I was born London, England and raised Johannesburg, South Africa. I immigrated to Israel in July 1979 at age 33 with my wife and two children, my third child was born in Israel. The stories in my book Just for Fun are a mix of imagination triggered by places I’ve been – like hospitals or workplaces and stories or articles in magazines and newspapers which have grabbed my attention. There is also a selection of essays – true life experiences. In those years new arrivals to Israel were taken into an absorption centre – to try to ameliorate the shock of living in an unfamiliar environment. We went to Karmiel, a growing town in the Lower Galilee. The story Culture Shock which appears on my website tells of the day my then two and a half-year-old daughter fell of a chair. We had only been in the country about two weeks, didn’t speak Hebrew and had to deal with an unknown bureaucratic medical system.
My story telling started early – before I could even read. The first time I remember telling a story was when looking at a picture in a book called How to Be an Alien which is apparently still in print.
Looking in this book at a picture of a man standing at a bus stop in England flagging down a bus, I would make up stories which made my parents, may they rest in peace, laugh – they were obviously biased in my favour. My parents were English born, but obviously had great affiliation with the Jewish refugees arriving from Europe prior to WWII.
After WWII we lived in South Africa, arriving there in 1947. In the 1950s we had both a nanny, for myself and my sister, who also did the cooking, as well as what we called a house-girl, who did the housework. It was a symbiotic relationship. The black women needed work and the white families found life easier with servants. Most servants were well treated, but obviously there was abuse.
But my first official venture into writing, other than schoolwork, if Dr Alzheimer allows me to remember correctly, was a ‘Letter to the Editor’. I had just watched the film ‘Oliver’, the musical based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. There is a scene in the movie where the young boys who live with Fagin beg on the streets of London and try to pick pockets, hence the song ‘you’ve gotta pick a pocket or two’. I was 21 in 1968 when the film was released and very impressionable, as all twenty-one-year-olds should be. Saturday night was movie or film night in Johannesburg and the little black children, piccaninnies, stood outside the theatres begging from the affluent white movie-goers. I’m talking about the Apartheid years in South Africa, in which I was raised and didn’t know anything else. Most Jews in South Africa were liberal, with a small L, favouring the betterment of the lot of the black majority. But the Jews, as always, were in the unenviable position of being desirable as whites, but being Jews in a country with a ruling party, The National Party, which had antisemitic elements – to say the least. The National Party had twenty-five years previously been hostile to Britain and by extension supporters of Hitler and the Nazis. John Vorster, the Prime Minister in 1968 been interned during the Second World War as a Nazi sympathizer. To be fair it may have been more anti-British sentiment than pro-Nazi fervour, but the shadow of antisemitism cast a long wide shadow in South Africa.
It is nearly eight years ago now that I saw the advert in the local Jerusalem paper for a writing group. I thought that sounds like fun, how hard can it be to write a short story. Well, I soon found out. It’s not at all easy, but it is fun, if of course you don’t take yourself too seriously and you don’t give up your day job. I was actually semi-retired at the time working in three old aged homes or to be Politically Correct – retirement communities – for a few hours a week.
The group which meets every two weeks in the flat (an apartment for those of you who only speak American) of one of our number, has changed members over the last eight years with many comings and goings. We take our writing very seriously, but I look forward to our meetings, which are always great fun. The seriousness with which we take our writing is only matched by the humour with which we discuss our work. Our passion is such that raised voices are often heard – I don’t know what the neighbours think.
The idea for the lead story Just for Fun came to me when my wife and I would sit in the reception area of the 4th floor of Shaare Tzedek hospital, in Jerusalem, waiting for our regular three monthly, then six monthly, then yearly appointment, with her oncologist. I hope none of you have had or will have the pleasure of such hospital visits. To entertain the customers a television had been put up on the wall. I don’t remember it ever working and wondered whether anyone would miss it if it went missing.
The next story Friday the 13th was of course inspired by the date which was in close proximity to our scheduled meeting. I’d heard many Friday the 13th stories, one of which was the following. There were two South African brothers who both played cricket for their country. If you don’t know what cricket is, it is the more civilized form of baseball. Anyway one of the brothers was apparently jinxed by this ominous date. Although I read about this many, many years ago, for some reason this story stuck in my mind – in the department of useless information lobe. However this useless information gave me food for thought and I wrote this humorous little story. My humour, I must explain is basically British as I was raised in a home by London born parents. I love nothing better than to watch British TV sitcoms like, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Dads Army, Faulty Towers, Are You Being Served? Porridge, Only Fools and Horse and The Vicar of Dibley. Pre-1974 in the days when we only had radio in South Africa, it was The Goon Show, The Glums, Around the Horn and others I can’t remember.
All’s Fair in Love and War and Bedpans and Bandages is based on my experience working as a nurse in the Johannesburg General Hospital. It was 1964/5 and war was raging in the former Belgian Congo. A British ex-soldier formed a mercenary force to help one of the sides in this civil war. Many young South African men enlisted with the promise of high financial return. Two of them ended up on our ward and from their experiences I extrapolated my story. Bedpans and Bandages, later in the book is autobiographical and I write about the other patients and some of the learning experiences, both about life and hospitals.
