Tel Aviv and a drop or two of kindness.

Yes I know, I’m harping on about my childish adventures in Israel again but this little yarn is worth , I think, the telling.It’s true too.

As you know a long time ago, when I was young and naturally rather brainless (some 30 odd years ago),  I had been messing about on the shores of the Sea of Galilee for a few days, penniless – actually shekeless I was in Israel after all- slightly inebriated and I have to say rather hungry.I also felt somewhat lonely and shall we say a trifle disregarded. In those days empathy and support were unknown quantities in a world that was perhaps less mixed up than it is now.

Anyway, I remember walking down this back street in Tel Aviv, I was looking for the British Consulate and hopefully some kind of way home. God knows how they were going to help but doesn’t a UK passport promise to protect etc etc? albeit that I had no money and no return ticket.

Well, not knowing where on earth this bastion of Empire and well-being was located I walked into a bar and asked for directions. These were duly given and off I went ever hopeful but still nevertheless hungry and yet again fagless (not a pleasant condition for one addicted to tobacco I can tell you).

A few minutes later as I was walking down this street, I suddenly heard some footsteps rushing up behind me. Now, granted I was in a pretty dishevelled state at the time, you know unshaven, lank and generally physically offensive, but I didn’t think I had intentionally offended anyone – it was a sensitive time, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was in full swing so one tended to be on one’s guard as it were.In the event I turned around with a panic-stricken grimace on my face and ready to confront whatever hell was about to be lumped on me.

How wrong I was.

Facing me was this dusky fellow with a serious but not unkind expression on his face. He grabbed my hand, which almost made me jump, and stuffed some shekel notes into it. He then proceeded to stab his mouth with his other hand while jabbering away in Arabic – now I’m no linguist but I knew the difference between Arabic and Hebrew. I stared back at him, still a little disconcerted until the shekel finally dropped.

He was giving me some money to buy myself something to eat.

I still remember that act of unbidden kindness after all these years, the fellow I later realised had been one of the customers sitting in the bar I had walked into. He had obviously recognised my sorry condition and felt obliged to help.So there you have it, during my modest adventures in the Middle East I had experienced acts of kindness (see previous posts) from both Arab and Israeli, it makes you wonder why they can’t sort themselves out doesn’t it?

My story isn’t finished yet though. I took the money with a humility that left me long ago and went off to the nearest bar. Arak time again, oh and some of those spicy kaffaffal things. I later located the Consulate which unfortunately was shut, so I was on my beam-ends yet again with no hope of deliverance.

Night-time arrived and with it another bout of aching hunger and no bed. What was I to do? What indeed. The arak had helped sooth my anxiety but not the empty stomach. I was also shekeless again. Now I might have been young and callow etc but if nothing else I could be resourceful when circumstances demanded. It was survival time, survival that is manifesting itself in my having the cheek to order some grub at a pavement cafe whilst knowing full well that I couldn’t pay for it. Do you know something I still remember what I ordered – lamb cutlets and salad. Remarkable.

Now before any of you start shrieking ‘villain!’,’Welsh cattle thieving brigand!’, ‘scoundrel!’ and so on let me say something by way of mitigation as it were. In my view, I  had been forced into becoming a consummate recidivist (ie reduced by circumstances beyond my control into the commission of a criminal act), that’s my story anyway and I’m sticking to it. Well, having eaten up the lamb cutlets and salad (lovely they were too, I can still taste them!), I looked from  left to right, made sure there wasn’t a waiter lurking about and did a ‘runner’ to use modern parlance.

A few minutes later, submerged in another dingy side street and unable to hear any yells of ‘stop thief’ I realised I was in the clear, full belly and all. At least that’s what I thought at the time.

It was going to be a long night I knew and the only bed I was likely to purloin would be some grotty old bench on Ben Yehuda Street if I was lucky. Nevermind, I remember thinking I still had nearly a full bottle of arak in my pocket so all was not lost. I carried on walking and swigging, until, can you believe it, I felt hungry again. Now you have to understand here that by this time I was not fully compos mentis,the arak had taken its toll and with it all sense of propriety. So what did I do? ‘Runner’ time again seemed the only practical and immediate option.

I eventually found what I thought would be an admirable place to order, eat and do a bunk. Another pavement cafe in fact. I sat down and damn me if I didn’t feel like some lamb cutlets and salad again. Arak can do some funny things to one’s appetite, in fact   I haven’t drank the stuff since.

So, there I was, menu in hand, about to exercise the effrontery to run off without paying again when before I knew what was happening I was being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a defense force land rover!

I had gone back to the cafe I had originally done a ‘runner’ from! It’s true believe me and that’s another reason why I haven’t touched arak since.

But here’s the best bit. Being a Welshman abroad the security boyos didn’t really want much to do with me, too much trouble and paperwork no doubt. In fact I remember this extremely well spoken lieutenant (he had graduated from Cambridge apparently) ordering his burley sergeant to get out of the landrover and buy me a packet of ciggies and a box of matches. They then took me to a youth hostel and paid for me to have a bed for the night (see what I mean about ‘acts of kindness’).

Now you may feel all this is a bit far-fetched but I can assure you the above is exactly what happened, but look out I’m not finished yet.

I eventually arrived back in the UK and do you know what? Finding myself financially embarrassed, twenty parts to the wind and hungry yet again I repeated the same stupid nonsense. Unfortunately my fellow Brits were not so understanding (or generous!) this time, and even after all these years I can still hear the learned judge comment as he fined the pants off me, ‘And before you go, Mr Ruck, I must commend you on your taste in claret and cigars. Now get out of my court!’

JR

PS I’ve just re-read the above and do you know, I’ve just realised that I could well have been on my way to becoming another Dylan Thomas, what the hell happened???

The bland tedium of sobriety that’s what!

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