Juggling income balls in lockdown Britain

Living through difficult economic times

In last month’s post I described myself as a ‘slashie’; someone with several jobs or income streams and discussed the advantages of this lifestyle. The unprecedented situation we are currently facing is destroying many people’s businesses and jobs and when the virus has abated and the lockdown lifted, how many of us will return to the same job I wonder? We are living through extremely uncertain economic times and everybody is anxious. Some people lost their jobs overnight, others are able to work from home and some self-employed people are carrying on despite warnings they must remain at home. Many people are finding themselves in dire situations but thankfully the government have stepped in to help.

Being a slashie means that I juggle many balls at once but it’s great because if one job goes tits up, I can usually rely on one of the others. What happens if all income streams stop? Then I panic. That hasn’t happened yet. It feels as if I’m on a treadmill at the moment, busier than ever, juggling all of my balls at once, trying to stop them all from falling. I had to close my Airbnb, despite being told there is a high demand in my area to host front-line NHS staff working in the local hospital. My concern was to protect my two lodgers and daughter and it would have meant having an extra scrupulous cleansing and disinfecting routine. I couldn’t guarantee anybody’s safety.

As a funeral celebrant it’s quiet at the moment, but I’m mindful that it will get very busy.  There are regulations to keep funerals to a small handful of people. Some families might defer a ceremony and if that’s the case, 2021 will certainly be busy.

My passion is of course writing novels and surprise surprise, I’m writing a romance novel set during the Corona virus. This comes with its challenges and every day I’m keeping a journal so that I don’t forget the train of events as they unfold. How do the characters meet during lockdown? I have some great ideas for clandestine meetings!

As a carer to a disabled person I am busier than ever covering shifts at short notice as members of the team self-isolate. I don’t know from one day to the next if I’ll be working that night but if I don’t cover these shifts and if others don’t either then the disabled person will have to move into a nursing home, until this is all over and not be able to have visitors. The team are trying hard for this not to happen and we desperately need to be tested to see who has already had the virus so that we can plan staffing.

I feel as if I’m running on adrenaline at the moment. Need to relax, I tell myself. Maybe some Netflix until my next shift. Take care and stay safe folk! Here’s hoping this doesn’t last too long.

Lockdown Britain is turning to arts and crafts

Craft cupboard – a crafter’s dream

Greetings card using Cut ‘N’ Boss Machine

Lockdown Britain is a great opportunity for craft lovers to hone their skills and in this post I’d like to share some ideas for craft making. I am a personal assistant to a disabled lady and one of her hobbies is making greetings cards, which is a great hobby to have during self-isolation. Next to writing books, it happens to be my passion too. We both get so engrossed and the hours fly by. She comes up with the ideas and occasionally I make suggestions. She has some fantastic ideas. I follow her instructions – literally every small step of the way so that it feels as if she is doing the task. If I was making a card at home it would be rushed and certainly wouldn’t be the perfect result we achieve doing it together. In effect I do all of the things she isn’t able to do or causes strain. She was  a thalidomide baby born without arms or legs. With no arms and only tiny hands it can be tricky to do craft work but with the aid of implements she does lace making and can paint using her mouth. Thalidomide bodies are wearing out quicker than the average able-bodied person and as a result small tasks can be tiring and even painful, but each thalidomide is different.

The picture in this blog shows a crafter’s dream – a cupboard which looks like a wardrobe on the outside but open, it is a cupboard for crafts and on either side and in the middle section there are shelves for plastic boxes which contain everything a crafter needs, from different types of scissors, paper, greeting card embellishments, glue and so much more. The cupboard has a pull out table and there’s even a built in spot light. You can keep this craft wardrobe anywhere in your house – a bedroom or lounge is ideal and when you aren’t using it, it’s an attractive piece of furniture. When it’s open and being used it’s wonderful and feels as if you are in a craft room because it’s so roomy.

