27 September, 2011

Hungarian Musicians, Indian Curries, German Composers & “Fundamental British Values”

We’ve been away again! What an  exciting life we do lead! This time it was up to Manchester – to be more precise Hale Barns which is adjacent to Altrincham on the Cheshire border. The reason for the visit ? – our daughter, Kate, was playing in a concert and it seemed a good excuse to enjoy the concert and see the grandchildren.

The Vivaldi ensemble gets
under way
Kate plays in a string group, “The Vivaldi Ensemble” (http://www.vivaldiensemble.co.uk/),  and has done so since she moved to Manchester over ten years ago. It’s a hobby. At one stage Kate considered playing professionally but in the end decided that she would prefer to keep  her music as a hobby and a love rather than a wage earner.

Rehearsal night
I have long been of the belief that the musical (as with the sporting) health of a nation is better judged by what happens at the "grassroots" rather than in the big stadiums and concert halls. In football our stadiums are packed every week and millions watch the big named millionaires who play the game at that level. But our national team is incapable of winning anything which says much about what we are doing for our young players. And so too with music - except the opposite is true. Many of our young musicians are famous throughout the world and this reflects, I believe, the good work, fine teaching and high level of interest that is shown in the church halls and village halls of the country. And for me, especially as I get older, I find infinitely more pleasure out of watching "amateurs" play music or sport than big name professionals. In music this is especially true since most baroque music was written for the small, intimate audience - not the large concert hall. Friday night was superb example of this.

It was a lovely concert – held in the lovely Church of All Saints, Hale Barns (http://www.allsaintshalebarns.org/), the area where my daughter lives. It was  especially  enjoyable for me since it was wholly baroque music and contained one of my favourite pieces -  a little known and even less played piece by  Telemann (a contemporary of J.S. Bach and in his day more popular than Bach!). It was the Festive Suite – “Festliche Suite in A major (TWV 55A5)”. Indeed this piece opened the evening and as I sat there listening I felt a warm glow since I had brought this piece to my daughter’s attention (she didn’t know it previously) and had suggested that it would be a nice piece to play at a future concert – and there it was, so I felt a kind of "ownership"!

A picture from a few years ago
with Rudolf Botta  conducting.
The concert was in a tiny but
beautiful church in the Forest of
Bowland - north Lancashire 
We received a very warm welcome from the Vicar - Fr Clarke - and as I sat there listening it made me think. Firstly, here was the “big society” at work – local people using their own skills and enthusiasms to provide something positive for the local community – and in the process raising money for worthwhile ventures. Our PM and his Community Minister, the illustrious  erudite (I use the term loosely!) Eric Pickles – “Big Eric”, would be proud! The trouble is that we don’t need a government minister to claim it as their big idea – it’s what ordinary  people do quite naturally and have been doing so for generations! The lady who sat at the side of me - who was quite unknown to me -  turned and whispered to me in one of the breaks between movements "I was at the Bridgewater Hall last week - this is much better!"

The orchestra was founded over 40 years ago by a refugee from the Hungarian uprising in 1956 – Rudolf Botta. Botta fled his native country and settled in Manchester where he taught violin and viola at the Royal Manchester College of Music. Indeed if you “google” Botta’s name you will find a wealth of accomplished and established musicians who mention him as their mentor whist they studied at the Royal College.

Rudolf Botta set up his Vivaldi Orchestra as a vehicle for his students to play in and over the years they gradually assimilated other musicians such as my daughter. They played for charity events, in churches and the like. Botta was the archetypal middle European –  heavily accented , warm, with a sincere voice, bow tie and velvet jacket. He could have been mistaken as a maker of cuckoo clocks. A lovely, gentle old man when we knew him when my daughter first joined the orchestra . You could just imagine him as a young man playing his fiddle in some Viennese or Budapest cafe in the fading years  of the Austro-Hungarian Empire!

But with the Hungarian uprising of 1956 he fled to England – and brought his talents with him. He died in the late 1990s and  the orchestra was taken over for the next decade by his musically gifted daughter and son in law and now they too have retired. And in the last year or so my daughter and her friends from that orchestra have taken it over – now calling it the “Vivaldi Ensemble” – keeping the flame alive and still retaining the essence, feel, aspirations and ambitions of Rudolf. I hope that if Rudolf is somewhere up in the clouds playing his violin or conducting some angelic string group that he will also be listening to what is going on in south Manchester   and will approve of what they are doing in his name.  I’m sure  he will!
Saturday's Programme
cover - double click
to enlarge

And as I sat listening and thinking  I thought how much this man, this Hungarian refugee, had given to his adopted country – his musical skills which have influenced and benefitted the generations of the  talented young musicians he taught at the Royal College; the interest and opportunities and friendship that he provided for recreational musicians like my daughter; the churches and charities which have benefitted from the funds they have raised; the musical life of the locality and indeed the wider nation and the thousands of people over the years who have simply sat and listened and enjoyed – as we did on Friday night.

And I thought what a wonderful thing it is that an event in the middle of Europe - the Hungarian Uprising - half a century ago should still be having small repercussions in Manchester half a century later. I was a school boy at the time of that revolution and yet here I was, half a century later watching my own daughter take part in something that was in effect born of that far off uprising. I can vividly remember as an eleven year old looking at the black and white newspaper pictures of Russian tanks lumbering into Budapest  and each news broadcast giving the latest news. And even more vividly, I can remember one name from the period - Ferenc Puskas the great Hungarian footballer - then captain of the the greatest team in the world - Hungary. Puskas was abroad with his team at the time of the uprising and refused to go back to his homeland and there was much news comment as to whether he would be forced to return and whether his family would "get out" of troubled Hungary. As with Rudolf Botta all ended happily and Puskas found a new life in a new country and became the supreme footballer in the great Real Madrid side which dominated football for the next generation or so. Never, as an eleven year old, did I ever think that almost sixty years later I would sit in churches and village halls in and around Manchester and listen to  concerts where someone else who had been part of that uprising would be prominent in my life and would be very much part of my own daughter's life. What a very small world we have - and how intertwined we are. How dependent we are on each other - and how easily can the past return to haunt, move or touch us!

