‘Strangeways, here we come’

Wood engraving inspired by "The Scream," Besigheim

Wood engraving inspired by “The Scream,” Besigheim

When I lent Benny’s dad Christoph a book on German history and explained the author’s premise, that too much focus had been placed on the Hitler years, he said that’s because no one told them what happened, no one talked about it growing up. He found out about the Holocaust after he moved to the States as an exchange student in the 60s.

We end our first 90 days in the Schengen saying goodbye and thanks to friends, and I get sentimental seeing the girls off to school this morning, taking them on the same route I took Lily six years ago when she was finishing kindergarten here: I ask them to stop so I can tell a story about what happened a year ago when I was really busy at work, so much I couldn’t really listen to them on walks to the lake back home, I’d get distracted, and so I wrote them notes in plastic eggs I put with their overnight bags when Dawn and I went away for a weekend with our friends to McMenamins, outside of Portland — and Lily mists up with me as I say goodbye and watch them disappear under the tunnel — these goodbyes symbolise other goodbyes we’ve had, or I can imagine having in the future.

Christoph was born in 1945 and didn’t meet his dad until he was six years old; his dad was a Nazi and taken to a prison camp in Russia, then just returned home one day and introduced himself as his father.

He shows us a black and white photo of his grandfather holding his dad as a baby outside the bakery they owned in East London. When the first war started, the English told his grandfather he could either return to Germany or remain as a prisoner, and he wisely chose the latter, for they sent the Germans off to the Isle of Man, where it sounded like he had a good time playing cards and writing love letters to his English wife.

When the second war started he returned to Germany with the English pounds he got for selling his bakery, intending to use the money to buy property and retire here in Germany, but the bank robbed him of his money, told him it wasn’t worth anything, and left him only enough to buy an old clock.

The girls leave a set of plastic fangs in my mom’s bathroom by the sink, and the cat traps a mouse in there but takes longer catching it than seems normal, so much I wonder if she’s making it appear harder than it is, a trick I learned watching some consultants in my last job.

Christoph says when the war ended the Nazis just changed from one uniform to another; his history teacher was a former SS officer. I’m not sure what he means by it, but I plan to hear more when we return from the UK in February.

We put summer back in a box the way you do with seasons like Christmas, when it’s time to switch things out, and the Germans were all out this past weekend clipping and pruning, scrubbing out the window box containers, as if they’re all on the same schedule, the same as the church clocks, the calendar that says Winter Time begins this weekend.

We leave the Schengen Monday by boat from Amsterdam to Newcastle and begin with a visit to our friends tomorrow in France, then 18 properties Dawn’s reserved for us throughout the UK and Ireland.

Eberhard helped me with the SIM card in my cracked German phone, and took me to get the car washed, left us with a flashlight, a kit with backup anti-freeze, engine oil, safety vests in case the car breaks down, blankets…Dawn and I went to the drug store and bought toiletries, new scarves, socks. I have a box of cookware I’m assembling and we’re borrowing my mom’s Dutch oven, and we’ll look like hippies living out of the back of our car for the next three months, or not.

I started a poem comparing us to paper planes that don’t fly right because of how they’re folded, or the fact they maybe crashed too many times and their noses got bent. And Dawn and I talked on the bridge, how it’s hard having your heart in two places because it can feel divided, or like it’s gotten lost in between. There’s a phrase “cloud herding” I stole from an Irish writer I’m hoping I can use once we set foot in Scotland and turn the clocks back an hour, then see what we can see there.

Post title HT to The Smiths, their fourth and final studio record released September, 1987.

Tyrolean Schnaps topper on two-pronged carrot, straddling a root

Tyrolean Schnaps topper on two-pronged carrot, straddling a root

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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38 Responses to ‘Strangeways, here we come’

  1. Very enjoyable read, Bill. I would like to read a poem about the paper airplanes – so many places to go with that. I look forward to reading more about your observations while you continue your travels. Best wishes to you!

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Hey, glad you enjoyed it Michelle – thanks. And I suppose the paper airplane could go in any direction you think to toss it. Some things just never make it out of my notepad and that’s probably best. I was having a fun ‘meta’ moment there, trying to trap some of these moments like bugs in amber maybe. Bad analogy, but we’re friends. I can kick my feet up here, right? Thanks for the well wishes and hope we stay in touch in the coming weeks too.

