Perfect Family Tales And Other Trivia

The art of the short-story writer is that of the cartoonist. It is the magical craft of creating entire worlds with a few simple strokes of a pen. Tales told by an idiot? Maybe! But my tales are also a mix of reality and fantasy; truth and lies; some based on my own family; others, not. Readers must guess which characters are real; who are inventions - and who are an amalgam of both. Please draw the boundaries for yourself.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

‘The Hourglass’

‘A time to mourn” - Ecclesiastes 3:4

HourglassCrazier than cracked paving,

we’ve punched the unforgiving

wall; tried to beat the clock, drilled the hourglass to spin balletic twirls,

watching, weighing, one-by-one,

the unceasing flow of sand grains

that will rub us raw until we meet again. 

We promised that we’d never

leave you. But we’ve had to

let you go. Now we’ll each clasp

you singly, leave a lingering,

heartsick kiss; a warming gift

to ease the lonely journey to

your eternal home.

Adele.Biton.Funeral

 

Darling, beloved daughter,

our life - enormous soul –

how hard for us to comprehend

that your fleeting time on

earth has gone.

 

Once – a thousand times! –

you’d shrug off sleep –

romp, wriggle, excite those

near you in your rush for life;

to honour, cherish, Heaven’s name.

 

Here you’re at eternal rest;

in a place where none else may lie,

where great men ponder what

tribute more they may offer to

a mite aged four, who’d

barely learnt to laugh before

been taught to die.

---------------

Author’s Note:  Adele Biton, a four-year-old Israeli, died of pneumonia on Tuesday 17 February 2015, two years after she sustained critical head wounds when the car in which she was travelling on Route 5 in Samaria was attacked by rock-throwing Palestinians. She is survived by her parents, three sisters and an infant brother, who was born a few months before her passing. The poem above is based on the eulogies at her funeral.

---------------

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 19 February 2015)

Sunday, 15 February 2015

‘Wonderful Copenhagen’

Dan.Uzan“Hi, I’m  Dan Uzan and I’ve been standing guard outside the Great Synagogue, in Copenhagen. It’s  bitterly cold but I can deal with that.

’Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen ...’

“ I love whistling that sweet old tune.

’What a friendly old girl of a town  ...’

“I’m Danish-born and I went to a Jewish school here as a boy. I loved playing basketball and  I studied Economics before spending some time in Israel where I polished up my Hebrew. I was really pleased I did that.

“Then when I returned home ‘I sailed down the Kattegat through the harbour and up to the quay and there she stood waiting for me with a welcome so warm and so gay…’

“It was almost  like having a bit-part in a movie about our most famous writer. Te-da, te-da, ‘wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen ...’

So now I’m here, on this merry batmitzvah party night, marking a sweet young girl’s entry into adult Jewish life.

“Believe me, I am really honoured  to serve as a volunteer security guard patrolling this grand, historic building.

Gt Synagogue Copenhagen“I’m aware, of course, that a place of prayer should be a haven of peace, not a fortress of fear. But as I’m here, I’ll do my level best to help to make things safe. I’m sure that later, the family – they’re lovely people -will offer to share a schnapps with me. This way, I’ll enjoy their festivities all the more.

“But tonight, it’s really important to put their welfare before my own comfort. As it’s Saturday evening, it doesn’t matter that I’ll get to bed late; I can always sleep in on Sunday morning …

“But, hey! What was that terrible bang? If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was  a gun-shot.

“Na! Couldn’t be. Not now. I know something bad happened here in July 1985, when this same synagogue was bombed  by  Palestinian  terrorists. But that was almost 30 years ago.

“Luckily, no-one was hurt at the synagogue – although there were casualties at an airline office. And everyone knows that lightning can’t strike twice in the same place.

“Can it?

“Surely not in our glorious city  – with the  pretty mermaid, gardens, castle, palaces - and visits to the house of our one and only Hans Christian Andersen.

“He was great friends with many Jewish people of his era and even mentioned us in some of his stories.

“But I’m in a mess now. I’ve got something like splinters in my eyes. They’re very painful. I don’t understand what’s going on but it seems like the late wartime monarch, King Christian X is walking in a state procession.

“Oops! I’m embarrassed to report he’s not wearing his clothes! Your Majesty – please have some of mine.

“Speaking of clothing, I know it’s only a silly myth that you wore a  Star  of  David   badge  in  solidarity   with  the  Jewish  community when the Nazis were in power.

