Your blogs

  • London-Sderot

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 7, 2009

    None of those older Londoners who lived through Hitler's bombardment of the capital with pilot-less V1 and V2 rockets in the closing stages of the Second World War can have forgotten the terror sewn by those horrendous weapons lobbed indiscriminately against the civilian population. They will have had a sharp reminder of it lately with events in Israel. Wartime historians noted the huge drop in the morale of Londoners under this kind of bombardment compared with the unity of purpose displayed during the Blitz. Even though preparations were well advanced for the Allied invasion of Europe, Churchill ordered the RAF to hit the rocket sites and the Americans joined in, with many thousands of tons of far from accurate bombs being poured into northern France and never mind who got killed in the process. Tragically the victims also included hundreds of forced labourers brought from the concentration camps to build the launch sites. But despite the almost ceaseless bombardment, the rocketing was never stopped completely until Allied forces liberated those parts of France and Holland from which they were being launched. Australian science writer Karl S. Kruszelnick has commented that the lesson from the V-2 rocket attack was that a relatively small number of attacks by missiles could have major military, strategic and psychological effects on the country being attacked - even if the missiles were primitive, unreliable and inaccurate. The folks in Sderot know all about that.

  • The End Is Nigh

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 26, 2008

    A mass exodus of war-zone refugees is less chaotic than Oxford Street, two days before Christmas. An impenetrable wall of harangued and fatigued gift-hunters surge forward, escaping the crush by veering off through the doors of Selfridges and HMV. Salmon may swim upstream, but there’s no hope for the pedestrian trying to walk against this tide. Impervious to vehicular traffic, they stray in to the road, weaving through moving cars like lab rats in a maze, as if their countless carrier bags - slung over shoulders and dragging by their heels – will somehow act as a buffer between their bodies and the oncoming double-decker. Watching the insanity from my seat at the back of the bus, desperate to reach the hospital on time for my 2.15 appointment, I rued my decision to avoid the underground.

    I’m no Scrooge – let them have their festive fun – but this appointment was of particular importance. Waiting for me at the hospital were the results of my PET/CT scan. If the cancer still remained in my body I would face another three months of torturous chemotherapy – an eventuality I was desperate to avoid. While holed up in traffic between Fenwick’s and BHS, I staved off thoughts of the worst case outcome by reminding myself of the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” But, those poisonous thoughts rumbled on, persistent as the hum of the bus engine. Forget the Twelve Steps, a double vodka would have gone down well.

    Greetings cards, tinsel and tins of Quality Street lined the counter of the hospital reception. “Sit in the waiting room and we’ll call you when Professor Goldstone is ready to see you.” I found a chair and fretfully watched the second hand inch round the clock. The last month of chemotherapy had been taxing – the stress, the anxiety and the incessant nausea. “I can’t cope with any more of this,” I decided as my eyes welled up. “Take a deep breath,” I told myself, holding back the tears, “There’s no point worrying and if the news is bad, of course I will cope.”

  • My ex-wife is having a baby. I feel the jealousy in my genes

    Paul Lester
    Dec 23, 2008

    I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Darwinian imperatives and the function of DNA. No, not because I’m taking an evening class in advanced reproduction, but because I’ve just found out that my ex-wife is pregnant.

    She told me when I dropped off the kids at hers. Her new partner, Gary, was in the kitchen fixing me something revitalising in case I went into a faint, like a woman from an Elizabethan drama who is prone to a touch of the vapours. Actually, my immediate reaction to the news, after bursting into a verse or two of In Dulce Jubilo and low-fiving my eight-year-old son, was a ridiculously irrational, “Gulp! But what if it’s mine?”

    Now, I failed my Biology ‘O’ Level (that’s the code-phrase for GCSE to readers under 35), so I think I can be forgiven for this, but I did wonder for a brief moment whether a stray cell of mine may have, you know, demonstrated a feat of endurance comparable to Moses on the mountain and done something lewd and lascivious with a particle of genetic material belonging to the former Mrs L (and sincere apologies to our more sensitive readers for the graphic and biblical nature of that sentence, by the way).

