Ann George appreciates the importance of owning a television

My sole experience of having a television in the home was when my mother rented one for about 18 months when I was 13 years old. She sent it back to the shop because no-one watched it. In many ways Auntie’s television suffered the same fate. To be honest, there was not much to watch on television in Jerusalem if you didn’t speak good Hebrew; in fact, the only time I actually remember seeing the television working in Auntie’s front room was for the broadcast of Princess Diana’s funeral.

The television was very small and square, with an aerial balanced on top, reminiscent of the first one I had watched, at the age of 6 in a friend’s house, when I was bewildered by an episode of ‘The Lone Ranger’. The day of Princess Diana’s funeral Auntie had decided to invite both her lodgers, the Italian lady and me, to lunch, and the Italian lady was firmly ensconced in an armchair directly in front of the telly watching the live broadcast from Westminster Abbey when I walked in. I watched and listened rather fitfully whilst helping Auntie to set the table and bring the food in. By this time the service had well and truly started, and I suddenly realized that under no circumstances could I sit and eat Auntie’s marvellous lunch to the accompaniment of national mourning and Book of Common Prayer phraseology. I asked for the television to be turned off. Auntie was perfectly willing to do so and Uncle was already focussed on his lunch, but the Italian lady demurred. In the end, in desperation, I said, ‘I’m sorry, Auntie, but if that television stays on I shall have to leave. None of you have any idea what they are actually saying and singing in that service; it is not an entertainment and I can’t eat to its accompaniment.’ Auntie immediately turned the television off and the Italian lady sulked and pouted all through lunch.

It must have been the following summer, soon after the episode of the eclipse, when the television again became an important topic in the courtyard. It was the last day of the school year: American Graduation Day, indeed, and very boring it had been, too. My role in this school occasion was to make sure that the junior pupils sat quietly on the grass and didn’t get sun-stroke while the Y13 students ‘graduated’, and finally threw their mortar boards into the air. I wandered back home with nothing more in my mind than a cool shower and a sit-down, but soon realized that I was not going to get either very quickly when I turned into the courtyard and heard the most terrific row.

I had never heard Auntie rant at Uncle before. She had to speak very loudly to him in the usual way, because he was very deaf and also losing his sight, but at this moment she was obviously very, very cross. I peeped into the front room and saw Uncle lying propped up on his mattress by the door, eyes shut and looking rather the worse for wear. Auntie saw me and immediately started to towards me, but Uncle growled in English, ‘Woman, bring me arak!’ Auntie turned aside, picked up the bottle of arak and filled the glass on the table beside him. Then she came out to me, sat down at the white plastic table and prepared to bare her soul.

It was a sorry tale. It seems that, many years ago, Uncle decided to sell his barbering business in the Old City and retire. He sold it to a man who, as part of the agreement, said he would pay the tax due to the Israeli authorities from the transaction. Uncle had told Auntie that the tax had been paid…..but it hadn’t. Now, many years later, and after many changes of ownership of the business, the tax-man had caught up with Uncle, and a posse of customs officers had turned up in the courtyard demanding the unpaid tax, with interest. When Auntie had said that she did not have the money to hand the customs officers had confiscated the television set.

At that point I had great problems in stopping myself from laughing out loud. Auntie was incandescent with rage, however, both with Uncle (who was now very, very drunk) and with the customs officers for daring to walk off with her property. She told me that she had been informed that, in order to redeem the set, she had to go to the customs office with the money – cash only – and she was going to go the next day, Friday.

I was concerned that she was going alone. I certainly would not have wanted to have dealings with Israeli customs on my own, and in my mind was my recent memory of her distress during the eclipse episode. ‘Auntie’, I said, ‘If you go on Sunday I can go with you, but I can’t do it on Friday as I have a meeting at school.’ Auntie thanked me politely but assured me she was perfectly capable of redeeming her treasured television set on her own.

And she was. When I returned from school on Friday lunchtime it was back in its place on the table, the aerial balanced on top of a lace-trimmed mat, and Auntie all ready to tell me of her triumph. However, she was a little put out; it seems that the customs officers were extremely surprised to see her, especially when they found out how much money she was giving them in return for a 1950s television set.