Machmallauter: Boney M

I was always a fan of of Boney M.  I had no choice really.  When I was pads brat living in Wolfenbüttel, Germany 1975-78, their music was on BFBS all the time.  Every hour.  Every day.

This was my favourite Boney M number: 137, to be exact.  Psalm 137, otherwise known as…

By the Rivers of Babylon

Have a psalmodic day, won’t you!

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The shock of capture

In January 2000, as Lance-Corporal GermanGinge I did a military interrogator’s course.  Three expressions are still embedded in my head:

  1. ICATQ (“I cannot answer that question.”)
  2. The shock of capture

The shock of capture is the “Oh dear, oh dear, oh f*ck!” moment when a prisoner of war realises the game is up: he has been attacking you, has lost the fight, and he is now hoping his enemy will not kill him.

Today Mrs Grasshopper went through the shock of capture.  Since her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at the end of October 2017, Grasshopper (my old Klassenkamerad) and I have been in daily contact, swapping jokes, URL’s for corny 70’s songs and then interspersing with businesslike “sitreps” (“situation reports”) on Mrs Grasshopper’s progress.

Yesterday was another major milestone: another appointment with the oncologist.  The oncologist agreed with Grasshopper’s suspicions that Mrs Grasshopper’s increased self-dosage of oramorph, the increase in her tumour marker to 6000 units and several other symptoms were indicative that her cancer was spreading – despite ten sessions of heavy-duty chemotherapy.

This afternoon I phoned Grasshopper.  He was stoic.  He has been ever since diagnosis.

Pads brat banter. I pull his leg about being a policeman.  He pulls my leg about being a “ginga.”  We laugh.  The Germans in the Düsseldorf sit and try – as ever – to eavesdrop on our Anglophone conversation

Then the $64 million question.  Deep breath.

Grasshopper, now, tell me to f… off and mind my own business if you like.  How did Mr Grasshopper react to the oncologist’s prognosis yesterday?

Grasshopper told me she had had a major meltdown down the local cafe this morning.  The realisation that she does not have long will probably die soon.  The realisation that she cannot ask her enemy, the cancer, not to kill her.  The shock of capture.  The thoughts.  All the what-ifs.  Every single “why?” question.

Next time you are moaning about:

  • Your bus being late
  • There being no milk in the fridge
  • Your team losing their World Cup match

Please think of Mrs Grasshopper.

No picture this time, just a song.

Have a shockless day, won’t you!

Charlie don’t surf – Glasshopper doesn’t hug trees

Glasshopper and I go back to over 40 years to the days when he and I were pads brats “Klassenkameraden” at Wolfenbüttel, Germany.  He is nowadays a police officer, and spent several years as a riot policeman (Bereitschaftspolizist).  On the nerd/jock spectrum he and I would probably find ourselves at opposite ends.

In fact, here we are in this photo from 1977, HM Queen’s silver jubilee year.  Glasshopper is rear rank, furthest left.  I am next to him, with my finger in mouth.  Cute, eh?

classpic

On the last Wednesday in October 2017 Glasshopper’s wife was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

How is it that I remember that date?  Photographic memory?  No.  Did I just check in my Moleskine diary?  No.  It was the night that I had just come home from an excellent comedy evening down the Altstadt.  In fact, when I got home, I had been laughing so much, it was as if I had been doing sit-ups all night.  (Most unlikely.)

But once I had arrived home and had logged onto Facebook, I wasn’t laughing much any longer.

I saw Glasshopper’s posts on Facebook.  I saw his wife’s posts on Facebook.  I had arrived  home at 02:12.  Glasshopper was still up and on Facebook.  Glasshopper told me the devastating news.

My reply did not consist of Bible passages or words from hymns:

F*ck f*ck f*ck.

And then:

Sh1t, sh1t, sh1t!

Today was Mrs Glasshopper’s last of ten chemotherapy sessions.  This week they have several appointments to review progress (or lack thereof) and options.  Frankly, there are few options left.  When I asked Schatz (who knows a thing or two about medicine) a week after diagnosis, I summarised her answer as:

Also, der Tod ist sicher.