And as I sat and listened to the strains of Telemann, Corelli. Vivaldi and Handel drift through the church   I sadly thought that in this day and age, as our government cuts back on immigration into our country and increasingly requires potential immigrants to prove their usefulness, language skills and  potential economic contribution, perhaps Rudolf would not now be admitted, as an itinerant musician with no immediate job prospects! Indeed, only this morning I read in the Guardian that at the Labour Party Conference this week (and they should be ashamed)  the Party is intent on “wooing white working class voters” and  a way of doing  this, apparently, is to  “ration” housing so that “before you get something out you have to have put something in” – this, according to MP  Margaret Hodge, is the way forward.
The evening's programme -
double click to enlarge

Mmmm, presumably, if the innkeeper in Bethlehem had adopted that viewpoint then perhaps I would not have been sitting in "All Saints Church" on Friday evening.  No, no matter how much I try, I don't remember the bit in the Bible where the innkeeper turns to Joseph and Mary and says "Sorry mate, stables are rationed this year and you're new to this town. You've just wandered in on your donkey, no  money, no job prospects and I can see your wife's expecting. Typical! You're all the same you immigrants bringing your kids. We don't want your kids to become a drain on our resources - filling up school places, wanting nurseries, filling up beds in our maternity units, taking jobs from us locals. And you say that you're a carpenter - we're up to our eyes in carpenters in Bethlehem. We've got more Nazarene carpenters here than Polish plumbers. I've already had half a dozen shepherds here today - wandering around the place with a load of sheep, blocking the roads and causing traffic jams - looking for stars they said! And then just before you turned up three blokes on camels - called themselves wise men. All wanting accommodation and feeding. I ask you! Mind you these blokes were all right -camels weighed down with gold and posh scents. Servants too. Like kings they were. I reckon they were bankers, or venture capitalists - they can come any time and put some money into the town. I gave them the best dining room, threw out the ordinary punters. I asked if they'd like to put a bit of money into my business, help me expand. With this recession I can't get a bank loan. But they mumbled something about not trusting the government and King Herod in particular.  Said they were off back home - somewhere in the east they said - the minute they'd found this star. All the same these foreigners - stick together, don't mix, keep their money within  the family. No - push off you two. Go back where you came from - you've no money and no job.  Unemployment is high in the town and you'd just be three more mouths to feed - four if we include the donkey.  So, sorry, mate, on your donkey. Bethlehem for the Bethlehem residents I say. We can't subsidise immigrants with no prospects.  Get yourself a respectable job, get a bit of capital behind you, learn our ways and pass our annual 'Bethlehem Values Awareness Test' and we might consider you - but we do have a five year waiting list"

A splendid conductor and
a wonderful soloist.
No, the story went rather differently as I remember it - the town was crowded, the inn was full, but the innkeeper did what he could and provided shelter. And the rest, as they say, is history. Obviously the innkeeper wasn't a paid up member of the Bethlehem Labour or Conservative Parties.

No, and I’m glad that Ms Hodge and the present day Labour Party weren't around in 1956 when Rudolf arrived in these shores – he would have received short shrift. And had they been around in 1710 then George Frederick Handel would have been refused entry to Britain – and we would then have been denied some of the greatest of “English” music – no "Messiah" to fill our churches and concert  halls at Christmas, no "Water Music" or "Firework Music" to entertain the King and to give generations huge pleasure, no  "Coronation Anthems" that have been sung out in Westminster Abbey on  the coronation of every King and Queen of England since 1710. Old  Handel certainly hadn’t put anything into Britain when he arrived so the Labour Party (ably assisted by the Conservatives) would have given him soon seen him off. So, too, with Rudolf.

But there you go – such is progress. I have supported the ideals and passions of the Labour Party all my life – not so anymore. They, like the Conservatives, are morally and intellectually bankrupt. The government tells us that with the financial melt down we are nearly economically bankrupt and that their economic measures will rescue us. I'm afraid I'm a bit more worried about the moral bankruptcy and the government don't seem to have a plan on that!

The ladies of the strings! Kate is
fifth from the left, under the Cross
And over the weekend I  read the latest “Professional Standards” being imposed on teachers by  our government. I read that a new imposition is that teachers must (rightly) “uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school”. And how does the government in general and Michael Gove in particular envisage them doing this?  Wait for it....by  “ not undermining fundamental British values.....” . And I wonder what these “fundamental British values” are – and did Rudolf have them? Did Telemann? – after all he was a German and we have fought two great wars against his country and its values in the last century. Or what of Corelli or Handel or Vivaldi  after whom the orchestra is named – did they have the “fundamental British values” which are so important to Mr Pickles, Mr Gove and Mr Cameron? And are these the same "British values" that prompted the recent riots? Are they the same "British values" that I see on my local High Street as the pubs turn out? Are these the same “values” that encouraged many of our MPs to fiddle their expenses a year or two ago? Are these the same “British values" that for years motivated the hatred in Northern Ireland from the likes of the awful, hate filled Ian Paisley? Or just this last week or two we have followed the story of a group of gypsies being evicted from their homes in Basildon Essex. With real irony Basildon is the adjoining constituency to that of our Communities Minister, Eric Pickles - the man whose ministerial brief it is to develop and foster "good" communities and community spirit. I've noticed that Eric has been strangely quiet on this one and I wonder how this squares with our "British" value of "individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs".  I could go on – I’m sure that you get the gist.

Wine at the interval - the vicar said
he would ring the church bell at the
end of the interval.
I don’t object to the espousal of the values suggested, they are laudable and worthwhile  – they include  “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.....” but to describe them as “British” is, I believe, potentially insulting to other nations and beliefs. It implies that others - the French, the Germans, the Americans, the Hindu, the Sikh, the Jew or the Indian - may not possess these values and that French values or American values or Indian values may somehow be less worthy than our "British" values. Did Rudolf have "British" values? Did Handel?  Is our valuation of “democracy” better, more sincere than that of our friends from the USA – I think that many in the US might contest that. And if these values are so very "British" my mother was clearly wired differently – she had no time and was totally intolerant of Roman Catholic people, the Irish or people from ethnic minorities – but she was clearly “British”. And if one of our "fundamental British values" is "mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths" why is that the 1701 Act of Settlement  prohibits a Catholic or anyone who marries a Catholic from ascending the throne of England? Not much tolerance and mutual respect there. And, anyway, our Queen is of Germanic stock and the Duke of Edinburgh is of Greek background - do they have these "fundamental British values"? I find it quite hard to believe that as "outsiders" they could be quite so tolerant and mutually respectful as us "real Brits" - and especially the "white working class voters" that Ms Hodge and the Labour Party want to appeal to!

