Lockdown Armchair Travel – Israel – Jerusalem – March 2016

I is also for Israel, and we had a couple of days there during our Mediterranean cruise in 2016. We took the ship’s day excursion to Jerusalem, somewhere I had always wanted to go. Incredibly busy, incredibly beautiful, incredibly tense. The day included probably the unhappiest tourist-rip-off moment I’ve ever experienced, but it also included moments of sheer joy.

So what do you think of, when you think of Jerusalem? Maybe this man:


This picture is just one of many beautiful and emotion-filled works of art in the Church of All Nations that stands on the Mount of Olives beside the Garden of Gethsemane. Here’s more of the Church:








But my favourite place in the whole of Jerusalem is the neighbouring Garden of Gethsemane. Extraordinary to think that it still exists so beautifully to this day.


Did Jesus sit beneath this olive tree?


Standing out in the whole of the Jerusalem cityscape is the incredible Dome of the Rock



But Jerusalem has its fair share of other stunning buildings. This is the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene.


Perhaps the most famous sight in Jerusalem is the Wailing Wall. It’s split into two portions; one large area for the men to pray and one tiny one for the women.


The old walls are remarkable




But the most important place is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre


Which was one of the least friendly churches I’ve ever been in!




But the light shining in is amazing


It’s fascinating – although crowded – to walk down the via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the path Jesus took to his crucifixion.


Here are some of the stations of the Cross




The layout of the Jewish Cemetery at the Mount of Olives is fascinating


There are, of course, modern sights, but you don’t really get to see them in a day trip. This is when our coach drove past the Knesset.


As in all cities, life is lived on the streets




And there are always quirky views to enjoy




Although the security fence is somewhat distressing


And even the souvenir t-shirts proclaim something of a gallows humour


So, in short, Jerusalem is beautiful but stressful. We also went to Tel Aviv which is the complete opposite – ugly and relaxed. I guess you can’t have both!




Thanks for joining me on this little jaunt around Jerusalem. Next blog will be back to the old theatre trips, and some shows I saw between August and October 1980. Stay safe!



Eurovision 2015 – Semi Final Two

Yes I’m back again, gentle reader, with a look at the seventeen songs that will glitter their way through Semi Final Two. As before, you can also see the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 6th May) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. To horse!

Lithuania – Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila – This Time

Monika Linkytė and Vaidas BaumilaAn inauspicious start to the show. I’m sure this was put together as some kind of tribute to or emulation of Denmark’s jolly 2001 entry Never Ever Let You Go by Rollo and King, but it so hugely fails to come anywhere near it. Not so much “I’m feeling love, love, love”, more “I’m feeling sick, sick, sick” as it gloopily wallows in every sub-country-music cliché. If they stop and do that irritating kiss halfway through I’d be so tempted to throw a brick at the TV screen. Trite as it is, it seems bewilderingly popular with some people. Get a life, guys! 66/1 – 150/1. *

Ireland – Molly Sterling – Playing with Numbers

Molly SterlingHaving started with something horrendous, we move on to something ultra-bland. There’s something about this song that turns me off after about ten seconds, and it never regains my attention. Believe me, I have tried to concentrate on it… has it started to rain outside? Ah shame, I need to go and…. What was I saying? Ah yes, this year’s Irish song. Sorry, vacuous overload. Pass. 50/1 – 125-1. *

San Marino – Anita Simoncini & Michele Perniola – Chain of Light

Anita Simoncini & Michele PerniolaWell Michele sums the whole thing up with his first word. Have you ever seen such ham acting in a music video? To be fair, they are both only 16, so we can make some allowances (but see Israel, below) and an awful lot of the blame should be heaped on the shoulders of composer Uncle Ralph Siegel, who continues to devalue his brilliant career by writing latter-day tosh. I cringe when Anita does her little street-rap interjections (“all walk together”, “yes we should”) and I wonder if that conductor’s asking himself where did his career go so wrong. There are worse songs. A few. 66/1 – 300/1. **

Montenegro – Knez – Adio

KnezAdio has Zeljko Joksimovic’s size 12 bootprints stamped all over it, but it’s none the worse for that, and for me this is the best song he’s penned for the contest apart from his very own Lane Moje. It soars to a lovely middle section full of oh oh oh’s and ethnic instruments, and it just somehow feels right. Knez is a seasoned performer (I think that’s the right phrase) who gave a great performance at the London Eurovision Party. The video could do wonders for the local tourism industry (again, see Israel, below). Montenegro came surprisingly low with a similar entry last year – but this year’s is a whole heap better. 100/1 – 200/1. ****