“But you did finance the transport of Danish Jews to unoccupied Sweden, so they would be safe from Nazi persecution.

“With respect Sir, perhaps you now wonder why you made that effort. They say that life for Swedish Jews is even worse than it is here.

“Oh, dear. That’s it! My fault! Somehow, I’ve got ice-shards in my eyes. That’s why everything’s become so  dark, ugly ... I’m beginning to believe that the Snow Queen’s come back. I can’t see straight … Everything is distorted - hurts …  How horrible. I won’t be able to stand guard again … Not in my old life, anyway …

Now I’ll sail away, singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen for me …’

------------

Author’s note:The gunman believed to have attacked a Copenhagen synagogue and a free-speech event on Saturday 14 February 2015 was a Danish-born 22-year-old known to police because of past violence, gang-related activities and possession of weapons ...” (Guardian newspaper report).

------------

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 16 February 2015)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Alwayswriteagain: ‘Notes on the Nature of Love’

Alwayswriteagain: ‘Notes on the Nature of Love’: While the weather’s  cold, wet and nasty, there’s no better way of beating it than by snuggling up with a good book – on a sofa - with your ...

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

‘Ha, Ha! All in a Funny Week’s Work’

Hebdo.MagazineAt least  a dozen people died and five more were severely injured when the Paris offices of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were attacked mid-week by a gang of Islamic hooded commandos.

“It’s carnage!” cried Police official, Luc Poignard.

“Oui! That’s showbiz!” yelled the Islamic angel of death.  “You’re the ‘dagger’ I see before me and the Prophet has been avenged.

“Indeed, M. Policier, the diabolical humour in the meaning of your name is not lost on us. And if you think that’s funny, please remember how  in 2011 we gutted Hebdo’s H. Q.  after it dared to mock the Prophet Muhammad on its filthy infidel front cover. Another evil prank.

“Then a year later, again they tested our temper with more defaming, degrading cartoons. Don’t let Hebdo tell us that our Prophet is not sacred and that its scapegrace editor does not follow Sharia law.

“The first is -  and the other will – or else! We, the self-appointed guardians of Islam will persist in showing everyone who’s boss, even if we must terrorize, murder and otherwise obliterate all that gets in our way.

“Comprenez-vous?

“By the way, before we part company, I have to tell you about something that happened earlier this week which really was most amusing:

“An unknown Labour Party woman politician from the English provinces  hit the headlines simply for publishing a fake version of a rival Conservative Party poster showing the entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Remember? It was the place where the Nazis murdered millions of people – mostly Jews.

“She’s been suspended by her party. But I can’t think why. It was a great joke and only  about scummy, sleaze-bag Jews. British people have no sense of humour. And that’s their loss”.

-----

Author’s note: The title of the magazine Hebdo is the shortened form of hebdomadaire  and means ‘weekly magazine’.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 07 January 2015)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

‘Just a Snippet’

‘Outcry over department store bras for two-year-olds’ (U.K. newspaper report)

“Hey, sweetheart! Wake up!” Mel urged Angie.

“I don’t want to be mean. But today you must be quick. Remember? We’ve got a bus to catch so we can be in London for our special appointment at 12 o’clock”.

“But, Daddy …”

“Don’t argue, darling. Not today, please. Just go into the bathroom and wash while I get our breakfast ready. Then when you’ve eaten, all you have to do is to brush your teeth”.

Infant.Underwear“But Dadd-eee”, said six-year-old Angie,  using her best wheedle. “I don’t need a wash. I had a bath at bedtime last night. Remember”?

“Yes, I remember. But you’ve had a sleep since then. Please, just go and …”

“But Daddy. It’s not fair. I can’t be dirty. I didn’t have any dreams. Anyway, Daddy”, added Angie, as she crawled out of bed and began to take off her pyjamas. I’ve got to tell you about something I need. Real bad”.

“What’s that?” called back Mel, beginning to canter downstairs.

“All the girls in my class are wearing bras. I want one too”.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 14 December 2014)

Monday, 24 November 2014

‘Aunt Lucy’s Last Stand’

(With apologies to Michael Bond and friends!)

Paddington.Bear.Aunt.LucyAunt Lucy snapped back the brim of her  favourite black hat, then looked very hard and cross at her reflection in the mirror.

