Thursday, 25 August 2016

Mr. Not Nice

I have nurtured my image of not being a nice person.

It is not that I throw stones at drowning people.
It is just that I am not socialized.
It is not that I think everybody else is stupid and that is why I do not converse with people.
It is just that when I talk to myself I am sure that I will have a good conversation.

Being a bad role model for decent people does have its advantages. Nobody bothers me with requests for money. They know it is a waste of time.
I never have to refuse an invitation as I never get any invitations.

I suppose it happens to most people. You are walking to the shops and a neighbor or acquaintance stops you and starts a conversation. Actually, you are in a hurry and the last thing you want is to talk to this person. 
However, you do not want to hurt his/her feelings. So you stand there smiling and making the right noises.
Never happens to me. People cross the road if they see me coming.

Every now and then my idyllic state of libertarian solitude is encroached upon. My family organizes an event. That means lots of people milling around my house, dirtying my floors and sanitary spaces.
They drink immense amounts of alcohol that I have paid for. It is not that I begrudge them the booze.
It is just that I would prefer to drink it all myself.

Even though nobody is coming for me, I still have to be sociable. So, I have been practicing.
Firstly, I have had to change my smile. It usually looks like a sneer or a leer.
A mirror comes in handy. 
The smile must not be too broad with an open mouth. Then it could be a laugh. It must be a bit wider closed mouth expression. The head should be slightly tilted as if you are listening. A few nods every now and then help as well.
Secondly, I have been watching talk programmes on tv. Great examples of smiling and talking for long periods of time without saying anything.

I am getting to be quite good at this empty interaction thing. I may now decide to enter politics.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The man and the girl

It was unusual for foreigners to study at Dutch universities in the 1970s. There was no official procedure. I sent a copy of my A levels to the University of Amsterdam and they accepted me. I received no grant or loan.

The UK was not in the Common Market so I had to go back to the Aliens police. I was allowed to keep my residence permit.
They rescinded my work permit. Their argument was, if you are studying you cannot work the minimum number of hours necessary for a work permit.  This meant I could not legally work any more.

I found work in the Red Light district, the area of window prostitution.
My first job was cleaning a sex museum, sex shops, live shows and small sex cinemas. My employer was mean, there was only one vacuum cleaner. I used to walk along the canals from sex this to sex that, dragging my Nilfisk behind me.
Every now and then I stopped for a chat with the day whores or the patrolling policemen. Amsterdam was a friendly place in the 1970s. 

I was a rising star in the sex business and quickly moved up from cleaner to projectionist/bouncer/ticket seller in sex cinemas.
You cannot keep a good man down and I was promoted to do the same kind of work in a private cinema outside the Red Light district.

That was the introduction. This blog is about a man and a girl I met at the private cinema. I do not remember their names, so I will call them the man and the girl.
He was late-thirties, married with a young child.
She was Eurasian, looked about eighteen but sounded younger. The girl was the man’s girl-friend, his trophy.

He used to do some evening shifts at the cinema. I saw them when he took over after my afternoon shift. They were always together. I did not like him and she was constantly giggling.
Then all of a sudden they did not come any more.

I read about it in the local newspaper. The girl had found somebody else and had moved in with him.
The man found out where they were living and went to their flat. When her new boyfriend opened the door, he shot him. Then the man kidnapped the girl. After a few days he let her go and gave himself up.

The local newspaper called it a “crime passionnel”. The new boyfriend did not die from his wounds.
The man received a sentence of 18 months. In practice this is 12 months.

A couple of years later I was doing some shopping in my local supermarket and there she was, the girl. She looked older and not very happy.
She smiled sadly at me and said that she was back with the man.
I found this surprising.

She explained that after he was sent to prison, she had fled to Germany. That did not work out and she came back to the Netherlands. She found a small town where she hoped she could hide.
He found her. He told her that if she did not come back to him he would kill her.

I asked why she did not go to the police. She said the police had told her they could not do anything because she had no real proof that would stand up in court. Anyway, she added, he was not scared of the police.
I suggested she kill him first. She did not appreciate the idea and said she did not want to go to prison.