  • Feeling The Stress

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 19, 2008

    “I think you’re thinking too much,” my nurse Becky ventured. Sometimes, well meaning friends offer guidance that ends up exacerbating the problem they sought to alleviate. Examples include “calm down” - likely to send anyone in the throes of a hissy-fit into an all-out Naomi-Campbell-throwing-telephones-at-maids style rage. There’s also “Pull yourself together,” which is only useful when the despondent one is a pair of curtains. “Stop thinking too much,” therefore, would also ordinarily fit the description of ineffectual advice, since the over-thinker now has the added worry of how much thinking constitutes too much. But this time, Becky had a point – too much thinking had brought on my mini breakdown.

    She said this to me as I lay on a hospital bed being prepared for my sixth and final instalment of Chemotherapy. Her task of finding the right vein was made more difficult by my squirming; the sight of the needle made me gag and a sick bucket was rushed over. I’d been feeling queasy for the past two days in anticipation of the session. Associative nausea is common with patients undergoing chemo. The oddest cues can set them off. A song they often hear on the way to the hospital, the faded pastel yellow colour of the ward walls, the food they were eating during their last visit, or even just the mention of chemo – anything associated with the stomach churning effects of the drugs can bring about those same unsettled feelings. However, what I was feeling now wasn’t just nausea, it was stress.

    Where did this stress come from? It had had been building since my fourth treatment back in November, a more traumatic affair than the first three sessions. Staff shortages meant it took twice as long as usual and the drugs irritated my veins so much that I was screaming loud enough to wake the coma patients in the adjacent ward. Though I was exhausted by the end, I had to make the journey back home on a heaving rush hour train, and become intimate with the malodorous arm pits of a stranger. My nausea was severe for the usual seven day period - I could neither eat nor drink and struggled to leave my bed. Soon after I was due for treatment number five. My recent bad experiences left me anxious, uneasy at the thought of more torture. True to prophecy, the week that followed chemo was hellish, with recovery taking longer than before.

  • Bonus of a nasty illness: it gets easier to sort the humans from the lost boys

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 11, 2008

    I arrived 10 minutes early for our get-together. Dim lighting wasn’t enough to conceal the lack of other diners in the restaurant. I ordered an unwanted drink, before sitting at the nearest of the vacant tables. The waiter shot me a suspicious glance. “My friends will be here in a minute… er, I’ll order food then,” I stammered.

    Why was I grovelling? Surely the restaurant would value a seated customer, who might convince passers-by to enter under the false assumption the establishment was popular.

    Ten painful minutes passed under the scrutiny of an impatient staff. I was finally relieved by the arrival of my new-found cancer friends, Joseph and Vered.

  • Just Like In The Movies

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 5, 2008

    If you’ve ever found yourself being chased down Regent’s Street by an angry mob of drooling zombies baying for your blood, tarmac melting beneath your feet, while Eros swoops down from Piccadilly Circus taking aim at your forehead – you’re either starring in the latest George A. Romero project, or more likely, you woke up several moments later reconsidering the wisdom of downing three glasses of Merlot before bed. Some situations are so implausible they could only be a hallucination or celluloid projections on a silver screen. Sometimes, however, a real life event can be so difficult for the mind to assimilate that despite all the evidence, the participant is convinced it must be a dream.

    A scene in the new film Waltz With Bashir looks at how one Israeli soldier coped with his involvement in the traumatic events of the 1982 Lebanon war. The narrator explains that the soldier had disassociated himself from the unspeakable reality by seeing events as if they were a film of someone else’s life. The movie left me wondering whether I too had been ‘disassociating’ in the way I had dealt with two recent health scares.

    The first of my health scares came the day after I had my tonsils taken out, five months ago. I woke at 2.30am to find thick, hot blood streaming from my mouth. An incessant out-pouring fast covered my sheets and hands in a sticky coating of crimson goo. The back of my throat had not healed sufficiently and I was haemorrhaging worse than an extra in a Tarantino film. Leaving a snail-like trail of glistening blood in my wake, I lurched to my mother’s room, waking her with shouts that sounded more like gurgles, whereupon she jumped out of bed and rushed me to the car. We raced to the A&E where, still gushing, I was seated on a trolley bed and wheeled to a cubicle. Around my head nurses and doctors flapped and buzzed. A white-gowned woman materialised with a drip while an attending nurse looked at the bucket I was clutching and mildly said, “heavens, that’s a lot of blood you’ve lost.”

