My Ex-Pat Grump

I think I’m going to sound like one of those Torygraph readers, bashing out a fuming letter and calling for the return of:

  • The birch
  • Capital punishment
  • National service
  • The 11-plus exam

I’m not.  But I feel the need to rant about modern society, at least, in the city of Düsseldorf.

Why do so many passengers on the S-Bahn (local stopping trains), U-Bahn (the Tube/subway) and trams insist on doing one of two things during rush hour.

  1. Sit on the window seat, bag on aisle seat.
  2. Sit on aisle seat, with window seat unoccupied.

Oh, and youngsters, using half-price child tickets, never, ever give up their seats to adults, even to Oma who’s about to join Hugh Hefner, or Frau Schwanger who’s 8.5 months pregnant and hours away from contractions.

Am I being too harsh?  As a pads brat, I come from a disciplined environment, where you do without moaning, and defer to your seniors.  For me it was a pleasure to stand up and offer my seat to an adult, without having to be prompted.

(Pardon me while I get some Brasso to polish my halo.)

Earlier this week I boarded the team home after a session down the English Library.  Lots of people standing.  Lots of schoolkids sitting, bags on the adjacent seat.

I’d like to sit here, please.

(Tut and sigh.  Bag gradually lifted by owner onto his 13-year-old lap.  A face like thunder.)

Herzlichen Dank!

13-year-old face like thunder.

A minute later I spot a harrassed mum with her 5-year-old son.

I stand up.

13-year-old with face like thunder moves bag from lap to my seat.

I offer my seat to mum with son.

Harrassed mum with son accepts offer.

Pick your bag up, please!

Mum sits down and sighs with relief.

13-year-old with face like thunder just humphs and rolls his eyes, his sense of entitlement severely breached.  Pech!

Humph once again.  I dare you.  I double-dare you…

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Have a considerate day, won’t you!

 

 

 

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F-RAN-KK SIDEBOTTOM

Question: Frank Sidebottom: who was he?

Answer: a uniquely British character, in particular, a Northern character.

A man with:

  • a large head papier-mache fibre-glass head
  • a nasal voice
  • a Mancunian (Manchester accent)
  • a love of Altrincham FC football club (whose shirt he is wearing in this pic)
  • a love of singing about “Alty”

He also loved the words “fantastic” and “blimey.”

Here’s a clip from a typical evening’s entertainment with Frankie.

Recognise him now?

I’ve been a fan of his for over thirty years.  Yes, me with my postgraduate education, laughing at daft things like that.  Blimey!

Here are the fantastic lyrics to his Alty fan song, which I think is as good as You’ll Never Walk Alone…

“On Saturday at five to three
There’s only one place to be –
Down at the Moss Lane football ground
The team come out, the crowd all roar
We come, win, lose, or draw
The only team for me is Altrincham FC
Oh the Robins aren’t Bobbins, says me
The Alty!”

So, why the title, F-RAN-KK?  Well, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon today.  I was chatting to my old classmate, “The Roz,” about my recent visit to the naturist section at Unterbacher See.  The Roz is also a Frank Sidebottom fan, being from up the road from Frank’s home town.

Blimey, Ginge!  Well done, but I couldn’t bl00dy well do that.

Then we got talking about what would happen if Frank Sidebottom had come with me to  the naturist section, the FKK-Bereich.  The comedic elements just write themselves…

Imagine the scene…

Frank arrives in his Altrincham FC kit.  To quote the late, great man himself:

The shorts are black,

The shirts are red,

An ace combination, as I’ve said…

Our Frank strips out of his Alty strip.

He exclaims:

Blimey!  They’re all in the nip!

An overzealous parks official comes and tells Frankie S to remove his papier-mache fibre-glass head in order to be fully stripped off.

FranKK explains:

But this is my head.  It is part of me.

Little Frank joins in with protesting.

The official walks off.

Blöder Ausländer…

Frank turns to camera and says:

Oh no!  They’d better not tell me mum!

Frank decides a bit of music is needed to lighten the mood and entertain the hundreds of Germans in their birthday suits.  He gets his organ out.  (Phoar!)  That is, his Hammond electronic organ.  He starts to sing:

“On a Monday at five to three
There is only one place to be –
Down at the Unterbacher See
The clothes come off, we’re in the raw
We come here, and it isn’t a chore
The only place for me is Unterbacher See!
Oh, the Germans aren’t Bobbins, says me…
Altbier!”

Thank you!

Then cut away to Frank Sidebottom interviewing some very confused Germans in English.

Is it nice lying in the sun oh natural?  Back home in Timperley we never have enough sun to go sunbathing.

sidebottom

Have a frank day, won’t you!

FKK’ing Eck!

Nudity.

There!  That’s got your attention, especially if you are a stereotypically repressed, prudish Brit…

And for those who are into puns, let me explain the title of this post.

  • FKK: German word, Freikörperkultur – literally, “free body culture”, or naturist.
  • Eck: shortened form of “Ecke”, German word for “corner”.
    • My Dad was a regular customer of a German pub called “Danziger Eck”.
    • There is a flower shop in Düsseldorf called “Blumen Eck”, which must belong to an Anglophile, “Blumen” the German word for “flowers,” and the shop name being a pun on “Blooming heck” (much beloved of Coronation Street characters).

