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George and Eileen Anderson

A year of voluntary work in Jerusalem produces its own problems. Such as replacing the necessities of life in an unfamiliar environment.

I hesitate (George writing this bit) to go into details. Suffice it to say that Eileen was in search of an undergarment normally known by its three-letter abbreviation.

We were horrified to discover that the Co-op near the top of King George Street sold the devices for 250 shekels. Flimsy bits of nonsense they were, too. Intended for persons dieted down to resemble broomsticks with speedbumps, rather than normal cuddly females as God designed them.

Reasoning that the lower classes, the significantly mature and the religiously Orthodox probably avoided the teenyboppers' lingerie department and patronised something more discrete and less expensive, I suggested prowling through the Mahaneh Yehudah market and sussing out one of the murky bazaars that lurked behind the shekel-shekel hurly-burly of its two main lanes.

Sure enough, in the tactful gloom of a covered alleyway was a tiny haberdashery emporium, presided over by a wizened Israeli gnome. The glint in his eye suggested many years' experience of sizing up his customers' dimensions with unerring accuracy.

In retrospect, it's hard to decide whether his total lack of English and our rudimentary Hebrew was a drawback or an asset. At least our linguistic shortcomings prevented the conversation from plumbing the depths of ribaldry. And, sadly, stopped me from trotting out the old chestnut of 'What bust, madam?', 'Nothing, it just wore out'.

Finally, having compared the construction details of most of his stock-in-trade with the undeniable magnificence of his customer, he selected two superb examples of the unmentionable-garment-makers' art, and we began some serious bargaining.

The worthy salesgentleperson, in true Middle Eastern tradition, assures me (he has rightly guessed that a compulsive chauvinist of my vintage holds the cash) that these items are cheaper if we buy two at a time, and he opens the bidding at 180 shekels each.

That's ridiculous. He knows it, we know it, and he knows that we know he knows it.

I counter with 20 shekels each, which causes him to pause for afternoon prayers. He implores the heavens that life may be bad but, oy vey, surely not that bad already.

And with much fractured Hebrew, my appeals to poverty and ten starving children sobbing plaintively at home, his exhortations that madam will be transformed into the veritable epitome of a security guard's dilemma - we settle amicably on 60 shekels for one. We leave his diminutive establishment clutching an anonymous brown paper bag. His promises ring in our ears, to the effect that, should the item in question be too large or too small (or conversely, my lady-wife and, shall we say, bosom companion of some 43 street-legal years, should she be too small or too large) he will gladly exchange the article, but mercifully not the spouse, for something more outstanding until satisfaction is achieved.

Flushed with success we take a 38 bus into the heart of the Old City and enjoy a well-earned pizza.

That's our version of the event, and we would solemnly affirm that almost every word is true.


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