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My week: Rumsfeld's Hat; a Hideous Poster and Her Majesty the Queen
Last uploaded : Saturday 29th Jan 2005 at 01:07
Contributed by : The Editor


Our readership will be dazed and confused to read that I am thrilled to be back on a visit to London. In recent months I have been writing with relentless passion of the virulent anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism that seems to be consuming this island nation. My first little trip was to attend my local NHS surgery for my annual battery of blood tests. The bevy of cheerful and gracious receptionists and nurses made me feel warm inside on an overcast and bitterly damp day. (Notice I did not say ?cold? -- in England it is ?damp? even in June.)

A chatty and congenial nurse took my blood and I left feeling uplifted despite the needle and its associated unpleasantness. No money changed hands and no insurance forms needed to be submitted. I tried in vain whilst in the USA to explain the benefits of socialised medicine. It is impossible to convey to Americans the ease with which this remarkable system has run itself for fifty-five years.

It is not just the ?free? medical care that we in Britain take for granted. Yesterday I travelled across the length of London to the Imperial War Museum. It was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Great Britain and whilst I was there various events were taking place to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz sixty years before.

Although I was dismayed that many people walked out of ?Luba, the Angel of Bergen Belsen,? a touching film about a Jewish woman who managed to save many children in that terrible camp, I was delighted to see hordes of wide-eyed British youngsters pouring into the corridors of the museum. At the museum I met Warwick Taylor, the Vice President of the Bevin Boys? Association, a group of men who worked as coal miners during World War II as a result of a ruthless lottery thought up by Cabinet Minister Sir Ernest Bevin. I am planning to make a film about the Bevin Boys and was moved by Warwick?s descriptions of the hardships these young lads had endured, describing the mines as if the ordeal had happened yesterday. One Jewish Bevin Boy was plucked from the Kindertransporte, he having only just been torn from the arsm of his parents in Germany only to find himself in the mines.

Across the other side of London Her Majesty the Queen, the Chief Rabbi, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Prime Minister Blair and scores of dignitaries held a candle-lighting service for Holocaust Memorial Day.

Leaving the museum a beautiful young woman with the blushing complexion of a twenty-something English Rose asked me to participate in an in-house survey. She was well-informed, charming and articulate. She was happy to go ?in-depth? with me on various issues that concerned me about the museum and never once did she say, ?That?s cool.? I could not help thinking ?this is the best of British? and hoped one day we would see her face on the benches of the High Court or speaking as an authority on a medical advancement.

On the down side, Great Britain, still in turmoil about the incident in which Prince Harry wore a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party, is now in a new stew about a poster being proposed by the Labour Party for the upcoming election that depicts respectively the Shadow (Conservative Party) Prime Minister and Chancellor, Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin, as flying pigs. The purpose of the poster is to suggest that Tory policies are as realistic as pigs flying. The trouble is that Howard and Letwin are Jewish. When I heard about the proposed Labour election poster I was speechless and appalled. In fact, it took me about fifteen minutes to accept that anyone, let alone a London PR agency, would design this image and that Tony Blair would sanction the release of the concept. Well, having now spent a considerable time in the United States I can say ?this would never happen in America.? Various Anglo-Jewish leaders have offered comments on the Jewish pig poster ranging from feeble to downright asinine. As usual, the same Anglo-Jewish community that accused me of being hysterical years before 9/11 when I warned of an impending wave of world terror, a new Intifadah and a wave of European anti-Semitism has now declared that the poster is harmless fun. One spokesperson for the Anglo-Jewish community says it is simply an example of the ?rough and tumble? of politics.

I think the Labour Party poster is vicious and mean and that the British people who think this imagery is funny need to grow up.

