Chapter 1 : How To Become An Immigrant
By the time the Six Day War in Israel was over in 1967, in less than a week indeed, my priorities were much the same as they were before it began and had been for several years while I had been working in the BBC Television Newsroom at Alexandra Palace typing the news of that war and a number of others. I was looking for a father. Not my own, but a prospective father for my unborn children.
You might imagine that there would be plenty of reasonable opportunities for finding what I needed in the busy world of TV News with editors, journalists, cameramen, crew, ‘old Uncle Tom C and all’ daily popping in and out from around the country and across the globe. This is without including a few of the permanent newsreaders employed not only for their dulcet tones but to keep every kind of female fan happy from those adoring the old-school type Bob Dougall, to the ex-naval Richard Baker and heart-throb Michael Aspel among them.
Affairs or simple sexual flings were not quite as common as they might be today when condomised, one-night stands are just part of the party or any scene. And, indeed, I probably thought then that such careless mating is not the worthiest way in which to introduce new life onto the planet, despite living my halcyon days in the ‘fab’ sixties. Some serious thinking should surely go into that project as a first step to protecting the progeny. I imagined then that I was trying to be ‘responsible’, well sort of.
Bearing a child, though, was definitely in my mind. Thinking about the real consequences of that action or emigrating to foreign parts was not. Indeed, I had already emigrated once to Australia for ten pounds and returned after three years convinced that despite the call of the wild, or at least the wide open spaces, my heart belonged to Europe. Daddy was also pleased that I returned.
This adventure had taken place in the early sixties when I should have been smoking pot and running around in bare feet with flowers in my hair. Somehow I missed the great love-ins while I was juggling with an 2nd World War .303 jungle carbine given to me unexpectedly for a birthday present from my current lover, a wild, travelin’ man. The gun was for practice-shooting in the outback and occasionally hitting a rabbit. The rabbits, I should add, had recovered from that dreadful ‘myxi’ disease and were reproducing again at a great rate. Maybe it was that which sparked the urge in me in my mid-twenties to get on with the job. The travelin’ man, French by nationality and Communist by political inclination, was not interested in adding to a grossly over-populated world or in giving up the travelling. So by 1963 I guessed it was time to give him up and return to the Old Country.
I was already thirty when war broke out, the Six Day War that is, with the Newsroom jubilantly watching film footage of Egypt’s fighter planes being bombed on the ground and put out of action. That was an Israel attacked from all quarters and under siege – the underdog the British love so much. How the world changes and the dogs in it.
I had not been without suitors during my six years at Ally Pally, some suitable, some not, but fatherhood was either not on their agenda with me or on mine with them. Heigh ho, thought I, as plans refused to progress and time marched on. But I began to realize that anxiety was the worst way to come at getting a plan together, or even getting pregnant. So I decided to relax, sit it out and forget all about it for a while, more or less. A few months later, a young man knocked at my bed-sit door in a rather weird state. By that I do not mean he was wearing flowers in his hair or smoking the weed, as some in the house might. Rather his thick, dark hair seemed to be spattered with green highlights smelling of verdigris, his hands were shaking and his face covered in black streaks. He looked for all the world like a soldier camouflaged for the jungle. He held a box of matches in a slightly trembling fist.
Today one might immediately think of terrorists but then it seemed to me that the only terrified person nearby was this unfortunate fellow. I gathered, through an unfamiliar foreign accent and much arm waving, that the man had recently fought in the Six Day War and had not been scared at all but that on this night he had been frankly overcome with fear. Naturally I asked him in, despite the hair, sat him down with a coffee and discovered that he had nearly succeeded in blowing up our geyser in the only bathroom in the large house. Having never seen such a monster machine before, and using little common-sense, this recent arrival to London decided to tackle it stage by stage, for he realized it had to be lit to heat the water. Excellent initial reasoning. It did not occur to him, however, to ask for help in the lighting of it. He was, after all, a fully qualified engineer and an ‘officer and gentleman’ of the Artillery.
Ours was a coin operated boiler and my unexpected guest had found the requisite pence and put them in the slot. This of course allowed the gas to be turned on. Without any matches to hand he opened the gas, turning the pilot light as indicated into the cylinder and then left the bathroom to find some matches. After several minutes searching in his room along the corridor he found the matchbox, returned to the bathroom and put a lighted match to the boiler. The explosion which ensued certainly cleaned out the old boiler and deposited much of the coppery silt on the young man’s head and streaked his face with soot. It was in this sad state that this new tenant knocked on my door for sympathy and practical advice in getting a bath, which he now needed more surely than he had before.
