Introductory Remarks

I was kissed by a man on Christmas Eve 198.. .

It was at the end of a party. He had been near me most of the evening, putting his hands onto me in unwonted caresses. It was very sweet and exciting. I did not recognize myself : the idea of another man had never entered my head before.


I had seen him kiss women on one or two previous occasions. It shocked me, because in my opinion one does not kiss lightly. I do not, anyway.

His kiss on Christmas Eve upset me profoundly. It rocked the whole of my existence. It seriously questioned the values I had lived for so far. I had to realize that I desired another man.


I could not eat nor sleep. I became conscious of my body. I surprized my partner by going to bed in winter without a nightdress on. Not that he would come near me for that – I certainly did not encourage him …


Writing about these things now is not without pain.

It is like regurgitating at last something that proved unacceptable for one’s system, the indigestible parts of too heavy a meal – bringing them up is nasty; yet, elimination is a relief, even though an unpleasant taste stays for a time after.


Curriculum Vitae, Part 1 – Berlin

Leviathan : mythical marine monster,- Manuscript in hebrew by the scribe Benjamin around 1280.

I was born in Berlin during the second World War, the result of a short and peaceful holiday my parents enjoyed in the Austrian Alps, before my father had to return to the scene of action.

All my family were from Berlin. Great-grand- and grandparents had moved there from such far-away places as Tilsit in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. There was a saying that all true Berliners came from Silesia.

My father’s father had been a primary school teacher, a man with very blue eyes and a moustache not quite like the Kaiser’s. He died before I was born, but I have a certain mental picture of him, established with the help of a few stories that were told about him.

There was always enough money in the family to live decently, but there was none left over. Any holidays had to be saved up for a long time in advance. My grandfather was a very respectable man, prim and proper, with a great deal of discipline, an independent spirit who loathed the idea of debt. My grandmother knew this, and when she wanted money out of him, she used to threaten him with borrowing some from her neighbour. It always worked. He was a great fisherman, too. He even prepared his own fish in a particular way from time to time, some sort of pickling with a certain quantity of vinegar. My grandmother knew how to do it properly, using just the right amount of vinegar, but for some reason he did not always trust her and much to her annoyance once interfered in the kitchen, doing the pickling himself. She must have watched him out of the corner of her eye as he almost completely emptied her bottle of vinegar – strong vinegar it was, too. Later at meal time he was served the fish and consumed it in silence – bravely and unflinchingly. It must have been awful, for great pearls of sweat gathered on his forehead, and at last he sank back in his chair with a sigh, unfolding a large handkerchief and wiping his face. The vinegar ! My grandmother could not help exclaiming triumphantly : And I added a jug of water !

He loved the Alps and went on holiday there on his own, travelling third class and climbing a number of well-known peaks.

He liked my mother, whereas his wife did not, confirming the rule that husbands are normally nicer than wives.

My mother’s parents lived in Singapore for a time where she was born, thus acquiring British citizenship which theoretically could have been renewed around the time of my birth, but circumstances were against it. This grandfather was a bank manager who kept his private financial affairs in strictest order. Among other things he had a money-box for certain purposes, balancing it at the end of each month. My father once put a penny into this box, thus upsetting my grandfather terribly, because he could not account for it.

As for my father, I would like to sum him up as a Prussian and consequently claim this qualification for myself – these legendary people who played such an important part in German history, invading other people, civilizing them, establishing law and order, withstanding aggressive neighbours in east and west, uniting Germany under an iron chancellor and leading it to glory, great friends of the British – remember Waterloo – and their royal family; great soldiers and great servants. Had not Frederick the Great said : I am the first servant of the state ?

My father was an officer in the air force, a pilot who met the British on several occasions without knowing any English. My sister and I belonged to the large group of girls called “sons of the air force”, because for some peculiar reason girls was all flying  personnel seemed to be able to produce. Perhaps it was the gentleman aspect about them, the air force being a new part of the armed forces and its members occasionally in speeches referred to as “gentlemen of the air force”, as opposed to “soldiers of the army” and “comrades of the navy”.

We spent most of the war in Berlin, with occasional trips to Silesia, until we were bombed out and had to flee West to escape the Russians. All I remember of the air raids are bright showers of sparks as we were running for shelter. When my grandparents’ house had been fatally hit, the goodly supply of champagne stored in the basement was handed over to the thirsty firemen who drank it straight from the bottle.

Fleeing West, my mother had two girls and two suitcases to look after. I looked after my huge teddybear which I had been allowed to take. He was a special beauty, made out of my grandmother’s old burgundy plush settee cover. As we had to wait in an overcrowded railway station waiting-room on a cold winter’s night, we went as near the little iron stove heating the room as we could. In fact I pressed my teddybear hard against it, which was not noticed until the smell became very strong. The teddybear lived for many years after, but retained a bald patch on his head as a lasting memento.


Curriculum Vitae, Part 1 – Gensungen

Three months after the war our family was reunited in the West at the home of one of my father’s crew members, my father being released from a British prisoner of war camp in the North. The release was not altogether voluntary. It depended partly on a personal assessment of the situation.In this case, the prisoners had been called up and asked to declare their profession in civilian life. My father thought it wise to join the vicars and doctors and was promptly released; all the rest were sent to Belgian coal mines, not to return for years.

As we were waiting for my father, American aircraft asserted their rights over German territory, which did not stop me from telling everybody : My Daddy is flying up there !

When he came back, life had to start from scratch. My father had no job in civilian life at all. He was good to shovel coal for railway engines, later advanced to something like a railway policeman and had to look round hard to find food for us. I remember receiving parcels from relatives in South America. They were more like strong bags smelling deliciously of coffee, oranges and chocolate. The American occupiers were not the unfriendly sort, and all German children quickly learnt the phrase : Have you chocolate ? Some wicked women apparently did not mind what they had to pay for cigarettes …

Gambia Goose, goose of the Danube, Drawing by Freeman  The Jardin d'Acclimatation - Bois de Boulogne  The Picturesque Shop (1862) - Private Collection

The search for food was of first importance. Together with my uncle’s family we combed harvested fields of cereals for left-overs, gathering many a bag of precious ears of corn which were taken to the mill in exchange for wonderful flour. Enthusiasm for this sort of work varied from person to person. I was not bad apparently, but my sister did not like walking over the spiky stubbles and was just standing around most of the time, making sure she held three or so ears of corn in her hand in case attention turned to her. Potatoes were also dug up when nobody was looking, and during the severe winter of 1947 my parents took them into their bed to stop them from freezing. We did receive some precious milk which we invariably spilled to my parents’ dismay. The tall, unstable beakers we had to drink it from were totally unsuitable for children. Beechnuts were another delicacy we did not disdain. Shelling them was a job !

My uncle had made up a primitive fishing rod which he used clandestinely and not unsuccessfully. He also sometimes followed the Americans on their hunting trips along the river, securing one or two ducks which had not been destined for him. He proudly came home, opening his coat – and there was a beautiful bird suspended from his belt.

My father managed to go North several times to see a better-off war comrade – better off in terms of food; all farmers were – and came back with a ham or a joint or some sausages. He took me with him once. It meant a long railway journey taking us through Hamburg. As we were approaching the much talked about city, I asked, in the crowded compartment, in a loud clear voice : Is Hamburg a village or a town ? These were my categories of thinking.

Somebody had a wireless on the train and my father rashly praised my talents for languages, claiming that I could recognize quite a few. However, the uncooperative owner of the wireless tuned in a Danish station where there was a lot of talk in a language I had never heard before, and I let my father down again.

I was a great friend of dogs, I am told, putting my arms round them and kissing them, while my sister amused herself by eating ashes, betraying this pastime of hers by the colour of her face. On that farm in North Germany there was a large dangerous dog. He had a kennel in a fenced-in run. I somehow managed to climb the fence and introduce myself to the dog, in fact joined him in his kennel. My father’s hair was standing on end as he calmly bade me come out of there.

Animals I did not so much care for were the geese my sister and I were likely to meet  on our way to “kindergarten”. We used to hold our hands, sing at the top of our voices and in our wooden sandals clattered past the danger spot as fast as we could.


Curriculum Vitae, Part 1 – Oldenburg

After two years we moved to a town further North where my father had accepted an accounting job in a war comrade’s company. We arrived there in the autumn. My mother had taught me the beginnings of reading and writing, so that I could join school in a part of the country where the school year started at Easter time.

We were now in the British zone of occupation, living on the edge of a large, company-owned warehouse-cum-open storage area, a depot for hundreds of barrels containing paints, varnish, tar, solvents and all sorts of dirty chemicals. The barrels were mostly arranged in long rows, perhaps twenty or thirty of them, sometimes two or three barrels on top of one another. It was good fun having the neighbours’ children round and playing “hide and seek” and all the other wonderful games. My mother did not like it too much for an obvious reason : the barrels were not always clean ! More often than not we came home with tar stains. We were threatened with severe hidings, if it happened again. Of course, it did. I went to find my father. He could not fail to take in with one look what was the matter. However, I managed to disarm him by telling him that he could now give me a proper hiding. He called for my mother’s biggest cooking spoons which he intended to break on me, sat down, took me between his knees, a spoon in either hand — and was at an utter loss what to do ! Eventually he produced the company’s own solvent and did what he could to make my clothes look respectable again.

My sister had a lovely dress given to her, white of all colours. It would have been impossible to keep it clean under any circumstances. We were conscious of this problem, and when we once found a huge, brand-new, empty and immaculately clean wooden barrel, freshly delivered, open and lying invitingly on its side, we had a wonderful afternoon’s playing in it, mainly rolling backward and forward while inside it and dirtying it with our shoes, of course. We were clean at least ! My father did not know what this beauty of a barrel had been meant for and thought it wise for us to withdraw unnoticed while we could.

There was a wide drive all round the place where the barrels were stored, enabling lorries to pick up and deliver. This was our favourite racing course where we were allowed, on a Sunday, to do three rounds on one of the two bicycles we then owned.  My father’s could not be touched – he relied on it to go to work. My mother’s was almost equally important – she did all her shopping with it, but we could practise our skills on a Sunday, if in a somewhat limited way, so that the precious vehicle did not suffer too much.

Another popular event on a weekend was the handing over of the so-called “Sunday Penny”. I do not remember what I did with mine. My sister certainly turned hers into sweets as soon as she could – much to the distress of my father who liked to see us be careful with it, save it up in an orderly fashion, keep it in a proper place and think well before parting with it.

The house we lived in was a barrack type depot, a long, low building, a third of which had been converted into a flat. We also had the use of the adjoining storage room where we kept a few rabbits, chicken and pigeon food and the bicycles, and where we caught alive, by means of kipper heads, a number of formidable rats. How do you get rid of caught live rats ? The local farmer who delivered the milk made them run into a sack which he then hit hard on the ground several times, thus dispatching this undesirable company.

In the loft we were allowed to house pigeons in a small compartment. They could fly in and out during the day. At night the shutter was closed. I gave names to all of them and spent a lot of time taming them. This was done most easily by attracting them with hands full of wheat. Sometimes three or four would settle down simultaneously on my hands held up high. I loved it and made good progress with them, until my father noticed that the wheat was going down too rapidly. Instructions were given that they could not be fed more than twice a day. I was forced to do things in secret, inside our storage room, for example, where my sister caught me red-handed one day. She told my father who called me to task. I denied the charge hotly, was acquitted and more careful in the future, in fact I obeyed the law from now on. When I told my father the truth years later, he declared himself shattered at the flagrant injustice done to my sister who had been called a liar. Fortunately nobody seems to have suffered much by this.

My father used to leave for work early, around 7 am, to return for lunch which my mother never managed to have ready in time, and then go back to work until sometimes quite late in the evening. My sister and I hated to go to bed before he was back. We lay awake in our bedroom, having guesses at which point of his journey home he might be just now and how much longer we would have to wait, until we heard the familiar whistle. What a relief when it came !

Sometimes there were thunderstorms at night. On such occasions we went to the safest place we could imagine : our parents’ bed. How comfortable and cuddly and wonderfully gruesome to hear, from safe shelter, awful claps of thunder – St. Peter playing skittles, my father used to say – and to watch the big elm-tree lit up by tremendous flashes. When the rain came, the performance was finished, almost a pity, because we had to go back to our own beds.

Opposite our living quarters, on the other side of the road, was a camp of British soldiers. We were separated from them by a wooden fence with regular gaps as wide as the battens the fence was made up of, gaps big enough for us to put our hands through and tease these young boys who used to lie in the sunshine, leaning against the fence from the other side. We learnt our first English there and were given delicious things like bags full of oranges, chewing gum and chocolate. I myself seemed to keep a bit of a distance on these occasions and to my annoyance did not receive half as much as the others, if anything … Of course, I have been generously compensated since !

Serious English lessons began when I entered secondary school at the age of ten. One of the first rhymes I learnt runs as follows : “The rose is red, the violet blue, sugar is sweet and so are you.” My father was much amused by this, did not grow tired of repeating it and in the end decided it was time for him to learn the English language, too. Who knows what it might be good for one day. His knowledge of languages had so far been limited to Latin, Greek, French and a spell of Hebrew. He now subscribed to an English correspondence course, and I, with a year’s advance, had to have sessions with him, ensure his pronunciation was correct (the English “r” proved an unsurmountable obstacle) and keep an eye on mistakes in general.

He patiently and doggedly, without particular talent, filled one exercize book after the other. He could, of course, not use the gothic script for his English writings and developed a universally readable hand-writing.

Gothic script was not taught any more officially when I went to school. I learnt it from my parents and am pleased to say that I am perfectly able to read my father’s letters, whereas my sister is not – unless he renounces his original hand-writing.

  Hand-written postcard , Berlin 1953 from Clara Laeschke

At weekends and weather permitting, my parents went on cycling tours with us, my sister riding with my mother, I with my father, on little seats fastened to the frame somewhat below the handlebars, our feet secured on rests attached to the part of the frame holding the front wheel. We went into the surrounding woods, saw a thousand- years old and even older oak trees, magic ponds in dense forests, sandy hills, long stretches of purple heather, and in the spring, oh these beautiful pink hawthorn trees lining miles of road !

My father was always in front, needless to say, and he and I had great fun once, when we were so far advanced that we could not see the other two any more and were able to hide with the bicycle in the ditch running parallel to the road. Mother and sister duly rode past, not looking left nor right, and I wrote a much applauded little essay about this event at school a few days later.

When we went to secondary school, my sister and I had to have our own bicycles; big old second-hand things they were, with pedals built up with wood, so that our feet could reach them. They were like clothes bought too big, we were expected to grow into them. Under the circumstances it was desirable to have maximum use out of everything.

We went on our outings on four bicycles later, systematically collecting what was available in the way of bilberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries and all sorts of edible fungi.

At weekends also we had to give my father a hand with a number of jobs. Sawing up wood with him was a less popular one, supervizing rabbits which were allowed to run free, cleaning out pigeon house and chicken pen, collecting dandelion for the rabbits, feeding them with boiled potato peel among other things (what a smell !). From time to time the quickly multiplying pigeons had to be reduced in number. I did not like to hear my father promise to my mother six pigeons for her saucepans. However, he would never choose any without consulting me who knew them well, and my mother never had more than four at a time, either. Rabbits and chickens also had to die once in a while to enrich our menu.

We had wonderful holidays in the summer, spending a fortnight in a little village ten miles away, amidst woods and fields, rivers, ponds and hills; dragonflies, birds, roe deer everywhere, and an intoxicating scent of ripening cereals. We took our bicycles with us on the train and paid a visit home on them once to see what our swallowtail chrysalids, left in a jar on a window-sill, were doing. What a delight to see them transformed into the most beautiful butterflies !

We stayed on a farm during these holidays and had our meals provided. One of the great attractions was the daily egg for breakfast. My father invited us once or twice to break our eggs on his head, but did not do so any more after a little incident during which my sister knocked her egg on him so hard that the yolk flowed over his face. She was dismayed to lose her egg ! He also did not touch her nose any more after suffering retaliation, forcing him to sport a bruise for several days.

On a certain Saturday afternoon each month my parents used to meet friends of theirs in the best café in town. We went with them and enjoyed ourselves with a big piece of some fantastic gateau; sometimes we were allowed two.

My sister and I were happy in these years. We were allowed to live our own little lives unreservedly. Nothing nasty intruded from the adult world. We did not know about those bitter struggles my parents had to go through, my father mainly fighting for economic survival. He was being made use of at the cheapest possible price. Gossiping, intriguing, involvement in other people’s problems – we were not touched by all this. My parents never discussed things which they considered of no concern to us in our presence. If they had a difference of opinion – and I do not know that it happened very often – it was settled behind closed doors, without a sound. They also withdrew when it came to working out financial affairs. This happened at the beginning of each month. My mother followed my father into the next room, looking serious and armed with four little boxes in which she kept the house-keeping money for the four weeks of the month. I do not know what she did with odd days. The reckoning up for the past month took place before she was given the money for the next one. Sometimes they needed an additional meeting before the end of a month, because she had run out of money already and had to extract more. My father could never understand why she did not stick to her resolution to do on a certain amount. As for me, I failed to see the point of the four boxes, because she frequently “borrowed” money from future weeks. Once she came home altogether upset : she had lost 10 DM, which was an enormous sum at the time. My father received the news calmly; presumably he was powerless against my mother’s tears.

My mother would invariably and under any circumstances back up my father. In matters of general interest she would never commit herself before having discussed the point in question with him, whether we could have a new pair of shoes or take part in a school- outing, whether we could harvest the gooseberries or let the rabbits out. In more sensitive matters she would be particularly adamant, like when we came home from school with a bad mark. Did we really have to tell my father ? There was no way round it – we had to face it. Keeping secrets from him, doing things behind his back, was unheard of and simply not done. He must have felt this as his prerogative, for when in later years my mother once tried  to break away from this long established principle, he reacted in the most touchy way : “lies have short legs”, meaning they don’t get you very far, he used to say, forcing my mother to go about things more diplomatically in the future.

My sister and I had no chance of playing my parents off against each other, my mother not doing anything without my father’s consent and he knowing that she would fall in with him.

I do not remember much of my time at school in those years, except that it was a convent school with a good academic reputation, to which we were sent in spite of being protestants. There was a lot of praying and more or less gentle talk by friendly nuns who would not accept girls in trousers; we had to bring skirts to put on top of them when we arrived at school. We had a lady teacher from Ireland once and invited her home, my father being eager to try out his English.

We were also friendly with my biology and chemistry teacher, a doctor of science who had a certain variety of primrose called after her for some work she had done on it. She was a widow from the East with three children, and we had many pleasant outings together, during which she introduced us to all the edible fungi.

At the age of fourteen, all my class took a course, as was customary, in ballroom dancing with a reputable dance school. Our male counterparts were a year older and came from the local grammar school for boys, a school, in fact, which was specialized in classics. My parents had toyed with the idea of sending me there because of the subjects taught, but somebody told them it might not be a good thing for one or two girls – there was a precedent – to be mixed in with hundreds of boys. I wonder what it would have done to me ??!

As for the dancing lessons, I found them quite exciting on the whole, but really not all that interesting. Some of my classmates did not stop whispering away about boys, blushing, laughing, crying; their whole lives seemed to turn around them.

I remember one boy who looked like my cousin and another one who impressed my parents, because his father was a very high-ranking civil servant. This boy invited me to go canoeing with him, and since he was to be my partner for the concluding ball, I could not very well turn down his invitation. It was pleasant enough on the river in the end. I felt a little bewildered with him sitting behind me, unable to see him and what he was up to. Nothing happened, however. Once, a boy on the river-bank shouted that we were not brother and sister. It embarrassed me terribly. What put me off finally was the fact that my partner, back on land, put his hand on my bare arm occasionally and once even on my neck ! I detested it and was mighty glad when the dance course was finished.

Two of my school-friends had brothers, one of them even four, a lot older, so good-looking and kind – I adored them from a distance, but never had a chance to declare my feelings. Why could I not have an elder brother ? This was the one thing I regretted.


Curriculum Vitae, Part 1 – Fürstenfeldbruck

The year 1956 came, and West Germany started rearming (East Germany was well ahead by then). My father felt his vocation and signed up again. He joined the new air force in the rank of a major, which impressed my form teacher, a nun, of course, and was posted in a little town outside Munich, with an important air base run by the Americans. I had no idea what was going on inside these buildings where he had to work. I only know that he and my mother pushed up their noses at the new uniform which was indeed of a nondescript grey. One piece of uniform in particular, a wind-cheater type of jacket, was called a rude name for not covering the lower parts properly.

Three items of his former uniform had survived war and prison camp. They were really beautiful and I looked at them from time to time. One was a cloak, generously cut on the cross, out of woollen air force blue material, falling beautifully and held together at the collar by a clasp representing an eagle on either side. His hat was still around, too; but it could not be shown easily, having the swastika on it. The third surviving item, the name of its place of origin, the school where he had his training as a pilot, Flying Training School C  Louis-Joy (“Flugsudfürerschule C Ludwigslust”), stamped into it, is in my possession now : a large yellow silken cloth with a wide blue edge – blue for officers – supposed to be visible from a distance, at sea, for example, in the case of a crash …

The East Germans used the old uniform without any scruples. As far as they were concerned, they were continuing good Prussian tradition which existed long before the dictator. Had the West Germans done the same, they would have been called rude names.  So for the time being it was befitting to show humility. As the years went by, the shocking short jacket, the sloppy look, disappeared to be replaced by more sightly garments.

A fair number of my father’s old friends had rejoined the air force. They were mostly majors and colonels. One of them was extravagant, to the point of being mentioned in an Englishman’s book about an air-battle affecting his country. He was a colonel and no doubt frustrated about not having had further promotion. Anyway, he had nasty things to say about the incompetent generals at the top and was really quite glad, so he said, not to have to join this caste. I heard it with amazement – I would have loved my father to be a general; I was positive he deserved it ! So was my mother ! This colonel-friend of my father’s reckoned he did not have anything to lose and took a few liberties like wearing the uniform he liked : tailor-made out of finest cloth and not quite the accepted colour, thus attracting a certain amount of high-placed attention. When he retired much later, he turned his back on Germany with disgust and moved to Paris.

My father’s new occupation provoked a major change in our lives : we had to move from near the North Sea to the heart of Bavaria. Does anybody realize what this implies ?

My parents moved with joyful trepidation, so did my sister and I – all for different reasons.

