“Yes sir,” when you are speaking to me!

In 1983 I was visiting Sunray, who was stationed as a sergeant in the British Army on sunny Cyprus.  I sat in his office while he was on the phone, requesting transport off the local Royal Corps of Transport unit.  It was a fairly mundane conversation.

“So, can you do that for me?  YES WHAT?  ‘Yes, SERGEANT!’ WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING TO ME!”

Sunray then slammed the phone down so hard, I thought he was going to break it.  (He nearly did, I suspect.)  I enquired:

“Er, Dad, what did he say?”

Sunray, fuming, explained:

“That RCT driver just called me ‘mate.'”

For those of you who do not have an ex-military background, calling a sergeant “mate” when you are a private is like being caught in bed with the vicar’s wife.

You. Just.  Don’t.  Do. It.

Fast forward to 2006.  Ginge in Germany is working as a teacher in a rough comprehensive school in Inbredsville, where my niece was a student. I’m handing out textbooks at the start of the lesson.

Smirking at me and his mates, the class hero says:

“Thanks, mate.”

My head instantly beams me up from Inbredsville to the Sovereign Base Area, Cyprus.  I become my Dad.

“Thanks, WHAT?  ‘THANK YOU, SIR!’ WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING TO ME!”

The student flinched.  My teaching assistant flinched.

“Your niece said you were a very softly-spoken kind of guy.”

After work, I called in on Sunray.  I told him about how I reacted to being called  “mate.”  He grinned and patted me on the back, saying:

Well done, son.  I clearly taught you everything you know when it comes to insubordination.

Have a matey day, won’t you!

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Am I too harsh?

“Am I too harsh?”  I sometimes ask myself.  I’m a pads brat.  I’ve worn the Queen’s uniform myself.  I can do touchy-feely.  For a while.  And then I try to move on from moaning about the problem to resolving the problem.  I’m by no means a Marxist, but I do like his assertion:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.”

I suppose my slogan would be in German:

“Meckern, und dann machen.”

(“Moan, and then do [something about it].”)

Today’s poser is this.

Jasna is a friend of mine.  She’s nearly 50 and works in education.  Her son is 21 and in his final year at university, reading Business Studies.  Personally, I think he’s more a creative type, and would have perhaps been more suited to a course such as drama or music.  But that’s his choice.

This academic year, son, has been coming back home almost every single weekend and often not going back to university, two hours away by train, until the Tuesday.  Weekends at home seem to be spent in bed, sleeping, on the living room sofa, snoozing, in the same clothes, four days flat.  His bath towel remains clean and dry – because he doesn’t shower.  It would barely be an exaggeration to say you smell him before you see him.  He and personal hygiene seem to be estranged from one another.

How does mum, Jasna, feel about it?  Recently she let off steam to me.

  • She was fed-up of him being at home, getting under her feet.
  • He was grabbing all the good food at home, from fridge, freezer, cupboards, you name it.
  • He was making the whole house stink.
  • He was rattling on to her about his pretty problems at university.
  • She couldn’t have the house to herself while he was there. She was desperately needing her “me-time.”

He came back yet again “just for the weekend.”   (Just fancy that.)

On Monday evening (much as I had anticipated) he was still home.  (He “didn’t have any lectures till Tuesday afternoon.”)

On Tuesday evening he was still at home.  The Tuesday afternoon lecture “wasn’t that important.”

On Wednesday evening…

On Thursday evening…

Each evening Jasna was expressing her frustration that son had not gone back to university.

Uncle Ginge tried to analyse.

  • Does he actually have any friends at university? Most finalists prefer being at university with their mates, rather than with their parents, cramping their style.
  • Actually, no he doesn’t. He’s a constant cadger (borrower).  “Oh dear, I seem to have left my wallet at home” is his regular comment when it comes to his round down the student union bar.

On Saturday evening – guess what, son was still at home.  Jasna was still letting off steam to me.  But “he’s definitely going back tomorrow.”  Er, right…

Sunday evening Facebook check-in:

Watching film at Super Deluxe Fleapit cinema in Ridsville – with (son).

Pardon?  My jaw drops.  What?  Ah, hang on, this is typical of Jasna.  She sends out mixed signals to her son.  I knew on Monday that he would still be at home a week after coming home.

Jasna changes her story from “He’s getting under my feet, he’s driving me up the wall.”

  • He’s been depressed.
  • He’s been an emotional support to me.
  • He cooked dinner for his sister on Wednesday.
  • He paid for the trip to the cinema tonight.

Jasna sends me a dissertation via WhatsApp.

Message after message after message after message…

He’s definitely going back tomorrow – tomorrow evening – if hubby will drive him back.

The Whatsapp messages keep coming through.

I resolve to: go for a shower, put the rubbish out, make a couple of phone calls, alphabetise my CD collection, clip my toenails, clear a paper jam from my printer…

  • Beep, another WhatsApp message.
  • Beep, another one…
  • Beep, you guessed it, yet another…

In the end – I respond.

“Is it your son’s job to be your emotional support worker?   You said he was depressed.  Oh, his GP said he isn’t depressed?  Shouldn’t he be back at university in the academic environment, in his ‘office’, studying in the library, meeting his mates (if he has any) down the union bar, working out down the gym, keeping himself doing purposeful activity (such as showering)?”

Then we get to the “money shot.”

“But, Ginge in Germany, you don’t understand, because you are not a parent.”

Of course.  I should have realised.  What a fool I am!  All my time as a teacher, uncle, etc, has proven useless.  I am just being too harsh on Jasna’s son.  When will I ever learn?

Have a lenient day, won’t you!

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Remembrance Day

The poppy.  The two-minute silence.  The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.  These are words and images familiar to anyone from, or living in, the UK.

I, however, live in Germany.  Yesterday, with less than a week’s notice, as church warden, I had to step in and lead our church’s Remembrance Day service.

Here we also call it Peace Sunday, because we in our church need to emphasise the service is not about celebrating victory, but about remembering those who gave their lives in conflict, and also about praying for peace between nations.

As warden, my usual task in this service is just to:

  • Lay a wreath
  • Find a German/young person/woman to lay the other

For yesterday I had to:

  • Look through the service sheet
  • Liaise with the preacher
  • Do a dry run
  • Check timings
  • Explain to the wreath layer the context of the service and wreath laying
  • Find a replacement for me to sit in Sunday school
  • Much, much more

In the days before the service, I practise my lines.

Sunday turns up.  I stand at the lectern.  I have been to the loo three times with pre-lectern nerves.

10:45 on the dot.  We start.  I read verbatim from my notes.  I want to get it right.

10:54 We reach the point where we lay the wreaths.  We are meant to start the silence at 11:00.  No way can I pad out the service till 11:00.  I make a decision on the ground.  I signal that we start tne 2-minute silence.

The silence seems to last two hours.  Everyone keeps the silence immaculately.  My blood pressure is lowered.

I thank my wreath layer and return to the lectern to continue the service.

More hymns.  More prayers.  I introduce the preacher, a USAF veteran.  He preaches.  And preaches.  It’s a hum-dinger, forty minutes long, but engaging and thought-provoking.  I then look for our intercessions person.  He is AWOL: “absent without leave.”  I had anticipated that eventuality.  Time for ACTS.

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanks
  • Supplication

I pray.  We all pray. As I pray for peace, I hesitate for a second or two as I look at members of congregation who come from war zone countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  I lick my lips and take a sharp intake of breath, thinking of what these people must have gone through.

Fast forward.  Just before 13:00 the service ends with the Grace and notices.

I give thanks to God for a another dignified Remembrance/Peace Sunday service.  The congregation files out to refreshments in the church hall.  I even get compliments on my suit and on how I led the service.  I am truly flattered.  It was a team effort:

  • Leader
  • Chaplain briefing
  • Musicians
  • Sidespersons
  • A patient congregation

After shaking lots of hands and being asked in the absence of “the priest” if I can provide a visitor with some “holy water.”  Answer: er, no, I can’t, and anyway, as far as I am concerned, all water is holy.  That would be an ecumenical question.

