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Last night we celebrated the publication of Nine Love Letters by Gerald Jacobs at Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street, in the presence of an enthusiastic crowd of friends and admirers. Here is the text of my short address, on this memorable occasion.

Today we are gathered here to mark the publication of Nine Love Letters. It is to me an important occasion for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the book depicts the legacy of conflict in particular where human beings are subject to brutality and heartache, the likes of which tears families apart and inflicts painful memories that never mellow or disappear with the passage time. I have been through that myself.

Secondly, the stories are partly in the form of love letters that often bring a torrent of tearful reactions for their sensibility and earth-moving grief, where love surpasses the very essence of shattered lives and leaves the reader in a state of serious contemplation.

Thirdly, having read the manuscript after the passing away of my beloved wife, Maria, I felt an overwhelming emotion that simply rocked my whole being and I found myself moved to the core. These stories loomed high in my psyche and the grief they propelled intertwined with mine to have a much greater effect.

Gerald Jacobs wrote the novel with a deft touch one rarely sees, ensuring that the stories are not only kept within the realm of reality but that they are also without any political connotations.

Yusuf Haroun and Anna Weisz grew up more than 1,500 miles apart, in different communities with distinct loves, lives and interests. They are as different as people can be but the one thing they share—their religion—means they are both in mortal danger.

When Yusuf marries his bride, Farah, in their native Baghdad, a promising life is ahead of him. But while he and Farah are away on honeymoon, Jewish life in Baghdad is brought to a sudden, savage end, with devastating consequences.

In Budapest, Anna Weisz dreams of a successful career in medicine like her father. She is bright, sensitive and full of wonder. Anna has everything to live for, until two men unexpectedly appear at the door of her family’s apartment one day with disturbing intentions.

As the brutality and horror of Nazi rule is brought to bear on the two families, the surviving members flee to England where, one day, a chance encounter changes their fates forever.

While they face the challenges, upheavals and horrors of the twentieth century and its legacy, their loves and tragedies are described with subtle elegance. Epic in scale but always sharp in focus, Nine Love Letters is a poignant and tender novel about the enduring power of love across generations and a testament to the strength of the human heart.

Gerald Jacobs deserves as wide a public as possible for this absorbing chef-d’œuvre so please pass the word around and encourage your friends to do the same. In the meantime show us the colour of your money and buy today as many copies as you can afford. For a positive display of your generosity would undoubtedly catapult this novel to greater heights.

Thank you.

OLD FARTS AT IT AGAIN…

I have always considered the use of the word ‘satisfactory’ rather discouraging and is likely to demotivate people when it is applied to describe the level of their work. So I’m not in the least surprised that to some it appears to give the impression that its meaning rankles as it could be interpreted ‘just not good enough.’

Council chiefs have been criticised over their plan to ban the word from staff appraisals to be replaced by ‘good’, but the move has been branded ‘dishonest and barmy’ by campaigners. The change was recommended by officers at East Cambridgeshire District Council who said: ‘The word satisfactory suggest that you are adequate and reasonable, which are not pleasing words for people about their own performance.’

The local authority’s Head of HR, Nicole Pema, said: ‘Colleagues had strongly suggested that when assessing performance the word “satisfactory” was not effective.’ But the plan – set to be approved by a council committee – has faced strong criticism. Chris McGovern, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is both dishonest and barmy. We should not be redefining the English language in order to disguise the truth. It will have the effect of destroying any confidence in the staff appraisal system.’

And Steve Jenner, of the Plain English Campaign, said: ‘East Cambridgeshire Council is one of a series of organizations turning their backs on “satisfactory” and other words which suggest customer satisfaction. It appears that council employees will find that their workplace performance assessments will increasingly be subject to inflation. A question which needs to be asked though is why is “satisfactory” so unsatisfactory?’

Bill Hunt, a Conservative member of the council, said: ‘We need things that accurately describe performance and there is a significant difference between “good” – on a scale it would be a 7 – and I would put “satisfactory” at about 5. If these people have problems or difficulties they should say it. As far as I know, this is just about some disgruntled staff, but I’m no expert on this.’

