Charlie don’t surf – Glasshopper doesn’t hug trees

Glasshopper and I go back to over 40 years to the days when he and I were pads brats “Klassenkameraden” at Wolfenbüttel, Germany.  He is nowadays a police officer, and spent several years as a riot policeman (Bereitschaftspolizist).  On the nerd/jock spectrum he and I would probably find ourselves at opposite ends.

In fact, here we are in this photo from 1977, HM Queen’s silver jubilee year.  Glasshopper is rear rank, furthest left.  I am next to him, with my finger in mouth.  Cute, eh?

classpic

On the last Wednesday in October 2017 Glasshopper’s wife was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

How is it that I remember that date?  Photographic memory?  No.  Did I just check in my Moleskine diary?  No.  It was the night that I had just come home from an excellent comedy evening down the Altstadt.  In fact, when I got home, I had been laughing so much, it was as if I had been doing sit-ups all night.  (Most unlikely.)

But once I had arrived home and had logged onto Facebook, I wasn’t laughing much any longer.

I saw Glasshopper’s posts on Facebook.  I saw his wife’s posts on Facebook.  I had arrived  home at 02:12.  Glasshopper was still up and on Facebook.  Glasshopper told me the devastating news.

My reply did not consist of Bible passages or words from hymns:

F*ck f*ck f*ck.

And then:

Sh1t, sh1t, sh1t!

Today was Mrs Glasshopper’s last of ten chemotherapy sessions.  This week they have several appointments to review progress (or lack thereof) and options.  Frankly, there are few options left.  When I asked Schatz (who knows a thing or two about medicine) a week after diagnosis, I summarised her answer as:

Also, der Tod ist sicher.

(“So, death is certain.”)

Over the last month I’ve chatted to Glasshopper a lot, forming a rapport with him, trying to work him out.  He seemed cheery, but was that alpha-male, riot policeman, bravado?  No, he is genuinely businesslike (perhaps as his coping strategy) and realistic.  He even uses the D-word: death. No euphemisms.  No:

  • The inevitable
  • When she passes away
  • When she moves on
  • When the end happens
  • Etc

Instead: death and dying.  He’s calling a spade a spade.  (DE: die Ding beim Namen nennen.)

Mrs Glasshopper, on the other hand, is in denial.  She’s not saying her goodbyes, because she denies shes going yet.  She is convinced that she will still be alive – despite doctors’s predictions – for her son’s graduation in two years and probably many more family events.  Death is the last taboo in our western society.  Nobody wants to die, at least, not early.

By analogy, I once joked to a female friend of mine:

Women have PMT.  Men suffer from PMT.

Maybe it’s similar here.  The patient has the terminal cancer.  The family suffer from the cancer.  Am I being too cold?  Too clinical here?  Is Glasshopper?

He even ‘fessed up last week:

Sometimes I just want her to go so she is no longer in pain, and so I don’t have to deal with this any more.  And I feel an absolute a$$hole for saying that.

Since then he has called me “Padre Ginge.”

This is not Hollywood cliché.  No:

  • Miraculous recovery
  • Constant hugs
  • Reiterations of “I love you”
  • Final hours in hospital bed, surrounded by loved ones and devoted medics
  • Final beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep on the electronic monitor

Woody Allen is famous/notorious for his quotation:

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

What can I do?  What can Glasshopper do?  Probably not much.  I told him this morning:

Padre Ginge is here if you need to let off steam, swap silly jokes, send internet memes or links to YouTube videos of cheesy 1970’s hits.

We pads brats don’t hug trees.  We don’t even hug humans.  We don’t do group therapy.  We do, however, look after each other in our own unique way, which “bl00dy civvies” never quite understand.

Please, folks, pray for and think of Glasshopper and his wife next time your train is running late or there is too much milk in your tea.

Have a grateful day, won’t you!

tree

 

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Cathartic

I went stationery shopping this week.   Life in the fast lane, eh?  The most important purchase:

  • A pocket address book, nice and flowery, just 50 cents

On yesterday’s public holiday (Christi Himmelfahrt: Ascension Day) I bought myself a large filter coffee and sat in a certain coffee bar.  Being a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, I was able to sit alone at my table, slurp my coffee and visit the loo in peace.  But I digress.

Out came my A4 notebook.  Quick, scribble down a few ideas for blog articles (and not just about Billy No-Mates, “the gift that keeps on giving” in terms of blog content).  Then out comes my old address book (from early 2013) and the new one.  Hand-copy from old to new.

  • Him… hmmm yes.
  • Her… oh aye, I’d forgotten her.  Definitely not. Anyway I un-friended her off Facebook three years ago due to her non-stop sharing of “20yy is going to be my year…” posts and pictures of 5kg tubs of protein powder and sports centre updates.  (You get the idea.)
  • Him, nope. He never bothered keeping in touch anyway.  Always really busy with an important file to complete this afternoon.
  • Her, yes, definitely.
  • Him.  No, he’s died since then.

And then to write in some new people’s contact details: snail mail, email, landline, mobile, pager

Today I threw my old address book into the Altpapier bin.  Burning it would be considered inappropriate in this country…  Next address book review: 2023 – probably.

Have a cathartic day, won’t you!

altp

“Hör auf zu meckern!”

Hello, everybody.

