UK Jewry is backing itself into a corner of its own making.

In the last couple of weeks, I have become embroiled in a discussion at my synagogue – on which I am in a very small minority –  about whether it is correct for an address made from the platform during our synagogue services to invoke a party political position, based on perceptions of anti-Semitism within the current Labour Party. This immediately followed an invitation to Ian Austin to address our Friday evening service, two weeks ago, on the 81st anniversary of Krystallnacht at which I was horrified at Austin’s invocation to his audience not to vote Labour in the forthcoming General Election to the approval, I need to add, of the vast majority of his audience; reflecting the current thinking of most of UK Jewry. And this was not the first of its kind.

Our rabbi, who is a very sincere and spiritual man – and a man for whom I have the utmost respect – has taken a position that it is his duty to speak out against Corbyn. This is from his most recent message, justifying the invitation, in our weekly congregational newsletter:

The only question we raise today is why there were not more Jewish leaders, scholars and lay leaders, with the courage to speak out against antisemitism and attacks on the Jewish people. As Elie Wiesel has so brilliantly challenged us over the past decades: “Do we really want our children to ask us years from now why we were silent?”

This statement is absolutely incontestable but whether one can conclude that Jeremy Corbyn is that duck, based on what he has quacked and with whom he swims, is far from proven in my opinion. There is some distance between the warning of a perceived direction of political travel and the reaching of conclusions of racial prejudice. More significant is the question as to whether the pulpit a correct place to direct voting intentions. (The Charities Commission says that it is not.) This is what I wrote, following that service, to the Rabbi:

Though I feel totally mismatched to engage with you on this, the fact remains that I did leave synagogue on Friday quite disturbed by elements of Ian Austin’s presentation to us – and I am not an apologist for Corbyn nor currently a supporter of The Labour Party. There will, however, have been quite a few at the service – which is also broadcast to a wider audience – who will be voting Labour in the coming election, and even some who do not see Jeremy Corbyn in the light in which he was cast. Do you have any concerns that they might feel that our synagogue is not a place where they feel comfortable? And is a political issue, such as this, one that should potentially drive such a wedge?

I know that it may be dangerous to quote from a person that I know nothing about, nor as to his ultimate motives. I suspect that I may find major areas of disagreement with Robert A H Cohen but I find myself in broad agreement with what he writes below in his blog Writing From The Edge: Rescuing The Jewish Covenant One Blog Post At A Time:

I’ve been told to fear the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. I’ve been warned that the Labour Party leader is antisemitic. And, according to a new poll, nearly half of British Jews are considering leaving the country if Labour wins the General Election on December 12th.

Despite the doomsday picture being painted for British Jews, I’m not fearful of Corbyn or the possibility of him reaching 10 Downing Street. Nor do I believe that the Labour Party is “poisoned” or “rampant” with antisemitism. But what has left me horrified over the last four years has been the reckless and irresponsible way in which antisemitism has been used to vilify Corbyn and make the entire Labour Party appear toxic.

For the record, I’m not a Labour Party activist, or even a Labour Party member. I have no particular brief to support Jeremy Corbyn. In local and national elections over the years, I’ve voted for Liberal Democrat candidates, Labour candidates and Green candidates. Geography means I don’t attend a synagogue as often as I’d like to, but I read and love my Jewish prayer book, and at home we light Shabbat candles and we celebrate the Jewish festivals. I worry about rising antisemitism around the world and I care about the safety and security of Jews in Britain. And because of all these things, it bothers me deeply when I see antisemitism become drained of meaning for the sake of narrow political advantage.

The UK’s Brexit induced General Election was always going to be about more than just Brexit. And so it should be. A decade of chronic underinvestment in public services; the growing disparity between rich and poor; our response to the Climate Emergency; and the very future of the United Kingdom itself, all need to be central themes of the campaign over the next month. The one issue that does not need to be part of the debate is antisemitism. At least not the version of the antisemitism debate we’ve been having over the last few years which has become profoundly politicised.

The opening days of the campaign

As things stand, scaremongering about antisemitism is in danger of hijacking the 2019 election. This is not good for British Jews nor for British democracy.

The position of the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, the two most widely read Jewish newspapers in the UK, is entirely expected and consistent with the campaign they have been running since September 2015 when Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader.

