Your blogs

  • Rule one: never, ever take a date to a gig

    Paul Lester
    Nov 13, 2008

    I've done some stupid things in my time. Forgetting to switch on the tape recorder during an hour-long interview with Blondie's Debbie Harry is way up there at the top of the list. Getting engaged in my first year at university to a girl from Clapham must merit contention, not because she was from Clapham - although the north-south divide did cause havoc with communication - but because it was, you know, my first year. At university. And I was about 10 (and therefore could barely afford a tube of Rolos, let alone a £20 ring from Zales). And going to meet my rabbi for counselling just after my divorce last year has got to be in the top five ("rabbi" in Hebrew means "teacher", not "expert on inter-personal relations with specific reference to psycho-sexual collapse").

    But one of the dumbest decisions I've ever made was to invite a lady to join me at a performance by the comedian Sarah Silverman.

    Now, I never take anyone, male or female, to gigs. There are good reasons for this. I dread running out of things to say in the car and even keep a list of conversation topics in the glove compartment just in case. During the concert you have to shout in your companion's ear because the music's so loud, and I hate shouting (and don't get me started on ears). Then there's the fear that you're going to bump into someone you've known for years but whose name you can't remember, and you've got the embarrassment of introducing them to each other so you have to turn it into a joke and make out you've forgotten both ("Hi, Thingie!" I usually say. "Meet Wotsit!").

  • Worry

    Paul Lester
    Nov 7, 2008

    I'm not sure if you noticed, hopefully you did, but my column didn’t appear in the JC today due to circumstances beyond my control. I say beyond my control because it really wasn't down to me, but who should ring at 9am this morning, five minutes after the shops opened, but my ex-wife, who called from the newsagent, wondering where the hell the latest instalment of Suddenly Single was.

    Don't get me wrong: I'm relieved that not only is she not annoyed by my mentioning her week in, week out, in the column but that she actively looks forward to it. I just wasn't expecting her to be annoyed by its non-appearance, as though it was somehow my fault.

    But then, as my far as my ex-wife is concerned - far - everything is my fault. The Suez Crisis? That was me being lax with regard to foreign policy. Climate change? I shouldn't have used so many aerosols in the '80s. The assassination of JFK? If only I'd been on that grassy knoll instead of being glued to the TV, watching I Love Lucy.

  • Waiting for my hair to go

    Gideon Schneider
    Nov 7, 2008

    In anticipation of my hair falling out, my hand kept on straying towards my scalp to check that all was still in place. Every time I passed a mirror I wondered whether my crown had thinned or if it was just a trick of the light. In the mornings, there were no escapee strands coating my pillow. Maybe a patch of night drool, but no hair. And as for the shower plug hole, that remained follicle free.

    "I feel a bit cheated," I said to Vered, "I'm missing part of the experience." She herself went through chemotherapy only last year, at the age of 17. "It was pretty gross, I guess," she said, with the air of a thrill-seeker recounting a recent adventure. "I had hair falling in to my chicken soup and coming out all over the place. I just had to scratch my head and whole clumps would attach themselves to my fingers." Eventually she took her brother's clippers and shaved off what little remained of her once luxuriant locks. "I wasn't trying to be rebellious, it was just easier than constantly picking up stray curls. But I really liked the look - much to my mother's horror."

    Friends could not understand how Vered could be anything other than horrified - but she found the situation funny. She fully encouraged her brothers' teasing when at the Friday night table they would ask her to "pass the salt, Baldy". She found it helpful that her family participated in her light hearted approach. "They took their cue from me."

  • Food Inglorious Food

    Gideon Schneider
    Oct 31, 2008

    With a sultry voice she unveiled a list of ingredients like it was a catalogue of forbidden pleasures. At the same time a thick, gooey flow of rich Belgian chocolate sauce oozed from the carafe, inching its way to the moist, spongy cake below. Normally the advert would have me salivating like an oligarch over an oil well, but my recent chemotherapy session had left my stomach churning so violently that I gagged at the mere thought of eating. This wasn't just nausea, this was M&S nausea.

    Upon leaving the hospital I had felt fine and even dared to believe that I'd escaped the dreaded side effects. It was only next morning, on waking, that I realised the sickening truth. As I lurched to the bathroom, my agitated intestines felt more stirred up than a United Synagogue made to consider the appointment of a woman rabbi. My stomach was making sounds any soldier would be scared to hear on the battlefield. In fact I felt so ill I couldn't even face the prospect of swallowing the very anti-sickness pills that were designed to soothe me.

    Breakfast was out. Lunch was a no-go. At dinner I made a plucky attempt and managed a bowl of plain spaghetti. It wasn't so much the constant feeling of nausea, but the even stranger sensation that food had become unappetising. Food is usually the quickest way to my heart; my addiction to it is rivalled only by my Facebook dependency. I've always seen seconds as essential and desert de rigueur. At a recent wedding where the bride looked like a meringue, I found myself drooling for all the wrong reasons. I couldn't help thinking that a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with raspberry coulis was a more fitting accompaniment than bridesmaids. But with treatment messing with my love of fressing, I felt more disorientated that Kerry Katona on This Morning.