No, the notion of value and value systems is fraught with philosophical difficulties. In relation to the "British" values that teachers are required to display a number of points can be made. Firstly, are they "British" in the sense that every British person subscribes to them? That manifestly is not so and to insist that it should be so is to promote the totalitarian state. Are they "British" values in the sense that in order to be recognised as "British" in law or otherwise you have to subscribe to them? Clearly, for the reason given above this cannot be and our history and current news is filled with example of people (like Ian Paisley, my mother and the local council in Basildon) who clearly do not subscribe to some of them - so using that interpretation they cannot be considered  "British". Or, are they "British" in the sense that these values are inherently "British" - that we as a nation are born with them and other nations may not be. A kind of genetic inheritance that ensures that we all subscribe to this value system? I think not. No, the whole notion is unhelpful, wrong and downright dangerous. It is the same thinking that underpinned Hitler's Third Reich, promised a "thousand year Reich" and littered the pages of Mein Kampfe"

Eleanor was so engrossed she
left her seat to get closer!
No, I’m quite happy to expect aspiring teachers to engender and cultivate certain values agreed by society - indeed it is cornerstone of the teacher's professional role and always has been. But to confuse them with any "Britishness"  is simple prejudice and jingoistic flag waving quasi-patriotism. It is only a short step from that to the growth of societies such that which  developed in Germany in the 1930s where a society believes it has the monopoly on righteousness and superiority over others. And we all know where that led. 

And as I listened to the concert and thought what a lot this “immigrant musician", Rudolf Botta gave to our country – and still gives a decade after his death - I thought what shallow and worrying view of life our political masters have.  If those  people, who like me,  sat in the audience quietly appreciating the wonderful music in ten years time “google” David Cameron or Margaret Hodge, or Michael Gove, or Eric Pickles will they be directed to many young people all praising them for their individual contribution to their life  and skills – as I did when I “googled” Rudolf? I think not.

The Ensemble received a very warm round of applause at the end of the concert, some enthusiastic and obviously sincere thanks from the Vicar and as we all trooped out it was plain from the comments of the departing audience that the experience had been  enjoyed, memorable and, I believe, uplifting. My only complaint? In a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, where everything has a cost, Fr Clarke could probably have charged a bit more and made a few more quid for his church. No-one would have objected!

Sophie  in her Sari
A lovely evening . And as Pat and I sat listening with Kate’s two daughters (Sophie and Eleanor), our grand children,  sitting entranced alongside I thought I’d much rather my grandchildren soaked up the values of old Rudolf than some nebulous and questionable piece of patriotic jingoism set out in the “Teachers’ Professional Standards”.  I’m so glad that I am no longer engaged in teacher education and working with newly qualified teachers.  I’m afraid that would have been one step too far for me to  make judgements about how far  my young aspiring entrants to the profession  were successfully  displaying “fundamental British values” – it has a ring of the totalitarian state about it.

And Eleanor  in hers
And with wonderful symmetry, on Saturday evening we all sat down for a family meal together – Kate, Andrew, Sophie, Eleanor, Pat and me. And our meal? It was provided by Mrs Shah -  a friend of my daughter’s - who helps the local children’s hospice by cooking Indian cuisine and selling as take away meals and the like. So we enjoyed a wonderful selection of real, home made, genuine Indian curries and supported the local charity at the same time. But in doing so did we have these core British values? Should we have been eating roast beef and Yorkshire pudding?  Does Mrs Shah have these values? – I mean, perhaps she wears a Sari – indeed, I think that she does . My daughter tells me that she has run courses at the local school where my grandchildren attend on “how to wrap and wear a Sari”. She has run PTA meetings for parents on Indian cuisine and culture.
And Kate in hers!

And another Pakistani  friend of my daughter’s passed on two beautiful children’s Saris to my grandchildren – they wore them when we all went away to a hotel recently and attracted many compliments  from other guests. In giving the girls these Sari’s was the lady displaying “British” values? All very confusing who is British and who has these nebulous values. I think I’ll stick to the values I know – a bit of Hungarian mixed in with a bit of Indian and stirred with a bit of "British" prejudice! (but would it be Scottish? Welsh?  Irish? English prejudice?).

What I know is that I don’t  support the sort of values envisaged by Eric Pickles, Margaret Hodge, Michael Gove and David Cameron et al – they will be jingoistic, shallow and questionable – and certainly not “values” – and...... by attaching the word “British” they become pure prejudice, stark and simple.

20 September, 2011

Smoke - And Other Things - Gets In Your Eyes!

Jim enjoys his choices!
We’ve been away for the weekend. Down to the Thames Valley to stay with our son and his family in Twyford, near Maidenhead. Apart from the opportunity to visit them and see the grandchildren there was another reason. Our daughter in law’s father, Jim, is celebrating his 80th birthday this week and was having a meal to celebrate the event – and we were invited. So on Saturday evening we all went off to the home of one of his other daughters for a lovely evening, good company, a wonderful meal.........and something a little different - a short CD with eight records that Jim had chosen as a sort of record of his life. Pieces he had enjoyed over his 80 years and which meant something to him. And, as an added bonus for Jim the CD had been put together and a splendid commentary added by his eleven year old grandson - Daniel - a very personal touch.

A pensive Jim! Too much red wine?
I don’t know if the pieces that Jim chose were his all time favourites but, for whatever reason, they all meant something to him. I like that. Jim’s eight pieces perhaps reflected his age and the times through which he has lived – as they would with us all. Amongst the pieces we enjoyed one was by the chart topping 1950’s trumpeter Eddie Calvert “Oh Mein Papa”; we listened to the wonderful “Master of the House” from “Les Mis”; Jim remembered his time as a young man playing in a brass band when we listened to the “Punchinello March” and we listened to the glorious “Radetsky March” by Strauss. Apart from passing a pleasant half hour between meal courses the idea generated much comment and discussion – and it got me thinking: what would I choose?
Daughter 1 - Hilary with husband Ian

Of course, it is all reminiscent of the long running radio programme “Desert Island Discs” which for seventy years or so has been doing the same thing with famous people – asking them to name the eight pieces of music they would have with them if stranded on a desert island. And in between each piece the subject of the programme explains their significance and talks a little about their life.

Daughter 2 - Ruth
(our daughter  in law) and husband John
But what would I choose? My wife often says that it would be no good me appearing on “Desert Island Discs” because I would be boring and choose a selection completely of the music of Bach. Well that may be true, but I don’t think so. Certainly if I was choosing my favourite music it might well be all Bach. But I could equally choose eight pieces of popular music rather than eight classical pieces. And, in any case I’m not sure that the issue is about favourite music – it’s about pieces that have some significance for you. Additionally, although classical music is my love, I’m sure that for me (and, I might argue, for most other people) the sort of music that defines a life and its experiences and events is inevitably coloured by the society in which someone has grown and lived – and this often means the world of popular, everyday music – for that is what most people experience on a daily basis. But what would I choose? It’s certainly difficult to get it down to eight! For every one included there are many left out. But here goes!
Daughter 3 - Angela with husband Martin

First off would be Charles Penrose’s 1922 recording of “The Laughing Policeman”! It brings back so many memories of childhood. I didn’t have a particularly happy childhood - there were too many rows between my mother and dad - but one of the few bright spots was my Auntie Edna – “Nenny” as I called her and continued to do so till the day she died just a few years ago.
Nenny always enjoyed a laugh!