Yesterday we used one of her toys! It’s a  Cut ‘N’ Boss Die Cutting machine and costs around £200. It’s a small, lightweight machine that is so easy to use. It cuts through multiple layers of material – paper, card, fabric, leather and even thin chipboard and embosses the material so that it has a raised appearance. You can buy all sorts of metal cut dies to use with it. They are placed on the material you are using which are then fed through the machine on plates. It’s quick, it’s simple and the effect is amazing and looks so professional. The dies cut circular or square or even flowery shapes in the card and then we mounted each piece onto coloured card and then mount each piece on sticky pads. We laughed because it was so simple and I said to her, “This time next year we’ll be millionaires. We’ll have a shop-full of great cards!”  Here is a link to the machine. It’s well worth buying and you will see the card we made in the picture. https://www.createandcraft.com/gb/pp/craftwell-cut-n-boss-die-cutting-machine-407595?gclid=Cj0KCQiApt_xBRDxARIsAAMUMu977nb0cFCM-ayrEOW51kF88ycyXAlL-w8sOe83FEX9cDfhx82oY1caAm9nEALw_wcB.  

Working with a disabled person is team work in its truest form and I love it! Both of you learn about life together and come up with different ways to tackle tricky tasks.

Inspired by my work with disabled people I wrote ‘Every Mother’s Fear’, which is a family saga based on the 1960s thalidomide scandal. I have just published the sequel, ‘Every Father’s Fear.’ Both novels are available on Amazon. Here is the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Every-Mothers-Fear-motherhood-disability-ebook/dp/B078JX8559/

Thank you for reading and happy crafting!

Eastbourne’s famous homeless guy

Making the best of a terrible situation

Two weeks ago local fame came unexpectedly to an Eastbourne homeless guy after I posted a picture of him on Facebook which went viral. I was strolling along the seafront on Valentine’s Day, killing time before my weekly writers’ group. I looked up and saw Steve smiling at me as he sat on his bench, surrounded by red balloons and his worldly possessions. We both started laughing and a connection was made. His smile and the love and support for him that resulted from that Facebook post were, for me the best Valentine’s present.

I went on holiday the following day but as soon as I returned I was eager to visit Steve’s bench to see how he’d been getting on. He has been overwhelmed by such amazing support from the people of Eastbourne. When he saw it on Eastbourne Facebook page he was initially a bit worried. He thought it would lead to lots of negative, hurtful comments. But within hours there were pages of wonderful comments and offers of help and support. They weren’t just empty words. People came down to the seafront to visit his bench, bringing him food and hot drinks and useful gifts. ‘What can I do to help?’ Was the most asked question on the thread. But the most incredible thing of all is that people have been writing to Steve, at his bench. He showed me several letters, delivered by the postman and one brought a tear to my eye, from a young boy enclosing £5 of his pocket money.

The weather on the south coast was dreadful today and I can’t begin to imagine how homeless people like Steve cope. It was a gothic sort of day, grey with a howling wind and driving rain. Dramatic waves crashed to shore. As I chatted to Steve all I could think of, selfishly was how cold I was. My legs were getting wet, my glasses were spattered with water, rain was dripping from my hat into my collar. But Steve smiled and said, “You get used to get. Immune almost. I love the storms. They give me energy. What choice do I have?”  When he leaves his bench and goes into somewhere warm he said the change in temperature isn’t always good for the body because he’s become acclimatised to the cold, but the warmth does makes him feel human again.

Part of the whole experience of being homeless, Steve says, is that “people come and go.” I hope the support doesn’t go. I really want Steve’s life to change. He’s positive, he doesn’t blame any misfortune and he hasn’t turned to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain. He has turned to God though and puts his faith in God, but as Steve said, looking up at the clouds, “he’s really testing me.” But “when God lays his hands on you, you have no choice, you’re in his hands.” And I guess whether you believe in God or not that’s true. None of us know what our destiny is. But many of us are just two pay cheques away from being homeless. It could happen to any of us. If we do nothing, then nothing will change. People like Steve are trying to change their situation.  Like so many homeless people Steve grew up in the care system. When he left care there was no support. I don’t know what things are like today when children transition from care into the world but there must be thousands of homeless people up and down the country who are victims of this system. It’s time the government faced up to the failings of our Social Service system. They are responsible for these people and their plight.

