I gave the crucifix I had bought in one of the bazaars in the Old City in Jerusalem to my stepmother, and she is very pleased with it. For me it is just another piece of sentimental religious tat. For her, an 80-year-old Irishwoman (though one born in Bodmin, Cornwall, to Irish parents) it is far more than that. I very dimly, from my ‘cradle Catholic’ childhood, recollect how such things as ‘a crucifix from Jerusalem/the Holy Land’ might have significance. These days for this quasi-liberal, 67-year-old ageing semi-cynical newspaper hack it has less significance than a stick of Blackpool rock. For her, it is different, and she was delighted; and it is enlightening to reflect on that difference: who is right? Well, neither of us and both of us, of course.
Coincidentally, when I arrived here this afternoon to give her the crucifix and show her the pictures I had taken on my short trip to - forgive me, but I can’t resist the inverted commas - ‘the Holy Land’, she was watching a TV documentary about Jerusalem. And just as I walked in, the presenter was talking to Roman Catholic pilgrims (quite possibly just yards away from where I might have bought the crucifix for 200 shekels, although at the end of the day I found one for just 25 shekels) about their experience. They were over the Moon, simply overwhelmed by the experience of walking down the Via Dolorosa (down which Jesus is said to have dragged his cross to Calvary).
Me, who most probably walked on the same cobblestones, it was just being another tourist in a well-known place, a place where Muslim, Jewish and Christian stallholders sell all kinds of goods to visitors, goods which include the kind of thing I describe as ‘Christian tat’. Who is right? Undoubtedly, those devout pilgrims would be appalled by my cynicism, but . . . Who is right? Neither of us, of course, and both of us. Now there’s something to ponder on.
A few minutes later, the presenter took us, the TV viewer into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and said - I paraphrase, of course - when visiting the spot where Jesus is said to have been entombed after his crucifixion and where he is said to have come alive again, that he was overwhelmed by the experience. I don’t think he said his skin was tingling, but he might well have done. Me? I didn’t actually bother going in.
For one thing the queue of devout Christian pilgrims was long and for another - well, it really means nothing for me. The spot, he said, was pretty much ‘the holy of holies’ for Christians the world over. For me, it was just another ‘holy’ spot for one of the world’s faiths. Who is right? Again, neither of us and both of us: faith is so utterly personal that there can be no objective judgment. All I shall say is that although I share not one jot of their faith and beliefs, I wish them all well.
The same can be said of the Western Wall, the ‘Wailing Wall’, the last surviving part of the temple in Jesus’s time after its destruction by the Romans in Ad60. I went there, I touched the wall myself, surrounded by devout Jews all saying their prayer, but felt nothing. My lack, my shortcoming and their devotion? Their gullibility and my savvy? Well, neither, of course, and both. But I won’t ramble on because I think I’ve made my point.
< br />The point of this entry is that there is none, there is no difference, at least there is no objective difference.
. . .
This afternoon, my stepmother, Jill (her friend, former carer and tenant) and I have been sitting outside supping gins. And whenever I sup a gin or a cider or a glass of wine I tend to remember things, things occur to me and want to write in this blog. As I have said more than once, this isn’t really a blog in which I record important things, but more of a commonplace book cum diary, somewhere to record whatever triviality crosses my mind. time and again, walking down the street, at work, lying in bed or wherever I might be, something occurs to me and I think ‘must put that in my blog’. And I invariably do not, for one reason or another.
For one thing there’s the niggling suspicion that it’s just a tad too self-important to imagine that anyone could be interested in what I have to say when all folk – and mean all - have their own thoughts and preoccupations. And their own lives and problems (although I should say – touch wood – that I am unaware of any potential problems in my life. But still, the point of this, at the end of the day, is not to pass on anything, to inform in any way, but simply to blather without fear of retribution. Still, you are here reading this, so what the hell.
I met one or two people and fell into conversation with three or four people in Israel as I am the chatty sort, but the one conversation which sticks out was with a young Israeli in Jaffa. He was 22 and originally from Russia, but had lived in Israel since he was 7. It was a short chat about this and that earlier on – I was surprised at how good his English was and he spoke with an American accent that I asked him whether he was an American.
An hour or two later, when his shift finished (he was waiting on tables at the Bell Café in the touristy port part of Jaffa, he stopped off again, I can’t remember why and we began chatting again, and that ‘chat’ went on to last for several hours. He told me quite a bit about himself and his plans and what he wanted to do, and I will have told him a lot about myself, though being - he was 22 and I am 67 and thus 55 years older - we both had a slightly different perspective on things. He was an interesting guy, especially because he reminded me of myself 55 years ago, but young, as I was then young. Talking to him, as I told him, was like talking to my son or rather a son.