The language problem was quite difficult to overcome as my visitor, it transpired later, had no way of pronouncing the awful English ‘th’ and therefore when he explained that he needed a bus, I naturally asked him where he wanted to go and if he wanted to take a bath first. “I must get bus,” he repeated, and wanted to know if there was upstairs…and water. Again, at complete cross purposes and totally bemused by the conversation, I explained that all the buses in our area were
double-deckers and none were open-topped so you didn’t get rained upon. Once again I asked where he wanted to go. Clearly he understood nothing and looking at me with some desperation said “Pleez come to bus room with me.” The penny suddenly dropped and I was unable to contain my laughter but he followed me rather diffidently to the bathroom where I cleaned up the mess and showed him how to light the geyser, amazingly still operational, and run a bus. Well, I actually ran the first bus for him and still giggling returned to my little flat. Now, as it happened, that bus was the first stage on the road to emigration.
The second stage came after the clean-up and a return visit when I noticed that the ‘chimney sweep’ had turned into a rather handsome, quite charmingly funny and enthusiastic Israeli engineer, who had a permit to work for a while in London and hoped to take a Masters degree in Concrete Technology at Imperial College. It occurred to me that building a concrete bunker to cope with unexpected explosions might indeed prove useful but, then again, a degree in plumbing perhaps even more useful.
The third stage followed when our first son was on the way and we were having a pre-marital honeymoon touring Spain and Portugal in an old Ford Thames van called Ermintrude. We had converted Ermintrude to a motor-caravan by installing a hand-made, fold-down double bed, an old telly case to house blankets, a little sink and cooker unit and a bench seat and table. After losing the first gear in the first week, we were steeply approaching the high view point of Puerto de Palares in the Cordillera of Northern Spain when my resourceful or panicky engineer, depending on your viewpoint, suddenly steered the van round across the road and braked hard. We were then facing down the precipitous mountain route we had just climbed up. With a quick hand movement he shifted the gears and made the last 200 yards up the road to the summit viewing area, zig-zagging in reverse. I never quite understood the purpose of this manoeuvre, unless the driver feared he would not make the summit in second gear and had nowhere else to go gear-wise.
Without a prior explanation for this stunt I might have had kittens at that point but was fortunately pregnant with child.
It was somewhere in the greener North of Spain, when we were parked in a quiet spot on a slope of rocky terrain as usual, and Arni was jacking up Ermintrude with boulders as I was throwing the tea leaves out of the door before reading the remains, that he said, “What do you think about marriage?”
“Quite a nice idea”, I replied and “are you by any chance asking me to marry you?”
“Hmm” was all he answered and carried on searching for boulders. Nothing further was said on the subject and somehow we managed to drive a couple of hundred miles in the forward facing direction to Oporto and the nearest Ford garage, without a first gear and with some broken springs.
Ermintrude was repaired and after a number of hair-raising rides and visits to fantastic, out-of-the-way places and filling her with diesel instead of petrol on one occasion, we returned safely to England and the baby was born a few months later and only three weeks early.
After affording us that unforgettable trip, Ermintrude was sadly sold following a too close encounter with another vehicle on a roundabout near Bushey, Herts. Arni had been on his way to the maternity home to make an acquaintance with his first-born son when the collision occurred. No doubt his mind was elsewhere at the time and I, with no idea of the circumstances, was naturally upset that he did not appear for several hours after the birth, and even when he finally arrived did not explain why he was late for fear of upsetting me at a delicate time. How strange are the workings of the male mind. I was left berating him for his lack of care at such an important time in both our lives and wondering why he looked so distracted, despite his obvious joy and amazement when holding his tiny first son who weighed just over five pounds.
I finally decided that Arni was not cut out for the physical business of giving birth even at one removed, especially as he had previously brought me a book to read, Teach Yourself Hebrew, when I was enduring the final stages of labour. But Arni did turn out to be a very practical Dad, not being in the least squeamish at changing nappies and bathing the baby. But to return to dear old Ermintrude, after being patched and touched up she was sold to an enthusiastic young man who wanted to go on safari across the Sahara desert. I only hope he made it!
Despite doubting my sanity in contemplating a partnership with a second wild man, our Register Officer marriage took place six months later in Harrow, where we had bought a little end-terrace house. Our best man was Arni’s jolly office colleague from Guyana called Orson Forbes, married to a pleasant English girl. I remember his name particularly because of his namesake Orson Welles, a much larger man but no doubt as nimble on his feet for all that, as was our Orson who was a natural dancer with bags of rhythm. My best friend, Jo, was matron of honour and she held the murmuring baby Adam at the Register Office, causing some consternation and laughter in the reception area, hosting three marriage parties, when she looked straight across at me to ask whether baby needed a bottle yet.
I had prepared and set out the wedding breakfast and chilled the champagne at home ready for our return from the ceremony with family and a few friends. Having forgotten to slowly de-frost the turkey in time to cook it, I’d had to leave it in a bath of salty water for hours on the wedding eve and get it hastily dressed, roasted and ready to carve before making the rest of the food for serving on the day. This little effort, alongside sorting out my mini-skirted wedding outfit, feeding and dressing the baby, finding my husband’s tie and laying the table, was all that was left for me to do on the wedding morning. What luxury!