Nenny was a no-nonsense Lancashire Lass - a cotton weaver – always ready to enjoy a glass of beer and a good time. Anyone who has read my blogs before will recognise her from my blog “A night in with Klever Kaff” and how Nenny, quite without intention, was a major formative influence in my love of classical music – although she never knew it. She often told me stories as a child and a teenager of her escapades during the war when she was a young woman – sneaking out at night and putting on make up to go to the dance, drawing lines down the back of her legs with gravy powder to make it look as if she was wearing seamed stockings! It all seemed exciting and slightly rebellious. Her love then and for the rest of her life was unconditional. What you saw was what you got with Nenny and for her part she saw good in everyone. When I was a child she had an old wind up gramophone with a huge great horn on it – I played with the thing for hours.Putting on old 78 records, changing the needle to get a better sound. And amongst her records was “The Laughing Policeman”.


Charles Penrose - the laughing policeman
“I know a fat ole policeman, he’s always on our street
A fat old, jolly red-faced man, he really is a treat
He’s too fine for a policeman, he’s never known to frown
And everybody says he is the happiest man in town
Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho,..............................
He laughs upon his duty, he laughs upon his beat
He laughs at everybody when he’s walking in the street
He never can stop laughing, he says he'd never tried
But once he did arrest a man and laughed until he died
Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho,..............................”


Whenever it came on and Penrose began his uncontrollable manic laughter Nenny too would be reduced to fits of unstoppable laughter, tears would run down her cheek – and even as an old woman – if ever it came on the radio she would cry with laughter again. Wonderful. To me it brings back all my happy memories of my favourite Auntie.
And my second choice? A strange one – but again very evocative for me and very much one of my life’s markers. The street on which I lived had, at the top, a very large Roman Catholic Church – St Joseph’s. The church had a huge garden with lawn large enough for a small football match. Most of my friends were Roman Catholic and would, in the summer holidays, go to play football on the Church lawn. The young priests who lived and worked at the Church often joined in. On days when my mother was at work (I was about 10 or 11 at the time) I would join my friends. I was terrified lest my mother found out – she was very anti-Roman Catholic so I felt almost that I was committing a cardinal sin by venturing into the garden! It sounds stupid now, but I can remember at the time having a very real fear that some thunderbolt from heaven would strike me as punishment for entering this mysterious world, which as far as my mother was concerned was akin to Satanism! I never told my mother – the repercussions would have been too painful, there would have been rows and tears! In the Church garden were some old brick outbuildings – places for garden tools, old disused church impedimenta and the like. If the weather was bad we would often play in these buildings – hide and seek, look for treasure, talk football and the like. And we found an old wind up gramophone and a single record! We played that record over and over again! Looking back the song was dreadful – but it became ingrained on my mind and the whole experience part of my growing up. Even today it speaks of my mother’s intolerance, of the fear of my getting caught by her and equally of the exciting things we did on those long summer afternoons. And the record? - I can still remember every single word of “The Hand That Wore the Velvet Glove”:
Jimmy "Schnozzle" Durante

“Last night as I was strolling by,
There on the ground I found a velvet glove,
Whose can it be, and where is she,
Oh where is she,
The hand that wore the velvet glove........”

At this point my memory has perhaps played tricks. I have always firmly believed (and still do) that it was sung by Jimmy Durante  but on researching this blog I can find no record of a recording by “Schnozzle”. It was certainly recorded by many singers of that generation but which one I may never know.
My all time favourite

Number three. Easy. The one song that would probably be included if I was compiling a list of my eight favourite pieces. Perhaps the one piece of popular music that might take precedence over Bach. The Platters singing “Smoke gets In Your Eyes”. The 1958 recording by the Platters of this 1933 song which has been recorded by so many artists over the years is still the definitive version. I first heard it when I was becoming a teenager – Bill Haley had toured Britain, Elvis was the new teenage heart throb – pop music was here! Buddy Holly, the Everley Brothers and Eddie Cochran would become my favourites – but the Platters seemed to be the key to it all for me. In 1955 "The Great Pretender" was  the act's biggest R&B hit, with an 11-week run at the top. In 1956, The Platters appeared in the first major film based around rock and roll, "Rock Around The Clock", and performed both "Only You" and "The Great Pretender". And in 1958 came "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" - I need only listen to the first few bars and I am transported back to those days – girls who looked like real girls in proper frocks and with bouffant hair styles, me and my friends with brylcreamed hair, drainpipe trousers and slim jim ties, a world of coffee bars and teddy boys; rock and roll was here and the world seemed new and exciting. The notion of as “teenager” with it's own music, styles, fashions and language was becoming part of the culture and I was a teenager - I was growing up.
Definitive musicians and iconic LP cover

And the next one? Almost the exact opposite of the Platters – this one would very definitely not feature in my favourites but it is so evocative of a time and place. What is it? The Beatles' - “Norwegian Wood”. Not by any means one of the greatest of the Beatles' repertoire and certainly a long way down my list of Beatles' favourites. By the time I went to teacher training college in the mid sixties the Beatles, the Stones, the Liverpool sound and the Swinging Sixties were at full throttle - it was my generation's "time". “Norwegian Wood” with John Lennon’s nasal, plaintive voice and George Harrison’s sitar backing was so often the background music as we played the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” LP on my little Dansette record player in my room at college. Ask me to name one track on the LP and I know that “Norwegian Wood” is there – the rest I would have to guess. As I say, not even a favourite but seemed to be the background  for my college life, the sixties and for Pat and I as we became “an item” (what an awful phrase!).Within two or three years we would be married and "Norwegian Wood" seems to me to speak of the confidence that we had  at the time - everything seemed possible, the Beatle generation were, it seemed, rulers of the world, and we were part of it!
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel - the voices of a generation

Number five? - Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. I’m a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel and in the great scheme of things this is not one of my favourites – but it is a marker. When Pat and I married we seemed to spend every holiday decorating our new house. We had little money and whenever I listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” I’m immediately back up a step ladder in our hall in the early 70s putting rolls of orange striped wallpaper onto our walls. The little stereo system we had at the time blaring out in the background and Pat and I singing along as we slapped on the paint and the wallpaper glue! We were establishing ourselves and our young family!
Pat (in 1970's mini skirt!) and the orange striped wallpaper!