  • Pain

    Paul Lester
    Oct 28, 2008

    It was while I was sitting in the dentist's chair yesterday afternoon, having emergency treatment for an infected nerve, heavily sedated but still sufficiently compos mentis to feel the miniature pneumatic drill laying waste to my periodontal ligament, that I realised it's nice, at times of crisis, to have a woman around. Any woman. Unfortunately, there were only two ladies in the dentist's operating chamber (that's not the technical term, by the way, it just sounds appropriately brutal and unpleasant), and they were the dentist herself, plus her female assistant - three if you count the big girl's blouse in the chair. As the pain increased - no, intensified, because it sounds more serious - and visions of Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man appeared in my fevered brain, I had just one inclination: to hold somebody's hand (two, actually, the other being to shout, "Yes, it's safe!" really loud at various points of the procedure). And because my mummy was busy doing Jewish-mother things at the time, like making kneidlach and kvelling over my latest column in the JC in a town far, far away (St Albans), there was only one thing for it: I had to grab hold of the dental assistant's hand. Really hard. How hard? Put it this way: I squeezed it white, until it looked like one of those gloves that posh ladies, or butlers, used to wear. Meanwhile the dentist began treating the inside of my mouth like an amusement park. Is this weird? Have you ever squeezed a dental assistant's hand? Anyone's hand? I wonder if it's illegal. Certainly if you approached a total stranger in a park and began squidging parts of their body, they'd have good reason to get you locked up. Hmmm. Hope she doesn't sue. If you're reading this, miss, I sincerely apologise, and by way of consolation, feel absolutely free to squeeze my hand anytime, although probably best not to do it while I'm driving.

  • Finding Chemo

    Gideon Schneider
    Oct 24, 2008

    I arrived at the hospital for my first chemotherapy session. This appointment was about as appealing a prospect as cleaning for Pessach. The dreaded ‘c' word has so many negative connotations it makes ‘colonic irrigation' seem poetic in contrast. Admittedly, my fears were not grounded in any actual knowledge of what the treatment involved. But in any event, it didn't seem like the type of thing anybody would include on a list of ‘try before you die' experiences.

    The ward looked like a 1970s hotel lobby redeemed by leather easy chairs far more comfortable than anything I had at home. I looked for a place to park myself, but all chairs were occupied by other patients. Note to self: next time, turn up early to guarantee a window seat. While waiting, a woman in uniform passed through the ward with a trolley brimming with free sandwiches and a cornucopia of fruit. Singapore Airlines could not match this level of service.

    A silent version of musical chairs was being played in the ward. When one person's treatment finished, his vacant spot was greedily filled by the next candidate. I took my seat and was told I'd have to wait, since the expensive chemotherapy drugs could only be concocted after my arrival, like a pricey Gordon Ramsey dish too luxurious to be prepared unless specifically ordered. My sister had come along to keep me company. She found a small table and laid out the playing cards for a stop-gap game of poker. Her hand was stronger so I wasn't exactly put out by the interruption of my attending nurse's arrival.

  • Meeting over Leeds residence met with student anger

    Simon Friend
    Oct 23, 2008

    A meeting held this week on the future of the residential Hillel House in Leeds was met with some anger from students from Leeds Metropolitan University. The meeting, chaired by Daniel Marcus, chief executive of UJS Hillel, revealed plans to accommodate Jewish students from Leeds Uni in new digs seconds from the original Hillel House, which will continue to serve kosher food. Plans for students from the Met are not finalised, which worried some. Danielle Foux, a second-year student at Leeds Met, said: "A lot of people were upset with the plans, as integration between students from both universities is vital to the Jewish student community." Mr Marcus insisted that UJS Hillel is "working on excellent options for Met students".

  • University of St Andrews has the largest J-Soc north of Leeds

    Simon Friend
    Oct 23, 2008

    The University of St Andrews has a record 120 Jewish Society members this year, making it the largest J-Soc north of Leeds. "This is an extremely proud achievement as the university only has 7,200 students," says Hayden Krasner, president of the society. Jewish students in Scotland have usually preferred Edinburgh or Glasgow, but due to its growing popularity, St Andrews has now been placed on the Chaplaincy Succah trail and has enough regulars to warrant J-Soc staples such as Shabbat meals and bagel brunches.

  • I’ve ventured out of my social comfort zone. Big mistake

    Paul Lester
    Oct 23, 2008

    It's great when your life starts shaping up like a bad episode of the most clichéd soap opera. This is what happened to me last week when I received a message on my mobile from a girl I'd previously met at a launch party for an expensive new designer brand of fizzy water (Eau Dear, I think it was); a girl who appears to base her texts on the collected works of the Hollyoaks scriptwriters.

    "It would be lovely to go for a drink some time," came her reply to an earlier invitation from yours truly. "But I don't think I could handle anything serious at the moment or my head will explode. So let's just be friends."

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not in the business of skull detonation. But I do wonder why she felt the need to deter me quite so cornily. Did she think I was going to turn up on our date with an engagement ring and a copy of Bride & Groom? Apart from anything else, I don't need any more friends - I haven't enough time to see the ones I've already got.