My son is 18 and we have a very good relationship, but I was able to tell Vladimir (for that was his name) things I might have been more cautious about telling my son. Vladimir knows of this blog and for all I know might well read this entry, especially as I emailed him the URL, and if he is reading this I must reassure him that I shall betray no confidences or tell any tales out of school, but there is one thing I shall pass on, not for his sake but for anyone and everyone who has been in the same situation. Among a very, very wide-ranging conversation – I asked him about life in Russia under Putin or what he could remember about it, life in Israel, what the general feeling was about the ‘Israel/Palestinian conflict’, films (I recommended some, he recommended some) music blah, blah – he mentioned that his father had died five years earlier.
His mother was, in fact, his father’s second wife and he had step-siblings with whom he got on reasonably well. How the conversation got around to it, I don’t know, but I asked him whether he had cried when his father died. He said he hadn’t, but I immediately sensed that he really had not come to terms with his father’s death. I can relate to that.
Thirty-six years ago when I was staying at home for a week to do some shifts on The Sun, I walked into my mother’s room, concerned that there had been no sound from her after I had risen and been making quite a bit of noise in the kitchen, and found her dead. At the time and for several years after that I thought I had taken it in my stride. But I hadn’t. I had simply tucked it away and – this has been a habit of mine to overcome difficulties, upsets and problems – I made myself ‘not care’. Well, that is a stupid thing to do. So I told him – perhaps tactlessly, perhaps usefully – that when he got home that night he should talk to his mother about his father and his father’s death and cry. Let it all out. I don’t know whether he did or not, but I’m glad I told him that.
With me the chickens came home to roost about two years later when I broke up with a girlfriend. Actually, I did not want to. At the time I assumed – stupidly – that she ‘was the one’, that we would end up together and, I supposed, eventually marry. In fact, I was so convinced of that that I thought she would resist being dumped. Sadly, she didn’t. In fact, I now realise that she was rather relieved to be shot of me. And – I remember the occasion even now: we were sitting in a wine bar in Birmingham – within minutes I realised my stupidity. And – here I might sound quite dramatic, but this is what is seemed like – there was something like a nuclear explosion in my head and everything, but everything seemed to disintegrate. From that moment on and for several years after that, I quite literally, not think straight. And life was hell.
It wasn’t the usual break-up scenario, and I now realise my mental collapse, if that isn’t overegging the pudding, which went on for a long, long time afterwards, had little to do with breaking up with the girl (well, woman, her name was Sian) but my grief over my mother’s death and the suddenness of it all finally emerging. And boy did it emerge. But I must admit that what I have just written and my realisation of it all did not come to me for many years. Many.
These days and since they were very young, I have tried to teach my two children, now 18 and almost 21: don’t bottle things up! Let it out! Acknowledge what is troubling you. Now, quite obviously neither Wesley, the 18-year-old, and Elsie, the almost 21-year-old are their own people. They are not carbon copies of me and have their own personalities, their own strengths and their own failings. And along those lines I must repeat what you ars sure to know if you are a parent, and must understand if you are not but still hope to be, that quite possibly the hardest thing about being a father or mother is letting go, accepting without reservation that your ‘young ones’, those delightful little babies, toddlers, young children, not so young children, teenagers and then young adults are breaking free and, crucially, need you less and less.
Perhaps that is why – no, in fact, that is why - I was pleased to talk to Vladimir. It wasn’t that I could pick his brains about Israel and the Russia he knew. It was simply because I could speak to him as I would a child of mine, tell him the truth as I saw it, help him a little along his way, and just as I get more pleasure from giving presents than getting them (some of us do, believe it or not) it wasn’t an ego trip of any kid, a wise owl passing on advice. It was simply just helping another soul in this world.
. . .
This has become a long entry. I note, from the little tab at the bottom of my Office Word app page, that I have so far written as of now 2,080. But I can’t leave it and post this entry without adding one more thing. Yesterday, still at home in Cornwall, I was in our kitchen playing my guitar (I’m trying to be a little more disciplined about it to make a little more progress. I don’t at all doubt that were I to play for some folk, they might think ‘ah, he’s quite good’.
Well, take it from me, no I’m not. I could be better, but it entails far more discipline. Anyway, for some reason I found myself humming the theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the choral movement. So, my iPhone to hand, I decided to play it. And within minutes I was almost in tears – almost because I stopped myself: what would anyone think if, at 11am in the morning, they came into the kitchen and found me ‘in tears’? Nutter? Probably.
The point is that the whole movement, which leads up the glorious Oh Freunde, nicht diese Töne! gets right deep, deep, deep to the heart of me. It gets to the idealist in me, the man who wishes the world well. And that, perhaps is why I come across – or more truthfully try to come across – as cynical. It’s that old ploy I used when my mother and father used to argue and bitch at each other and I hated it: I pretended, very successfully, it has to be said, that ‘I didn’t care’. So one last thing: if you meet a cynic, know one thing: this is merely a man (woman can also be cynical but for very different reasons) who simply hasn’t the moral backbone to stay true to his idealism.
. . .
Just for the craic: this is the scene from the Scarsdale Tavern tonight as I write. My laptop and where I am sitting is at the bottom left.
And just a few more pics. The bird, the chairs and shadows was taken in Israel. The bench is in St Breward.
... and just now (a little later).