I was hoping this week to write about my time at Shirei Chagigah — the Movement for Reform Judaism’s music conference. I am really disappointed to have to report, however, that I had a completely wonderful time and was consistently and transcendentally happy throughout the entire four days.
Nothing could be worse for a writer. If life continued in this way it would be a disaster — I would have to completely change career. Fortunately, the chances of that happening are slim.
It’s not even remotely interesting to read about happiness and fulfilment. If, when Jane Eyre rocked up to Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester hadn’t already had a wife locked up in the attic, it’s unlikely we’d still be reading the book today. If Tom Riddle had gone into therapy as a teenager, managed to modulate his psychopathic instincts and hadn’t turned into Lord Voldemort, the Harry Potter series probably wouldn’t have taken off.
As anyone with kids will understand, the freedom to spend a few days away doing something entirely for yourself is a rare and precious thing, requiring the combined efforts and good will of your partner, extended family and friends, to keep things going during your absence.
My husband Anthony, naturally, bore the brunt on this occasion, though luckily he copes with the kids by himself far better than I do. On the Friday night there was a special, musical service at Finchley Reform Synagogue, and I saw this as a good opportunity to show him why I had been so keen to attend the conference. Perhaps if he really loved it, I thought, we might be able to experience lots more Jewish music together. He’s not particularly musically inclined, but that didn’t stop me hoping.
As the service progressed, the roof of FRS practically bursting with harmony and ruach, I glanced every now and then at Anthony (who, I was pleased to note, was singing along) and wondered if it was doing anything for him.
"This makes me so happy," I said to him afterwards. "Do you ‘get’ it?"
"I think I do!" he replied.
"Yessss!" I thought, triumphantly.
"I think I do," he repeated, thoughtfully. "I feel like that when I’m playing cricket."
That wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but perhaps I need to accept that we are fulfilled by different things.
Meanwhile, though nothing went awry at the conference itself, I did have an "interesting" time schlepping a car-full of American conference delegates from Radlett to Finchley. I decided to use Waze, the brilliant Israeli app that crowdsources data from other users in order to plan the best route in current traffic conditions.
The only problem with Waze is that it assumes you would always prefer to drive down a side street full of speed bumps rather than sit in a traffic jam on a main road. Because we were travelling during the Friday evening rush hour, it planned a route almost entirely avoiding any main roads for the whole 15-mile trip.
As the journey progressed, the roads got ever narrower, the houses fewer and the fields greener. My American passengers began to exclaim over the rural beauty of the area. Meanwhile I, having no sense of direction at all, began to wonder if I’d accidentally asked Waze to take me to Devon, and if we were going to see a sign for "Delicious Cream Teas" at any moment.
Things reached a climax when we turned a corner and met a row of horses, clip-clopping along the road, and my passengers wound down the windows so they could take photos. Somewhat to my surprise and relief, we did reach Finchley not long afterwards.
Now the weekend is over and having sung Jewish songs all day for four days, I’m having trouble re-assimilating into the "real" world. I’m wondering what to do about it.
I feel that it might help if I turn my conversations into song. For example:
“Please could you put the bins out?
Lai lai lai lai lai,
And I’ll be getting the pasta on...
Lai lai lai lai lai.”
I also feel that the guitar should have a wider use in everyday life, and I plan to start playing mine as I go about my day: in the supermarket...during meetings...at the school gate. I know that everyone around me will appreciate it.
And when my kids are all asking me questions simultaneously (which happens frequently), I intend to turn those questions into a three-part round. With luck, by the time we’ve finished singing, they won’t notice that I haven’t given them any answers.
More seriously, from now on, I am going to go to more Jewish music events and Anthony is going to play more cricket. And happy we will both be — though we won’t be writing about it.