Bernd Czerolka

Bernd Czerolka

 

Recently we bid one of our small family a final sad farewell. Bernd Czerolka, aged 75, passed away in the early evening of 12th of September, 2018, in the nursing home he was staying at in Wolfenbüttel.

There was a small gathering of very close friends to bury his urn, and to be honest, nothing much else. No crowds of wailing, sobbing mourners, no hymns or choirs, no drunken wake after, just us, the family; quietly paying our last respects to a man who had helped us all at one time or another. It seems that all we have left of Bernie’s legacy is a pile of bills and insurance claims, which to me is most unsatisfactory for someone who played such a large role in my life here in Germany.

So I want to tell you about him.

I first met Uncle Bernd, as he became known to my family and friends, in the winter of 1991. The grandmother of the girl who would later be my wife had invited us to Sunday dinner, and what a lavish spread it was. I’ll never forget the three different types of roast they brought into the living room, and me thinking we’ll never finish everything as the veg and gravy were fetched from the kitchen. It was my first experience with the “Bernd Czerolka School of Cooking”, loads of it and then some more on top. I remember Steph saying to her Grandmother that we had to go, and I was so ridiculously thankful as I’d eaten way too much and all I wanted to do was sleep.

Bernd, like most of his generation, did his time in the military, and so with hands, feet, mimic, and sound effects, we spoke of our respective experiences in the army. His service years were spent in the German equivalent of the Royal Engineers and the names of the characters in his company, (Pippin der Kleiner and der Lange Ludwig) would pepper the recollections of his military days throughout the years I knew him. He always held the British Army in high regard, which obviously endeared him to me, and never forgot that the Brits used to buy him duty free cigarettes and booze from the Naafi.

Bernd was a firm believer in breaking down barriers with alcohol, which he managed with all of my family and a lot of my friends. The one time that really sticks in my head was my parent’s first evening babysitting our kids for us. The kids were asleep and Steph and myself were ready to hit the big city, when Bernd turns up at the door.

“Oh, Bernie, we’re just off out,” I said.

“But your parents aren’t,” he answered, smiling. “It’s fine, we’ll be okay, I have whisky,” he said as he walked in. Later on Steph and myself came home to find my father and Bernd deep in conversation in the traditional manner of people who don’t share a common language; hand jiving and repeating words loudly to each other. The job of babysitting had fallen to my mother, whilst the men had bravely taken on the task of international relations, fuelled by whisky and willing bonhomie.

When we moved into our second flat, Bernd really came into his own with the renovation work. We wore plastic shopping bags on our heads against the dripping paint and laughed like drunken teenagers about it every time we donned them. It was a joke that never went stale and was the first time I really bonded with the old guy. After that, we were more friends than “forced-together-through-family”, which, as anyone who knows me will know, suited me fine.

His health nose dived after his first heart attack, despite the state of the art pacemaker they put in, and he was never the same again. Mentally he was all there, as cynical, sarcastic, dry, and funny as ever. Physically though, it was all downhill, sadly.

After his closest friend passed away we lost a part of Berni. Though they weren’t married they did everything together, and when she left us his pain was palpable despite the craggy façade he put up every day. The light of his eyes faded and it seemed life for him had turned into something to be endured. Make no mistake, they weren’t married but there was an abundance of love there.

The last few years were not kind to Bernd, but he wasn’t one to complain. I made a point of trying to help him on my very seldom days off, (though Steph visited and helped most days), and tried to be there for him, as he had been there for us in the beginning. Sometimes we’d clear his cellar or flat, sometimes just pick things up from the shops. Sometimes we just sat and talked. After he was moved to a nursing home the end came mercifully fast. For a man who had looked after himself his whole life, the constant waiting for other people to fetch things or tidy up was like his own personal hell. He passed away peacefully in his sleep.