The most exciting prospect for me was to join a small school with coeducation. As for my sister, I wonder did she feel she was going to meet her future husband shortly, to whom she was married at the age of nineteen. My parents loved the idea of being near the Alps, although my father had uncomfortable memories of years back, before the war, when he had been sent from Berlin to Bavaria for a short spell. He had found that he could not understand the population ! This time, however, he was in the company of three more or less talented females who were able to help him across such a minor obstacle. My mother learnt he language from her driving instructor, Betty Nethermyer, and her home-help, Mrs Rough. My sister and I had the school. It took me half a year, though, before I could be certain of what my mathematics teacher meant when he opened his mouth. With the help of my classmates I acquired a basic knowledge, and an informal diploma conferred at a recent class reunion, of the Bavarian language and am trying to pass it on to my children, together with some Berlin slang. I do not want to say any more about the Bavarians and their language, many books having been written on the subject. Suffice it to note that they are not great friends of the Prussians and at one time harboured Wagner among them.

 Celle/ Luneburg (Luneborough) - Centre of the old town - Ancient houses  Photo : Stevens - Atlas - Photo

We had a wonderful time in Bavaria.

It is true, my father soon began to look tired, pale, overworked; but again, this did not filter through too much.

What a beautiful country we were beginning to discover ! The foothills of the Alps, overgrown with forests; magnificent, idyllic, out-of-this-world lakes, big and small, embedded into them; a monastery where the best beer for miles was brewed, sitting on top of a hill overlooking a lake – all of this within reach of the bicycle.

Our lady-chemistry teacher – a man might have wanted courage !- took our whole class on a bicycle outing to this monastery. Everybody returned home safely. Some of the boys had lost their sense of balance a little. However, Bavarian beer is relatively weak; some people can take quite a lot, others less – all you have to do is try it out ! Along with the beer went a strong, smelly cheese, also produced by the monks, a brezel (if you know what that is) and a big white radish skilfully sliced up (but left in one piece !) and salted to make it “cry” and thus lose its strength.

The Munich Beer Festival did not impress me much – too crowded and too noisy. People were too keen on one’s money. The current joke was : Each year two million litres of beer are sold, which means two and a half million “Mass”, a “Mass” being the name of the standard beer mug holding one litre…

In the winter my class used to go skiing for a week, a sport, although not unsporty, I did not care for at all. I sprained my ankle twice, broke one ski and came down the slopes on my bottom, spoiling the piste by creating great big holes when digging in my heels to brake.

I preferred walking in the mountains in the summer.

My mother and my sister having weak knees and short breaths, my father and I went on our own, and I have the most glowing souvenirs of eagles, gentian, edelweiss, mountain goats. Also some sausage peel which I found on a very narrow path with a very steep drop on one side. My father was busy getting me past the danger spot quietly by just walking with concentration in front of me, when I stopped and pointed out to him my find !

This was the first thing he told my mother, when we rejoined her and my sister after a few days. The evenings in the mountain chalets, spent with other walkers, young and old, playing cards, singing with or without guitar accompaniment, had a special charm. Next morning  everybody set off early, and during the day we might not see anybody.

We were in two parallel classes at school, depending on the second language pupils had chosen : French or Latin. Mine was French, and I liked my classmates well enough; but I liked the Latin ones much better ! There was only a handful of girls to a majority of boys in each class. Even without sharing any lessons the girls conversed with one another. So did the boys. I was making eyes at the Latin ones, and they were making eyes at me (I believe). After a year, a lot of the pupils left school, having reached a certain level and school-leaving age. What was left to go on and do the Abitur, was put together into one class only, separated for language lessons. I then acquired my first boyfriend, a Latin one !

He was also from Berlin; somewhat taller than me; somewhat older; brown hair; hazel eyes with long lashes. He could speak beautiful Bavarian when he chose and was an excellent card-player, a national occupation down there. Also a lover of classical music and a member of the well-known youth choir (whom many years later I heard perform in Notre-Dame, Paris). A lover of nature and long walks – I could not have wished for anything better ! He introduced me to some very innocent kissing and cuddling in hunters’ hides, high up in trees. For me it was a big step to take. Later, my sister became his girlfriend for a short time – he at last managed to teach her to swim – before she married his elder brother. I shed a few tears when I lost him and am sorry not to have kissed him properly when I saw him again twenty years after having left school. I will make amends next time I see him.

It was the time of James Dean, Elvis Presley and the Rock’n Roll. We did a lot of dancing with our classmates, and the ultimate thing was for the girl to be swung on and off her partner’s knees. My father practised this with us at home.

Dances were a wonderful opportunity to get to know those boys, although I did not like too great a familiarity which was rarely attempted, anyway. The utmost one of them dared while dancing with me, was to put his moist lips onto the inside of my hand and to look at me with burning eyes, saying that surely this is not going too far. I excused him in a way. The trouble was I did not fancy him in spite of a good working relationship, and he lent me books he treasured about Karl Jasper’s philosophy and Picasso’s paintings.

Somebody else nearly ventured to invite me out to the cinema – I heard this from his brother – but probably felt in time that he would be turned down. I had no sympathy for this sort of entertainment and suspect that  I would have felt uncomfortable and lost, left on my own with a male – in a dark cinema of all places, stuck down in a seat and no escape.

I even turned down a young lieutenant’s invitation to go to the cinema with him – and that meant a lot ! Young smart lieutenants were very desirable. I was hoping to meet them in the airbase library where I went to listen to music – Beethoven’s violin concerto and Dvorak’s fifth symphony mainly. I listened to them so often, that I could whistle long stretches out of them, much to my mother’s amazement; she loved opera and had never considered purely instrumental music.

We also met lieutenants in the officers’ mess from time to time when there was a dance to which we were allowed to accompany our parents. Airforce lieutenants preferably. But why not Navy ones ? There were some Navy pilots around, very smart, well-behaved, calling me Miss D., kissing my mother’s hand, standing to attention for my father and his rank, so much higher than theirs. However, none of them took a lasting interest in me, and I envied my little sister who had found herself a stately Army lieutenant for good.

I did have one very good evening once on a fancy dress ball in the officers’ mess. I had no idea who my partner was – a frog on the outside – but I spent all evening with him until well after midnight. In the end he turned out to be the “throat-nose-and-ear-fellow” – so called by my father -, a Dr Merry, specialist in the afore-mentioned field, in the rank of a major and attached to the airbase hospital. His wife was also present on this ball, finding her own amusement. I had a very good time in the arms of a man who was perhaps touched by my youth and certainly did not touch it.

My first contact with France was made while living in Bavaria. I did an exchange with a girl in Pontarlier whose father reminded me much of one of my uncles. Her parents left us on our own in a holiday chalet of theirs for a few days. Much to my surprize her boyfriend turned up, being invited to my even greater surprize to spend the night. The biggest surprize of all : I was made to move from my big bed to a smaller one next door, because they fancied the big one. It is true that I had contemplated to offer my exchange partner hospitalty in my bed … She did not marry this one, but another one of the same name, Norbert, years later.

The Abitur came, our final examination, and then we were let free, dispersed, feeling that the world was ours.

Twenty years on we had a first reunion attended by most of us and some of our teachers. Times had changed …

“ It’ s not easy for people to rise out of obscurity when they have to face straitened circumstances at home”.  Juvenal

I made a tactical mistake last night.

Not to keep the reader in suspense, I managed to rectify it.

This is what happened.

I had been writing all day. Steve calls it “lazing around” to himself, not into my face ! He was busy in his working gear, marching in and out of the house with big and small pieces of wood, carrying his ruler, tins of paint and other things that escaped me. His face had a busy look of concentration and determination. He was doing serious jobs, improving the house. All the things he has done since we came here – I list them with pride to anybody who wants to know.

I wondered whether I was getting on his nerves as he was going in and out, always past me. I was sitting quietly in the kitchen near the Rayburn where it is warmest, on my tall stool, using my nice solid-wood working top made by Steve for a desk.I was so visibly doing nothing !

He did not say anything, but I knew he did not like it. He retired into the living-room for quite a while at one point, working out plans for new kitchen furniture. When he came out again, I was still sitting in the same place. He threw a casual question at me : “what are we going to eat ?”  The question gave me heart-beating : indeed I had not given this problem a thought yet at all. I asked my daughter, would she like to bake a cake. Cakes always seem to improve the atmosphere and my daughter loves to be left alone with the cookery book and the contents of the pantry. Cleaned vegetables are also good to have ready. She did this for me, too.

When Steve came past next time, he stood still, cast a look across the carpet and remarked : ”plenty of filth on there”. I looked and could see some dog hair mainly and not much else. I had my son to attend to that straight away and also asked him to volunteer and do the stairs.

The third time Steve stopped, the situation was serious.

I failed in fact to grasp the whole impact of his question and therefore was in trouble later on. The question was : ”what about the living-room ?” Oh dear, the living-room, his favourite room. I was getting fed up. It is never used much during the week and I could see no particular necessity to clean it. I answered “hm”. Steve went elsewhere and I thought, I’ll have to make a noise there before tea, just to be on the safe side and show my good will. However, time passed, tea was ready, people were in the living-room – I never got round to carrying out my intention. After tea I was tired, even refused to do music with Steve, and the idea of cleaning had slipped out of my mind. It had probably slipped out of Steve’s mind, too. We had a pleasant evening by the fire. I put my arms round him at one point; he did not seem to object …

I went to bed about half an hour before him, but could not go to sleep.Instead I was thinking about what I had been writing. I needed just one nice finishing sentence. It came to me the moment Steve was entering the bedroom. I asked him to put the light on, hand me any pen he might have about him and his ski-brochure for paper, so that I could jot down this sentence. He looked surprized, gave a half-hearted smile, found me a pen and paper, became serious again, did not say anything, seemed to be brooding. He started undressing. One leg had come out of his trousers. He suddenly stopped. I could see the association of thoughts forming in his mind … For heaven’s sake, what had I done ! Of course he saw the wretched woman write again. And what about the work she hasn’t done ?! The next thing was said aloud : “what about the living-room ?” Icy silence. He still stood there, one leg in his trousers, the other one out. I said as calmly as I could that I would do it first thing in the morning. That settled it. He put his bare leg back into his trousers and fastened his belt, saying that he would let me off and do it himself now; then he marched out.

I heard him downstairs with the hoover, making a lot of noise, shifting furniture and lifting carpets. He stayed a long time. I wondered in what mood he would be coming to bed and decided I had to do something about it. I put on his dressing-gown and joined him in the living-room. One look was enough to see that he had done an excellent job – I would not have to do any work there for a month to come ! He had nearly finished. I quietly helped to rearrange the furniture and then meekly took the hoover back to its place, not before promising that this would not happen again. He did not say anything. When he came to bed, I wondered what he would do. I did not have to wait long. He put his arm round me. I sighed once or twice for him. Peace was restored.


Curriculum Vitae Part 2 – Tübingen

I had no idea what sort of a career I wanted on leaving school at the usual age of nineteen – some of my classmates were twenty, twenty-one. For the boys it was easy. They had to do their military service first of all. None of the girls was set on any particular career. In the end we just went by the marks we had in the different subjects. I had reasonable marks in languages, especially French. What could I do but study languages ? It would keep me busy for about six years, and eventually I would probably end up as a teacher. I had no feelings about this prospect.

All I knew was that I was a little frightened of the big city where I would go to university, to begin with, anyway. But it was convenient, on the doorstep – Munich – and I would be commuting every day, able to live with my parents. I could not imagine not living with them.

Some of my classmates were so adventurous, staying in Munich until late at night, enjoying all sorts of events organized for students. I had no desire to join them. I felt lost and alone in these crowds of people travelling in trains and trams like sardines in a tin; crowded lecture theatres – eight hundred students for the main lecture in English alone; ten thousand students just for the university, not counting a number of schools independent of it, but of the same level – all this in 1960 – numbers have increased since …

I spent two and a half anonymous years at Munich University and then left it, because I had failed an important examination in English, which I would be allowed to re-sit only once. I did not feel like trying again. Perhaps I needed this push to get away from a little-loved place which only kept me for convenience reasons.

Now, for the first time in my life’, I had to make an effort to cope without my parents. Settling down in lovely Tübingen proved to be very easy. I was lucky to be accepted in a brand-new students’ hostel run by the protestant church.For the purpose”s of reputation, a few catholics were also accepted. The catholic students’ hostel took the same view towards the protestants. “Ecumenical thinking” was fashionable in a stronghold of theological studies harbouring people like Cheeseman and King. The hostel was still a building site when we moved in. I came in touch with foreign students for the first time, like one evening when I was sitting in my room with a little lamp, door not fixed nor fastened properly; people in the corridor groping their way in the dark and my door pushed open : I could see mainly very white teeth surrounded by darkness – three smiling students from Sierra Leone. Conditions soon improved. We had a proper celebration to inaugurate the building, which I could not attend, being ill for some reason or other, but was told that the bishop dispensed plenty of blessings, intermingled with hymns and prayers.

There were community rooms in the basement where we could make a first contact with our fellow-inmates, the eight o’ clock news in the TV room being particularly popular. There was also a music room with a piano, where dances were held from time to time.

The change from Munich to Tübingen was tremendous. An altogether new and enjoyable life had started for me. Everything was on a smaller scale. I suddenly knew more people than I had ever done in two and a half years before. It was interesting to meet students from other faculties, too, not just boring philologists. There were the medical students first of all who frightened me into having anti-tetanus immunization. One of them I liked particularly and was dismayed when I heard that he had become engaged. He was far-sighted in one way or other, for he was convinced that “unfortunately” I was going to be married to a foreigner, saying this at a time when I certainly did not have any ideas of any kind. Then there were the theological students by whom I was mainly surrounded, having loosely joined a group of “Christian Pathfinders” – uncomplicated, jolly, running a study group about the fashionable theological philosopher or the world religions or sects, quite a number of which were represented in Tübingen, we went to see them. Looking back, I do not think I was terribly interested in these things. I just liked the company, doing things together. The occasional walks in the beautiful surroundings were as nice as anything, especially at night, ending up by a lonely chapel – “Wurmlinger Kapelle”  – on top of a hill, immortalized by a famous poet of the romantic period. When we arrived there, a big fire was lit, sausages grilled and many students’ songs sung. There was a lot of singing in general, more than in any other country I know.

Die Kapelle  (Ludwig Uhland)

Droben stehet die Kapelle,

Schauet still ins Tal hinab,

Drunten singt bei Wies’ und Quelle

Froh und hell der Hirtenknab.


Traurig tönt das Glöcklein nieder,

Schauerlich der Leichenchor,

Stille sind die frohen Lieder,

Und der Knabe schaut empor.


Droben bringt man sie zu Grabe,

Die sich freuten in dem Tal,

Hirtenknabe, Hirtenknabe,

Dir auch singt man dort einmal.


Wurmlinger Kapelle, Tübingen


The Chapel  (Ludwig Uhland)

Up there stands the chapel,

Calmly looking down into the valley,

Down there is singing amidst meadow and stream

Merrily and brightly the shepherd’s boy.


Sadly sounds the little bell from on high,

Gruesomely the funeral choir,

Silent are the merry songs

And the boy is listening below.


Up there they are carried to the grave

Who enjoyed themselves in the valley,

Shepherd’s boy, shepherd’s boy,

For you, too, hymns will be sung there.


Punting on the river Neckar was another favourite pastime, in boats so full that they went dangerously low in the water. One or two of us invariably ended up by falling in. This only happened to boys, though, they were gentlemen enough … Punting in luke-warm summernights was good fun, snatching roses from any gardens we passed on our way home. Again, I was less daring in that respect than many others. There were complaints in the local newspaper about students going round at night, cutting any available rose. One of my friends turned her room into a rose-bower from time to time.

I did not go very often on nightly outings, nor did I have practical experience with  the “Island of Sighs” – a long island in the river with two rows of centuries-old plane-trees and a little wood – , so called after the sighs some people claim to have heard at night, one person in particular who was walking along and prompted to shout near a place of special darkness : “anyone being murdered” ? The answer was made by a lusty male voice “no! on the contrary”.

More entertainment was provided by quaint little inns romantically situated at the edge of woods, at the foot of hills, a stream running by, where the local speciality, apple-wine, was consumed by the litre. It was served at different stages of maturity, the taste changing as time passed from sweet and sparkling to quite sour and still. With it, one was supposed to eat brezels. How good to be with a crowd of people, sitting round a table in the garden, a grey and blue stoneware jug in our midst which kept being refilled. Was the drink nice ? I cannot remember and it was immaterial.

On a Sunday we occasionally treated ourselves to a restaurant meal, especially in the asparagus season. We also frequented the little “Room Theatre” – barely larger than a living-room – or went to the concerts organized by the University, with two famous guitarists among others. We also had an evening with a celebrated pantomime.

It was not entertainment and amusement all the way, though. Serious work went on during the week. Academically Tübingen was of a good standard in most faculties. There were some well-known people in the French Department. One had to work hard to be admitted to their seminars. I was awe-struck by most of them, duly read their books and learnt them by heart so as to be well-prepared for the final examination. I gathered it was the contents of their books they wanted to hear on the crucial day. Things were easy in English in that respect : the professor of literature had written two quite short volumes, a literary history. The linguist had had one thick book published about the structure of the English language. I liked him; he seemed human under a rough shell. I did make sure I knew his book well.

French was a little more difficult, the relevant professors having published vast quantities of material and even insisted on making us study their opponents’ views.

We were trained to write scholarly looking papers with plenty of footnotes and a good bibliography. These were, as far as I know, the criteria of quality. I had one paper returned unmarked, because there were no footnotes. The paper was on a book published by a very specialized American school of linguists. Things went into mathematics, my weak spot, and I did not understand a thing. I somehow managed to concoct twenty pages. The length was right – but there were no footnotes ! I successfully remedied the weakness by taking quotations out of the text and transferring them in the shape of footnotes to the bottom of the page. This time, I had the paper returned with a good mark.

Some professors took it easy. In their lectures they dealt in detail with their own publications. These were the most important lectures because, as pointed out already, we had to know them for the final examination. Of course, we only went to the lectures of those professors whom we were going to be confronted with in this much dreaded tête-à-tête.

One professor of international renown was happy, in his main lecture, to read aloud to us the misfortunes of Mme B., with much drama in his voice and gestures, and an explosive enunciation, sending showers out of his mouth. I must give him that I remember this “lecture”, in the true sense of the word, better than any of his colleagues’. This may be due to the book he read, which shook me.

As far as examinations were concerned, there were two major ones : one half way through our six years, the one I failed in Munich first time and had no problem with in Tübingen, and then the final one which covered the whole ground of literature and linguistics in either language. There was first a written and two or three months later an oral exam. The latter was for many of us the one and only opportunity of really facing and actually having something like a conversation with – I am inclined to say – a demi-god, as far as I was concerned, certainly. In the months leading up to that meeting we crammed our memories with anything that might vaguely be of importance. We were bursting with knowledge, memorized an awful lot of details and looked run down with nightly studying which, in my case, was limited because I go to sleep, an urge of nature thwarted by some of my friends with the help of strong drugs.

At last the day had come. I tried to look at the situation from a human point of view, feeling sure that the professors would rather pass than fail us, that in reality they were not as bad as rumour would have them.

In my English oral, the professor of literature saw me for the first time, I believe. I had written my thesis “for” him and during the “examining conversation”, as in higher circles people liked to call this meeting, it turned out that he did not know this, never mind the subject it was about. Of course, professors are busy people who have assistants to work for them.

I felt much better with the linguist, who had a French name, by the way : Vendeur, a friendly, elderly and occasionally temperamental gentleman who did me no harm, but gave me a good mark.

Half a year later the same thing in French. I had always felt less at home in the French Department. English does come easier to Germans. However, the written exam did not prove too difficult in the end. What would the oral be like ? The same mad cramming of one’s memory for a conversation lasting half an hour – only a fraction of the material could be touched simply because of limited time. Chances to be asked something one was not good at seemed unfairly high. Also it was important to look good and I derived much comfort from a friend’s remark shortly before I presented myself to my executioners, or perhaps they were human and just examiners, who assured me “ your hair looks nice”. With this knowledge I sailed through my French examination without meeting resistance.

Having achieved my end, I systematically started forgetting next day all the things I had learnt …


Curriculum Vitae Part 2 – England

Breadstone - East-Retford - near Newark, road to Manchester along the Idle  Drawing by Thérond  The Picturesque Shop  (1862) - Private Collection

It was in the course of my language studies that I made my first contact with England. I felt compelled more than anything to make it, because I was studying English. My reason told me that I had to pass an examination some time, and the better I knew the subject, the better my chances to be successful. Hence a necessity to go to this out-of-the-way country in the north-west.

More or less willingly I applied for a job as an assistant at an English grammar school.

We were a group of about three hundred who went over together. There was a three-day preparatory meeting in Aachen where we were urged to represent our country in a good way, bearing in mind that people will associate us with Germany, and if we didn’t behave well, our country’s reputation might suffer. A special word was addressed to the girls who were warned to keep away from Englishmen. So many girls in previous years were known to have come back with an … engagement ring ! As I heard these words, I was thinking that this will never happen to me. Too good to be true, in fact.

Anyway, we crossed the Channel. I saw the cliffs of Dover for the first time, and everything went well from then on. I was the first “Fraulein” at my school and had the honour of being met at Grimsby Station by the headmistress of Cleethorpes Girls’ Grammar School in person, Miss Valley, wearing a “rose” in her “buttonhole” for easy recognition. She took me to my digs with a kind, elderly Irish lady, Mrs Canninghum, a widow, who had agreed to having me, for company. I arrived in September when the Proms were on, and one of my first impressions was this amazing song “Rule Britannia” ! I reported about it to my parents.

The one thing to cope with immediately was the traffic on the wrong side of the road. Not having a very good sense of orientation, I do things slowly under certain circumstances and thus stood still in the streets once or twice, on the pavement, of course, just watching how traffic managed to turn into side-streets. I had not done it for very long when a policeman came up to me, wondering whether I needed help.

At school everything went well. I was confronted with a number of elderly Misses and some naughty children on whom I found it impossible to impose my authority. Initially everybody called me “Fraulein”, then some of the older teachers called me by my christian name and some of the younger ones allowed me to use theirs. I granted the sixth formers to use my christian name, too.

In Grimsby I was particularly attracted by the fish-market, reputedly the biggest in the world. Very luckily, my landlady’s neighbour in “Arbion Terrace” was a fish inspector who took me with him one morning, pointing out to me that unfortunately Grimsby had not been touched by the war, for which reason they were stuck with all their old equipment, whereas in Bremerhaven, Grimsby’s twin-town, everything was nice and brand-new. I do not remember much of the fish-market, except that the inspector in his official capacity took a nice piece of monkfish from somebody’s display and later gave it to me.

