Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 1977

Continuing my irregular series of blogs about events which happened 40 years ago (before I completely forget them), I am going to write about April 1977. This was the beginning of a bad period for me which lasted several months. The seeds had been sown a few months previously, which is where I will start. 

As I have written several times before, my university course was known as a 'sandwich' course: study for a year, work in industry for six months, study for a year, work in industry for six months then study for a final year. In the summer of 1976, the audacious idea came to me that I could spend my second industrial period (due to start in April/May 1977) in a food manufacturing plant in the north of Israel. I had made advances to this plant and the idea seemed feasible - I would probably be researching avocados. Permission to carry this idea out was dependent on my university (situated in London): two visits were to be made by lecturers during the industrial period. For a while, the university considered this, but at some time - maybe February, maybe March - I was told that the university could not afford to send lecturers to visit me in Israel and that I would have to do my second period of industrial training in or around London.

Whilst externally I recognised the wisdom/necessity of this decision, internally I was very upset. I resolved to compensate myself by going to Israel the day after my final exam (we had exams in March that year), returning the day before I was due to start work at an analytical laboratory not far from the university (obviously, the job had been set up fairly quickly and before the exams). I could just squeeze in a month.

That month included both the Passover holiday and Independence Day. I decided to spend two weeks at my 'new' kibbutz, Mishmar David, where I had spent time the previous summer and which was to be my location upon emigrating to Israel in 1978, and two weeks at my 'old' kibbutz, Bet Ha'emek. I don't remember much about the first two weeks; the second two weeks were very emotional. At the end of my time, I returned to Mishmar David for another day, as the kibbutz is close to the airport. 

On the morning of my return flight to London, someone on the kibbutz was deputised to take me to the airport, but it had been raining overnight and the car wouldn't start. When I eventually got to the airport, my flight had already left (or I was too late to board) so I was placed on standby. I was very distraught as I was supposed to be starting my new job the next day. I remember that at one stage, an airline representative gathered all the people who were waiting for a standby flight, asking the people what kind of ticket they held. When it came to my turn, I said that I had a student ticket and that my studies were resuming the next day. I don't know whether this made a difference, but I was allocated a seat on the next plane leaving for London, and so arrived home that evening, able to start work the next day.

My first few weeks in this laboratory were low-key: the company was in the process of moving from one location to a new one (I started in the new one) and so there weren't many people around at first. I spent those weeks in the company of a recent chemistry graduate, checking the mercury content in urine of people who worked in a factory making batteries. I still had my sense of smell then, so some aspects of this work weren't particularly pleasant, but otherwise the work was undemanding. After about a month, the rest of the laboratory staff arrived and I was reassigned to mainly analysing cans of food. The work was fine, but there was a person in the laboratory who greatly annoyed me personally, talking loudly all the time (there's someone like that where I work now). Fortunately, we didn't have any professional contact. It was a great relief when he went on holiday for a few weeks.

I had been having problems with my stomach for some time - there's a story about having a barium meal buried somewhere in this blog - and I began treatment with a new drug whilst working in the laboratory. Part of my memory says it was cimetidine, but another part of my memory says that I started cimetidine the following year and that I was prescribed a different - but also new - drug first. I remember this because I had to eat before taking the pill (several times a day), and once one of the managers found me taking an unofficial break in order to eat something before taking the pill.

Emotionally I was a mess. The disappointment of not spending six months working in Israel, combined with the fact that I hadn't been able to find a girlfriend for a year and a half, and possibly combined with the fact that my closest friends were about to emigrate to Israel and leave me alone for a year, made me a very frail person, emotionally speaking. The stomach medication may have contributed to this as I recall a very definite feeling of relief when I stopped taking the medication (it was prescribed for eight weeks). Another possible cause was that I was less connected to the youth movement than I had been (I had been unable to commit to anything that year because of the intended work period abroad) and so I may well have been missing the emotional support. My musical world was also falling apart, and punk rock was on the rise. I made tentative approaches at getting some psychiatric help, but ironically was diagnosed as insufficiently depressed for treatment. That didn't help much, either.

Out of my emotions came a song which I considered to be one the best I had written at that point; I titled it "Janus' song", because I was looking both backwards and forwards. I remember writing in my mind what was to become the second verse whilst driving home from work one day.

Drifting along in the wind-driven tide
A rainy day, the lookout never cried
The ship ran aground
On the bank that no one knew was there.
The crew ran amok
And the captain turned over and cried
"Help me, help me"

Drifting along as the months they recede
I've taken all the pain I could ever receive
The sun winds its path
There's still half of my song to come
Of course I miss you
But I'm late on my cue to atone
A step forward

I've been drifting away but my back isn't turned
The map still exists, the bridge isn't burned
Now onwards I stare
But I'm keeping aware of my past
The people still call
But your words could never fall from their place
"My friend, remember me".
(16-17 May 1977)

A rather cryptic lyric, with a few influences from Sandy Denny.

In a few hours, sirens will sound across Israel, marking the beginning of Memorial Day; tomorrow evening will be the start of Independence Day.

No comments: