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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Feeling quite chuffed actually

There you go.  The title is a British is you can get.  Actually.

Three quarters of the way through the year 2017, and I’ve written a daily entry in my Moleskine A5 size diary for every day bar about five or six days.  (That was the old-fashioned way of blogging.)  My best year (so far – three months to go) ever.

I guess it’s a case of self-discipline and just getting into the habit.

Still more Adrian Mole than Samuel Pepys, however. 🙂

Have an entry a 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!

 

 

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!

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!

Sorry seems to be the hardest word?

So, a week after I’d told Deckname “Alan,” a friend from church, that I was feeling very down due to a variety of reasons, including SAD and other factors.  Since then plenty of WhatsApp messages from him about how he’s been travelling around the English West Country, seeing lots of nice places.

Nice.  Very nice.

Bedtime in Germany last night.  Radio Four on.  The World Tonight.  Kindle and mobile my bedmates for the night.

I take my mobile.

WhatsApp time.

G in G: Alan, remember I told you a week ago that I was feeling very down?

Alan: Yes, Ginge in Germany, I do.

G in G: Alan, have you asked me since then how I am?

Alan: I don’t think so.

G in G: (Thumbs-up symbol)  Good night.  I wish you good dreams.

Fast forward to this morning.

Alan: I will be early to apologise and say sorry now that you have felt neglect.

Better late than never.  Hopefully a lesson learnt.  Caring about your friends should not always be a one-way street.

Have a contrite day, won’t you!

Let there be light!

Let there be light!  Let there be a light box!  ‘Tis the season of the year.  Not just Diwali, Hallowe’en, clocks going back, etc.  SAD time is here – for some of us.

What is SAD?  Seasonal affective disorder.  I get it.  When I describe the symptoms to women, they generally summarise it thus:

It’s just like being hormonal.

With me it normally kicks in during late October.  That’s when I switch my light box on.  Give it up to a week, and I’m back to my usual crude, lewd and rude joke-telling self.

Have a light day, won’t you!