As this General Election campaign got underway, the Jewish Chronicle’s editorial stated:

“The impact of a Labour victory is almost unimaginable for our community…The prospect is truly frightening.”

The Jewish News titled its main Op Ed ‘The nightmare before Chanukah?’

What exactly are these editorial writers expecting to happen if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister? Shouldn’t it be possible to imagine it? Is there some hidden anti-Jewish manifesto in Corbyn’s back pocket that only they have seen? Their language suggests they expect immediate discriminatory laws against Jews to be enacted by a Corbyn government or, at the very least, a hostile environment against Jews to be created across the country.

Speaking at a formal dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews on November 4 the Board’s President, Marie van de Zyl, also hinted at the dark consequences of a Corbyn victory by saying the Board was “preparing for all scenarios.”

What kind of “scenarios” is the Board preparing for? It’s never made clear because it makes no sense. But a feeling of impending doom is created and left hanging in the air.

The Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland, who’s been a prominent left of centre critic of Corbyn since his election, wove the same mood of dread and anxiety in a recent article in which he repeated the now well-worn (and well-refuted) allegations against Corbyn:

“I understand that to many, all this will sound overwrought. I’m afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst. We look at our usually sparse family trees and we can pick out the pessimists, those who panicked and got out. It was they who left their mark on us. You see, the optimists, those who assumed things would work out for the best, they never made it out in time.”

It sounds “overwrought” because it is overwrought. But worse still, it’s feeding a moral panic across the nation and stoking fear in Jewish homes without a credible threat being presented.

But the Jewish establishment’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn has never been only about convincing British Jews not to vote Labour.

The number of Jewish voters in the UK is tiny. Including adults and children, we make up only 0.5% of the population. There are only a handful of constituencies, mostly in North London, where Jewish votes (assuming they are cast uniformly) could make a decisive difference to the outcome. In any case, the majority of Jews stopped voting Labour long before Corbyn became leader. That’s to do with the economic and social advancement that most Jews in Britain have achieved. Until recently, it’s had nothing to do with Corbyn or antisemitism.

So branding Corbyn as antisemitic has always been about influencing the wider UK electorate. And it may well have succeeded. A poll carried out in April 2019 reported that 55% of respondents agreed with the statement that Mr Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-semitism within his own party shows he is unfit to be prime minister”.

Conservative supporting national newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail, The Times, The Telegraph, The Express, have all been enthusiastic amplifiers of the ‘Corbyn is antisemitic’ narrative. Neither these national newspapers nor the more liberal Guardian or the BBC, have shown much interest in seriously interrogating, let along challenging the allegations. The case against our mainstream media in its handling of the Labour antisemitism saga has been well established by media analysts and antisemitism experts in the book ‘Bad News for Labour’ published last month.

Meanwhile, the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats’ leader, Jo Swinson, speaking at her party’s election campaign launch on November 5 came up with the most peculiar, contorted and self-serving framing of the antisemitism accusation I’ve seen so far:

“Most importantly, the reason why people are Remain [on the Brexit question] is about values, and one of those values is so important – is the value of equality – for recognising that people can be themselves, as individuals, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever God they pray to, whoever they are. And Jeremy Corbyn’s complete and utter failure to root out antisemitism in his own Party, is a – just – total dereliction of duty when it comes to protecting that value of equality.”

While this alignment of racism, inequality and support for Brexit may have some coherence when you look to the political right, it’s hard to make sense of it in Corbyn’s case, not when you examine Corbyn’s track record on campaigning against racism or his party’s policies on immigration and refugees. And while Corbyn’s position on Brexit is deliberately ambiguous, painting him as a hard Brexiteer doesn’t tally with his party’s position over the last three years. But hey, let’s not let any pesky facts spoil the antisemitism story.

As for the Conservative Party leader and current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, he’s happily climbed on the bandwagon by describing his main opponents in this election as: “fratricidal antisemitic Marxists”. I feel sure he will return with characteristic enthusiasm to the subject as the election campaign reaches its climax.

For a more detailed account of how the right is exploiting and abusing antisemitism during this election, and over the last few years, I’d recommend the article by antisemitism academic Tony Lerman in Open Democracy.