Malta – Amber – Warrior

AmberThe second of two Warriors in this year’s contest, and the more accomplished. It’s a big tune that calls for a big voice, and Amber has that in spades. She’s been knocking on Eurovision’s door for a few years now, and I’m sure she’ll seize her chance with all the decibels she can. Very borderline qualification, as I’m not sure the song stands too much examination. But I wish her luck. 50/1 – 200/1. ***

Norway – Mørland and Debrah Scarlett – Monster Like Me

Mørland and Debrah ScarlettA few months ago I was skimming through the contestants for Melodi Grand Prix (that’s the Norwegian national final to the uninitiated), listening to 30 seconds or so of each song just to get a feel for it, and on the whole thought they were pretty good. Then Monster Like Me came on and I was transfixed. I had to hear the whole thing. So what was it that Mr Mørland did that was so terrible in his early youth? I don’t think we’ll ever find out. I have a sneaking suspicion that he doesn’t know himself either and has been feeding on hallucinogenic substances to block it out (or make it up). This song is so different, so impactful; a fantastic example of less is more, and Kjetil and Debrah have such a presence together it takes your breath away. A three act drama in three minutes? The missing number from Phantom of the Opera? However you want to categorise it, it’s my winner of the year. 16/1 – 28/1. *****

Portugal – Leonor Andrade – Há um Mar que nos Separa

Leonor Andrade“There is a sea that separates us”, sings Leonor, or at least according to Google Translate. She’s a rock chick-cum-fado singer who looks like she could wrestle with the most difficult composition and win on a technical knock-out. Sadly the song ambles along without getting anywhere, despite its emotional lyrics. A fairly typical Portuguese snoozefest. 100/1 – 500/1 (the most rank outsider). *

Czech Republic – Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta – Hope Never Dies

Marta Jandová and Václav Noid BártaWelcome back to the Czech Republic and their first entry since 2009. Although it doesn’t have a lot of competition, this power ballad is far and away the country’s best entry to date. Marta and Václav performed at the London Eurovision Party and won us all over with their terrific sense of fun and amazing vocals – Václav’s Roxanne has to be heard (and seen) to be believed. A stirring tune and a feeling for drama make this one of this year’s surprise hits. The Czech Rep doesn’t have much in the way of natural allies on the Eurovision front but I hope a good jury score will send this through to the final. 100/1 – 300/1. ****

Israel – Nadav Guedj – Golden Boy

Nadav GuedjI referred earlier to the youth of the Sammarese kidz and the tourism aspect of Knez’ song. Both are intertwined in this year’s entry from Israel, performed by Nadav Guedj, 16 going on 35, and winner of Israel’s “The Next Star” TV show. No surprise he won – what a find is this young chap. Great voice, likeable personality, and such maturity for his tender years. The song takes a while to get going, but once it’s got there it’s the best Middle-East/Bollywood sound to come out of Eurovision since AySel and Arash. Perfect for some embarrassing middle-aged dad dancing. “And before I leave, let me show you Tel Aviv” – this song has been brought to you courtesy of the Israeli Tourism Agency. What Eurovision is all about – entertainment on max. setting, slipping through your taste filter like sh*t off a shovel. 25/1 – 100/1. *****

Latvia – Aminata – Love Injected

AminataAs is often the case with Eurovision, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Aminata’s lyrics sound either wimpishly wingey or stridently wingey, depending what part of the song you’re listening to, and the musical arrangement sounds like farts in a water bottle. At best this will get lost amongst all the other dullish female vocalist songs; at worst it’s a nul-pointer. 40/1 – 100/1. *

Azerbaijan – Elnur Huseynov – Hour of the Wolf

Elnur HuseynovAnd now for an injection of class. Elnur last appeared on the Eurovision stage in 2008 clad as a fluffy angel. Now he’s back with a less hysterical song (let’s face it, anything is less hysterical than Day After Day), that’s nevertheless splendidly atmospheric and dramatic. Despite being written by a panel of four, probably in a bureaucratic office back of Baku, it’s definitely a contender for this year’s best written song. Elnur’s vocals are a little Marmite, and I’m not a great fan of his English accent, but I expect it’s much better than my Azeri. I’m sure the juries will love this. 20/1 – 25/1. *****

