Sunday, 17 January 2010


After some 65 years I have read again Moonfleet by J M Falkner, written in 1898. Although I still remembered all the main events, it was as exciting to read as the first time round and I finished the 250 pages in two days.

Young John Trenchard's peaceful life with his aunt in the Dorset fishing village of Moonfleet ends dramatically when he discovers an underground passage leading from some tombstones in the churchyard to the
burial vault of the Mohunes under the church. Soon he is drawn into a dangerous world of smugglers and contraband, and the mysterious legend of the Mohune's cursed diamond.

The plot and the narration are very well constructed, with a mixture of gripping descriptions and very touching emotions - all ending happily, of course, despite the killings and the tragic drownings. I agree with the blurb, that the story is 'as exciting to read today as it was when it first appeared in 1898'.

But I now realize that our primary school English teacher Miss Frankel actually read us a very simplified version [ see my post # 60 ]. So the verses which indicate the location of the diamond are much more cleverly compiled in the full text than the simple wording
that I remembered; and the language and nautical terms are those of Falkner's times of 1898. But then, my English has improved too. My intention was to give the book to the children of my niece in Seattle and my nephew in Israel - but I now realize that they are still far too young.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

61. Second Bar Mizvah

NOTE: I have been advised not to divulge names in my blogs. To quote captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army,
'Don't tell him, Pike!'. Some readers will still guess, presumably, who Z.G. and D.V. are.

We attended Mr.Z.G.'s party to celebrate his second bar mitzvah. The scriptures mention 70 years as a full life span - so if you add another 13, you've qualified for another bar mitzvah celebration when you're 83. It's an excuse for a meal and over the years more and more people live long enough to achieve it.

We did not plan to attend the synagogue service on the Saturday, when he would read his original Haftarah portion and receive the current rabbi's blessing. But we had been invited to the party on Monday evening - a cleverly lettered invitation to dinner at Me Tsu Yan restaurant [it means 'excellent' in Hebrew] in Golders Green. The web site confirmed that it serves strictly kosher Chinese food - and it's quite expensive.

It was purely and typically Chinese, a multitude of quite delicious dishes too numerous to list. The 'spare ribs' were of course not pork but sheep or lamb, and the final dish was sorbet, and not milky ice cream. And tea was without milk either. The waitresses were, what Prince Philip would call, genuine 'slit-eyed', and most efficient. The chopsticks on their porcelain rest configured a 'John the Baptist' type cross, but nobody commented.

Z had taken over the entire restaurant for the evening and we were 60 people. Judith and I knew absolute nobody: neither his relatives - he has 2 children, and a sister in law, all with their numerous families. Nor did we know any of his friends from Israel or in the UK. We were invited because of our long term friendship. Z and I both speak Hebrew, and we were active in the British Association of Palestine-Israel Philatelists (BAPIP). Z used to supply me with Israeli stamps, and I gave him some advice and support when his wife developed cancer and later died - about 7 years ago. Best of all, D.V. had not been invited. I was told at the time that he had blocked my nomination to honorary membership, at the conclusion of my editorship of the BAPIP Bulletin.

Z assured me that dinner jackets were not required - just shirt and tie. In the event, we could recognize the Israeli guests. Despite the bitter cold, they came without ties. I had brought my skullcap - but half the men did not wear one. So my worry about an orthodox separation of the genders for seating was unfounded, and I also guessed correctly that there would be no blessing before the meal nor grace afterwards.

When I wrote to accept Z's invitation, I had made one of my customary 'bad' jokes. I had suggested that Judith could tutor Z on his Torah reading - as she does for the bar-mitzvah children at her synagogue. Naturally I knew that there was no need. I also tried to frighten Z by offering to give a 'speech' at the dinner. That one, Z accepted in part - he suggested, '
could you tell a joke when there is a gap between courses?'

Z was wearing a splendid embroidered Bokharan gown and matching skull cap. In due course, he invited me to tell my 'story'

I chose the Catholic story that I had used some years ago, about Norman Leonard's imaginary 'audience' with the Pope in Rome. I converted it to an Israeli Jewish setting.
Stop me if you know it.

Visiting his barber, I began, Z told him of one of his planned regular trips to Israel.

On this occasion, Z told the barber, his friends had managed to get him to meet the President.
The barber was not impressed.
'You are flying El Al? - Oh dear, It's the worst air line. Never on time. Rude stewardesses.
And you are booked into the King Solomon hotel? -
Oh dear, It's a dump.
And your friends have arranged for you to meet the president? - Take binoculars, you won't get near him...
Still, enjoy your trip.'

At his next haircut, after Z had returned, the barber remembered his conversation about Z's journey. 'Well, how did it go?' asked the barber. Z had been quite annoyed by the pessimistic advice that he had received. But now he was able to get his revenge, as he reported: 'Not only was El Al on time, but there were some free seats, and they chose to upgrade me to first class. Very comfortable. And the king Solomon hotel has been renovated and raised one more star rating.'
'Yes, yes' asked the barber, 'but did you see the president?'
'There were only 5 people present. We had a very pleasant talk: he is a very nice man.'
'But what did the president say to you?'
Z imitated the president's Israeli accent: 'He took one look at me and said, ''Meester G, where did you get this awful haircut?'' '

They liked it. And Z had explained that in addition to the age of 70 (plus 13), also 80 years plus 13 can be celebrated - offering a third bar mitzvah at 93. So Z gave us notice of his intention, but I doubt whether anybody will invite me then as an after dinner speaker... if I'm still alive... and whatever the food.