviously, the work made a deep impression on me). Things, though, were to change....

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Welcome to the Beehive - My gap year, part 2

As this evening we will be celebrating the Jewish New Year, it seems only fitting to wish all my readers a happy and healthy New Year!!

Going back 40 years: we lived in two rows of huts, where each row had five rooms. Boys were two or three to a room, girls two. Conditions were what might be termed spartan, but somehow it didn't seem to bother us too much. The communal showers unfortunately weren't close to our huts, which would be problematic later on in the winter.

One day in the 'early' period,  I was walking between the two rows when an effervescent guitar riff (as I was later to term it) caught my ear. When I asked what I was hearing, I was given a cassette copy of the 'Poogy Tales' album by the Israeli group Kaveret ('Beehive' in English). I was very impressed by the sound, even though the whole cassette seemed to be one continuous song. Later on, of course, the songs separated into individual units and it became clear which songs were excellent and which were merely very good.

This music was to accompany me for the entire year: at the end of year party, I was to perform one of the songs in front of the entire kibbutz.

The record started with a short introduction which basically was the words 'one can learn from Poogy Tales'. What exactly one could learn was never specified; presumably everyone would learn their own lesson. What I learnt from those songs was the Hebrew language; obviously it took a lot of work, but like a long lost mosaic, bits and pieces of those lyrics were slowly deciphered, assimilated and understood. As it happens, I was listening to this record again the other day and was explaining one of the puns to my wife.

But - initially, at least - the words were not the attraction for me. Even today, whilst I appreciate lyrics to songs, I'm really listening and reacting to the music. There was something very special about the first Kaveret album, something which had yet to be heard in Israeli music. Their sound was built on contrasts or pairs: there was a pair of lead vocalists (one high, one low), there were two lead guitarists (both very good), and there was a keyboardist who could take things in his own direction away from the others. The arrangements were exciting and at times, unexpected, combining disparate elements to forge a unique sound.

Almost all the songs (words and music) for the first album were written by one person, guitarist Danny Sanderson. Their second album also was mainly written by Sanderson, not surprising as it was based on leftovers from the first album. But their third - and final - album featured a wide spread of writing credits and musical styles. This was the beginning of the end: there was a vast explosion of talent which the group structure could not contain and so the best Israeli group ever called it day after only three or four years of activity.

Every ten years or so, they would get together for a reunion, which would mean a few open air concerts and possibly a live album - but always the same songs (this sounds remarkably like Fairport Convention in the 80s). This year (2013), they reunited for what they call the final time; there were five concerts, each attended by 20-30,000 people. Commentators performed cost analyses and reckoned that each member of the group (and they are seven) walked away with anything between one to two million shekels. Not bad for a few weeks' work. This probably was final compensation for the early years.

Unsurprisingly, a box collection has just been released. My initial thought that the box would contain the original albums and one or two reunion concerts, but it transpires that this box set has been two years in the making and almost all of it is unheard material. There are six cds and two dvds; bar one dvd, all the material is from 1971-6. As one might infer, I am listening to one of the discs now.

The first disc contains three rock operas, recorded before the group had only five members; the second disc contains their comedy skits (of which there were a lot). The third and fourth discs document a live performance held in Jerusalem some time in 1974 (I can't find the actual date), which means that this would be very similar to the performance which I saw in May 1974. The fifth is a live in the studio run though the songs on their third album and the sixth is a collection of alternate versions and oddities, like English language versions of a few well known songs, and a few English-only songs which were written at the end of their career and trying to get a recording contract in America.

The first dvd is a television concert performance from 1975 (black and white!) whereas the second is from their first reunion in 1981. The box set is packaged very well and is completed by a one hundred page booklet which contains a large amount of information as well as the texts to some of the skits.

This monster package has a price list of 329 NIS (about $90): expensive, but value for money. I was prepared to pay this amount, but as it happens .... I received as a New Year present, the third book by Dan Arieli which has just been published in its Hebrew translation. As I purchased the book - in its Kindle edition - a year ago, I was able to return the book to the shop from which it was purchased and obtain a credit towards the box set. In the shop, I was told that normally one couldn't credit a returned book towards a cd, but that they would make an exception in this case (maybe because it was a box set? maybe as a gesture towards the New Year?). So strike 96 NIS from the price. The sales girl told me that I would have to pay 153 NIS. As I signed the credit card slip, something about the arithmetic gnawed at me: it turns out that there was an extra 80 NIS credit which they had given, presumably to reduce the expensive 329 NIS price tag down to a more reasonable 249 NIS.

