Wednesday, 30 September 2009

57. Feline Tales

Judith's cousin Hugh and his wife Bernadette in Manchester have two cats: Myfanwy and Mimi. Recently Myfanwy disappeared for some days, causing her owners some anxiety. The police were notified, and neighbours were alerted. It turns out that she had just stayed for some time in a nearby garden. I had wondered whether, despite having been neutered, she was still in heat, seeking males. But when I researched the subject it became apparent that this was very unlikely. She was just disloyal.
Or maybe she was nursing an injury.

These exciting events reminded me of my own feline experiences.
Towards the end of my secondary education we had a new biology master. He suggested that we should watch the dissection of a cat. So a few of us set out to catch a cat. Large numbers of feral cats did swarm in the yards and around the dustbins in Jerusalem, where we lived, but it was quite impossible to catch them. Hardly anybody kept domesticated cats.

Then one day I found a dead cat lying in the road. I put it in a sack and took it to school. The biology master was delighted and arranged its dissection and
anatomical demonstration without delay, before the carcass would decompose.
We watched fascinated - and I haven't forgotten it.
My interest in biology certainly influenced my later trend toward medicine.

None of our family ever kept animals - except a tortoise, who died the first winter. Dogs do show genuine recognition, loyalty and affection - but not sufficient to induce us to acquire one. And I definitely do not like cats. They are only friendly toward people who feed them - they remind me of the classical description of prostitutes.

My next feline contact was in medical school, where the pharmacology course
included a series of practical experiments using cats. Groups of students were each allocated a living cat in a sack - ferals that had been caught somehow. The lab technician injected each cat through the sac with a barbiturate solution - aiming for the abdominal cavity. After an interval, the sleeping animal could be safely removed from the sac and fixed by its limbs to the work bench. More anaesthetic could be injected as required.

An artery in the groin was tied to the end of a glass cannula and connected to a
manometer filled with a solution of heparin to prevent clotting. The cat's blood pressure was recorded through a stylus onto a 'kymograph' - a slowly revolving
cylinder of smooth paper blackened with soot. At the conclusion of the experiment, the paper was carefully detached from the cylinder, drawn through a fixing solution of varnish and left to dry. The cat was killed - they called it 'sacrifice'.
The members of each of our groups shared sections of the kymograph paper record and we wrote our individual reports of the experiment.

On one occasion there was an unfortunate 'cat-astrophy': the wife of the medical school dean had lost her domesticated pet cat and she suspected foul play. At the time, we were the only course that used cats.
During the following experiment she stormed into the laboratory - and actually identified her cat on one of the tables. It was too damaged and could not be rescued. She was furious and there were embarrassing repercussion - out of our earshot.

So when we visit Hugh and Bernadette, we maintain our indifference towards the feigned affection of their cats. If the cats
persist, I just whisper: 'remember pharmacology'... and they soon give up.

Friday, 25 September 2009

56. Philately [Stamps]

I have been collecting stamps for most of my life. It starts in earnest in1948. We were under Arab siege in Jerusalem and the People's Directorate established a postal service and produced stamps - Jewish National Fund stock overprinted 'POST'. Here was a chance to start a collection of a new country from the very beginning.
The Jordanians were lobbing 3 inch mortars shells into the city, but at 15 years one is not fearful. So I hurried the 2 miles to the post office to buy the series of 3 values - on two different occasions [they changed the design] and to post the 'first day covers' to myself.
Various other Jewish sites issued their own stamps: Haifa, Safed, Rishon le-Zion - partly for postal service for
their isolated residents and partly as a source of income from local collectors. Some weeks later the State of Israel was declared and the regular stamps arrived in Jerusalem.

My father had been an employee of the Palestine Mandate administration - which ceased on 15th May. He was now unemployed, pending the establishment of the Israeli institutions. We had no income and the new stamps were expensive - so I did not buy them. Later I had to pay much more.

But soon I kept buying new issues as mint stamps and first day of issue covers. I became a member of the British Association of Palestine-Israel Philatelists [later the Holyland Philatelic Society] and I edited their Bulletin for a time. And later I added two other new stamp issues: the United Nations, and the Channel Islands. And as I resided in Britain, I also collected GB. When Britain started various devices for the mechanical cancellation and sorting of letters, I found it very interesting and joined the Postal Mechanization Study Circle.

