Fifth news item

"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Fourth news item

Have a look at my page on Amazon. Still plenty of summer left for challenging literature. on 2014-08-13
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Third news item

Check out my Amazon Kindle page. 'The Baby Who Killed People for Money' is now available. An utterly charming child with a unique and lucrative skill. A father with no defence against his daughter's impulses. Would you take your little girl around Europe for a spot of murder tourism? Of course you would. on 2014-06-30
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Second news item

My story on the Tate gallery website on 2013-11-11
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First news item

A Thousand Natural Shocks An anthology that includes two of my stories. Available now at Amazon. on 2013-11-11
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January 2021
« Jul    

“Where are you going today?” Debbie worked at the front desk of The Palms Hostel just outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.

“I thought I might try walking to Bethlehem.” This seemed like the right way to approach the scene of our Lord’s birth. I may not believe in God but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t taking this pilgrimage seriously.

“I haven’t been to Bethlehem.”

This surprised me. Debbie seemed like a permanent feature at The Palms. “How long have you been in Jerusalem?” I asked.

“Six months.” Debbie frowned. “Seven. But I’m working here. I haven’t had time to go anywhere.” Debbie was Australian, one of those antipodeans who make the most of the expensive plane fare to the northern hemisphere and stay as long as possible, but without enough money to do what they really want.

I headed out into the freezing dawn, wrapping my long, black coat around myself. Jordan and Israel in January hadn’t provided the warm break that I had anticipated. I hadn’t known that it snowed in Jerusalem. I walked up to the Damascus Gate and onto the wall. I headed along the western perimeter of the old city, catching a glimpse of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. May as well see the scene of Christ’s death on the same day as I visit his birthplace.

Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate

I walked through undistinguished suburbs along the Hebron road. Eventually the buildings started to thin out and the road passed along a crest, giving me lovely views of Judea. After a surprisingly small distance, I reached Bethlehem.

The first site of interest was a housing block that had been fortified by the Israeli army. The Star of David flag fluttered over Palestine and a thicket of gun barrels stuck out from the fortifications on the roof. Across the road was the Tomb of Rachel. The soldiers smilingly let me into the building. I congratulated myself on adopting a mode of clothing that would make me indistinguishable from the Jewish population.

The atmosphere was calm, prayerful and absolutely freezing. My shivering was disturbing the reverent so I continued up the road into the centre of Bethlehem. There seemed to be a church built on every site peripherally related to the birth of Christ. My favourite was the Milk Grotto, where spilled drops of the Virgin Mary’s milk had turned a stone white.

Milk Grotto

Milk Grotto

Close by was the Church of the Nativity. Probably because of the cold, it was empty. I found my way down to the little archway that protected the supposed site of the holy birth. Atheist though I am, I sat in front of this for a long time and gained some understanding of the power of the belief in a messiah. I even lit a candle and offered up some hopes for loved ones.

The Grotto, Church of the Nativity

The Grotto, Church of the Nativity

The exact spot

The exact spot

It was still fairly early in the day. It was also about to rain so I caught a bus that was going to Hebron. My fellow-travellers in the bus were mostly teenage conscripts doing their national service. The only seats available were right at the back so I plonked myself down between two young soldiers. Then I reached down and took the UZI magazine from beneath my buttocks. The soldier to my right took it without a word. I was probably the only unarmed person on the bus.

We reached a town. There were some thumps on the side of the bus. The passengers muttered. I asked my neighbour whether this was Hebron. He said that it was so I stood up and called out that I wanted to stop. Conversation ceased and all heads turned to me. I looked back to the man with the UZI. He shook his head. It was as if I had just carried out some hideously sacrilegious act.

I made my way to the front of the bus in silence. The driver raised his eyebrows. I nodded. He opened the door. I stepped down onto the road. The closing door grazed my arm as I set foor on Hebron. The bus roared off.

There was silence. The theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly played in my head. I looked around. At the top of the main hill of the town was a massive rectangular fortress. It was festooned with aerials, defensive concrete and wire and a bristling of weapons. The Star of David stamped its authority over the  town.

Back on street level, I noticed some people. They were all staring at me. I gathered my long, black coat around myself and moved off into the most interesting-looking side street. Something hit the wall beside me. Then a couple of pebbles bounced in front of me and something hit my back. I stopped and looked around. A crowd of children stopped, some with their stone-bearing hands raised. It was like a game of statues.

“What are you doing?” I started walking towards them. They hadn’t expected that. Neither had I. I wasn’t scared, I was just surprised. I had no idea why they were throwing stones at me. I realised that I was wearing the uniform of the orthodox Jew, the long, black coat. They thought I was the enemy. I took my Australian passport out of my pocket and waved it at them.

“Australian.” I was almost up to them now. “I’m not Israeli. I’m Australian. Tourist.”

They recognised the last word.

“Tourist?” They got into a huddle.

Eventually, one of them smiled and held out his hand. I had a guided tour of the town by a stoning mob.

I could have gone back to Jerusalem then but I saw a bus to Be’er Sheva. It seemed a pity to go so far and not see the Negev Desert. I also wanted to see where Jacob had his dream of the Stairway to Heaven. I could sing it in Be’er Sheva.

It wasn’t a pretty town. The modern town seemed lacking in the atmosphere I expected from a place that figured so strongly in Genesis so I tried going to the archaeological site just out of town. I couldn’t get a bus there so I started walking. It was closed and security was much more effective than in any other site I had been to.

mosque, Be'er Sheva

mosque, Be’er Sheva

When I got back to the bus station, it was deserted. No buses and no people. I found someone to ask on the street. It was Shabbat, he said. Everything closed on Saturday. I pointed out that it was Friday. The sun had set, he said. No buses until Sunday.

I was stuck. It was raining. I didn’t want to stay in Be’er Sheva. I drew my coat around myself and stuck out my thumb. I got a lift almost immediately. A fruit delivery van. No, he wasn’t going to Jerusalem but he could drop me at an intersection close to the Occupied West Bank.

It was dark now and the rain was intensifying. Several cars stopped. None of them were going my way. One said, “No-one’ll take you through the West Bank after dark.”

It was well after midnight. Coat or not, I was soaked. Several cars veered off away from the West Bank. The next truck was going to Tel Aviv. “Fine,” I said. It was a breakdown truck. The driver was going home for the weekend. He had the heating on high and I loved it. He dropped me off near Lod, on the road to Jerusalem.

It had stopped raining now and I was dry. It was an unsociable hour of the morning and cars were rare. I took out my wet passport. The ink was running on most of the stamps inside. Maybe most people take better care of their passports. Headlights. I stuck out my thumb. The very first car stopped for me. It was a late-model Mercedes, probably a rental car.

“Are you going to Jerusalem?” I asked.

“Get in,” he said without a smile or a handshake or any of the things that people of my acquaintance do when beginning to share a small space. I was getting used to this. It wasn’t that Israelis were rude, it was just that the etiquette in the country didn’t seem to extend to using words or gestures that weren’t strictly necessary.

He spun his wheels and drove off. I managed to get my door shut and put a seat belt on. I noticed that the driver was feeling about under his seat. When I sat up, he was showing me a handgun.

“I’m a private detective,” he said.

“I see.” I finally thought of something to say. “Are you on a case?”

“I will be when I get to Jerusalem.”

That was it for the conversation. He dropped me in a part of the new town of Jerusalem. I said thanks and he said nothing. I walked through the gloom to The Palms. The sky was beginning to lighten as I pressed the buzzer.

“Hi,” said Debbie. “Did you get to Bethlehem?”

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