31 August 2014

Train hard fight easy

Yesterday I received a thank you letter from the said specialist doctor, so I knew the pills had arrived. He said that he had always been impressed by Hanna's stoicism, for despite her health problems she never let her head hang. 

On my speed march I went past the grave to see that the gardeners had been at work again. They have taken the stones and lamp into protective custody, I hope, for they were gone. A light has shone there day and night since the funeral, some 19 days and nights. I shall check that this is so tomorrow. The stonemason will be refurbishing the stone you see in the picture and redoing the foundations. An additional stone with Hanna's name and space for mine will then be added, before we begin with planting.

I set off on my speed march. I had set myself no real time or distance target, I just set off to walk for as long as I wanted at a pace I could maintain and with a measured 6 kilos on my back. An Army watch word has always been, "train hard fight easy" and this is one of the basics of my training plan. At the moment I am not fit enough to walk 25 kms day after day after day, but come the spring I hope to be. Another test I did was to take my mobile WIFI and my iPad to see if I could post on the move.

It worked as the picture I posted on Facebook was taken in a wood in the middle of nowhere. I had also hoped that it would rain, so that I could test my new poncho, but although it was overcast it did not, until well after I got home. I have decided on a poncho because they are not as sweaty underneath as a Gore-Tex rain proof jacket, a poncho will also keep the straps of the pack dry, but also because as any soldier will tell you, they make an excellent "basher" or one man tent in an emergency. 

I moved quickly but fairly quietly, especially in the woods. At one stage I even surprised a hunter out with his shotgun and Red Setter. He never saw me coming which does not say much for his or his dog's observation skills. I also, as luck would have it, had the wind advantage. At the last minute I announced my presence as I did not want to get shot.

My pedometer does not seem to be right, as it said I had gone 2 hours 15 mins and had walked 10.61 kms, but I had been gone 3 hrs 30 mins and had walked 14 1/2 kms. Just goes to show one must never rely on technical means. Paper maps and a good time piece is all one needs to navigate with on the land. Either way I enjoyed my walk.

29 August 2014

A Sort of Normality.

I firmly believe that we humans like routine. For certain people and children it is so very important. It gives them stability. Even if you, like me love change, travel and adventure, a certain routine is comforting. Those of you reading this who are, at school, or studying, or working, or parenting will know that these activities bring their own routines which regularises your life. Without it, one begins to founder, get bored even, or at a loss to know what to do. 

The death of a loved one throws this routine out the window and one begins to have a sense of loosing control. Not knowing how to continue. I have formulated some ideas about how my life may regain some purpose, but the routine has not been easy to regain. I no longer ring Hanna at night and talk for hours on the phone. An essential activity for years if one wanted to have a good night's sleep. Without it one was lost.

Yesterday I felt that a certain routine had returned. I got up early and went for my bike ride, stopping by Hanna on the way back. The route out passes the damn hospital and the waiting room I no longer want to sit in, so I dropped the Volibris tablets off at the reception with a letter addressed to said Specialist. Got that out of my system.

Once my exercises and breakfast were out of the way, I sat down and worked on the Presentation, about my circumnavigation, which I am giving in September in the Adult Education Centre in Krefeld. This took some time and I feel it is still too long. I put my hiking boots on and went for a walk around town. Borussia were playing at home and even if you do not follow football, you knew because of the large police presence. They were everywhere.  Bought some bits to cook a curry meal in the evening.

In the evening I cooked said meal and watched Borussia thrash Sarajevo 7:0 on the TV. Living in this town you just have to support your local team. The whole town suffers from depression if they are not doing well, and it is something you can feel as you walk round it. 

Last night was perhaps the first night since last Christmas that I slept fairly well, and without gremlins coming to get me in the dark. This morning though I could not go for a bike ride as I had made an appointment to see my GP (Hausarzt for my German readers) at 0930hrs. I also had a Dental appointment at 1100hrs. Both were essential as I shall be travelling a great deal soon. I never got to see my GP as by 1030hrs I had not been seen and having my dental bridge glued back in was more essential. Made another appointment for next Wednesday.

Now I did cycle to the Dentist and after that went to see how Hanna was. The Gardener has been at work cutting back the bushes which I wanted removed, and has levelled the grave off and added  top soil. Next week the Stonemason will come and do his stuff too. So there is change and renewal there.

At home again and on the German Post Office Web site I ordered 50 envelopes using a photo of Hanna as a stamp. This I will use to send out the many thank you letters I must now write in reply to the condolences I have received. I cleared out some of Hanna's things from the cupboard where she kept them, making space for those things from her house I wish to keep. The things I got rid of were basically female underwear, nightwear and sanitary items as well as some clothes and shoes she had here to change into. Those of mine in her house I removed ages ago.  The cupboard was kept closed so what it contained was, until yesterday, a mystery to me. She has not left my bathroom yet, and I feel her presence there may well never do.

27 August 2014

......and the Sun Shone.

It's exactly 4 weeks since Hanna died and two weeks since the funeral. Over breakfast in the sun on my balcony, when I thought about meeting the daughters in her house this morning I was overcome with sorrow and loneliness. To be expected still, but it does sometimes seem to come from nowhere.