I became a member of the “Wanderlust” rambling club and discovered Lincolnshire on foot in any weather, learning from the others that “one can only get so wet”, that is, no further than one’s skin. Once  or twice we ran away from big black steaming Aberdeen Angus bulls looking like railway engines as they appeared out of the fog. In general there seemed to be a slight hazard of bulls all the time, worrying me, but not the others.

Once I was invited to help with a language course for English people near Northampton. These people who belonged to Birmingham Intervarsity Club ran a farmhouse in Wales, in Barmouth exactly, and I was asked to join them there one weekend. I accepted the invitation with great pleasure, little thinking that a new life was looming over the horizon for me in Barmouth – in the shape of an Englishman precisely !

I seized the new life eagerly, and so did He …

We did not hear from one another for a year after my return to Germany. However, he kept in touch with my friends and knew when I was coming back for a visit the following year, staying with a friend in Stratford.

The great Shakespeare exhibition was still on. I wandered around it, paying little attention to the exhibits, only heard this tune “Greensleeves” being played all the time, and I was thinking about a young man whom according to my friend I was due to see again, apparently a “fervent admirer” of mine who had not stopped asking after me throughout last year.

Later this year, mail arrived which my father, smiling mildly, called “love letters”, and

only half a year after having been to England I went back there, at Christmas time, to be introduced to Steve’s family who had been bullied into inviting me.

I had the most peculiar Christmas there – and so did Steve’s mother who after a day or two confided to me that Steve had brought home a number of things she had never seen before : fig jam which was probably to be put on bread, and preserved figs, for example. She knew dried figs. But what was this fruit floating in syrup ? He had even thrust a bottle of oil into her hands, telling her to use it ! She had no idea what to do with it. “Do you use it on the continent” ? I owned up my partiality to all these delicacies and also turned to the English ones, like Christmas cake and cheese, not a bad combination, allegedly of Yorkshire origin. I did put them out a little by asking for Christmas cake at breakfast time; however, I was forgiven.

Steve took me to B’ham market where I was introduced to cockles, whelks, crabs and any shellfish available. On Christmas Eve we went dancing in a terribly noisy Hall. What a way to celebrate Christmas ! I would have to tell my family that. At home there was peace and quiet all over the country on that day, everybody duly in their homes, preparing the Christmas tree, devoting themselves to their families, going for lonely walks in the quiet woods with them, then to church, then having the evening meal, followed by the presentation ceremony when the presents are given. Some people have the presentation first and the meal after – children normally opt for this arrangement which is appreciated by the housewife, because meals tend to be forgotten with all the excitement. Husbands are aware of this hazard and insist on having the meal first.

None of all this in England where I learnt what a Christmas dinner involved. When it was over, everybody, including the poodle, was exhausted and I watched them, slightly amazed, as they were sitting on settees and easy-chairs grouped round the TV set, gradually dropping off to sleep, one after the other. Eventually I was the only one left, supporting my sweetheart’s head on my shoulder and feeling happy all round.

Things became a little more dramatic for my parents when this forward young Englishman gave me the idea to go on holiday with him the following summer, just him and me, without being married – not exactly the done thing in those years. I could remember my mother pointing out to me that “one does not do this sort of thing” when our landlord’s daughter went off on holiday with her boyfriend. However, my father took a lenient attitude and I did not have to struggle for permission very hard. I don’t know what gave me the courage to embark on such an adventure in the first place. My mother acquiesced, of course, as soon as my father had given his view, culminating in the statement that I was twenty-five after all.

When Steve arrived, he totally won over my mother the moment he put his foot into our house : he reminded her of my father ! She provided a meal, unknowingly including his favourite dish, some shellfish, which to his distress he was unable to enjoy – this annoyed him for a long time after – because he was exhausted by the long drive and just wanted to sleep. The next day I was allowed to drive his car, a Beetle, being the proud owner of a brand-new driving licence. I managed to become involved in an accident as we were going up to the local castle : a silly German coming the other way and trying to pass in spite of extreme narrowness considerably damaged the left door of Steve’s car. Perhaps I was not quite as much on the right hand side as I should have been. This was no reason for someone to run into me. The other driver smelt of alcohol, Steve thought, but his breath was never analyzed. Steve was very frightened that our holiday might suffer through this event. However, it was decided to keep the damaged door shut for the next three weeks, just to use the one that was left, and we set off early next morning.


Curriculum Vitae Part 2 – Italy

William Turner  Lago d’Averno

This holiday provided a little fore-taste of what was in store for me in the years to come.

And for him, too, I suppose, to be fair ! He lay for ages in the sunshine on the shore of Lake Lugano, our first stop. Of course, I had enough entertainment looking at him, guarding his sleep.

We arrived late in Milan. He had to have a shower and a cup of tea. The most likely place for this and avoiding expensive hotels, was, according to him, the Main Station ! I would have agreed with anything at all he might have suggested and was willingly driven round a hectic, smelly, hot, unattractive city, just catching a glimpse of the famous cathedral as we happened to pass it, but I was not interested. I only thought that Steve should have his shower and joined in his indignation when the wretched station did not want to come our way. He kept on looking undeterred and I was confident he would find it in the end as we were going round in yet another circle …

The next thing I remember is the first night we spent together – my first night ever with a man ! I did not give it much thought at the time. The day had been long. I had not slept on the shore of Lake Lugano. I was dead tired. Knowing Steve, we must have had a meal somewhere which would have restored his spirits. The fact is that we ended up in the dead of night on some lonely road south of Milan, and Steve suggested we slept there. I could not agree more. The thought of my parents crossed my mind briefly. What a good job they didn’t know ! I did wonder quietly what I had let myself in for : the daughter of a German airforce colonel stranded on an Italian road in the middle of the night, in the company of an Englishman ! It seemed the most unlikely situation. But there it was, and I certainly wanted my Englishman to sleep well. So we cheerfully converted the seats of his little car in a way that we could vaguely stretch out. I was happy and comfortable enough. I could not sleep, it is true, but that did not matter. He was soundly asleep, which gave me great comfort and also courage to wage a battle against mosquitos which came down on us in fair numbers. When he woke up in the morning, he greeted me with a sweet kiss which made me forget this somewhat unusual night. He then suggested that I did most of the driving that day, because he was feeling too tired after a rotten night and was aching all over. I did all I could to make life easy for him. If he thought me capable of driving, surely he must be right. In fact, he felt so well in the passenger seat that he went to sleep pretty soon. I must admit that I was a little frightened, feeling all the responsibility on my weak shoulders. However, we reached the shores of another lake in good time and pitched our little tent.

This tent was the fruit of long deliberations as to the circumstances under which we should spend the nights on holiday. Really a tent was the only financially satisfactory solution. Neither of us owned one; so I offered to borrow one from friends of mine, a couple who had been engaged for a year or two, very respectable, and who had never dared themselves embark on what I was proposing to do. I’m afraid I created a precedent, because when I returned the tent they said they would follow our example next year. My mother, I’m sure, turned the idea of our tent out of her mind. She refused to think about it. We had told her anyway that we would use it only, if there was no other possibility. As for my father, he left these things entirely to Steve and myself.

So we had pitched our tent for the first time, and I was determined not to let things happen which, I understood, were reserved for marriage. Steve looked happy enough out of his blue eyes, and anyway, I let his hands wander.

In this manner we enjoyed ourselves considerably. We went as far south as Sicily, and he found all the good places for mussels and lobsters. Even then I noticed he seemed to find anything he wanted. I took some good photographs of him and adored him in general.

On the camping-site in Syracuse a more momentous thing happened : Steve asked me, if I wanted to be his wife ! I was not immediately dead sure what to answer. How on earth was I to know whether he and I were destined to spend the rest of our lives together ? However, I could not keep him waiting and replied “I think so”, feeling that I had committed myself by about ninety-eight per cent. Steve took my answer for a one hundred per cent one and started thinking about an engagement ring.

On the journey back we were to meet my parents who were on holiday near Genoa. It was an awful long drive north, Steve having left it to the last moment – I was to find out that he always does, but must give him that he has never missed anything yet. His eyes were bloodshot when he stopped driving at 3 am a little south of Salerno. We collapsed on a beach. I gave up my resistance to sleeping out on beaches, took my handbag, which contained all our valuables, for a pillow and slept soundly until 8 am, forgetting all possible dangers. The following evening we arrived at my parents’ an hour late, because I had revealed my inability to read maps, something Steve will have to cope with to the end of his life. Steve had been anticipating his evening meal, talking with great relish about nice big juicy steaks all the time. I made this idea mine and told my parents as soon as we saw them that he must have a steak on the spot. They were dismayed, because the meal they had planned to have with us had veal for a main course – would that do ? I looked at Steve in despair. Where would he get his steak? Should we go to a different restaurant ? It was decided in the end that veal would do.

The next problem to settle was to find a bed for him. My parents had rented a flat with two spare settees. I was having one of them. As for Steve, they had assured the elderly landlady that he would not stay under the same roof with the rest of us. I don’t know what story they had told her in the first place about me and the young man I would turn up with. My parents suggested that Steve spent the night in a nearby hotel. I pointed out the expense, an argument which does not easily fail with my father, and it won him over this time, my mother giving up her resistance, too. We prepared his bed, not in one room with me, of course, and I told my mother that we would probably become married. She opened her eyes wide with concern “what do you mean: probably ?”. I hastened to reassure her that we were serious about getting married, thus committing myself one hundred per cent, and from then on she adopted Steve for her second son-in-law.

Steve visited me several times in Tübingen, a place which reminded him of Durham where he had been to university. Fittingly enough, Durham and Tübingen Universities are twinned. He brought me a very fashionable mini-kilt from England and henceforth I was known as the “Fräulein mit dem Mini-Rock” (the use of surnames then prevailing, even among students). He introduced me to new food combinations like “sausage and onion” or “beetroot and cheese”. I hastened to have these delicacies ready for him when he came. Onion was new in my life. My mother never used it, because my father claimed it did not agree with him. I think times have changed for my father, I’m afraid. Too much has been said about onions being “good” for us. She now slyly mixes them in, hiding them in cereals and mashing them up in sauces or other vegetables.

I asked Steve to speed up the ring-business, so that it would be visible to others that I was not free any more, there being one or two around. In my country, all you have for an engagement ring is the wedding ring worn on the left hand, before it is transferred to the right on getting married. I wondered about the pros and cons of different customs and then settled on the English one. The ring I received was the most valuable item in my family and caused great admiration wherever I showed it.

Steve lived in Paris at the time, and I visited him there once, staying with him in the same hotel room. He cunningly pointed out that we were doing it under false pretences, not doing what people would normally expect one to do under the circumstances …

My French finals were coming up. I had two months to prepare the oral. Would I be able to cover all the ground ? Steve suggested to go on holiday for a fortnight. I was appalled by the idea. I turned it down. This was the very last thing that would have come to my mind. I had to stick it now and study as hard as I could.  Then I felt sorry for him; he was disappointed. Of course, he was English, waiting patiently, and when I did come round in the end, not before having been counselled by a friend, he was not surprized, booked two flights to Athens, and we had a wonderful time on some Greek islands.


Curriculum Vitae Part 2 – The wedding

In the following summer we were married. He had to catch a train from Paris for that purpose. He told us it had been a matter of touch and go, of grabbing his case and jumping out of a taxi amidst rush hour traffic, flying through the station and just about making it as the train was beginning to move. There would have been no other train that evening. He wondered in later years what had made him so desperate ! Next morning he was refreshed after a good sleep – on the living-room settee as the future son-in-law – and could face the future. It was the registrar’s office on the Friday, the only act legally valid and indispensable for the church wedding on Saturday. Everything went well on Friday, and in the afternoon visitors started arriving who had been invited to attend the wedding at church. All my parents’ sleeping capacities were exhausted, and my father had booked accommodation for the English part of the family, including my newly-wed husband, in a hotel. I tried to protest, but was not heard, my father telling me that we could wait one more day now.

In the evening we took the English family to their hotel where it turned out, much to my father’s consternation, that the receptionist had made a mistake and forgotten to reserve a room for Steve ! The hotel was full. I nudged my husband, wondering what would happen. My father, undeterred, took us to the next hotel. Same story : no vacancies. There was no other hotel within easy reach. With a sigh of resignation he took us both back home, provoking great surprize on the part of my mother and much laughter from my sister and family.

We spent our wedding night on the living-room settee – it was just about solid and wide enough …

Nothing remarkable happened during the ceremony at church. After the wedding the vicar gave us a bible as a present, and a photograph was taken with my husband of all people holding this bible. He was slightly embarrassed and no doubt taken by surprize. It would not have happened otherwise.

We began our honeymoon fairly soon afterwards, travelling as far as Munich on the first day. There we could spend the night in my sister’s flat. They had a truly German, gigantic bed, with a mattress each and two sets of bedclothes side by side. We spent the night mainly in my side of the bed, my husband encroaching on my territory ever more, until eventually I fell out. I walked round the bed and got back in on the other side. In the morning Steve woke up with a start “where’s my wife ?” – but there she was, smiling sweetly at him from a different direction.

Once during the honeymoon I was thoroughly in tears. He had done something to me, I don’t remember what, and I had hardly enough handkerchieves. I like to talk about this little incident to any wives complaining about their husbands – I know quite a few – exemplifying the fact that there are two sides to everything, even to husbands, even on honeymoon, and that we have to accept this.


Curriculum Vitae Part 2 – Paris

La Fontaine du Luxembourg  The Picturesque Shop (1862) - Private collection

Steve has often said that he spent the two most remarkable years of his life in a remarkable place : his last year as a bachelor and his first year as a married man, in Paris

where we moved into a dismal old flat in the Gare Saint-Lazare area on our return from Greece. The new life had begun in earnest.

We were working out our respective responsibilities. Providing lunch was one of my major contributions. Steve came home with trepidation the first few days, he later confessed. I was no less anxious, trying hard to please him. The success was visible : when we went to see his parents at Christmas, his mother took one look at him and then accused me “he is fat !”. This was, however, a passing stage.

I also considered looking after household business, like the washing, as part of my sphere of competence. He agreed, but when he found me slack, he liked to take things quietly into his own hands, much to my dismay – he still does it, with the difference that I appreciate it now – retiring for example into our bedroom where the dirty-linen basket was kept, full to the brim yet again, so that he began sorting it out. My pride was hurt immensely when I caught him doing it and I gave him a piece of my mind at the top of my voice. Our first argument ! He did not say anything, just looked at me surprized. Five minutes later I sat on his knees, hung round his neck and sobbed for all I was worth. How could I have treated him like that ! He still did not say anything.

He also had a habit of not putting the lever which operated the shower in the bathtub back into its original position after use. I had to learn this the hard way, accepting one or two showers on my nicely combed hair as I was bending down to wash some shirts. After that I watched out.

Our spare time was taken up by Paris and the English element in it which Steve had become acquainted with during his last year as a bachelor. English pubs, English clubs – drink, smoke, noise, sport. I do not know what he was looking for in this funny company, for which I had no sympathy – I disliked it. I never knew what to say there. Neither did he ! In his own words, he used to shut up like a clam. Yet he was irresistibly attracted. Every night we had a struggle. I wanted to be in bed by 11 pm. He wanted to pay a visit to the “Winston Churchill”, which would mean midnight. He called my desire for sleep an obsession. I could not understand what he was after in this company of “friends” with their more or less glamorous girlfriends and wives. I felt I was not one of them, certainly not glamorous enough. Perhaps I was even a little jealous. Everybody was showing off as much as they could. I had nothing to show off with.

Sundays were often devoted to the British Rugby Club of Paris, and the only satisfaction I had from time to time was to see my husband score a try, which for some reason or other reflected well on me, too …

Once we were invited to a party where somebody called me “crackers”. I asked Steve what it meant; but he did not seem to like it. On this party a potent drink without much taste was served. Steve had a fair few glasses before he realized that I would have to do the driving back home. Fortunately he was able to direct me. Next morning he was lamentably sick and I utterly disgusted. This party definitely finished off his bachelor days, and he resigned himself to going to bed earlier.

Through my teaching activities I knew a few Germans in Paris, but I did not seem to have much to say to those either.

The only French we met were my pupils, one or two of whom invited us to their homes occasionally.

On our last day in Paris Steve bought some gaudy coloured silk for me. I must say I liked it initially, then decided against it, and have now, after fifteen years, made a glamorous garment out of it. For certain things one has to reach a certain age.

From Paris we moved to Germany.


Curriculum Vitae Part 3

We moved to Germany. Steve did not know any German, but was expected to learn it. Full of schoolmasterly enthusiasm I proposed to teach him. We tried a few times and then gave up. I had turned out to be too much of a boring disciplinarian; an authoritarian on top – he did not like it and took lessons at work, paid for by his employer. The success was middling – not bad for an Englishman probably. Who had ever heard an Englishman speak another language ? Of course, the wretched Germans did not give my willing Englishman much chance – they were too keen to try out their English with him. I joined him in making uncouth remarks about them. In the end Steve had seven years in Germany, during which time he picked up enough of the language to be able to carry on a conversation about most subjects, even if not grammatically perfect at all times; people certainly recognized he was trying. He earned himself a lot of praise for his endeavours, all the while never giving up his principle of not taking things too seriously.

On our return to Germany two important things came into my life : I started my practical  teacher’s training, which is necessary for a full qualification, and I became pregnant.


Teachers’ training course

I loathed it from beginning to end. I had never been less motivated to do something, the only reason being that it was wise to complete one’ s education in case one was forced to have recourse to it any time.

With a number of other candidates I was attached to a “Gymnasium” (grammar school), remarkably still in existence in “red” southern Hesse, the area south of Frankfurt, where  comprehensives were the rule. We had to give so many lessons a week under the supervision of the regular teacher, a person mostly sympathetic with us, having been through this ordeal him/herself. The next important person was the “subject head” who was in charge of groups of trainee teachers, grouped according to the subject they taught and spread over the ten or so schools of a certain area covered by the so-called “Seminar”, the centre and focal point of our practical training where all trainees had to meet once a week. There, the theoretical and political foundation of our practical work was laid. Political it was above everything, being in South Hesse, and theoretical, being in Germany.

The seminar was headed by the most fearful dictator, worse than any professor I had seen at university, because he was “politically” motivated. He was only a schoolmaster, if in a higher rank, but his position of judge over us gave him power. He used it to make us accept certain socialist ideas, to implement them in fact, watched by him on a visit, in our teaching. It was wise to do this during the time we depended on him. He would not be in a position to check up afterwards. We had to write long papers in preparation of the lessons he attended, and it was important to express, or at least hint at things he wanted to hear.

“Anti-authoritarianism” and “equality of chance” were this dictator’s favourite slogans. Amazing how much can be said about these, and from trainee teacher to subject head everybody crouched before him. “Anti-authoritarian” meant that we as teachers did not have to impose our knowledge on the pupils – we had to get them to give their opinion, not intimidate them, but bring out whatever “divergent thinking”, another slogan, that is, different from the beaten track, might exist. I never found out how this principle is applied in language teaching. The dictator himself was, I believe, a history teacher. Some pupils were useful in so far as they were able to throw in the odd remark that did not seem to fit into the context. This was put down immediately to “divergent thinking” and duly analyzed and dwelt upon, when the dictator was present.

Some of my colleagues were on christian names terms with their pupils, in order to be truly “equal” with them, had sessions where mutual criticism was voiced, discussed their marks with them, did not hesitate to change their mind under the impact of “divergent thinking”.

The dictator did not look for this latter phenomenon in us, his subjects, I don’t think.

He also discussed our marks with us. Not that it made any difference ! We used to sit in a circle with him. Before saying which mark he would give to any of us, he asked us to suggest one, not for ourselves, but for another person present whose performance was being discussed. Once after this question there was silence for quite a long time. I think people were not sure about the relationship between the person concerned and the dictator and were therefore cautious. I did not see this at the time. I liked that particular person and thought him quite capable, put up my hand and suggested a mark. This earned me the only praise I ever had out of the dictator’s mouth :  “a woman has the courage to make a suggestion !”. My colleagues were duly impressed and more silent than before. I for one wondered how equal women were in this fellow’s view.

I only did this training because I wanted a paper to file with the rest of my documents. The dictator sensed it. Or else he knew my ultra right-wing background (remember my father’s occupation and my place of birth!). I can think of no other reason why this man detested me as he did. I had never before had such a negative rapport with anybody. The subject head for English noticed it and did not understand what was happening; he never expected a reasonable mark for any of my lessons when the dictator was there. On the contrary, he expected a poor mark in the final examination and urged me to write a good thesis, so that he, in the crucial discussion, could throw it in as a counter-weight. He asked me outright whether there had ever been an incident between the dictator and myself. I did not know of anything.

This subject head was a small, busy man who talked a great deal and thought himself terribly important. He was, in so far as he could make our lives difficult. It was useful to be on friendly terms with him, ask his advice – not that we ever received any – to please him and do little jobs for him. We could not expect much in return. He stuck up for himself more than for anybody, putting his feet onto people when he could, while bending his back to anyone higher up; a “cyclist” who had only recently attained the dignity of his rank and was determined to live up to it. The subject head for French was also small, but pleasanter. He declared himself shattered at my poor examination mark, told me I had deserved better and assured me that he had done what he could, in the examiners’ discussion, to improve it – a fruitless effort.

There was another person we had to pay attention to : the “school seminar head”, representing the dictator at the school we were attached to. Each school had one. Ours was fittingly called Cesar – another little man who talked a lot. Why are they always small and loquacious ? He was the most important person of the lot, in his view, anyway. Married as well, like the others. What sort of women did they live with ? No doubt they kept a lower profile at home than at school ! Perhaps Cesar wrote a bad report about me – I have no idea what material he might have used for that – I never saw him in my lessons. I never looked at him, despized him outright and perhaps showed it.

Some of my colleagues were much better at coming to terms with our superiors. They always seemed to be there when needed, did exactly as they were told, had the right ideological attitude to society, could see nothing but advantages in comprehensive schools which were the latest fashion, and, most important of all, knew the correct terminology, having read all the books published by frequently quoted authors of an obscure subject called “sociology”. I did not know what it had to do with teaching and simply did not understand what they were talking about; yet, I would claim to have an average degree of intelligence. When they had their long discussions with the dictator at seminar meetings, they sounded to me like talking in a different language. And they did it so seriously ! I must have laughed once or twice in the wrong place. No doubt the dictator did not like that. I also started making a list of words I did not understand, but soon gave up, because too boring.

The revenge came in the final examination.