It was clearly the thrill of collecting, and the possession of 'complete series', that motivated me. Judith was totally indifferent, and none of the children were interested. But time marched on. I stopped my subscriptions for new stamps. At the same time, the world scene of philately changed. First, excess stamp issues just milked collectors: Who is interested in 'space exploration' issued by Yemen?!? And the designs were becoming far less attractive. Second, e-mail cut out much of the use of the little colourful labels and the conveyancing of paper letters: the aggressive postal workers on strike are cutting off the branch on which they are sitting. And third, youngsters have shifted their time, interest and passion from philately to computers and ipods.

Judith has promised, that if I die before I have disposed of my collection[s], it will all end up as a spectacular bonfire. So I am going to sell the lot, while I keep swallowing my pills and taking care when crossing the road, until it is completed. I am very doubtful, if anybody among my readers is an interested collector. But if you are, do drop me an email.

55. Our shared punch lines

My late brother Michael loved good jokes. To aid his memory, he used to enter the punchline on his computer. Unfortunately, he would not always remember the rest of the joke later, and he might contact me to remind him: 'how does it go...'. But our youngest daughter, who has an excellent sense of humour, is young enough to remember the whole of the jokes. Over the years, between us, some of the best punch lines have acquired their own life. We no longer have to remind each other of the rest of the joke.

Here are a few old examples, that we allude to from time to time, when the punch line is appropriate. For your benefit I shall first outline the joke and then give you
IN ITALICS CAPITALS the punch line [or lines] that we would use.

The devoted son has
finally found a birthday present for his mother: an expensive talking parrot. A week later he phones her to ask: how is the bird? His mother says, 'IT WAS DELICIOUS!' The son is appalled: 'You ate the parrot?!? He spoke five languages!!!' 'SO WHY DID HE NOT SAY ANYTHING?'

A man went into a Catholic church and spoke to the priest. 'I'm 83 years old. Last night I picked up two girls and made love twice with each.' The priest finds out that he was Jewish. 'If you are Jewish, why do you come to the church to tell me all this?' The old Jew answers proudly: 'I AM TELLING EVERYBODY!' [It sounds best pronounced 'everybuddy']

Later, we heard a sequel to this event. One of the hookers tells the old man that she is now pregnant. He decides that he is honour bound to marry her, but naturally his family are quite appalled. Finally he agrees to consult his GP.
The doctor establishes that he is 83, and his intended wife is 22. 'You realize, Sir, that with such a difference in age, there is a risk that intercourse may be fatal?'
The old man thinks about it. 'Vell, doktor, IF SHE DIES - SHE DIES'.

For his birthday, the mother gives her son two beautiful silk ties.
when he next visits his mother, he wears one of the new ties. She takes one look at him and asks: 'WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE OTHER ONE?'

Thursday, 17 September 2009

54. Readers Digest: scam in installments

In mid-August, well after the Readers Digest stipulated deadline described in my blog #46, I described their prize draw. I considered that it was a scam. I had replied in the 'NO' envelope and I would hear no more - but I was wrong: in September they wrote to me again, to announce the 'Great News': 'shortly', they promised, I could be confirmed as the sole winner of their £5,000 Immediate Payout Draw.

Because £5,000 is a large sum to win, they also wrote to prepare me gently for the Big Event. They would post a large envelope, whose appearance they described. 'It contains everything you need to guarantee your chance to take delivery of the Prize Cheque'. Fancy that: delivery of the prize cheque! Another enclosure gave useful advice on what to do, on notifying relatives, and on being interviewed by the media.

I was very excited. I have never won anything, nor have I been
interviewed by the media. I also planned how to spend the money. I was just waiting to 'taking delivery of the prize cheque', as their letter said. Every day I waited for the postman, and I was worried about the postal strike, and thefts from the mail.

Four days later the large envelope arrived. Was it delivery of a cheque? No!
Was it an invitation to subscribe to Readers Digest? YES! But they wrote to assure me of my participation in the prize draw. There were more details: If I also subscribed to Readers Digest - at just over half price - I could use the 'YES' envelope, and I could also win a car. Otherwise I should use the 'NO' envelope, and I might win - - nothing.

So when would I know if I had won? I found it in the small print on another page: in February next year. But there was also a single prize of £5,000 (as promised) - to be drawn next month - October 2009. I did not want the Readers Digest. But could I win despite my 'NO' reply?