The meeting with the daughters went as expected and we went round the house trying to decide in general terms what was to be done with it all. Each of us had memories with certain items, books, clothes, mementoes, and photograph albums. Like in my house there are cards she has given me, I found cards I had given her. Occasionally I found them used as a book mark or in one case put in a frame and hung on the wall. 

Hanna had made photograph albums of her own and her daughters lives. I looked at a couple and found that very early on, she had documented some of our shared activity and her often long train journeys to come and see me.   Such lovely memories and the pictures of her I had forgotten I had taken, moved me to tears again. In one album she had documented with cards, photographs and comments our short trip to Prague in 1992. The everlasting memory I have of this trip, is of kissing her while we were travelling on the Metro. It was one of those moments when even in a crowded place two lovers hearts are one and they do not notice the crowd. Well in this particular case the crowd were all young students and they clapped and applauded us with such joyous smiles in their eyes and on their lips. It made us laugh and was a very special moment, especially as we were the oldest couple on this carriage of the Metro.

I collected a number of things I would like to have and put them to one side. After about two hours I had had enough of sadness and left to cycle over to the cemetery. The gardeners had made a small start by removing all the dead flowers, so now I can place some new ones there. The little mouse came and was not at all put out by my presence. 

Back home I put my hiking boots on and went for a long walk through the town. I met a former student of mine, a really nice man from La Mancha. We exchanged news and parted with intentions to meet again next week. At the Post Office I collected a surprise package from a friend.  I also collected the flight tickets for my trip to the USA from the travel agency and then returned home to tea. The package contained some nice gifts, not just for me, but the grandchildren as well. A little bit of pleasure to end the day on. Nice.

So today, unlike yesterday, the sun shone, and the fond memories made my heart warm too.

26 August 2014

A Bit of a Wet Day

It is like autumn here wet and cold. While stopped at Hanna's this morning on my bike ride it started to rain, but I was also overwhelmed with grief and close to tears, which I have been one way or the other all day. 

When I got home I spent some time on research in the Internet. Firstly looking for suitable camper hire offers for my USA trip and also looking for suitable maps of France which show the St James' Pilgrim Path. At around 3 o'clock I went to see the secretary of a certain Lung specialist that had been treating Hanna over the last 4 years. The specialist had prescribed a very expensive drug called Volibris which Hanna had to take every day and costs over 100 euros per tablet. We had a quite a number of these tablets left and the specialist had asked if we would donate them for some of his patients where the Health Insurance doesn't pay for such treatment! I had gone along to do just that. It was also the second time I had gone there. The first time they were closed.

This secretary had her back to me as I came in the room and when I addressed her she was visibly irritated and demanded I wait in the waiting room until she was finished with her task. I was a bit taken aback but went and sat down. Now of course I also had a time problem as I was due to collect Christopher to take him to his first lesson of the new Music School Term.

I was a bit upset. Not just because of the way she spoke to me and being made to wait, for an action that would have taken less than a minute to conclude, but because I had sat in this damn waiting room with Hanna every three months for the last 4 years, and now I sat there all alone! I was here to do a good deed I thought! I lasted only five minutes and would have wept had I stayed longer, so I left. The first thing Christopher did was ask if I had forgotten about him, as I was now later than I normally would have been!

In the car on the way to the Music School Christopher was a real tonic and after dropping him off I wandered around town until it was time to collect him again. On return to my own home before entering I went to the bakers on the corner to buy a piece of cake for tea. My mind was clearly somewhere else for I never took much notice of the woman at the counter before me. I stood trying to decide what sweet thing I should pleasure myself with at tea, when I suddenly became aware that this woman was looking at me.

It was a bit embarrassing to discover she was a good friend and one of my former students. It was nice though to chat to her about her recent holiday in England with her twins and to hear how much they all enjoyed it. 

Maybe tomorrow will be a dryer and better day.

25 August 2014

Of Patience and Provocation

I have never been a very patient man. One of my watch words has been "Lead, follow or get out of my way, but do something." To lead me you have to earn my respect and have some proof that you have succeeded at leading. It has been my downfall in the service when I have had superiors that have been nincompoops, for want of a better expression. Those that know me well will tell you that I can't hide my displeasure at someone else's failings much. If, however, you gain my friendship  you are guaranteed my loyalty and can have the shirt off my back. But then I do not make close friends easily which is why I still have some shirts.

During my circumnavigation I discovered, from I know not where, that I had the patience to cope with the bureaucracy that our colonies have turned into an art form. In the Pacific and Indian Oceans I learnt not to take appointment times too literally. You could consider yourself bloody lucky if they turned up at the appointed time and quite well off if they turned up at any time, on the day in question.

Back in Europe where the pace of life is different, it did not take me long to hate waiting rooms or people being late for appointments. At the present time in my life, without Hanna to restrain me, I am easily provoked if I feel someone has gone too far, or late for an appointment. You can also gain the rough edge of my tongue if you have not gauged my mood correctly and as a consequence step on my toes.

Today was another of those days when I was fit to explode. I had made an appointment with a Gardener to discuss the layout and planting of Hanna's grave. He kept me waiting and after 30 mins I was all set to go to another. In truth he had forgotten all about it. When I eventually got him on his mobile, I bit my tongue off and agreed that I would wait a bit more and in any-case I would go and see the Stonemason in the meantime.