(“So, death is certain.”)

Over the last month I’ve chatted to Glasshopper a lot, forming a rapport with him, trying to work him out.  He seemed cheery, but was that alpha-male, riot policeman, bravado?  No, he is genuinely businesslike (perhaps as his coping strategy) and realistic.  He even uses the D-word: death. No euphemisms.  No:

  • The inevitable
  • When she passes away
  • When she moves on
  • When the end happens
  • Etc

Instead: death and dying.  He’s calling a spade a spade.  (DE: die Ding beim Namen nennen.)

Mrs Glasshopper, on the other hand, is in denial.  She’s not saying her goodbyes, because she denies shes going yet.  She is convinced that she will still be alive – despite doctors’s predictions – for her son’s graduation in two years and probably many more family events.  Death is the last taboo in our western society.  Nobody wants to die, at least, not early.

By analogy, I once joked to a female friend of mine:

Women have PMT.  Men suffer from PMT.

Maybe it’s similar here.  The patient has the terminal cancer.  The family suffer from the cancer.  Am I being too cold?  Too clinical here?  Is Glasshopper?

He even ‘fessed up last week:

Sometimes I just want her to go so she is no longer in pain, and so I don’t have to deal with this any more.  And I feel an absolute a$$hole for saying that.

Since then he has called me “Padre Ginge.”

This is not Hollywood cliché.  No:

  • Miraculous recovery
  • Constant hugs
  • Reiterations of “I love you”
  • Final hours in hospital bed, surrounded by loved ones and devoted medics
  • Final beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep on the electronic monitor

Woody Allen is famous/notorious for his quotation:

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

What can I do?  What can Glasshopper do?  Probably not much.  I told him this morning:

Padre Ginge is here if you need to let off steam, swap silly jokes, send internet memes or links to YouTube videos of cheesy 1970’s hits.

We pads brats don’t hug trees.  We don’t even hug humans.  We don’t do group therapy.  We do, however, look after each other in our own unique way, which “bl00dy civvies” never quite understand.

Please, folks, pray for and think of Glasshopper and his wife next time your train is running late or there is too much milk in your tea.

Have a grateful day, won’t you!

tree

 

Scrapbook

I’m not high up enough in the food chain to have my memoirs published or to have my diaries forged.  I do, however, have many a quiet evening on my own.  Occasionally I’ll get the glue out and stick a few items in my scrapbook.

Where did I get this habit?  Sunray started it all back in 1978, when he was posted to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS).  He was constantly cutting and pasting gluing into his Ministry of Defence A4 hard-backed book:

  • Article after article from the Camberley News
  • The occasional Northern Echo clipping about his elder brother, who was in the habit of arguing with North Yorkshire Police and ending up the loser in court
  • Ah yes… every now and again, local non-news articles that mother would post to him from the Darlington and Stockton Times, eg “TRUCK BREAKS DOWN ON A1 BY LEEMING BAR.  NO-ONE INJURED.”

Fast-forward to 1998, and I am visiting Sunray, having been estranged from him for nearly a decade.  There among his photo albums is his RMAS scrapbook.

Dad, can I have a look at your scrapbook, please?

Aye, feel free, son.  I’ve not had a look at it myself for years.

Flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick, flick…

  • Sovereign’s Parade 1979
  • Sovereign’s Parade 1980
  • Sovereign’s Parade, guess what, 1981
  • Bellerby Sub-Post Office without 2nd Class Stamps for over Two Weeks in summer of 1981 – local butcher fuming
  • Elder brother up before Thirsk Magistrates 1978: £75 fine
  • Brother up before Thirsk Magistrates 1979: £60 fine
  • Brother up before Northallerton Magistrates 1981: £80 fine
    • He must have moved house in 1980, I guess..
  • Most recent clipping – brother up before Richmond Magistrates 1991: £800 fine
    • Goodness – I’ll put that £800 down to inflation…

I resolve to go start myself a scrapbook the very next day…  Ahem…  Well, at least, the intent was there.