I had heard that a much criticized colleague had achieved no more than a pass. I considered myself better than he and consequently expected a better mark. Little did I know the dictator ! He floored me with a single question. One might wonder what it had to do with teaching. Here it is :  “Are you a political person ?”. It made my father’s hair stand on end when he heard it, and he gave me a nice big gold coin for having successfully   completed my education – for I did not fail the examination, I achieved a pass. My father was certainly confirmed in his worst fears about “leftists”.

I don’t know. The dictator must have been a socialist, and with my background I could say what I liked, it wouldn’t be right, or no doubt too right. Not that I was much interested in politics. I may have said something about “polis” in reply to his question, which would not be “committed” enough.

That was the last time I saw the dictator.

The subject head for French expressed his sympathy to me. The one for English had a bad conscience and busied himself elsewhere – I did not see him again, nor the little fellow I should have watched when it was time.

I went home to find comfort with my husband and the baby who had arrived halfway through the training course – this did not prove a problem – , and number two was on the way.

I took a little while to recover from the first traumatic experience of my life and then devoted myself wholeheartedly to my family.


Housewife and mother

Landscape by Hobbema - Drawing by Ulysse Parent - The Picturesque Shop (1862) - Private Collection

It felt like eternal holiday at first. No more stress.  I quickly learned to appreciate the advantages of being my own master and applied myself to economical house-keeping, going for walks with the pram and picking up apples and plums from underneath other people’s trees standing by the wayside. Until the farmer came one day, an elderly gentleman with eight or ten grand-children. He seemed delighted that I had chosen his trees and gave me even more fruit. Then he tried to kiss me. I was taken completely by surprize. My blood curdled with indignation at the unworthy attempt, and the poor man was so shame-stricken that he never showed himself to me again.

I knew another elderly gentleman, a great-grandfather even, who grew plenty of vegetables in his garden. I talked him into letting me have some of them and guessed the price I had to pay. One day he introduced a pair of scales in his garden hut and shyly pointed them out to me; I think I had even given him the idea. However, I took no notice and kept on paying what I thought was right, no doubt feeling that I was having bargains. I am ashamed of myself. The old man did not seem to mind much.

Yet a different elderly gentleman, about my father’s age, the dentist, Mr Nail, told me one day – expressing concern I might not like to hear it – that he “loved” me “a little bit” . I kept on smiling, caught and trapped in his chair as I was, not in a position to run away, although I very much felt like it. This dentist never saw me again afterwards. I was appalled and did not even tell my husband about my adventure – and I do not normally have secrets from him !

The next event in my life was the birth of my son.

He caused me a “rosy glow”, if I believe my husband, a quite extraordinary, unique and overwhelming experience. A son ! a male child ! it was totally unbelievable !

I had wanted him so badly; I could only think of a boy’s name; I did not have a girl’s name ready just in case.

He was there, in my arms, on a bright summer’s morning. Everything had been so easy – a laugh. We arrived at the hospital at 6 am. Going up the stairs I had to stop and hold my sides, because I had to laugh so much. My favourite nurse was on duty. She knew he had threatened to be a breech-birth, just to be awkward, but changed his mind at the last moment. At 8.30 he was there, causing an enormous stir and much admiration in my family where there were girls only. My mother’s mother had two girls, and so did my mother and my sister. Steve modestly pointed out that certain things required the talents of an Englishman …

Eight months later we had a somewhat serious car accident : an uninsured drunkard  named Ash ran into us. Nobody was hurt except me. I had a badly shattered left ankle necessitating a bone- and a skin-graft. A clever surgeon with the significant name Smith managed to restore the joint and was admired by his colleagues for that, which made me feel good.



The following year we moved to Belgium, the wallon part of Brabant, Steve having accepted a job in Brussels. The first thing we acquired was a nice big car, a Volvo made in Belgium and therefore cheaper than in other countries. Its much vaunted steel-frame would, we hoped, protect us in future accidents. Fortunately it was never put to the test.

The next thing that happened to me and, I am sorry to say, through me to my family, was a certain affection for food fadism. Belgium was the stronghold of a far eastern doctrine according to which the food we take in determines the rest of our lives. Take in the right food and it will put your mind right; you will be able to think right and conduct your affairs in the right way; everything will turn out right. I am ashamed to confess that I fell a victim to this doctrine. To this day I do not know why.

The practical consequences for my family were cereals, cereals, cereals, because they were the right food – cooked, baked, fried; flakes, grains, flour, supplemented by certain far eastern specialities. A few vegetables thrown in, a little milk, a little cheese; meat for Steve only who had it grimly on his own. Meat was bad for you, but he would not see that. I was not going to force him and went to the butcher twice a week to buy a lamb chop. How could I do on one lamb chop, the butcher wondered. I explained the situation and he was even more amazed – how can you be without meat ? No problem for me, I smiled serenely. A problem for him, maybe, and his business. No doubt he was glad there was only the odd crazy person around.

Steve loves plenty of vegetables for his meals. He will not grumble too much, if there is a plateful of them. I was cutting down on precisely that, prepared them in a special Japanese way with a lot of salt, making the dish very concentrated and palatable only in small portions. It was trying him to the extreme. One day he rebelled openly, showing all his celtic mettle : flashing eyes, clenched fists, an onion smashed on the kitchen floor. My poor husband ! I had little sympathy with him then and all the more now. I hold it greatly to his credit that he stubbornly and doggedly without saying anything really passed through this difficult time with me. All I could do at this moment of revolt was to remind him of the “starving millions” throughout the world. This finished him off. He banged the door and went to the nearest restaurant, leaving me behind shaking my head. Under these circumstances our third child was conceived and born. She turned out to be a volcano ! And this in spite of the extreme care I took over my diet during the pregnancy and over hers in her early years.

We knew an elderly gentleman in our neighbourhood who lived on his own in a caravan. He had all the books about my food doctrine. We had many talks together, complaining bitterly that not more people opened their minds to this wholesome teaching. Sweetness, which has a negative impact on us, is to be avoided, if possible at all, according to this doctrine. I remember how disgusted I was when I once caught our elderly friend eating blackstrap molasses by the teaspoon ! No teeth in his mouth either !


Back in Germany

The Cathedral of Worms, grand-duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt , Drawing by Stroobant   The Picturesque shop (1862) - Private Collection

It took me a long time to awaken from the spell food had cast over me. I did not come round by having a shock of some kind nor through gaining insight – I gradually drifted away from it once we had left Belgium to return to Germany. Another gentleman of the preceding generation, a little younger than my father, our family doctor, exerted his influence gently and imperceptibly. He did a lot for our youngest child and for me. He returned me to a more normal life. I nearly fell in love with him, but he did not let me.

The five years that followed our departure from Belgium were spent in Germany. Things went smoothly, but seriously. We dived into a nearly contemporary philosopher and were looking for ways leading to “higher” places. We have not found them so far. We were also looking for an “alternative” life. Steve was being worn out and eaten up by merciless German-American business surroundings of unprecedented brutality. Ideally he would have liked to turn his back altogether on the sort of work he was doing and go into farming and similar things. We went to England twice in search of a small farm. I could just see myself as a farmer’s wife. I was making all our own bread already as well as sauerkraut and a basic cheese. I loved a lot of physical work in house and garden – a farm would have suited me fine. As for Steve, he had no farming experience whatever, but was willing to try. He had a desire for a more “natural” life, exercizing in fresh air, making things for the family, instead of being wasted on other people’s behalf. In view of his lack of experience I was slightly concerned that he thought about us living on our own. I would have much preferred to live in a community. We then saw a farm we both liked, but could not afford to buy it. I was relieved in the end, being afraid of possible problems.

Steve’s desire to leave Germany became more urgent. He applied for jobs in Britain, was shortlisted several times, but never quite made it. I was still looking around for the “alternative” life. Something came our way at last in a most beautiful part of Germany. It came at a time when Steve had just been given notice by his company who were aware that he wanted to change and had found a successor for him already. Something else happened at the same time : Steve was shortlisted once more for a job in England. I was overcome by the coincidence of all this and felt like at a crossways in life. Here was our chance. We had to choose the sort of life we wanted. Steve had a definite offer from England, now.  We had also been to see the place in Germany which theoretically suited our philosophy – but practically, Steve hesitated. In fact he refused to embark on the venture. I was in despair and took a long time to accept that I could not have my way. I found Steve so inconsistent. Why all this talk about a new life ? Why did he not want it after all ? There was a risk, agreed. I was obviously more prepared to take it than he.

Our doctor told me that I had to accept England, if I wanted my marriage to continue. It sounded terribly serious. There was no denying that Steve and I had become estranged over the last few years. We had the same view of life, aimed for the same things, but the personal level of our relationship had become difficult. He went on holiday on his own for a week or two each summer, I finding it simply inconvenient, with limited finance, to take our young children to places like the Greek islands – this was where he went. I encouraged him to go, if he enjoyed it, and I suspect he was glad to get away from me for a time.

In the end I accepted England. Once the decision was taken, everything became easy and the overall situation improved. There was more food fadism, among other things, in store for me – strict vegetarianism, raw food – I did not know this when I packed the cases.

We crossed over on a beautiful September day.


“We have a sick man on our hands ?” Emperor Nicholas I. of Russia

Caricature by Daumier:  The Imagination/ The Physician - "Why the devil! do all my patients leave me? vain do I bleed them, purge them, drug them .......I can't make head or tail of it!"  Bibliothèque Nationale de France/ Engravings : B  51 754

Steve set out to make fun of the doctors.

His company had offered him an expensive medical examination. He had so far refused to accept it, but changed his mind this year, no doubt for the good Yorkshire reason that it is silly to refuse anything expensive that is free. Of course, he would not be played and fooled around with at this examination. He would not have the final report sent to the family doctor as is the practice, but straight to our own address, for one thing. Of what concern is it to anybody but him ? Also he was not going to have the x-ray done – x-rays are not good for us. It would be quite fun to be a little different from all the rest and give them a headache, maybe, as to how to treat him. It would be interesting to experience the atmosphere in such a place; plenty of wealthy businessmen, no doubt, and good-looking nurses; why not !

He had to forgo his breakfast on that day and arrive with an empty stomach – he did not look forward to that. Also, ideally, he should not have eaten less than fourteen hours prior to the examination. However, he felt sure there was a safety margin and therefore enjoyed a good meal at 10 pm, about eleven and a half hours before the appointment.

He got up in the morning late enough to be forced out of the house on coming downstairs, thus avoiding to see the others eat. The housewife welcomed this opportunity of not having to provide a cooked breakfast nor a packed lunch : he would treat himself to a restaurant meal after the ordeal.

He gave us a report when he came back in the evening, beaming and looking as fit and healthy as ever. Yes, they had had to strip down to their pants, socks and shoes and then received a blue gown to cover themselves with – quite a few prosperous looking businessmen in a visibly posh place. Then they were channelled one after the other through the various tests :

his sensory organs turned out to be perfect, the capacity of his lungs – he thought his wife would be pleased to hear that – by as much as a hundred and twenty per cent better and his chest by ten centimeters broader than the average estimate; his blood pressure was that of a young man, his weight only ninety three per cent of the average – he said this was still too much, considering he weighed four kilos less on his return from Germany five years ago -, his height unchanged —

all of this printed out by a computer. He showed us the paper, explaining some of the figures and symbols. The family was duly interested and grateful for the good results. He had struck no problem refusing the x-ray – people simply complied without asking unnecessary questions. The results of various blood and urine tests would have to be waited for, of course.

The examining doctor, a retired Dutch cardiologist living on the south coast of England and travelling up to London twice a week for some extra income, told him that his heart from a cardiologist’s point of view was a delight to listen to. This gentleman also tested his reflexes and found them alright. Brief mention was made of his latent back problem. The doctor noticed that his spinal column was not quite straight, which we knew anyway. However, this should not be too serious, if he did not put on weight.

In the end he was told that the doctor would “send a letter”. “Who to ?” I wondered. Steve shrugged his shoulders and looked indifferent : “the family doctor maybe”. I did not understand : “did you give them his address?”.  “No”. Nobody had asked him. Only when he had a session with a computer, feeding in details of his medical history, he had to indicate the family doctor’s address …  Who would resist a computer ?


“That precious stone set in the silver sea …”


We arrived by sea on a glorious September day, the white cliffs of Dover dazzling for our reception; the sky of an incredible blue; the air gentle, invigorating; the water certainly looking clean, and luke warm, too. During the crossing I had been talking to an Englishman knowledgeable in the field of nutrition, a subject dear to my heart then, who even knew some of the books I had read. What a welcome in a foreign country ! I took it all for a good omen.

We had come to live here, set up house, go to school, put roots into a completely new environment. There was nobody we knew. I had been apprehensive about the efforts we would have to make. On previous shorter visits I had always enjoyed myself, finding the English mentality congenial to mine. Coming now for good was a different matter. I dreaded the idea of litter in streets and countryside, the absence of my beloved forests, the sea all round the country, preventing me from walking home, if I wanted to.

The very first day we spent on our own in an empty house, doors and windows wide open to eliminate the smell of various domestic cleaning agents intermingled with the characteristic individual smell people give to their houses through perfumes, cooking, fire, smoke, the previous owners having moved out only a few days ago. They had laid the fire for us in the living-room.

We spent all day there, sitting on window-sills and not daring to start exploring, because we were waiting for the removal lorry. Why did it not come ? I was getting very worried about the hundred or so undeclared bottles of wine and several hundredweights of precious organic wheat which really should have been accompanied by an official declaration certifying it free from disease, just like the plants we brought – they all had to be listed, examined and declared healthy before being imported into this country. We had obtained the needed document by sending our list to the relevant authority some twenty miles away from where we then lived. It was returned by post next day, duly stamped and certified at a cost of five D-Marks. The removers had advized us not to declare the wine. They knew by experience that in the case of declaration, the lorry might be searched for any additional wine possibly not declared. Therefore the precious drink was clandestinely stowed away, along with the wheat, into the furthest corner, and it was hoped that even English custom officers would soon grow tired of rummaging through a huge continental lorry. As it happened, the English custom officers were so very tired when our lorry arrived early in the morning – they could not possibly attend to it for at least six hours. Or was it one of these legendary tea-breaks we read about in our textbooks ? Our men had to spend a long time waiting, doing nothing. Finally, somebody handed them the necessary documents, a simple matter of routine, and waved them off without saying a single word. The lorry eventually arrived at our door at 6.30 pm. It was not quite the size of our house and nearly blocked the entire road. Gosh, what a lorry, our children heard in school next day.

Our three had been eagerly awaited in the little village whose school, owing to falling numbers of children, was threatened with having its staff reduced. Here were three new children at a time and most welcome before anyone had seen them.

On our way to school, half a mile down the road, woodland on one side and a hedge with a large field behind it on the other – a pleasant walk in the morning sun it was, if on the wrong side of the road – we met with a first instance of what was to turn out one of the strong points of the English people : Two cars were approaching us, one in front, one behind. There was not much room for pedestrians, and in anticipation of problems we climbed onto the bank. However, to my amazement both cars stopped dead at a distance of about twenty yards from us and appeared to be waiting for us to move out of the danger zone. I was so touched by this consideration that I told the children to run a little and not keep these obliging people waiting unduly. I had never experienced anything like that in my own country where we certainly would have had to make sure to be well out of the way.

The first English people we met were the ones at school. The reception was heart-warming. I was delighted to see the headmaster take our children by the hand and introduce them to their classes, assigning to other children the job of looking after them. Teachers and pupils ensured that the newcomers joined in with everything. I was allowed to stay with our youngest child in her classroom and took the opportunity to gather information about our new environment. Nobody minded peculiar questions like “where is the nearest organic farm” or “where can you get raw milk”. In fact, I had a little lesson on goat’s milk in the end, freely available in the raw state in this country, as opposed to cow’s milk. Then, all on the first morning, I was invited to take part together with the second-year children in an outing to a neighbouring farm, which had been planned for this day.

In the evening when Steve came home from work, we had a lot to tell him. We had also met our next door neighbours who had taken us in for a cup of tea and home-made scones, just like that, without knowing us. We have become duly attached to them over the years, and if ever we have to move away, we shall make every effort to take them with us. The neighbours on the other side are a little further away. They, too, invited us for coffee and cakes one afternoon not long after. We were overwhelmed by so much friendliness.

One of our first concerns on arriving was to find what we considered good sources for food, certain basic materials like organically produced cereals, vegetables and milk, out of which I made bread and produced our meals. It took us a month and a determined effort to find a farm which at the end of one Saturday made the day for us. This is England where things are not organized systematically at regional or even national level, with centres who will supply the relevant addresses on simple request. It was all by word of mouth : a doctor here, a little healthshop there, a stall in the market – we were groping around, asking a good many people for help, until at last we found the place. Milk was secured, so were cereals. Vegetables were more difficult. Grow them yourself or find a gardener who uses horse-manure ! There are lots and lots of horse-manure in England. Cabbage grown on horse-manure makes very good sauerkraut !


Further impressions

The overwhelming colour impression when one comes to England is that of green-ness. It seems such a strong green lasting all the year round, not only in luxuriant leaves, but also in flowers in the spring, dog mercury for example and lords-and-ladies; no end of garlic mustard and a number of other plants uncommon on the continent, which we identified by means of a book, trying not to forget their names again. I learnt that one can eat garlic mustard and that it is good for dogs chopped up and mixed in with their food. I must confess that any new wild vegetables like the afore-mentioned garlic mustard or ground-elder or lesser celandine I tried out on Steve first and then, if successful, subjected the whole family to them. How healthy they are, how much stronger and richer in all these precious nutrients than cultivated plants ! No need to eat a lot of them, a few spoonfuls – that was all the family were having anyway. I had to strike a compromize and mix my wild darlings with plenty of onion or spinach. Nettles and dandelion, leaves and roots, were the only ones that really survived the test. The dog had to have garlic mustard, though. He did not seem to mind.

In the autumn England has the unique phenomenon of the Bramley apple – so green when harvested. I did not believe it could contain brown pips ! After Christmas it turns colourful, yellow and red, and its taste mellows. It will keep in our loft until May, a wonderful apple.

In the winter England is still green, in spite of our children who would love to see it white – after all we had brought two sledges with us. There are all these evergreens : holly, ivy, rhododendrons, lots of evergreen ornamental shrubs in hedges and gardens, and the magnificent holm oak ! Spinach, parsley, fennel, chervil – they all stand through the winter here, available all the year round. Unless winters change …

As a child I learnt a song in my English lessons “Green lanes of England, oh little green lanes”. How green, how beautiful they are indeed ! Patiently winding their way uphill and downhill, through villages, fields, woodland, flanked by hedges containing brambles, fuchsias, dog-rose, hawthorne, hazel, beech, holly, elderberry and many more plants, not selected or disciplined, just left to grow as they – no doubt many of them – planted themselves; sometimes arranged in layered hedges, a typically English way of making for dense hedges, sometimes allowed to grow tall, forming a dome above the lane, in which one feels wonderfully sheltered. How distressing to see these hedges trimmed, no ! ripped, mutilated by heartless machines leaving an awful battlefield behind them, so it looked to me. I was horrified when I saw it for the first time : bare, naked, white, helpless, exposed; half pulled, half broken, battered, mangled, torn to pieces … until the new growth came.

There are many trees, and fine ones, in this country, but not many woods, and what is called wood often resembles a park where dogs can run loose, because there is no game except for rabbits and pheasants.

Most woods are private property. Many are considered as timber and treated accordingly. We are lucky to have a small piece of woodland next to our house, so small that it is not worth exploiting. It is more or less left to itself, so that one finds all generations of trees, and nice and crooked ones, too – they would all be straight in Germany, friends of ours from across the channel said. There is also a lot of undergrowth, dead trees, fallen trees, wood that has not been cleared up. We have flowering cherry trees in the spring, a tent of beech leaves in the summer, a carpet of beech-nuts in the autumn and red-berried holly-trees in the winter.

In all this greenery you have the redbrick houses, cottages, thatched some of them, farms big and small, one or two manor houses with a Lord or titled Lady who will officiate in village celebrations, making presentations to deserving members of the community, like the organist after sixty-five years of service or the headmaster retiring or anything else of moment.


Timothy Tim has ten pink toes …

I was bewildered by all the blueness shining out of people’s faces – dark blue, pale blue, medium blue,grey blue, mild, gentle, fiery, blazing, cold, piercing, heartwarming and very blue indeed some of them when their owners are feeling well and the sun is shining . Eyes ! I had never seen so many blue eyes before, combined with dark hair as well, which is rare in my country and considered particularly attractive. My own children are blue-eyed, of course, their father is English … In fact, none of them resembles me much …

The Wigmaker under Louis XV - Drawing by Dargent  The Picturesque Shop (1862) -  Private Collection

Some people have red hair. I am fascinated by the different shades that exist, from a voluptuous copper to an unbelievably bright fire, adorned with green ribbon ! One of my daughter’s friends gave a speech about the “disadvantages of having red hair”. I rather like this girl’s hair colour.

Apart from eyes and hair – I must not forget those charming old ladies with silver, blue and pink hair; the same colours you find in cakes – I can see checked shirts, with checks of all sizes, woollen ties, bright red ties, Aran coats, which I duly imitated, knitting some for my family, trousers sometimes torn and stained, shoes sometimes unpolished, raincoats sometimes with a button or two missing and marks of uncertain origin; clothes with rather worn knees and elbows, split seams; a rubbed-through bottom I once saw on a professor; laddered stockings, rags for handkerchieves; wellingtons, wellingtons for adults – the first present I received in England from a caring lady was a pair of them too big for her – welly boots for children. Oh how much I appreciate all this ! It enables me to follow my own inclinations unnoticed, which is more than I could have done in my own country ! I do believe in getting maximum wear out of my clothes, wear them year after year, wear them out in fact, certainly the ones for rough wear. I like the expression “there is a bit, some, quite a lot, a certain amount, not an unreasonable amount, etc. etc. of wear left” in a piece of clothing, and when that is gone, it might still do for a jumble sale … What is the point of laddering new stockings in the wood, having the dog’s marks on lovely coats – the children want the dog when I meet them at school ! – , spoiling delicate, if fashionable shoes in country lanes ? I believe that most English people will be sympathetic. After all, what really matters is inside the clothes ! One will, however, find that people on the continent do not quite take this view. I remember being shocked by an Englishman many years ago on a camping site in Italy. He drove up in a flashy car  and got out, only to expose a large tear in the vest he was wearing. Of course, some creatures are always immaculately dressed, like our cat in his shining ginger suit, or our dog in his long jet-black coat, showing a bit of very clean pink belly.