It must have been Hanna's presence that kept me from going for his jugular when he arrived, as it was a full hour and half after our appointed time. In the end we understood each other. He had lost his wife (aged 48) to lung cancer a couple of years ago. From the diagnosis to death was only 4 months in his case. So he was well able to empathise with me and I with him. This helped us and calmed me down, needless to say. We are not bosom buddies and I dare say he will charge me an arm and leg for the work he is to do, but at least we had a pleasant discussion about the work and our grieving, and I can work with him.

The flowers from the funeral are almost all over. One nice circular wicker basket with plants is still doing quite well. Yesterday, being a Sunday (so not a training day) I took a stroll to the grave and cleaned the lantern. Something that needed doing, since I doubt if it has been cleaned in years. this morning on my way by during my bike ride, I changed the candle.

Next week the clearing work will begin and I can place some new flowers there with the money given me by friends and acquaintances. 

24 August 2014

I'm in Training.

My membership card and other documents arrived from the German Society of St James today (Deutsche St Jakobus Gesellschaft).  In my blog about what to do with the rest of my life, I mentioned that I was going to become a pilgrim and walk to Santiago de Compostelle. I also called this Jacob's Way, falsely translating the German "Jakob" as "Jacob" when it is actually St James. So having cleared that up, I was pleased and sat and thought a bit about it.

Most days of the week now I get up early go for a cycle ride and then do some circuit training, in an effort to get fit again. Today being Saturday I decided not to cycle but to go for a "march" instead.Years ago and in another life I trained a military march and shoot team to march 10 miles in 50 minutes with 35 lbs of equipment and carrying a rifle and ammunition. Today I can hardly fathom that I was once so super fit. A decent walk of 5 kph would be great now, but I know that I am older and not fit. But I do know how to get there.

I have always said that when training one must set a target which is just achievable with a little effort. So this afternoon I set myself the target of walking 10 kms, but at a speed of 4 kph. The first 1km did not count as I went to the cemetery to visit Hanna.

The roses in my wreath are now sad and a horrid brown colour. I have an appointment with the gardener on Monday to discuss the future layout of the plot and how it is to be planted. Soon the dying flowers will be removed and I will replace them with new ones from the money that a number of friends have given me for just that purpose. So after our chat I set off and my 10 kms started in earnest.

After two hours I had gone, according to my pedometer, 8.7 kms, so mission accomplished. My feet held up in the new boots, which I have also worn during the week to walk around town in, though the ankles still ache a bit in them. The pack sat well on my back. My left knee let me know a couple of times that I was marching and not dawdling, but otherwise I had no problems.  Next week we have to up the anti, walk further and carry more weight. Once I had reached my 10 km mark I caught a bus back, and not too soon either for it started to rain later.

22 August 2014

I saw a mouse! Where?

As usual I stopped by Hanna this morning. I do stand still and not just talk the whole time, and let the silence and peace of the cemetery sooth my soul. This morning was no exception. To my delight I saw  an Arvicolinae again!

A mouse like rodent to my English speaking readers or a Wühlmaus  to my German ones. 

I laughed out load and remembered with fondness Hanna's remarks to me when I had my mouse problem. 
You might like to read about it again here 

This is not the first time I have seen them. One needs to be there early in the morning and then to stand quite still for a bit. So Hanna is not alone and far from me keeping these creatures as house pets, which is what she suggested I do, she has them as neighbours. 

21 August 2014

My Impulsive Nature

I have routed my morning fitness cycle ride to go past Hanna, on the way home. Today was no exception. I stood and chatted for a bit and I do mean chat, not thinking in my head. Anyone passing might have thought I was crazy, talking to myself. Although nowadays one never knows if they are talking on their mobile phone. I shed a silent tear as I discussed who the hell was going to help me keep my feet on the ground and then had a laugh at myself and the fact that my impulsive nature can sometimes lead me into trouble.

Hanna had this theory that all men were "Bescheuert". Meaning crazy but can also mean tiresome and not always there. Her theory was that all a woman could hope for was to find one that was less "Bescheuert" than most, but at all costs women should avoid  men who are "Beklopt", meaning stupid. So I am thankfully not "Beklopt", according to Hanna, but a little "Bescheurt", which I have to admit I am. 

Having decided more or less how to spend the time I have left, I then thought that while travelling I would like to Blog on the move. I have a laptop which is a bit more of schlep-top and not suitable for backpacking. I have an iPad which is only WLAN and so needs a Hotspot to communicate. Any modern smartphone, Natalie tells me will act as such and so I started looking around at what was available at a price I wanted to pay.

The iPhone is clearly the best, though some of my friends are divided on this issue. Some have it and many others have an Android, generally the Samsung. All the best smartphones have one thing in common they cost about as much as it does to go on a weeks holiday somewhere. Looking on Ebay the other night I nearly proved I was Beklopt and not just Bescheuert. I made a sizeable bid for an iPhone 5s with only 10 minutes to go. Lo and behold I now found myself the highest bidder. Then when considering a new maximum bid I woke up to the fact that it said quite clearly that it was defective!!! I sweated for a few minutes till some other Berk bid more and I was out of it. So I laughed at myself while telling Hanna how stupid I had been to let my impulsive nature get the better of me. 

