Tales from the trip – the barmitzvah

We went to Scotland mainly for Nathan’s barmitzvah. Although he was nervous, as soon as he started the nerves disappeared and he performed his maftir and haftarah admirably.

The barmitzvah boy

The barmitzvah boy

Well done Nathan!

On the Sunday night, Michael and Susan hosted a cracking party. After the reception there were a few speeches, chaired by big brother Adam.

Mr Chairman (and Big Brother)

Mr Chairman (and Big Brother)

There followed a nice meal, and then dancing. Lots of dancing. We started with the Israeli form of that ancient art, before moving on to more modern versions. Suffice it to say that Susan and I did everything we could to embarrass our kids. I think we succeeded.

The dancing was going with a swing; so was Nathan

The dancing was going with a swing; so was Nathan

It was also an excellent opportunity to catch up with friends and family. (The thing is, you never have enough time on return trips to see everyone and do everything you want.)  We had already caught up with the Australian crew – Hannah and Lillian – but it was especially rewarding to see them enjoying the party.

Quite a few people were keen to know about our life in Israel, and there were some interesting discussions. It’s intriguing to see the picture people pick up of the situation, based on the media they are exposed to.

The evening finished on a high note with a communal rendition of The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond:

Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road
And I’ll get to Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

I’m not sure the lyrics or sentiment were appropriate, but it was Scottish, it was fun, and it was pumped out by the crowd with 100% positive emotion.

In short, a good time was had by one and all.

Mazal Tov, Nathan. 

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Tales from the trip – mountain biking

Here be cyclists...

Here be cyclists…

On our trip back to Scotland, Susan and I were lucky enough to squeeze in two days of cycling at Glentress.

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On the first outing, we were even luckier and had David Sinclair (of Five Star Fitness) to accompany us on the red run. The weather was dry, though occasionally overcast, with fog (!) and mist on some of the higher areas.

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The temperature was fine for me, though whatever cold Susan felt soon dissipated with the exertion of the climb.

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We had a great day out; we climbed up the hill, and we soared down the hill. Trouble free. At the end of the day’s biking we recharged our energy stores at the restaurant before David drove us home for a wee nap. (I cheated and had my nap in the car. This proves how good a driver David is.)

The three mountaineers!

The three mountaineers!

The second outing was just Susan and me. It had been a while since we were out for such intensive rides in close succession, so we were a little apprehensive. However, once we had shaken off the initial stiffness, we got in to our stride.

The weather this time around was sunnier – glorious blue skies – with a nasty surprise of a bitingly cold wind at the top.

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At the top – on the Spooky Wood run – I took some pictures of a cyclist doing the first couple of jumps. Amazingly, we bumped into him (no, not literally…) at the end of the day and got his email details so I could send him the files.

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The bike hire facilities are excellent, courtesy of Alpine bikes. Susan hired a Yeti (full suspension) for both rides. I also hired a full suspension bike – a Santa Cruz for the first day, and a Yeti for the second. My own Trek is a good bike, but these were noticeably better. However, my own bike is long overdue a service, so a direct comparison may be unfair.

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Glorious exercise in a glorious, green setting. We love our trips to Glentress. One year we may plan a trip that keeps us in the Borders so we can do other rides of the 7 Stanes.

For more pictures, see this earlier post.

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Tales from the trip – gaming

A highlight of the trip to Glasgow was the games night arranged by Steven. Ian was the generous host, and we were joined by Marcus (my driver for the night!), Martin, Gordon (of the famous Lamont brothers and Fragor Games), and Brian (of the famous Stern brothers).

Brian gets warmed up for some serious gaming

Brian gets warmed up for some serious gaming

First up was a full, seven-man game of 7 Wonders. My neighbors were Ian and Marcus. Ian tried a broad strategy, probably enforced because of the dud cards I kept passing him. Marcus went for simple Victory Point (blue) cards.

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My aim was to build sets of Science (green) cards. Martin competed for a while for the Science cards, but luck was on my side. Gordon made a wee mistake, probably because he was so busy discussing matters of great import with Brian, and that 16 point (?) loss doomed his efforts. Brian made no mistakes. Unfortunately for him, neither did he get much right by way of cards, so his bid for the top floundered. In the end, Marcus claimed the win by a couple of points from me. It was a tight, fun-filled game.

