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Just an extract from the diary we kept during our visits to Israel. The following describes the simple task of finding a lecture room at the hospital.

Sunday, 15th June. After lunch, Karen (Sar-El educational soldier; took us around Acco last year) tells us there's a lecture at 1.30pm sharp up in Occupational Therapy (herinafter known as OT) - the library being occupied by a Torah class.

Harmless - but for an hour it is a scene worthy of something cross-pollinated by the Goon Show and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

Assembling the vollies (as volunteers are known) is a heroic task in itself, but we'll pass on that one. First came the Business of the Lift. Okay, it has been refurbished with state-of-the-art controls. But it still decides empirically where and when to go, and we visit an assortment of floors before debouching at OT. We eight (we happy eight; apologies to William S. and the Battle of Agincourt) erupt noisily into the midst of some solemn staff meeting, burble our oops, sorries (Hebrew: slicha - used a lot by foreigners) in a variety of languages and beat a hasty one. Some bright volly ('s oxymoron time, folks...) hazards that we were predestined to go to physiotherapy, rather than occupational ditto. So the procession (ever chattering like magpies) hail the lift, visit a few random wards and finally invade PT. The charge nurse is not impressed as we waltz in. Nor are we, at finding no lecture hall, simply an array of beds and Marquis de Sade gadgetry on which alarmingly-shaped persons are being amazingly maltreated. We chorus our slichas and waltz out, yet again succeeding in unimpressing the charge nurse.

Next choice: the TV lounge. Nobody cares to risk a third involvement with the lift - by tacit agreement it is understood that luck can be pushed just so far without invoking a lethal dose of diminishing returns. So out, down, past the ever-closed outdoor café - and we are waved indignantly away from nameless practises being performed in the name of medicine in what rightly should be the vollies' R&R sanctum.

It might have been us (...or, pedantically, we...) who felt the library deserved a try. Democratically a majority vote concurred, with a rider that the wandering eight blaze a trail across the builders' yard. We don't actually lose anyone en route, nor is any literal blood spilled, but Middle Eastern buildery is not the tidiest, and we lurch from one death-trap to another, disturbing tribes of lean and hungry cats who perform their arcane rituals there heedless of unstable masonry and machinery.

The library (...which bears no evidence of books...) is sited as obscurely as any room could ever be. But the combined wisdom of the octet takes us to the spot first time - to find (as one volly had accurately forecast) a Torah class in profound session. Our irreverent incursion may well have interrupted the incipient discovery of the meaning of life, the universe, and how to buy a kosher Big Mac on Shabbat, and once again we select reverse and chorus slicha under the withering gaze of saintly scholars jolted rudely from their slumbers.

Sanity prevails. It is patent that wherever we ought to be, there is no room at the, er, moment. And we have visions of soldier-lecturer Karen and the octave of vollies chasing each other through the echoing corridors until teatime. So we sit outside Yod Aleph (the wards are known by Hebrew letters of the alephbet) and burble noisily to upset staff and patients alike.

Orit [i/c volly welfare] appears. And has the normal Israeli Donny-brook with one known as the Janitor - who is probably only a few notches below Deity in this establishment.

And finally, panting and dishevelled, Karen jogs into view, having climbed ev'ry mountain and left no turn unstoned to find our good selves and an empty room and unite the two (and herself) for a happy and instructive hour or so.

By now, already, enough time has probably passed to render all the lecture rooms free for our use. So Karen does the Hebrew version of Eeny, Meeny and the lot falls on the library.

Across a million hazards, scattering a myriad cats, around endless corners where ancient pensioners watch us with puzzlement, and up the stairs. It is inevitable that the rep from the rabbinate, having exhausted his elucidation of the intricacies of Torah, has fled the scene leaving the library locked like Fort Knox, or the Deacon Centre for the benefit of Aussies in our midst. But only a few minutes pass by before the key is located. And in no time at all we discover that the video equipment will only function with an engineer standing by with his long, thin screwdriver making on-the-fly adjustments to helical scans and tracking azimuths, whichever is the less.

Welcome to Israel, ladies and gentlemen.

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