There’s often a lot of negativity surrounding what we often refer to as the ‘evil’ of social media but in this connected world of ours, it can also be a good thing. Let’s continue to use Facebook to drive change. Steve told me there are lots of basic things that councils could do and relatively cheaply. The homeless need a locker, somewhere in the town to keep their belongings. They need somewhere to shower. And a meal. Above all they need to be safe. But the greatest danger is other homeless people who might steal or hurt them. Every minute of every day they have to have their wits about them, never properly sleeping, waking if someone approaches, always fearful of the worst things that can happen by living on the streets – somebody setting them on fire while they sleep or peeing on them.

We mustn’t forget the compassion we’ve all shown these past two weeks and use this to do what we can to end homelessness. Write to your MP or your local council and stop to chat to the homeless. They are real people!!

Thank you for reading!

Star Trek funeral for a fan

 

A ‘themed’ funeral service – Star Trek

Much of the change within the funeral industry is driven by the consumer and nowhere is this more evident than in the funeral service. In the past there wasn’t much choice. Grieving families had to settle for a service led by the local vicar. That’s great and totally appropriate for people with a faith but with fewer people these days  attending church and with religious belief in decline many families just want the opportunity to remember their loved ones in a more personal way. The idea of a vicar reading from a standard script used at everybody else’s funeral doesn’t appeal to some families. Funerals are now looked upon as  a celebration of life in the same way that a birthday or an anniversary is.

As a funeral celebrant I work with families to make the service personal. Today I conducted a service for a Star Trek fan. The family chose  ‘Star Trekkin’ to come into the chapel and at the end of the service I gave the Vulcan salutation; a hand gesture popularised by the TV series, although I found it very hard to keep my fingers apart! The man was also a darts champion so I found a great poem which the family and mourners loved.

I made the service personal by weaving in some phases used in Star Trek.

In the opening words and welcome I talked about the circumstances that led us to be here and then I said:

“I hope you enjoyed our opening music. XX was quite a Trekkie fan. He watched every episode on video and had folders of Star Trek memorabilia. He was a proper Sci-Fi addict. This TV show was magical and moved us way beyond our own life, a glamorous utopia where men could boldly go. From rubber-suited monsters to the shiny scary Borg, all across the generations these stories always conquered evil and filled XX and his generation with wonder and imagination.”

At the end of the service we stand to commit the deceased to our loving hearts and minds. In a religious service we would be committing him or her to God. These were my words:

We are nearing the end of our time here together when we must make our final farewell. Death is that state in which one only exists in the memory of others; which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes, just good memories. As Terry Pratchett said in one of his books, no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away. So keep the memory of XX alive in your hearts and in your minds.

 Before we stand for the committal, I would like to share with you a quote from Captain Picard, at the end of ‘Generations’ on Star Trek.

 “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. I’d rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and allows us to cherish every moment…because they’ll never come again.”

 XX go with love upon your journey go with wonder in your heart. May the light be there to beam you up, through the terrors of the dark. Let heaven hold you and keep you safe until we come home to you. You’ll always be beside us in a parallel point of view.

We reverently and tenderly commit your body for cremation and your ashes to the earth from where all life comes and all life ultimately will return.

I like to end each service with some uplifting words and these were the words I used:

On behalf of the family I would like to thank you for coming here today to celebrate XX life. Remember him with love and kindness wherever you may go, as XX finds the final frontier with a smile. Think of him saying Beam me up now Scotty, no delaying, it’s my turn to Star Trek high up in the clouds and beyond where no man has gone before. Give her all she’s got Captain.

 To all mankind — may we never find space so vast, planets so cold, heart and mind so empty that we cannot fill them with love and warmth.Butmay you all live long and prosper and may you go rich in your memories of XX.