I dare say I will eventually get myself a smartphone with most of the stops and whistles to make it a fun toy to have, as well as do the things I want it to. But not immediately. Last night I almost thought I had the answer. I was chatting with a friend on the internet who is quite clever at finding things out on it. She is a mine of information and helped me crystallize my idea. But even so it would cost about 2 days of a holiday and then you needed a new all net tariff to go with it.

This morning a bright young man in the Apple Shop suggested what I needed was a Mobile WiFI Router. So off I went looking for one and it did not cost an arm and a leg. I combined this with a prepaid internet tariff and so can now Blog on the move. Prepaid does seem the way to go as I can buy such a SIM card in each of the countries I will visit between now and Christmas. UK, NL, USA and MALTA. No expensive roaming charges.

Spent a bit of time getting the damn thing to work, but it now does. It also can act as a reserve battery top up for your smart phone or iPad, which may come in useful one day. So I have no excuse now for not Blogging while underway and making way. The first real test will come when I am in darkest Sussex. In the past when staying with my friends there I never could get a mobile phone connection to send a text message to Hanna. But perhaps the situation has changed. We'll see.

20 August 2014

Bureaucracy in Death

Most of the civilised world loves bureaucracy. We need birth certificates, ID cards and Passports which tell us who we are. Then there are the licences we need to work to live or to drive. It is my experience from my travels around the world that many countries turn it to an art form. Germany is one such country, not as bad as some, but whole forests of paper are offered up to this hungry God called Bureaucracy. And woe betide you if you do not follow this path, or if you loose patience with a “jobs worth”.

Today I had to walk the path of bureaucracy for Hanna, in order to ensure her Last Will and Testament is finalised. This involved in the first instance a visit to the “Amtsgericht” or the Court that deals with Wills and Testaments.

My first hurdle was the security check at the front door of an imposing building. It is almost worse than that at airports. What was doubly annoying this morning was though there was no one behind me coming through, the guard tried to rush me when it came to collect my belongings from the x-ray machine and get dressed again. The result was that my mobile fell out of my jacket pocket and into the sum of its constituent parts!

Thankfully the woman that then dealt with me was pleasant it just took time as she serviced her own personal God, which in her case was a computer. Her typing was with two fingers, which needless to say takes longer than with a few more. Once she had everything typed up I was given a copy and then I have to say, why did it take so long for her to fill in a very simple form on her computer. I could have written the whole thing out faster than she filled it in. That’s the trouble with a well established bureaucracy, there is no room for original thought or improvisation.

From there I walked in the sun to an other bureaucratic institution a Bank. It was marginally quicker here, another very pleasant woman (to the eye also) quickly copied what I gave her, said she would pay the funeral expenses, but that was it. We had to wait for the Courts to do there stuff.

Then I got on my bike and went to the cemetery to check that the grave was properly registered as we had some doubts since there was no mention of it on the final bill from the Undertakers. Nothing untoward there, the bill for that was sent separately yesterday and we can bury another coffin (mine) and up to 4 urns on the plot.

The it was off to the stonemasons for a discussion and tasking and also to the Gardener that had looked after the grave and with whom I made an appointment at the grave, to discuss how it should be redone once the soil has settled.

The flowers on the grave are slowly rotting and returning to the earth, but the candle burned bright even in the daylight. While standing there and musing on things in general and Hanna in particular, I was pleasantly surprised by a visitor. One of Hanna’s English students a mature man called Bernhard. Hanna liked this chap very much as his hobby fascinated her. He is also a magician and had wanted schooling in his English so he could also do his tricks in that language. His day job is that of a teacher in a handicapped children’s school. They had just returned from holiday, which is why they were not at the funeral.

Hanna would have been pleased at the honour he did her by visiting the grave.

 I was too.

19 August 2014

Where lies the Land

Hanna’s daughters and I met today in her house to discuss various matters that need our attention. At last all the large care products had been collected so we were able to quickly put the sitting room, more or less the way it always was. Now one can sit there and just imagine Hanna is in the kitchen making us some tea.

What to do with all the lovely nick knacks Hanna collected over the years? Many were of our shared journeys, some have only a sentimental value, but others are worth money to a collector.  And so many books. My humble abode will not take more books, but I was pleasantly surprised  when looking at one shelf I discovered a lovely 1973 Folio Society edition of “Poems by William Wordsworth”, tucked away behind other books. It is beautifully bound with a leather spine and sits in a nice cardboard sleeve.

I always have space for a book of poems, especially one so nice as this, so I took it and discovered it was a gift to Hanna from her Brother-in-Law in 1985 on her visit to London after her husband had died. I met this nice man during one of our later visits to London in the 90’s.

What was even more interesting was that there were a couple of bookmarks marking poems which must have interested Hanna. The first  one I looked at was entitled:

“Where lies the Land”

Where lies the Land to which yon ship must go?
Fresh as a lark mounting at break of day,
Festively she puts forth in trim array;
Is she for tropic suns, or polar snow?
What boots the enquiry? – Neither friend nor foe
She cares for; let her travel where she may,
She finds familiar names, a beaten way
Ever before her, and a wind to blow.
Yet still I ask what haven is her mark?
And, almost as it was when ships were rare,
(From time to time, like Pilgrims, here and there
Crossing the waters) doubt, and something dark,
Of the old Sea some reverential fear,
Is with me at thy farewell, joyous Bark!