Iceland – Maria Olafs – Unbroken

Maria OlafsThis year Iceland are sending the cutest of their pixies to represent them, 22 year old Maria Olafsdottir. This is an odd song, to my ears; it has all the elements of something really rewarding and enjoyable but somehow, when it comes to the crunch, just fails to deliver. Probably too many “one step”s involved, making it the bastard child of Michael Ball and Bettina Soriat. (That’s a joke for the nerds out there). I couldn’t work out why it was called “Unbroken”, until I realised it was in the lyrics. I thought she was singing “I’m back again”. Enunciation dear, that’s the key. It leaves me not entirely flat, but certainly not particularly sharp. 33/1 – 50/1. ***

Sweden – Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes

Mans ZelmerlowAh dear old Måns, the godlike darling of many a Melofestivalen. How can we thank thee for thy Cara Mia? How may we praise thee for thy Hope and Glory? Yet you win with the much slighter Heroes, and 90% of it was due to that terrific little chap whom you high-five even though he’s make-believe and just a cartoon (hope that’s not a shock to anyone). I’m being mean really. It’s a pretty good song, and Måns is a superlative performer. When he sang at the London Eurovision Party he had the audience in the palm of his hand; and is also no slouch preparing the cocktails behind the bar if the rumours are to be believed. Upbeat and uplifting, it’ll do very well no doubt – but I do prefer his other songs! 6/4 – 13/8 (the favourite). ****

Switzerland – Mélanie René – Time to Shine

Mélanie RenéAnother perfectly nice, charming entry from a perfectly nice, charming female singer that provides a perfectly nice, charming three minutes that you forget instantly afterwards – but it was all perfectly nice and charming. If it’s her time to shine, I hope she’s brought the Mr Sheen. Does she really sing “mucking around” or do my ears deceive me? Switzerland has no natural allies at Eurovision and, frankly, this hasn’t a hope of qualifying. 50/1 – 200/1. **

Cyprus – John Karayiannis – One Thing I Should Have Done

John KarayiannisSomething a little different from Cyprus this year, a very gentle, reflective ballad sung by a decent young chap who looks like a trainee accountant. One Thing I Should Have Done is written by Mike Connaris of Stronger Every Minute fame, and you can see similarities between the two entries. The stand-out moment of this song is its extremely quiet and underplayed middle section, although that’s also its weakness as it’s just too quiet and laid back for me. Cyprus and Greece have been separated in the semi-finals this year like two naughty schoolchildren so I think both might struggle to qualify. As Paul Daniels would say, I like this, not a lot, but I like it. 50/1 – 125/1. ***

Slovenia – Maraaya – Here For You

MaraayaSo Maraaya are a duo. Who knew? She’s Marjetka, and he’s Raay, so together they’re Maraaya, geddit? He wrote Round and Round for Tinkara Kovac last year, but he’s done a better job with this year’s entry, with its English lyrics by Charlie Mason, who penned the words to Rise Like a Phoenix and Beauty Never Lies. Marjetka’s vocals really suit this retro-feeling, sub-Motown sounding, dark song about supporting your lover who’s down down low. A good song, much favoured, and it ought to do really well. 14/1 – 33/1. ****

Poland – Monika Kuszyńska – In the Name of Love

Monika KuszyńskaI first heard this is in its original Polish language version and it completely passed me by. Now it’s in English I find it’s actually quite a beguiling little song. Monika Kuszyńska is a most attractive lady and has lots of experience in the Polish music industry. Being in a wheelchair obviously doesn’t hold her back! The song is perhaps a little repetitive at times but has a kind of Enya-ish quality which can just soothe you to sleep. However, that’s probably not the best genre for the final song of the night, and it might get overlooked while everyone SMS’s for the Slovenian entry. I fear Poland may well not qualify this year. 100/1 – 125/1. ***

So that’s your lot for Semi Final Two. Which seven songs do you think will go no further? Ireland, San Marino, Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Switzerland and Czech Republic is my guess. Remember to watch the second semi-final on BBC 3 at 8pm on Thursday 21st May – this time viewers in the UK can vote. Ten songs will go forward from both semis to the Grand Final on 23rd May along with seven others – the Big Five, last year’s winner Austria and, for the first time and stretching the boundaries of Europe even more thinly, Australia. I’ll be back again tomorrow to run through those final songs – see you then!