Three quarters of the way there now. Number six is, like one of Jim’s selections, a piece from “Les Mis” . Not “Master of the House” (although a personal favourite) but “Do You Hear The People Sing”. Two reasons, two memories for this. For several years we joined with Pat’s family at New Year and each New Year’s Eve went up to London to see a show – “Cats”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Les Mis”, “Miss Saigon”.............and many more. For me “Do You Hear The People Sing” is the essence of “Les Mis” and brings back memories of those New Year trips to London – going up to London at tea time, walking back through the centre at midnight, getting back to Pat’s parents’ house in Kent for a very late supper and welcoming the New Year in. The kids were teenagers and loved the excitement of the crowded West End – I found it all a bit noisy and threatening but enjoyable for all that. And the second reason for choosing this? At about the same time as we were making these New Year trips to the theatre we began to go abroad for our holidays – more specifically, we began to take the car abroad. I loved driving on the continent and especially in France. Whenever we drove through France it would not be long before “Les Mis” was put into the cassette player. I can still feel the wind on my face as we drove through the idyllic Loire countryside one hot Saturday afternoon with “Do You Hear The people Sing” filling the car. Alsace, Brittany, Beaune, Normandy ...... wherever we went “Les Mis” seemed to go with us! “Les Mis” still appears on my i-pod with regularity!
"Do you hear the people sing,
It is the song of angry men,
It's the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again..."
Number seven is easy – very much a favourite and one which I often find myself putting on when I’m driving. What is it? Dire Straits singing “Telegraph Road”. Listening to the words of Mark Knopfler’s darkly prophetic lyrics it seems today in 2011 even more pertinent than when it was written in the early 80’s at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s “slash and burn” policy with the British economy and industry. But it’s not for that reason that it is on my list – although that is good enough reason. No, it’s in because of Friday tea times. In the late 80’s Kate our daughter was doing her A levels – one of which was music and on Friday nights I would pick her up from college together with her cello. We had a little Ford Fiesta and the cello took up most of the space but at the height of the rush hour we would hurtle round Nottingham ring road looking forward to getting home to the fish and chip tea that Pat would cook for us. And as we hurtled through the traffic or sat in the traffic jam Dire Straits – and especially “Telegraph Road” would blast out of the little speakers. At over 14 minutes long the song would take up much of the journey home – but so evocative:

“.........And my radio says tonight it's gonna freeze
People driving home from the factories
Six lanes of traffic
Three lanes moving slow ......
I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
Yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the telegraph road........”

And for me, my family were growing up – Kate would soon go off to University never to return home as she set up her own life and family in Manchester – but Dire Straits were so much part of that time and I know that if she reads this blog she will remember those drives too.
Mark Knopfler in his Dire Straits days

And to show what a creature of habit I am – when Kate and I got home each Friday evening having had a blast of Dire Straits I would put on the stereo and for the next half hour or so we would enjoy tea whilst listening to the glorious sound of the greatest exponents of Mozart’s piano music, Vladimir Ashkenazy, playing the greatest of Mozart’s Piano concerti - “Piano Concerto number 23 (K488)”. This would undoubtedly be in my list of eight classical favourites – even at the expense of Bach. As too would a piece of Telemann – the “Trumpet Concerto in D major” the first movement (the adagio) of which Kate and I walked down the aisle to when she got married – but that’s for another blog and another list!

And so to the last! Again there are two reasons for choosing it. The song? – Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes” The song is inspired by the fact that Clapton never met his father and refers also to the brief life of Clapton's son Conor, who died at age four after falling from an apartment window. "In it I tried to describe the parallel between looking through the eyes of my son, and the eyes of the father that I never met,” said Clapton in his autobiography. "My Father's Eyes" describes how Clapton wishes he knew his father. When I read Clapton’s autobiography a few years ago I was impressed and could relate to a lot of what he said about his father. For me, I felt a little the same way about my own father. Although he only died a few years ago, for a variety of reasons I wish we had known each other better. He was a long distance lorry driver and as a child I saw relatively little of him and when I did, the house was too often filled with angry rows always sparked off by my mother who was a very unbending person. Dad just took it, did what he was told, cleaned the house, cooked the weekend meals, never retaliated, took my mother's anger  and brought home the weekly pay packet - he was Mr Reliable. I always felt so sorry for him but dare not take his side. Had I done so my mother’s fury would have known no bounds and as he was on the road for much of each week it was mother who I lived with for most of the time. Sadly, I never really built up the father son relationship which I so much craved – there was always a barrier, the all pervading presence of my mother. By the time I did – once my mother died – he was an  old, ill man, and one of my life’s great regrets is that we had so little time to develop that relationship. But, on the brighter side and as I get older I have absolutely no doubt that I am becoming my father and seeing the world more and more through his eyes. Each day when I look into the shaving mirror my father peers back at me, I find myself saying the same things he did, I am increasingly using his mannerisms and believing what he believed!  Clapton touched a nerve here and was absolutely right. Eric Clapton has recorded many more famous songs than this – but for me it is very evocative and personal – and reflecting his lyrics, I can’t listen to it without thinking of my relationship with my father and the sort of relationship I have tried to have with my own son - and to my embarrassment what I am increasingly becoming!
Eric Clapton - rock star,world class guitarist
and  now musical elder statesman

“.....And I hear those ancient lullabies.
And as I watch this seedling grow,
Feel my heart start to overflow.
Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Bit by bit, I've realized
That's when I need them,
That's when I need my father's eyes.......”

And, to add to all this, when I read in Clapton’s autobiography that he lives very close to where my son now lives, I have to say that when we travel down to the Thames Valley to visit (as we did this weekend) it’s not uncommon for Eric Clapton to float out of the car’s CD player as we drive down the A404 towards Marlow!

So that’s it – my eight pieces. Personal, not necessarily my favourites but simply pieces that have a meaning for me and reflect, I feel, my 60 odd years on the planet! On the radio show “Desert Island Discs” the guest has to choose just one out of the eight as the one they would take with them if forced to. I would find that amazingly difficult – Dire Straits and Clapton would be neck and neck and probably because I couldn’t choose between them I would instead go for The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – one of the songs that heralded the music of my generation and of early rock and roll. It took me from childhood to young adult.  And, might I add, when it comes to my eightieth birthday and I decide to follow Jim’s example, I know that my children’s eyes will glaze over (not with admiration!) when I force them to listen politely to my eight choices – and especially the wonderful vocals of the Platters – but then again, I just think it’s another example of me (like Jim) wanting to ensure that my children enjoy, understand and appreciate the finer things of life – as surely my eight records (and Jim's) are!