Since I have no idea when she first read this poem, or why she marked it, to me it was a little allegorical. One could read it any number of ways. Whither is Hanna’s soul now sailing, for there was in me a reverential fear at her farewell and she did put forth in trim array at her funeral. Or is it my restless soul that is meant and where will the winds now blow me? That the word “pilgrim” appears in the poem is that also a sign that I am right in my intentions?

Am I an incurable romantic to search for meaning in such things? Hanna might say, “No just a foolish one.”

17 August 2014

The Next Step

Today is the third Sunday since Hanna's death. The first, friends kindly had me round for a meal; the second, I was away and staying in Helpensen. So today was the first Sunday alone, but I did not fall into a hole. After a leisurely breakfast on my balcony, with fresh bread rolls which I had got from the baker on the corner, I visited Hanna and changed the burnt out candle.

Now you have to know that Hanna and I had become creatures of habit over the last 11 years. Sundays was our day when we would take off somewhere armed with our cameras. After our expedition we would retire to my place for Tea and a check of our booty. We would also sit and watch TV, nearly always ZDF at 1930hrs especially as they had a programme about history and culture. This would be followed by a kitschy love story, which we had dubbed "Herz und Schmerz". After a short siesta we would then sit, over a meal I would cook, talking into the night and generally in the summer until the sun came up.

So after telling Hanna what I was going to do and armed with my camera, I set off for Nideggen in the Eifel. I had learnt that in the Burg there was an exhibition about Pilgrims and the Jacob's Way.

Just some of the pictures I took today.

The exhibition gave me a better feel for what it will involve walking the Jacob's Way. I was also able to buy some literature and a small Pilgrims' prayer book. The drive, there and back, gave me time to reflect on my intentions and to allow certain ideas to coalesce. 

I shall always plan to be in Mönchengladbach on certain days of the year, 

23 April          Hanna's Birthday
24 April          Anniversary of our first meeting
30 July            the day of her death
1 November   All Souls when the family visit all the graves of the departed members.

The rest of the time I shall do as I please, but certainly travel or be walking the Pilgrims' Way. I have come to the idea that I will walk the route from home right through Germany, France to Spain. In the beginning I shall walk in stages coming home at the end of the day and as I get further afield in weekly bites staying where ever until I reach the Spanish Border. Then I shall do the last 800 km in one go. A further idea is to walk on to La Corunna and take a ship to England and then walk the Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury. I have to get back after all. 

When I got home, I did as we would have done. I got out my best china and had tea and read a little in the literature I had bought. Checked my photos, then had  a siesta. I sat and watched our normal programmes, cooked myself a meal and instead of chatting into the night I am writing this Blog. So as you see my life is slowly coming round to being normal again.

16 August 2014

What to do with the rest of my life?

When you loose someone close to you, you are also reminded of your own mortality. If I keep myself fit and baring accidents I estimate I have a good 10-15 years of travel time left in me before I need to go into a care home. I am not being morbid, but trying to be realistic so I can have a plan and not just drift through the rest of my life. I also need to have a firm plan for the end of my life as there is no one who will care for me as I cared for Hanna, and I certainly do not want Hanna's daughters wiping my bottom nor even my own sons. But the least said about them the better. A home is the answer and I will try and find a suitable 2 or 3, since when I make that last leap there also needs to be a vacancy. But that's in the future, what about now.

Well I've decided to go back to my roots. I am the son of an infantry soldier and I was an infantry soldier too. As a youth I loved the out doors and walking and camping. As a subaltern I was also a mountaineering instructor and loved climbing. I would have continued doing that, but after one short expedition in my own time, the wife at the time said, "me or the mountains"  and foolishly I threw my boots into the corner, instead of packing my gear and heading for the hills. Being realistic I am now too old to go climbing, but not walking. If I can combine walking with ancient rubble and foreign lands then that is a bonus.

What immediately sprung to mind with this idea was of course the St James' Pilgrims way to Santiago de Compostela! But there are many other paths too. Hadrian's Wall for example. Well the first thing I did then was to go out and buy myself a new pair of hiking boots. I also bought a guide book on the St James' Pilgrims Way. 

This afternoon I put the new boots on, strung a pack on my back and out I went. As I left the house the very first thought that hit me was, it felt so right, the years rolled off me and it was as if I was 45 years younger. "I can do this," said I, I feel young, fit and energetic! Well I am none of those things really, but the feeling of having a good pair of boots on my feet and a pack on my back did really transport me back in time. It felt so natural. 

I walked to Hanna's resting place and chatted with her about my idea. She might have called me "crazy" again, but I think she would be supportive. My Dad would be leaping for joy and saying, "go for it" as he wanted to do just that in New Zealand when he retired, but my mother wouldn't let him even try. 

I spent 3 and half hours walking in what amounts to the wilderness here the other side of the cemetery towards Viersen. I gave the boots a good workout. Took them up and down steep inclines, through mud and wet grass, over stony ground and sandy soil. I broke trails through chest high nettles and brambles. And what pleased me most I was alone. I love solitude and the peace of the woods. I got as close as 2 metres before the Hare took off. I could also have rescued a damsel in distress. She had let her bike fall over in the woods and the rear mud guard was bent so badly it was touching the wheel, but sadly I did not have my Leatherman tool with me and my fingers were not strong enough on their own.

