Rheindahlen Military Cemetery Visit

A very poignant day today.

I did it.  I visited Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.

It’s nowadays not easy to get to, now that JHQ is closed.  My advice is to drive there, or take the number 26 bus and bring a pair of hiking boots for the final leg from the nearest bus stop.

Today was a bright, sunny, warm day, not enough to give a redhead sunburn.  I kept my promise to visit the babies’ section of the cemetery, which I had made to the mothers of three stillborn babies.

The cemetery was beautifully maintained.  Row upon row of gravestones, most with corps and regimental cap badges chiselled in.  Some, however, had no regimental badges engraved, but perhaps an angel or a simple cross.  These were the babies’ graves in an L-shaped section of the cemetery.

Did I feel emotional?  Not until I saw one gravestone that read:

Aged 10 minutes.

And then another:

Aged 6 hours.

And yet another:

Aged five days.

When I saw those graves, it all became so, so real: the Kopfkino images of the struggle to stay alive, of pride and ecstacy of becoming a parent and then the anguish of seeing life extinguished so soon after it had come into the world.  And then not being able to visit the grave at the drop of a hat.  Does that make the grieving process easier, or does that make the process much harder?

And then the stillborn babies.  Society has changed in its attitudes towards them.  Until the mid-70’s or 80’s, stillborn babies were buried in the cemetery without even a headstone, as if, because they had not even taken one mortal breath, even for ten minutes, they were maybe not even “proper” babies.  I took photos of their section and explained to their mothers that I was not able to find their babies’ exact resting places.  Nonetheless, I received messages of thanks for sharing photos of their resting places, and that made the visit all worithwhile.  The following is going to sound very cliched.  As a single man with no children, I can – literally – only imagine what the mothers must have gone through.

Rest in peace, little ones.  Rest in peace.

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Have a poignant day, won’t you!

 

 

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Cemetery Visit

I was born on dd/mm/yyyy in a British military hospital in Germany.  I am a pads brat, and proud of the fact.

The army wife giving birth before my mother died during childbirth.  I did not know that fact until ten years ago, when I was living near Oxford and planning a visit to Germany.  My dad asked me to do him a big favour and visit the grave of the mother in question, which, some months later I did.  It was a gloriously sunny day.  The Rheindahlen Military Cemetery, where she was buried, was billiard-table green and very peacefully quiet.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I stood at the lady’s grave.  Her name is Margaret.

  1. When had anyone last been to see her grave?
  2. The Angel of Death could have taken me, but chose to take Margaret instead.  Even on my darkest days, I have reminded myself of that fact.  There has to be a reason why I was allowed to live.

On Facebook among the anti-Trump, “what I am having for lunch” and cute animal photos, I recently saw some posts from two army wives regarding the Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.  Tragically, these two ladies had lost babies in the same hospital where I was born.  After making enquiries of various contacts that I know, I am intending to visit the cemetery in the next few days to visit the graves of the babies buried there, as well as to take photos and video footage to share with the mothers of these babies.  As a single man with no offspring, I can only imagine the pain these mothers will have gone through, when the Army and society in general were much more “stiff upper lip” than nowadays.  Since those first two army wives messaged me, I have received two or three other requests to visit other babies’ graves.

It is my humble duty and privilege to be living close enough to the cemetery for me to pay a visit.  Door to door: about 90 minutes.  I feel it is the least I can do for my fellow pads brats and families, to pay my respects and say a prayer by their babies’ graves.

Finally…  Some years ago, I remember a story about an army wife wanting to have her daughter’s remains repatriated some years after her burial back to England, where her parents were now living.  In preparation for the planned move, the mother came over to the grave at Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.  Standing by her daughter’s grave situated among the dozens of other babies’ graves, she told her husband:

No.  Let’s leave her here, so she can carry on playing with all her friends here.  They’d miss her terribly.

 

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Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

RIP, Bettina

2016 has been a year when many celebs have died.  November 2016 was also when a non-celeb died.  (I hate that euphemism, “to pass away.”  What does that expression mean, anyway?)  Bettina, my ex-colleague from my first “posting” to Germany in 2000-2003, died “after a long illness” (the favourite euphemism for cancer, never chronic arthritis or backache).

When you’re moaning about the your bus being late, or your email server being down, or strolling round the just-opened German Christmas markets, please spare a thought for Bettina’s soul, her friends and her family.

Nobody wants to die early.  Nobody wants to die slowly.  Nobody wants to die.