With him went a part of one of the chapters in my life. He was there in the turbulent times when I left the army, a calming voice between the wanton ex soldier, drunk on newfound freedom, and the family who weren’t sure if I was the right one for their daughter, (which I can COMPLETELY understand). He celebrated with us on the birth of our children and was more than just a great uncle, he was a second granddad. When we moved into our first two flats and house he helped with the renovation and in the garden, (boy did he!). He made an effort for every family gathering and he was simply there, a friend; more than a friend, an uncle by choice rather than by blood.

A man of quiet strengths and large appetites, of curmudgeonly insights and boundless generosity, of cynical realism and all too human wishes and hopes. He was simply a good man.

Goodbye Bernd, you will be missed.

 

 

 

 

(I started this piece not long after Bernd’s funeral, on the 15th October. I’ve only just finished it today, hence the delay in posting)

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Mercenaries, Muskets and Monkeys.

Bev Allen, author

I will be honest, I added the “monkey” bit because it sounded good, but there is a reason for the mercenaries and the muskets.

NEW BOOK!

Huzzah!

Currently with Dave, my lovely editor and undergoing his rigorous scrutiny is my next offering “The Lord of the Faran Hills”.

This is a bit of a departure for me, because it is fantasy, although fantasy without magic, I reserve magic for the weird stuff like in “A Solemn Curfew”, but it is fantasy and not science fiction.

However, I am returning to a favourite theme…soldiers. I have a soft spot for all things military, having been married to a military historian for quite a few years. Normally my soldiers are regulars, but this time I wanted to explore the world of the soldier of fortune.

Normally these guys get a very bad press and rightly so, but there are many who don’t deserve it…

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Author Torture 2

Mr. Jones is helping us with our inquiries…

Bev Allen, author

Today’s author for torture is Richard Rhys Jones, author of such warm cosy reads as “Division of the Damned” and “The Sisterhood of the Serpent”.

Go here to get the full down load.

http://divisionofthedamned.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-me.html

Richard (Reggie to his mates) is one of my oldest writing buddies, so I have no conscience about throwing into my interrogation chamber.

You are marooned on a desert island and find a magic lamp. You get the traditional three wishes, but keep in mind I’m not letting you off the island, so don’t start pleading or trying to escape. You can only have one practical item, other people will not be allowed and will be taken away and dumped on an island far, far away and the wish forfeited. Smut is permitted if it makes me laugh.

Firstly, hiya Bev 😀

Right, to business. First item would have to be a computer of some sort…

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Night “Music”

My good friend Bev Allen’s blog, take it away, Bev!!

Bev Allen, author

Before I tell you about the next story I need to share a few things. First to quote Terry Pratchett,

“A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.”    

Second, despite what a certain person claims, I did NOT write this as revenge, I was just inspired.

Definitely not a revenge story.

And yes, I do know what a heavy cold and a medicinal night cap can do.

For three nights running.

Having cleared that up, the story…I’ve called this one “Hush a Bye”, from the old traditional lullaby, the scary one about hanging a baby in a tree and waiting for enough wind to send it crashing to the ground. Don’t believe me?

“Hush a bye baby, on the tree top.

When the wind blows the cradle will rock;

When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will…

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Concert for Chris Jones

Chris Jones was a talented acoustic blues musician who sadly passed away in the September of 2005, aged 46.

It’s hard to quantify how much influence he held as, like many genres of music,  Blues and Folk hardly ever receive media support from the big corporations. However, it’s safe to say that his talent with a guitar was and still is legendary; and his memory lives on through a festival of his music that’s staged once a year.

The Club, “Bluenote” has been holding a concert in his memory since Chris’ passing. What started out as a way of raising funds for treatment for a much loved and respected musician has now turned into an institution, with bands and musicians coming from all over Europe and America to play.

For the first time ever, I was invited to play with a band whose singer was Irish, guitarists were American and German, bassist was Scottish and harp player, (or mouth organ before anyone becomes confused), was Serbian, the great Slavko Hilvert. Naturally, I was the weakest link being only a passionate amateur, and having only been told the set list five hours before we played… but that’s by the by. I had a great time, (being half drunk and behind the drums is the ONLY way to play the Blues), and saw the usual crowd of guys who I see every year at the gig.

Jon, Chris’ brother, flies in every year from Oceanside, Darin D’onofrio flies in from Maryland, Slavko and his son Filip from Serbia, and a whole swathe of top performers and musicians come from the UK and Germany, and it’s nearly always the same faces. All to pay homage and remember Chris Jones.

The line up this year was:

Friday, 11.11. 2016
– Brother Jon & Michaela Lamparter (Very touching, they sang the song in the link)
– Wilder Pilger (Who actually played on the Saturday, but the formating won’t let me change his position… sorry Florian.)
– Roland Scull (Who was on “The Voice of Germany” the day after, though he didn’t go through)
– Brother Jon & the Bluenote Allstars (me on drums!! Madness)
– Darin D`Onofrio (Maryland, and Italy now and then.)
– Tom Ripphahn (German chap who always claims my drums when it comes to the free jam at the end)
– It´s M.E.(Berlin duo, very polished)

Saturday, 12.11.2016
– Mathew James White (New Zealand, and strangely we didn’t talk about rugby?)
– Kieran Halpin (Irish chap who seems to be on the road like forever!Seriously, the guy has been every where.)
– Christoph Schellhorn (Tirol, who has an extremely strong accent in German, but sounds Irish when he speaks.)
– Darin D`Onofrio (Hey, he’s from the States, let’s use him again…)
– Brother Jon & the Bluenote Allstars (Me again…a lot better this time, having already played the songs once before…)
– Slavko & Filip Hilvert (Wales played Serbia as we were on stage… there was a minor amount of rivalry after the game 😀 😀 😀 )
– Wullie Wullschläger, Sonja Tonn & Jürgen Hoffmann (All three absolutely brilliant in their respective roles.)

…AND not forgetting Yogi Yockusch who makes him money as a percussionist and did a spontaneous slot on day two,  and the Bluenote Allstars, with Freddy Mccorkey from Ireland on vocals, Jon Jones and Klauss Bergmann on guitars, Tommy Gallagher from Scotland on bass, and YT on the congos and bongoes.

You see, it isn’t just about them playing for money, that’s not even a tenth of the whole thing as the profit made goes to a charity. They fly and drive over because Chris meant something to them. His acoustic guitar work still challenges, his songs still inspire hope, sadness, melancholy and happiness. His work with Steve Baker is the sort of music covered by every classic Blues/Rock formation, good old foot-stompin’, 4/4 rhythm, 12-bar structure with lyrics stronger in feeling than artistic fluidity; and yet his acoustic tracks have you breathless at every pause, strained by the emotion behind the words. He was a name in the European Blues scene that drew crowds; people who were in “the know” and not beholden to the soulless electronic music factory.

And now he’s gone, killed in his own words by the tobacco industry. The world will never know what could have been with Mr. Jones as he left us far too early. What will go on though, is his memory.

This is one of his finest tracks, which this year was covered by a nice German lady who sang it beautifully in clear cut English with a soft Irish lilt, and Chris’ brother. They opened the first night and it set the whole scene for what was to come.

Listen to the song, read the lyrics, and see what Chris Jones was about.

Thanks for reading.

Reggie.

Thank You by Chris Jones

Verse 1

Look at that junkie, strung-out, on what God only knows
He ain’t washed or shaved in a couple of days and there are stains upon his clothes
Now it ain’t smack or that cocaine-crack that’s brought him to his knees
But the fully legal product of the tobacco companies
The tobacco companies

Chorus

So thank you R.J. Reynolds for helpin’ me look so cool
And thank you Phillip Morris for keepin’ me company after school
And thank you Brown & Williamson, l hope you spent my money well
When this is past and I’ve smoked my last I will see you all in hell
l will see you all in hell

Verse 2

Now this junkie’s not on a street corner, or sleepin’ in an alleyway
ln fact, l saw him in my own living room about 3 A.M. today
His hands were shakin’, his will was breakin’ and his body bathed in sweat
Take a good look, people, this is as low as a man can get
As low as a man can get

