“It is easy,” said Simeon “for that which is a monstrosity of human behaviour to become simply sad. All humans have a habit of doing it. We see some act of villainy and instead of becoming outraged we seem through some natural urge to shake our heads and simply walk on, putting it down to the state of humanity. Nobody, it seems, is willing to get their hands dirty.”
“How do you mean, old thing?” Wesley asked. Reaching for the nearest bottle of something red Wesley refilled his glass and hiccoughed loudly.”I distinctly remember giving up my seat to that sweet old lady today. And did I get a thank you? No I did not! You want to talk about monstrosities of human behaviour very well; but please don’t forget that at the fore of any degradation to society is the loss of manners.”
“Oh do shut up Wesley.” Simeon retorted, flinging a cork at his friend to reenforce his words. “I’m not talking about little old ladies who may be a bit ungrateful. I’m talking of the huge things, the things which everybody sees and singularly fails to do anything about. Nothing seems to be done about the things which everyone agrees are a problem.”
Eager to change the rather depressing conversation to something lighter Annabelle interjected.
“Simeon. How was your holiday? You’ve managed to catch the sun a little you naughty man. Holy Land wasn’t it?”
“Palestine.” Simeon barked back.
“Palestine then.” Said Annabelle trying to smooth down the feathers she had unwittingly ruffled. “Such a dreary place one would have thought. All those deserts and bedouin with their camels.Where you’d find a decent drink I can’t imagine; and as for the toilets! I heard they were little more than holes in the sand!”
Simeon rose from the table and walked to the sideboard in silence. He picked up a bottle and returned to his seat in equal silence. Similarly he poured a glass and drank it without saying a word. All the time his eyes seemed to burn with anger but they were fixed on first the bottle and then the filled glass. After a second glass drunk in silence he smiled sweetly at Annabelle.
“While it is true that a bottle of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape might be tricky to find outside the major cities I am sure it could be done. Likewise that Pouilly Fuisse you’re cradling Robin might also be had, for a price. There are, however, some excellent local vineyards who can turn out a reasonable and bearable alternative. You’ll be pleased to know Annabelle that the barman at the Hotel Bethlehem has access to an assortment of gins, and that he, after a little training from me, learned how to make the club’s martini quite beautifully.”
Another glass of wine was poured, then drunk, in complete silence.
“So you’re saying one can live reasonably comfortably there are you?” Annabelle took the conversational bone she had been thrown and ran with it. “I have to say it sounds like a bit of a jaunt if club members can get a decent martini after a day wandering in the desert.”
Simeon’s eyes darkened.
“I said I taught him not that it was now in the menu in the bar.”
“Fired was he?” Wesley managed. “Caught serving it to the tourists or something?”
“No, you fat head, he wasn’t fired. He was shot at the checkpoint and it’s my fault.”
“Oh come now,” Annabelle said soothingly but was trying to suppress the laughter which Simeon’s statement had provoked. “How could you through teaching a waiter to make a cocktail be the reason for his execution. He was probably one of those nasty terrorists one hears about in the news. The two things couldn’t possibly be linked else we’d have to put a guard on old Purbrick at the Bull, and that frankly is hilarious.” Giving up all pretence of sympathy she threw back her head and that horsey bray of her’s filled the air.
Robin was quicker to realise that their friend wasn’t merely spinning yarns and from the look of Simeon was quite upset.
“Enough!” He barked at Annabelle. “Simeon I’m sorry. I don’t see how the two could be linked but if you say they are, well then, that’s good enough for me.”
A sharp snort of mirth from Annabelle drew sharp look from Roger and she tried to cover up her faux pas by blowing her nose. As she did so she waved a hand at Simeon to continue.
Simeon poured more wine and drank it before he went on.
“It might seem silly to some but it did happen. Just as I said it did. My Arabic is merely passable and the barman Adawi’s English was little bette,r so I wrote down a simple recipe that he could follow if needed. Indeed it was almost algerbraic in it’s construction. 6PG add to 1DV mix carefully then pour. No O required. It seems that when the lad was searched at the checkpoint on his way home he had the paper in his pocket and I had forgotten to write the name of the drink on the top. His sister told me the next morning that they insisted it was a formula for some new explosive and shot him on the spot.”
“So an easy mistake to make then, given that the countries ripe with terrorists.” Annabelle said and then quickly added seeing Simeon’s face. “But not fair, definitely not fair in this case.”
“If I might continue?” Simeon asked coldly and seeing everyone was too scared to speak he continued. “Adawi was the main support for his family and now his responsibility is mine.”
“Surely he could have explained what it was and how he came across it?” Wesley interjected. His friend nodded.
“You would have thought so, given the normal nature of occupation, but sadly in the case of the Palestinians the Israeli soldiers refuse to speak Arabic. As most Palestinians don’t have the opportunity to learn Hebrew this creates something of a dilemma. If the soldier refuses to understand then he can do what he wants. He or she is the one with the gun after all. In this case some soldier barely in long trousers decided that he was going to use my recipe as an excuse to thin the herd.”
Another glass was poured and drunk in silence and Simeon’s friends all followed suit.
“I am not saying that every Israeli is bad.” Simeon explained. “I’m not even saying that Israel itself isn’t a necessity. What I am saying,” and here he paused to draw breath. “Is that a good idea has gone horribly wrong, people are being abused because of that good idea, and that atrocities are happening without anyone who can do something doing it.”
As so often happened at Simeon’s parties people became a little unsure of where they were being fitted into the argument. Roger decided it was his turn to ask the fateful question.
“Listen old thing. What could any of us possibly do from rural Oxfordshire? I suppose we could boycott their fruit but mother rather likes her avocado salad. Would it even make a difference? Do you see my point?”
Simeon nodded slowly.
“I see it and agree there’s very little to be down among the leafy lanes. And the argument for your mother’s avocado salad must certainly be taken under advisement. But what I am suggesting is that you leave those leafy lanes and get a bit of sand in your brogues. Go and visit the country, I can give you the contacts who could then take you out to see the Palestinian people. Go out there and see first hand how hard their life is and how shabbily they are being treated by a world that should be rushing to their defence. Hear the stories first hand. See the children scarred from acid thrown down from the settlements above. Then come back with the simple desire to be a truth teller for them. Don’t pack all the memories away under your bed and forget about them; get angry. Demand to know what this meddlesome country has done and is still doing. Demand that the question is asked what private citizens and organisations in America and other places are sending in terms of resources to the state of Israel. Keep asking until you get the truth from then then add it to your own telling. In the end stop turning this fucking disgrace into pity. Pity is useless without action. I’m sorry my friends but life is too short for simple, happy holiday stories any more.”
And with that the truth teller of Bethlehem rose and bidding them good night went home to remember and then write.