The family wanted the mourners to do the actions to the final piece of music, The Fratellis, ‘Chelsea Dagger’  and when I joined in everybody else did! We ended the service laughing and smiling but it was still dignified which is important.

Here is a link to my funeral services: https://beautifulfuneralsussexkent.co.uk

My life as a ‘slashie’

My ‘slashie’ lifestyle means having lots of free time

When people ask me what I do for a job I often hesitate, unsure which job to tell them about first. I have several jobs. We refer to this as a portfolio career which makes it sound rather glamorous, but it’s often not! There are around 320,000 of us in Britain, with a multiple income stream. This has become an increasingly common employment pattern for many in recent years, creating the term ‘slashie.’ We are the slashie generation and even though I no longer apply for jobs I could describe myself as a slashie on a dating profile! I’m a funeral celebrant/author/carer/landlord/Airbnb proprietor.

There must be lots of reasons why people have several jobs. Some people have no choice and for others, needs must. Wages are low in some sectors of the economy and to make ends meet some people work incredibly long hours, flitting from their day job to their evening job. When I worked at a care home, some of the night carers dashed home for breakfast, then went on to day jobs. Life is hard. They do what they need to, in order to make ends meet.

I fell into this pattern of work, not through choice, but as time’s gone by it’s become my preferred way to live because I love the flexibility. It means I’m there for my daughter when she needs lifts to the doctor or orthodontist and when it rains I can drive her to school. It also means I don’t have to rely on one source of income. There’s so much uncertainty in every area I work in and constant change. It’s about keeping ahead and trying to predict change. It’s also about trying to be the best and that means training, development and courses to improve your skills. In an ideal world I’d like to be the best in just one of the fields. I have had a varied career from teaching to childminding to office work, but seven years ago when I found myself at a career crossroad I trained as a funeral celebrant. I love this work. In fact it’s the best job I’ve ever done. It can be quite seasonal; busy in January and February (that’s the dying season!) and flat in May/June which means I try to pick up more care work in the summer months. I take in lodgers because I can’t always predict what I will earn and they help to pay the bills.  Since the referendum of 2016 it’s become very hard to find lodgers though. Most of mine came from Eastern Europe and that is why I started doing Airbnb – because I couldn’t fill my two rooms with permanent lodgers. Airbnb is great but if I get busy with funerals, changing beds is time consuming!

Most of my free time is spent doing what I most enjoy – writing family sagas. I earn a small amount from selling these on Amazon but again this income fluctuates from month to month and Amazon’s advertising costs are rising all the time. Amazon give us the platform to sell our books, but with the hand they fleece us!

And when I’m not writing I’m promoting my books – I guess that counts as another job on the list although it’s unpaid! Here is a link to my page on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanna-Warrington/e/B00RH4XPI6/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 and here is a link to my funeral business. https://beautifulfuneralsussexkent.co.uk

Thank you for reading!

How do you cope if you were born with one arm?

Enjoying a gin & tonic with an old friend

I ate out last night with a friend in a cosy pub. Anita and I go back many years. We met at a club when we were in our early twenties. We both loved dancing and quickly developed a funny little duet. Last night we reminisced and thought back to when we were slim and could dance the night away. When I met Anita for the first time I didn’t notice that she wore a false arm. She was born with one shortened arm and no hand, but her left arm is normal. In fact many weeks went by before I noticed her disability. When I think of Anita I don’t think of her as disabled. It’s her lively, bubbly personality and interesting conversation that I think about.

Last night I told her about my new book, ‘Every Father’s Fear’ and how I approached the issues surrounding the character, Toby’s disability. When I asked her what things were like for her, growing up with the use of just one arm I realised that actually my approach to writing about Toby’s struggles was pretty accurate.