“This won’t do”, she said. “Things may not be good in darkest Peru. But - my word - they’re much worse in London!

“So while I’m far too old to go gallivanting, when I learn that my favourite nephew is in need of ‘parental guidance’, I know that I have no choice”.

So without further ado, she wrapped her grandest shawl around her shoulders; pushed her feet into wellington boots left unworn since she’d become resident at the Home for Retired Bears, and double-checked the contents of her outsized reticule:

  • Half-dozen 16oz jars Darkest Peruvian Vintage Coarse Cut Marmalade (suitable only for persons aged 18 years and over, not to be supplied to anyone below that age)
  • Two score and ten bars 70% extra-bitter, plain chocolate (suitable only for persons aged 15 years and over, not to be supplied to anyone below that age) 
  • Three dozen clean pairs unmentionables in case of accidents (please don’t ask!)
  • Assault rifle and floor plan for use at Natural History Museum, London (violent content warning)

At last Aunt Lucy felt she was ready to leave for her arduous journey. But native good manners made her reach for her telephone to make an urgent call.

It took her a few minutes to find the correct number. But with help from a  gentleman at international telephone enquiries, whom she discovered was a distant cousin and spoke excellent Spanish plus an array of minor Amazonian languages, she was connected to  a line in London.

A friendly voice answered almost at once.

“Hello, Paul King here. May I ask who’s calling?”

“Hello, indeed!”, said Aunt Lucy, sounding most imposing. “If you don’t know who I am, what could happen next doesn’t bear consideration”.

“Oh, Aunt Lucy, said King, his voice oozing like melting butter on hot toast. “I thought you’d be with us by now. You know that our bio-pic, Paddington,  devoted entirely to the exploits of your wonderful nephew, is due to open this week. We do hope you can join us. It’s going to be so much fun”.

”I don’t know how you can say that, Mr King. I understand you’ve – well – given my bear ideas above his station. Up to now he’s always led a sheltered life; first with me; then with the Browns in their quiet suburban house. I don’t know whether I want him mixing with Hollywood riff-raff. I find it all highly irregular”.

“But, Aunt Lucy. I – er, I mean we - ”

“Please don’t interrupt, Paul, there’s a good boy”, said Aunt Lucy, using his first name as her patience began to fray. “I really can’t bear that sort of behaviour. It’s not seemly of a film director and writer.

“I simply want to speak to you before I arrive in London as I don’t think we’ll have a chance for serious conversation amid all the razzamatazz. What I must emphasise is that I don’t want ‘Paddington’ - as all you British folk insist on calling him – to be exposed to any dangerous behaviour, threats, sex references or bad language. No matter that it’s all ‘mild’. The word’s very subjective and as I must keep reminding everyone, he’s still very unworldly for a lad who was born in 1958. I  suppose it was the era as much as anything. But never mind that, now”.

“Please don’t worry”, said King, relieved to get a word in. “There’s no ‘sex’ – just ‘innuendo’; the bad language is only infrequent and anyway, everyone says the film is bloody marvellous”. Paddington.Bear

“That’s what I mean”, said Aunt Lucy, exasperated. “I think this is the real reason why that Colin Firth chappie said – what audacity – ‘he simply doesn’t have my voice’. Surely, Mr Firth means that he doesn’t have my nephew’s voice. But never mind. This is what happens when people lose track of who they are. In my day, there were places for everyone and everything, with all in their proper place. Now, while I’m in the mood, I’d like to speak to Michael Bond. He’s got my bear into a terrible scrape here and I want to know why. Mr King – Paul – are you still there … ?”

-----------

Author’s Note: Paddington opens in London on Friday 28 November 2014 with a ‘P.G.’ – ‘Parental Guidance rating.

It premieres in Israel with the title הדב פדינגטון  (literally, The Bear Paddington) on 26 March 2015 with a Universal rating.

------------

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 24 November 2014)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

‘Still Breaking News’

Arbeit macht frei

November 10 2014

Today I was astounded to receive a letter from Hilde Herrmann.

I was thunderstruck as I had neither seen nor heard from her in more than seventy years.

The very sight of her signature was so shocking that I began to tremble quite violently and when I picked up the glass I’d used at breakfast, it fell from my hand and smashed into the kitchen sink.

Glassware.1940sThe last of a set that I’d  used since Mummy died, it now lay scattered in a thousand champagne-coloured shards, an apt finale to what had been a terrible chapter in family lore.