I returned to the cemetery in the pouring rain which let up as I got there. After checking with Hanna I came home to a shower and tea, feeling tired, a little sore round the ankles as I have not worn boots for the last  23 years, but the feet were fine. 

So I have a plan. It starts with getting fit enough to walk 25 km per day with a pack on my back. Then we will see where these boots take me. They were made for walking after all and as we all know a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. I have taken that step today.

15 August 2014

Hanna Part 10

This morning I went for my fitness bike ride and stopped by the grave on the way back. We had a little chat, I shed a few tears, admired the flowers and was pleased the candle was still burning. 

After my breakfast I began to get out of my lethargy which descended on me 16 days ago now. At first I succeeded. I started a new regime of changing beds on a Friday, which was the norm when Hanna came to stay in Verden and Hameln. It was only over the last few years where she came on a Sunday, so that was the bed changing day.

As I cleaned, I needless to say, came across various cards she has given me. Reading them again stopped me in my tracks and instead of cleaning I indulged myself in fond memories of a shared life. Many of these cards dot my bookshelves and here is one I can share with you. 

The card was written for our anniversary of meeting, the day after her 75th Birthday in 2012.

One stag is saying to the other,
 "All women are somehow..." 
and the other replies, 
" not real men!"

Inside the card she wrote,

"75 red roses! You are crazy!
23 of them indicate 23 years of a relationship which has so far survived all the difficulties. 
One reason for this is that you are still unpredictable + crazy.
That means I'm not dying of boredom!
Happy Anniversary.
I love you.

And I love her still.

14 August 2014

Hanna Part 9

Last Will and Testament

I’ve got to admit I wept again today. Just couldn’t stop myself. I have been reading her Last Will and Testament again, since I am one of those responsible for its implementation. She first wrote a letter to us all in 1991 when they (the bloody doctors that is) thought she had cancer.

She wrote then, “if I get over this then I shall be pleased, but if not then that’s OK as I have experienced so many nice things recently, particularly my relationship to Alan, that it just can’t get any better. And when the party is at its height, then that is the time to depart…”

She went on to say that her funeral should not be a sentimental occasion and that the pastor should not have to strain himself to find nice things to say about her. She was just a normal person, making mistakes and with normal weaknesses. She had, she said, always tried to act like a Christian, but did she succeed? Therefore we were not to run around for weeks with long faces or wearing black. Life goes on and we should too.

In another passage she says, “Monica, Silke, Natalie and Alan should know that I love them and that they have made my life richer.”

I often ask myself now, did I tell her often enough what she meant to me? How she enriched my life?

I got up early today, to ride my bike in an attempt to get fit again and so it was easy to stop by and tell her now. Last year our last big event together was to photograph a wedding and so I told her that, the bride is now pregnant. A sure sign that life goes on. She would have been pleased to know that another child is on the way and going to such a loving family. More flowers had been placed on the grave too, by some dear friends of mine. A nice gesture for they were unable to come to the funeral.

So I hope you agree it was OK to have a little weep today, for the love of a very special person.

           A small woman with a big heart taken in 2011

13 August 2014

Hanna Part 8

Hanna on her Birthday 2012

The funeral was yesterday. I survived. 
I arrived at the church early and at the same time as Hanna's coffin so had plenty of time to sit alone with her and God. I watched the florist place the flowers on the coffin and the various wreaths around it. Pictures of these will be added to this blog as and when I get them, from the friends that took pictures for me. 

Her daughters were responsible for the arrangements and for dealing with the Catholic priest who took the service, and I have to say they did a good job of it and Hanna would have been pleased. The words to the hymns they chose were appropriate and in at least one case moved me to tears. However, I cannot get used to the German Church music and the manner in which they sing the hymns. I have been an Anglican Choir member, man and boy so am well versed in the Anglican way of doing things. It is almost Catholic like too. But that's just me, as Hanna would tell you, I can be quite pedantic at times and strive for 200% perfection. Generally I fail, but thanks to Hanna's bad influence and with age I am learning to live with it.

As the coffin left the Church a beautiful instrumental version of, "I did it my way" was played and I could feel Hanna smiling, for this is just what she wanted and how she lived her life.

At the cemetery I met the Jazz musicians from a group called "The Old Market Stompers" that Hanna so loved. They were to play suitable blues music during the procession and after the formal ceremony of committing the body to the earth had taken place. They were fantastic and again Hanna would not have kept still, but would have been swinging with the music.

When it came to me to place something in the grave and say farewell, I threw the rose you see on top of the coffin. To the rose I had tied the 3rd key to the lock I had left on the Weser bridge and an Ushebti,  a fuinery figurine used in Ancient Egypt. Hanna and I loved Egypt and had visited the country together 5 times. She had even been there 3 times before we met. So I think she would have smiled as I gave her an Ancient Egyptian servant to tend to her needs in the after live. Not very Christian I know, but it is the symbolism of placing something Egyptian in her grave that appealed to my romantic nature, for we loved the country and had many wonderful adventures there.

