Remembrance Day

The poppy.  The two-minute silence.  The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.  These are words and images familiar to anyone from, or living in, the UK.

I, however, live in Germany.  Yesterday, with less than a week’s notice, as church warden, I had to step in and lead our church’s Remembrance Day service.

Here we also call it Peace Sunday, because we in our church need to emphasise the service is not about celebrating victory, but about remembering those who gave their lives in conflict, and also about praying for peace between nations.

As warden, my usual task in this service is just to:

  • Lay a wreath
  • Find a German/young person/woman to lay the other

For yesterday I had to:

  • Look through the service sheet
  • Liaise with the preacher
  • Do a dry run
  • Check timings
  • Explain to the wreath layer the context of the service and wreath laying
  • Find a replacement for me to sit in Sunday school
  • Much, much more

In the days before the service, I practise my lines.

Sunday turns up.  I stand at the lectern.  I have been to the loo three times with pre-lectern nerves.

10:45 on the dot.  We start.  I read verbatim from my notes.  I want to get it right.

10:54 We reach the point where we lay the wreaths.  We are meant to start the silence at 11:00.  No way can I pad out the service till 11:00.  I make a decision on the ground.  I signal that we start tne 2-minute silence.

The silence seems to last two hours.  Everyone keeps the silence immaculately.  My blood pressure is lowered.

I thank my wreath layer and return to the lectern to continue the service.

More hymns.  More prayers.  I introduce the preacher, a USAF veteran.  He preaches.  And preaches.  It’s a hum-dinger, forty minutes long, but engaging and thought-provoking.  I then look for our intercessions person.  He is AWOL: “absent without leave.”  I had anticipated that eventuality.  Time for ACTS.

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanks
  • Supplication

I pray.  We all pray. As I pray for peace, I hesitate for a second or two as I look at members of congregation who come from war zone countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  I lick my lips and take a sharp intake of breath, thinking of what these people must have gone through.

Fast forward.  Just before 13:00 the service ends with the Grace and notices.

I give thanks to God for a another dignified Remembrance/Peace Sunday service.  The congregation files out to refreshments in the church hall.  I even get compliments on my suit and on how I led the service.  I am truly flattered.  It was a team effort:

  • Leader
  • Chaplain briefing
  • Musicians
  • Sidespersons
  • A patient congregation

After shaking lots of hands and being asked in the absence of “the priest” if I can provide a visitor with some “holy water.”  Answer: er, no, I can’t, and anyway, as far as I am concerned, all water is holy.  That would be an ecumenical question.

13:00 Everyone has been fed and watered.  I breathe a sigh of relief that all went well.

Have a dignified day, won’t you!

Image result for remembrance

Aye! I love t’Dales!

Burma!  Egypt!  Malaya!

Hang on, wrong song.  That was from Sweet Banana.  Let me start again.

Masham!  Bedale!  Leyburn!

That’s where Schatz and I were at the end of August.

It had been over a year since Schatz and I had been in England (Redcar, Saltburn and Whitby – the North York Moors area).  Now it was time to show Schatz the Yorkshire Dales.

A smooth flight from DUS to Leeds Bradford Airport, preceded by a McDonalds breakfast at DUS.  (I must admit, I do like their muffins and their coffee.  Their branch at DUS does make a useful “office” for doing paperwork.)

Our taxi picks us up on time.  We head through the country roads to our hotel in Masham.  (A point on pronunciation.  It’s “Mass ’em,” not “Mash ’em.”)  We arrive at reception.  For the first time in years, I do not have to spell my surname.  The receptionist says, “I live in that village.”

Our room: nice and cosy.  Lovely double duvet, lots of biscuit by the kettle.  By now it is 4pm.  Schatz and I have not eaten since our mid-morning McAttack.

Wir haben Hunger.

We stroll off to the market square via the local supermarket.  I stock up on Ibuprofen: 90% of the price in Germany.  (I repeat this procedure several times over the weekend.  Why pay a fiver, when you can pay 46 pence?)

The fish’n’chip restaurant is not open for another 30 minutes.  It’s a hot, rather humid day.  Schatz has been dieting successfully this year.  Nonetheless I ask if she would like an ice cream from Bah Humbugs.  Brymor ice cream.  Made from Guernsey cow’s milk.  She says yes.  I bring her a cone with two big scoops of:

  • Black cherry whim-wham
  • Rhubarb and custard

I get myself black cherry whim-wham and chocomint.  Delicious.

icecream

Normally we would eat pudding after a meal.  But needs must.

Harry’s fish and chip restaurant.  Schatz  and I chat in German while looking through the menu.  (We know already what we are going to order, anyway.)

This is what we ordered.  British food p0rn…

chips

I also ordered curry sauce and onion rings to accompany.  Our plates were clean by the time we finished.

A waddle around the Market Square and then back to our hotel via the local fruit shop to buy postcards (and to buy postage stamps – the post office had closed months before, much to the locals’ chagrin).

Back to our hotel room.  We flop out on the bed for “a quick lie-down before we go down to the bar.”

Twenty minutes later, Schatz is in her night clothes under the duvet.  I am watching The Sweeney, 1970’s cops’n’robbers show on TV.  Schatz is now comatose.  I watch another episode of The Sweeney.

  • You’re nicked!
  • Guv’nor!

etc…

I get a second wind.  (I blame the onion rings.)  Lamy fountain pen out.  Postcard to Schatz’ parents.  Another to our church organist, caring for her dad in Surrey.  Another to Grasshopper.  I get dressed.  Off to the postbox in town.  Via the supermarket for more Ibuprofen.  Leg stretch time.  I bring back Nachos and dip for Schatz, who is now awake.