The case against Corbyn’s Labour

So what is the case against Corbyn? And does it stack up as the show-stopping, moral argument against his gaining elected high office?

It’s always been difficult to disentangle the allegations of antisemitism from the wider divisions within Labour over Corbyn’s shift of the party to the left. The growing influence of more left-wing Labour members at the grass roots and within its national decision making bodies has been fought against by Labour MPs who favoured the Blair/Brown years of Labour leadership. Antisemitism has, in part, become a proxy battle in a bigger ideological war over how Labour should respond to decades of neo-liberalism and more recently austerity. So motivations can be, and have been, mixed and complex.

It’s impossible to understand the personal criticism against Corbyn without recognising that it’s nearly always in the context of a wider debate over the behaviour of Israel towards the Palestinian people.

Corbyn has been a long standing campaigner for Palestinian rights for decades. Those official and establishment Jewish voices that say they fear a Corbyn government tell us they do so because they fear a radical change in the safety and security of Jews in Britain. But a more credible explanation for their accusations is the possibility of a radical change in the attitude of the British government towards the State of Israel. But in merely expressing the possibility of a political motive behind the attacks, one quickly becomes branded as anti-Jewish. Freedom of speech gets buried alive in this war over the meaning of antisemitism.

Having noted this central aspect of the saga, it’s also true that some on the left make themselves, and by association Corbyn, easy targets for justified criticism. The left’s emphasis on the wrongs of empire, colonialism and racism lead to a small minority expressing an obsessive and un-nuanced understanding of Zionist thinking which too easily trips into antisemitism.

It’s true too that Israel/Palestine has become a totemic cause on the left, much as South African apartheid was in the 70s and 80s or the Vietnam War in the 60s. But there are perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to highlight Israel as a nation with a long and on-going history of human rights abuses which western leaders choose not to act against. A few on the left will make the lazy mistake of falling into anti-Jewish rhetoric to explain why this has happened. This in turn enables the professional advocates for Israel to label all anti-Israel criticism on the left as founded on nothing more than antisemitism.

The questions we are then left with are: how great is the scale of the problem and how well has Corbyn dealt with it?

Let the numbers speak

The precise scale of reported antisemitism within the Labour Party became clear at the start of this year when Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, released detailed numbers covering accusations of antisemitism made against Labour members between April 2018 and January 2019. This covered the period during which media interest in the story reached fever pitch in the summer and autumn of 2018.

The 673 accusations as a percentage of party members amounted to 0.1% of the total Party membership. However, 220 of the allegations were rejected through the disciplinary process which left 453 (or 0.08% of party membership) accused, found guilty and disciplined. Of these, only 12 were considered serious enough to warrant permanent expulsion.

Further analysis of these figures, and other data, and their comparison to survey data of antisemitism in the UK population as a whole, has been carried out by statistician Alan Maddison. The upshot is, there’s less antisemitism in Labour than you would expect to find in the UK population as a whole (which is already among the lowest in the world). In fact, reputable surveying in 2017 by Jewish Policy Research, showed that antisemitism was more prevalent on the right and far right than on the left in the UK.

“Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population.”

Which again begs the question as to why all the focus has been on Labour since Corbyn became leader. The numbers suggest we should be looking elsewhere.

What about Corbyn himself?

If Jeremy Corbyn is truly antisemitic he must be the most unusual and eccentric example of antisemitism ever displayed by a British political leader and perhaps any political leader.

When you are told that a politician is a diehard antisemite you don’t expect to then discover that over the decades he’s signed dozens of Early Day Parliamentary motions condemning antisemitism; helped organised protests against anti-Jewish marches; visited the Terezin concentration camp to commemorate Holocaust victims; attended numerous Jewish events in his constituency; and read the war poetry of Isaac Rosenberg at his local Remembrance Day service.

The list of antisemitic ‘crimes’ by Corbyn which have been ‘unearthed’ to ‘expose’ his guilt all crumble for anyone who bothers to do some fact checking or examine the context in which they happened.

If I have criticisms of Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism it’s that he did not defend himself or his party more robustly.

