Alone in Berlin

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This was a ‘found’ book from a second hand stall.  I knew nothing of the author and precious little of Nazi Germany that was not gleaned from war films.  The chance encounter, like a pebble tossed in a pond, has released infinite ripples.  It is beautifully, delicately translated  by Michael Hofmann.

Hans Fallada

Hans Fallada

Hans Fallada is the literary name, of Rudolf Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen, chosen from  a Brothers Grimm fairly tale.  Fallada was born in East Germany in1893 and spent much of his life in prison or in psychiatric care. In 1911, a duel cum suicide pact with a friend, when they were both eighteen, that he survived but his friend did not, resulted in hIs first spell in psychiatric care, having been pronounced unfit for trial for murder on psychiatric grounds.  Addiction to various drugs, including morphine that was widely available after both world wars and alcohol, was a factor in his adult life.

He did not leave Germany as many authors did when the Nazis came to power in 1933.  As he told his parents in a letter, his next novel would be, ‘a quite unpolitical book which can’t give offence.’ It was viciously attacked by the regime.  He did move out of Berlin to  a small-holding and relative anonymity, but was denounced and imprisoned as an anti Nazi, and subsequently released, all on spurious grounds. Threats to personal and artistic liberty and integrity caused endless damage.

Some  subsequent manuscripts,  written in order to stay in favour, have not survived.   Iron Gustav,(1938) is his most notorious of the era. He was induced to  alter the end to suit the regime perhaps due to the veiled (reported) threat from Joseph Goebbles .. if Fallada still didn’t know what he thought of the Nazi Party, then the Nazi Party would know what it thought of Fallada…

Alone in Berlin was not published until after the war. It fictionalises the story of two ordinary people who, after  their son is killed in the invasion of France, decide to make a stand agains the might of the Third Reich. They leave postcards in public places reminding Berliners of common decency that has been almost totally wiped out by the regime. This of course is a crime against the state; high treason punishable by death.  They assume their words are sowing seeds of sedition all over the city.  Such is the pervading fear and  violence  that the postcards are immediately handed in.  The violence, meanness and fear, both casual and institutionalised, is deeply, worryingly, hauntingly portrayed.  A handful, who knows, unable to stand against the Nazis managed to preserve their integrity.  In small ways that often cost their lives, they kept a flame alive for when the war and the Nazi’s were defeated.

Hans Fallada  produced some of the most significant German novels of the twentieth century, including ‘Little Man, What Now?’ and was perhaps a genius in the writing world.

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Vision

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In our small town and outlying villages, as in many round the world, there are good people. People on a mission, people whose aim  is not just random acts of kindness, but a long term force for good. This is not grandiose.  They work for the good of their community and incidentally, almost by default, for the larger world.  Perhaps a long winded way of saying these are people with vision: a vision of life and a vision of the world. Surely every act impinges one on another? One person’s gentle ministrations influence another’s as surely as one person’s violence or unkindness.  But I am thinking more of leaders of men, instigators.  In fact, I am thinking of Stan.

In the few years we have lived here, quietly adjusting from city to country life,  a 20 mile sponsored walk in aid of Barnados has been an annual event.  A sucker for such walks since school days. The walk is in its 20th year and has raised in excess of £200,000, thanks to Stan and a whole team of volunteers who make cakes for rest stations, marshal, lead , offer first aid, do the paper work.  It started with 27 people. This year, a bumper year, 230 took part.

The walk’s fame is spreading;  a tough walk, no amble along a canal tow path,  but  serious hill and mountain walking in and around the Rhinogs in Snowdonia National Park.  It is also family friendly, designed to custom fit all takers. Every five miles or so a rescue station offers  a lift back to the start point ( as well as  cakes and tea.) This year there was  the option to short cut the serious mountain climb, the more challenging challenge, (which I opted for but Sunny boy didn’t), thereby losing the hardest five miles but still giving the walker a stiff, satisfying 15 miler.

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Many locals walk too, those who aren’t manning the stations, whose ordinary day jobs, plumbers, builders, waitresses, hoteliers, run the town, alongside their role in the voluntary community:  mountain rescuer, lifeboatman (person), first responder.

An evening of jollity follows: a meal and an opportunity for more fundraising – a raffle; a shove a pound coin along the floor towards a bottle of whiskey ( donated) to see who gets the closest competition. Nice to see  faces rosy from a day of exertion outdoors in wind and sun (no rain this year)

The quiet and permanence of the printed word.

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Before I was a writer, I had the measure of blogs, or thought so:  blogs are for self publicists, whether or not they have something other than themselves they wish to promote.  That I would have to publicise my first (only) book myself came as a surprise just a few months short of the publication date.  All the creative writing courses in the world never mentioned that glitch.  The writing, the finding a publisher, a mere nothing compared to the lengths required to sell the finished article.

Jonathan Franzen has been in the news recently, ( new book out, I guess,)  speaking of ghastly self publicising , ‘yakking and tweeting and bragging’ as ‘intolerably shallow forms of social engagement.’ He doesn’t mention the necessity for many new writers  to promote their work themselves. Obviously less well connected, less gifted, than he is, it is a struggle to make a name/find readers to whom we are not related.

Since starting to blog, a trap, that I have almost willingly fallen into, more time is spent blogging than writing, creating not writer’s block, but writer’s blog:  a time gobbler into which vast tracks of time, truly hideous amounts, disappear.