10 September, 2011

"Stuff Happens"............9/11 Ten Years After

This is not the blog I intended to write this week – events have somewhat overtaken me and, as often happens, I read things, watch the news and something  becomes of greater importance!

For the past few days our newspapers and TV news have been full of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack in New York. What seem to be constant replays of the attack on the twin towers and of New Yorkers fleeing for their lives have been the staple diet of each news broadcast and any number of dedicated programmes. The events have been analysed, put into the context of the past decade, reviewed and explained. As the anniversary approaches we have had warnings that there might be other attacks this 9/11  so security is being ramped up across the world, but especially, of course, in New York.
One of the iconic 
images of 9/11

The events of 9/11, whatever one’s views on them, undeniably altered world opinion and understanding. A whole new vocabulary was born, we all became familiar with people, places and ideas that prior to that day were largely irrelevant to the man in the street – Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, war on terror, Bin Laden, Taliban, al  Qaeda, CIA, Muslim extremist, suicide bomber........... The list is endless. We have all had to learn a different way of life – walk through any shopping mall and put down your bags for a few moments and you are likely to be confronted by security; we now have to turn up at the airport many hours before a flight to navigate the security requirements; people of different cultures now view each other (sadly) with some measure of circumspection, we have all become used to every few months being told “there is a credible threat” and security is being increased. We now all, I believe, view the world very differently and in doing so, it seems to me, we have become  more suspicious of our fellow humans, more cynical of governments (of every hue), more openly aggressive and at the same time more fearful  – and, consequently,  I believe, less tolerant.
And another

At the same time  as the  9/11 anniversary has been grabbing more and more of the headlines we have also in the UK had the release of an official report into the “violent and cowardly abuse” by British soldiers which led to the death of an Iraqi detainee – Baha Mousa - who was being held in custody in 2003. The report, found that troops from 1st Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment inflicted "gratuitous" violence on a group of Iraqi civilians, who were kicked and hit in turn, "causing them to emit groans and other noises and thereby playing them like musical instruments". This humiliating practice was nicknamed "the choir”.


I have no intention of commenting upon the particular factors or the guilt or otherwise of the soldiers or the detainees involved. I do not know enough about it. I did, however, watch with horror news footage last night showing prisoners in Iraq (and I assume other places) who were routinely tied up with what appeared to be electrical ties and had sacks put over their head. The report commented that “the  detainees were kept handcuffed, hooded and in stress positions in extreme heat and conditions of some squalor, which  was prohibited under the Geneva conventions and was  unjustified and wholly unacceptable". 

"Oh, don't I look grand" -
Gen. Sir Peter Wall and his gold tassels.
Do you think he is trying to impress
or pull the tassels over our eyes?
And after the news item we were treated to an army general –  Sir Peter Wall - all dressed up in his clown’s costume with enough gold braid dangling from his chest to make him look like a middle aged transvestite lap dancer sporting nipple tassels. He assured us that the army had “learned lessons” since these events took place. Well maybe - but I think  I'd be more likely to believe the transvestite lap dancer! Anyway,  we can all sleep easy in our beds knowing that our brave lads and their gold covered commanders have learned their lessons. We’ve all said sorry and it won’t happen again – the moral compass of the nation is back on course: Army 1 - Transvestite Lap Dancers 0! It's good to know that the army are behind us.

 But I’m afraid for me it isn’t. I have a number of major anxieties.

The British army at work -
but "we have learned lessons" 
and we
are professionals!
Firstly, the regiment was the Queen’s Lancashire regiment – I do not blame them specifically it could have been any regiment anywhere. We have read  similar stories of abuse being perpetrated by others within the British army and within American forces over the past ten years. But, the Queen’s Lancashire regiment are the direct descendents of the regiment that my grandfather fought with in the Great War. He was not a professional soldier but a conscript. He would have been horrified at the abuse and torture meted out in his name. I blogged about him and his war injuries in February this year(http://arbeale.blogspot.com).   It saddened me – indeed angered me – that those wearing the Lancashire uniform today do not have the ideals which, I believe,  people of his generation had.

And secondly – and following from the first point. My grandfather – like millions of soldiers in the Great War and the Second World War - were conscripts. They were drafted in to fight. Many joined willingly, seeing it as their duty. Others, perhaps less so but they had no choice – they were “called up”. In that situation one can easily understand that tough discipline might be necessary to whip these conscripts into shape and to turn “butchers bakers and candlestick makers” into fighting men, capable of unquestioningly accepting and  carrying out orders. It might also be understood when these men behaved badly – they were not professionals, they didn’t want to be there anyway. But today this is not the case. We, allegedly have a "professional" army – filled with people who have opted to become soldiers – no compulsion. Many, I am sure, see this as  service to their country. Others may have joined because they liked the thought of an action filled life. And others might have joined because it  promised  a career perhaps not available so easily in the outside world. But, whatever the reason, they have joined willingly and so should easily be able to subscribe to the customs and requirements of the army. But apparently not - given what we have seen on our TV screens.
General Dannatt - 
seems an honest guy - 
but like Sir Peter, 
loves his tassels
and for me raises 
questions.


The point that I make above was perhaps reinforced a few months ago by General Lord Dannett, the head of the British army until he retired in 2009. A few months ago he caused a stir when he commented that the Army must provide a moral education for its recruits. Lord Dannatt said that many members of the forces had "chaotic backgrounds" and had not been exposed to "traditional values". He said a lack of respect for others could lead to outrages such as the abuse of Iraqi civilians. Dannatt went on to say that it was vital that servicemen and women be taught what he called the "core values" of courage, integrity, respect, loyalty, discipline and selfless commitment and  suggested that members of the Army should undertake a refresher course in those values as part of their annual training tests. "If there isn't a moral basis then frankly the whole of life is baseless and has no fixed starting point," he said, "so we feel it's a legitimate thing to do to train people in having a moral baseline." Respect for others, he added, was "almost the most important" of the values which members of the Armed Forces were taught.Without it, he warned, "that's when you're into bullying or abusing Iraqi citizens".