It’s unbelievable when you hear the rubbish some members of the council come up with. ‘Satisfactory’, used in appraisal is, in my view, almost a derogatory word since it infers lack of initiative, lack of enthusiasm and almost a dormant mind. It is similar to the standards of the councillors who hate any change that encourages progress and gives the individual the verve that he or she needs in order to improve their contribution to the task in hand.

Employees should be encouraged and not demeaned for the good and prosperity of the nation.

A LITERARY CELEBRATION

My Palestinian sympathies have never prevented me from highlighting the plight of any other repressed minority or race, the Jews being no exception. Nor have they discouraged me from publishing Jewish authors whose work I admire. The emotive argument that any critic of Israeli or Zionist policies is an anti-Semite by definition is harder to maintain today when so much recent history has discredited it by illustration. In the 1980s it was still being bandied about by the defenders of Israel. If people wish to maintain the value of words, then they must use them more selectively. For myself, I think my record speaks for itself. Since the beginning of my stewardship, Quartet has published a significant number of books on Jews or by Jewish writers. The list of titles given below is by no means comprehensive regarding our output in that field. However, it should be sufficient to demonstrate to the reader that Quartet is a publishing company totally free of bias. In the end, as the saying goes, ‘Deeds are fruits, words are but leaves.’

Books published by Quartet by Jewish authors or on Jewish topics:

Pearl Abraham, Giving up America and The Romance Reader. Two novels set in the Hasidic communities of 1990s New York State.

Aharon Appelfeld, The Age of Wonders, Bedenheim 1939, For Every Sin, The Healer, The Immortal Bartfuss, Katarina, The Retreat, To the Land of the Reeds and Unto the Soul. Eight novels by one of the most revered writer survivors of the Holocaust. Most of Appelfeld’s stories are set pre-Second World War and describe Jewish communities unaware of or unresponsive to portents of the tragedy that is about to befall them. He never writes directly about the Holocaust and only occasionally about the aftermath (as in Bartfuss).

Giorgio Bassani, Behind the Door, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, The Heron and The Smell of Hay. Bassani wrote about the highly assimilated Italian Jews, his masterpiece being The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which tells of the reclusive Finzi-Continis – who open their tennis court to other Jewish young people when the racial laws in Italy exclude them from public courts – and their subsequent wartime fate.

Lesley Chamberlain, The Secret Artist: A Close Reading of Sigmund Freud. Gentile author on a Jewish subject.

John Colvin, Lions of Judah. Gentile author on a Jewish subject.

Robert Eisenberg, Boychiks in the Hood. Highly entertaining travel book cum history of the Hasidic sects of Europe and North America.

Peter and Leni Gillman, ‘Collar the Lot!’. About the British wartime internment of so-called ‘enemy aliens’, many of whom were Jewish.

Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Worlds of Difference. Autobiographical novel about a Jewish child separated from his parents and taken to Switzerland.

Louise Lambrichs, Hannah’s Diary. Novel set in Paris in 1943, in which a Jewish woman feels forced to have an abortion.

Emanuel Litvinoff, Journey through a Small Planet. Memoir about the (Jewish) East End of London at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth.

Arnost Luśtig, Darkness Has No Shadows, Diamonds of the Night, Dita Saxova, Night and Hope and A Prayer for Katarina Horowitzova. Lustig is another writer survivor, whose work deals much more directly with the Holocaust than Appelfeld’s, with books set in the camps (as in Darkness Has No Shadows) and others examining the plight of the post-war survivors (as in Dita Saxova).

Norman Manea, October Eight o’Clock. Stories about the wartime sufferings of Romanian Jews.

Monica Porter, Deadly Carousel. Biography by a Gentile author of the Hungarian actress and singer Vali Racz, who sheltered Jews during the war.

Giorgio and Nicola Pressburger, The Green Elephant. A Jewish fable.

Milton Shulman, Voltaire, Goldberg and Others. A Jewish joke book.

