Michael, they have taken you away

Michael K was buried yesterday morning.  He was 50 years old.  Three of his children attended his funeral, together with about fifteen other people who knew him, including his first wife.  I’m not sure if he had other children, but that was all that turned up to a spartan chapel in a local cemetery.

I would like to be glib and say, “It was a nice funeral.”

In a way it was.  The flowers on and around his coffin were beautiful.  The mourners, especially the British – for he had many British friends – were warm and supportive towards the members of his family, saying kind words and offering sympathy and hugs.  We sang one of his favourite hymns well: There Is A Hope.

But it wasn’t a nice “he had a good innings” funeral.  He died too early, alone and lonely and lacking love and hope.  His partner had died slowly and painfully three years ago.  He had been in and out of jobs since then.  When he was working, he was doing shift work and could not get to church to be with his church family.  As for his “blood family” to quote the Prince of Wales’ brother, I think his relationship with them over the years had been strained.

Michael was what we Brits call “a bit Marmite.”  You either loved him or hated him.  I myself enjoyed his company, as long it did not involve endless hours spent on a summer afternoon in an Altstadt Irish pub.  Michael, a German, knew the words to a vast array of Irish rebel songs.  Sometimes he’d tweak the lyrics.  Sean South of Garryowen became Sean South of Gerresheim.  He and I used to sing these songs every now and again together…  All his years working in IT in Scotland and Eire had not gone to waste.  I guess his local pub in Scotland must have been full of Celtic fans, judging by his repertoire.  Oh yes, he also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of East Germany jokes.

We got on well.

We often used to sing Fields of Athenry while strolling through the local park.

Michael, they have taken you away.  May you rest in peace.

Have a peaceful day, wont you!

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“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!

 

 

“Meet me halfway…”

Let me prepare you with a bit of context for this article.

A friend of mine told me this joke the other day.

A man prays:

Heavenly Father, I am always skint.  Please please please, let me win at least a tenner on the National Lottery.  Amen.

A week later our man is lying in bed, when a voice calls out to him:

Hey, at least meet me halfway.  Please please please, go and buy yourself a ticket!

Now and again, I do a bit of pastoral work for my local church.  (Think of Matthew 7:16.  Anyone can talk the talk, but do they walk the walk?)  It’s rewarding, but also frustrating, especially when you are dealing with someone who perceives God as a “magician.”  Pray for a bike for Christmas and God waves his magic wand to ensure the desired bike appears at the foot of the Christmas tree on the morning of 25th December.  Ach nein, das geht nicht…

Prayer alone is not enough.  Prayer is good, but not enough.  I have a headache.  I will pray about it.  Fine, but better if you also take an Ibuprofen or lie in a darkened room. By the same token, liebe Leute, if Uncle Ginge in Germany gets you a social security form for you, please pray about the paperwork, but…

  1. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE fill the blessed form in.
  2. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take the form to the office.
  3. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE just allow the nice, kind, friendly civil servant to process your claim in due course, even if it does take 3-4 weeks.  That’s just the way it is.

Have a prayerful day, won’t you!

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.

DSC03123

Have a poignant 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!

The Fifth Commandment: Part 2

Even though I’m not Catholic, I had been feeling a bit of guilt.  I decide to phone my Mum, hoping for some sensible, intelligent, conversation that doesn’t revolve around:

  • Ex-neighbour S: hasn’t she put on loads of weight since you last saw her?
  • Relative Y‘s gynaecological problems in great, great, great.  (I’m a modern man.  I don’t blush when women talk about menstruation, the menopause, period pains, sanitary towels, etc.  I just find the topic a week bit uninteresting on a Saturday evening.  Don’t you?)
  • Braech of confidentiality about someone elses’s personal problems.
  • Who’s the next victim of the guillotine, just like the tricoteuse women, knitting away.

Conversations with my mum tend to be somewhat negative.  If you have a bonfire, she’ll empty her bladder over it.