I remember going to one funeral six years ago.  The minister said:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for B’s life.  We thank you for her death.

Yes, we do thank you for her death.  We want to live.  Do we really want to merely exist, in pain and suffering?  I don’t.  We thank You, God, for Your grace and ask You to welcome Bettina into Your arms.

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

Ladykiller

“Avid” (ahem) readers of this blog will know from previous articles that I have a few claims to fame.  I also have a link to notoriety, namely: my room-mate in my first year at university went on to murder his girlfriend.  The number 1 question I am asked is:

What was he like?

It is the aim of this article to offer you a insight into the character of a convicted murder.  I’ll start with a look at the stereotype of a murder, the reality, then I’ll move onto two key aspects of his personality.

The Stereotype

The stereotype of a murderer can be summed up thus:

Well, he was a bit of a loner.

That was never the case with John.  He was, to use his words from his press conferences, “…outgoing, a lover of life, with everything to live for…”  He was:

  • Very extrovert
  • Jovial
  • A charmer
  • A keen cricketer
  • A keen footballer
  • A keen drinker
  • A keen electric guitarist and rock musician
  • A bit of a “jock” (to use an American expression)
  • The “life and soul of the party”

Again, contrary to the stereotype, he had a wide circle of friends and a never-ending string of girlfriends.  (By heck, was I – as a slightly nerdy lad, a ginger Adrian Mole, from the council estates of Redcar – jealous of his success with women!)

The reality was, however, not so attractive.  John had two aspects of his personality lurking below the surface. Let’s be blunt about it.  They were not likeable aspects.

Aspect 1: Passive Aggression

Quite ironic, now I think about it.  The last article I shared was a humorous one on passive aggression.  The irony has not been lost on me.  In psychology, passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of passive resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected of others.  In John passive aggression manifested itself in many ways.

  • Days before his birthday, in my presence, his friends went to his part of our room, took his prized poster of a scantily-clad model (reclining atop a sports car) off the wall, then repositioned the poster on the wall, with the back showing.  When I came back to our room that evening, I found that he was in bed, not even pretending to be asleep, and had placed a key in the door lock to prevent me from getting our room.  After nearly an hour of desperately knocking on the door, pleading with him, together together with neighbours, for him to open the door, ending with me being on the verge of tears and needing to sleep, he finally let me in.  The following day no more was said – from either side.  From my side – don’t provoke him any further.  From his side – he knew he had done wrong, but did not have the round objects to talk about it.
  • The stories of the laundry room key.  Each room was given a key to the hall laundry room.  The catch was, the resident had to sign for the key and had to pay a five pounds deposit, returnable on safe return of the key at the end of the year.  So far, so good.  One laundry key per room.  I signed for it.  I got it.  I paid the deposit on it.  So far, so good.  I used to keep the laundry room key on my desk.  John would take it when he needed to go to the laundry.  So far, so good. Then one day, I decided to place the key on my book shelf to keep the desk a bit tidy.  Seeing the key on my book shelf, John marched up to me, grabbed me with both hands by the front of my shirt and snarled, “You’re not having the monopoly on that.”  Rather than explain that I had paid the deposit and that he could still use the key, I took it on the chin (nearly literally).
  • And there’s more!  Days before the end of the year, I was looking to do a batch of laundry.  John had been to the laundry hours beforehand.  Now he was sitting by his desk, playing his guitar.  I asked him for the key.
    • I haven’t got it.

    • But you had it this morning when you went to the laundry.

    • I haven’t got it.

    • Well, could you just have a quick look, please?

John just carried on humming, strumming and singing to himself, clearly not interested, not a “team-player.” Not even the common courtesy of pausing even for a second. Doubtless I’ve slighted him earlier in the day, and this was his passive aggressive way of “punishing” me.  Kiss goodbye to five pounds deposit, I was by now thinking.  Then the following morning an announcement: He had found the laundry key. Followed by a profuse apology for the hassle last night.  Ha, you gotta be joking!  It had fallen into his bag of condoms.  (Yes, I’m such a lady’s man, I need a bag of them.)

Now, getting fret up about a laundry key might seem petty on my part.  Lke the chocolate bar you stole from the communal fridge, it’s “only a key,” but maybe you saw the bigger picture of the (passive) aggression when dealing with peers.  These are just a small sample of his actions, others relating to his attitude towards women.  Perhaps for a later article.

Aspect 2: The “Great ‘I am'”

John’s other character trait was the “great ‘I am'” attitude.  How to explain it?    Let’s have two examples.