"Just do what I recommend, and you'll be fine..."

“Just do what I recommend, and you’ll be fine…”

Second, Gordon introduced us to the joys of Avalon. This is a deduction game with two sides competing for the win. Bluff and counter bluff. I think we played several rounds of this and everybody won at least once. Well, that’s my story, and I am sticking to it. This, by the way, was so good I tried to get hold of a copy while in Glasgow. I failed but did manage to acquire its predecessor, The Resistance.

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Then the classic 6 Nimmt. Classic? Well, Brian made the classic mistake of picking up his penalty cards and trying to use them, Martin made the classic mistake of assuming everyone would play the most logical card play each turn, Ian made the classic mistake of trying to be a good host and did not concentrate on his play, Gordon made the classic mistake of being dealt bad cards, Steven made the classic mistake of not making any mistakes, and I made the classic mistake of winning the first round. And so, Marcus claimed his second win of the night.  Great stuff.

Surprise, surprise!

Surprise, surprise!

We finished with Liars Dice. Martin played this brilliantly, seeing off all challengers and claiming the win. I am bound to point out that Marcus and I are crap at lying games…

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I miss my gaming pals. They gave me a great night of entertainment, for which I thank them all. I can only hope to see more of them in Israel sooner rather than later. Because we do have good fun here as well, you know!

 

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FT. Financial Times? Flipping Trash!

I saw this story mentioned in the Elder of Ziyon blog and thought it an important reminder: even the allegedly quality press belonging to the mainstream media is, often, garbage:

Financial Times Fantasy Air Strikes in Ramallah

Does Thomas Hill, an employee of Save the Children in the West Bank, believe that he is somehow helping Palestinian children by making up stories about Israeli air strikes in Ramallah?

In a May 24 “life and arts” feature in the Financial Times, Nathan Deuel describes Hill’s life in Ramallah, and the job which finds him “travelling weekely to Gaza, Hebron, Nablus and Jerusalem” (“Expat lives: Los Angeles to Ramallah”). “Hill’s ability to move around so widely is rare and gives him a good perspective on the region,” enthuses Deuel about the California native who relocated to the Middle East in May 2012.

The notion that Hill possesses a “good perspective on the region” is completely demolished as the Californian muses about his Ramallah life: “Things here are inconvenient, but it’s safe — with the exception of the random air strike.”

You don’t need to live in Ramallah, or travel weekly to Gaza, Hebron, Nablus and Jerusalem, to know that there have been no air strikes in Ramallah — random or otherwise — in something like 10 years. And with all due respect to Hill, his “good perspective” does not stretch back that far. According to the article, he and his wife arrived in Israel in May 2012, moved on to Ramallah sometime later. A photo caption at the top of the article…[snip]…repeats the false claim that there are air strikes in Ramallah.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. But, hey, it’s only Israel being defamed. As CAMERA points out:

The Financial Times has allowed a story about an expatriot living in the West Bank to become yet another bit of poorly researched propaganda that portrays Israel in an unfair and inaccurate light.

Read the whole piece, here.

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Tales from the trip – driving

One of the changes in life that UK people face after making aliyah, is learning to drive on the right hand side. Or, if you have driven before on the right hand side, learning how to make that common, daily, and routine. (Otherwise, it is a little dangerous out there.) Once it becomes a habit, you forget it. Until it’s time to drive again in the UK…

Although driving standards in the UK appear to have worsened, it’s still much easier to drive there. Drivers in the UK are, generally, more courteous, understanding, and far less aggressive. Susan pointed out that this state of affairs is partly due to the much lower rate of congestion; in other words, in the UK there are fewer cars per square kilometer than in Israel. Still, I would say that it is enjoyable to drive in the UK. Regrettably, I doubt I will ever get to say that about Israel. (Unless I am gifted a Merkava tank and a license to use it on the roads…) With that in mind, when I returned on this latest trip, I was soon relaxed in my driving and happy to be in that easier environment.