‘If you were born disabled you just get on with it,’ Anita said. ‘You learn ways to cope and  deal with peoples’ attitudes towards you, but if you had an accident which led to your disability, that’s very hard having to adjust to a new way of life.’ Anita made me think of a chap I met last week who had stepped into the road and got run over. It was a hit and run. He broke his spine and is now in a wheelchair and at just 41 he’s living in an old peoples’ home because there was nowhere else  with the right facilities and support. That driver went home, his life was unchanged, but his recklessness destroyed somebody else’s.

Like Toby’s parents, Rona and Bill in my novels, ‘Every Mother’s Fear’ and ‘Every Father’s Fear’ Anita’s parents tried to make her independent and helped her to be strong-willed and to think for herself. She’s a very resourceful lass and thinks her way around every tricky situation. Years ago she moved out of her parents’ home into a flat on her own and the first evening she fancied beans on toast for dinner but had no idea how she was going to open the tin. So she knocked on the neighbour’s door. ‘Would you mind opening this tin?’ she asked. After that they became good friends and helped each other out. ‘If you are disabled you just have to ask for help and most of the time people are happy to help.’

‘If you can laugh at yourself,’ Anita said, ‘it makes people feel comfortable with you and at ease. You must be able to talk about your disability. That’s absolutely the key to getting through life.’ Anita told me about some funny things that had happened to her and how she coped. A guy pulled her arm off during a disco. Her friend said, ‘was he trying to ask for your hand in marriage?’

‘I prefer people to ask me about my disability rather than just stare.’ I like Anita’s approach to her disability but some disabled people might find this too intrusive and personal. Everybody is different.

Like Toby in ‘Every Father’s Fear,’ Anita said she experienced bullying and nasty comments at school. She was called the one-armed bandit and other silly names. And incredibly she still experiences appalling behaviour even now as an adult living in 2020. There have been occasions when people have stared and pointed at her. And one day as she was queuing to go through the barriers on a London tube the woman behind her said, ‘I would have thought with your problem you’d be prepared.’

Anita is such a positive person. She has never let her shortcomings get her down and she is a lesson to us all.

Life is a struggle for some, but it’s interesting to learn how those people cope. Thank you Anita for sharing your story with me!

‘Every Mother’s Fear’ and ‘Every Father’s Fear’ are available on Amazon. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Every-Parents-Fear-2-Book/dp/B084KZ8NCB/

 

 

Eastbourne Blog

The low November sun scatters light across the pathway, making the tiny stones twinkle. I am on Eastbourne seafront walking between two favourite cafes where I like to scribble notes for my next book. The sky is deep blue; a few pink clouds billow on the horizon. A lone swimmer clad in rubber braves the sea, battling against the cold with long feline strokes. Retired couples, hand in hand stroll along. They look contented; married for fifty years has made them this way. Stopping every so often they gaze out to sea. Some of them are in Eastbourne for a ‘turkey and tinsel weekend.’ These are short breaks organised by companies like Shearings and Sunrise, herding older people down by coach for festive fun, food and entertainment  capturing the spirit of Christmas beside the sea.

One of my favourite cafes, Fusciardi’s ice cream parlour, is a beacon along the parade and lures me in. Fusciardi’s serves the best authentic Italian ice cream this side of Rome with some 18 tasty flavours. In the summer there are long queues for ice cream trailing round the corner of the shop, all day long every day. But today there are no queues or takers for their giant sundaes, just a small girl whining at the counter pointing to an ice cream her mother won’t let her have. Regulars are huddled over hot chocolate, their bellies full of the jacket potatoes the cafe serves.

After my cuppa I wander towards the twinkling lights of the recently restored  pier following a fire. The gold domes give it an air of opulence lacking in tired Eastbourne. The road ahead is closed because there was a fire at the Claremont Hotel opposite the pier a week ago. The fire started in the basement, flames taking hold, licking through every room, leaving only the charred facade of this  Grade II building that had given Eastbourne an exquisite, grand appearance since Victorian days. I stare in horror through the windows of the facade onto the blue sky beyond and think of a war zone. I was here last Friday when the fire was raging, driving behind the hotel into black smoke, watching passers-by coughing and flicking ash from their coats, gawping, onlookers snapping pictures of the scene for social media.