Chorus

So thank you R.J. Reynolds for helpin’ me look so cool
And thank you Phillip Morris for keepin’ me company after school
And thank you Brown & Williamson, l hope you spent my money well
When this is past and I’ve smoked my last I will see you all in hell
l will see you all in hell

Verse 3

Now, l’ve got my own two shoulders upon which to place the blame
But the companies’ false piety, well it bugs me just the same
And let us not forget our state and federal government
Before I go I’d like to know where all those taxes went, where all those taxes went

Chorus

So thank you R.J. Reynolds for helpin’ me look so cool
And thank you Phillip Morris for keepin’ me company after school
And thank you Brown & Williamson, l hope you spent my money well
When this is past and I’ve smoked my last I will see you all in hell
l will see you all in hell, I will see you all in Hell.

Yma o hyd.

It really is time for me to go home.

I haven’t been to Wales for over a year now,  since April 2014 to be precise, and that’s far too long. My parents aren’t growing any younger and my nieces and nephew are growing up at an alarming rate. I miss them all.

A lot of my German colleagues don’t actually see any difference between being Welsh and being English; in fact a lot of them think Wales is a part of England, (as do a lot of my English friends too, but that’s a different thing entirely).

When I’m asked to explain the difference, I hark back to the old favourite about the Welsh being the original Brits, and the English a product of the continental invasion of our sacred isle. However, that’s not strictly true.

Apart from the fact the gene pool has been diluted into an international slurry by two millennium of human migration, saying that the Welsh are Brits and the English Teuto/Franco/Nordic mongrels is grossly unfair. I think the main difference is in the heart of the language, and this can be captured by that one word that dominates my life at times like this: Hiraeth.

Merriam-Webster defines Hiraeth as, “a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was

The University of Wales, Lampeter attempts to define it as homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past. ( Taken from Wikipedia)

Both definitions do the word justice. The thing is, in that one word we see a difference in our national makeup. The majority of words we use in any language are taken from the generations before us. I know a lot of English mates who are sentimental about their home, but the English language has only ever come up with, “Homesickness”, and to me, that comes across as being too two-dimensional. It portrays the stiff upper lip, the disdain for any show of sentimentality that the English, (upper classes) are meant to be proud of.

In Hiraeth we have a word that seeks to go deeper than the superficial emotion of missing ones home. Obviously home isn’t just where we once lived, it’s the core of our heart, the place we can gather strength from, and where we can trace our own personal histories. Homesickness is an apt enough word to describe that yearning. However, Hiraeth goes a tad deeper; it’s missing everything that once defined you, your families, home, heritage and the memories of those that surrounded you at that time.

Homesickness is to the English speaker a longing for home. Hiraeth to the Welsh speaker, a longing for all that personally once was and never will be again.

I’m not a Welsh speaker, despite the best efforts of my gran and the school system. I have enough problems with German so let’s leave it there. However, I do love Welsh culture, and what brought me to this rambling post about missing home was a song I heard on Youtube this morning.

I watched a video about the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965. The short history of that shameful episode is that the Liverpool City Council sought and received a Parliamentary bill to create a reservoir in the Tryweryn valley. Because it was approved by Parliament, the Liverpool City Council didn’t need the approval of the Welsh Local Authorities, and the village of Tryweryn was doomed to be drowned without even asking the people who lived there.

They say that the ill-fated fight to stop the building of the dam and reservoir was the beginning of the Welsh Nationalist Movement and the Free Wales Army, but that’s for cleverer heads than I to contemplate. The families were moved out and rehoused, the graveyard was relocated and the valley flooded. Just as a footnote, in 2005 the Liverpool City Council released an apology about their behaviour and handling of the matter. However, I thnk it’s fair to say that the Parliamentary bill on its own showed the Welsh, and the world, what the English thought of their neighbours at that time.

Anyway, I digress… as ever.

Under the video was a song that, to me, is one of the greatest Welsh songs ever. For me, “Mae’r Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” is the best anthem in the world, a song that can bring tears to any proud Welshman’s eye, I know it does to me.  However, “Yma O Hyd”, by Dafydd Iwan, with its cleverly crafted lyrics and stirring chorus comes a close second.