As I became reflective today on my emotions upon returning to my little lodgings in what has to be the most charming street in London I was bemused reading the criticisms of American Vice President Dick Cheney for wearing camping clothes to the Auschwitz memorial service in Poland. Who cares? I looked and thought ?Here is a man who knows all too well how bitterly cold it is in January in the East? and am frankly dismayed that such a fuss is being made about his attire. People with heart problems are more vulnerable than others in extreme cold. To me it was moving to see the non-Jewish leaders of a vast array of nations -- smart clothes or not -- meeting at this hell to remember and never forget.

I will ask readers to please not think that I am trivialising Holocaust Remembrance Day by moving on here to a lighter subject. The great tradition of 'laugh a little, cry a little' is one I learned from a Jewish comedian, and I felt it would be pleasant to share a lighter moment amid the sadness.

This takes me to the matter of my hat. I have always loved hats and must own about twenty. I have to stop myself from buying fedoras in all available colours. During my stay in the USA I must have been stopped on street corners, in supermarkets, drugstores and restaurants on a daily basis by people wanting to know where I had got my black fedora. It is actually a Peruvian mountain hat and I bought it from the ?Daily Telegraph? mail order service a few years ago.

Of all the hats I own it is my favourite; being badly overweight at present, it adds a bit of pep to my blubbery visage. (If anyone can tell me how to have an American holiday and LOSE weight I would like to know.) During my time in Washington I was even stopped at a street corner by a young man who wanted to know where I had bought it and where he could buy my scarf! In my favourite local restaurant at Connecticut and Wyoming, the Pines of Florence, that same evening an elderly woman said ?I want to steal your hat and scarf but that is against the law.? She gave me her address and asked me to write her if I could find another set of accessories identical to mine.

From the personnel at the Kennedy Centre to the custodial staff of the Washington Metro, graciousness seemed to greet me at many turns, whether I was in hat and scarf or not.

In Washington I also encountered in various locations the movers and shakers of whom Maureen Dowd writes with such gusto including the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld and his bubbly wife Joyce. She was one of the many welcoming and gracious new faces I met on my at times arduous journey of return to my homeland after three decades abroad, and despite the venom that heads the way of her husband, and despite the fact that commentators are meant to look at life from the outside in, I could feel kindness for this couple and gratitude for that genuine and uniquely American warmth.

Lo and behold, Don Rumsfeld turned up at the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies in a fedora. I like to flatter myself that Rummy liked my hat so much that he decided he would look good in one, too. Unlike me he is lean, well-proportioned and good-looking, so the hat makes him look even more dashing. His wife wore a gorgeous coat and scarf and adorable brooch to the event and they both glittered. I am yet to understand how Laura Bush escaped pneumonia in her light white outfit but she looked good enough to eat. If only Teresa Heinz Kerry could have taken a leaf from the First Lady's book of poise, charm and grace....

For a moment as I watched the Inauguration in Washington one just had to forget the horrible news hitting one from all sides, and the bitter divisiveness that so plagues American families who hail from ?Red and Blue? states. I attended the first annual Veterans' Inaugural Ball and was honoured to have been invited to the National Cathedral Service in the presence of the President and Cabinet, and must confess it was a thrill for this lifetime, third generation Democrat.

If you are still reading this -- those of you used to my impassioned diatribes -- please do not think I have gone insane. What I am trying to convey is that my long trip to the USA seems to have left me a happier person. There is nothing more cheering than being amongst a nation of extraordinarily cheerful people. In the USA workers get a maximum of two weeks? holiday per year and they have to pay through the nose for health insurance and pills; they remain one of the most gracious and welcoming populaces I have ever encountered. In Europe we get five to six weeks? holiday plus the religious and bank holidays and free medical care and pharmaceuticals. We are not always gracious these days.

However, seeing my Sovereign, Her Majesty the Queen, and my Prime Minister Tony Blair lighting candles to commemorate the deaths of six million Jews I felt a swell of pride in both countries in which I have the privilege of living. Please forgive my sentimentality. I take off my hat and bow to these leaders, who are here to protect us. I really believe that. Call me na?ve. It is good to be visiting my other home, which for me for twenty-eight years was Blighty.


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