13:00 Everyone has been fed and watered.  I breathe a sigh of relief that all went well.

Have a dignified day, won’t you!

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In peace – goodwill

In war – determination.

In defeat – defiance.

In victory – magnanimity.

In peace – goodwill.

Wise words from Winston Churchill.

During World War II and even up till 1948, many German prisoners of war (PW) were kept in the United Kingdom and proved to be most useful as a labour force, especially on farms, auf dem Lande.

All the PW’s would be dropped off at their place of work at 0700 every morning.  They would have head back to their PW camp, a converted manor house, in the evening.  Their rations for the day: a tin of corned beef, barely edible for a dog, let alone a man working in the fields.

One such PW worked on my great-grandad’s farm in the Yorkshire Dales.  I forget his name (It’s mentioned in a recent letter from my 80-year-old uncle A from Bedale.)  Let’s call him Ralph.

When his employer’s family found out that Ralph:

  1. Was not a Nazi, just another conscript, doing his job
  2. Was a motor mechanic
  3. He was a good “grafter,” full of Teutonic efficiency
  4. Had food rations thatwere not fit for purpose
  5. Was an all-round nice guy

the family pretty much adopted him.

They invited him to join them as honoured guest for lunchtime every day, including Sunday roast with gallons of gravy and Yorkshire pudding.

Finally, when Ralph was sent back to Germany in 1948, home addresses were exchanged.  Every Christmastime Christmas cards would be exchanged between t’Dales and Hamburg, Ralph’s home.

In 1964 my Uncle A was posted to the BAOR, British Army of the Rhine.  He then visited Ralph in Hamburg and had a few beers with him, also meeting his wife and children.

Uncle A and Ralph kept in contact for years even when Uncle A was posted to Northern Ireland.  Eventually the Christmas cards stopped.  Ralph had passed away.  The final correspondence was a condolence card sent to Ralph’s family some time in the 1960’s.

Aus Feind wird Freund.

Have a friendly day, won’t you!

hands people friends communication

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

GDR Ha Ha Ha…

The Grenztruppen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, the East German border guards, took their job seriously.  So did the British soldiers when they used to come to do border patrol.

Except… the Brits being Brits used to like being professional, but also having a laugh.  At the expense of the Genossen on the other side of the fence.

Many a female members of the Royal Air Force, when traversing the DDR checkpoint in Berlin, was known to lift off her bra and blouse and show off her ample chest to the Grenztruppen, chanting the following one-liner:

If you’re British, get your t1tties out!

The DDR authorities would then raise a formal protest about another Grenzprovokation via the Soviets, concerning:

…severe indiscipline and courtesy to the military personnel of the German Democratic Republic, especially from female troops, who lacked any form of ladylike behaviour…

And this from a country famous for FKK.  How strange.

Troops stationed on the main border used to have their own fun.  Here’s one Grenzprovoktation incident.

One bright, sunny Thursday morning, Sunray arrives at the border village of Mattierzoll on his Landrover.  Fun time begins.

He places a piece of equipment onto the roof of his Landrover.  It has an aerial.  He starts pointing the aerial in the direction of the guard tower on the other side.   He stands by the vehicle for a several minutes, slowling pointing the aerial in various directions.

A pair of border guards come closer.  They scratch their heads.  They take photos.

Sunray turns the “scanner” again.  He sits in his Landrover, smiling, eating a cheese sandwich.

More border guards come, this time with technical officers, flicking through their British Army reference guidebooks.  What is this device on the roof of this Landrover?

Five minutes later, Sunray puts them out of their misery.

He takes the Ministry of Defence issue office bin off the roof.  He removes the green-painted coat-hanger and the masking tape holding it to the base of the bin.  He holds the bin up to the Genossen to show what it is. He pulls off the old phone cable that had been glued to the bin.