I was pleased that many friends had found the way and the time  to share Hanna's last journey, but was disappointed when some did not come to the Hotel where we went for refreshments after. I had been looking forward to talking to many of them, since some I had not seen for a bit, and some of Hanna's friends I did not even know well and had wanted to get to know them better.

Nevertheless I did speak to and sit with the majority of guests that came, especially those from Hameln and their show of support gave me strength to cope with the day, but especially did honour to Hanna's memory.

I visited the grave this morning and lit a candle for Hanna. She would have liked the many flowers and so many friends were generous and have given me money to place flowers on her grave when those above are gone. Eventually when the earth has settled and the grave takes its normal form, I rather fancy having a little seat there so I can sit and chat. Whatever, it is a place that I shall visit often and not just as most Germans on the official All Souls Day.

All the above 7 photos of the funeral and the procession were kindly taken by Lothar Eimanns.

12 August 2014

Hanna Part 7

Jamie and Hanna Bear in Hameln

I needed a change of tapestry as they say here, so I used the excuse of a memorial service in Bispingen to travel north for a few days. On Thursday 7th  August therefore I set off with my two travel bears and visited my friends Sylvia and Terry Fawcett in Hameln, of Pied Piper fame. I was stationed here as the Joint Services Liaison Officer (JSLO) from 1994 till 1998. Hanna used to come and visit every other weekend, and as I look back I have to say we were very happy here. We both made some good and firm friends which the passing years have done nothing to diminish. 

Before Hameln I was stationed in Verden on the Aller as the JSLO from 1991 till 1994. It was here that Hanna and I first appeared in public as a couple. We were happy and made some good friends here too, but not as many as we eventually did in Hameln. It was really thanks to Hanna though, that during my circumnavigation the friendships she and I formed there, did not break off.  And so it is a simple matter to return. 

The next day I went on to visit Bispingen and a dear School friend, where I changed for the memorial service of Anneliese Gabriel. Anneliese was of my mother's generation and someone who was kind to me as a child. I felt I had to go as this was the last link I still had with that generation and with people who knew me as a baby and a school boy. Duty done I moved on to stay in the Soldatenheim in Munster Lager.

The Soldatenheim Munster Lager

In Munster live Ulla and Volker two dear friends from my time when I was a Major in the Army stationed in Bergen-Hohne. We had not seen each other for some years and so had quite a bit of catching up to do before laying our weary heads down for a long nap.

The next day after breakfast I moved on again back to Hameln to have lunch with two other friends in the Museum’s Café. Karin and Heinz Berning are two people that Hanna liked very much because they were also very loyal. They share at least one thing in common for they never forget a friend's birthday. 

A view of the bridge over the Weser where our lock now resides.

After a very pleasant couple of hours in the Café watching the world go by in the sun, I went to the new footbridge over the Weser to the Werder in the middle. Here I placed the lock I had given Hanna in April to commemorate our 25th anniversary of meeting. These “lovers” locks are a nice custom here for newly engaged couples. They have their names and the date of engagement engraved on the lock,  fix it to a river bridge and then throw the keys in the river. This symbolises that they will remain together till the river dries up at least! After fixing our lock to the bridge I threw two keys into the river. 

Looking out the bedroom window in Gut Helpensen.

I moved on then to stay with Cord and Irmela von Mengersen in Gut Helpensen for a couple of days. Hanna always enjoyed staying her for one truly is given the feeling that one is a member of the family and can come and go as one pleases. Hanna had a very special relationship with this couple and would try and stay with them at least once a year. She also had a nice relationship with one of their daughters and not just because they were both called Hanna.

I chilled out then for a couple of days, visited other friends of Hanna’s. Walked in the woods, sat by a pond and watched the fish jumping, sat with good company and watched the sun set and just tried to forget my grief, till it was time to move on and collect one of Hanna’s relatives from Malta, now living in England who was flying in for the funeral.

 All my friends, but especially those in Helpensen made me aware, that though I am now alone, I need never fear loneliness for I will always find a welcome under their roof.

7 August 2014

Hanna Part 6

The Best Laid Plans.......

I had thought that for yesterday I had organised things so that the firms that provided all the equipment that was needed to care for Hanna, from hospital bed, oxygen machine and wheelchair to rollator, would come and collect it all. My aim was to be able to put her living-room back the way it was before all this happened. Then I thought, in my romantic naive way, that after the funeral next week, the family could sit there and pretend that she had just stepped out for a moment, as nothing in the house had changed. 

It was not to be as the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. One of the firms did not come and so the major items are still there, making the place look desolate and not homely and welcoming as I had wanted.

5 August 2014

Hanna Part 5

"Der Reisebär"

Pippa and Squeak my childhood bears

Those that know me well, know that I have a very large collection of teddy bears. Not only that, but when travelling I would also take my oldest bears from my childhood with me. When doing so there was always the danger of loosing them with the suitcase if that went missing, which on occasions mine did, so I carried them in my hand luggage. These two bears are as old and decrepit as me, also wear glasses and are fragile.

Hanna knew the value of the bears and decided that I needed a new travel bear and presented me with one on a birthday, quite early in our relationship. She also personalised it by stitching some letters on one of its trouser legs which in German is the equivalent of  saying, “I love you!” As all my bears have names and histories I quickly named this bear “Jamie” after a little boy I used to know. I have used the bear on occasions as a motive for cards and here is one of him on an anniversary card.