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  2. Lynn Love says:

    A really nicely written, interesting post. Unless you grew up in Germany during those years, I don’t suppose any of us can know what it must have been like – no wonder many don’t like to talk of it. There’s a sense of national guilt on some level.
    I used to live in Manchester, where the Smiths hail from and Strangeways is Manchester’s largest prison, a large, dark and gloomy Victorian building that still dominates that part of town. It’s most famous for one of the biggest ever prison riots where the inmates dismantled the roof and threw the tiles at the guards and watching press. (Though the riot was after the Smiths had split.)
    So, here we come 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • pinklightsabre says:

      I’m so glad you told that story about Strangeways. I am a fan of many Mancurian bands and ugh, kind of embarrassed to say this but The Fall is my favourite band of all time, OK. I said it. Embarrassed because you probably know of ME Smith more than most, or have friends who do. I’m looking forward to reading your post on Walt’s blog when I can settle in and have some good time to dig into something, like be ‘present’ with it. I shouldn’t even be here now, I should be packing – but needed a rest from that. Damn stressful you know! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts Lynn. Perhaps we’ll visit Strangeways just ‘because.’ Hopefully by our own choice. – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        You know, I don’t know much about the Fall – only that Mark E Smith has a reputation for being one of the most difficult people on the planet! I do love the Smiths, though – give me a person who doesn’t love ‘Please,please, please let me get what I want’ and I’ll show them the door 🙂
        Much as I do love Manchester – we lived and worked there for a while and my son was born in the hospital neighbouring the Man City football ground – Stangeways is not a highlight I’d recommend. Though if you’re a fan of spicy food, do visit Curry Mile in Rusholme, a long street where pretty much every building is a curry house – it’s a little rundown but still amazing.
        Hope the packing’s going well 🙂

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        I am so into curry, more so than ME Smith perhaps. Someone made a joke once, like, if you only had one bullet to use would you use it on Robert Smith or Mark E. Smith and they said, I’d put one in front of the other and kill them both. I like that. Yes, irascible doesn’t even say it for him I think, but I love him just the same, in a selfish way – because he inspires me somehow, something I see in him. Thank you for these great recommendations and sorry I’m just getting to them now. Drove threw a few new countries today. Going to take more time to just ‘be’ now and stop being meta about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Ah, I’d have to save Rob Smith, I’m afraid. He may be a pain, but he’s given me many happy memories listening to his music. I’d save him for ‘Close to me’ alone 🙂

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        I don’t know how it is, that that whiney, whingey mopey thing can be so endearing. Perhaps that’s the genesis of this online navel gazing, right there in The Cure, and part of the reason some of us relate to it so well. Yes, there’s nothing like that “Close to Me” and “In Between Days.” A dear friend of mine who knows music really well used to laugh when we’d say their music got ‘too pop.’ They’ve always been a pop man, he said – and he’s right. And when they weren’t pop, I wasn’t into them (that “Glove” project). I read he got his inspiration from Siouxsie because he realised he could be gloomy and dark, and that became their style. I think “Disintegration” is my favourite, start to finish.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Ah, yes – he was in the Banshees at one point, wasn’t he. I guess they’ve always been pop, though some of their lyrics are definitely not – ‘slit the cats like cheese’ is not a lyric you’d find in a Justin Beiber song :). Disintegration is a great album – I love ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Lullaby’ particularly. ‘The Head on the Door’s my favourite, though. I can still sing every song – preferably at full volume whilst dancing round the kitchen!
        Rob Smith is a whinger, though. And can’t apply lipstick for toffee:)

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        Can’t apply lipstick for toffee. That’s some good verse. I look forward to learning more English when I’m in your country.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Well, if you need any translations doing, all you need to do is ask. No worries 🙂

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    • rossmurray1 says:

      I did not know that. Bill’s: come for the prose, stay for the education.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Right you are. Better than Wikipedia and more scintillating verse if I must say so myself. You can pin and mount me like a butterfly.

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    • walt walker says:

      I never knew that about Strangeways. Adds so much. Changes the connotation entirely. You think you know what something is, and then you don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        I actually thought I knew the story and turns out I didn’t. I thought it was an insane asylum. Thanks to Lynn Love for that!

