Sunday, 10 February 2019

Transports of Delight: Why I love buses..


Before I reached 60, I never used buses. They were expensive, unreliable and took far too long to get where they were going, or so I thought. I have subsequently discovered how mistaken I was. Now that I am a member of the Bus Pass Crew, I know better. Apart from the occasions when they decide not to show up, there is very little about using the local buses that I don't like.

Interestingly, it was the presence of a local bus route, with named local stops, that was one of the things the Inspector on our Town Green Public Inquiry asked me about, when the obnoxious council barrister was trying to prove that where I live is not a proper ''neighbourhood''. He would only have to stand in the queue waiting for the 657 (it used to be the 625; we don't know why they changed it) or the 366 from Luton to see that we are a community.

I have got on the first morning bus into town, looked around, and realised that I know everybody on board. And there are some great conversations to be had. Here, using the bus has a set routine. You board and greet the driver. You scan your pass. You greet any passengers that make eye contact as you find your seat. You move to the back of the bus automatically if a mum and buggy get on. You vacate the 'elderly' seats without being asked. When you leave the bus, you thank the driver. If a stranger boards who is unsure of where they are going, you all pile in with your helpful ten pence worth.

Mind you, I live in a relatively small town. I also use the buses in London, and the contrast is unbelievable. London buses are so unfriendly.The first time I got on a London bus, I tried to scan my pass on the Oyster card machine, causing it to go into conniptions. I got glared at by the driver. I tried to leave the bus by the front, not the centre doors. I got glared at by the driver. I said thank you as I alighted. I got glared at by the driver.

Here, because it's usually the same set of drivers, they get to know who we are and where we catch the bus. I have known certain nice drivers to stop at non-designated stops to let elderly people off with heavy bags of shopping, and one morning, when I was walking up to the local school in the rain to invigilate, the bus drew alongside, slowed, and the driver gave me a 'do you want to get on' look. That's how we roll where I live.

The other thing about buses is that occasionally, something happens that just fills you with delight and reminds you that the world is so much nicer than it appears on the surface. Like the time I was travelling back from Welwyn Garden City and the bus stopped to let a little playgroup board. The kids were wide-eyed, noisy and fizzing with excitement at catching a bus. The leaders settled them into the front seats (hastily vacated) as best they could, but it was a bit like trying to organise a panic. As the driver pulled away from the kerb, one of the leaders gamely squatted down in the gangway, and very discreetly and slightly anxiously began to sing ''Wheels on the bus'', in an attempt to calm things down.

And then, something happened. First, the people in the nearest seats started to join in. Then those sitting behind them joined in, followed rapidly by those further back, so that by the time the bus crested the hill outside the town, everybody on board (except for two college students at the rear of the bus who were desperately trying to pretend they weren't there) was singing along to ''Wheels on the bus'' and doing the hand gestures, to the rapturous joy of the little playgroup, who clearly thought this was what happened on every journey.

That's why I like buses.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Holocaust Denial


Search Results for:
Last / Maiden Name = Flatauer        First Name = Alma        Place = Berlin
                                                                                                                         
Alma Flatauer: 1889 Berlin, Germany List of murdered Jews from Germany.    Murdered

Alma Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany Page of Testimony.                                  Murdered

Alma Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of deportation from Berlin.                Murdered

Alma Flatauer 1889 Osnabrueck, Germany Page of Testimony.                          Murdered


We live in a 'post fact' (or as I prefer to call it, downright lies) era. This means that the internet is currently ablaze with Holocaust deniers, claiming that the massacre of Jews, gypsies, disabled people, and gays, under the Nazis did NOT happen.

The survivors of Hitler's 'Final Solution' are gradually dying. Those that are left, frail but undaunted, spend their last few days having to tell their harrowing stories over and over again, as the stinking sewage of denial washes through social media. When they are gone, who will bear the torch?