For those who don’t speak German, the title translates loosely into colloquial English as:

Stop your bl00dy moaning!

In the past month I’ve been doing pastoral work for the local church.  Anyone can wear the label.  Anyone can talk the talk.  Can they walk the walk?  For sure it’s rewarding, helping people to sort their problems, whether that be depression, loneliness, falling out with friends, etc.

But…………

Fast-forward to the last 24 hours.

Last night I went to the local ELCN (English Language Comedy Night) in DUS Altstadt.  It was excellent as ever, including seeing the world’s shortest comedian.  (But some other time, please.)

I get home just after 01:30, pretty much still on a high after enjoying two hours’ live stand-up comedy including the world’s shortest comedian bantering with a bald man who was a hair brush salesman.  (But some other time, please.)

A quick check on my emails and Facebook.  I’m still a bit “hyper” from the ELCN.

G, my old classmate from pads brat days nearly 40 years ago, is online.  Night owl.

Then comes the bombshell.

G, a policeman, tells me matter-of-factly,  his wife had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which had spread to the lungs.  (British understatement: Not very good news at all.)

I immediately submit a prayer to York Minster Prayer Box.  I say kind words to G… which probably all his friends had told him earlier on in the day.

It’s now 02:00.  Bedtime and BBC Radio Five.

Fast forward about 10 hours.  I’m at church, using one of the meeting rooms as a study to read one of my IT text books.

A member of congregation happens to walk in.

MoC:

Hello German Ginge.  How are you?  Bleat bleat bleat moan moan moan grumble grumble grumble…  The local kiosk had run out of bread rolls, or some similar catastrophe.

G in G:

MoC, let me tell you something.  I really enjoyed the comedy evening last night.  But something spoilt it, I’m afraid.  You see, in the wee small hours this morning, I found out that a friend of mine has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Now, do you still want to tell me about what a morning you have just had?

MoC – exit stage left.  Bis später.

Have a grateful day, won’t you!

 

 

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.

 

cemetery

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

Bell, Book and Kindle – That Cathartic Moment

De=friending on Facebook.  I do it on a regular basis.  (I think I’ve also been de-friended by others, mostly over disagreements about politics.)  C’est la vie.

To paraphrase Alan Partridge (UK comedy character), “How many cows have you got?  Well, I’ve got 300+ Facebook friends.”  Are the real friends?  No.  Some are.  Some aren’t.  Some are FOAF’s (friends of friends).  I’m also mindful of the old Royal Military Police slogan.

Remember – your mates are not your friends.

Now and again I do a purge.  Some FB friends I never hear from, not even a like.  They are quite easy to delete.

Then there are those who overshare Britain First “if my poppy offends you…” drivel.  Thehy deleted.

Then there are the falsely modest posters.  You know the type.

Day 17 of the “Newer, Fitter Me” Challenge.  Disappointed that I missed my daily 9300 press-ups target.  Another 4, and I’ve made it.

Zzzzzzzzzzz.  If I’m in a good mood, I just stop following posts that FB friend, rather than delete them.

Then there are the serious cases.  Not only do I de-friend them.  I block them, too, so they do not see my posts on mutual friends’ timelines.  I reserve this for the gossips who have nothing to do but play Chinese whispers to others.

I’ve just been out for a cycle ride

becomes

Ginge in Germany has just bought a Harley Davidson.

Defriending is good for you.

Have a cathartic day, won’t you!

Un-Friending

Lots of people, including myself, have a regular purge of their Facebook friends. My criteria include:

  • Do they ever comment on my posts?
  • Do they ever like my posts?
  • Have I ever met this person in the flesh?
  • Do I have any interaction at all with this person?

If not, I un-friend them.  This is something I do once every six months or so, depending on what’s on TV.  As this is Germany, the answer is, often, not very much.  Un-friending people can be quite a cathartic experience.  Some people, about twenty of them, I have blocked on Facebook, eg one particular person who had a habit of looking at my Facebook page, mis-reading my comments and then feeding drivel back to various relatives of mine.  Just because I comment on a photo, “Dinner with the potential in-laws,” does not mean you need to rush out and buy a posh frock or suit for a forthcoming wedding.

Sorry to disappoint.

In the days before Facebook, and I’ve been on Facebook since, I think, 2007, de-friending required different methods.

  • Buying a new address book, copying over by hand all the contacts I wanted to keep, and then throwing out the old book after a few weeks.
  • Going into my email account and doing the same electronically, including:
    • Deleting all emails from the contact
    • Deleting their email address
    • Putting them on my ‘block sender’ list
  • In one case, a university (fair-weather) friend, called “Deeps,” I even:
    • Looked for any photos of him in my photo albums, as in the proper ones, not online
    • Took out all the photos methodically
    • Methodically placed them into a strong envelope, with no covering note
    • Wrote Deeps’ name and address in block capitals on the envelope
    • Omitted my return address on the back (I had moved house a couple of times since last being in contact with him, two years before)
    • Queued up at the local post office to ensure I had the correct postage, before placing the package in the local post box

In the case of Deeps’ photos, I derived a huge sense of closure.  My only regret: that I had not done so earlier.

Facebook friends are not real friends.  Fair-weather friends aren’t, either.   One reason I love Düsseldorf is, I have some good, genuine friends.

Have a friendly day, won’t you?