Now Hanna  had a travel bear too called “der Reisebär”.  These two bears have accompanied us on ALL our travels together and mine, is a circumnavigator to boot.
They would sit together in whatever accommodation we found and watch whatever we got up to. Thankfully bears as anyone will tell you can keep secrets. They also protect one, children especially, from the dangers of the night.

In her Will Hanna mentioned that I might like to have her “Reisebär”, which needless to say I do. I am going away for a few days on Thursday so I went and got the said bear. I have named her (she was always a female even though she had no name) Hanna, and so now these two love bears will never be parted again, for in the past when not on holidays or travel adventures they lived separate lives. Now they live together with me and will share the many adventures to come. 

Jamie and Hanna will go where I go

4 August 2014

Hanna Part 4

Now I'm Medallion Man

The Locket I now wear.

Yesterday, thanks to my good friends Vera and Alex I did not sink into despair, but spent a very pleasant evening in their lovely garden. My sleep though was too short for I woke in the night, when the gremlins came for me. By 0700hrs I was bathed in sweat from my restless sleep, but fairly buoyant in my mood. Until I got in the shower that is. Then from apparently nowhere and with no previous concious forethought, as the warm water cascaded over my head, I started weeping. I managed to get a grip on myself so it didn't last long, but it did take me completely by surprise.

I am in truth an action man. I always need to do something. I do not like sitting around feeling sorry for myself. So when I got dressed I went and took the photo I had in my wallet of Hanna and I at my 50th Birthday party, cut her out and put her in a locket, which is also an heirloom.

So now I am a medallion man for I wear her round my neck and next to my heart. And do you know what? I do not even feel foolish, though I think Hanna would have called me a foolish romantic.

3 August 2014

Hanna Part 3

It's Sunday!

I was awake early as I have not been able to sleep properly for weeks now and the last three were of particular worry. I got up and went to Hanna's family grave where she, and later when my time comes I will be buried. After saying a short prayer for the departed, I dug up the small pewter urn with some of my father's ashes in, before it gets lost in the general digging up that will occur soon.

The little urn with some of my father's ashes

He will live there now on my book shelve by his picture until my time comes when it can be placed in my coffin.

I came home and had breakfast on the balcony. listening to the Sunday Worship on Radio 4 which was a Service in remembrance of the outbreak of the First World War. Needless to say I knew all the hymns and a couple of them I had chosen to be played for my father's burial in New Zealand and the memorial service in the UK.

As it was a Sunday I cleaned my humble abode and changed the bed as I always did on Sunday, as today is the day Hanna would come to stay. She of course will not be coming today or any other day, so I am in a bit of a hole now. Fortunately though some good friends have invited me to a barbecue this evening, so I will not be in this hole for long.

1 August 2014

Hanna Part 2


Today as almost every Friday for the last 11 years I have gone shopping with Hanna. When she could no longer go shopping herself, she would send me an email and I would get her stuff too. Then when she could no longer send emails I would go and write the shopping list for and with her, and later still I would write it myself. Either way at the end of the day we would sit together and eat our evening meal and chat into the night or watch TV until it was time for me to go home.

As I entered the supermarket car park where we would normally shop, it hit me in the face like a wet fish. She was gone. I need not shop for her, or try and think of meals I wanted to cook for her when she came to visit, or later meals I cooked for her at her home. I was now all alone in the world, had no one to cook for anymore. I suddenly felt all alone and found it hard to continue. What was the point of it all.

When I got home and began to unpack my shopping the door bell rang. It was Natalie, at 40 on the 24 July, Hanna’s youngest daughter. She said I have something to show you. So up she came and showed me a small bunch of dried flowers she had found in Hanna’s bedroom! It had a label on it from 1990. Now you have to know that in Hanna’s first Will written in 1992 she stated that she wanted the many dried baccarat roses, which were the flowers I had given her over time, to be placed in her coffin as they meant so much to her! Sadly as she herself stated in the last Codicil to her Will, these had fallen to the passage of time and no longer existed.

First Flowers after 5 months separation 1990

Natalie asked if she could put these flowers in her coffin instead. Needless to say I gave her a hug and said of course as I knew exactly what the bunch she found represented  for me and Hanna.

In 1990 I was stationed in Bielefeld as a Staff Officer in HQ 1 (BR) Corps and living in a flat in the centre of town. Although Hanna and I had recently become lovers I did not want a permanent relationship, I was not ready. Instead I started an affair with an American soprano in the Bielefeld Opera Company. Nor did I keep it a quiet affair I told Hanna what I was doing and why. The affair did not survive the first Gulf War, as the lady was not best pleased when on my Birthday I came home late due to some crisis or other at the front.

This taught me another valuable lesson in life and when I realised I was foolish and Hanna WAS the woman for me, I just got in my car with the said fresh flowers and drove down to Mönchengladbach. It was a surprise for her when she saw me, but she knew how I felt without saying or asking anything. She just took me by the hand and straight upstairs to bed. The rest as the say is history and this was when the spark became the all consuming fire.

When Natalie left I wept a little. I wept for the pain I had caused Hanna, I wept for the love and forgiveness Hanna showed me and I wept for the joy of the love we shared.