As for winning the grand prize in February 2010 - this was actually an installment plan: it will pay just over £1,000 per month for life, and that was taxable. At my age, I concluded, I must therefore pay more attention to my longevity: I should resume the Aspirin, that was not doing me any good
according to the BMJ; I must arrange to see my GP next week for another checkup; and I must think again about joining a synagogue (or a church, or a mosque - whichever is the most potent).
Which religious food restrictions should I follow: Yom Kippur, Ramadan, or Lent?
- Or should I just have lots of chicken soup and seek a second opinion?

But what if, despite everything, my epitaph just says : HE DIDN'T WIN ANY PRIZES
What would be the point?
In France, or Italy, the
epitaph might at least have mentioned 'mourned by his wife, his daughters, and his two most recent mistresses'.

Dream on... Life is certainly a lottery: but what about the Readers Digest draw?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

53. E-mail frauds

Further to my blog # 46, I should mention that Readers Digest did not contact me again, so their offer of prizes was presumably a fraud. Needless to say they do not publish the names of winners - not even fictitious invented ones. The actual winners of the scam are Readers Digest, of course.

I keep my internet security setting on 'medium' to avoid the blocking of incoming messages in other languages, such as Hebrew; as well as the blocking of the pictures of BBC news and of Lidl sales lists - they both come with pictures. As a result, scams
similar to the Readers Digest mailing do get through. I just delete them unopened - I understand that this is safe. But despite my urge to reply, giving misleading details - including fictitious age (I'm 124), fake bank account numbers and address (mine is in Downing Street) etc, I was advised not to do so. The scammers would get evidence that my email is 'active' and I might be inundated with enormous amounts of follow-up mail next.

For interest, I have logged the following fraudulent emails over the last week:

# Rose Perez (later signed 'Parez') - offer of 10 million euro. So what's your real name?

# Deborah Russell - offer of cheap drugs.

# Mr Edes Abebe from Nigeria (
African scammers usually use titles: 'I am Mr Edes Abebe') - 30 million pounds sterling are available for illegal transfer (of course), of which 30% are for me. Terrible grammar: use this money for English lessons, mister!

# Petra Newsome - offer of cheap sex drugs. That I find insulting - Petra should come and satisfy herself!

# Madam Jeanette from Ghana - offer of 2.7 million US dollars. It is signed by Mrs Jeanette Gideon Arab - presumably a rich hermaphrodite, or a two-faced bisexual freak.

# Mrs Angela Nkrumah from Accra, Ghana - 500,000 dollars. I forget whether the owner of the legacy had been a victim of his own body guard, or of a crocodile.

# Norris Milligan - cheap drugs.

# Fondazion di Vittirio - 500,000 dollars towards my education. They also need English lessons!

# Ferdinand Dotson - herbal drugs for slimming.

# Kelvin Snyder -
cheap sex pills 'for treating erectile men's erectile dysfunction'. I can assure you, Kelvin, that I've never met an 'erectile man'... - have you?

# Rosie Sloan - drugs to enhance your sexual life, fast-acting.

Potentially, I could be slim, healthy, virile - and stinking rich - - I can but dream...

Monday, 7 September 2009

52. A Brand new Midrash

Google explains that ''Midrash is a way of interpreting Biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.''

I would like to report here a new midrash. It was discovered in one of the Judean desert caves near Qumran. The Essenes who lived there are regarded as physicians, and indeed this new midrash is of medical contents. Some rabbis have been famous physicians - Maimonides was one. So it is not surprising that medical topics entered the rabbinic midrashim. I am dedicating this brand-new Midrash to Rabbi Larry Becker of Judith's synagogue. Larry is particularly fond, and very knowledgeable, about this form of religious literature.

The newly discovered midrash concerns the Biblical story of the matriarch Sarah. The Bible tells us that Sarah could not have children. From this midrash we now learn the reason: she suffered from Chlamydia infection - a well-known cause of sterility. The midrash reported a heated dispute among the rabbis about the correct spelling of Chlamydia. Some of the rabbis claimed that it ended with a 'heh' - the word was 'Chlamyd-yah, short for Chlamyd-yahu - the Chlamyd of God'. But others claimed that the word ended with an Aramaic 'aleph' - in the same way that 'ha-gdi = THE lamb in Hebrew turns into 'gadya = THE lamb in Aramaic. These rabbis suggested that Chlamydia just meant 'THE Chlamyd' in Aramaic. But those rabbis were in the minority.

