Scrapbook: Memory

My scrapbook had been pretty dormant the past two or three years, new content being mainly service sheets for funerals of members of the congregation where I’ve attended as church warden/verger/dogsbody.

One item that I will always appreciate is the regimental condolence card that the SLOB’s (Scarlet Lancers Old Boys) sent me after my Dad, Sunray, died on 16 January this year.  A British Army cavalry regiment is truly a band of brothers.

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The words on the inside of the card come from the regimental song, Old Stable Jacket. Sing mit!

Have a brotherly day, won’t you!

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Topic (sic) of Cancer

Cancer.  The Big C.  A tumour… and it’s malignant.  And probably many other euphemisms.

Mrs Grasshopper was diagnosed  with stage 4 terminal pancreatic cancer on 25 October last year.

Der Tod ist sicher.

Prognosis – how long before you die – twelve (12) months from diagnosis.  As at today, Mrs Grasshopper is still alive (but not alive and well).  Every day is a bonus.  Guesstimate now as to how long she has got is now 6-8 weeks, maybe a a few days later so she gets to see Christmas Day.  But who can tell?

Anyway this article is not about Mrs Grasshopper per se.  Death, sad to say, is certain.  That’s a brutal fact.  But what about Grasshopper, my classmate from the mid-70’s, hard-nosed riot squad policeman?

Ever since diagnosis, Grasshopper and I have kept the communication lines open.  He calls me “Padre Ginge.”  I send him and Mrs Grasshopper a pastoral card.

In the last two months, Mrs Grasshopper has been suffering new symptoms on a weekly basis.  Grasshopper has been dealing in a businesslike manner, being a trained medic, logging her symptoms and monitoring her slow downhill journey.

Mrs Grasshopper is in denial.  She truly believes she will be alive in two years to see her son’s graduation.  It’s unlikely that she’ll still be around in two months.  That’s a brutal fact.

To be honest, cold, callous and clinical, Mrs Grasshopper is not my main concern.  My main concern is to make sure that Grasshopper does not end up having a nervous breakdown while looking after his wife.  Today he admitted to me that he had had a meltdown this morning and had spent almost all day in bed.  That is out of character for Grasshopper, who is normally a very positive, matter-of-fact person.  We had a good long chat via Whatsapp while I was taking the tram into the city centre this afternoon.  He sound weary.  His voice was starting to crack a bit.  First time I’ve heard him like that.  Big boys do cry, or at least allow their voices to wobble a bit.

I mainly listened.  Grasshopper needed to let off steam.  I told him I was here 24/7 if he ever need a good rant.  I don’t want him having a nervous breakdown or “doing something stupid.”

Yesterday Grasshopper found this pastoral card from me landing on his doormat.

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Who cares for the carers?

Have a caring day, won’t you!

Wait a Minute, it’s the Telephone Man

Those of you who are over 45 may just about remember this cheery little number from Meri Wilson.

In the previous year, Sunray was nicknamed Telephone Man for his part in ensuring that the overall phone bill for the British Army in Northern Ireland was £1 million.  (Regimental legend has it that Sunray was responsible for £900 000 of it.)  Most of the calls were part of the Night Shift Numbers Game, a version of “pin the tail on the donkey”, when bored squaddies on night shift at HMP Maze would get out the phone book, look up random numbers abroad and phone them to ask such innocent questions as:

Is it snowing in Alabama?

It’s a nice clear line, isn’t it?

etc.  (Men are just boys in long trousers. )

Fast-forward to 2018.  It was my birthday three days ago.  That took me back to October 1976, when, as a wee schoolboy at Wolfenbüttel Primary School, I was told to go to the headmaster’s office.

“Oh dear, what have I done wrong?” I thought.  “Was it for shouting at my teacher last week?”

No.  It was Sunray phoning me up from HMP Maze, wishing my happy birthday.  He was obviously taking time out from:

  • Calling his mate, Bryan B, in Australia, to ask how hot it was in Cairns
  • Phoning his sister-in-law in Canada to talk to her about boxing bouts
  • Prank-calling several taxi firms in Birmingham to order two dozen taxis to one pub on the outskirts of the city
  • And much, much more…

Bless his cotton socks, bless his soul.  Quite poignant to think this was the first year when I did not receive a birthday card from him.  This weekend I did think of him as Schatz and I raised our glasses of Sekt to celebrate my birthday.

Have an a-Maze-ing day, won’t you!

Tag der Deutschen Einheit

Tomorrow is Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity).

Over forty years ago, in the summer of 1978, I remember standing up in the Harz Mountains watching the GDR border guards rebuilding the fence and thinking and saying to the late Sunray, “The GDR will still be there when I’m gone.”

Then October 1989 happened, and the rest is, well, literally history.

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Have a unified day, won’t you!

The Monkey-Hangers

(Why do I sometimes feel like I am reading out Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America?  Instead you get Blog from Germany.)

Just over a decade a go I worked as a supply teacher, usually in rough comprehensives on Teesside, including Hartlepool, home of the monkey-hangers.  (In a battle against the French, the locals thought a monkey on board a French warship was a Frenchman.  They hanged the poor animal when he “refused to talk.”)

Most of the classes were rough rough rough rough rough.  The headteacher at one Hartlepool comprehensive give me a useful tip.

If the kids get too rowdy, just ask them about Lawrence, the transvestite Hartlepool football fan.

I did.  That worked.  I’d get non-stop anecdotes about Lawrence and his:

  • Drink problem
  • New dress
  • Season ticket problems
  • Tendency to re-apply make-up on during the last five minutes of every game

Ever since working at that school, I have got into Hartlepool, following the club and its trials and tribulations.  Now, after the club nearly went bankrupt last season, they seem to be on the up.  Undefeated so far in the National League, the fifth tier of English football.

Howay the lads!

Have a hearty day, won’t you!

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On this day…

Well, actually on this day yesterday… wind back 57 years… the Berlin Wall went up.  And the rest is history until the next milestone in 1989.

As a pads brat living in Wolfenbüttel 1975-1978, I never got to see the Wall itself.  Our family did make regular weekend trips down to the village of Mattierzoll to see the Inner-Deutsche Grenze (the “Inner-German Border”) and to be photographed by the Grenztruppen border guards… watching us… watching them… watching us.

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These visits left their mark on me. On reaching the border, I used to feel nauseous, as if approaching a person that I knew had murdered hundreds of people in cold blood.

  • How can any regime imprison its own people?
  • How can it claim to be democratic?

Have a democratic day, won’t you!

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