Happy Marriage Study: To Obey or Not to Obey was suggested by an article I read online about an experiment which was to take place at the University of Auckland in New Zealand trying to explore the elements for a happy marriage. If they had asked me, I would have told them ‘always have the last word – YES DEAR’. I’ve hyperlinked the article – not as marriage counselling, but to show how I took the truth and manipulated it for fun.
Black Heart and Purple Hearts came to me when, as a pharmacist, I joined the company that made the famous or infamous Purple Hearts, an amphetamine tablet which as the name suggests was heart-shaped. These drugs had been illegal for some time, but my new boss, also a pharmacist, suffered from narcolepsy – he would nod off in the middle of a sentence – was using them for his condition. He told me to dispose of about 500 of these tablets. Even at the time, I wondered how much money I could make on the black market in Johannesburg. I let my imagine run away with me and wrote the story.
Left High and Not So Dry is based on an acquaintance who had badly fluctuating moods, which I thought may be symptoms of a manic-depressive. Once again imagination took over from reality.
London is a story based on our ‘honeymoon’, a stay in London in 1972, a year after our marriage.
Rejected! Dejected! Never! Is as the titled suggests, triggered by a rejection letter from a magazine. These letters are so trite and similar in formula from publication to publication. It was probably Gutenberg, foreseeing himself being overwhelmed by requests from authors begging to be published, who wrote the first rejection letter.
Rilla, Camilla and Toni were the IT girls at my high school. Three very attractive young ladies they hung together. The story has nothing to do with them, but I had recently read an article online about art forgery and the title gave the story a certain rhythm of fun which I tried to capture.
The Man in The Plastic Mask (a sequel) is a personal story, exaggerated for fun. A few years ago I woke up in the middle of the night choking – a very scary feeling. Being a pharmacist I know a little about disease and conditions. I realized I had sleep apnoea which literally means I was breathless. I made an appointment to see the E.N.T doctor. I thought he’d give me some drops or spray and that would be the end of it. But as you know when you start with doctors, you never seem to finish, that’s why I always go to my G.P. first. Only if he thinks it necessary will I start the run around of specialists. I was sent to the sleep clinic on the other side of Jerusalem – a real schlep. To cut a long story short, after many weeks, I ended up with a machine called a CPAP – Continuous Positive Air Pressure which pushes air into ones nose and down ones throat. I decided to get a laugh out of an initially very frightening situation, so I wrote the story. Why did a call it a sequel? Well, you’ve heard of The Man in The Iron Mask?
There Was a Crooked Man is the story of another person I actually knew who was always looking for an angle and trying to make an easy buck, as the Americans would say. A man of no conscience he made a lot of money and got out of South Africa by the skin of his teeth – a very unpleasant person.
Julia, Moses and Olga are together a trilogy of true stories fictionalized. Julia was a maid who worked for us. As I explained above almost everyone had a maid. Except for the fact that they didn’t live in our house but had separate quarters, they were part of the family and shared in family occasions such as barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals.
Moses worked for my father for many, many years. When I was a small boy he called me Henry, but when I became an adult he called me boss Henry like he called my father boss. I realize how strange it must sound to those of you who are not familiar with South Africa and to Americans it sounds like slavery, but it was a normal employer/employee relationship, no different from the black/latino maid in America or the charlady in Britain.
Olga is a story about a girl who all the male university students dated – a girl who was more to be pitied than taken advantage of – but we were too young to understand this.
Abigail’s Notebook was written about my beautiful granddaughter, Abigail. She was only two or three months old when I was standing in front of the copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF. This was given to me by my late father when I was a boy and has sentimental value. From there the ideas just came, helped by various stimuli referred to in the story.
Ambushed I conceived when I took an editing course at the teachers training college in Jerusalem. Quite a few of us were of a certain age and believing that one can fall in love at any age, I wrote the story.
Miriam the Washerwoman was inspired by some translations I did for JewishGen. (I have only linked one of several translations which I’ve done). Many of the villages our ancestors lived in were close by a river and fire was a constant hazard.
This leads me to the story A Jew Goes Forth, the true story of how at the age of eighteen I ventured from a ‘Jewish’ environment into the world of goyim.
Limehill was a camp to which blacks were resettled under the Apartheid regime. You can read about Limehill on the internet.
Reflections came to mind when I looked at myself in the mirror and remembered the wonderful lifelike sculpture of Gustav Vigeland which are placed all around the Frogner Park in Oslo. We in Israel may have negative connotations when we hear the word OSLO, but on the two occasions I was in Oslo in 1972 and 1990, peace accords and road maps were still in the future.
Renovations speaks for itself. This story tells of the endurance needed when renovating one’s home.
Snow is of the few but memorable – some very memorable – times when snow has had an impact on my life.
Reminiscences of Christmas is again a look at how I as a Jew, view this most Christian of all Holy Days.
The cover of my book was taken from Canva (www.canva.com) and I did the formatting of the book myself with the help of Smashwords and other programmes.