What is there inside the clothes then ?

Nowhere have I been kissed on my cheeks, hands and lips as much as in this country. They are a very kind and loving people, and they frequently put this into words. In fact, one of the most common words in my experience is “love”. The butcher, who still does not know my name, greets me with “love”, so do the greengrocer and his wife as well as the coal merchant, fishmonger and most uncomplicated and straightforward people whom I meet for the first time. Some people show a little more distance by using the word “dear”, like the postman to whom I said that I was dismayed at our dog having bared his teeth to him; “so was I, dear”, he replied..

Here is a little list of names I have been called since arriving in England : Duck, Honey, Darling, Lovely, Sweetheart, Star. I particularly like the last one. What can one do in the face of this but smile and buy anything these charming people suggest to one ?


Englishmen, or “Enigma” variations

T/o further exemplify what I have been commenting upon, I would like to introduce my quaint collection of Englishmen. I take the liberty to include one Scotsman and two Irishmen, one of the latter two being a particularly good example : hot-blooded, muscular, small and sexy, father of three daughters, who holds that women should undergo an M.O.T. every so often. All the rest are English. My husband likes to call them my boyfriends.


A man of science

There is, I am pleased to say, an internationally known professor among them. Medium height, slight, but tough build; big head with a lot of naturally brown hair which makes him look younger than he is; blazing blue eyes set deep under bushy eye-brows, hawkish nose, sensuous upper lip, strong tenor voice, long chin. His eyes can have, given the circumstances, a demoniacal expression or else shine in such a heartwarming way that my children asked me once whether I could have considered marrying him. There is a brutal trait round his mouth which, when relaxed, I might find appealing – I kissed him once or twice.

He is a man of science and approaches religious matters in this capacity. He will accept and believe what science enables him to. In his view the church should do the same. He is interested in all the problems man as a physiological being is afflicted by. He knows that one of the latest and so far unbeatable diseases can be transmitted by saliva, which caused his wife to make the useful point about Holy-Communion being most unhygienic, since the same cup is used by everybody. He anticipates little sympathy for this problem from the local vicar and has therefore given his opinion in writing to a very high dignitary of the church.

On the whole he has a gloomy picture of the state mankind is in, producing scientific evidence that many problems are caused by various types of pollution and by deficiency in certain metals and other chemical elements.

When I first met him, he smiled about my quite unnecessary concern relating to chemical fertilizer. He has now collected a certain amount of scientific evidence supporting my view, but reckons he does not yet have quite enough to speak up.

Once he does speak up, he is the most fearful partner in any TV-discussion. In fact people are known to have refused their participation when he was due to be there, too. He is present-minded and sharp-witted, baffling people into silence, and before they can recover, he is on to the next point.

He likes to give us little lectures occasionally in private conversation, which we gratefully accept. It is so interesting. Certain subjects are particularly dear to his heart, and he does not tire giving us his views about them.

He is a most musical man, a good singer and a talented, if at times a little chaotic, pianist. He refuses to play Bach whose discipline, I imagine, is not in keeping with his temperament. His favourite is Chopin whose music he plays with fire. He kindly complies with our wishes for pieces of music we would like to hear, either playing the piano or singing, the latter sometimes difficult or impossible because, he says, he has a frog in his throat. He does not enjoy modern music nor Wagner; in the latter’s works, he told me, there is too much physical love; also there is an absence of tunes.. I once made him listen to a scene from the Flying Dutchman, which he called “quite nice”.

In general he keeps an open mind about things and is willing to accept arguments, if only his own. He was a staunch supporter of the church and called me a “naughty girl” for not being one, too, inferring that I was arrogant, but conceded that I might be too intelligent, or something on these lines, for that. A fortnight later he had reversed his views about the church, mainly because he had observed a decline in musical standards. He did not tell me whether he had reversed his views about me, too.

He does not quite know what to think of me and feels a little uneasy about my writing a book. When they visited us recently, together with another couple, he said gloomily that he could see everybody, including him, in it. I do not know why he should be apprehensive about it. He inquired whether I had a publisher lined up yet. Much to his surprize I answered in the affirmative without giving any details. He did not dare proceed further. Next time I saw him, he called me clever. I thought he was going to pay me a compliment  on writing books – no ! clever because I had a publisher lined up. He must be worried. No need to tell him that the publisher does not know yet.

There is a funny side to him, too. He is willing to partake in any joke and is mostly ready to laugh. He sometimes obliges the merry company by singing a song about a farmer keeping pigs, making all the snorting noises in a way perfectly true to nature. This song, he told us, is particularly appreciated by his young grand-children.

I should imagine he can, given the circumstances, laugh about himself, but would not commit myself, never having actually witnessed it. He does not like to see serious things laughed about, like the above-mentioned new disease which some tasteless author made fun of in a pantomime.

He likes women, in particular blond ones, he told us, pulling his wife’s hair, and fast lady-journalists who may have lunch with him. At college many years ago he was the only gentleman among a great number of ladies. He has met ladies of the royal family, and on one of his pianos at home there is a framed photograph showing him with one of them. On the whole he considers that women should stay at home and look after the family. He also gave them a piece of advice how best to catch men : run away from them ! This reassured me, because I felt I must have done the right thing in my life.

He has a wonderful practical side about him, enabling him to settle any mechanical, electrical or other problem occurring in the house. He also makes inventions from time to time which he mostly manages to sell to the Americans.

He is a truly English all-round man for whom I have great admiration.


A Director of Studies

It happened to me once that, unbelievable as it may sound, I had to cross swords with an Englishman.

I had come to school to discuss my son’s private Latin studies with the Director of Studies, my object being to secure a certain number of free periods for this purpose. I did not anticipate any problems, since my daughter had already had time off for English studies, a subject she was behind in. The situation was slightly different in so far as my son was not behind in any subject, but, in our view, required support in the forward direction. There was no need for him to take German lessons. In the time thus saved he could broaden his knowledge in a subject not offered by the school, but taught by my husband at home.

The Director of Studies did not see my point at all. He defended the academic nature of the design subjects offered by the school. He was certain that we had no choice but to accept this or else look for a school with a different syllabus, and thus forced me to throw in the names of Oxford and Cambridge where I felt sure Latin would be an asset. He seemed to be at his wits’ end and took refuge with the Headmaster who, he said, was the only person to decide in such matters.

A few days later we received through our son a handwritten note on a scruffy bit of paper – one way of taking revenge?- from the Head of Modern Languages who informed us that our son could have the free periods required. I made up my mind never to see this Director of Studies again, remembered his very blue eyes, though.

I saw him again some eight months later when we entered the English Block to see our daughter’s teachers on a parents evening. My husband nudged me, pointing out my friend at the far end. As I looked up, I felt struck by a blue flash which quickly disappeared, because he bowed his head to greet us from a distance in the most perfect way. I accepted his greeting and could not help smiling. From this instant I felt sure we would have no more problems. As we passed him, we exchanged a few words like old friends, and I thought it a good idea to mention that later this year we would have to see him again about our son’s Latin lessons. I also expressed our satisfaction that things had worked well so far thanks to his help in providing time for private studies. He urged us to see him as soon as necessary, and I shall count on his cooperation when we put forward our request to exempt our son from sociology lessons for the benefit of Latin.


The Beekeeper

This one is a beekeeper, a middle-aged to elderly man, who liked me at first sight.

I first met him at Nessie’ s house where we were to help with taking the honey. He was disappointed I did not go to the hives with him, but was doing an indoor job instead. When the work was done, he had a cup of tea in the kitchen, while I tried to ask some intelligent questions about beekeeping. Nessie later remarked that he was not a very bright man, with little sense for beekeeping – he has sixty hives – , but working hard.

Some time later he spotted me from his car in the neighbouring village and stopped beside me. We had a casual chat, at the end of which I asked him to look at our hive when it was convenient. He duly turned up, frightening my little daughter by his looks. As he was leaving again, he said he would like me for company on his journey to Kent where he was placing forty of his hives. However, I had other things to do.

He came once more. My father-in-law gave me the message that my “beekeeper friend” had been. After that, our relations cooled off. We met him once in the wood where I asked him to find a cheap beehive for me. He said “will do”, but I have not heard any more.

I see him occasionally at beekeeper meetings and normally exchange one or two words with him.


The Chimney sweep

He comes once every year or every other year, but he seems familiar.

He is very tall indeed, enormous shoes, with a surprizingly high-pitched voice. He has a calm, polite manner and assured me he would not come too near me when he noticed the plaster on my left arm – I had a broken wrist at the time – assuming that my right hand and arm were pretty strong, too, for being used more than normally. To be strictly truthful, the latter point was really my contribution to the conversation. He did see the point, though. He did a good, clean job in the living-room while discussing general family problems with me – he has a wife, teen-age children and a dog. He seemed a good family man, assuming full responsibility for everybody.

When we moved on to the Rayburn in the kitchen, the bread was just ready to be taken out of the oven. He gave me expert help with this. The flue above the Rayburn had not been cleaned out for three years, and I admired how he managed to remove the soot and bits of chimney lining, so he explained to me, from a very small opening, guiding it by means of a newspaper shaped like a funnel into a bucket which quickly filled up..

I nearly forgot to offer him a cup of tea, not being anglicized enough yet, and made him one out of Swiss almond flavoured tea which my husband had brought back from his last skiing holiday. He remarked about the pleasant flavour, a remark I passed on to my husband, soothing him like that when he tried to reproach me for using his tea for the chimney sweep. While he was having his tea, he told me about Indians and Pakistanis who apparently make their tea in a most peculiar way – he was given salt instead of sugar …

He charged a modest sum for his services. In return I passed his name on to our neighbours. My husband proposes to do the Rayburn himself next year. I think I would rather have the chimney sweep …


An English military person

I have a contact to an English military person, stationed in Germany of all places and ranking so high that I dare not give any more details, except that he is very tall with neatly parted straight short hair. He has a back problem apparently and a family consisting of a small wife and three sons of various sizes. He believes in paying for his children’s education, goes around in a helicopter and is used to dining with German mayors and lord mayors and other important people, like the Queen. He has all the relevant medals. His background is of a sound colonial nature, making him acceptable in all circles. He talks with pleasant self-confidence and just the right amount of English humour, standing very straight, looking into one’s face and listening politely to the small things one has to say – every inch a well-bred soldier.

Our children are most impressed by the fact that he employs a cook in his house. Our son is lucky enough to have been given a dressing gown this gentleman wore in by-gone days. We shall not take the original name-tag out.



Here is a love-letter I wrote to one of them, an indirect description of somebody I choose to call by the letter “Y” to safeguard his anonymity.

Dear Y.

I loved your kiss yesterday. It was a new experience being in some very long arms, standing next to some very long legs.

Your kiss has put me in a terrible state : it inspired me for the rest of the day and at night it stopped me from sleeping. I went to bed well before my husband to be still awake when he came – he was not prepared to comfort me, either, but went to sleep immediately. I always thought you were a kind and considerate person. You certainly invaded my mind recklessly, torturing me with your absence.

It was lovely being forced to think about you all the time. I am sure you were able to sleep and did not hear me call Y, Y, Y did you do this to me ? I think I am addicted now. What you gave me tasted of more. My problem seems unsolvable : I feel another kiss from you would be a great relief. On the other hand it might well worsen my condition.

As I was thinking of you, I suddenly had a great shock : when would I see you again ? It is true I have to return a bottle to you, but you might not be in when I come. If I telephone beforehand, your wife might say it is enough for her to be there or else tell me to leave it on the doorstep. Fortunately I then remembered you promised me a book. You will have to bring me the book, won’t you ? Bring it during the week when everyone is gone, and bring a little time as well – I might have something to read to you.



A bit heavy scot

Kenneth McKellar's, Book of Scottish Songs - Publisher : Mozart Allan, Glasgow

Nessie’s brother – a big heavy Scot; ice-grey hair, bushy eye-brows, big nose; determined look; high-pitched voice; about thirty years older than me; used to tackling people – with a knife, if necessary; a surgical one, I mean; used to people listening to him and taking his advice. A believer in bran. Somewhat food-conscious. I first met him at Nessie’s house, but we had no interest in one another.

Once he was forced to take me out to the theatre – along with a second lady – because Nessie, who had invited me/us, had been taken ill. It was not a very memorable evening. His only merit was that he reminded me of Nessie a little bit. I wondered whether he had expected to be kissed properly when we parted at the end of the evening; I only kissed his cheek. Next day Steve and I saw him at a meeting and he remarked to Steve : I had a good night out with your good wife …


Once I had to see him in his medical capacity. I had a broken wrist and had to be sent to the local hospital : he would give me a letter to take. I wondered what he would write in a letter, because I had brought all the x-rays and reports from the West Country hospital where I had originally been treated. What would he have to add?

He took the opportunity to tell me that according to his files I had never had my blood pressure taken nor a certain preventive test done. I told him I did not believe in these exams. He looked amazed and incredulous, then managed somehow to entice me onto his settee and took my blood pressure before I knew where I was. The blood pressure was alright and he entered it triumphantly in his records. Now came the more difficult task of doing the other test. I am afraid he lost that battle, although he did what he could to impress Steve and me by gravely quoting disturbing figures concerning a high incidence of something under certain circumstances around the Black Sea. I gave him my amateurish view of things. He conceded indirectly that I might be right as far as the psychology involved is concerned, but … He had offered this test to three hundred women in his surgery. Every single one had accepted. Did I want to accept it or not ? I said “no”, at which he turned to my husband “is that your last word?”. He was desperate. Steve meekly pointed out that he had nothing to do with his wife’s decisions. Nessie’s brother gave a pained smile and dismissed us.

Later that day he was on the telephone to me twice, once through his secretary who wanted to make me pick up the above-mentioned letter. I refused because of the inconvenience and asked for it to be put in the post, pointing out that I had all the necessary documentation with me, anyway. A little later the phone rang again. It was Nessie’s brother himself. My heart was beating fast by now and I wondered whether I shouldn’t have a bad conscience about something. However, it was the letter again ! The post apparently was not altogether reliable; it was doubtful whether the letter would reach its destination in time. I remarked we had four or five days to go. He must have seen that, for he suddenly changed his mind, saying “alright, we’ll put it in the post”. I have not seen him since.


When I went to the hospital, I was curious to find out what this important sounding letter contained. Much to my surprize it was pushed aside with hardly a glance. When the examination was finished, it had to be referred to, though, because to whom could this particular “senior registrar” address his thanks for sending him a patient ? He duly recorded his answering letter while I was still there, beginning with the words “thank you very much for sending me …”. They are a polite race.


Mr Rook

I came to the hospital with what I considered a beautiful plaster put onto my arm by a charming doctor and a caring nurse in the West Country where the accident had happened. It did not have a plain, dull, uninteresting surface, but had, as a finishing and I thought very personal touch, a strip of simple bandage on top of it, running diagonally from elbow to hand, well embedded in plaster at either end. On the inside of my hand there was no plaster, just bandage which, I must admit, I had dirtied considerably in house and garden before presenting myself at the other hospital. The nurses took one look at the plaster and said with a lot of meaning “this plaster wasn’t done here, was it!” They then proceeded to repairing it in places, saw the inside of my hand and wondered “have you been sitting in Greenham?”. I do not know what these women think a housewife does all day !

Mr Rook briefly looked up from his cup of coffee when I was ushered into his room. I was feeling confident. Had not the consultant from Taunton commented on his colleague’s work in a small countryside hospital “not bad for a setting” ? Mr Rook looked at one of the accompanying x-rays, qualified the fracture as nasty, expressed a certain concern that it had happened already seventeen days ago, thought aloud that it would be quite sticky … I could not make head or tail of it … then looking up at me, pushed his sleeves back, so to speak, saying that “well, I can do it for you straight away, if you’re fit and healthy”, piercing me a little with his eyes, I imagine in order to find out whether I was up to the proposed deal. I did not know what he was talking about, but ventured at last to quote the above-mentioned consultant. Mr Rook was taken aback. The nurse rushed to investigate the contents of the large envelope I had delivered and brought to light another x-ray, taken after the setting had been done. He looked at it for a good while before pronouncing his opinion “the answer is, not bad for a setting”, finding a little fault here and there, but on the whole calling it “just about acceptable”. There was nothing he could do for me except tell me to come back in a month’s time.

I left the hospital indignant.


The Butcher

I was a vegetarian when I came here, and one of my best friends turned out to be the local butcher where I go for our dog’s fish.

He is slim, medium height, full grey hair, brown eyes for a change behind spectacles, always friendly and ready for a joke – “mind you, I don’t always feel like it”, he said when I expressed my appreciation one day -, visibly competent at doing his work, taking pride in it, personally involved with all his customers whom he calls old chaps and young ladies. Of course, he has a variety of other names for his female customers.

He learnt his trade from a German, he told me, and I like to watch him sharpen his knife

and then skilfully carve, cut, slice or saw a big bone through in no time. Once he had a triangular tear in a sleeve of his white overall, due to a misplaced meat-hook; another time he cut his thumb. However, he does not seem very accident-prone on the whole.

I like his solid-wood chopping blocks, one new, one old. I like especially the old one – it looks like a valley with a slope on either side. Its beauty, I hear, is not appreciated by the Health Inspector who would rather see everything new.

The two men working for him also have a sense of humour which they develop especially in their master’s presence. It is then  “young ladies” all over the place, no end of compliments flying either way across the counter, with the occasional, but very rare grim look from a customer who is too much in a hurry – his fault.

His assistants are an elderly tall gentleman, Joe, whose daughter-in-law is German and is living with his son in Germany, and a young fat lad, Aedan,sometimes a little cheeky, who has a moustache which suits him well, a very able salesman who manages to sell to my husband anything and who in general seems competent in his trade. He took me for Welsh, going by my accent, which rather flattered me.

The elderly gentleman has a firm place in my heart, and I believe I have one in his; I owe him many a good piece of meat for our dog !

To this day they do not know my name, which doesn’t matter, for there are always possibilities in England !


A Rider

He lives up the road, and I visit him and his wife regularly, always taking along any knitting, darning, mending that needs doing, so as not to waste time.

He is round about sixty, a small, agile, lively man with grey-black hair, a short beard, a big head altogether; the type of person who makes one forget that he is small once he starts talking to one. He is capable of enthusiasm and prepared, more than the average Englishman, to give an opinion on things. He is in fact a very strong personality with a low-pitched voice, a bass probably, we should try and rope him in with the G.H. singers. He forms strong views on various issues in his daily life or in politics, and I want to see the person who would dare challenge him on them ! I challenged him once quite by accident and shall never do it again. We were discussing the miners’ strike and I put forward a few arguments which I thought were intelligent; they certainly were thought up entirely by me. He looked at me disconcerted. I noticed his wife was developing a red face. Then he threw one sentence at me, and it nearly knocked me out : “you are a Tory !” I felt like being marked for life. In vain did I protest my innocence. I could see he did not believe me. I left them bewildered that day, and he was in a state as well, because really he was supposed to like me.

I had to unburden myself to my family who comforted me and told me I should forget the incident, behave as though nothing had happened. This is what I usually recommend when one of them has a problem of relationship. I tried and found it worked. A day after, he passed me in his car and waved as hard as he could. Maybe he was trying to forget, too …

He has a thing in common with me : he is a great lover of language, well-cared for, polished, esthetically pleasing, grammatically correct, pure and clean language, English in this case, unspoilt, unadulterated by nasty outside influences and technical jargons. He writes books with the help of a word-processor – I am afraid I am too simple for that -, so far about technical subjects, but hopes to produce a real bestseller once he finds the time to write about his great hobby : riding. He is one of the few gentleman-riders I know, this sport being mainly adopted by girls and ladies. He took up riding about two years ago, much to his wife’s dismay, but has survived so far. He subscribes to any horse-magazine, there are large piles of them in his house, and has friendly feelings towards my eldest daughter – she is a rider, too. Looking at him in his riding-gear – short, black, determined – I cannot help thinking about Genghis-Khan and his hordes who used to transport their supply of meat under their saddle, so as to ride it tender before consumption.

Once on a beautiful summer’s day I bumped into him as he was coming back from an equestrian outing. He stopped at my side, looked at me – I was on my way home from the garden, armed with bucket and spade, riding my bicycle – and said “how lovely to see you first!” .

I kissed him for his birthday and he said he would like a birthday every day.

He is, by the way, of Jewish descent. I am German. He cannot forgive the Germans, my parents’ generation, that is, and perhaps this is understandable. Maybe he is mellowing in his old age, he said so himself, when I expressed my appreciation of the beautiful Wagner record he gave me for Christmas.

He once had a meeting with a top Arab leader who had found one of his aviation books very interesting. Apparently they had a talk together in a place overlooking part of Israel. As a memento he was given a gold fountain pen which he showed me on his return. I had the satisfaction of discovering that it had been “made in Germany”.


The Greengrocer

I have a distinct feeling that he is extremely touchy for all his exquisite politeness and friendliness, very easy to hurt, I’m sure, and I go about him as carefully and warily as I can, always smiling, approving, falling in with him wherever possible at all, praising him for his efforts, abstaining from any rash remark, staying calm, waiting if necessary. I feel he could not bear contrariety, would fret over it for days and weeks, wondering what he did wrong. I could not bear to see him hurt. He is such a kind, friendly, obliging man; tall, well-fed, in his fifties, a lot of curly grey-brown hair, round face, glasses – Tor. His wife’s name is Deen.

I met him really only because my broken wrist forced me to think where the nearest post office was. There was nobody else in the shop when I entered it for the first time to hand in a letter. He politely inquired about my arm, and it turned out that I had broken it in the very place he and his wife had come from a year ago. This discovery was followed by half an hour’s chat, exchanging experiences and considering advantages and disadvantages of different places. They had left the West because they did not like to see the sea come into the hotel they had been running the front way and go out the back way on several occasions. Since they left, the hotel must have been run down, he said with regret, having been back to have a look. Together we elaborated all the good points of the place we were living in, now – really there could not be a better one – except that the post office business did not do too well, his salary had been cut.

How could I not support him, I felt, and moved my family allowance and somebody’s pension I collect from another post office to his. Ever since I have been seeing him regularly once a week. He called me Mrs. C. when I came in, Mrs. C. when I left and Mrs. C. in between times, if he did not say thank you, a model of exquisite politeness. I felt uncomfortable after a while, and now we are on christian names terms, which makes no difference to the politeness. I thought it wise to mention at the beginning that I would be no more than a post office customer, producing most foods myself. So when I enter his shop, he awaits me in his little cubicle, smiling, ready to do for me what he can.