The Genossen, realising that been pranked, shake their heads and march off, muttering under the breath.

Sunray chuckles and jumps back in his vehicle.  He has a great story to tell back at the barracks this afternoon.

Have a provocative day, won’t you!

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Call the social workers!

The year 1977.  For me, that was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year.  Street parties, Union Flag bowler hats, bunting across the streets, a massive military parade staged by the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) at Sennelager.  Things were different then.  The price of a 1st class stamp was 9p.

jubilee

(Above is a first day cover to mark that jubilee.)

How much does a first class stamp cost nowadays?  Having lived aboard for several years now, I had to google it.  Ulp!  Drum roll…

70p.

But what else has changed since then?  Let’s take this case study.

1977: the school secretary at Wolfenbüttel Primary School phones the Guardroom at the barracks, 5 minutes walk away.

Hello, Cpl Sunray.  School secretary here.  Can one of the Regimental Police pop over to the school?  One of the youngsters has got his head stuck in the back of a chair while messing about with his mates.

Cpl Sunray arrives in the classroom.  Little Charlie, aged 5, is standing near teacher’s desk, looking all sheepish.  His classmates are watching him.

Gentle tugging and twisting does not help.  Cpl Sunray decides the only way is to saw the plastic back off the chair.  But he has to have a bit of fun.  At Charlie’s expense.

Cpl Sunray takes his hacksaw.  He holds it in front of Charlie’s eyes.  He winks to teacher.  Very deadpan he sighs:

It’s no good, Charlie.  We’ll just have to cut your head off.

Charlie screams.  Loudly.

No, no, no, please, no!

His classmates, teacher, and Cpl Sunray laugh.  Also loudly.  And for a good minute.

Cpl Sunray then manages to saw the back of the chair off.  Much to Charlie’s relief.

Now, fast forward 40+ years.  What would happen?

  • Cpl Sunray would be severely reprimanded, perhaps dismissed.
  • Charlie would be diagnosed with PTSD and offered counselling.
  • Maybe his classmates, too.
  • And teacher…
man cutting tress using chainsaw

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have a sawn-off day, won’t you!

Classmates Reunion Part 3

Saturday morning.  After Grasshopper has gone for his run, Schatz and I meet him in the hotel for breakfast.  I had a slightly sore head.  I’m not sure if Grasshopper did, too.  I’m sure a run and shower will have got rid of that for him.  For me, my sore head disappeared after five coffees and a cooked breakfast.

Off to the Altstadt.  Coffee and spaghetti ice.  Grasshopper and I upload to Facebook yet more German “food porn” photos.  It has to be done.  A trip along the Rhine on a boat.  More pics, and not just of food porn.  Schatz is shattered.  She heads home to the hotel for a well-earned siesta.  Grasshopper and I head to Kaiswerswerth for that German classic, the currywurst.  A short stroll to the river bank for more pics and to walk our currywurst off.

Back to hotel.  Power nap or lie-down for an hour or so.

Freshened up, we had to a nearby Bavarian pub.  Grasshopper has his Jägerschnitzel.  I choose Schlemmerpfanne.  Schatz chooses salmon, the healthy option.  More food porn photos are uploaded to Facebook.  Grasshopper and I enjoy our Apfelstrudel.  More food porn photos are uploaded to Facebook.  A few more glasses of Pils are enjoyed.  All three of us are merry.  Schatz treats us.  Star!  For Grasshopper is our honoured guest.

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Schatz heads to bed.  Grasshopper and I chat in the hotel bar.  41 years of “remember when…?” to catch up on.

The following morning it is time to say goodbye to Grasshopper.  Before he gets into his taxi, we hug shake hands.  It’s been an excellent weekend.  Rarely have I met such a good bloke, an interesting guy and very likeable, as Grasshopper.  It was a privilege and pleasure to meet him after 41 years.  And yes, so, we did get on face to face as we did online.

Grasshopper, let’s not leave it another 41 years, eh!

Have a friendly day, won’t you!