Box of memories

Kibbutz Virgin by Jonathan Nicholas
Kibbutz Virgin by Jonathan Nicholas

Ian Soutar hears how the discovery of a teenage diary has produced a book chronicling a life-changing adventure

Clearing out his loft at home Jonathan Nicholas came across a cardboard box containing a blue plastic folder which had lain undisturbed for 30 years.

“Inside I found a handwritten diary and some photographs. The diary was a Woolworths A4 refill pad and was entitled, My Visit to Israel, and dated November 12 1978 to May 7, 1979,” he recalls.

Reading it brought back memories of his time as an 18-year-old when, after finishing his A levels, he left his Sheffield home and went to live on a Kibbutz for six months.

Now he has used the diary as the basis for a book about his experiences called Kibbutz Virgin.

“It was an incredible adventure, although I hated it at first,” he says. “The food was awful, the living conditions were spartan and I didn’t seem to have anything in commom with the people around me. And I also found the Israelis quite rude.

“By the time it came to go home six months later I was really sad and I eventually went back twice, although to different kibbutzes.”

It was a rites of passage for the youngster. “I grew up in Dore and went to King Ecgbert’s School and I was naive and terribly twee and middle class, at least in the eyes of the lads from Yorkshire and Birmingham that I was sharing a room with,” he reflects. “They were much more streetwise than me. So that part of it was quite a shock for me.

“They thought I was posh but I wasn’t really. We lived in a semi at the bottom of Ashfurlong Drive – the wrong end of Dore - but it was a world away from where they seemed to have come from.

“The conditions on the kibbutz were appalling but it was a fantastic experience. Sadly the opportunity doesn’t exist any more, the kibbutzes are not open to volunteers. Israel has embraced capitalism. It was an ideal that attracted 400,000 volunteers over the years.

“It was a baptism of fire, being caught up in air raids from the PLO. It was really only later I found out the history and the modern politics behind what was going on. At the time I was angry with them because they had bombed the bar where we drank but I suppose at that age you are selfish and self-centred.”

By and large the book sticks to his diary. “There were a few bad things that happened at Dafna which I decided to leave out. I want it to be a positive book, not to the extent of seeing thing through rose-tinted glasses, though.”

These days Jonathan lives in Nottinghamshire and has agreed with his employers not to reveal his day job when talking about the book.

“I have two grown-up sons, one a teacher in London, the other at university. I still have family in Sheffield and I do miss it. Where we lived was close to the Peak District and one of the things I miss is the smell of the heather. When I come back to Dore I pick it up straight away.”

Jonathan has plans for another book based on a diary. “I am going to ghost-write a book for my uncle, Dennis Hubbard, based on the diaries he kept when working on the Rhodesian railways in the Fifties,” he reports. “He was born in 1929 and grew up on the Manor estate so this was a real life-changing experience for him too.”

Diaries have been with him all his life. “In Israel it wasn’t starting a diary but carrying on. I had kept one when I was at King Ecgbert’s and I’ve continued to do so all my life – 400 words a day.”

Kibbutz Virgin (Matador £9.99) is available in Kindle version and paperback via Amazon.