1 November 2003: I finally get round to buying a suitable scrapbook.   Masham post office (which also did have 2nd class stamps).  I also buy a small bottle of PVA glue, so beloved in British primary schools (where it normally comes poured out of huge gallon bottles).

pvaglue

Come on, you must have used gallons of this in your school days!

Within two years I had filled my scrapbook with, well, er scrap.  I took a leaf out of Sunray’s book.  I just had to collect local non-news articles from the local paper, such as the following two horror stories:

carcass

Oh, the sleepless nights…

rubbish

A very unhappy pub landlord, scowling for the camera…

Not only the local news items, but also the souvenirs of travels (address redacted).

postcard

Sunray was enjoying himself in Berlin.  His return air fare just £40 – bargain!

 

But if you can’t take the plane, let the train take the strain.  £6 there and back: another bargain.

ticket

 

And finally… no newspaper clippings of Sovereign’s Parade, but this headline mocking a Sandhurst graduate, Mr Ian Duncan Smith MP (ex-Guards), one-time “leader” of the Conservative Party, who was about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

IDS

Who remembers Comical Ali from Gulf War II?

The people come and go, but thanks to the scrapbook, the memories remain.  Oh, the winter (and summer) evenings are going to just absolutely fly by, I’m sure.

Have a scrappy day, won’t you!

Don’t Do Your Business in…

Sunray served 22 years in the British Army’s Royal Armoured Corps.  But he was also a PARA.  Not Parachute Regiment.  PARA-noid.

His motto (which he repeated to me on a regular basis):

Don’t do your business in the place where you live.  (That’s what Captain Benn told me back in 1973.)

A pearl of wisdom no doubt.

I actually suspect it was my Grandmother who got Sunray into the habit, not Captain Benn.  Grandma lived in a tiny hamlet, Burrill, a good five kilometres from the nearest town.  Her nearest (sub-)Post Office?  Three ( yes – 3, drei) doors down from her, at Number 8.  Did she ever go there, even to buy a stamp?

Nope.

I’m not having Margaret H knowing I’ve just bought a 2nd-class stamp and gossiping that I’m too bl00dy poor or tight-fisted to buy a 1st-class stamp.

I’m not taking my letters to my son to her sub-post office .  She’ll know where he’s stationed and she’ll end up gossiping about it.

I’m not cashing my pension at Burrill post office.  She’ll then know how much old age pension I get each week.  I’m not bl00dy having that!

So every week, in all weathers, Grandma would waddle to the end of the hamlet, board the bus to Bedale, and do her post office business there, buying stamps, paying her bills and swapping gossip with all the other OAP’s.  As for actually posting letters, she’d send them from the hamlet post box, conveniently located in the bustling heart of the hamlet, next to the phone box, which Sunray would occasionally daily ring while guarding enemies of the British state twiddling his thumbs at the Maze Prison.  (You can see a picture of the bustling heart of the hamlet at the end of this article.)

As for Sunray himself, most of his post-Army life he spent living in villages in the Yorkshire Dales.  He would drive for miles and miles around to obscure village post offices – in rotation – to prevent over-familiarity and postmasters knowing his business.  He even had a laminated A4 sheet to tell him the opening times and locations of about twenty village post offices.

You can’t be too careful, son!

Have a paranoid day, won’t you!

burrillPBox

The bustling centre of Burrill

 

In the days before Photoshop

What did people do to edit pictures in the days before Photoshop?  Let me enlighten you, if I may.

Sunray was always a creative type.  He always loved his black marker pen (Deutsch: Edding).  Not just to flick through his photo albums, stick a big black ring round deceased people’s heads, connect it to an arrow, and write:

Now dead

He also used to love defacing decorating pictures in the daily newspaper “horror comics” such as, The Sun, The Daily Mirror, or Daily Star.

Page Three models would find glacé cherries painted on their nipples, thanks to his special occasions red marker pen.  Or if his mood was particularly puritanical, they would suddenly have their modesty (and their chest) covered by a black marker pen bra.