Mmmm! I have to agree completely with his comments. But they beg a number of questions - most obviously who we are recruiting onto the armed services. Are we recruiting anyone we can get? Are people without these "core values" not weeded out in the initial selection process? Are we back to the situation where people were just recruited/enlisted as "cannon fodder"?  It seems to me to somewhat negate the term "professional" army - certainly by any definition of "professional" that I understand (apart from the obvious one of being paid for their work). And, most importantly for me, it seems to confirm a somewhat bizarre situation.  We appear to have an army involved in actions to preserve and maintain our way of live and our society's values against those who would attack them  and at the same time be actively striving to ensure, impose or establish these values on other societies such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet many of the people most actively involved apparently do not necessarily subscribe to these values, have to be taught them and have to be sent on refresher courses to remind them and ensure that they have a "moral baseline". I suppose an analogy would be that the police run recruiting campaigns in our prisons and then run courses for ex-inmates to ensure they are on the straight and narrow and professional bobbies! 

And I'm another good chap
my name is General Haig.
Some unkind people
 call me Butcher Haig
because  I caused 2 million
 casualties in the Great War.
I'm so sorry about Tony's
granddad being a casualty -
but we "learned our lessons"
and anyway, "stuff happens" 
Given this situation I suppose the violence and abuse makes some kind of perverted sense!  Our defence secretary, Liam Fox tells us that:  "There is no place in our armed forces for the mistreatment of detainees and there is no place for a perverted sense of loyalty that turns a blind eye to wrongdoing or erects a wall of silence to cover it up." Well, “Amen” to that but I’m afraid that I increasingly despair when even the very people who are trained and supposed to uphold our “freedoms” and “values” and protect them from those who would take them from us do themselves the very things which we despise in our alleged “enemies”. In short, we condemn regimes like that of Gadaffi or Saddam Hussein and call them undemocratic and brutal. We point the finger at groups like the Taliban or Al Qaeda but we then discover that at the highest level we have been dealing with these bodies, we have been passing over suspects for interrogation, we have shaken hands and greeted them (as did Blair with Colonel Gaddafi) for “coming in out of the cold” – and at the lower level our “professional” soldiers behave in the same way that we might expect these “enemies of democracy” to behave. In the final analysis one can talk about the Geneva Convention, of “perverted sense of loyalty” or “wrongdoing”, of “learning lessons” or “violent and cowardly abuse” but in the end it all seems to be to be about common humanity. What was actually going through the minds of these people as they put sacks over the heads of other human beings? Are people that are as callous and inhuman as this capable of “learning lessons” or changing their personality on a refresher course!. Did not some small alarm bell ring in their minds that this was not acceptable behaviour for one human being to another – and if it did not can we really say that we have a “professional” army and that “lessons have been learned”. If we have to introduce new rules and run training courses for soldiers to advise them what is appropriate and humane then I fear for the alleged “professionalism” of our military.

But, as I say,  just like the nodding donkies sent people like my grandfather “over the top” from the trenches in 1914   the man in the funny suit and the gold braid says that “lessons have been learned”. We shall see.

But  I  have other worries. As I  listened on the news broadcast  an articulate young Muslim talked of the fear that stalks the streets for people like him in  many parts of America (and in Britain too). By coincidence on the same day this week into my e-mail inbox came mail drop reminding me to visit the “My Fellow American” web site (http://myfellowamerican.us/)   and which I referred to in my blog “You never ask questions when God’s on your side” - http://arbeale.blogspot.com – (July 2011). And I am again even more convinced that a major “fall out” from 9/11 is that we have all become less tolerant and more brutal – whether it be putting sacks over the heads of fellow human beings in a prison cell in Iraq, whether it be demonising people of a different culture to our own or whether it be simply accepting that guns on the street and random searches are the price we must, it seems, pay for our “freedom”.

Sage, philosopher, political
heavyweight and master of
the insightful comment.
 A man who tells it
as it is - if only Donald
knew what it is!
You may (and many will) accuse me of being a “bleeding heart liberal” or a “leftie” or “an idealist”. You might say I should get out more or get into the real world - it’s a tough place, hard decisions have to be made you might say – as that great thinker and  political philosopher Donald Rumsfeld reminded us so succinctly and perceptively  a few years ago, “Stuff happens”.  And I would plead guilty to these charges and I would remind you that the whole point (if there is one) of the war on terror or the Great War or the Second World War is that they were fought to preserve our society’s many values – not least democracy, humanity, liberalism, idealism, kindness, freedom to worship....... .   If I cannot have the “right” to be a liberal or an idealist or to worship in my own way then what is the point of our democratic societies or the war on terror?

And all these thoughts have crashed into my mind  as we run up to 9/11 and see the old footage and the latest news. As I watched last night’s news footage I saw the streets of  New York being watched over by men with guns. I saw what appeared to be hundreds of police cars moving in high profile convoys through the streets. I saw random stop and search operations being undertaken. All, I am sure, perfectly acceptable and required – but what a monstrous society we have created. It is the culture of the world we now inhabit and accept. It all reminds me of the famously ominous Orwellian phrase from "1984" - "War is peace".
Orwell forecast it in 1984
(book written in 1949).
How right he was - on
so many things

But all of this came together and was put into perspective and sharp contrast  today when two things happened. One was skimming through some old photographs whilst doing a bit of housekeeping on my computer and the other was reading a book.

The first concerned my daughter, who, when she was at university some twenty years ago spent six months working, as part of her foreign language course, in Germany (Stuttgart). We had German friends who lived near Stuttgart and they kindly offered to let her stay with them which she did. On the first weekend she was there she went out for a walk around the village where they lived and after some time came to some allotments. The path went through the allotments but she was a little uncertain as to whether she should take it so, in stumbling German, she asked an elderly man who was digging his allotment. He smiled and in perfect English, with a welsh accent, replied that yes of course she should take the path! He explained that he had been a German prisoner of war during in the Second World War and had spent several years England and Wales doing farm work as a prisoner. He had been treated very kindly by his captors and made many friends and still regularly visited the farm and the family with whom he was billeted.
Pat and I (on the left) enjoying
 the hospitality of Willi Durr (centre)
 and his family -wife Gretle
 and sons Thomas and Heinrich
From that day onwards my daughter and Willi became firm friends – he insisted on her coming each Sunday for lunch with his family; whenever my wife and I visited we too were welcomed into his house – he was a wonderful man and, like our friends in Stuttgart, someone who we knew our daughter could turn to for help if needed while she was in Germany. He proudly showed us around his city, took us his favourite bierkellers and each time we visited gave us a flagon of his home made kirsch made from the fruits of his allotment and so powerful it was almost  guaranteed to strip paint, cure any illness known to mankind and be a perfectly good reason to introduce instant prohibition!!!! A wonderful man.  And as I did a bit of housekeeping on my computer files today I came across the picture of Pat and I having an evening meal with Willi and his family – Anglo/ German relations at their best! It all seems a long way away from putting bags over the heads of people or random searches or men on the streets with guns – and yet only a couple of generations ago our two nations were at each other’s throats.