Whether or not tea-leaves and turkeys provide good omens, we had a second son two years later and only then was the idea mooted that I might like to emigrate to Israel, lock, stock and two bouncing babies. I asked my Irish neighbour, Helen Burke, what she thought of this. The Burkes were a lovely family and she tearfully told me “Sure we’ll all miss ye, but we’ll be back to Ireland ourselves shortly and could ye please help us to get our stuff to Waterloo Station.”
These honest folk couldn’t afford to hire a van, so Arni set off on two practice refugee runs; tables, bedding and boxes roped to the roof of our old Austin A40 and spilling out of the windows. On the first run, two bright-eyed, little ginger-haired boys and their mother were balanced precariously on heaps of belongings in the back of the car. They would remain with the luggage at the station and wait for Dad to come back with the rest of it on the second run. Where there’s a will! Well, they made it to Cork where they happily settled in a village outside the town and as far as I know, and God willing, will still be thereabouts today. We kept in touch for many years.
During his first five years in England my husband became infatuated not only with antique chairs, and a few larger pieces we could barely afford from the Railway Shop, a house clearance business by a bridge over the tracks in Harrow Weald, but also with vintage cars. First Arni bought a derelict, wooden 3-wheeler Morgan from the Forest of Dean which went nowhere after it was unloaded from a trailer and parked at my parent’s country cottage in the Cotswolds, much to my father’s consternation. That was sold on at a loss. Finally he bought a vintage Rolls Royce which needed and got a complete engine reconstruction by a marvelous engineer working from a garage in his back garden, at a price we could not afford but somehow did. We called her Rosie. My husband also found a little caravan at a bargain price which also needed some attention. He apparently had in his mind the sacrilegious idea of towing it behind Rosie, after fixing a tow-bar to her chassis! “How could he?” …I can hear the RR Enthusiasts scream.
It was our intention to make a leisurely three-week journey across France and into Italy, savouring the delights of countryside, art and architecture on the way, and then take the boat from Napoli to Haifa with Rosie, caravan, children et al on board. The rest of the furniture, nearly antique or otherwise was to be shipped by door-to-door container service.
There were a few hurdles yet to cross. Firstly the final stage to becoming a new immigrant to the State of Israel. This involved searches, paperwork, interviews and final granting of immigrant status for me, the non-Jewish wife of an Israeli born and bred citizen. This did not give me citizenship, simply concessions as a new immigrant intending to settle permanently in Israel. The two sons automatically received the nationality of the father. The prime concession for Arni was that I could be the registered owner of a car which could be imported free of tax. The only difficulty was that I needed not only to be the owner but to hold a driver’s licence. To that point in my life in 1973, I had only driven a scooter of 150cc and my licence did not cover a car, let alone an antique. I had to take a test. By this time Arni had organized everything, including boat tickets for the second week in May for the Napoli to Haifa run. I had time only to have fifteen driving lessons and had to pass the test, otherwise Rosie and the rest of the family were going nowhere. My husband had not countenanced failure. I wondered at that stage where my reading of the tea leaves had gone wrong or how I had managed to convince him that I was ‘superwoman’.
The test took place in Harrow Weald and I was fortunate or not to have a big, taciturn Welshman, physical qualities not normally associated with that race, who was retiring from service that very day. Was I the first or the last? He was sternly intimidating. I wondered whether he envisaged going out with a bang or a whimper and laughed to myself despite feeling sick.
I imagined I had completed my 3-point turn without hitting the kerb but was unprepared for the elderly woman who decided to cross the main road in the middle of town at lights that were green. I hit the brakes, without looking in the rear vision mirror, and she stepped back onto the pavement, whereupon I started shakily to check my gears and move off. At the same time the lady, deciding I had been waiting for her, stepped off the pavement again, with a little hesitation and no regard whatsoever for the lights which were still green. Once more I lightly braked to avoid a collision with her, never mind a vehicle about to run into me from behind, and sensed the lights were about to go amber. I gave up, thinking ‘what the hell, it’s too late now’ and revving up in first made it to the left around the corner as my tester, and I, had indicated I should. He had said nothing throughout the incident and shortly afterwards told me to turn right into the Test station. I did not know if I was visibly shaking by then but was certainly inwardly shaking and unable to judge whether bang or whimper covered my own situation, never mind his. I hardly remember reciting anything of the Highway Code to my retiring Welsh examiner.
My husband had asked me to phone him at work to let him know the driving test result. “Well,” he said in eager anticipation, “you passed?”
I was upset, not only by the whole experience but by the fact that our immediate future had been left dependent solely on me while he sat happily doodling at his drawing board. I felt that I did not deserve to be put in such a position and was silent for a moment. I then said “What do you think?” He read this as proof of the fact that I had failed and I could almost see him crumbling with disappointment and anxiety on the other end of the phone.
“Oh, dear”, he said very quietly and sighed very loudly.
“It’s OK, I passed”, I shouted down the phone before slamming it back on the receiver. The return call was ignored but we did open a bottle of wine that night and eagerly go over our travel itinerary with glad hearts and great expectations.