He should have toured the TV studios during the spring and summer of 2018 to refute the allegations made against him. He should have invited his accusers, in particular Campaign Against Antisemitism, and the leaders of the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, to debate face to face. He should have given a platform to Palestinian voices to demonstrate the problematic nature of the IHRA “illustrations” of antisemitism. He should have given a major speech setting out his understanding of Jewish history, of antisemitism, of what does and does not count as fair criticism of Israel and Zionism.

The strategy of not giving more oxygen to the allegations through direct engagement turned out to be wrong. It just encouraged more vilification.

The failure of Jewish leadership

But the greatest failings in this story have not been Corbyn’s.

Over the last four years the formal leadership of the Jewish community in the UK, aided and abetted by Jewish community newspapers and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, have succeed in making the task of fighting anti-Jewish behaviour harder and more complicated.

They have exaggerated a problem within Labour and enabled a false narrative to take hold in the public’s understanding of the issue. In doing this, they have made antisemitism into a party political football.

With their promotion of the IHRA document as the international ‘gold standard’ of wording rather than the “working document” its authors describe it as, they have imposed on politicians, local authorities, universities and Churches a weak and deeply flawed definition of antisemitism.

They have promoted illustrations of antisemitism which are already chilling free speech and denying another people their history and identity.

By turning antisemitism into a political battleground, they have created ‘good Jews’ and ‘bad Jews’ – those that are allowed to speak with a Jewish voice and those that are condemned as traitors.

The campaign against Labour has never been about reforming or educating a small minority or rooting out a tiny hardcore of antisemitism. This has been about regime change. Only Corbyn’s resignation as leader was ever going to be truly acceptable.

With a General Election campaign now in full swing, Labour candidates and Labour activists, and indeed Labour voters, are being told they are actively promoting antisemitism or at least ignoring the concerns of the Jewish community in Britain. It’s no longer just Corbyn that’s being vilified. It’s half the country.

Meanwhile, Jewish families have become fearful under entirely false pretenses.

This is not good Jewish leadership. This is a dangerous failure of leadership.

If Labour loses this election and antisemitism allegations are perceived to have been a key factor in the Party’s defeat, what will be the long term political consequences? How will millions of voters perceive our Jewish institutions and leaders and indeed Jews in general?

A better debate on antisemitism

Whatever the result of this General Election, we’re going to need a better and very different debate about antisemitism in Britain than the one we’ve been having.

Antisemitism is real and it’s growing. We need to face into the role Israel plays in generating antisemitism. We need to recognise that Zionism can be experienced as both a movement for Jewish liberation and as a project of racist, settler colonialism. We need to be clear from which political direction the most serious dangers to Jews and other minorities are coming from. For some on the left, there is a need to learn some Jewish history and appreciate why so many Jews feel such an emotional tie towards Israel.

As for those who currently claim to speak in the interests of Jews in Britain, they too could do with some serious historical and political education. Or perhaps just early retirement.

 

I am deeply concerned.

2017 and all that.

 

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The Ericle is by nature a positive thinker and I am not prepared to consign any year, let alone 2017, to the dustbin of history. Moreover, I am continually surprised how some/many/most people view their world in terms of a status quo and then project forward in a straight line, inevitably foreseeing doom – often of apocalyptic proportions. In reality this, surely, flies in the face of human experience from both the individual and collective perspectives. I have been on this pebble long enough to know that many predictions have not come to pass, certainly not in the form that many anticipated, and that many unexpected outcomes have occurred that have been scarcely predicted.

beethoven

I am writing this as I sit here in London, on the first dawn of 2018, listening to the New Year’s Concert from Vienna’s marvellously ornate Musikverein. Barely 6 weeks ago, Mrs Ericle & moi-meme were enjoying a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the very same concert-hall. Taking my beat from the name of the excellent Robert Peston book that I received for Xmas, this was my WTF moment of 2017. Never has The Ode Of Joy, the adopted anthem of the European Union, seemed so nuanced. It spoke to me of my personal political rejection of the European agenda and I would not be completely honest with you if I didn’t feel some sense of shame. But hang on a moment: “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!” Oh Friends, not such tones, let us be together in a joyful and pleasant atmosphere. Indeed!