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      • Lynn Love says:

        It’s not a cheerful looking place – it’s dark and gothic and looming and not in the nicest part of the city. It’s surrounded by fabric wholesalers and I remember going there with a dressmaker friend years ago. It was a weird juxtaposition – industrial units filled floor to roof with satin and glitz and shimmering beads and all in the shadow of a huge Victorian prison.

        Liked by 1 person

      • walt walker says:

        And all this time I just thought it was their clever way of saying “we’re odd folk.” Seriously. I’m totally clueless, seems. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Well, they were quite odd – think of Morrisey and his obsession with gladioli. To be fair, I don’t suppose many people outside the UK have heard of Strangeways prison-it’s not joslting beside Stonehenge and the Tower of London as ‘must see British tourist attraction’. 🙂
        Though it is a wonderful name, isn’t it? It’s real name is the rather boring HM Prison Manchester. Almost as good as Wormwood Scrubs, a prison in London. And that is it’s real name

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      • walt walker says:

        It is a great name. Reminds me of Crackjaw, the asylum in the professors blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        It’s weird (the name Strangeways) in the way my wife and I have found the name Fresh Kills, a landfill outside NYC where they sorted some of the rubble after 911. Upon reading about it now, I see the name is Dutch (‘kille’ is a riverbed or water channel in Middle Dutch, takes on an obvious irony here).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        I’d heard of Fresh Kills, but not the derivation. Sadly ironic – you’re right.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. ksbeth says:

    and off you go!

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  4. goldfish says:

    1987?! That’s not possible! I bought that album when it came out. Damn, I’m old.
    Safe travels.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Thank you FOG. I bought it when it came out too. It was an impressionable time, of course (me, 16 going on 17). And good, as the season closes, to roll out the dead, these gloomy tunes. A rush and a push and the land we stand on is ours. Catch you on the flipside my friend!

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  5. I love the carrot man’s pantaloons!

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  6. kirizar says:

    Your writing is wandering as you travel, stopping at neat little tidbits of information, colorful characters and personal insights. It is a delight to read your travelogue–next time must include picture of ‘cloud herding’.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. rossmurray1 says:

    And you were wondering why people read you…
    I’m loving Spotify and find myself binge listening. Since your Dropbox drop, it’s been Cocteau Twins. I’m checking the Jayhawks right now (the evolution of alt-country). I’m due for some Smiths.

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Let me know if you need a Smiths mixer and I’m happy to indulge. Glad you are liking the Cocteaus. I have a record by them on CD in our car back in Seattle that is exactly the sound of a winter morning with snow.

      Like

    • walt walker says:

      My favorite Jayhawks song is Blue:

      “Where have all my friends gone
      They’ve all disappeared
      Turned around maybe one day
      You’re all that was there

      Stood by on believing
      Stood by on my own
      Always thought I was someone
      Turned out I was wrong

      An’ you brought me through
      And you made me feel

      So blue…”

      Like

      • rossmurray1 says:

        I heard that song for the first time today! It’s what set me off on this binge. I only know the band through their more popular songs so I’m especially curious about their earlier work.

        Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        This is great: you guys just stay up talking while I go to bed. Love it. OK I’m about gone now so to speak — thank you for sharing these lyrics Walt, I haven’t heard the song or the band but I know of them. Now I have a reason to keep my ears open for them. Bye for now.

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  8. Dina Honour says:

    I’ve used the term emotional jet lag–when you’ve left a bit of your heart behind somewhere and it has to catch up to the rest of you. Cloud herding is much nicer. But…I always find it odd when this happens. We were away having a WWII themed vacation in the UK so I was not online much and didn’t see this until just this minute–but we were touring Bletchley Park and then the Imperial War RAF Museum and at the same time I was reading All the Light We Cannot See and I almost…almost felt a twinge of sadness for the Germans. All the technology invented, all of the advancements and intelligence and the rest of us need hear about it because of how it was used. Do you think the creator of the Enigma machine (if indeed it was, as I’m assuming, a German) ever got recognized for that achievement? I wonder. What a funny, old, horrible, vicious, but ultimately hopeful world we live in.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Gosh, well put all around Dina. Lots to ponder with that – glad you saw some of the sadness in the German experience there too. It’s awfully strange and I think not too foreign a possibility, that ill-lead intent that lives in our hearts, hard to put it right, not qualified now. Trying to settle down with a Belgian beer, that’s better. Emotional jet lag it is.

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