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!

Untranslatable Expressions

Every language has untranslatable words and expressions.

Today’s untranslatable expression is:

“Back-seat driver”

I’m not sure if it’s a British expression.  (Americans, do you use the same expression?)

What does “back-seat driver” actually mean?   Let’s turn to www.urbandictionary.com.

1. A passenger in the back seat of the car who criticises the driver.

2. Anyone who offers unwanted advice.

Two definitions, the first of which is literal, the second is somewhat figurative, and the one that is more frequently used in British English.

I am sometimes asked what the role of church warden is like.  To ex-military people, I tend to explain thus:

It’s a bit like being RSM in a regiment.
To “civvies,” I tend to explain thus:
It’s a bit like being a shop steward.
One of the key tasks of church warden is to deal with the back-seat driver, who has an opinion and “expertise” on most things everything within church.

22:30 on Saturday evening: Beep-beep.  WhatsApp message from Back-Seat Driver (BSD).

“The church website is down for maintenance.  Why?”
My reply:
“Probably because our webmaster is doing some updates.”
Beep-beep.  BSD again:
“But why’s he doing maintenance work on a Saturday evening?”
My reply:
“Because he’s doing it in his spare time, and he’s doing it for free.”
Beep-beep.  It’s now 22:39.  BSD yet again:
“When’s the new-look church website going to be ready?”
Point to note: I am not a fiery redhead, but by now, I was on the verge of acting true to stereotype.  Instead, I remembered that useful phrase from my interrogator course all those years ago.  I decided to “ICATQ” him.
“I cannot answer that question.”
Beep-beep.  BSD yet yet yet again:
“Why not?  You said you were aiming to get the website up and running this month.”
(Ladies, when I use the word “aim,” I mean it in the same sense that men “aim” for the toilet bowl.  It’s very, very approximate.  You get the picture now, don’t you?)

My reply:

“I cannot answer that question.”
I think by 22:47, BSD had got the message.  Literally and figuratively.  Time for me to switch mobile phone off for the night. 

BSD has a habit of advising others on how it should be done better.  In fact, he gives more “on-the-spot guidance” than Kim Jong-un, President of North Korea.

kim
Some “on-the-spot guidance” from BSD…
  • We should use fresh milk instead of UHT milk  for post-service refreshments.
    • “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time?”
  • We should brew decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated coffee.
    • Guess what… “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time?”
  • We should provide lactose-free milk in case some visitors are allergic to ordinary milk.
    • “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  Oh, what’s that you say?  You don’t know where you can buy some?”
  • We should update the website to enable the church to do a live broadcast of the Sunday sermon.
    • “Good idea.  Hey, why don’t you do the business analysis, you write the requirements, you meet with the chaplain and the webmaster, you test it, and you launch that new functionality?  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time or the technical expertise?  Oh, just fancy that.”
  • We should head down to the local train station and talk to people about Christianity.
    • “What a brilliant suggestion.  Many thanks for that.  Tell you what.  You design and print out a load of leaflets, you get yourself over there, you go up to people and speak to them in German… oh, you don’t speak German, eh?”

“We” in this context, in fact, means:

Anybody except for me.

The back-seat driver.  Please, please, please pray for those who have to deal with them…

Have a guidance-free day, won’t you!


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Today’s Earworm

It’s been for me a pressured week or two for me.

  • Office politics
  • Tour de France preparations for church
  • Dealing with “admin-intense” members of congregation
  • Heatwave in recent days
  • Fridge-freezer at home being broken

First world problems, I know.  But everyone reaches their limit.  This week I’ve been aware that I need to ease off a bit and give myself some “me-time.”  Who guards the guardians?  Who cares for carers?  Sometimes – nobody.  Sometimes the caring moves on an Einbahnstrasse: a one-way street.

This week I’ve been quite blessed to have two fellow members of congregation possessing pastoral skills, who have been taken a large amont of “payload” off me, dealing with a member of congregation, who has been ill in hospital the past fortnight.  This member of congregation has Ted Stryker tendencies.  He is very “admin-intense” to use a British Army expression.  (But Ted and his ways will form material for another blog article or three.)

All this week I’ve been feeling fatigued on coming home after work.  Hour-long long lie-down next to tower fan, my current best friend in the heatwave.  Earlyish into bed.  No energy to even give my bathroom and kitchen a good clean-up.  Many thanks, Schatz, for being Mrs Mopp this weekend. 🙂

After church service today I unloaded to two church confidantes to the effect that I was – for the first time in months – going to head home for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  V asked if I would like to join her on a pastoral visit to “Ted.”  I politely declined the invitation, explaining that “Ted” had been too “admin-intense” for me the past week and a half, with contacting hospital chaplains, as well as reading SMS messages that, in length, but not quality , rivalled Paul’s letters to:

  • The Romans
  • The Ephesian
  • The Corinthians
  • The Athenians
  • The Americans
  • The Albanians
  • The Sunday Times
  • The Daily Mail

I just needed time away from Ted.  To correctly quote Greta Garbo:

I just want to be left alone.

V then thanked me for everything I do in church, which left me with a lump in my throat.  I’m not a child.  I don’t expect a pat on the head, a gold star, or to be sent to show my nice, neat handwriting to the headteacher.  Nonetheless a sincerely expressed thank you is always well-received.

This afternoon I have spent precious hours flopped out on the sofa, writing my diary, listening to the radio and also planning further blog articles based on:

  • Puns
  • Untranslatable expressions
  • Vogon poetry (just kidding – I would not inflict that on anyone)

All things that I can really only do when I have proper “me-time.”

Then, while I was scribbling away in my diary, I remembered this beautiful hymn that I first heard a year or so ago.  It has become my ear worm du jour.  Here it is.

It Is Well With My Soul

soul

Have a well day, won’t you!

Blood sugar diet: day 39 of 56

Today’s statistics:

  • Starting weight: 122.4kg
  • One week ago: 120.2kg
  • Today: 118.3kg

That’s 4.1kg off in four weeks.  I am happy.

So what had happened?  A week ago I had blipped upwards due to a slack weekend.  I had had food porn – Irish English breakfast – down the Irish pub in the city centre, bread rolls and a few cocktails.  No regrets.  It’s a way of eating, not a diet.  I now know after several weeks on this diet/WoE, that as soon as I get back on track without making anny big fuss, the weight comes off, generally within 3-5 days.

On a positive point, friends have started noticing my weight loss, asking what diet I am trying.  Two of them have ordered the book and have started within the last fortnight.

“If Ginge in Germany can manage it, so can I.”

And my new Marmite cycling top fits me just nicely.  It even has a nice jar-like shape.  Not long now till the Tour de France starts in Düsseldorf.  Los!

marmite

Have a love it-or-hate-it day, won’t you!