That’s all for this week! If you like reading family sagas with a travel twist you might like my novels, ‘Holiday’ and ‘A Time To Reflect.’ Here is the link to my latest book:

 

Please God I’m thirsty in Israel!

A tour through Israel will transform the Bible into vivid reality, through the sites and through the overall experience. From the moment you step off the plane in Tel Aviv into a blast of intense heat, you begin to wonder how on earth various figures in the Bible survived for long periods of time  in the arid wilderness. After sitting on a plane for five hours I was desperate for a drink of water. My mouth was parched and I had a headache. A gallon of cool water trickling down my throat was all I could focus on.

Water, we take it for granted in the developed world. It is the most basic, the most fundamental  of man’s needs and necessary for human development and man’s survival, we crave it more than anything else on this earth. It makes up the majority of your body weight. We need it for cooking, agriculture, industry, electricity. A woman’s ‘waters’ break as she begins the process of labour.

The scarcity of available water has become a hot topic for debate across the world, contributing to conflict as this vital resource becomes  difficult to source for an ever increasing population.

There are 722 references to water in the Bible. Water streams through the pages of scripture and is often a metaphor for something else, but each reference is hugely significant and teaches  us so much in a spiritual sense. The first reference is in Genesis 1:20. “Let the water yield inexhaustibly the moving animal that hath life.” And the final reference is in Revelations, 22:17: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Throughout the Bible water is used to cleanse and heal, to wash away sin. Water is drawn from wells, from rocks. Samson nearly died of thirst but God opened up a hollow place and his strength returned. Across human cultures water has been used to communicate the sacred and gives profound mean to suffering and redemption.

As I walked through the airport in need of water I looked up at the mock western wall and remembered a passage from Zechariah, 14:8, “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem”. Where could I buy water from? It wasn’t flowing here.

That first evening in Israel we kept returning to the importance of water. We were in touch with those people in the Bible, walking in their footsteps, sharing their concerns and challenges. Was it safe to drink from the tap? The jugged water in the restaurant?  Could we buy it on the coach or would we have to boil a kettle of water and let it cool overnight?

Next time you turn the tap on think of the spiritual significance as you watch the water flow! And if you want to bring the Bible to life I would recommend the Christian tour we went on to the Holy Land. Here is the link:

https://www.cmj-israel.org/shoresh-tours

My next travel novel, set in New England with beautiful descriptions of the landscape of Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Rhode Island is now out. It’s called ‘A Time To Reflect.’

 

Compulsive gambling is spiralling out of control

Compulsive gambling causes tears to everybody close to an addict

The government should do more to tackle the growing problem of compulsive gambling. It is just as much a public health issue as smoking and alcoholism and yet so little is done to tackle it. Today, the government have made a small, but significant move in that direction by opening the first NHS clinic for young people addicted to gaming and gambling, a year after the Gambling Commission found that 55,000 young people between 11 and 16 years old in the UK are problem gamblers.

But should the NHS be picking up the pieces? More should be done to penalise the big five betting firms. They should be footing the bill for the social mess they are creating, the stress, the suicides, the rise in family breakdown resulting from this hideous industry.

It was a bold move by Stewart Kenny, one of the founders of Paddypower to resign three years ago from the company’s board in frustration over failure of senior management to properly tackle problem gambling. The companies on the high street and on line have a responsibility to their users.

My latest book ‘Gambling Broke Us’ is a drama about a gambling addict and highlights the issues faced by addicts, what it’s like to live with this addiction and the impact on family. It’s FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.