 

Brexit-7-lessons

I cannot recall a political time in my lifetime that has been so divisive. In fact, ‘divisive’ does not do justice to it – it’s veritably schismatic. And it’s not just within Europe, it’s everywhere and seemingly on so many issues. What concerns me most is that the polarisation of opinions seems to have fault lines that can be defined in socio-economic, even geographical, terms. I have had occasion to remark in 2017 how as a Brexit Referendum voter in North London I have often felt like “the only gay in the village”. That’s fine by me. I am no stranger to standing my corner of an argument. What really worries me is that the debates have invariably been initiated by an assumptive remark, often derogatory and dismissive, that any sensible person within earshot must be like-minded. As a result, I have found myself far too often in situations where I either have to leave a remark be or to take issue with their initiator. It’s not just the failure to understand that an opinion is different from an unalienable truth that bothers me so; it’s the oh-so comfortable certainty that the assembled company of the moment will be supportive and appreciative of opinion expressed. I am sure that this is happening in reverse in other parts of the UK; also in parts of Spain on the matter of Catalonia and in parts of the USA on the matter of Trump. This Dear Reader is, IMHO, the biggest malaise of our time. We do indeed live in ‘interesting times’.

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Many commentators have tried to explain why we are where we are today. Most astutely point out that the nominal issues which divide us, are in fact, cyphers for a more broadly-based alienation that one sector of society feels for another. I am exercised by the fact how often these divides are almost always proportionate to each other; giving credence to the Hegelian notion that ‘actions and reactions are equal and opposite.’ However, his dialectic also spoke of ‘synthesis’; for synthesis there will be one way or the other. Whether this synthesis is abrupt & brutal, or progressive & peaceful, is within our own hands. The music of our times can either be an ‘Ode To Joy’ or a ‘War Of The Worlds’. A good starting point to ensuring that we veer towards the former, not the latter, I suggest can be found in the following words of another poet-musician:

“There are no truths outside the Garden Of Eden” Bob Dylan

Prosit Neu Jahr!

 

See Tauranga And Die

Tauranga_map

It seems only right that, having become becalmed on the Bay Of Plenty, the Ericle should report back on Tauranga its principle ‘metropolis’.  Over the years I have visited Tauranga quite a number of times, being that Mrs Ericle’s parents reside here and this is where she spent her formative teenage years. So Tauranga has always been a strong point of reference for me, nonetheleast at times when I am ‘reminded’ by Mrs E. as to what she has given up in order to spend married life with the likes of me.

The name ‘Tauranga’ derives from the Māori ‘Place Of Safe Anchorage’ – the name they gave to it when in the 13th century, as the first known human visitors to Aotearoa (The Land Of the Big White Cloud), they chose it as their landing place of choice. The Tourist Board’s brief and to-the-point description of modern Tauranga identifies the city as:

“… the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and one of the fastest growing population centres in New Zealand. It is about 15 minutes drive from one of New Zealand’s most popular beach towns Mount Maunganui.”

These bland couple of sentences, lacking somewhat in any real descriptive qualities, do however reveal the underpinning of KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERATauranga’s raison d’etre. The city itself is relatively ‘ordinary’ but its situation is spectacular. During New Zealand’s summer holidays (mid-December through January), Mount Maunganui is ‘heaving’ – not that any European would come up with that description. In modern times, the invading hoardes come principally from Auckland – not surprising given its proximity and the fact that 1/3 of all Kiwis live there. Naturally the locals make some hay of the pre-occupations and lifestyle choices of their guests, who have bid-up the property prices along Marine Parade and its immediate surrounding. Today any modern property, with a decent view, will fetch north of £1,000,000 with the gin-palace editions selling for considerably more. ‘Nostalgists’ will pour scorn on these relatively modern edifices – which really, for the most part, are mostly single or double storeys and by no means ‘eye-sores’ –  and bemoan the times (until circa 1980) when ‘batches’ formed the principle housing-type to be found at The Mount. What they tend not to mention was that at those times The Mount was also a pretty seedy place, being that as a place of ‘safe anchorage’ Mount Maunganui is a major deep-water port of significant national economic importance. Today this means not just industry but cruise-ships. This year 85 of these humungous floating hotels are scheduled to stop at Mount Maunganui, mainly for day-trips to Rotorua & Lake Taupo but still leaving just a little time for them shop locally too. The building & completion of The Harbour Bridge marks both the cause and effect for the transformation of Mount Maunganui. When I first visited Tauranga in 1986, it took the best part of an hour to drive to Mount Maunganui. The $1 toll (up to $4 for larger vehicles) to cross the bridge, which was opened in 1988, was lifted in July 2001 when it was deemed that the bridge building costs had been recovered!