In the past few days, I had been intending to write about New Year in Israel, 1973, but I seem to have been somewhat sidetracked. I'll continue this subject tomorrow.

It was 40 years ago today - My gap year, part 1

4 September 1973 marked the beginning of the most important year of my life. It was the year in which I changed from a youth into a man and the year in which I learnt the meaning of the word 'responsibility'. These days, such a year would be called a gap year, but this term had yet to be invented in 1973.

-- some historical background
Until a few years beforehand, the Zionist youth movement 'Habonim' maintained a farm in Sussex which served as a training establishment for young men and women before they emigrated from Britain to Israel. This farm was supposed to give them experience before they settled in the primarily agricultural kibbutzim of the 1960s. I was too young to know much about this farm, but I did spend a week there in the winter of 1966 (aged 10). The farm was probably closed down at the end of the 60s because of financial reasons, but there were other changes happening. The number of senior Habonim members who were students had increased - so there were far fewer older members who could go and work on a farm - and air fares from Britain to Israel had become affordable, meaning that one could go to Israel and experience 'the real thing'.

A programme was started in 1970 called 'Shnat Hachshara' (a year of preparation), in which school leavers could spend a year on kibbutz, preparing for eventual emigration. Although most of the year was dedicated to working, time was also spent learning the Hebrew language and learning about Israel.

I was in the fourth group to participate in this programme. As this was still fairly new, there were all kinds of people around who were free to participate, not necessarily only those who had just left school. So my course was very heterogenous, whereas in following years, the groups were much more homogenous. In my group, there were three barely seventeen year olds (myself and two Scottish youths - in those days, Scottish youth finished school a year earlier than their English brethren), there were eighteen year olds who had finished school, and there were several older youths who had left school much earlier and had been working at various jobs, marking time. This heterogenity would be a problem throughout the year.

I wrote earlier this summer about finishing school with underwhelming results. Had I been anyone else, it would have been a good idea to stay another year at school (or a sixth form college), but I was dead set on participating in this programme and nothing could change my mind.

We were supposed to travel on 3 September - a historical date in itself - but there were problems with the aircraft, and after a few delays, we spent the night in an airport hotel (at the airline's cost) and eventually left 24 hours later than intended.

My group - as the three previous groups - would spend the year in Kibbutz Bet Ha'emek, near Nahariyya, in the north western part of Israel, a very tranquil area. This kibbutz had been founded by a group of British Habonim members in 1948/9 although over the years it had taken in members from many countries. Thus while Hebrew was the official language, most people there could speak English as well as other languages (French and Dutch spring to mind). The original settlers had children about the same age as my group, which aided our integration.

In those days, the ability to work well was considered to be the most important facet of a kibbutz member, so I had devoted some time to thinking about where I would like to work. I had some discussions on the subject with a good friend of mine who had been in the third group: working in the fields didn't sound appealing, and milking cows certainly didn't attract me. He told me about one branch which seemed very intriguing: a hatchery for chickens. I decided that I would try and work there.

The first few days after arrival were very confusing, as one might imagine. We elected a member of the group to be our work organiser - he would meet every evening with the kibbutz work organiser, learn how many people were needed in each branch of the kibbutz then assign group members to those branches. I imagine that we all aspired to working permanently in a branch, but first we had to become acquainted with the branches, and secondly we were dependent on the needs of the kibbutz.

I was told that there was no vacancy in the hatchery, but that I would work in one of the chicken runs. So on my first day of work (probably our third day on the kibbutz), I was woken at around 5:40 in the morning and staggered off to where the chicken runs were (someone might well have taken me because I had yet to visit that area). I remember that we (someone else from our group was assigned here as well) sat around in a stone building for about fifteen minutes, drinking tea and being told in broken English what we were expected to do. Then we were launched into our careers - or thrown in at the deep end, depending on which metaphor one prefers.

As opposed to most chicken runs, where the chickens are grown for meat, these runs were for breeding chickens: the eggs were fertile and would be collected to that they could be transferred to the hatchery. Our job was simply to walk up and down the runs, collecting the eggs. Just to put things in perspective, these chicken runs were upto 100 metres in length and maybe ten metres wide, so doing a complete collection took a few hours. There were several runs in the complex.