Fast forward into the break, when I am on a mission to buy a gift card. The hire vehicle was a sizable beast, and I did several orbits of the target area in Shawlands before finding a suitable parking space. (Suitable in this case meaning one big enough and easy to access by me, given my less than stellar parking skills.)

I parked, locked the car, and went off shopping. Later, I returned, opened the car and slipped into my seat.

Stop. Something is wrong. Er, where is the steering wheel? Oh dear. I was in auto pilot mode, and had got in on the wrong side – the passenger side. Ooops.  I guess I am more acclimatized to Israeli driving than I thought.

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Refreshing

The flight from Glasgow to London was late. So late that our planned shopping blitz – okay, our final planned shopping blitz of the holiday – was cut short.

Lori picked up some much needed Irn Bru. Susan bought a Harrods mug to replace the one that some careless idiot – er, me – had shattered. Me? I had to think long and hard as to what I should buy in the available minutes… Well, not that long and hard.

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It’s great to be home. It’s great to have some new additions to the whisky collection.

Sláinte!

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The Killing Room – Richard Montanari

Set in Philadelphia, this crime novel features Montanari’s regular cop duo of Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, hunting a serial killer who leaves bodies (and clues as to the next killing) in abandoned churches.

The backdrop could be any modern western city, so any unique flavor must come from the characters. In that regard, Byrne and Balzano are believable, credible, and interesting. They are not infallible, but neither are they so messed up that they turn the reader off. They are a good team – again, not perfect – who get the job done in difficult circumstances.

The crimes and the protagonist are less believable and credible, but within what I might call the limits of modern crime novel suspension of disbelief requirements; in other words, some of this stuff is too far fetched, but the author just about carries it off. Don’t misunderstand me; the crimes are horrible, and the killer is a well sketched piece of evil. You will get value for money there.

The plot is not bad, but is not exactly brimming with twists. However, the pace of the story is rapid, as the tension builds along the simple race to get the killer before it’s too late for the next victim. It’s a good page turner which is well written, often engrossing, and ultimately quite satisfying.

Score: 7.5/10.

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Welcome home

Blogging has been sparse while I have been in the UK for a family simcha. More on that later, all being well. However, apart from confirming my safe return and the like, I wanted to record how quickly I was welcomed back to Israel with something that just would not happen in the UK.

I took a taxi home from the airport. As we headed along the main road – in rather busy traffic – the driver felt a sudden need to write something on a piece of paper. In one hand, the paper. In the other hand, the pen. In neither, the steering wheel…

Welcome to Israel. (For me, welcome home.)

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Do not dare

An outstanding (and important) comment from Harry’s Place:

Greenewald is morally bankrupt. Norm Geras is excellent once again on this and I can’t add anything to his precis.

I am proud and privileged to have served in Helmand Province both as a soldier and latterly as a civilian. I have seen at close quarters the damage inflicted on Muslims by…yes, other Muslims. I have seen the results of poison attacks on girls for the crime of going to school and I have seen the corpes of those Muslims murdered by their fellow Muslims for the crime of taking part in development projects. I have also seen the armies of the United Kingdom, United States and others place themselves in incredible danger in order to save the lives of Muslims and I have seen life-saving medical care given to Muslims who not ten seconds earlier were trying to kill my comrades and I. I have seen the gratitude in the eyes of those Muslims whose villages had been liberated from the tyranny and cruelty of the rule of other Muslims. I have seen the exacting and exhaustive investigations into instances where our armies unintentionally killed or injured innocent people and I have seen cash handed over to those whose properties have been damaged by fighting. I have seen the apprehension and fear on the faces of these Muslims when they speak of what awaits them when the western forces leave them, potentally to the mercy of other Muslims.

I do not support all which we have done in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but, Glenn Greenewald, do not dare try to tell me that life would be better if we had never turned up. Do not dare tell me that western armies are worse behaved than the mysogynisitc murderers of the Taleban and al-Qaeda. Do not dare tell me that if only we stopped upsetting them, the extremists would somehow convert to social democracy. Do not dare.

[The original is here.]

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