I did not have any other ideas. It was not my problem. We said our goodbyes and went our different ways.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Piet Snot

It was a long time ago.
Gays could still walk hand in hand in all the neighbourhoods of the city. Treating women like second-class citizens was not considered a shining example of cultural diversity. Antisemitism had not yet reached the level it was before the Nazis made it unpopular. The left was still progressive.
It was the old Amsterdam
The winter was very cold. I did not cycle any more, I took the tram. It was early evening at the beginning of December. A few days before the Dutch "Sinterklaas" (Santa Claus) festival. That is the festival for giving each other presents.
I got off the tram a few stops before my house. There was a shop window that I wanted to see. A friend had told me about a new product they were advertising. It was called a cassette recorder.
While I was standing there looking into the shop window, a dishevelled old man came and stood next to me. He was wearing a thick old coat and a piece of frozen snot was hanging from the tip of his nose.
He turned towards me and said, “Sir, you do know that women are mean?”
“No,” I replied. “I do not think that meanness is dependent on gender.”
“You are wrong, “ he continued. “If you have a big argument with a man, you have a fight. When it is over the argument is finished. You go and drink a beer together.
Women are different. They never let go. They gang up on you. Constantly nagging and baiting you. It is happening to me. I can’t take in any more. I have run away from the old age home. They were making my life a misery”.
Then he started to sob quietly.
We stood there together. Him crying, me looking at the goodies in the shop window. 
After a few minutes I wished him good luck with his problem and left. I wanted to get home quickly to make dinner for my partner.
If the food was not on the table on time, she used to get upset. Then she would make my life a misery.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

I have always appreciated lingerie

In August 1926 Marks & Spencer started marketing their first bra. This month, August 2016, they are celebrating 90 years of glamorous lingerie advertising.

That brings back some childhood memories.
My parents had a clothes shop in the Elephant and Castle, a London district south of the Thames. 
It was a slum neighbourhood.

Many of the customers were poor Irish women. My parents gave them credit without interest. This meant that the women could buy clothes and pay in installments when their husbands were paid at the end of the week. No kids had to walk around without socks or pullovers.

The big problem was alcohol abuse. At the end of the week the women used to stand at the factory gates, waiting for their husbands. They wanted to catch them before they spent their wages getting drunk in the pub.
All the women were thankful when my parents gave them credit. Some were less than thankful when they had to pay. Then, many a time, my parents were called mean and grasping Jews or words to that effect.

We lived behind and on top of the shop.
Our house did not have much luxury. The toilet was outside in the garden and the kitchen was also the bathroom. The bath was under the kitchen table. There was no hot water.
They later knocked the whole neighbourhood down and replaced it with a new slum of ugly, high-rise council flats. 
Deacon Street, the street we lived in, does not exist any more.

When I was 6 my parents sent me to a Jewish boarding school in Hove. Before that, I spent a lot of my time playing alone in our parlour, that was behind the shop.
My mother used to bring women back into the parlour to try on clothes. As a young child I saw lots of bras and corsets. At the same time I saw my mother again.
The women in their underwear often gave me a cuddle and a kiss.

I have always appreciated lingerie.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

What's in a name, what's in an ethnic identity?

My parents remembered the Laibovitch family from the Lithuanian community in the East End. They had moved, like my parents, to the Elephant & Castle. 
They changed their surname from Laibovitch to Lawson.

Their son Stuart and I went to the same secondary school: Strand grammar in Brixton. In the beginning I had little contact with him as he was in a parallel class. I remember him as quiet, nondescript, almost invisible. Most of the Jewish kids were like that.

Brixton was a tough neighbourhood. There was the usual anti-Semitism at the school. The word “Jew” was an insult. Being Jewish was seen as an impediment. Like being black or Asian or having something wrong with you physically. These were all reasons for bullying.
So, if you were almost invisible like Stuart, there was less chance you would be bullied.

I saw him more when we were in the 6th form together. But even then there was not much contact. We had different interests. He was into maths and sciences, I was all history and literature.
There was also a difference with regard to politics. I was part of a trio of political agitators who were trying to “improve” the world.  We used to get into trouble with the school authorities. Stuart would never stick his neck out for something like politics.