Next, the new midrash describes how the infected Sarah was given by Abraham to Avimelech, the local king of Gerar. As we would expect, very soon all the women in the palace of Gerar stop having babies - - until king Avimelech understood the source of the infection and returned Sarah to her husband. The rabbis do not say who made the diagnosis. The Bible reports that it was a private consultation by the Lord. Through Sarah, King Avimelech sent the consultant a fee of a thousand pieces of silver, plus sheep, cattle and slaves for Abraham.

As is usually the case in Chlamydia, Sarah's partner Abraham was also infected. The Lord was not sure how to help him. So He advised Abraham to eradicate the Chlamydia infection by undergoing circumcision - of himself and all the males in his clan. And then God sent a health visitor to visit them - the Bible calls him an 'angel' but the midrash calls him 'mashkivan' - a sex therapist. The midrash describes very detailed and explicit sexual advice to
the couple. There are descriptions on love making positions, and an interesting explanation why Sarah laughed, when the angel had actually instructed her to moan... But as I may have some delicate readers, I shall skip all these gripping details. You could try to phone me - particularly if you are old and barren yourself.

Following the angel's advice, the new midrash
vividly describes the circumstances of Sarah's conception. Apparently three of Abraham's sperm reached the egg simultaneously and they started a heated discussion: Which of them should fertilize the ovum. From the arguments it becomes clear, that each sperm represents one Jewish rabbinic discipline: orthodox, reform and liberal. It is a brilliant discussion, and I would strongly recommend that you take the time to read it.

But the outcome is quite unexpected, and some scholars suggest that this is a later edited addition to the midrash: the Moslem sperm wins.
Allah hu akbar - Allah is the greatest.

Friday, 4 September 2009

51. A French blog

When I worked in Casualty during my training, one of the senior medical registrars (one grade below consultant) was called 'Smithy'. I forget his first name. He was universally liked - for two reasons.
First, he was helpful and sensible. If you thought a casualty needed admission, most senior registrars who were 'bleeped' would promise to come to casualty to assess the patient themselves. If they were on their consultants' ward round, or in a busy out-patient session, it might take up to two hours or more before they would appear.
So in the meantime the patient, the relatives, and the casualty nurses all complained. - No limit of four hour in casualty existed in those days.

'Smithy' was different. If you described to him the medical situation over the phone, he would credit you with medical common sense, and he would tell you to admit the patient. At least, that was my personal experience. Possibly he trusted some other casualty officers less, but he certainly never kept me waiting to come to casualty and verify the situation.

Smithy's other attraction was his store of superb jokes. As the beer poured into him, so the jokes poured out. Many would cause this typeface to blush bright crimson red; and many I cannot remember. But
I think that the story of the adulterous wife will not be blocked, and it will not be forgotten.

It concerned an Englishman who had a passion for France and for everything French. He visited France whenever he could, and he started reading French novels. But, like most British, he only understood English. So he would mark his books and bring them to his regular bistro. Soon, the local 'patrons' knew him and they liked the liquid generosity of this foreigner. So they gladly helped him to translate difficult phrases. He was particularly puzzled, he told them, by the term 'sang froyd'. That's how he pronounced it.

'Sang froyd? sang froyd?' they repeated, and they rolled their eyes and shrugged their shoulders in true French style. Then one of the Frenchmen, who was
less drunk, guessed right: 'Ah, you mean sang froid [= cold blood]'. They all nodded.
'Well', said his new French friend, ''let me explain to you 'sang froid' with an example. Imaginez-vous a merchant in Paris, who travels to Lyon occasionally on business. But on one occasion, he returns home much earlier. His house is deserted - but as he enters the bedroom - mon Dieu! his wife is in bed with another man!! So the merchant drags the man from the bed, and throws him (naked) down the stairs, and then he does the same with his wife - also naked. That is sang froid, my friend.'

'No, no!' shout the other men in the bistro. 'That is not sang froid - that is savoir faire! [= know what to do]' And one of the others in the bistro now offers the correct explication: '
Imaginez-vous this merchant in Paris, who travels to Lyon occasionally. But on one occasion, he returns home much earlier. His house is deserted - but as he enters the bedroom - Mon Dieu! his wife is in bed with her lover!! So the merchant stops, turns round, leaves the bedroom, and shuts the door. That, my friend, is sang froid.'