  1. John came back in a foul mood one day, complaining to me, hardly able to contain his anger, that his then girlfriend was f***ing useless in bed, in the same way that you might complain that the babysitter had sneaked into your bedroom and sneakily looked through all your private diaries.  Hey, folks, I was still very much inexperienced with woman.  Any bed action with a woman would have made me happy!  How dare she not enjoy sex with him?  She should have realised he was a real ladykiller.
  2. Again at evening meal in the canteen, I greeted him with a cheery, “How are you doing?”  He “greeted” me with an arrogant jut of the chin in my direction and, “Whatcha rapping on about?”  How dare this f’ing ginger speak to me when I want to have my dinner?

Before university, he had, in fact, been a tutor at a cathedral school.  Just as an ex-military man has left the Army, he is still a soldier, maybe John still considered himself senior and superior to those around and under him.  “Do as you’re told.  I’m in charge here.”

Conclusion

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.  Wrong.  It’s the life and soul of the party types you have to watch out for.  Great fun, as long as things are fun and you dance to their tune.  But cross them, and see what happens.

  • Don’t help out with a good-natured prank on him.
  • Don’t even think of having the monpoly on that key.
  • Don’t be a timid, inexperienced lover.
  • Don’t have the audicity to reject his obsessive, browbeating behaviour.

Have an insightful day, won’t you!

Sunray Heading Downhill

Sunray.  His children used to call him “Dad.”  His daughter nowadays calls him “the sperm-donor.”  He’s been a  “problem child” all his married life and in the years thereafter.  Serial borrower.  Serial non-payer-back.  Heavy drinker.  Alcoholic.  Serial nuisance caller, trawling his address book for people to phone up to fifteen times a day.  Serial texter.  “U R ME PAL”; “CUM N SEE ME”; “GET ME A BTL OF ROSE PLS”.

I used to write to him every week or two, either a proper type-written letter or a postcard to boost his morale.  I used to phone him once a month.  Has he ever written back?  Once this year.  He now has a professional caseworker from the Royal British Legion, the Armed Forces charity.  Her summary to me?  “Yes, he’s a very difficult case.”

So, what’s the future.?  It’s not bright.  It’s not orange.  When someone is that deep in the rut of late-stage alcoholism combined with borderline personality disorder or sociopathy, there’s little you can do.

  • Poor physical health
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Osteoarthritis of both knees
  • Estranged from most of his family
  • No real, flesh-and blood, friends in his locality
  • The kind of personality that means people give you a “wide berth” (his favourite expression)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Etc etc

Does he actually want to live any more?  What are the reasons to live any more?  To even get out of bed?  Would death be a relief for him?

Choose the action, choose the consequences.

Have a consequential day, won’t you!

Texting in the Wee Small Hours

Victor has always been a news and current affairs buff.  He’s also more of an early bird than a nightowl.  As he’s grown older, he’s become ever fonder of his undisturbed sleep.  Hence his bedtime routine consisting of:

  • Clean teeth
  • Empty bladder
  • Stick Radio 4 on for the late night news
  • Turn mobile phone off

His son, on the other hand, has always been a nightowl, with a bladder the size of a pea.  Hence at every nocturnal loo break, he’d text Victor with a snippet, eg:

 

  • Family in-jokes
  • Words to song Victor used to like singing
  • News headlines

etc etc…

At 05:00 one morning, son got up, went to loo, climbed back into bed and listened to the Radio Five news.

Big headline was that Kim Jong-il of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had died.

Time to send a text to Sunray.  He can read it on regaining consciousness.

KIM JONG IL NOW DEAD

Message sent.  Now to catch another hour or two of sleep.

Peep-peep.  Incoming text message.

WHO THE [EXPLETIVE DELETED] IS HE

Reply from son:

President of North Korea

Sunray:

NOT [EXPLETIVE DELETED] INTERESTED MY FRIEND

Oh well, no pleasing some people, I guess.

Days later…  a constant stream of updates by text from Sunray to son, giving details of the deceased President’s funeral cortege and wailing crowds.  Suddenly he was interested, after all.

Have an interesting day, won’t you!

Yer Get Out What Yer Putin…

Stalin’s ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for his help running the country.

Stalin says:

“Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue.”

“Why blue?” Putin asks.
“Ha!” says Stalin. “I knew you wouldn’t ask me about the first part.”

Have a tolerant day, won’t you!