In a vain attempt to maintain his normally even temper, my father would begin a long drive in our Rover 75, or indeed any tedious activity likely to last more than two hours, by presenting each of his children with an I-Spy book. Readers who grew up in 1960s Britain will recall I-Spy books. For the rest of you, the I-Spy series was a range of paperback spotters’ guides, each on a particular subject — trees, cars, insects, and the like — that educated while encouraging the reader to identify examples of the subject matter, awarding points for a successful spot.
These marvellous little volumes were conceived specifically to minimise the number of times a child asked questions such as “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored. Can I have an ice-cream?” by making them so consumed with the detective work that whole summers would fly by as he (and let’s be clear, no girl was ever OCD enough to fall for such manipulation) sought to note a striped antelope bouncing along the Essex coastline near Walton-on-the-Naze.
Not being of a competitive disposition my enquiries as to arrival time would begin some five minutes after being handed the guide. Nevertheless, I remember the books with affection, and that recollection has formed the basis of an idea for passing the time in synagogue — I-Spy Shulgoers. While sitting in shul, award yourself points if you manage to spot any of the following:
Screaming babies (20 points): I’m sorry if you belong to one of those synagogues that discourages parents from bringing infants. Not because I think it’s a good thing to allow the noisy little blighters into shul, but because it will make those 20 points difficult to bag. Indeed, if yours is one of those synagogues that would rather children were left at home than learning to feel at home in shul, write to me care of this newspaper with its name and I’ll join immediately.
Now, to collect the full 20 points it’s important that the mother allows the screaming to persist for at least five minutes before they accept that their silent pleadings are in vain, grab the little cherub and saunter out of the prayer hall cracking an embarrassed smile. Those that remove the child immediately are only worth five points.
The next category is “friends of the barmitzvah boy” and again specific circumstances dictate differences in points awarded. If the barmitzvah attends a Jewish school then expect terrible decorum from his friends and collect 15 points. If the child attends a state school then you can be sure that his friends will be quiet and well-behaved — 20 points.
Award yourself extra points if you see any of the guests playing games on their mobile phone. This is no less likely among Jewish kids than gentile ones so both occurrences are worth five points.
There’s an old saying: “Former synagogue presidents don’t resign, they just sit in the back row and kibitz”.
Award yourself 50 points if you find yourself sitting next to the previous incumbent and are forced to endure hours of prattling on about how he transformed the place and how it has declined in the three weeks since he stepped down.
Thirty points are up for grabs if you are unable to daven because your neighbour doesn’t let up about how bad business is while insisting how smart a businessman he is, and 40 are available if he doesn’t stop going on about Theo Walcott’s goal in the game against Sweden.
Finally, we approach the upper end of our generational journey. Less an I-Spy than an I-Hear, award yourself 15 points for a whistling hearing aid and a further 20 if an elderly congregant asks: “What’s ’e saying?” in an uncomfortably loud voice during the sermon.
When you’ve completed the list you can start on the second in my series. This one is for those outings to Brent Cross Shopping Centre. It’s called I-Schmie.