When I was eighteen, I left England. I never saw Stuart after that.
Simon, an old friend of mine, remained in touch with him for the rest of his life. The sister of another friend, Vivian, had intermittent contact with him. 
Simon told me his story.

After university, Stuart started in actuary. He did not like it, so he switched to an academic career. He took his PhD and then became a lecturer at Warwick University.
He progressed up the university ladder and eventually was given the title of “reader”, which in the UK, “denotes an appointment for a senior academic with a distinguished international reputation in research or scholarship”.
He married Christine, who was a devout Christian. They had no children.

He died at the age of 59 from a heart attack. Simon and Vivian received an invitation for the burial service - in a church.
Simon was surprised. He knew Stuart as a secular Jew, an atheist. He had never talked about becoming a Christian.
Vivian was angry and did not go. But then, Vivian is different. She is the pesky in-your-face Jew. Proud of her heritage and an ardent Zionist as well.

Simon went. He said the service started with the singing of hymns and speeches. Then the microphone was passed around and many of Stuart’s friends and colleagues said a few words about him.
What struck Simon was the fact that nobody mentioned his early life. Nobody mentioned his ethnic background, that he was a Jew, the grandson of immigrants from Lithuania.

As a teenager, Stuart had started his attempt to become invisible as a Jew. He had succeeded so well that he was now being buried in a Christian graveyard.

Monday, 1 August 2016

You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs

We all completely and categorically condemn (calls for) genocide without any ifs and buts. Do we not? No, we do not. Well at least not where I live.
It is now mainstream in the Netherlands to at least “understand” (calls for) the genocide of 6.4 million Israeli Jewish men, women and children. Two recent incidents have illustrated this.

The first was a letter from the Dutch Foreign Ministry.
A Palestinian crept into the bedroom of a 13 year old Israeli Jewish girl and stabbed her to death. Usually the whole world condemns the willful murder of a 13 year old girl. However, she was an Israeli Jew and that makes it different.
The Palestinian news agency referred to the murderer as a martyr of the resistance and called on others to kill random Israeli Jews.
The Netherlands had subsidized this news agency. So, a Jewish organization asked the Dutch Foreign Ministry to condemn the murder and the incitement.

In its reply, the Foreign Ministry did not only refuse to condemn the murder and incitement to genocide. It also referred to them as acts of resistance against the occupation.
I have the impression that the Dutch Foreign Ministry’s idea of peace in Israel/Palestine is the peace of a large Jewish cemetery.

The second incident was a recent television programme on the Dutch public network.
The Lebanese Belgian, Dyab Abou JahJah was invited to be the guest of an evening-long programme that was intended to be a podium for his ideas and beliefs.

The British press calls him a, “controversial fanatic who glorified the murder of British soldiers”. For Douglas Murray he is “a well-known thug on the Continent, particularly in Belgium and Holland”. He is banned from entering the UK.

For the mainstream Dutch media he is salonfähig. They refer to him as an “activist” and “publicist”.
Abou JaJah hates a lot of things, but his most intense hatred is reserved for “Zionists” and Israel. He is a cheerleader for those who would kill all “Zionists” and Israeli Jews.

Abou JahJah has little influence with Muslims. His father is Shia and his mother Christian. He wanted to fight for Hezbollah. The Muslims in Belgium and the Netherlands are Sunni. He is a marked man.
He may have little influence among Muslims, but he is the darling of the regressive left in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The basic definition of political Zionism is that Jews are a people and have a right to self-determination like all other peoples. According to Pew surveys some 90% of world Jewry, about 13 million people, agree with this.
Abou JahJah supports the mass murder of all “Zionists”.

How can the regressive left support this call for genocide?
I was given the answer forty-six years ago in Menorca. Before the arrival of Muslims in the Netherlands. I was drinking in a small bar in a fishing village with a Dutch revolutionary who later became a bookseller.
He looked at me earnestly with his Che Guevara stare and said in a tipsy voice:
 “Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs”.