Other less photogenic people would have their appearance amended – mostly with a Hitler moustache and haircut.  Even Mrs Thatcher…

One day, the Führer himself featured in a story in the paper.  Sunray couldn’t draw a Hitler ‘tache and haircut on the Führer.

A challenge.

GingeInGermany, can you go to the bathroom, son, and get me the nail scissors?

Yes, Dad.

I double away.  I double back with nail scissors.

Snip, snip snip.

The Führer‘s ‘tache has been removed.  Sunray now hugely satisfied.

Have an artistic day, won’t you!

hitlertache2.jpg

A first time for everything

This week I visited K in hospice.  It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a hospice, although at my age (late 40’s) I have visited dying people at home.  I’ve known K (a Scots British Army veteran) since 2001, when he was a case worker for an armed forces charity, when my dad was being a “problem child.”  K was a godsend to me, as he listened to me rant and rave about chaos that my Dad had been creating for me.  Now it was my turn to return the kindness to him.

A, a mutual friend, had briefed me last week that K was due to move from palliative care into hospice this week.  K knew what this meant.  He was moving into the departures lounge.  He’d been through check-in, security, and now it was time to sit in the departures lounge and just wait for the final call.  A had briefed me that K had 2 to 6 weeks left.

The night before I had Kopfkino playing non-stop.  Would K want to talk about death and dying?  Would he use euphemisms, or would he actually use the word, “death”?  Would he prefer to talk about anything but death?  (Was he Celtic or Rangers?)

I turned up on a beautiful sunny day, too nice, frankly for a hospice visit.  I didn’t ask him, “How are you?”  That would be crass.  He’s dying of cancer!

K, great to see you.

Ginge in Germany, you too!

A firm handshake from K.  Bated breath.  Will he cry?  No.  Almost, though.

A sigh from K, sitting in his wheelchair.

I arrived here yesterday from palliative care.  I know what it means.  I really have not got much time left here.  Oh aye!  I got a letter last week demanding €14000 compensation off me for a car crash I caused five years ago.  I had great pleasure in replying that I’m going to die in a few weeks, and they won’t be able to get a single cent out of me, ha ha ha.

Then silence.  K starts to blink, swallows hard, and squeezes his wife’s hand.  Five seconds later the dark British squaddie humour returns.

And the amount of money the undertakers charge for a f***ing funeral!  At my mother’s cremation, just before they slid my mother’s box into the oven, the cheeky bastard undertaker asked if anyone had a match!

Right, he’s back “in the zone.”  If a soldier is not complaining or cracking bad-taste jokes, then there is something to worry about.

The rest of the ‘guests’ here are terrible.  I joined them for dinner yesterday evening, and all they did was rattle on about their illness, asking me, “What are you dying from?  How many weeks have you got left?  I’ve got…”  It’s so f***ing depressing, the morbid buggers!

K offers me a beer.  I decline.  I drink mineral water instead.  Beer at 11am would make me too drowsy.  K tells me his son is about to turn up tomorrow with G, his latest grand-daughter, only two days old.  He’s looking forward to that, he says with fatherly and grandfatherly pride, a smile showing under his grey moustache.  (When I first knew K, his hair was black as Whitby jet.  What a difference 17 years (and metastasised prostate cancer) make.

K and I spend the rest of the visit, another hour, swapping stories and cracking jokes about death and funeral, standard ex-HM Forces chat, really.  He tells me his bagpipes are arriving this afternoon.  He tells me he intends to play the bagpipes tonight to the fellow guests – “to drown out all their f***ing incessant talk about death and coffins.”

Yes, the body may be going downhill rapidly.  But the soldier with his effing and blinding, and his macabre sense of humour is still alive and kicking.

I conclude my 90 minutes visit with thanks and a firm handshake.  No hug.  We’re both British.  We don’t do huggy-huggy, kissy-kissy.  K sees me off with the following words:

“Lunch today looks good.  Fresh strawberries, too.  The condemned man ate a hearty meal, eh!”

I actually leave the hospice with a spring in my step.  Iron sharpens iron.

Have a sharpened day, won’t you!

tartan