Hilde Hermann – together, her names mean  ‘battle warrior’ – stormed into our lives for six weeks from early January 1940.

She was brought to England during the Children's Transport rescue scheme that helped youngsters escape Nazi Europe. But she was not the underfed, docile waif delivered to other willing foster families.

Not Hilde! Then aged 12, she had supposedly been orphaned well before the war and was somehow manoeuvred on to a convoy leaving Berlin. But she was like a cuckoo in a nest, much taller than average and enormously fat.

To begin, my mother enjoyed watching  her fairly demolish everything on the dinner table. But  she had to keep an eye on our wartime rations and more than once, discreetly asked her to leave something for everyone else.

Hilde suffered disturbed nights and from the first, we heard her moaning endlessly in her sleep, then waking and prowling the landing by the half-hour.

The Kindertransport authorities either were unaware or refrained from advising my parents that Hilde had long endured far more than the fear and ritual humiliations heaped on other Jews a couple of months earlier during Kristallnacht.  Uncommon for the times – especially in the Jewish community – she had not only been conceived out-of-wedlock but had been abandoned soon after birth.    

My darling, sweet-natured father intended that she would become a sister for me, his spoilt, precious only child. But it was not to be. Instead, she scared me witless; shouting, pulling, sometimes hitting me when we were supposed to be playing quiet ‘girls’ games’.

Matters grew darker when items in the house began to disappear. First, went the loose change on the hall table that Daddy always removed from his overcoat when he returned from work. Then he couldn’t find his mother of pearl cufflinks and Mummy’s carefully hoarded stash  of sweeties vanished without a trace. Mother.of.Pearl.Cufflinks.1940s

But worse was to come and Hilde’s continuing antics frightened even my parents:

Next, the night-time prowls became goose-stepped stomps up and down the stairs. Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil,” she’d chant just loud enough for us to hear.

Then one night – no, two nights together – I peeked from my bedroom doorway as she strutted down the stairs, out through the front door and slammed it behind her.

Despite the freezing winter air and wearing nothing but her nightdress, she remained  in the front garden for some time before banging  on the door with a broken brick, demanding to be let back in.

My parents were kindly, gentle people who rarely raised their voices, even in a crowd.

“But”, said Daddy in Yiddish after the second and most desperate night, “genug ist genug – enough is enough”.

After he’d run down stairs to rescue her and gently coaxed her back between the covers, he returned to his own bed hoping for a few hours’ rest before the alarm clock rang.

But Hilde did not stay in bed for long and started shuffling about, scraping the bedroom stool in front of the three-winged dressing-table mirror.

I was now so anxious that I plucked up enough courage to creep out of my bedroom, push her door barely ajar and kneel on the floor watching what she did.

“Bad girl! Wicked girl!” she hissed at her now seated reflection. Then,  her face contorted with rage, she rose, leaned across  and wielding the  rear-side of Mummy’s silver-backed hairbrush, began hitting the three  glass panels with all her might and main.

I’m still awe-struck when I recall Hilde’s hysterical accuracy and precision. She smashed each part in turn. First in half; then quarters, then eighths, smaller and smaller, screaming louder and louder until her work was done.

As everything went quiet, I realised that Mummy and Daddy had been standing behind me as Hilde’s  performance raged on.

Then they motioned me to go back to my room, somehow propelled Hilde into their bed and went downstairs for what remained of the night.

Everything else that happened became a blessed blur. I believe Daddy contacted the Kindertransport authorities early the next day and Hilde was sent away.

She must have had an amazing cure because, so Mummy reported,  soon after the war a large, carefully wrapped parcel arrived at the house.

It was a gift of glassware with a brief note attached inside:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Selwyn

“I’m feeling a lot better now and want to thank you for your kind hospitality when I first came to England. It’s true, you know. Work really does make you free.

Best wishes.

H. H.”

And the letter I received from her today?

It was to say that she’s returned to North London after a peripatetic life; has discovered I still live in my parents’ house and would like to get in touch.

But the very  idea appalled –frightened -me afresh. So I took the paper; folded it in half, quarters,  then eighths and tore the pile to shreds. It’s still lying on the table next to me as I jot this note.

Perhaps later, when I feel less fragile, I’ll go into the garden and make a bonfire. Like Hilde said, work can make you free.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 11 November 2014)