28 January 2019


Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day - a day dedicated to remembering the six million Jews who died at the hands of Nazis in Germany (as well as in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia). It is well that we remember these events in order to avoid the atrocities recurring in the future, although, sadly, we never seem to learn from our mistakes. However, I was appalled to read that five per cent of UK adults do not believe the Holocaust even took place and one in 12 believes its scale has been exaggerated. Why do they think so many millions of people all around the world would make up these stories?

My own family were victims of the Holocaust. I have mentioned it before. My father came from Germany and was born in 1923.  His father was Catholic, his mother a Jewess, albeit one who had never set foot in a synagogue in her life. I guess marrying a Catholic would have been impossible if she were a strict Jew. But she was no more Jewish than I am an African goatherd (and I'm not by the way). By the mid 1930s with Hitler now in power, it became pretty obvious to the family that things were not looking good for Jews. Even if you were non-practicing, they went back six generations to check your Aryan eligibility, so my father and his brother failed miserably on that score, even though they had been raised as Protestants in the Lutheran church. My Dad and uncle had even been confirmed, but it wasn't enough to save them.

In late 1938, my uncle (then aged 17) was arrested at home and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, presumably because he was not eligible to join the Hitler Youth. My 15-year-old father was thankfully in another town visiting his aunt, otherwise he would have been arrested too. Quite why they didn't take my grandparents at the same time, I do not know, but it was 1938 and things were still not as bad as they later became once the war had started. Also my grandfather had been awarded the Iron Cross in the First World War, so maybe that was enough to spare him at that point.

My uncle witnessed horrible things while in Buchenwald, among them daily hangings which the inmates were forced to watch. I have two photos of him taken just before Buchenwald and just after. He appears much more gaunt in the latter and his eyes look haunted. Thankfully he was only there three months. My grandparents managed with the help of Quakers in England to get both boys over here in March 1939,my grandfather paying the Nazis vast sums to get my uncle out of the camp and promising the family would leave Germany for good. It doesn't bear thinking about what would have happened if they had stayed in Germany. As it was, my grandmother's brothers ended up in concentration camps and we never heard of them again.

From a young child, I saw the tattoos, I heard the stories and I relived their experiences. How anybody could say these things did not happen, when there are so many similar stories from people all over the world that have been told or documented, I cannot fathom. What on earth would be the point in making up such horrid stories on a mass basis?

14 January 2019

Fancy that!

Every Monday I take an elderly friend of mine to the local park to help her walk her dog. We met about fifteen years ago in the park when our dogs started playing with one another. Sadly my dog has since passed on, so has hers, but she has replaced hers with a lovable blind spaniel. In the last few years, my friend has had an unfortunate run of bad experiences, namely a broken hip, a broken arm, breast cancer and the death of her husband all in a matter of a few years. Now in her eighties and lacking confidence after her falls, she can no longer drive and I offer once a week to drive her to the local park so she can meet up with some of the old crowd.  Dog-walkers are a particular breed of person. As animal lovers, they generally tend to be lovely caring people and will stop and talk, swap life histories and put the world to rights. Over the years we have met many and become good friends with some of them. One of them sent me the following by email this morning and I thought I'd share with you the origin of some of our well-known English sayings from the 1500s. I already knew some of them, but others were a surprise. See how many you know.

1. There is an old Hotel/Pub in Marble Arch, London , which used to have gallows adjacent to it. Prisoners were taken to the gallows (after a fair trial of course) to be hung. The horse-drawn dray, carting the prisoner, was accompanied by an armed guard, who would stop the dray outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ''ONE LAST DRINK''.If he said YES, it was referred to as ONE FOR THE ROAD.  If he declined, that prisoner was ON THE WAGON. 

2. They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. 
If you had to do this to survive you were "piss poor", but worse than that were the really poor folk, who couldn't even afford to buy a pot, they "Didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low.  

3. Most people got married in June, because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June.  However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. 

4. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!" 

5. Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. 
When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."  

6. There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.  The floor was dirt.. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "dirt poor." 

7. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold. 

8. In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight, then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: ''Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old''.  

9. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over they would hang up their bacon, to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "Bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around talking and ''chew the fat''.  

10. Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.  

11. Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, 
or ''The Upper Crust''. 

12. Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of ''Holding a Wake''. 

13. England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people, so they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. 
So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, thread it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus someone could be, ''Saved by the Bell'' or was considered a ''Dead Ringer''.

Who knew walking a dog could be so educational!

04 January 2019

Happy New Year

Another Christmas and another New Year have passed peacefully. Kay and I managed a lovely day-trip up to the Midlands a few days before Christmas to see Greg's sister and her family in their new home. Then Kay and I spent Christmas itself - just the two of us - eating far too much, drinking a little too much and watching wall-to-wall TV in perfect harmony. On New Year's Eve, I went down to Brighton to spend New Year with my two closest friends, whilst Kay was loved up with her boyfriend somewhere in deepest Kent. As an only child and a widow, I am thankful for having good friends and we had a lovely time together seeing in the new year. Kay and I  are back to the normal routine now and I'm about to dismantle the decorations and put them back in their boxes in the cellar.

A new year begins. Who knows where it will lead me personally or the whole of the UK, as we begin to countdown to Brexit? Meanwhile, I have hung up a new calendar my Brighton friend gave me. Knowing I studied German, she has bought me an hilarious one, taking well-known German sayings and translating them into meaningless English. This month's one is "Das ist Schnee von gestern" meaning "that is old news" or I suppose the exact equivalent would be "that is yesterday's newspapers". Somehow the literal translation below doesn't quite get that meaning over. 

A Happy New Year to you all. May it be happy, healthy and not at all as scary as the newspapers would have us believe. Onwards and Upwards....