Here is the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gambling-Broke-Us-moving-family-ebook/dp/B07NDY1M4R/

My thoughts on the Holy Land

Woman reading the Torah

When most people think of a holiday in the Mediterranean they think of Spain, Italy or Greece, but head further east and there’s a destination that doesn’t instantly spring to mind: Israel. Amid cries of alarm from friends that this was a dangerous place to visit I wanted to explore this great land of ancient people and follow in the footsteps of great figures in the Bible – Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Contrary to our widely held perception, Israel is not in a constant state of war but when the occasional bombings and fighting hit the news it’s easy to see why friends would be alarmed. It’s important to keep safe and follow advice. Sometimes the police will stop your vehicle to check your passport and reasons for being in the country. Just cooperate and you’ll be fine. For good reasons, security is tight.

Arriving in Tel Aviv we were met by our Shoresh Study Tour guide who scared us with a dreadful story about a friend of hers, a guide at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Kay Wilson who was stabbed multiple times in a forest and witnessed the murder of her friend. In court, their attackers said they’d woken that morning wanting to kill a Jew. What kind of sick world do we live in? Kay survived against all odds but her story is chilling and a dreadful reminder that who we are and what you believe in can make us vulnerable and exposed. This barbaric act is symptomatic of the fact that sadly we live in a world where religious hatred still manifests itself.

Jerusalem is an intriguing city, a tangle of narrow cobbled alleyways that reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Jerusalem is a major pilgrimage site for Christians, Muslims and Jews who each see it as holy and significant to their faith. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world – religion stares at you, it’s raw, it’s real and it’s in your face. There’s no escaping it, everybody is making a statement by the way they dress and behave. If you doubt the existence of God as I do, going to Jerusalem will make you think. In the presence of so many believers, you can’t help wondering, is there something in this? Could there be truth to the Bible?  You are pressed up against religion. Religion never sleeps, wherever you look, wherever you go. You’ll hear the Muslim Call to Prayer and church bells at the same time. It’s bizarre. It’s a hotch-potch jumble rather like looking down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

The city is divided into four areas and most of the time the four quarters live peacefully, side by side. On the first evening our tour guide said that if we got lost we’d know if we were in the Muslim quarter because of the lack of alcohol, the Christian quarter if there was both wine and beer, the Jewish quarter, all wine, and the Armenian quarter by the coffee or cognac.

Jerusalem is a multi-layered city of many different heights and depths. Remains dating to the Roman period have been discovered below street level, usually when somebody has a problem with their drains and so instead of fixing the pipes the archeologists are called.

Tourists flock to the Western Wall to watch Jews wailing. They were originally wailing for the fall of the temple in AD70 by the Romans. Today it is the holiest place for Jews to pray, a symbol of their faith because the wall remains intact. It is the closest place to the Temple Mount, which  is now the site of the mosque. It is the place where Abraham prepared his son Isaac for sacrifice to God. Prayers are said to rise up to heaven, and Jews, when they touch the wall cry out to God. It’s an incredible scene to watch. Never before have I witnessed such devotion to God. Young boys, teenage girls, mothers, old men and women were crying and reaching towards the wall and up to heaven. Their faces were contorted in the most desperate pain I’ve ever seen in another human being. I was transfixed. What was running through their minds? The suffering of their race? The destruction of the Temple? Being close to God? Being a non-Jew it was impossible for me to tell. On week-days we saw whole classes of school children praying and studying the Torah. The teacher wasn’t standing over them coaxing them along like they would be in UK classes. They weren’t chatting to friends, they weren’t distracted by their phones, they were crying onto the pages, swaying back and forth. Were they being brainwashed or taught to live their live according to God’s way, taught to learn independently? I watched a young mother reading the Torah while her baby and toddler lay at her feet crying because they were bored. Every now and again she looked up and smiled at them and chatted to them, but it was clear that her Bible was her focus. And in time it would be the same for her children. There was a Torah on a chair, I put it on the ground to sit on the chair and a woman picked it up, kissed it and scowled at me. I was the outsider, the heathen in this God fuelled mania.

I have a general rule; never to visit somewhere twice. The world is a big place. There are too many places to visit and such little time, but I might make an exception for Jerusalem. Even to me, a non believer, it felt incredibly special.

Thank you for reading. There will be another Israel blog next week.