We have a few stamp collectors in the family and this is where he comes in most useful. He will spare no trouble to give me the most personal and individual attention possible when it comes to selecting stamps from sheets of new issues. The best part is, of course, in the very centre, a white strip of paper running across and separating the two halves of the sheet, the so-called gutter-block. Extracting for example four stamps from such a block is a valiant exercize in accuracy and patience, requiring sympathetic hands. He is not a stamp collector, but tries hard to oblige. I do not look too closely when I see these big fingers pull on the stamps, he also used his pocket knife once to help him. I just take what he will give me, not meanly checking for every single little tooth. My son can do that at home and exchange them, if there is any damage, at a different post-office, of course. I would not have the heart to upset him after all his efforts. So far we have been lucky.

If we cannot have the gutter-block, our next choice is for the corner-pieces with white paper on two sides. After that it’s the stamps from the edge of the sheet with just one side protected by white paper, the choice there is a little bewildering because one finds different types of markings on the edge, in various shapes and colours or just black lines. He patiently waits for me to explain which stamps exactly I would like. He ma kes me feel like a queen.

He is so extremely polite, he will not even let me put my own stamps on the envelope : “I will do it for you”. What can one do ? Suffer it quietly, hoping he does not put them too near the edge, moistens them properly so that they stick on all sides and in general handles them carefully. Of course my father complained later about one of them being loose ! In future we shall buy the stamps, put them on the envelope at home, guessing the payable amount, forfeiting some of it in the case of over-guess, then take them to be weighed and assessed, asking him to add small amounts if needed. He normally volunteers to stamp this beautiful envelope with great care, receiving full marks for that from my father.

Once I had a heavy envelope which required a specially high value. He chose a fine new issue with white paper on the edge, I was delighted to see it, but oh ! he tore the precious paper off before moistening the stamp and sticking it on the letter. I had to bear it with a smile and was glad not to be a stamp collector.

Last time I saw him I was his first customer – he had not yet put the money into his drawer. I saw where it came from : out of flat, oblong, bright orange zip-round bags, quite thick packs of five and ten pound notes held together in the centre by something like a paperstrip. I told him I knew now what to go for and where the next time. He warned me : these bags sometimes contain sandwiches ! Apparently the postmen use them for an all-purpose bag, which may have its merits. I marvelled how he put these scruffy looking wads of money into his drawer without checking them. He admitted that he cannot be approached on a Friday when he has to do the balancing.

The other day there was a discussion about the efficiency of postal services in different countries. One lady had received a letter from Japan within three days. This was unanimously credited to the Japanese. Another lady had to wait for a letter from South Africa for over a month – who was responsible for that ? And why do letters from Paris take six days ? They are a patient race : “ never mind; as long as you get it in the end” .



I know several Johns, one of them an Irishman whom I have heard called Johnie by his wife. I would like to call him this myself – it suits him well – but do not quite dare at the moment. He is of medium height, with lovely blue eyes in a young-looking face. His Irish accent is just about detectable, slightly singing, I find it very attractive. He appears open and frank when he looks at one, is very well-mannered which I always appreciate and perhaps a little shy.

His wife tells me that he is much more sociable in other people’s houses than in his own. I do not take this as a reference against him, since this is probably a wide-spread phenomenon. I also hear that he spends virtually all his spare time working in their house, to the exclusion of any outside interest. Again I cannot hold this against him – it is so common, perhaps a generally accepted thing to do in this country. Thirdly he apparently reckons that the father of the family is also its head, in other words, the boss. This seems to be a slightly more tricky problem – not for me, because bearing in mind my origin and the good example set by my mother and my sister, I’m used to submitting myself. I understand, however, that Johnie’s wife has been used as a doormat for years and fear that they will have to sort things out.

Spiritually speaking he calls himself an agnostic, which is another cause of friction with his wife who is a loyal member of the church.

I love to see Johnie in his uniform. He looks incredibly smart, like on one bright Sunday morning when he came to bring us some plums and apples from their garden before going to work. It was a most heartening sight. How can any girl resist him ?


With the naked eye

I understand Nessie and his wife are naturists believing firmly in the benefits of air and sunshine as extending uninhibited to all parts of the body. They enjoy these benefits in their garden whenever they can, Nessie’s wife being less embarrassed by the presence of, say, friends than Nessie himself whom I have never seen in less than his shorts, and to take off his shirt in my presence he required his wife’s encouragement who felt sure that I “did not mind”. Nessie’s wife is so convinced of the therapeutic value of sunshine that – if in female company only – she will discard her clothes quite abruptly in other people’s gardens, not before having made sure that there are “no fellows” around. I once heard from friends who have a swimming pool in their secluded garden that she was spontaneously tempted to have a dip, dropped her clothes then and there without any ado and went in, thus displaying a considerable sporty attitude for her age. In this case she did not mind both her friends’ , the lady’s and the gentleman’s, presence, the latter, I gather hastening to look the other way rather than be blinded.

My husband also believes in taking off his clothes in our garden and on the sunny beaches of the South. I learnt it from him and have enjoyed it ever since.

Once I had a little adventure on an island in the South of France. We were the first people on the beach which lay in glorious morning sunshine. It was absolutely heavenly, and I was jumping and dancing around, even venturing to run along the beach to a group of rocks about two hundred meters away from the place where our clothes lay. Steve followed more leisurely. I reached the rocks, jumped up to the top and looked round the corner. What did I see to my horror ? A detachment of – French, of course – soldiers marching briskly towards the rocks and me. I turned round rather briskly, too. Steve was at a distance beckoning me to come. He did not know there were, still hidden by the rocks, soldiers behind me – he only saw there were soldiers in the opposite direction, on the other side of our clothes, distinctly marching towards them. I ran for my life and just about beat them to it – sitting down and grabbing a towel was all I could do. Steve had joined me and together we watched them march past us, first one detachment, then the other one. The sergeants were well in control and everybody pretended not to see us. After this little incident we had the beach to ourselves again.

Once or twice we stayed in a naturist camp.I did not like it. The best time again was early in the morning when all the other campers were still asleep, and in the evening when it was getting cooler and people had left the beach. I then put on my long, soft, flowing silk-dress, just that, apparently almost as becoming as nothing at all, and we sat down to watch the sunset. The rest of the day I spent near our chalet, doing the occasional shopping at the camp centre where I saw groups of men walk about in a funny get-up : hat, sunglasses and T-shirt. I suppose it was sensible to protect sensitive parts of the body from the burning sun. It just looked funny, especially from behind. I wondered what sort of occupations they all had in their ordinary every-day lives.

In Scotland I had a lovely time on the deserted beach of a holy island. It was at the end of September – windy and rainy weather with the odd spell of sunshine. I had miles of beach to myself and beautiful clean water which made my skin go red and hot. Excellent hydrotherapy, Nessie thought when I told him, except that he reckoned not a man would have been able to follow me into the cold, not having the fatty tissue females have. My only companion, it is true, had been a seal.


The Vicar

The Jardin d’Acclimatation - Bois de Boulogne  Drawing by Freeman  The Picturesque Shop (1862) - Private Collection

A very friendly man indeed, cracking jokes wherever he can, especially when he has trapped his listeners, addressing them from the pulpit. It is then interesting to watch people’s faces round about.

He is tall, thin, with a clean-shaven face, unobtrusively mounted glasses, thin lips, his mouth looks small altogether. I always thought Jesuits looked like that, but he is an Anglican priest. He is a grandfather for the first time and a very busy man, organizing and supervizing a number of committees, running them efficiently, to the point, I am told, of making two of them work on the same job, in order to produce a particularly satisfactory result. He represents the church in the C.o.E. village school, teaching the children pretty new hymns and up-to-date prayers like the one my daughter had to say in church, thanking the Lord for our nuclear energy which makes for cosy homes. Poor child ! She was so embarrassed at home practising her prayer; but she had to practise it somewhere, and anyway, her mother would not be in church to hear it.

He is a jolly man who looks at life in a positive way. Accept things as they come! be grateful and take them at face value – why be complicated ? When he first came, he introduced himself on a party with a little act he and his wife played. It was funny because his wife, much smaller than he, had to wash his hair for him in the end. I heard they had practised this act on previous occasions.

He is, of course, very much a man of the church, always fund-raising, not wasting an opportunity to collect money for a number of purposes. I heard him say in a service “whoever did not give anything at the beginning, can do so at the end – the plate will still be there; no obligation, of course”.

I am surprized they keep a simple plate for offerings at the entrance. It is so easily ignored. I would have thought a much more effective way of gathering money is surely to pass a bag round when people have taken their seats. This has the inconvenience, it is true, that naughty people can drop in buttons, if they choose, for they could not be found out. I agree it looks much nicer when a brass plate filled with coins and banknotes and raised high by the bearer is taken to the altar to be offered up, rather than a dull bag whose contents nobody can see. The Vicar is very good at raising funds outside church with his wife’s unfailing support. We have quite a number of barn-dances, pancake parties, jumble-sales, bring-and-buy sales – you can have bargains, if you’re lucky – which brought in a fair bit of money. The result is usually announced in church the following Sunday, also what the money will be spent on exactly, so that people can be sure it will be put to good use. The congregation is then thanked and praised for their efforts and hope expressed that also on future occasions they will have an open hand. The Vicar can be reasonably sure that his requests for money are supported. People are usually willing to pay for their pleasure, entertainment or edification, in a reasonable proportion, of course.

Parishioners are generous on the whole, as is shown by the wonderful array of foods displayed at Harvest Festivals in school and church. Everything is there from Oxo-cubes to biscuits, wheetabix and lots of canned foods, not to forget the fresh garden produce, a number of huge marrows among other things, their givers’ pride and a little too hard to be eaten, but they look so nice. Later, everything will be shared out to the poor and the elderly. It is generally thought a good idea to let children hand over these presents. One or two elderly ladies wrote letters back to the Vicar, saying how delighted they had been. One elderly lady noticed that she had one item less in her parcel than her friend. It was probably a mistake somebody made and should be forgiven.

As I have said, the Vicar is very much a man of the church. Church for him means the whole of christianity. Nobody can be a christian without being baptized. In other words and perhaps more positively : if you want to be a christian, you have to be baptized and to make sure you go through the right hands, conceiving the right ideas from the start, such as going to church on a Sunday. I do not know whether his belief is reflected in an article I once read in the parish magazine, but I should imagine his thoughts tend this way : If you do not go to church on a Sunday, you will go to … hell ! Or words to this effect, but pretty clear and enough to frighten anybody. People should do their duty and keep the church going; if it was empty, what would it be there for ? An awful waste. All the trouble as well of installing a new heating system, if not one hundred per cent efficient, maybe, but the most economical certainly – it keeps our heads warm and at the same time diffuses a pleasant red light all round the walls.

I asked him once why we are required to say “I believe in the church” in each service. Was it not enough to profess belief in God, Christ and the Holy Spirit ? I am afraid the onslaught of this, perhaps a little cheeky, question made him speechless; he passed on to another subject. I was sorry. I certainly had not meant to hurt him.

He makes a point of being present for choir practice, so as not to let us get away without an opening prayer. Maybe we are a bit childish in this respect and ought to know better. Fortunately he looks after us that way. At the end we all say together the “Choristers’ Prayer” in which we refer to ourselves as the “servants of the Lord who minister in his temple”. Is this not a lovely way of putting it ?

One or two hymns we sometimes sing are thought-provoking, too. They are about the struggles the church has had to go through, especially fighting heretics and any wrong doctrines. Perhaps these hymns are a little out of date, because surely there are no heretics around nowadays. I wonder in fact whether due to some law in psychology there is a danger of them coming back, if mentioned too often.

The Vicar is very good socially. He visited me when I was ill and we talked about our dogs all the time.

He is willing to arrange parties in the vicarage. On one of them he spent at least five minutes exclusively with me, taking a seat next to me and lecturing me on my beautiful agate pendant – he studied geology at one time – which he much admired.

He seems to have accepted the fact that I never come to church, except to sing with the choir, and is in spite of this unfailingly friendly to the point of calling me “our Dear Dag” from time to time which I return, I hope, by a pleasant smile.


The Dentist

Somebody who has become, unfortunately I am inclined to say, quite a good friend of mine, because I see him so often, is our dentist. Once I had made the contact shortly after arriving in England, I could not stop seeing him – I like him so much ! He is a relatively small, slim man with a pleasant, sonorous, low-pitched voice and a mocking smile. I do not like to think how old he might be, with his full white hair, and how near retiring age, because I have become hooked on him and would not like to lose him. His manners are calm and reassuring, all our children like him. He must be fit physically, for he has a skiing holiday every year. I prefer not to know when he goes, because it worries me a little …

He loves music, but never went into Wagner because the latter was the dictator’s favourite. He is convinced there is fine music in Wagner, but considers himself too old to start on something new. He reassured me by saying that I was young enough. He put me in touch with a gentleman named Wagner who by the looks of him rightly claims to descend from the great composer.

He takes a very sympathetic attitude towards his patients, listening to their comments, complaints, remarks of all kinds, even the ones of a professional nature, like my reservations concerning amalgam fillings. He had never heard they should be bad for us and pointed out that he had both amalgam and gold in his mouth. This horrified me on another count : according to a law in physics an electric current exists between two different metals in moist surroundings.

I amazed him by refusing injections, but with a friendly smile he let me have my way. The dentist in my own country used to look at me reproachfully on such occasions. When it came to cutting down two teeth in preparation for a bridged crown, I wondered what to do. I would have loved to try without an injection. Could I dare suggest this ? His assistant made an appointment for me. Before I could start talking about my problem to her, she suggested to me to take tranquillizers before presenting myself for the treatment. I was totally unprepared for this, waved it aside as irrelevant and mentioned my problem. She looked at me blank,saying I would have to discuss this with him on the day. I decided in the end not to make fuss and accept whatever came. To my surprize he asked “are we having an injection?”. I said “yes”. He said “good”, and then “or do you want to try without?” . I seized the opportunity to tell him what I really wanted, refusing to be called a masochist. He would obviously have to go along and “try” with me. He agreed and said “we’ll try”. All went well without undue suffering on anybody’s part, and he gave me a lot of praise. I felt wonderful.

Next time I had to have a tooth extracted. I had heard about a brave gentleman who had this operation done without an anaesthetic. I wondered if I could do the same. However, the dentist did not ask me this time, just came with the needle as I was starting to make my request. He stopped short and looked disconcerted, his assistant gasped. I hastened to add “only with your consent, of course”. He replied in the best English way “not too keen”. I can just imagine what any of my compatriots would have said ! He really is wonderfully tolerant of his patients’ whims. He knows I do not like fluoride and when he recommended precisely that, he added “or anything that makes you happy”. Once I told him about latest scientific evidence speaking rather against the use of fluoride. This was at the end of a session. With a gentle but firm hand he pushed me out of his room, saying “don’t spoil my illusions”.

His surgery is the most pleasant one – if or because a little crowded – I have been to, with pictures on the walls painted by his patients and a lovely old-fashioned easy-chair with a collection of rag-dolls on it, my little daughter’s delight. My husband does not like his bills. I must say, when I see the well-known envelopes arrive, my heart is beating faster. Still, if we want him, we have to keep him alive.


The Plumber and some electricity

The Blacksmith’s Shop by Wright - Drawing of Worms  The Picturesque Shop (1862) - Private Collection

He is a pleasant man of my age whom we do not see very often. I like him and so does the dog. He is reasonably tall, strongly built, somewhat overweight, with muscular legs and an elastic walk – a footballer in his spare time. His face is round with a frame of straight blond hair. There is a pair of friendly eyes behind glasses.

He acknowledges any signs one gives to create verbal contact, in fact making the most out of the humblest opportunity. For example when I remarked one day that the wind was strong, he replied “yes, it is, isn’t it”. He looks at me calmly when I ask questions, then gives detailed answers without lingering unduly.

As I am washing up, he calmly reaches past my arm to check the hot tap.  I can hear him sing and whistle from time to time. When he kneels in front of the washing machine, his pullover slips up, revealing a piece of bare back; I have seen it every single time he has been. He never overcharges and leaves us whistling. When he had left last time he called, my daughter cautiously inquired whether I mention any names in my descriptions. The Plumber’s son is in her class. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing …


A Parish Councillor

He is very tall, well-proportioned, well-preserved and very kind; well-versed in many fields : engineering, woodwork, public relations – a valuable member of the Parish Council, manager and promoter of an orchestra, father of a pretty blond and husband of an excellent cook.

A great lover of music, too, but I do not want to compromize him by disclosing who his favourite composer is. Together we have founded a music-appreciation class, devoted to this particular composer. Whoever wants to join us, is welcome.

He is the typical practically-minded English handyman who knows the answers to all the household problems, a most useful member of the family from the housewife’s point of view, being a specialist for broken down washing machines, sewing machines, TV sets, refrigerators, record players and anything at all that might occur. Needless to say, he is his own car mechanic. His secret is, I understand, to sit down when everybody else has given up and quietly contemplate the mechanics of the appliance in question.

He also makes up new appliances as required for individual needs, like electric alarm installations for bed-ridden people : a switch for the patient, the main part being a match-box, a flex, and a flash lamp placed outside the door. He is an expert cherry picker, having contrived his own ways and means of reaching even the remotest cherry.

He is very socially minded and always willing to help. People know this and rely on him when faced with disaster, like a burst pipe in anybody’s house in the middle of the night. He does not mind interrupting his sleep and comes to settle the problem.

He likes to greet the ladies by kissing them on their cheeks. I was not too keen at first, but have become used to it. After all, this is England.


The Farmer

We are lucky to have a farm in our area where we can get raw milk. When I first arrived there by bicycle, in search of this precious food, the Farmer and his wife were immediately sympathetic. Their three sons don’t like any milk but their own, and they were quite willing to believe what I had to tell them about the virtues of milk in the raw state. It was agreed that I could come once a week.

In the course of time I have come to know them quite well. They are about my size and age. Funnily, the Farmer’s christian name and mine coincide in so far, as the first syllables of either name are identical phonetically. Frequently in this country the first syllable only of a name is used, so as to have things short and easy, the result in this case being that the Farmer and I have the same name.

I mostly see his wife. But sometimes he is there, too : a kind, brown-eyed, strong looking, hard working man, always friendly and obliging. He loves his dog, the mother of ours, and when she was getting near the time when her puppies were due, he fondled her body with his big hands, asking her “when will it be ?”. The animal loved the attention and wished she could have told him.

I had a conversation with him once about Germany and the war. He showed great interest for the German point of view and agreed that really our two countries were “cousins”. How stupid of the Americans to have let the Russians come so far west ! He did not see much point in celebrating D-day and the end of the war after forty years, but thought that people probably wanted to celebrate while they had a chance, the future being uncertain. I agreed with him all the way.

When his wife is not there, he gives me the milk, straight from the tank. He does a quicker job than his wife, using a different technique : I do not hold the bottle for him, but stand it on top of two breeze blocks next to the tank. While he is filling it, I get the next bottle ready, so that there is no wait for him. While he is filling the next one, I put the lid onto the previous one, stow it away in my basket and put the following empty one into position. And so on. Very quick work.

When I take leave, we say “bye-bye, Doug” – “bye-bye, Dag”.


The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Castle of Munnoth and the Rhine Embankment, at Schaffhausen    Drawing by Stroobant  The Picturesque Garden (1862)  - Private Collection

I saw him at a political meeting in the overcrowded village hall. He had come to inform us that it would be entirely to our advantage to be taken over by another county. He represented this other county which had its eyes on us, and we were in a fighting mood.

He was generally admired for having entered the lion’s den. He said slightly piqued that he was sorry we couldn’t have somebody higher up the ladder – nobody else was free; we had to do with him.

I do not know any politicians, but was struck intuitively that he must be one : he was one of the ablest and most versatile talkers I have seen yet; a Welshman, he informed us. From the first word he spoke we were overcome by his generosity, kindheartedness and sympathy concerning the plight we were in : No bus service into Casterbridge three times on a Sunday – one of the first things to be introduced after the take-over.  The question was asked who of the people present used the bus service into Casterbridge at all. One or two put up their hands. One gentleman asked why he frequently sees empty buses go past his house. The Mayor thought, this was not his concern, but felt sure that all the elderly people would enjoy a ride into Casterbridge and back on a Sunday.

The problem of rates he solved for us within a minute, calculating that in a year’s time we would be paying more in our present county than in his. What did we think of this prospect ? We were interested to hear that things could be worked out so easily and took his word for it.

He next promised a new bridge over the river and a fast road to connect us with it, thus providing us with a wonderful link-up with the surrounding motorway network. Did we not feel isolated and abandoned in our rural area, cut off and sorely underdeveloped. Just fields and woods; some narrow lanes, not a decent road. Look at the development of Casterbridge ! Something to be proud of ! The whole place spreading all the time : it had reached the motorway on one side; the river was in the way on the other side. To the west narrow-minded people had turned down a project of development. Surely we would not be so silly. We were to the north and it made the council of Casterbridge sick at heart to see this side of their neighbourhood so void of all blessings of civilization. When asked what caused him this concern for us – did he not have to look after his own county ?- he kindly told us we deserved it !

His true talents as a speaker revealed themselves at question time. It turned out that all his arguments were to be understood in a flexible way. An example :

For those who did not like to be attached to Casterbridge administratively, there is always Wexton as another possibility. Unfortunately one gentleman spoke up who had just moved from Wexton into our area because of grave administrative shortcomings. The Mayor reassured us that W. as an administrative centre was really only a remote possibility.

To any question he had a sympathetic answer. He reassured us that we could have anything we wanted. No urban development, if we did not want it ! The present council could certainly commit themselves to that. Asked what a different council might do, he thought we were pushing our concern a bit far.

Why was Casterbridge interested in us, if they were prepared not to build any houses ? I forget what he answered to that. He did have an answer, for he never stopped talking. I admired his ability to express hopes, beliefs and feelings of all kinds – sometimes with a little joke, sometimes calling us “friends”; then serious, looking over our heads straight to the exit of the hall, musing about chances, offers and the winter wind, I suppose.

He was very fair really, because in the end he must have understood our feelings. If we wanted to speak up and give our opinion, we should by all means do so. Write letters to the boundary commission, but no petitions, please, in his career as a politician he had never cared for them. He advized to write to the boundary commission individually. Our letters would be filed and referred to in due course.

We were thankful for his advice and went home comforted. Every member of our community is going to write’ a letter.


Dr Cue

An important person in the village, because he has been everybody’s doctor for the last fifty or sixty years. Small, stout, not unpleasant to look at, but distinctly off-putting as soon as he opens his mouth. Unmarried; the classical tyrant.