Abram Tertz, Little Jinx and A Voice from the Chorus. The one a novel by the Soviet dissident, the other his prison notebooks.

Arnold Wesker, The Birth of Shylock and The King’s Daughters. Journals and a short-story collection from the well-known playwright.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bitch, The Bitch Rules and Prozac Nation.

Hannele Zurndorfer, The Ninth of November. Autobiography telling of the author’s experiences as a child refugee from Nazi Germany.

As we meet tomorrow at Daunt’s in Marylebone High Street to celebrate the publication of the latest addition to this distinguished list – Nine Love Letters by Gerald Jacobs, the legendary Literary Editor for so many years of the Jewish Chronicle, I must say I feel proud of Quartet’s publishing efforts, especially given the world we are about to face, to bridge barriers and bring greater understanding.

Viagra in Great Focus Again

It is astonishing to read that Viagra – which was developed to give an extra thrust to male sexual performance – is now recommended by the medical profession to ward off the risk of heart death for men with diabetes.

New research suggests that taking a Viagra pill every few months almost halves the risk of men with Type 2 diabetes dying of heart problems. The study of 6,000 British men could pave the way for erectile dysfunction pills to be prescribed regularly for men with diabetes.

Nearly 4 million people in the UK suffer with Type 2 diabetes and 12 million more are at risk of developing the disease. People with the condition are at twice the risk of others of developing heart disease. This is partly because the heart of diabetics becomes less efficient over time, unable to contract properly and pump blood all around the body.

Experts think Viagra and other similar erectile dysfunction drugs improve this function. The drug, which has earned pharmaceutical firms more than £1 billion a year since it was launched as an erectile drug in 1998, works by relaxing blood vessels and improving blood flow to the groin. This function also affects the ability of the heart to pump blood, scientists think.

Experts at Manchester and Oxford universities have now shown that this has a remarkable impact on health. The team studied the health records of 5,965 men with Type 2 diabetes, aged between 40 and 89. Of that group 1,359 took erectile dysfunction drugs called PDES inhibitors, of which Viagra is one form. They took the drugs only an average of 16 times over the seven year study period – less than once every five months but they were 46% less likely to die during the study period, the scientists found.

Patients taking the drug were also 38% less likely to suffer a heart attack and those who did were 40% less likely to die as a result. The scientists, whose results are published in the BMJ journal Heart, adjusted the figures for age, blood pressure, prior heart problems and other medication use.

Professor Andrew Trafford of Manchester University said: ‘Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease so treatment that could resist that risk is urgently needed.’

‘Erectile dysfunction treatments like Viagra are already licensed for use so if trials provide further evidence of a life-saving benefit it might be possible to start treating people with this drug in the not too distant future.’

He stresses that Viagra would not work for all male heart patients but if further trials confirm his results, he expects that it could be prescribed for many diabetics. It is not licensed for use by women but in theory it might help female diabetics, although further trials would be needed to show it is safe for them.

Professor Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: ‘Viagra was originally being developed as a cardiovascular treatment in the UK. Researchers were looking at its use in people with high blood pressure and angina so it’s promising to see that we may have rediscovered its potential in fighting heart disease.’

This is excellent news for people with Type 2 diabetes for two reasons: it will certainly boost their blood flow to keep the heart in good nick and will enable them to revive their sexual desires which lay dormant but not necessarily extinguished.

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THE SLEEP OF THE JUST

I often suffer from backache probably due to my age and lack of exercise. Alas, due to the fact that I sit in my office for most of the day reading manuscripts, answering the telephone and writing. Well, I have come to the conclusion that physical activity should be practiced more often and on a regular basis, otherwise, with the passage of time my back will get worse. One thing I do though, which seems helpful, is going to bed early although I never sleep more than an interrupted seven hours. However, the good news is that we are now told by scientists that if we want to avoid a bad back we must try to get a good night’s sleep, for they have discovered that our spinal discs have a 24-hour body clock that can cause debilitating pain when it gets out of synch.

