Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

A Week in London

Shefers in London, photo by friendly passerby

The Israeli government issued a travel warning for all Israelis going abroad. The animosity towards Israel, the massive pro-Palestinian (and hence anti-Israel) demonstrations all over the world threatened the welfare of Hebrew-speakers everywhere. But we had booked long ago to spend a week in London in November and meet friends, preferring to avoid the summer because our visit last year had been spoiled by the searing heatwave of July. And since we speak English we decided to go anyway.

The first thing we noticed when travelling on the tube (underground) was that London is full of foreigners speaking every language under the sun, ranging from Gujarati to Serbo-Croat and all stations in between, and that this didn’t seem to bother anybody. I doubt that the average Londoner would be able to identify Hebrew if he or she heard it and would display animosity to whoever was speaking it. On the contrary, whenever Yigal and I got into a crowded tube carriage younger people immediately vacated their seats to enable us to sit down (presumably our grey hair has that effect).

All the meetings we had arranged with friends (not all of them Jewish) were exciting and heartwarming. People showed sympathy and understanding for Israel’s situation, and were especially kind to us, inviting us to lunch and tea, displaying warmth and affection beyond anything we had anticipated. We were also invited by a friend to lunch at the House of Lords and were able to attend a session and even sit in on David Cameron’s maiden speech there as Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton just after his appointment as Foreign Secretary. His tall, handsome and relatively young presence contrasted starkly with the rather elderly appearance of most of the other members of the House. And of course, his speech was erudite and full of dry English humour. Just seeing the workings of that establishment (procession of the Mace, matters of procedure, frock-coated attendants) was an unforgettable experience.

We were very fortunate in being able to meet old friends, some of them from my schooldays, others from my time at university, and most of them seeming to have grown old gracefully and in reasonably good health.

London has changed in some respects and remained the same in others. Travellers on the tube are now subjected to constant exhortations to take note of anything untoward, upon which they are required to: ‘See it. Say it. Sorted.’ I don’t think my English teacher at school would have approved of that mangled version of the language. ‘Mind the Gap,’ which used to be the catchphrase of choice, seems to have gone out of favour (but there don’t seem to be as many gaps between the train and the platform as before).

Culture in London is still a constant attraction, with plenty of exhibitions, concerts and plays. Since we were limited in time and availability, we ended up attending only one play, ‘Dear England,’ about the difficulties of being the manager of the English soccer team. It was produced and performed in a lively and original fashion, with plenty of fit young men in shorts jumping and running around on the stage, as well as declaiming their parts in a variety of regional accents, which did not help us always to understand what was being said. But it was a spectacle that was presented with a great deal of lively originality, and the ice-cream we had in the interval was as good as ever.

Throughout the week I found myself frequently downing ‘a nice cup of tea,’ whether in our hotel room or outside, and got through the whole week without a single cup of coffee. And of course, the crowning glory was being able to enjoy fish and chips in the local pub. On one of our visits there we met a Canadian couple playing bridge, each with their individual ipad on either side of the table. On another occasion we found ourselves sitting next to a French couple who were evidently enjoying their meal of chicken wings. There’s no denying that England’s time-honoured institutions and way of life are still going strong, attracting tourists and helping the British economy to flourish. We did not encounter a single smidgin of animosity and were able to return home refreshed and reinvigorated just in time to watch the return of the first batch of hostages from captivity in Gaza.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.