The significance of Mount Maunganui, within the wider New Zealand context, is much more than as a beach paradise. Known to Gate PaMāoris as ‘Mauao’ (“Caught By The Light of The Sea”), the extinct volcanic outcrop itself – known locally as The Mount – holds huge importance to Māoridom. The site is sacred to the local and national tribes. It is a very special place and walking round its base and/or trekking to the summit is one of the great Kiwi experiences. In many ways it is a symbol of the place of Māoridom within New Zealand; suitably so as Māoris comprise about 15% of the population locally – almost exactly the same proportion as is the national average. The significance of Tauranga to both Māori & Pākehā (the White European settlers) is underscored by the 6 month Tauranga Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Gate Pā on 29 April 1864, which effectively marked the final colonisation of New Zealand by the settlers. The scale of that battle reflects that of the country itself, as the day was won by a force of just 500; of whom 31 were killed and 80 wounded in achieving their victory.

However there is one other dimension to Tauranga that singles it out as unique. Known widely as ‘God’s Waiting Room’, it is the retirement community of choice for older Kiwis. The most recent New Zealand census, that of 2006, indicates that 18% of Tauranga’s population is over 65. That compares to the national average of 12%. i.e. 50% above the national average. I would be very surprised if the 2016 census doesn’t show an increase in that proportion. The social impact of this is very apparent at pavement level and in the lifestyles of the locals; especially after the Aucklanders have returned to base after their summer break.

For even more prosaic information on Tauranga click here and for the top 12 tourist attractions here.

For my part, though I have been known to unkindly refer to Tauranga as New Zealand’s ‘Eastbourne’, I would encourage any visitor to the North Island to visit Tauranga. (For some reason, Tauranga is often missed out as tourists head for Rotorua, to smell sulphur and watch a water-spout, and Taupo, which is undoubtedly beautifully situated but lacking in much else to offer beyond clichéd attractions.)  If you do so simply to pay a subscription to the maxim that ‘Life is a beach’ you won’t be disappointed; but if you dig deeper you’ll find a lot more – in fact, you’ll be going a long way to discovering what makes New Zealand the country that it is.

The Ericle’s Pinteresting 2014

The Ericle is at heart a librarian. In another life, I fear that I could have become an accountant. I like order, and love constructing databases and making lists. (See here.). As a result one of my web-afflictions is Pinterest, a digital scrapbook, where I maintain a number of boards. (Here.)

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On my ‘2014 Day-by-Day’ board I pin what seems to me to be the most significant news-story for each day. On this last day of the year, reviewing my entries makes for some depressing reading – Ukraine, The Middle East, missing aircraft, suicide bombers, ISIS et al – but this, I trust, is more a reflection on what constitutes ‘news’ than anything else. My ‘Departures’ board of obituaries is not a source of joy either; though many of the entries celebrate lives well-spent and worth celebrating. And as for my Fulham Football Club board for the year, the less said the better. So in an effort to end the year on a more up-beat note, I have scanned a couple of my other boards for year-ending items that are a little less depressing.

It won’t surprise you then to learn that one of them is called ‘Lists’ and from this year’s entries I can offer you:

  • the most popular name chosen for both cats & dogs in the UK is Poppy
  • the most viewed web news-story on The Guardian’s website was that covering the hacked celebrity nudes story
  • Milan is the most congested city in Europe and North America
  • Robin Williams was the most searched celebrity name on Google
  • the most expensive burger’s in the world costs $330,000

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On my ‘Strange But True’ board in 2014 you can find stories about

  • an emergency operation conducted on a goldfish
  • the pan-global fish-eating spider epidemic
  • the UK train passenger who tired to have sex with a drink’s trolley
  • the death of the world’s heaviest person (560 kgs)
  • Vitoria’s embarrassing attempt to produce the world’s biggest tortilla

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On the personal front it’s been an interesting and good year of

  • mostly happy events: my daughter’s graduation being the most memorable
  • a shrinking domestic situation, with the moving-out of the Prodigal Son
  • retirement
  • European travel
  • discovery of Buddhism

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I hope, my dear & valued reader, that this year has been a positive one for you and that 2015 will bring you more of the same.