“It’s taking a while to get a new tenant in my house.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have used that agency.”

Sadly, my sister, V, is a mini-me of my mum, only with:

  • A single-digits reading age
  • A vocabulary of swear words that would embarrass the average dock worker
  • Even less tact and emotional intelligence than her mother

Yesterday I mentioned to our mother that V had un-friended me.

Why?  What have you done?

Not, “Why?  What happened?”  An immediate accusation.

I explained:

There was a discussion about Northern Ireland.  I was asked what I knew about Northern Ireland.  I explained I had relatives who had served there in the British Army.  V leapt in with a diatribe against Dad.  I told her politely that this was not the right forum to go into family disputes when people were debating Northern Ireland.  Nobody else is interested anyway.

Cue immediate defence of V.

But your dad is an (expletive deleted).

Ginge in Germany:

But a public discussion about is not the right place to hang your dirty laundry in public.

A curt reply:

OK.

That translates as:

You are right, but I am not prepared to speak against my mini-me.

Do you not see why that is wrong?

OK.

Do you not understand?

OK.

It just doesn’t sink in.  Sometimes, frankly, I wonder if my mum has autistic tendencies due to her tactlessness and lack of empathy towards other.  In the end I give up and say that Schatz and I havae to head out now, catch you later.

Sometimes I feel like just not bothering to call her and see how long it takes for her to contact me.  Regrettably I know it’s all my fault.  I chose to be born with the wrong set of “equipment” down below.  My fault.  Hands up.  I admit it.  I am ashamed of the bad choice I made.

Honour your mother and father, yes, good idea.  But honour and respect don’t come at the drop of a hat.  Honour and respect have to be earned.

Moses

Have a commanding day, won’t you!

 

The Fifth Commandment: Part 1

The Bible commands in Exodus 20:12:

Honour your father and your mother.

And truly I tell you, it’s a good commandment.

That’s the Biblical quotatation for you.  From theology to humour.  Now for an old East Germany joke…

A school teacher asks little Fritz:

“Fritzchen, why are you always speaking of our Soviet brothers? It’s Soviet friends.”

Fritz replies:

“Well, you can always choose your friends.  You can’t choose your family.”

Many a true word said in jest, Fritz.

This been a somewhat frustrating weekend for me.  Philip Larkin was spot-on when he wrote This Be Verse(I leave you to read the poem in your own time.  It does have a small typo.  I think the second word in the poem should begin with an “m,” not an “f.”)

My Dad, “Sunray,” is a “problem child.”  Lonely, with few friends, alienated from most of his family, with an alcohol dependency a “grumpy old man” personality.  Not exactly the most attractive thing to write in his online dating profile, but hey, ho, there you go.

Because Sunray has a low boredom threshold.  He tends to phone me every two or three times a day on Saturdays, sometimes even more than that, reaching double-figures.  The same again on Sundays, even though he knows I am out at church most of the day on Sunday.  This being even though I phone him from work three times a week and end up having long chats with him, so he can tell me his “When I was in [insert name of garrison town]…” war stories again and again.  And again.

And again.

And Again…

This Saturday I relented and called him back to keep him quiet.

Another anecdote about Fallingbostel 1965, which I’d heard only about…. ooooh… some fifteen times this year…

Three minutes into the call Sunray declares:

Anyway, I don’t want to chat any more.  Bye.

Two hours, three hours, four hours later, more phone calls from him.  That was the pattern on Friday.  This time, on Saturday, I ignore the calls, probably much to his chagrin.

As Schatz was here, I decide to pull out my landline cable to get some peace and quiet.  Later in the evening I re-connect the landline.  More phone calls from him, not leaving a message.  Then at about 20:00 the calls stop.  He’s probably drunk his quota of rose wine and climbed into bed for the night, muttering his mantra, “Every single f*cker’s been f*ckin’ me about.  Sick and tired of it.  People f*ckin’ me about…”

Enough about Sunray.

Have an honourable day, won’t you!