More than 80 per cent of British people suffer from back pain during their lives – and the findings suggest nightshift workers could be particularly prone. It also suggests painkillers may be more effective at certain times of the day. The body clock – or circadian rhythm – is a 24-hour cycle in the psychological processes of humans, animals and plants. Previous research has linked problems with the cycles to cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity – but this research is the first to show a connection to back pain.

Ageing and inflammation are major causes of disc degeneration and lower back pain and the study found that both cause body-clock malfunctions. The researchers said getting a good night’s sleep would protect the body clock and help to avoid disc problems in the future. Avoiding night shifts – or working six hours rather than a flexible rota – will also help.

Dr Quig-Jun-Meng, of Manchester University said: ‘It’s been known for years that as a consequence of the daily activity and resting cycle we are taller in the mornings by up to two centimetres more than when we go to bed. The discovery of body clocks in the disc may go some way to explain for the first time the science behind this rhythmic physiology of the spine. Our research shows the system is regulated by our internal body clock and when the body clock ceases to work properly during ageing or in shift workers, lower back pain is more likely. Looking after your body clock will help manage or delay the onset of your back pain.’

The research, reported in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, found a 25-hour body clock in the disc tissue of mice and in human disc cells. Professor Judith Hoyland said: ‘If you remove the body clock from cells in the disc in mice, within six months degeneration is very noticeable and the disc is thinner by 20 to 30 per cent. Within 12 months we found evidence of fibrosis – the thickening and scarring of connective tissues prevalent in human degenerative discs. This accelerated ageing of the disc in a “clockless” model indicates having a robust body will help slowdown spinal ageing and associated spinal diseases.’

Dr Natalie Carter of Arthritis Research UK, which funded the study, said: ‘This research is a significant breakthrough in our understanding of lower back pain. Many people find that their symptoms get worse at certain times of the day and the results of this study reveal a likely biological basis to this effect. Living in pain day in and day out can have a devastating impact on peoples’ lives, effecting their independence, mobility and ability to stay in work. An exciting prospect is that it may be possible to use this new information to improve treatments and pain relief for people affected by this debilitating condition.’

After reading what the scientists have found, all that’s left for me to say is anything that may relieve back pain is worth thinking about even if it turns out to be a game for a laugh.

THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS

A major study has found that eating a healthy Mediterranean diet could be better than statins at cutting the risk of an early death. Leading experts said people with cardio-vascular disease should be prescribed a diet high in olive oil, vegetables and nuts before doctors consider turning to pills. The findings, presented in Rome recently at the world’s biggest heart conference, found that people with cardio-vascular disease, who followed the diet, were 37% less likely to die than patients who did not. British doctors said the study offers a simple way for people with heart disease to boost their survival chances – with no risk of side effects.

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The Mediterranean diet is already known to protect healthy people from developing heart problems, diabetes and cancer. But the new study is the strongest evidence to date that it could also be a powerful treatment for people who already have cardio-vascular disease. More than 7 million people in the UK are living with heart conditions – many of them suffering from angina, blocked arteries or even already have suffered a heart attack or stroke. These patients are nearly always prescribed statins which reduce levels of cholesterol and are proven to save lives. The medication cuts the chance of early death amongst people with cardio-vascular disease by 18%, according to a 2013 review involving 200,000 patients.

Some experts say statins are priceless, saving an estimated 7,000 lives in Britain every year, but many GPs and patients are concerned about over-prescription of the pills – which cost just £2 a month. A Mediterranean diet is typically rich in fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil. It usually involves low levels of carbohydrates, sugar and processed food – but people who follow it do not usually count calories or watch their fat intake. Experts think the diet has such a strong impact on heart patients because it is high in protective fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids.
The Italian team looked at the diets of nearly 1,200 heart patients and tracked them for seven years. I n that time 208 patients died. After taking into account other factors such as diabetes, smoking, cholesterol levels and age, they calculated that those who most closely followed the ‘ideal Mediterranean diet’ were 37% less likely to die during the study period than those whose eating patterns were the farthest from the Mediterranean diet.