Happy New Year!

Thoughts on becoming officially ‘Old’

In Shine A Light – the Martin Scorsese film on The Rolling Stones – Keith Richard kicks the gig off with the words: ‘It’s really good to be here … it’s really good to be anywhere’! I don’t feel quite the same way about having arrived at the age when the State identifies one as being a ‘senior citizen’ status, by dint of paying one a pension. I do, though, still feel a sense of amazement at the fact that I have reached this milestone.

The Ericle is not a person who lets go of the past lightly, but I am mindful of the Buddhist-inspired saying: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” This notwithstanding, it seems appropriate to me on this particular day that I should ‘shine a light’ – (see what I did there?) – on some non-family highlights of my journey so far.

So, in no particular order, here is a list of the 25 experiences that come to mind on my 65th birthday:

1966

1. Most enjoyable public occasion attended: The 1966 World Cup Final

2. Most shocking public event:  the Twin Towers attack

3. Most impactful invention: The Internet

4. Favourite writer: Hermann Hesse

5. Favourite book: Lord Of The Rings

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6. Favourite modern musician: Bob Dylan

7. Favourite single track: Imagine (John Lennon)

8. Favourite classical composer: Beethoven

9. Favourite classical music: Mahler’s 1st Symphony

10. Favourite play: The History Boys

cabaret

11. Favourite film: Cabaret

12. Sporting hero: Johnny Haynes

13. Fallen idol: Lance Armstrong

14. Favourite place: London

15. Favourite place in London: Hampstead Heath

Matterhorn and Alpine Valley

16. Most awesome view: The Matterhorn

17. Most memorable trip: South Africa (2001)

18. Proudest non-sporting achievement: Gaining a university degree

19. Biggest sporting achievement:  The London Marathon (1992 & 1997)

20. Most risky personal activity: cycling in London

lobster

21. Favourite delicacy: lobster

22. Favourite everyday food: well-made sandwiches

23. Biggest phobia: flying

24. Biggest regret: not taking a post-university teacher training course

25. Favourite quote: “Humanity is underrated”

[Nothing too extraordinary or surprising there, me thinks!? Well what did I expect – ‘a life less ordinary’?]

That’s quite enough self-indulgence for one day! Tomorrow is another day…

The DHL Man cometh.

The Ericle is very impressed by stuff like this:

DHL

I do recognize that this is relatively marginal to the well being of The Universe, and is motivated to a greater or less degree by marketing considerations, but I feel that not only is it respectful of the customer relationship but also that I’m better off for having access to such information. When I was sent a DHL tracking number by Olympus, for the return of my repaired lens, I could have ignored it and taken an “it’ll get here when it does” attitude; the truth of which would have eventually become self-evident. As it is, I know that it’s on its way today and I’m exercising a choice to wait in for its arrival. The key factor is that I have the option.

I find it difficult to comprehend people who give up choice on the basis that having an option compels them to undertake/experience an unwanted eventuality. I understand the thought-processes behind it, but I think it is a subset of the false syllogism:

Bad Things happen on The Internet

I use The Internet

Therefore I’ll rubbish, or even get rid of, it.

 So – if you must – deny yourself the opportunity to keep in more real-time touch with distant family via Facebook on the basis that “it’s full of nonsense from people who are not really my friends”, but please do so on the basis that this is your decision not something that is inherently evil about the Facebook environment. Similarly recognise that the reason you may not want to own a credit card is an issue of your self-control rather than its perniciousness as a financial instrument. I also recall conversations with folk back in the last century who refused to own a television because it was a waste of time, rather than that they found difficulty in deploying the on/off button. I could go on and on and on… (Thank goodness, that’s quite enough – Ed.)

Anyway, here I am waiting for my DHL delivery. I know I could have done so many other more constructive things with my day than to wait in for a parcel. But then I would have to subscribe to the philosophy that ‘ignorance is bliss’ – which may be true, post facto, but I refuse to run my life by it. Sod’s Law I’ll be answering a call-of-nature when the doorbell rings and I’ll miss my darned delivery. Hey, if it were a perfect world there’d be no humans on it….