Then there are comments from other blogs, tantamount to a cheery little wave, ‘over here, I’m over here.’ from complete strangers, aka potential readers.  Keeping abreast of ‘The Greats’ (JF?) comments is bad enough, never mind actually reading their work.

I swear, one day, my footprints will lead to dense, internet wilderness and not come out the other side. No trace will ever be found, as if I have disappeared into the ether.

Then there is the garden – but that is a different wilderness.

Bron Y foel

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‘I didn’t know you were a writer,’ Nedu said, having seen an article in the local Cambrian News.

‘As a matter of fact I’m working on a children’s story set in your house.’

Nedu nodded appreciatively. If ever a place had ghosts, or was evocative, it is the sub medieval house, a Snowdonia house, in the lee of Moelfre above Dyffryn Ardudwy where he grew up – especially when it’s misty.

The tales Nedu told us of his childhood in the house had us alternately laughing like drains, or with our hair  on end. His were the hilarious and hair raising exploits that inspired the story. Such as finding unspent bullets from a crashed world war two plane in the hills above his house and putting them on the open fire before beating a swift retreat. Sadly, as often happens, his exploits have not translated well to my written page and another story, using the house as  back drop, is slowly, painfully slowly, emerging.

This has nothing at all to do with a second novel I should be working on.  Which probably says it all as far as organisation of my writing day goes.

The Mynydd Llanbedr Walk

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We gathered at the viewpoint as cars rolled up. No snow, no storm, just a leaden sky and a fair amount of wind; it looked as though the walk would take place. The long awaited walk up Llanbedr Mountain, or  Mynydd Llanbedr, to give it its Welsh name: six miles, nine walkers and Nancy the dog, steep up hill and down, views obscured partially by dense, low lying, black cloud: a peach of a walk.

It has been called off three times before.  Once due to heavy snow; once due to a heavy storm and once because we were visiting Nedu Griffiths’ Snowdonia House , Bron y Foel and it got too late to walk into the mountains – even Llanbedr Mountain at 1500 feet.

A descent through the farm, where the farm dog would have gone for Nancy, had Brian not been deft with his sticks and kept him at bay till the farmer whistled him off. The farm dog did a good impression of a frenzy chasing its own tail like the tigers in Little Black Sambo who eventually turned to ghee, before it followed the farmer in his four-wheeled buggy and left Nancy in peace.

Perhaps it was the wind or just his nature that set him off.

We sauntered down to the valley floor, along the tarmac lane to the signpost for the Taith Ardudwy, turning off soon to head steadily up hill to wild and peaty, open moorland. The view was only marginally impaired by dark, lowering clouds and, but for the wind and chatting, there was the deep quiet of the hills. We sheltered for coffee and all put on waterproofs. Carolyn showed us a nifty trick for keeping the inside of your trousers mud free – put your booted foot into a plastic bag before shoving it down the trouser leg, (if you have trouser legs wide enough to take your boot in the first place) Luckily the rain abated leaving just the wind.

Climbing till lunchtime we stopped in the lee of the hill for the last shelter.  Once over the brow of the hill for a swift decent the wind ragged us blowing off Rhinog Fawr,  almost completely blacked out by weather.

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By the time we reached the Nantcol Cottage home to the traitor, whose name and deed I forget now, and the farmhouse, Maes y garnedd,  we were almost warm.

Tussocky and marshy through the valley to see the small cascade as the river burbled through, over plenty of styles and makeshift bridges we came to the lane where the old school, now converted to a holiday cottage and the old fashioned telephone box marked the final easy section. Even the uphill sting in the tail of the walk did not seem hard.

No sign of the farmer’s dog as we walked back to the cars.

Tea in the village café where, quite by chance, we met our old friend Nedu Griffiths, who remembered our visit to his house a good few months back. He told us of the more complete history of the house now published on the internet, under the house name, Bron y Foel.

The Angel Muriel

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Angels have such beatific faces, however they are depicted,  and all  with the same look. I begin to wonder if they are related; one big happy family; some pugnacious, some fallen, some a bit wishy washy. Catching sight of an angel – even in stone – having a damn good time is rare, not wishing to offend aficionados,  I do believe, some days, especially when things go well, but usually think to call on them only when things do not.

The name Muriel derives from Myrrh. Courtesy of Angel Reach, (everything you ever wanted to know about angels) , here is an explanation for Angel  Muriel

‘Muriel’s name means “God’s perfume.” Her angelic responsibilities are said to include tending the plants and animals of Earth. She is often shown with a crown of flowers, which she lovingly places into the river of life. It’s said that when she is around, you may smell the subtle scent of your favourite flower.

Muriel brings messages of peace and harmony, reminding us that every selfless good deed never goes unrewarded. Muriel is said to teach you how to love unconditionally.

As you invite Muriel into your life, it’s suggested that you will become more aware of  how you can help others and actively look for opportunities to be of service i.e. You may find yourself suddenly find yourself thinking about how you can help the homeless or other charitable acts. Muriel is said to teach that helping others is the path to true happiness. ‘

The title of the book, Murielle’s Angel, is complete coincidence, although I was thinking of angels in human form:  people who are uncommonly kind, generous, brave, or have any or all of the virtues in spades and whose kindness, generosity, bravery etc. has an effect on others.  Perhaps the point of angels, in human form at least, is to foster the practice of virtues.  It always seems if one person sets an example other try to follow.  Perhaps we are back with random acts of kindness.