He summoned me to his house where he lives with his even older sister, in order to be enlightened about some German stamps. He feels strongly about village life and village community and has in fact produced a book about Green Hamlet. Had I read it, was the first question   he asked , and then cross-examined me on my views about life in Green Hamlet. He much regretted that village life was no longer what it used to be. I told him I had no complaints. He was glad to hear it. Did I miss a shop ? I said “no”. He mused about this.

He spoke slowly, making many pauses between sentences so as to let sink in their whole impact, fixing me with his eyes, visibly wondering what sort of an unwilling person I was. Why had I not read his book ? “It has never come my way.” He could not argue that. Did I mind if he smoked ? I minded very much, but told him that he could please himself. He lit a cigarette and told me that he had given up his bridge club because of the terrible smoking all the time. I hastened to support him by saying that I detested smoke. His sister brought two cups of coffee and a few biscuits. I told them that unfortunately I could not have coffee and did not feel like biscuits either. He sent one cup back into the kitchen. Then he had his coffee and no more cigarettes. After that we looked at some stamps before I left his house, vowing never to put my foot back into it.

A few days later I told a friend that I had been to see Dr Cue.  She misinterpreted my meaningful look and said :”Oh, he’s sweet !”.


My Husband

My collection of Englishmen would be utterly incomplete without a picture of my own personal specimen, my prize example, to whom alone I owe the pleasure of having met all these charming and delightful people : my husband who brought me to England five years ago.

He tells me he does not like the glint he can sometimes see in my eyes, and I fear he does not have an easy life with me. Here is the conclusion I have come to after long years of marriage :

He combines all the good qualities of the English – I would not have married him otherwise – with one or two not quite as pleasing features picked up, of course, during a spell of fourteen years on the continent.

This sentence, submitted to him for his approval, received the good English comment “it is probably true”.



I have a handful of sundries left : a few friendly airline pilots with less friendly wives; the man in the garage; the coal merchant; two headmasters; a flautist who put me in touch with a source for raw milk; the man who sold us the washing machine and the one who delivered it – without the latter’s help in opening some difficult doors the precious new acquisition would have had to stay outside – as he was leaving he inquired with concern “will you be alright with them doors ?” – and many, many more.

To sum up, I love them all very much, even if at times one or two of them are a little slack with helping ladies on or off with their coats, opening doors for them or helping them with chairs when it comes to sitting down.

I heard recently that I have an admirer who calls me “dishy Dag”. It tickled my family. I rather like it.


The proof of the pudding

A scene from the holland Theatre in the eighteenth century -  The Mathematicians or the fleeing Demoiselle   Dispute among the Doctors, bouffon Comedy by the netherland poet P. Langendyk, gouache by Troost/ Drawing by Bocourt, in the keeping of the Museum of The Hague.  The Picturesque Shop (1862) - Private Collection

I have the reputation of being a food fadist, my fault, I suppose, for spreading the rumour, on our arrival, that sugar, white flour, meat and chemicals are bad for us. Anyway, in the course of the years I have learnt not to worry nor to talk too much about these things any more. It is amazing, though, how a reputation once acquired clings to one. People do not forget and feel I should live up to it consistently, and if I do not mention this particular subject, they will do it for me.

Conversation with Mrs May Beetle :

Dag : How nice Jen can go to Wales with G. and stay on the farm with him. I’m all for it.

Mrs May Beetle : You’ll have a food problem…

Dag : I won’t. I’ll tell her to clean her teeth after meals. It’ll only be for a fortnight, anyway.

Mrs May Beetle : You’ll be pleased to hear the owner is a vegetarian.

Dag : Is she really ? I’m not worried. Jen can have meat if she wants to.

Mrs May Beetle dropped the subject.

Her husband gave me a basket of gorgeous fruit on my birthday. “Here is something for your taste, I hope”, he said. I expressed my delight, praised the beautiful arrangement and told him I would have all the grapes before the children came home. He was just leaving the room and turned round, saying “I thought this would be something you could eat”. I was glad he did not remember that I am not supposed to like chemically treated food either. My husband did when he came home that day.

I enjoyed this fruit very much on my own and in the evening told Steve about it. He was disappointed there was not even a sample of these delicious grapes left for him and then accused me of being inconsistent “you should not eat these things, they’re treated !”. I told him I had changed my attitude. He called me wicked. I’m not sure whether he was serious or not.

Conversation with Mrs Rivers :

Dag : I’m writing down childhood memories and experience in England.

Mrs Rivers : How interesting. No doubt you’ll be writing about the food you’ve been having. Just look at your children. They’ve all had the same food, and how different they are !

Some people smile at me from their superior position as an expert in organic chemistry. What is this charming little housewife worried about ? He does what he can to reassure me. A few chemicals won’t do any harm. I should look at him, still alive after a long career with them !

A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, so he says, can by no means supply all the nutrients needed. Plenty of meat is important as far as he is concerned. And green vegetables, brussels sprouts preferably. No food fadism, please, no doctrines, especially about raw foods and salads which he detests. Simple meals consisting of meat, potatos and brussels sprouts – that is what he likes. And a pudding, of course. Anything else or different makes him shudder with apprehension, especially anything “fancy” which people serve at parties. The very idea gives him stomach ache. He loathes cheese. But the worst of all is shellfish. He has a gruesome story to tell of some oysters he was forced to eat in Paris once. He felt himself turn pale as the plate was put down in front of him, but made a heroic effort, desperate to oblige his hosts, closed his eyes as best he could, mustered all self-control and … swallowed the things. He felt shocking afterwards and even worse when he heard from another guest that this latter had turned down the oysters on the grounds that he did not like them and had had something else instead. In the ensuing night my friend was taken seriously ill. He was sure his system was shaken by food poisoning, feeling hot and cold in turns, trembling like a leaf and a number of other worrying symptoms. He could not sleep a wink, was as pale as death in the morning and in this state had to give a lecture. All because of a few oysters. He did not hear that anyone else had been taken ill and they had all had the same food. This was immaterial, though. He for one knew that he had had food poisoning from those oysters.

Poor man ! He has been worried stiff about eating in other people’s houses ever since. The other day he had had indigestion when unable to avoid curried chicken on a posh party. Of course, his devoted wife had the same complaint. When he comes to our house, I must see to one thing : have my cakes sweet enough – and he will praise them. Sometimes I think all he can taste is sweetness.

His wife knows sugar is not good for us and tries to cut down his consumption. To compensate the effect of sugar on his system he takes yeast tablets. He is a chemist and has the advantage of knowing how our metabolism works.

I understand from his wife that he has what is known in my country as “squirrel” instinct, manifesting itself under certain circumstances. For example last time the dockers were on strike he insisted on his wife stocking up with large quantities of any foods that keep well, especially sweet ones, like dried fruit which owing to its natural sugar content keeps very well indeed. Needless to say, his coal bunker holds a supply for two years.


A German Duck

Being a certain type of German, he likes to do things seriously, thoroughly, wholeheartedly.

He follows Rudolf Steiner‘s doctrine ruthlessly. He has accumulated a vast knowledge about it, which means reading about six meters of books. I have noticed that, as he progresses in his knowledge, he changes views which are always held firmly.I remarked that he seemed to choose whatever suits him at particular times. He was disgusted and claimed to be gaining new insights all the time. Each insight he advocates with fervour. No doubt in general that food is a basic instrument to help us develop our mental and spiritual faculties.

As to our diet in particular, a few years ago his attitude was for raw foods, especially raw cereal preparations and vast quantities of raw vegetables in the form of salads. When they came to see us, they could not praise enough the wholesome effect this food has. They spared no trouble to prepare for us the things they eat, especially for the benefit of the children who did not appreciate it much – what a shame.

I pointed out that I had read an article published by a prominent Rudolf Steiner follower who maintained that according to R.S. the bulk of our food should be consumed cooked. He called the writer of this article an idiot who knew nothing about Rudolf Steiner

We asked him and his wife to bring us a certain condiment we like and consider innocuous. They obliged, leaving us in no doubt what they thought about it. Who would use that, if you have all these herbs in the garden ! Herbs provide a natural flavour, as opposed to a spoonful of something out of a jar. They did not think it unnatural to freeze soft fruit in the summer and consume it in the winter. I shyly wondered, should we not eat what the seasons will yield, rather than have recourse to artificial means of preservation. However, this did not worry them.

Next time we saw them I was amazed to hear his views on food. Raw cereals are bad for us ! They can in fact ruin our health ! The proportion of raw food in our diet can be negligible, especially in winter. Eating root vegetables raw is bad for certain mental functions. Freezing soft fruit is most unnatural. Not a word about my comments a few years ago. No doubt he had never even heard them. I was painfully reminded of my own spell of food-fadism …

The right food then is the basis of our spiritual development. He was certainly willing to help anybody, foodwise and spiritually, who asked him for advice, he said, missionary zeal glowing in his eyes. He must have wondered how on earth he could help me, for I am afraid he found me rock-hard. He voiced his concern about my attitude to life : not worried enough about our future as spiritual beings, not trying hard enough to use the help offered by Rudolf Steiner. Was Rudolf Steiner the only way to salvation, I asked. This was precisely what he felt, but he did not say so; why not ? Surely he was not luke-warm about it, the worst state to be in, so he had told me, sure to be rejected by Christ. I think he is a politician, adapting his wording to the circumstances : it will not do to press people too openly, too hard – this would be counter-productive. He therefore conceded that, if we do not go through Rudolf Steiner, we have to turn to Christ directly – agreed. However, I should bear in mind that not even Rudolf S.teiner did this. One would have to be very advanced for that. Maybe, he said, I was more advanced than he, even though this would not appear to be evident !! I silently acknowledged the compliment, while he was wondering how to come back on it. In the end he expressed the suspicion that I was too weak to understand Rudolf Steiner I readily admitted this and he urged me not to stop trying. Reading any book by Rudolf Steiner without understanding a word would be beneficial for me.

I asked what would happen, if I missed my chance in this life. I had concluded from what he had previously said that I would probably have a few additional incarnations until  things were right. He looked at me seriously indeed. No ! I would not get away lightly like that. There was a danger of being thrown back into the state of an animal. I was frightened and told him that I did not like being pressed by fear; I did not think this a positive approach at all. He told me there was nothing to be afraid of, if I applied myself to the correct teaching.

The conversation turned to Wagner. We were unanimous in our admiration for this composer, even though I have not yet fully understood the spiritual implications, particularly in connection with the life this composer led. There are all these women in his life. What was their meaning for him ? He said that even a genius like Wagner, who had produced these breath-taking works, was not perfect. His ego lost control over his astral body and made him yield to base instincts. Just like Goethe, by the way. My blood was roused and I asked “what about the women involved ? good enough to serve a genius’ base instincts ?”. He shrugged his shoulders, admitting his utter indifference to this question. It was not a point of interest to him. I made a last attempt “could there be a connection between these women and the composer’s works ?”. He denied it. I did not say any more.

I tried to find out what Rudolf Steiner’s attitude to sexuality was. He was wary and refused to commit himself. He seemed in fact most flexible on this point, saying that people had to decide for themselves. How could sexuality be assessed, I wondered. It is necessary for procreation, he said. Without it, he for one would not have the good fortune of being where he is. Is there anything else to it, I persisted. After all he had made a strong statement about Wagner’s relationship with women. He seemed to hint that sexuality is there to tempt us, thus giving us an opportunity to measure our strength with an opponent who can be conquered or alternatively can conquer us.

I had enough of all this talk and left my husband to him. They had a quiet little chat, looking serious. When they joined the ladies in the living-room, I thought it was time for some music of a less serious nature and asked, if I could play a record. He said in reply “do you want to destroy our conversation ?”. I knew then that I had been marked as an “evil force” and accepted the challenge. I asked my husband, could I put on a record. He said “yes”, presumably glad to escape some uncomfortable talking, he not being a good talker himself. I played two delightful arias by Donizetti and Rossini : women singing about their relationship with men. A little frivolous, I suppose, but sung in Italian fortunately – I only told him the first line in German to give his imagination some food which he may have found indigestible. He listened seriously and afterwards declared the singing perfect. He never smiled, never laughed, never moved – I could see he thought the situation dangerous : we had to watch the “evil forces” surrounding us, and wasn’t there one sitting on the same settee with him ?

The conversation turned serious again. My husband asked him how the ever increasing number of human beings could be explained. It did not seem in keeping with the law of reincarnation. He was glad to have an opportunity for a real blow at last. He said with little suppressed enthusiasm “you embarrass me now”. Then he proceeded to exposing the various views existing on this subject, proving that they were all worthless. I was waiting breathlessly what explanation he would have to offer. He looked terribly important now, lowered his voice and said “there is a secret”. We were struck. Did he consider letting us know ? He continued that it was really pointless not to tell us, since he had gone so far. Rudolf Steiner had wanted this information to be kept a secret, but, as our friend’s wife threw in, only up to thirty years after his death. Our friend concluded there was no danger in telling it outsiders now. He paused. The light dimmed. I thought “already eleven o’clock”. He was startled and said “look, even the light is dimming”. I had problems stopping myself from laughing into his face and managed to explain that this happens every night when our neighbours’ block storage heater comes on, reducing the amount of electricity going into our house. He chose to ignore the incident and proceeded to divulge the secret, at the risk, he said, of producing laughter. This was directed against me, and he tried to pierce me with his eyes, but did not succeed. To cut a long story short, the secret revealed was the following : By the end of the century one third of mankind – but only one third – will originate in … locusts ! Locust humans; pseudo humans of a locust background; looking like humans, but locusts in reality; not spirits reincarnated, but animals accounting for a large proportion of the earth’s population. In fact he considered, there must be many locusts among us already, just looking at the politicians we have …

After this, the conversation lost in depth. My husband alarmed him by becoming frivolous, musing whether in his next life he would find the ravishing blond he was dreaming of. My comment here was that he would have to prove deserving first  by not being jealous of the brunette he was stuck with in this life. Our friend told the “evil forces “ in the room that we were relaxing now and joined in, considering a possible punishment for my husband : in his next life he might well be turned into a lesbian as a result of his present lecherous desires. My husband then played a record with a lady singing about the pleasures of “déshabiller” and tried to let our friend partake by translating the text for him. However, this was not appreciated, the friend having turned serious again. Eventually we went to bed. Upstairs I heard him speak to his wife in a raised voice.

When they arrived, they brought the winter with them. When they left, it was still very cold and he said to me “presumably the warm weather will come when we are gone”. It might well be true. If he ever reads these lines, he will no doubt think of me as a Locust.


Letter written to Aldous on my Birthday

My dear Aldous,

I felt awful this morning when your wife handed me my birthday card. I recognized your handwriting from a distance and was hoping you would send me no more than “love and best wishes” which are very nice to receive, for sure.

But oh ! You addressed me as “our dear D.”, thus pricking my conscience to the quick. For me of all persons you have made the most beautiful calligraphic effort, expressing with one word that I have a place in your heart : “our”. The possessive pronoun. How lovely to be claimed ! Are you sure you want to claim me after all I have said?

Yet I could not help listening with a mischievous ear to what your wife had to say. You had been indignant apparently  about these narrow-minded doctors who see nothing but their medicine and will not listen to what chemists for example can tell them. They should bear in mind a Louis Pasteur who was a chemist ! What would medicine have done without this chemist ?

You advocate cooperation between the disciplines in a truly broadminded way. Your research has led you into the medical field – what are we but a conglomerate of chemicals ?- recognizing that we are deficient in one chemical in particular. You did find a doctor in the end willing to use your method. A report was published about somebody who was successfully treated by having this chemical administered. The whole nation now knows what our diet is short of. Much to your disgust the pharmaceutical – or is it the chemical ?- industry is cashing in on it by selling tablets containing very little of the precious element, making a good profit by forcing the public to buy lots of tablets, if they want to feel an effect.

You very kindly offer your advice to your friends. Unfortunately black ingratitude is inherent in human nature. For example you have taken steps in fighting a disease possibly connected with a lack – or was it an excess – of a chemical element in our body. There is a case of this disease in our mutual circle of friends. I heard from your wife, you have hinted to the people concerned that you might be able to help them. They did not react. You hinted again. They would not take the hint. Your wife hinted. They did not like it and hinted she should shut up, saying that they trusted their doctor who, of course, has a closed mind to extra-medical alternatives. Your wife did not understand their hints and continued. In the end she was shouted down over the telephone. Her only comfort is that I had been shouted down by the same gentleman previously and managed to stand up again. The same thing happened to someone else. We must not take these things to heart.

Also you have taken the initiative with a new disease which is possibly transmitted by saliva. You have informed the spiritual head of the church of this grave danger, asking him to think of new ways of dispensing the wine at holy communion, so as to avoid a risk of infection. You put the whole weight of your name as a scientist behind this request. Today your wife told me that you have not received as much as an acknowledgment of your letter … Of course, you can be easy : you do not take holy communion and can do no more than warn people.

Your wife also told me that people now try to minimize this risk of infection. You have apparently shown great indignation at reports in the press, according to which people have been exaggerating the situation to the point of refusing holy communion. I agree with you that one cannot be careful enough and have advized our children never to have bites out of their friends’ apples, unless they can have the first bite.

My dear Aldous ! Thank you for my lovely birthday card. I shall hang on to it as evidence against you, in case you are ever tempted to disown me.



Ae fond kiss …

Scottish Song, Poem by Robert Burns, Tune by Rory Dall's Port Title : And Then Whe Sever

I first met Nessie when I needed a medical examination for insurance purposes. He struck me from the beginning as a kind, friendly man, pleasant to look at : tall, slim, sporty, silvery hair, a keen, even piercing look from pale blue eyes which seemed to take one in; humorous, fatherly, reassuring. I liked him. After an unhurried, thorough examination  he told my husband, who was called in at the end, that I was a “very fit lady”.

His wife was most charming and invited us for their Christmas party.

I saw Nessie again at the annual dinner of a local society.

He looked very good, even handsome for his age, in a dark suit, walking about with just the right amount of self-confidence, greeting people informally, having a friendly word for everybody and bestowing considerable attention on the ladies present : he kissed them on the lips. I must have blushed, watching it all from a far corner where I was waiting for Steve. At last Nessie came up to me. I could not help giving him my nicest smile. His own smile, his lips enchanted me, and then he put these lips firmly on my hand which I had stretched out to greet him. I had never before received such a full kiss on my hand and I told Steve about it who came too late to witness the scene.

The evening was very pleasant. Nessie came once or twice to see, if we were alright – it was our first time this society – putting his hands lightly on my shoulder or even lower down … I was charmed with the friendly reception and Nessie’s attention.

I saw him next in his house when I was visiting his wife. We were in the kitchen when he came through, in a navy blue coat, ready to go out. I was pleased to see him. He said he remembered me and even called me “My Schatz”, putting his arm round my shoulders. I could have snuggled up to him closely – I was feeling so well and so much at home.

The Christmas party. Christmas Eve. The redemption of mankind. Could anything bad happen on Christmas Eve of all nights ? I did not think so.

People were standing in a crowd, pushing one another, balancing plates with delicious food. Who would notice that somebody put his arms round my waist tightly from time to time, brushed past me regularly, gave me all sorts of looks, paid all sorts of compliments, until he eventually whispered to me “I love you”.

I was overcome, happy, bewildered.

People started going home. I stood next to him as he was about to say good-bye to a lady. He told me to look away for a second and then kissed this lady. I accepted it from him, did not question his behaviour any more. When we were preparing to leave and going up to our hosts, it suddenly dawned on me that my turn had come. I could not think any more whether I wanted it or not. I was like paralyzed and without any willpower whatsoever. I heard him ask Steve to turn away for a second – it must have been a standard phrase of his – before his lips came down on mine, so soft, so gentle, so loving – it was heaven.

I felt something had happened to me.


Diary 27/12

What is love ?

Never thought about it before.

Physical love perishable – our bodies will die.

What is imperishable love ?

Why attraction between man and woman ?

I feel put to a test; agitation, riot inside me.

My mind is a battlefield : values I have held so far come under the impact of new events. I have a husband to whom I have always been faithful, like my mother and my sister to their husbands. I have a strong will. Why was I powerless, feeling limp and faint when I was given this kiss ?

Why am I attracted by him ? His appearance, his look which seems to take one in; his gestures; his kind and loving ways; his kiss (for everybody); his maturity (he could be my father).

Nessie’s impact on me was tremendous.

I was made to think about my whole attitude to life and the traditional values of our society, which had been handed down to me and accepted on authority. They were on the lines of what might be described as “puritan ethics”. My mother had told me that the first kiss was the engagement kiss, leading to marriage. In marriage you live for your husband – she certainly did so happily. Infidelity – she may not have known what the word meant, it was so far outside her horizon. Sex was never talked about. When I did have a kiss at the age of eighteen, which did not lead up to marriage (the next one did !), I remember making sure with my mother that under no circumstances could you conceive a child by a simple kiss. Asked directly, she looked at me, gave a firm “no”, which was enough to reassure me,  and the conversation was ended.

I did not miss anything nor felt unhappy. On the contrary, I felt very happy in a loving, sheltered home. I enjoyed life which seemed to come easy, had no problems, passed my exams with full marks, had lots of friends; boys kept a certain distance … I did not mind too much and anyway, I knew my future husband, far away, it is true, but he filled my heart and mind.

I had all I wanted. I became married and a reasonably devoted wife and mother. My place was, of course, at home, looking after my family. I still hold that being a housewife is a responsible job.

On the whole, things went well. After a few years, there was something I considered a minor problem in my marriage. However, life cannot be expected to be easy all the time. When we were married, we promised to stay together in good and bad times. My intention was to keep this promise.

Another man was the very last thing that could have come to my mind.

Until I met Nessie.

He was the third man in my life to kiss me. Why did he dare ?

1° He kissed a number of ladies (not all of them) – so he could kiss me without rousing suspicion.

2° He kissed in public (most of the time), people could see it and laugh at it.

3° He was visibly so much older. Surely he would be allowed a little pleasure from a charming young lady …


Diary Jan. 198..

He gave a talk yesterday to a circle of friends. I received my sixth kiss. I do not recognize myself. I lost weight lately. I have all sorts of curious physical sensations. When I think about him, I blush (I checked before a mirror). I feel waves coming up from my abdomen, filling my breasts, making my lips quiver, engulfing me altogether. When I undress to go to bed, I become strangely aware of my body. I do have a body, I can feel it with my own hands : rather small breasts, but slim hips, too; reasonably flat stomach. As I get into bed, I think about him. A tremendous shock to suddenly realize : I want to go to bed with him. I feel myself blushing in the darkness. Pete wonders why I don’t have a nightdress on.