As many of you know, I am the daughter of German Jewish refugees, and post the fiasco that was Brexit, I have applied for and received restored citizenship, so that my descendants will never have their 'Citizen of the World' status wrenched from them, as my grandparents' and parents' right to citizenship was by the German government. At the head of this piece is the visual proof, taken from German documentation, of the 'fate' of my paternal grandmother.

But this is my mother's story, not mine: she was born in Berlin and as the anti-Jewish laws started coming into force, she was in her early twenties. She had to leave university, where she was studying art & design, and went to work for one of the many Jewish organisation that had started getting Jewish families out of Germany as they could see what was going to happen in the future.


She helped organise Jews leaving Germany, and her refugee organisation supplied the papers and documents needed. These organisations also helped make the situation of German Jews very public and were hated as a result. Eventually, Hitler decided to close the borders. The last train was scheduled to leave Berlin on December 7th, 1941.

The way my mother always told it: she sent her own parents to the UK where, as the Daily Mail article shows, the identical 'anti-semitic/illegal immigrant' rhetoric was alive and well then, as now, but she felt it her duty to stay in Berlin and help out to the end.


So it wasn't until the last day that she packed her suitcase and headed for the station. The queue stretched for yards. She stood in line, wondering whether she was too late. Then the German police started going down the line, checking passports and documents. Time ticked on. Finally they reached her, and roughly demanded her papers.

My mother handed them over. A brief scrutiny. A consultation. A list was checked. Then she was beckoned out of the line and ordered to go with them. Her heart sank. Was she about to be refused exit? Was she going to be imprisoned? Tortured? Deported to a work camp?  She followed the police .... along the platform ... past the waiting crowd ... straight to the barrier where the train was waiting.

A curt command and the barrier was raised. She was pushed onto the platform. The barrier was closed. Still not quite believing what had just happened, she took her place on the last train and came eventually to the UK, where she met and married my father, also a refugee. Nine years later, I was born in the UK.

My father's family refused to leave Germany, believing, as so many EU citizens, migrants and refugees believe today, that civilised people would never try to deny them their human rights. They perished at Auschwitz. My parents died many years ago. I am now the bearer of my family's story.

If you read a tweet, or an article, or a book by someone denying that Hitler and his military machine ruthlessly and systematically exploited, tortured, and murdered eleven million human beings whose only 'crime' was that they were not ''them'', then remember this: the people who ignore the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them.
Over and over again.

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Friday, 18 January 2019

Fuelling the Writing Process


Surprise has been expressed in some quarters at the amount of coffee that I drink while writing my Victorian Detective series. Lest it be thought that I spend all day sitting in front of a laptop, mainlining caffeine, I probably need to point out that the coffee cup: word count ratio also includes other writing-related activities that may take place at different times of the day and in different places but can include coffee as part of the journey.

For a start, there is thinking/planning coffee, which happens while counting the fish in the pond, re-arranging various drawers, reading the paper, de-frosting the fridge or moving objects upon the desk. Okay, I call it thinking/planning coffee, but let's be gut-honest, you know, and I know you know exactly what it is.

There is also research coffee. Research is something most writers do, especially those who write historical fiction, because every little detail has to be absolutely accurate. You can wing it, but sod's law dictates that if you do, your book will fall into the reviewing hands of the one and only world-expert in the winged area, and they will take great delight in exposing your ignorance to the wider reading public.

I use two sources for research: the internet, which is brilliant for very specific information: Victorian funerary practices, the acceptable length of mourning for different family members etc. However I also like to get out and use the local library, because there is something about the serendipity of working along the shelves and discovering something you didn't know you needed until you came across it. It's a bit like Topshop, but with books. I once found a whole page on how the Victorians decorated their Christmas trees in a book on Celebrations - and used the information in Diamonds & Dust.


Both research sources involve copious amounts of coffee naturally, although the best thing about extra-mural research coffee is that it is usually accompanied by research cake. Victoria sponge cake, of course!