We munch our Nachos.  It’s been a very pleasant day in Masham.

Have a black cherry whim-wham day, won’t you!

 

Street Jewelry

Oz, a character in the hit 1980s comedy drama, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, once observed:

These German bricks lack the panache of British bricks.

I’ve thought the same on a number of occasions, when looking at Gewrman postboxes.  One of the distinguishing features of German postboxes seems to be grafitti, something I have rarely seen on Royal Mail postboxes.

Therefore, I was most impressed some days ago, when strolling through the scenic village of Kaiserswerth, to see two posboxes that were grafitti-free.  Praise be to the people and visitors to Kaiserswerth.

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Klemensplatz

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Kaiserswerth post office

Have a presentable day, won’t you!

Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans

Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans was the title of a Noel Coward song.  I fully agree.  Let’s be beastly to the Dutch instead.

Last week I sent the following cartoon out to my British and German friends, many of whom then forwarded it in turn to their friends via Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.

DutchExorcism

Have a guttural day, won’t you!

In peace – goodwill

In war – determination.

In defeat – defiance.

In victory – magnanimity.

In peace – goodwill.

Wise words from Winston Churchill.

During World War II and even up till 1948, many German prisoners of war (PW) were kept in the United Kingdom and proved to be most useful as a labour force, especially on farms, auf dem Lande.

All the PW’s would be dropped off at their place of work at 0700 every morning.  They would have head back to their PW camp, a converted manor house, in the evening.  Their rations for the day: a tin of corned beef, barely edible for a dog, let alone a man working in the fields.

One such PW worked on my great-grandad’s farm in the Yorkshire Dales.  I forget his name (It’s mentioned in a recent letter from my 80-year-old uncle A from Bedale.)  Let’s call him Ralph.

When his employer’s family found out that Ralph:

  1. Was not a Nazi, just another conscript, doing his job
  2. Was a motor mechanic
  3. He was a good “grafter,” full of Teutonic efficiency
  4. Had food rations thatwere not fit for purpose
  5. Was an all-round nice guy

the family pretty much adopted him.

They invited him to join them as honoured guest for lunchtime every day, including Sunday roast with gallons of gravy and Yorkshire pudding.

Finally, when Ralph was sent back to Germany in 1948, home addresses were exchanged.  Every Christmastime Christmas cards would be exchanged between t’Dales and Hamburg, Ralph’s home.

In 1964 my Uncle A was posted to the BAOR, British Army of the Rhine.  He then visited Ralph in Hamburg and had a few beers with him, also meeting his wife and children.

Uncle A and Ralph kept in contact for years even when Uncle A was posted to Northern Ireland.  Eventually the Christmas cards stopped.  Ralph had passed away.  The final correspondence was a condolence card sent to Ralph’s family some time in the 1960’s.

Aus Feind wird Freund.

Have a friendly day, won’t you!

hands people friends communication

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Please call the church warden on…

The vicar is away for several weeks’ holidays.  That means anyone phoning the vicarage with queries is asked to phone me as church warden.  I don’t mind.  Happy to help.  Variety is the spice of life, and I get a wide variety of calls.

First call of the hols – yesterday

Unknown mobile, a lady’s voice:

Hallo.  Do you spik Englisch or Cherman?

G in G:

Würden Sie lieber auf Deutsch reden?

WE speak in German.  The caller is one of the local undertakers.  An English lady has recently died.  As she’s not Catholic, the local Catholic priest won’t bury her.  Can the Anglican priest come to … Cemetery this Friday and bury her ashes in an urn?

G in G:

No.  He’s on holiday abroad this month.  How urgent is it?

Untertaker:

It’s not urgent.  Her ashes are in an urn.

A very practical, German answer.

I email the vicar and cc: the undertaker to assess next steps.

Today the untertaker writes back to advise the local Catholic priest will, after all, bury the English lady’s ashes.  Very kind of him.

floral design steel container

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This afternoon I decide to sit in the library in the city centre in order to:

  1. Read the Torygraph
  2. Write my diary
  3. Think of some blog writing to plan for my avid readers thereof

Another phone call from an unknown mobile number.  It’s a semi-regular member of congregation.

Can the vicar countersign some passport and birth certificate documentation, please?

G in G:

No.  He’s on holiday this month.  What’s the situation?  Maybe I can help?

It turns out:

  • The fiance is a national of country X
  • but was born in country Y
  • and also has a passport of country Z

Fiancee is a German national, but has decided that she and fiance will get married in Caribbean country XX, which requires about 300 copies of doxs (countersigned by a doctor, teacher, priest or person of similar standing) in order for a marriage to take place there.  But if all else fails, they will marry in a German registry office to make it all legal.

G in G:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrright, I think I understand.  Where are you right now?

Semi-regular member of congregation (SMOC):

We’re at the airport.

G in G:

If you’d like to come to the library in the city centre, I can take a look and countersign.

SMOC’s fiance turns up thirty minutes later.  We sit in the library.  I have a brainwave.

Let’s jump in your car and head to the church.  We have a selection of rubber stamps there.  That’ll make everything look more official .

Twenty minutes later we reach the church office.  I grab the official rubber stamps and the ink pad.  I take a sheet of A4 paper from the photocopier.

Thump, thump!   Thump, thump!

For a moment, I felt like I was an immigration official at passport control.

I show the sample rubber stamps to SMOC and fiance.  They are happy.

I take the copies of passport and driving licence.  Fountain pen out, I write:

I certify…

I open the ink pad again.

Thump, thump!

Church rubber stamp next to my signature and at the bottom of the page.  Off you go!

person holding brown stamp

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Have a rubbery day, won’t you!