I first heard it around 1985, and though I probably liked it, it didn’t hold any real meaning to me at that time. In fact, I probably didn’t like it as I was young and had other more earthly things on my mind. It was only later in life when I had children of my own and I realised I had left my roots behind me, that the words and sentiment behind the song  hit home.

I listened to it and thought back to the first time I heard of Dafydd iwan, in a guardroom on a cassette player, with some unknown corporal trying to tell me its background. I never knew who he was, someone in HQ SQN who left not long after I joined, but he was fired up to be going back home and his passion for Wales showed me just how shallow my idea of national pride actually was.

This is the song, (the link is the green writing), with some subtitles under it for the English speakers … namely me 😦

Yma O Hyd

Yma o Hyd

Dwyt ti’m yn cofio Macsen,
does neb yn ei nabod o.
Mae mil a chwe chant o flynyddoedd,
yn amser rhy hir i’r co’.
Pan aeth Magnus Maximus o Gymru,
yn y flwyddyn tri-chant-wyth-tri,
a’n gadael yn genedl gyfan,
a heddiw – wele ni!

Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd.

Chwythed y gwynt o’r Dwyrain,
rhued y storm o’r môr,
hollted y mellt yr wybren,
a gwaedded y daran “encôr”!
Llifed dagrau’r gwangalon,
a llyfed y taeog y llawr.
Er dued yw’r fagddu o’n cwmpas,
ry’n ni’n barod am doriad y wawr!

Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd.

Cofiwn i Facsen Wledig
adael ein gwlad yn un darn
A bloeddiwn gerbron y gwledydd,
“Mi fyddwn yma tan Ddydd y Farn!”
Er gwaetha pob Dic Siôn Dafydd,
er gwaetha ‘rhen Fagi a’i chriw,
byddwn yma hyd ddiwedd amser,
a bydd yr iaith Gymraeg yn fyw!

Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.
Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
ry’n ni yma o hyd,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth,
er gwaetha pawb a phopeth…

 English translation
Still here

You don’t remember Macsen,
nobody knows him.
One thousand and six hundred years,
a time too long to remember.
When Magnus Maximus left Wales,
in the year 383,
leaving us a whole nation,
and today – look at us!

We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here.

Let the wind blow from the East,3
let the storm roar from the sea,
let the lightning split the heavens,
and the thunder shout “encore!”
Let the tears of the faint-hearted flow,
and the servile lick the floor.
Despite the blackness around us,
we are ready for the breaking of the dawn!

We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here.

We remember that Macsen the Emperor
left our country in one whole piece.
And we shall shout before the nations,
“We’ll be here until Judgement Day!”
Despite every Dic Siôn Dafydd,
despite old Maggie and her crew,
we’ll be here until the end of time,
and the Welsh language will be alive!

We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything…

Yep, time I went home.

Reg.

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Waterloo.

A poem about regimental gatherings.

It’s strange, my time as a soldier lasted seven years and three months, but its shadow stretches far over anything I’ve done since then. I’ve been employed in my current job for nigh on fifteen years now, and though it’s a good firm that strive to bond the workforce together, there will never be the same camaraderie that I experience every time I meet up with the lads I served with.

Waterloo

Like pilgrims to a holy shrine

We gathered in our masses,

Dressed in blue, to Radetzky’s beat,

We charged our empty glasses.

To Waterloo and QDG

We toasted through the night,

And in an act of comradeship

We reaffirmed what’s right.

That in our celebration

We recognize the past,

And friendships forged as Dragoon Guards

Were cast in steel to last.

So lantern swung, and sandbag drawn

We told our tales of yore.

Of characters and postings,

In peacetime and in war.

And clouded in nostalgia,

We strengthened common ground.

Fuelled by ale and history shared

Old unit ties were crowned

We commemorate Waterloo

To pledge fraternity.

Pro rege et patria

Sed semper QDG.