'No, no!' shout all the other men in the bistro. 'That is not sang froid - that is laisser faire!! [= leave alone]'. But then another of his French friends offers the correct explanation. 'Listen to me. You have seen this merchant from Paris, who travelled to Lyon, but when he returned home and entered his bedroom - Mon Dieu! his wife is in bed with this other man!!'

The bistro is quiet - everybody is listening.
Many of them have been in that situation. '- So as you know, the husband finds his wife in bed with her lover. The wife glances at her husband the merchant, and then she turns to her lover and said: carry on, darling. Don't stop now! --and they DO carry on -'
- That is sang froid
, my friend.'

'Votre sante!
' 'Cheers!'

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

50. Death and burial

We have attended Laura Brody's tomb-stone dedication on Monday (bank holiday) - she had died of mesothelioma. So had Sandra Jacobs. That is curious, because asbestos dust that causes it is inhaled almost always by men - builders, electricians. But their female partners can get contaminated when they wash the dusty work clothes. It can take up to 20 years or more to develop; but once it is noticed and discovered, it is fatal within a year and there is no effective treatment.

When we buit our previous house extension, the building rules required an asbestos slab to line the garage ceiling. The carpenter, Dave Heeks, sawed the material without wearing a mask, and both Judith and our neighbour warned him and gave him a mask. We do not know whether he continued to use it, but some 30 years later we heard that Dave had died from mesothelioma.

At the cemetery we noticed the adjacent memorials of several other former friends: Jack Rosenberg, Lilian Goldsmith, Cecil Dalton, Rita and Stan Britain. All neat and polished slabs - a final payment for the dead relative. Sometimes I wonder whether a costly memorial suggests the survivors' worse conscience. With the passage of the years, we now attend the cemetery more often. My mother also used to complain: I have more friends in the cemetery than I have in town.

The jottings that now follow might upset reader[s]. Certainly Daphne should stop here. But there's no anger, Heather!

To begin with, I do not need the physical memorial as a reminders. I have not visited my parents' graves since their funerals decades ago: I can remember them vividly, and no slab of stone is required. In my irreverent humour in 1977 I deeply offended the stone mason in Israel when I ordered my mother's tomb stone. To his question, 'what sort of stone I had in mind', I replied 'the heaviest'. There is a tradition of resurrections in the holy land, of course. Why risk it?

In fact, if my wishes are fulfilled, I shall not be wasting good plant-growing ground for a grave. I am fully paid up for cremation. This also avoids the possible cold, rainy and mudy funeral at the cemetery. I mentioned this to
Rabbi Hulbert as we squelched our way towards one burial recently. But he objected: the vapours of my amalgam fillings will pollute the air with mercury vapours. Well, perhaps the undertakers can extract those teeth first - they do it for implanted pacemakers, and the Nazis did it for the gold crowns...

Nor do I wish my ashes to be preserved: they belong in the nearest dustbin. Death is the final end of a person -
perhaps the 'soul' persists in the DNA - but that DNA includes the bad as well as the good! The cremation ashes are waste. I was interested to learn the ideas of professor Isaiah Leibovitz on this topic. He was both highly intelligent and deeply orthodox. I knew the family - his eldest son was a colleague in medical school but died of cancer. Leibovitz said that after death there was 'nothing'. Absolutely true.

When I recently mentioned my ideas on cremation and 'no grave' to my relatives in Ein Gev, they were appalled at the thought, of not having a tomb to visit. Indeed, the cemetery at Ein Gev is lovingly tended and visited. But an annual Chinese meal sounds better.

Some time ago my cousin Amos and his wife showed me an interesting historical item: a simple metal box with a lid - about the size of one of those saccharin pill containers. It was to be hung around the neck and was used by my grandfather, when he was an artillery soldier in the first world war - on the austro-hungarian side. Inside the box was a small folded form. My grandfather had entered his name -Wilhelm Weis- and the following instruction if he were to be killed: 'WO GEFALLEN - RASH BEGRABEN' = where fallen - quickly buried. 'Quickly' was underlined. Ninety years later, I agree.
Wilhelm survived, and it is entirely thanks to him that we escaped from the Nazis. But that is another story.