  • I can’t even swing at a golfers’ disco

    Paul Lester
    Nov 27, 2008

    It's been a busy week.

    I interviewed Glen Campbell for a national newspaper, and Johnny Marr, late of The Smiths, for my book on influential (ie no one's heard of them) art-punk band Wire. I even taught Spanish to some schoolchildren (it's a sideline I have). All very impressive, I'm sure. But still no women, or indeed woman. What to do? As it says in the Torah: "A man without a female at Chanucah is like chicken soup without matzo balls." That was the Torah, wasn't it? Maybe it was my friend Simon after one too many mint Aeros.

    And then it hit me in the face like a piece of cold gefilte fish - the local golf club! No, I'm not labouring under the delusion that the 18th hole is a great place to pick up girls. I mean the singles-night disco they hold at the aforementioned haven for wannabe Tigers and Torrances. For years I had driven past it and seen the tantalising white banner: "Over-30s parties, every Friday night". Even, if I was honest, while I was married, I'd pass it and wonder what manner of hedonistic thrills and Dionysian excess lay within.

  • ‘One Week On, One Week Off’

    Gideon Schneider
    Nov 27, 2008

    I have a terrible affliction for which there is no cure. Try as I might, I can't seem to stop myself arriving on time. I aim to turn up fashionably late to parties, but I'm always there before the host. When meeting friends I'll call in a panic to say I'm running ten minutes late, only to turn up ten minutes early. The Swiss could set their clocks by me. With my height, I should change my name to Ben and chime on the hour. Unfortunately most things in life aren't so punctual, so I'm often left waiting around with only my frustration to keep me company. Postponed planes, tardy trains and friends who get delayed are the bane of my life. So it's been refreshing that my chemotherapy-induced sickness, at least, has demonstrated such rigid timekeeping.

    So far it's been one week on, one week off. That's how I've been living for the past two months. The seven days following each of my bimonthly treatments always see me drop half a stone in weight as the nausea makes eating a struggle. I've tried various cocktails of anti sickness drugs - paper umbrella not included - and even resorted to wearing special wrist bands designed to reduce symptoms, all to no avail. However, while doubled over a bucket, red faced and writhing, I've felt reassured that by the end of the week I'll be back to normal again.

    In the throes of an ‘off' week, while curled up in bed and nursing my aching abdomen, a friend from Gloucestershire phoned for a chat. Knowing that my ‘on' week was approaching, he invited me to visit him out west. It would be relaxing, he promised, and at the very least a distraction from treatment. It would also break up the monotony. I knew I'd be well from Wednesday so agreed to take the train over for the weekend. If only the weather was as predictable as the seasons of my sickness.

  • The Dirt to Come in Israel’s Elections

    Anshel Pfeffer
    Nov 26, 2008

    Sometimes you can just sense that a political campaign is on a losing streak. I got that feeling on Monday, driving in to Tel-Aviv and seeing the new giant Kadima election posters on the Kibbutz Galuyot Road. There's something about Tzipi Livni's glum and unphotogenic face - and the inarticulate slogan: "What is Good for the Country". It sounds just as bad in Hebrew.

    Kadima has the savviest PR team in the business. Eyal Arad and Lior Horev are not only Israel's premier spin-doctors, they are in demand around the world. Legendary ad-man Reuven Adler was the brains behind the transformation of Ariel Sharon from warmonger to cuddly grandpa. If these three can't make Livni look a bit sexier, then she's in trouble.

    My premonition seems to have been confirmed by last night's Channel One poll. After a month in which Kadima was polling almost even with Likud, the governing party is now trailing by ten percent.

  • Nominations have opened for the chair of the Union of Jewish Students

    Simon Friend
    Nov 21, 2008

    Nominations have opened for the chair of the Union of Jewish Students. Campaigning began on November 18 and continues for a week before the candidates' road show arrives in Scotland for the first leg of the annual tour.

    Canvassing around the major campuses over the years has become innovative, with last year's election featuring sophisticated websites, YouTube videos, interviews and podcasts. This year's election, with more locations than ever before, will be no less hotly contested.

    The new road show format has increased participation over the past few years, with more than 700 people voting last year in the election. The 2008 Road Show will visit nine venues over two weeks, culminating in Manchester on December 4.