Soooo, back to the topic…

Today I finally went to Unterbacher See, a local open-air swimming area, typical of Germany: an artificial lake with a park, artificial beaches, changing rooms, toilets, play park, etc, etc.  I’d been meaning to go for the past five summers.  Today I got my swimming kit and a couple of books and headed off there.

It turns  out the Unterbacher See also has an FKK area, also known as a “textilfrei” area at the southern end of the area.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and my clothes to the ground.  I headed off to that section, five minutes stroll from the entrance.  My observations:

  • There were hundreds of people there, of all shapes and sizes.  Most people made me feel anorexic, and the average age was 40+.  I’m guessing that once you’ve hit 40, most people’s pride and vanity have already gone.
  • There were couples there, there were families there, there were single people there.
  • Pretty much everyone was reading a book.  Many were reading newspapers.  I guess the newspapers provided better cover against the intense sun.
  • Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid as the sunbathers strolled around in their birthday suits, heading into the lake for a dip.  Likewise, nobody seemed be looking anyone else up and down.  And even if they had, well, a 46-year-old naked big-bellied German (or Brit) is not exactly erotic.
  • Even the staff at at the nearby kiosk did not react at all to the queue of Germans in the buff.  Let me just state here and now: I ordered a Cornetto ice cream.  I could not bring myself to order a bratwurst.

Two hours and two chapters of Blogging for Creatives later, I showered, dressed and headed back to the city centre, a slightly redder shade of pink, including parts of my “whitey from Blighty” body that do not normally see sunshine.

Would I go again?  Well, put it this way, I won’t be booking two weeks in a naturist resort.  On the other hand, sunbathing among a bunch of salad-dodging middle-aged Germans is actually a pretty mundane experience.  Mostly I would stick to clothing-on areas, rather than head for the FKK area.  At least now I can say, “Been there, done it, not worn the t-shirt.”

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Have a textilfrei 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.

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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.

 

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Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

Sauna, So What?

Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.

What do you think of when when you think of Germany?

  • Wurst
  • Beer
  • A pretty successful national football team
  • That bloke with a funny-looking moustache and haircut… cough, cough
  • Come on now, admit it… Nudity

Germany is famous/notorious for “everyone getting their kit off at the first opportunity.”  Actually, that’s not quite the truth.  Walk down any German high street, and everyone is fully clothed.  Sit on any German train, and they are all fully clothed, even during a heatwave like we have today, temperatures of 30+ degrees c.

Whereas Germany does have the FKK (Freikörperkultur – “free body culture”) beaches and sections of the park, it’s still the minority of Germans who do go there.  (Well, as far as I am aware.  I admit, I have not done a scientific survey of my colleagues and neighbours.)  Most Germans will still wear their swimming costume, bikini or trunks on when they go sunbathing.

There is, however, one exception.  Woe betide you if you break this rule.  Germans go au naturel when they sit in the sauna.  Now it’s time for me to answer all the FAQ’s that I get from Brits.

  1. Phew phoar!  No, I have never got, cough, cough, “excited” in the sauna.
  2. No, it is not at all erotic.
  3. No, after my first visit to a German sauna, I did not rush out to buy a season ticket.
  4. Sex gods and goddesses do not visit the sauna.  Most German sauna-goers are not by any means salad-dodgers.  However, they tend to eat those salads on top of their cheeseburger, large Pommis mit weiss, bratwurst, and washed down with a few gallons of beer, followed by a large piece of Black Forest gateau.  Most of them make me look slightly anorexic.
  5. No, I have never met my bank manager/next-door neighbour/that lady who works down the local cafe, while sitting minding my own business down the sauna.
  6. No, I do not make sure I have a good look, phoar…

What impressese me is how businesslike, practical and logical Germans are about the whole business of sitting in the sauna:

  • in the buff
  • in your birthday suit
  • in the nip (Irish English expression)
  • au naturel
  • starkers
  • insert your favourite euphemism

My favourite sauna is the infra-red sauna at mine and Schatz’ favourite health farm.  45 degrees warmth and the infrared warms those sore joints.  Next to it is the Tecaldarium, with tiles rather than wooden slats.  Ideal if you have back or joint pains.

So what happens if you do enter the sauna in clothes, eg bikini or swim shorts?

Answer: One of the workers will rush into the sauna at the speed of a thousand leaping gazelles, shout at you, double you out of the sauna and tell you that you are to:

  • Undress immediately
  • Shower
  • Re-enter the sauna

…which has to be much more embarrassing than being seen naked in the sauna would have been.

Oh yes, once you do enter the sauna, you must-  by tradition – call out a mighty, cheery “Halloooooooooo!” to all the gathered textilfreie people on the slats (or tiles).

I have to say I find the German attitude to be a lot more mature than the British, rather giggly-girl, attitude towards people taking all their clothes off.  And believe me, after the first three nanoseconds, you really, really don’t bat an eyelid.  You just end up sitting in silence if everyone else is silent, or you join in the conversation about the weather, Brexit, Helmut Kohl, etc.

Have a textilfreier day, won’t you!

sauna-sign

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!

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