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!

 

 

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!

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The title is a Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires (Satire VI, lines 347–8). It is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

The question in my head at the moment is:

Who cares for the carers?

Sometimes, and I’ll be frank here, I think the answer is: no-one?  I’m a member of my local church council.  I find it rewarding, and I like to serve man and God by doing all this work, whether sorting the church website or hoovering church carpets when the cleaner is on holiday, or spending hours sitting with fellow members of the congregation, listening to them telling me their problems when they are feeling down.

Yet what happens when the “care bear” and the church leader needs a listening ear?  Where are the friends who were there when they were feeling down?

They are either:

  • Not there at al: radio silence
  • They are telling you about what a great time they are having on on their hols
  • Moaning about their latest “playground fight” with a fellow member of congregation, followed by a huge long “mea culpa” session

This weekend got too much for me.  I ended up at Schatz’, lying on the bed and listening to good mood music such as Rule Britannia.  Finally, I decided to stick my shoes on and tell Schatz I was going out for a quick walk to the local bridge over the Autobahn and back to clear my head.  Maybe she thought I was planning to jump off the said bridge.  I wasn’t.  Suicide is Painless, goes the theme tune to M*A*SH.  But I wasn’t aiming to find out.  Instead Schatz suggested we head the local restaurant and have a few drinks.  We did that.  Five glasses of Hugo and a good rant about the Ted Stryker fan club later, and I was feeling better.  We duly waddled back to Schatz’ house, blood pressure somewhat lower than before.

Yamas!

Moral of this story:

  1. Support your local gunfighter.  Support your local church council member.
  2. No matter how down you are feeling, no better how cheery your friend is feeling, ask your friend once in a while how he/she is, especially when you have been told bluntly that said friend is feeling down.

Danke nochmal, Schatz, für deine Geduld!

Have a supportive day, won’t you!

Ladykiller

“Avid” (ahem) readers of this blog will know from previous articles that I have a few claims to fame.  I also have a link to notoriety, namely: my room-mate in my first year at university went on to murder his girlfriend.  The number 1 question I am asked is:

What was he like?

It is the aim of this article to offer you a insight into the character of a convicted murder.  I’ll start with a look at the stereotype of a murder, the reality, then I’ll move onto two key aspects of his personality.

The Stereotype

The stereotype of a murderer can be summed up thus:

Well, he was a bit of a loner.

That was never the case with John.  He was, to use his words from his press conferences, “…outgoing, a lover of life, with everything to live for…”  He was:

  • Very extrovert
  • Jovial
  • A charmer
  • A keen cricketer
  • A keen footballer
  • A keen drinker
  • A keen electric guitarist and rock musician
  • A bit of a “jock” (to use an American expression)
  • The “life and soul of the party”

Again, contrary to the stereotype, he had a wide circle of friends and a never-ending string of girlfriends.  (By heck, was I – as a slightly nerdy lad, a ginger Adrian Mole, from the council estates of Redcar – jealous of his success with women!)

The reality was, however, not so attractive.  John had two aspects of his personality lurking below the surface. Let’s be blunt about it.  They were not likeable aspects.

Aspect 1: Passive Aggression

Quite ironic, now I think about it.  The last article I shared was a humorous one on passive aggression.  The irony has not been lost on me.  In psychology, passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of passive resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected of others.  In John passive aggression manifested itself in many ways.

  • Days before his birthday, in my presence, his friends went to his part of our room, took his prized poster of a scantily-clad model (reclining atop a sports car) off the wall, then repositioned the poster on the wall, with the back showing.  When I came back to our room that evening, I found that he was in bed, not even pretending to be asleep, and had placed a key in the door lock to prevent me from getting our room.  After nearly an hour of desperately knocking on the door, pleading with him, together together with neighbours, for him to open the door, ending with me being on the verge of tears and needing to sleep, he finally let me in.  The following day no more was said – from either side.  From my side – don’t provoke him any further.  From his side – he knew he had done wrong, but did not have the round objects to talk about it.
  • The stories of the laundry room key.  Each room was given a key to the hall laundry room.  The catch was, the resident had to sign for the key and had to pay a five pounds deposit, returnable on safe return of the key at the end of the year.  So far, so good.  One laundry key per room.  I signed for it.  I got it.  I paid the deposit on it.  So far, so good.  I used to keep the laundry room key on my desk.  John would take it when he needed to go to the laundry.  So far, so good. Then one day, I decided to place the key on my book shelf to keep the desk a bit tidy.  Seeing the key on my book shelf, John marched up to me, grabbed me with both hands by the front of my shirt and snarled, “You’re not having the monopoly on that.”  Rather than explain that I had paid the deposit and that he could still use the key, I took it on the chin (nearly literally).
  • And there’s more!  Days before the end of the year, I was looking to do a batch of laundry.  John had been to the laundry hours beforehand.  Now he was sitting by his desk, playing his guitar.  I asked him for the key.
    • I haven’t got it.

    • But you had it this morning when you went to the laundry.

    • I haven’t got it.

    • Well, could you just have a quick look, please?

John just carried on humming, strumming and singing to himself, clearly not interested, not a “team-player.” Not even the common courtesy of pausing even for a second. Doubtless I’ve slighted him earlier in the day, and this was his passive aggressive way of “punishing” me.  Kiss goodbye to five pounds deposit, I was by now thinking.  Then the following morning an announcement: He had found the laundry key. Followed by a profuse apology for the hassle last night.  Ha, you gotta be joking!  It had fallen into his bag of condoms.  (Yes, I’m such a lady’s man, I need a bag of them.)

Now, getting fret up about a laundry key might seem petty on my part.  Lke the chocolate bar you stole from the communal fridge, it’s “only a key,” but maybe you saw the bigger picture of the (passive) aggression when dealing with peers.  These are just a small sample of his actions, others relating to his attitude towards women.  Perhaps for a later article.

Aspect 2: The “Great ‘I am'”

John’s other character trait was the “great ‘I am'” attitude.  How to explain it?    Let’s have two examples.

  1. John came back in a foul mood one day, complaining to me, hardly able to contain his anger, that his then girlfriend was f***ing useless in bed, in the same way that you might complain that the babysitter had sneaked into your bedroom and sneakily looked through all your private diaries.  Hey, folks, I was still very much inexperienced with woman.  Any bed action with a woman would have made me happy!  How dare she not enjoy sex with him?  She should have realised he was a real ladykiller.
  2. Again at evening meal in the canteen, I greeted him with a cheery, “How are you doing?”  He “greeted” me with an arrogant jut of the chin in my direction and, “Whatcha rapping on about?”  How dare this f’ing ginger speak to me when I want to have my dinner?

Before university, he had, in fact, been a tutor at a cathedral school.  Just as an ex-military man has left the Army, he is still a soldier, maybe John still considered himself senior and superior to those around and under him.  “Do as you’re told.  I’m in charge here.”

Conclusion

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.  Wrong.  It’s the life and soul of the party types you have to watch out for.  Great fun, as long as things are fun and you dance to their tune.  But cross them, and see what happens.

  • Don’t help out with a good-natured prank on him.
  • Don’t even think of having the monpoly on that key.
  • Don’t be a timid, inexperienced lover.
  • Don’t have the audicity to reject his obsessive, browbeating behaviour.

Have an insightful day, won’t you!