Scientists warned that people prescribed the drugs should not stop taking them without speaking to their doctors, but they said that people with heart disease whether they are taking statins or not, could significantly improve their life expectancy if they changed their eating habits.

Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, a researcher at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli, Italy, said: ‘First of all doctors should consider diet before drugs. It could allow patients to get the benefits of statins but without the side effects.’ Presenting his data at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, Professor de Gaetano said statins remain important, but he added if more doctors advise patients to change their diets, statin use might be reduced. He suggested government subsidies would make it easier for people to follow the Mediterranean diet.
The problem is that the NHS pays for drugs, but it does not pay for vegetables and fruit. London cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhodra, who has long advocated a diet-driven approach to maintaining health, said the results were’ extraordinary’. He added: ‘The Mediterranean diet is more powerful than any drug in reducing death rates in patients with cardio-vascular disease. It’s the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of foods such as olive oil, nuts, oily fish and vegetables where the benefits lie, and unlike cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, come without side effects. It’s time for the NHS to embrace lifestyle medicine to save it from the collapse being predominantly driven by diet-related disease.’
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundations added: ‘It is good to know that even if you already have a history of cardio-vascular diseases, adhering to a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of death.’

My own diet has always been Mediterranean but for the past two years I have learned to eat less bread, a smaller breakfast, a good lunch and an extremely light dinner taken as early as possible, but not later than 7 pm. The result has been remarkable. I feel more energetic and rather perky.

For those who follow my blog know already that the secret of it all lies in the quantity of food you eat. Moderation is the key and a good night’s sleep is likely to elongate your life and banish some of the problems of old age or at least the capacity to bear them with fortitude.

CHERCHEZ LA FEMME

The Vikings, notorious for their brutality, had a less aggressive side to their character, or so we are told now. When they landed at Lindisfarne in 793AD it marked the beginning of hundreds of years of terrifying raids. But the reason why they took to the seas in the first place continues to divide historians, with some blaming overpopulation in the Norse lands, while others see it as a pre-emptive strike against the rising wave of Christianity.

Now a new theory suggests it was actually matters of the heart. Dr Mark Collard, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, believes changes in society led to severe shortages of Viking marriage partners. The growth of polygamy and social inequality of the late Iron Age meant that richer men took many wives or concubines, causing an imbalance in the male/female sex ratio.

Suddenly young poor men had little chance of securing a wife, unless they became rich and well known quickly, says Professor Collard. He believes raiding was therefore a short cut to heroism and treasure. ‘What is clear is that the sex ratio would have been substantially biased and increasing through time and even small amounts of bias can have a big effect,’ he said. ‘In a population where just a few powerful older men are able to have multiple concubines you end up with a number of young single men quite rapidly. Some men would have 2 to 3 wives, but the Norse sages say that some princes had limitless numbers. So raiding was a way to build wealth and power. Men could gain a place in society and the chance for wives if they took part in raids and proved their masculinity and came back wealthy.’

Surprisingly, the idea was first put forward by the Norman historian Dudo of St Quentin, who argued in his 10th century work The History of the Normans that the Viking raids were triggered by an excess of unmarried young men. Similarly the English antiquarian, William Camden, in his 1610 work, Britannia suggested the ‘Vikings were selected from areas of overpopulation after they multiplied themselves to a burdensome community.’

In recent years the theory has lost support from historians with many believing the raids were a quest for retaliation against Charlemagne’s bloody campaign to force Northern pagans to convert to Christianity. Yet Professor Collard believes that new research into psychology and ethnographic studies of tribes makes his theory –published in the Journal of Human Behaviour – more plausible.

Recent studies found that aggression rises when there is a shift in the male/female sex ratio and, where the percentage of unmarried men is greater, the rates of rape, murder, assault, theft and fraud also rise. New research has also shown that Yanomamo tribes in South America resort to inter-village raiding for polygamous marriages. It goes to prove that throughout history the compulsion of sex is a great motivating factor which drives humans to commit barbaric acts in order to satisfy their lust.

Nothing changes in human behaviour when put to the test.