I can only think about Nessie. What would it be like to feel his hands all over me, on my bare skin ? Sleeping is difficult.


Feb. 198..

His wife Margo’s birthday party. He was all over me from beginning to end. I felt wonderful,  well into my quiet birthday next day. Before we left, he said to me “I like your kisses” and walked off. I was at his mercy then without knowing it.


March 198..

I decided I could not go on like that and wanted to discuss things with him, unburden myself to him, tell him that I had fallen in love with him and could he please call me a silly girl. This, I felt, would cure me. I did not mind making a fool of myself – the cure would be all the more effective.

I came to his house on a beautiful Saturday morning and he was out. I tried another day and he was out again.


April 198..

I passed his house in the car just as he was crossing the road. Concorde was flying past with a deafening noise. I took his arm, put it round my shoulders and said I would rather have that than be kissed. He looked surprized, but obliged.


April 198..

Andrew’s birthday party. Many children. Nessie did conjuring tricks. He took me upstairs into his bedroom to fetch a book (they keep many books there). He put his arm round me and asked if I still did not want to be kissed. I gave up my resistance.

Margo came flying after us, upbraiding him for taking me into their “untidy bedroom”. I felt sheepish. He stayed with his wife for a while after that.

When we left, he put one arm round me and looked for another lady for the other arm – to cover himself. I could feel the pressure of his arm on my body.


May 198..

I showed him some gold coins I have. He assessed their value and told me lots of things about stamps and coins. I did not say much, just looked at him. He was able to see very small letters on the coins. I remarked about his eyes being very good. He replied “you have the most beautiful eyes”. His eyes seemed curiously cold to me once, like doll’s eyes.

I wondered what he wanted for his birthday. He did not like to tell me – it would make him blush, he said, but he would have part of his birthday present now. He kissed me for a nice long time. I was praying for a long kiss, not liking these quick pecks I sometimes got.

I always seemed to have a red face and be hot when I went there. I wanted to open the window in his room.


June 198..

His birthday. I tried to make myself look nice and went to offer up our congratulations. I was lucky to catch him in the corridor, one patient having just left and the next one not yet in. I put my arm round his neck to kiss him. He put his right hand on my breast. Afterwards I helped Margo prepare for the birthday party two days later. I left feeling happy, especially at the thought that both he and Margo – I considered them both my friends – seemed happy, too.

His birthday party. Disappointing. Too many people. He had no time for me. He looked well.


July 198..

I payed them a friendly visit. Margo went to the hairdresser’s, leaving Nessie and me in the garden to do some work – putting in seeds and young plants. Once when I stood up to stretch myself, he was behind and put his right hand onto my breasts. I did not dare move. A little later I kissed him. I do not know whether his wife saw us as she was coming back. He told me he wanted to learn my language in order to be able to follow a conference next year. I was only too delighted to offer myself as a teacher.

I asked his permission to telephone Steve to tell him I would be home later. He said “tell him you’re playing with me”, then changed his mind and made it clear that he did not want this to be said. When I left him in the evening, he made a movement with his hand towards my abdomen. I laughed it off and kissed him good-bye.


July 198..

We watched the royal wedding at their house, along with other friends. I made sure to sit next to him – his wife must have noticed it.

Some time during the morning when people were moving about, he invited me to sit on his knees. I could not accept his invitation under the circumstances.


August 198..

They were going on holiday for a fortnight. It was terrible to think he would not be within easy reach. On the morning of their departure I went past their house in the car slowly, hoping to catch sight of him. I did and we waved to one another. Members of his family must have seen it.


September 198..

I was off to attend a conference in Scotland with Margo. It was to last for a week and we had to travel by train over night. Pete and I collected Margo on the way to the station. Nessie kissed Margo good-bye and turned to me. I almost thought it was impertinent to do this in our partners’ presence. Of course it was dark.

At the conference centre I shared a room with Margo. I was so bewildered and helpless with this new event in my life – my relationship with Nessie – that I could not help broaching the subject to her. She was very willing to discuss it and informed me that many girls had fallen in love with him before; that he did not really care for women, and certainly I did not care for his wet kisses, did I ?? I kept my thoughts on that subject to myself. I suppose she did what she could to dissuade me from any kind of special relationship with him – I would be the loser in the end. She was going to take the matter in hand on our return and prevail on Nessie to stop kissing the ladies and bestowing other signs of affection on them : “so don’t be surprized, if he doesn’t hug you any more”.  Little did she know.

In passing she mentioned that she had had an affair herself with a “distinguished” man in younger years and that her husband had taken it hard. It was wonderful to be really wanted, she told me. I wondered why she could have an affair and not I. Nessie was “distinguished” enough for me.

Curiously, she lent me a book while we were there, containing a chapter on “affairs”. The author took a sympathetic view  towards married women with lovers, saying that it might do them good emotionally and make them ready to return to their husbands in the end.

I decided I wanted to put an end to my little “affair” with Nessie. Temptation was to be avoided – I did not want any more kisses.


October 198..

I saw him for the first time since my return from the conference when visiting his wife. He came out of his consulting room as I was passing. I tried to get away with a friendly handshake, but he insisted several times “is there nothing for me ?”. I just stood still without thinking, feeling, moving; spellbound, I suppose. He bent over me and kissed me, saying “that’s better”.

I spent some time with Margo who informed me that in a small family circle she had mentioned my involvement with Nessie and that they had all had a good laugh. I felt terrible and wondered what Nessie had said. Nothing, I heard.

I told her that I had discussed my problem with Steve as soon as I had returned. She was impressed and considered me lucky for having a partner who was not jealous.

In November 198.. Nessie decided to take up my offer to teach him my language. It was agreed that we should meet in his house one evening a week. He had a basic knowledge already and a number of textbooks which he kept revizing. I admired him for mustering quite a lot of energy for these studies, having an extremely active life already : always in demand for talks on a wide choice of subjects; president of a number of associations; a vast correspondence; his house most of the time full of patients spilling over into bathrooms, kitchen and garden; eleven beehives and a large garden to look after; golf, tennis and skiing in his spare time, if he had any. I understand he normally started his day between four and five am. The first patients arrived at around six am. He had a little rest during the day. Once or twice when I arrived at 8.30 pm I found him asleep on a settee in his room or in the garden.

I enjoyed these lessons very much. It meant seeing him regularly once a week. I counted my time in Wednesdays then : Thursday was the worst day of the week; Friday was busy with various things; then the weekend came and normally passed quickly; on Monday it was nearly Wednesday again … I was longing to be near him; just near him, I felt, was enough; in his house, in this atmosphere, catch a glimpse and a smile from him from time to time, make myself useful, preferably working for him.

As it was, I had achieved almost as much as I could reasonably wish for : take an hour out of his busy life and have him to myself, seated next to him, have his arm round me and the occasional kiss (I had stopped counting them), have stories told about his famous and eccentric patients throughout the world; all this pleasantly intermingled with our language studies, interrupted from time to time by the telephone ringing from America, Israel or anywhere in Europe. Margo also looked in occasionally, always without knocking – it was her house, of course. I don’t think she ever caught him with his arm round me. Nessie called her possessive and always made a point of not staying too long with me, shouting for her at the end of a lesson and for some refreshments, as he called it, which we had all together. There used to be, at least during the first year, an opportunity for a lovely big hug and an equally wonderful kiss, before we joined Margo.

Money did not come into our relationship. Being near him was reward enough for me, and he payed me back generously in other ways later on, not charging us for medical advice and care we needed several times, introducing me to beekeeping and making me a present of two beehives.

When I left his house after a lesson, he took me to the door on his own, if I was lucky, or else his wife came as well. However, it was the only chance I had once a week, so, wife or not, I kissed him heartily good-bye. I do not know what she thought. Once she had to leave us to fetch something. He took the opportunity to kiss me heavily. It made me dizzy. I had to look which side of my car the steering wheel was.

On rare occasions Margo was out when I arrived. I do not remember it ever happening in the last two years, but a few times earlier on. He did not behave differently. Of course, he could never be sure when she would be back, and there were five entrance possibilities  to the house … Once when we were having fruit on our own after the lesson, I took advantage of his wife’s absence and asked him if his invitation for me to sit on his knees was still valid. Poor man, he had to have me, willingly or not, I do not know, and a big long kiss as well. Eventually he voiced his concern about his wife coming back. I assured him I would never compromize him. Thinking about this remark of mine a little later, I wondered why he never made a reply. Was this word “compromize” really compatible with me, if he loved me ? Were we not on a different level ? And was I the only one responsible ? I had almost put it that way and he did not object.

We never seemed to have a chance really. Circumstances were against us. My partner  in our house, his wife in theirs – nothing could be done unnoticed. Yet he had said to me in the course of some translation exercize concerning daily activities “we’ll go to bed some time”, squeezing my waist most promisingly. The words were almost enough for me; I revelled in those words, went to bed with them and enjoyed myself all on my own.

Not long after, we were in a tête-à-tête following a lesson, most relaxed, kissing and cuddling some of the time. Eventually I had to take leave and he said “what a pity you can’t stay the night”.

Half a year later I came back to this, asking would we ever go to bed. “Would you like to ?” he asked back. I answered in the affirmative. He did not say anything; only when I asked again : “I couldn’t say no”.

He seemed to be cautious about saying things; certainly he did not say things directly. Margo told me his astral sign was cancer. Crabs move sideways.

He was ready to be provoked into spontaneous action, like when I sat next to him at a meeting in his house and, feeling rather warm, took off my cardigan, arching my body in what must have been a provocative movement. He came too late to help me out of my sleeve, but touched my breast with his hand instead.

They were going to Australia in the winter. The idea was almost unbearable. The whole world between us ! I found an excuse to see him in his surgery the day before their departure and kissed and hugged him to my heart’s content. He did not seem to mind and promised to send wireless messages every day. As I left him, he asked “where is Margo”,  worried that she might have seen me. As it happened, she had not. He sent me a postcard from down under which I never received. He knew to whom he had given it to be posted, he said gloomily. That was all I heard.

I had a little collection of letters from him about unimportant everyday things like language studies and beekeeping, all typed by the secretary. Sometimes he added with a biro “love” before signing it.

He never acknowledged receipt of the postcards I sent him from our holidays. One of them, in an envelope, was more like a love-letter, written in French and not signed – very uncompromizing. In addition I knew that Margo would be absent when my card was due to arrive. In a conversation later on he mentioned something I had written; I concluded that he had received it. Perhaps he was getting uncomfortable then. Yet, before we left on holiday he had assured me of his love, and I put my heart into this card.

I pointed out to him once that “I love you” in English seems to have little weight, in fact is almost non-committal. It is said much more easily than the corresponding phrases in German or French. He protested to me that he meant what he said.

He was giving a talk about love in his church once. I wrote down a few ideas I had in connection with this most burning subject; an opportunity for me to let him know what I felt, since he never discussed these things with me at all. He took the paper and I do not know whether he ever looked at it.

I found quotations about love everywhere, especially in Shakespeare, and duly let him know : Romeo and Juliet – “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.” “The more I give to thee, the more I have.” What does this sentence really hold ? A paradox in our world. But there might be a world on a different level where statements like that are relevant. He was not a person to discuss things of such a nature.

The weekly lesson did not always materialize. It happened that he cancelled it because of other commitments. I dreaded to answer the telephone on a Wednesday, fearing a cancellation. If it was, I had a good cry on our dog’s neck. Dear animal, he seemed as miserable as I myself.

Nessie was supposed to love animals. In fact an important part of his philosophy of life – if he had one – was based on this. The only animals I have ever heard him refer to with some degree of tenderness were his bees, a crowd of busy females. Any other personal

relationship did not seem to exist. I asked him, as a language exercize, to tell me something about animals. He was at a loss. I thought, surely there are animals somewhere in this long and moved life with its hundreds of stories and anecdotes. “We’re all animals” he said. I insisted “don’t you have an animal to talk about ?”. “You” he said.

He came to our house several times to look after the bees, and I was disappointed that he never attempted to stroke our beautiful, friendly dog. I would also have liked to introduce him to our cat, a cuddly, gentle, ginger tom. Once I was nursing the cat when he arrived. I thought here was my chance. But the cat knew better : he struggled free and ran away.

The one story about an animal I did hear from him at last must have been significant : A swan with feathers heavily polluted by oil was brought to him. He spent hours cleaning the bird, not realizing that he was taking off the natural grease at the same time, put the swan back into the water, and to his children’s and his own dismay the bird went down like a stone, doomed to die.

Time progressed, and I could not imagine life without Nessie any more. When he was taken seriously ill after a visit to Canada, I was driven to despair, praying and weeping in turns for days on end. I drew on all my knowledge of alternative medicine, therapies that had been successfully used in my country, but not here, and made a plan how I would treat him, if I had a chance. I realize now that I was so afraid of losing the one person from whom I might receive some vague, longed for satisfaction or fulfilment, whatever the word, I did not know of what nature this would be, that I was hanging on to him desperately. I forgot all my theoretical reasonings about the nature of love and was ready to be lost in the worst frustration of my life.

As it happened, I was saved. Nessie overcame his illness. I was allowed to be near him fairly often. There was a lot of time for language studies now, and no inconvenient patients around.

He took quite a long time to recover. I was longing to see the old fire again and waited and waited.

I was still waiting a year later, used to frequent cancellations of lessons by now.

There was one beautiful summer evening, though, flowers in the air, insects chirping, black velvet night, when he suggested we went for a swim in the pool in their garden. I had no swimming costume with me. A most tempting idea. However, I was unlucky, having my period at the time, and being old-fashioned, this prevented me from swimming. I told him I was indisposed. He did not say anything, perhaps took it as a hint from destiny, for when I came back to his suggestion once or twice afterwards, he would not hear of it any more.

He did take me to the theatre twice that summer. He and Margo used to take their friends out to the theatre. They had taken me previously. In that summer his Margo was away for two weeks, and a girl was living in, supposed to help with surgery and household. He invited both of us to the theatre; I liked to think the second girl was needed for covering purposes. It would have been impossible for him to be seen just with me. True enough, stopping at some traffic lights, there were his son and wife in the car next to us. There was even a short conversation. Nessie must have been glad for the second girl in the back of his car.

The booking had been done by the secretary who hastened to give Margo the news on her return. Nessie learnt his lesson. Next time Margo was away, he did the booking himself, telling me expressly that she did not know that I was coming along. We arrived at the theatre early and went for a walk along the river, he with a girl in either arm. His hand came right round my waist. I put mine on top of his and covered everything up with the shawl I was wearing. During the interval we went for drinks. It was hot in the crowd. Something made me talk about the liver being our warmest organ. He replied he had his hottest organs elsewhere at the moment.

I made him blush once when he was shouting into a deaf friend’s ear something to the effect that he would not know what to do without me, by answering equally loudly “he knows I love him”. Of course, the deaf friend, a few years older than Nessie, understood perfectly well and gave us a benevolent smile.

Nessie did and said most things, even and especially daring ones, openly, loudly, jokingly, in front of people. He could get away with them like that. Nobody would conceive the wrong idea, and if there was any special reference to anybody, that person would know. It was too risky to do more than a little in secret. “I would never forgive myself, if I hurt Margo”, he said to me.

I wanted badly to do something for him and at last had the idea of knitting a pullover. His wife approved – apparently he needed one. I knitted all my frustrations into that pullover and had considerable pleasure from seeing him wear it; his warmest, he claimed, and a touch prickly because out of Yorkshire wool in its most natural state.

Our relationship seemed to stagnate. Nothing happened one way or other; in fact things were drawing to an end in spite of me. Language lessons continued. I noticed he kissed me less frequently. No doubt he was slowly getting tired, perhaps even physically tired, having realized that the situation was impossible and would not bear fruit of any kind.

I was hanging on in hope – I was so much younger. I was like suspended in a state of permanent hope. I knew what I wanted and went for it without looking left or right. I was quite prepared to be patient. If I could not give him his birthday present this year, I would do it next year. He said it would be wonderful to have it. However, time was rather playing against us. I did not like to think of his age sometimes. Neither did he.

The next year came round – almost three years since I met him. He was firmly established in my life, and when I was taken quite seriously ill with an awful septic knee, he was the only one whose medical care I would have accepted. He looked after me kindly and with more than due care. I had total trust in him and recovered perfectly.

Language lessons resumed at irregular intervals. The fourth year began and even my passion began to wear off. Not without a price. He had withdrawn quietly – not a word was ever said. It was no doubt easiest for him to let things sort themselves out – gradually less, petering out, dying away, so that in the end we would be back to a most normal relationship, on friendly terms. He had had his fun; so had I. It was unreasonable to expect more.

He was right, and yet, I could feel bitterness. Had everything been in vain ? Had it all been for nothing, this longing, striving, struggling, my hope for something wonderful ? The whole of my body, all feelings I was capable of, had been engaged. Of course, nobody had asked me to do this. They were problems of my own making …


“ When shall we three meet again “ ?

I don’t know why I was nervous as I was on my way to see Margo. I had to congratulate her on her birthday which is exactly a day before mine. I knew she was bound to remember mine and therefore could not very well try and forget hers.

I had not seen her for a long time and was worried I might not know what to say. Fortunately I knew that their secretary had committed suicide. If I managed to bring up that subject, it would be enough to keep her talking.

She received me with her usual non-committal friendliness and declared her delight at the little bouquet I had brought her – tulips and daffodils, which, she explained, should never be put into the same vase together.

Nessie came in from behind – he must have seen me arrive – exclaiming that he was utterly pleased to see me. I told him I did not believe it and kissed him. He then took me round the downstairs rooms to show me all their magnificent azalias which were in full bloom as a result of Margo’s efforts. He wanted to take me upstairs to their bedroom as well, but his wife thought this not fitting and protested. He shrugged his shoulders and submitted.

Talking is no problem when Nessie is there. He volunteered the information that his secretary had committed suicide – I told them I knew already; Margo was interested to hear who from – and that they had had a lot of trouble because of that. Apparently it is a problem finding secretaries, one they had had their eyes on having “got herself pregnant”, another one being able to do it on a part-time basis only. He mentioned his book to me, and I asked him how he was getting on. Not very well, he said. But he will get a good commission, perhaps he even said : a very good one, and was expecting his publisher to come and see him. I felt terribly envious of him being so successful and dropped a hint that I was trying to write something, too. He seemed to be concerned about his own writing only and whispered to me that Margo didn’t know much about it.

He left me to her after that and she took me to the greenhouse to show me more azalias, then upstairs to her room where I was allowed to choose a Chagall postcard for my birthday. She had seen the exhibition. Did I like these paintings ? Of course, one has to relate to them, if one wants to get anything out of it. Her eyes turned dreamy as she said  “ it’s all unity; there is no duality ”. I chose the card with the chrysanthemums and a little figure flying through them rather than the farmyard one. She thought that was the one I would go for and expressed her birthday wishes for me on the back. She even put it inside an envelope. I was hoping she would not write my name on it, so that I could use it again, but she spoilt it.

Somebody knocked on the door, a tall, self-possessed, foreign looking girl smelling strongly of garlic : she must have been treated by Nessie for some chest or other complaint. She in fact seemed to have an appointment with both Nessie and Margo. She handed a parcel to Margo as a birthday present and as she was leaving to see the doctor insisted on it being opened. Margo ripped it open quickly, because the other lady appeared to be on the point of going out (she was in fact far from it) and brought to light a cardigan from Ecuador, handknitted by a vegetarian, out of angora wool which had been dyed in vegetables, onion probably, the lady thought. Margo put it on and was delighted. The sleeves looked a little tight to me, but she said it was perfect. Her foreign visitor turned out to be Italian with an English husband, having lived in Ecuador and speaking five languages fluently, this latter information given by Margo for my benefit. I felt duly insignificant – I only know three languages, one of them being my mother tongue which I speak best – in this far-travelled and talented company. This lady was also taking up a course in diary-writing – did I know anything about that ? Bearing in mind my miserable and heavily criticized attempts in this field, I could only shake my head sadly in denial. I somehow felt there was nothing interesting about me at all.

The lady definitely left now to see the doctor, and Margo received a telephone call from some dear lady who wanted a book back she had lent her a long time ago. Margo was all smiles, saying she would make an effort and people should not lend her books. The book was by C.G.Young, which reminded me of another book by this author, one I had seen recently, with the author’s photograph. All my family had been struck by the likeness between him and Nessie ! I told Margo. She received the information serenely, remarking about archetypes occurring everywhere in life, also in Chagall … The circle was closed. We had no more to say to one another.

As I went to my car, the Italian girl was in the waiting-room – was she still waiting ? Nessie never kept me waiting !- and waved to me. Maybe she was impressed by the great big Rover I was driving. According to Margo they did not have much money, not even a house of their own …


“ When the battle is lost and won “

Nothing was painful. I came into the crowded room. He was sitting on a settee at the far side, next to Margo. When he saw me, he came to me immediately with the news that he had “the book” for me. We shook hands. He did not seem to notice my reluctance concerning further greetings; so I let him kiss me. Then I followed him outside to be given the book I had asked him to get me. I explained that I had to pay him next week, not having any money on me that night. He said it was a Christmas present. Back in the room he told me about a volcano on Tenerife which had showered him with sulphur : yellow dust everywhere on body and clothes. Once he leant on me as he was explaining something.

Steve and Ron discussed ski-resorts with him, while I joined Margo who gave me the usual friendly greeting. After that we did not have much to say to one another.

Later he did a few conjuring tricks for everybody. I had seen them on previous occasions. He made a few mistakes, but always managed to make people laugh.

During the carol-singing he sat on a chair in a corner, looking tired and not happy. I felt sorry for him and gave him a smile to which he responded readily. I was glad. I think he looked at me when I was not looking.

I managed to borrow money from somebody, went up to him and offered to pay for the book. He repeated it was a Christmas present and kissed me on the cheek.

I remarked he could practise his German with the German visitor in his house, an elderly lady, Margo’s friend. He said he had no time for anything, having started writing a book, about his medicine, which had to be finished by May next year. I nearly told him I might be writing a book, too, and decided he should have a copy, if ever anything materialized. He complained about not really being able to write, even if he finds talking easy enough.

Towards the end of the evening I was standing with two men of my age by the door, telling them a little bit about the Novel à la mode. He and Margo were preparing to go. Margo came first to say good-bye. Then he came, shaking hands with me and the others. I thought that was enough, but he insisted on kissing me again. I let him, feeling slightly embarrassed, with that unpleasant taste staying for a time after.