My second story – and indeed the one that finally prompted this blog – mirrors my tale of Willi Durr from Stuttgart -  but perhaps shows how far we have moved as a society. It is ten years since 9/11 – and I find it terribly sad that in the ten years that have passed we are still fighting this “war”. That, for whatever reasons, we still feel the need to have high security or to demonise other cultures. Despite all our clever technology and vast wealth we are still unable find ways to live with our fellow men. Our leaders tell us that the war on terror must be won and that “ideologies” have to be defeated – not much peace and reconciliation there then!

Trautmann  being 
welcomed to Manchester 
City by his new
 team mates. Four
 years previously
they had been on 
opposite sides of
 the battlefield
I am currently reading the biography of Bert Trautmann. For those readers who might be unfamiliar with the name, Trautmann (who is now well into his nineties) was a footballer. He was a German goalkeeper who, like our friend Willi, was a prisoner of war in England during the Second World War. He had been a paratrooper, was captured and interned in a prisoner of war camp just outside Manchester. At the end of the war he elected to stay in England rather than return to war ravaged Germany. He played local football and a year or two after the war his skills were spotted by Manchester City and he was signed up as a professional footballer. He soon became a household name – his skills as a keeper were legendary. He represented West Germany at international level but played all his professional football in England for Manchester City. The high point of his career came in 1956 when Manchester City reached the Cup Final at Wembley. With seventeen minutes to go City were leading Birmingham 3-1 but then as one of the Birmingham forwards (Peter Murphy) ran through and seemed certain to score Trautmann dived at his feet. Trautmann was knocked unconscious and took several minutes to recover. In those days no substitutes were allowed and Trautmann played on – groggily staggering around his goal. He made a number of other great saves and eventually the final whistle blew and City had won. As Trautmann collected his winner’s medal from the Duke of Edinburgh the Duke commented to him: "Your neck looks crooked". That night Trautmann was in serious pain but went to the after match reception and next morning visited a London hospital where they diagnosed a “crick” in his neck that would “soon get better”. It didn’t and when he returned to Manchester he again visited a hospital and it was confirmed he had broken his neck! He became an overnight hero – not just as a goalkeeper but as a brave man. Trautmann at last retired in the mid sixties. He was later awarded an honorary OBE for promoting  international understanding – especially between England and Germany and has spent much of his retirement developing and leading sporting charities aimed at developing sporting links for the young between nations.
The Cup Final incident that 
made Trautmann a legend

But, back to my reading of the biography. In January 1949 shortly before Trautmann joined Manchester City  he was given the chance to return to Germany for a short period as part of the government’s gradual repatriation of ex-POWs. He decided to go and see his family who he had not seen for almost seven years. He was playing at this time for St Helens – a tiny club who paid him £1 per week. His full time job as an ex-POW was bomb disposal work. It was by this time obvious that sooner or later one of the big clubs would sign him up and his many friends amongst the St Helen’s supporters knew they would soon lose him. At the end of the game (which they lost 2-0) prior to him going off to Germany to see his long lost family one of the supporters came to speak to him as he stood in goal one wet Saturday afternoon. “Come to the local cafe for a cup of tea after the game, Bert” he was told. After the game a cold bedraggled Trautmann went for his cuppa. When he arrived the cafe was full and he was greeted with thunderous applause and cheering. When the cheering died down he was presented with a great chest (weighing about 30 Kg) filled with tinned food, sugar, cakes, hams, and other items – all donated from the food rations of the supporters. (England still had post war food rationing). He was also given an envelope with £50 crumpled notes in it. “We know times are bad for your people in Germany” said a spokesman “so we thought we would send some help”. Trautmann, not unnaturally, was overcome. He stuttered his thanks and his eyes filled with tears.
Somehow or other he managed to get the chest to Bremen with him, dragging it through the war devastated streets of the German port. The food chest was welcome and helped to explain to his family why he intended to return to England rather than stay in Germany – “the English are the kindest people” he told his brother. And he did. A few weeks later he was back in Manchester and signing a contract to play for Manchester City – and the rest is history, so they say.
Trautmann is helped from the
Wembley pitch by his team mates 
nursing the broken neck

Of course, Trautmann got his share of critics at the time but he had far more supporters – there was an air of tolerance and reconciliation in the air.  Many letters condemning and condoning the signing by City of the German were sent to the local newspaper: “When I think of all those millions of Jews who were tortured and murdered I can only marvel at City’s crass stupidity” said one critic. But there were many others supporting: “Whether he be gentile or Jew, black or white, German or Chinaman, if this recruit plays the game in the sporting way Frank Swift [the previous keeper] did, then he’ll do for me, Until this bitterness us stamped out how can we expect nations to unite”. And, “So the signing of a German goalkeeper has upset the “sporting instincts” of some City supporters. Well, I think it’s a great idea. I’ve never had any particular like or dislike for Germans - I don’t know many -  but antagonism should not be centred on this one individual. Good luck to him – and to the team.” Such, indeed, was the young German’s popularity that it was not uncommon when he played for St Helens for local girls  at the end of games to run onto the pitch and set upon Trautmann – “He was regularly buried under an avalanche of girls at the final whistle, you couldn’t see Bert at all, and nylon stocking tops were glimpsed as the girls tried to get at him”  one of his former team mates enviously recalled! Well, no demonising of other cultures there; no lack of common humanity; no cowardly and violent abuse; no  lessons needing to be learned! What has gone wrong in the intervening years?
Trautmann, the German, is 
honoured by the English Queen
A long way, this from putting sacks over the heads of people or demonising them because of their  religious beliefs or blaming a whole race or value system for the doings of a few hot heads. And yet the Trautmann tale all took place  all within two or three years of the conclusion of the greatest war in history. And as I thought about all this I mused that my father fought in France at the time that Trautmann and Willi were captured - in another life they might have met on the battle field and killed each other. And what good would that have done? Well, I might not have been born, my daughter might not have had a friend to turn to when she was in Germany  the world would have been denied a great sportsman. No, I'll stick to peace and reconciliation - it seems to have more mileage in it.


Yes, 9/11 was a terrible event which must not be forgotten. But we must move on - in the intervening years we seem to have lost something – is it called forgiveness, is it called understanding, is it common humanity,  is it called tolerance? Whatever it is, it seems to me that there sure as hell is little of it about in our current world – from top to bottom - but there sure seems a lot of hate and retribution stalking our streets.