Down the center of each run were wooden structures into which the hens would enter so that they could lay their eggs. We had to walk down the run, poking our hands into these structures (like pigeon holes), feel around for eggs (the holes were filled with sawdust so it was never clear whether one would find an egg) then extract them and put them in the trays which we were carrying (30 eggs per layer). Sounds simple. Unfortunately, it would happen that a chicken sitting in a pigeon hole would peck the tentative hand reaching into the structure, causing the recipient to jump in shock. Also, the floors of the runs were covered with chickens (naturally), and the cockerels didn't take well to young, well brought up British youths wandering about. So these cockerels used to charge at these youths - run at them and flutter their not inconsiderable wings. 

I found this very difficult to take; I was told to walk as confidently as possible so that the chickens would automatically get out of the way, but I couldn't handle this easily and so lasted there for only a few days. I did work one or two days during this period in the chicken hatchery, but I didn't really understand what I was expected to do and so probably didn't make much of an impression. 

September was the time of the cotton harvest and I remember spending a few days on my own in a large container. Every now and then, a tractor would come along and dump a load of freshly picked cotton into the container. It was my job to jump up and down on the cotton, thus compressing it and allowing more cotton to be added. Of course, these days there is a machine which does this work.

We would work one day then learn Hebrew the next; I think that this was a better arrangement that the previous year, when they would learn Hebrew for a few hours then work for a few hours. Being good at languages - and having learnt Latin - I didn't have much of a problem learning simple Hebrew, whereas my companions had problems with tenses and declensions. Of course, we were also learning Hebrew at work - the first words which I learnt were "Bo le'echol"  (come and eat) - which I was told at regular intervals.

We were assigned 'kibbutz parents': we became adopted by a family and would go there for tea most days. These meetings allowed us to ask about the kibbutz and all the strange things that were happening to us. Later on, we used to visit other people for tea, thus getting to know more and more kibbutz members. For some reason, the family which was supposed to adopt me couldn't, so after a few weeks of being an orphan, another family adopted me.

The first few weeks between our arrival and Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year, which that year would have fallen around 28 September) were thus spent getting to know our new environment. Little did we know what was about to happen.....

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Frederik Pohl, 26/11/1919-02/09/2013

I was saddened to read this morning about the death of Frederik Pohl, who was one of the leading science fiction writers. According to his website, Fred went to the hospital in respiratory distress yesterday morning and died yesterday afternoon.

I first became aware of Fred Pohl in the summer of 1973 when I found one of his stories in an SF anthology. I didn't particularly care for the story, and neither did I care for the famous collaboration, "The Space Merchants", when I read it sometime in the 70s. Pohl had a chapter in the book "Hell's cartographers", which was composed of six autobiographical essays of science fiction writers (I bought it for the Robert Silverberg chapter). Again, I wasn't over impressed by what I read, but the very fact that Pohl was included in the book meant that he was a force to be reckoned with.

At the end of the 80s, I picked up a second hand copy of his book "Heechee Rendezvous" in a street market in Jerusalem, not knowing that this was the third part of a continuing series. At first, I had great difficulty understanding the plot of the book, but after I bought the initial books of the 'Gateway' series (and the final installment), I not only understood the third book, but also developed a deep appreciation for the 'Gateway' series and Mr Pohl himself.

Presumably in the early 90s I found a copy of Pohl's autobiography, "The way the future was", which was certainly interesting, although a great deal of it was about times long past (the twenties to the forties) and not particularly relevant to its date of publication.

I have read several other Pohl books, including "Jem", "The coming of the quantum cats" and "Man plus", but none of them seem as gripping nor as funny as the Gateway series. Maybe the fault lies with me.

Anyway, Pohl had a generous innings, falling shortly before his 94th birthday.

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Magic of Belle Isle

I saw this film the other night on television and thoroughly enjoyed it. I doubt that anyone would claim that it is a major piece of art, but it gave me a good feeling. True, some parts of it were perfunctory and could have been expanded, but I'm not complaining.

I found a very interesting interview with director Rob Reiner, which explains all kinds of things about the film. The budget for the entire film was five million dollars (Julia Roberts gets/got 20 million per film!) and it was shot over only 25 days.