The Ericle’s 2014 Training Blog

CYCLING-CARTOON-MED

EW bikeThe Ericle needs a goal to gain motivation. My reader may have noted that I am somewhat OCD in this regards. I like to have a target – a raison d’etre – to aim at, in order to get going.  And when I get going, I like to have routines & schedules. This time last year, with The Ride 100 all of 4 months away, I was allowing a very cold April to dissuade me from making a proper start to a training schedule. As it was, it really wasn’t till May that I really got going; but then I did get stuck into it. This year there can be no such excuse as our pre-Easter weather has been splendid for the last 3 weeks or so. But it was only this Wednesday that I wheeled my bike out of the shed, pumped up the tyres to the recommended 100 psi and got back into the saddle. Perhaps my motivation this year is no more than not to hand back some of the fitness and weight-loss that I achieved from completing The Ride 100. I say ‘all’ because I have allowed myself to regain half of the 28 lbs I lost. And as for the fitness, judging by the 2 rides I’ve undertaken this week, that’ll be starting from quite a low base too. Perhaps it’s a good that I have no particular goal at the current time. Especially given my ‘almost retired’ status, a bit of GC biketaking each day as it comes is just what The Shrink would prescribe for me.  So, whatever happens, I have no ‘epic’ ride penned for 2014.  A pair of old favourites – The North London Hospice 40 (June 8th) and the Suffolk Coast 60 (Aug 3rd) – are in the diary and I have put out feelers to friends for a couple of overnighters; one to Swanage and the other to Amsterdam. Talking about taking horses to water, there is also The Ericle’s Webmeister who has signed up for the 2014 Ride 100 but, to the best of my knowledge hasn’t pedalled an inch in anger yet and shows little signs of getting going; or, for that matter, even getting a pair of wheels. On yer bike, Gabriel – I need a training partner!

I will use this page to diarize the milestones and major events of my 2014 cycling year and, if you are so inclined, do come back and check me out. For the more mundane everyday tides – not to say that my other efforts are not mundane – I am using a very useful (free) iPhone app called Strava to track my miles. My Strava log can found here.

A Book List

A while – well almost a full year actually – ago, The Webmeister asked me to recommend a reading list of ‘modern’ books in English. Shortly there after I scribbled down a ‘front-of-mind’ list on a piece of paper, which I then typically ‘lost’. In a pocket of a pair of trousers, that I haven’t worn since then, this has now re-emerged. I don’t in any way consider myself widely read and, looking at it again now, it is definitely a list ‘of its time’. However, I do think most of the books would appear on my list at any time. I share it with you, for what it’s worth, as an act of self-indulgence and to invite comment & other suggestions.  (The list is presented in the order I wrote them down.)

HERMANN HESSE: Narcissus & Goldmund/Siddhartha/The Glass Bead Game

PAUL AUSTER: The New York Trilogy

THOMAS MANN: Buddenbrooks/Death in Venice

HEMINGWAY: A Farewell To Arms

ORWELL: Down And Out In London and Paris/1984/Animal Farm

SALINGER: Catcher In The RyeBooks

J G BALLARD: Supper Cannes

WILLIAM BOYD: Brazzaville Beach

GORE VIDAL: Messiah

FITZGERALD: The Great Gatsby

D H LAWRENCE: Sons & Lovers

KEROUAC: On The Road

CHARLES FRAZIER: Cold Mountain

DAVID GUTERSON: Snows Falling On Cedars

NOBOKOV: Lolita

GOLDING: Lord Of The Flies

ALEX GARLAND: The Beach

VONNEGUT: Slaughterhouse Five

ASIMOV: Foundation (Series)

ROBERT PERSIG: Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance

SEBASTIAN FAULKS: Alphabet Soup/Engleby

ORHAN PAMUK: My name Is Red

JOHN LE CARRE: Absolute Friends

KHALED HOSSEINI: The Kite Runner/ A 1000 Splendid Suns

MARKUS ZUSAK: The Book Thief

CARLOS RUIZ ZAFON: The Shadow Of The Wind