A history

One of those days in England.
One of those days in England.


Every time I try to write this story it spins away from me. It started off simply enough. An old man in a pub was having an argument with a fat British skinhead and I heard the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘Hitler Youth’ and thought the old man was attacking the younger one for using the words. I was only half right. It’s happened before. He was, but only insofar as the old man resented being called a Nazi. He’d been in the Hitler Youth, like every other German boy of his age, because they were all conscripted on their thirteenth birthday. And it was great, he said. He really enjoyed it. They went on camps, they had big flags to fly and songs to sing and they lived in the golden summer in the open air and it was a dream come true in a time when most of the dreams had starved to death.

The elderly language teacher in Mr Norris Changes

I was fourteen when I saw these for sale in a shop in Carmarthen. I think they were £12. I didn't have £12.
I was fourteen when I saw these for sale in a shop in Carmarthen. I think they were £12. I didn’t have £12.

Trains wasn’t skeletal because he was on a diet. But these boys had food and campfires and singing and hope and even better, if you’re thirteen, pistols to shoot and grenades to throw. They even got a special knife, the blade inscribed with Blut und Ehre, blood and honour. Free.

On the last day of his war the SS came to his village and marched all of the Hitler Jungend up to a field where they scrubbed around in the grass until they found a hatchway that nobody in the village knew was there, opening up a bunker that held brand new machine guns and more grenades and steel helmets. They issued the boys all of this gleaming kit and told them to defend the village, the fatherland and their honour while they, the SS, had some urgent business to attend to in the opposite direction to the one the Americans were arriving from. In about an hour.

The SS left, the boys grabbed as many guns as they could and their schoolmaster, when he saw them, as the leader of their Hitler Youth troop beat them up, made them throw all the guns in the ditch and sent them home crying.

Every time I try to write it it gets jumbled up with other stories I’ve heard first hand from the same time, the stories that are spinning away now, with so few left to tell them.

I heard from an American pilot who at the same time, April 1945 had to walk back from a dance, 22 miles, because he’d missed his transport, out shagging in Ipswich and a mission to fly to Czechoslovakia the next day, eight hours there and back five miles high. I heard at second hand of a Wermacht surgeon who the same month decided enough was enough, and walked home to Bremen from Czechoslovakia to surrender to the British, who once they’d emptied his pockets told him as he lived literally around the corner to piss off home.

Except they didn’t empty his pockets completely. I’ve held in my own hands the field surgery kit that lived in his pocket for five years, the green cloth roll holding the small forceps, the massively thick suture needles thicker than the ones sail makers use, the curved and the straight scalpel, the little sharpening stone. They let him keep them. Or maybe he went home first and emptied his pockets there, before he went out to surrender. I’ll never know the answer to that now because of time.

It was the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day in 1994. I remember the Battle of Britain Flight Lancaster flying over my house. I remember a curious dream where I could see an armada of ships stretched out to England and the horizon as the dawn broke grey across the water and knowing more and more ships would come and I would die.

I drank a lot back then. Maybe that’s why this picture fascinates me. I found it on the web by accident, yet another cat picture, but for me it’s more than that.

It’s England. It’s summer, with friends and food and wine and a funny cat off doing the things that cats do while we laugh and talk to each other and drink and we’re not going to have to go and fight in any wars, ever, and the green hills hold us close while behind us, ignored and always there, there’s the war, waiting. The England of Kate Bush’s Lionheart. My England and yours, where it’s been  such a beautiful day and everything’s fine and yes, I  will have another glass of wine, thank-you, and maybe some cheese. This red, sorry, what were you saying?

The triangular things the cat jumps between are dragon’s teeth. That’s what they were called back then. They stop tanks. They’re too big to drive over and too solid to blow up quickly, which is why they’re still there.

I don’t know who these happily drunk girls were that afternoon nearly twenty years ago. I think that’s when it was because of the colours of the picture. Because this is my history too. I don’t know what happened to them or whether they’re still happy now. But I know the stop lines across England were peppered with these concrete blocks and pillboxes from East Anglia to Wales, to hold the German advance when the invasion came. They were in the fields where the rivers meet at Tellisford, where I used to fish when I was a boy. The past is a different country and besides so many wenches are dead now and the young men too who should have met them. But at the same time the past is still here, just behind your shoulder, the thing your cat’s jumping off. And while we have their stories, so are they.

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We are with ISIS in Syria.

This morning the Church of England has condemned the Prime Minister, David Cameron,’s ‘incoherent’ Middle East foreign policy. They didn’t say he was one of a small number of public school boys so far out of their depth that Boris Johnson looks like a global statesman in comparison but they didn’t really need to. These are desperate times. Don’t you know there’s a war on? There usually is, after all.

So what about ISIS? They’re a threat to our whole way of life, apparently, the same way everything that happens in the Middle East is supposed to be a threat to our way of life. They behead criminals, which is what about 45% of the UK wants to do anyway, so that’s obviously unacceptable. We’d kill people a nice way. Out of sight, for a start, so we don’t have to see what we paid someone to do for us. They’ve left thousands of people stuck on a mountain without water. We’ve sent them phone chargers though, so at least they can see what Jeremy Clarkson has to say about it on Twitter. When I was a boy American comics were full of cartoons about muscle-bound GIs stuck on a hill until the crates of chewing gum and ammunition floated down out of the sky to let them break out, take Berlin and get on back home  to Marylou-Anne gahdammit. The comic writers didn’t forsee the ‘chutes opening and grateful Yazidi refugees taking time out of their hectic schedule of despairing and dying of typhoid to pick up some style tips from Wallpaper online.

So we should be doing everything we can to stop ISIS, shouldn’t we? Obviously. But we didn’t. We did the opposite. We protected them. This isn’t my opinion. This is what Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said. He’s a Republican, from a rootin’ tootin’ right-to-carry state, the kind of place where if you’re out driving of a night time and see a gopher at the side of the road it’s acceptable behaviour to stop your car, open the glove box, pull out your .38, get out and shoot it. It’s about the size of a long rabbit. It doesn’t even bite people, which in the circumstances seems foolish. I’ve met people from Kentucky who’ve done exactly this. Shot small gophers, not bite people you understand. They were normal, nice people who were fun to be around. Apart from the guns and death thing and back then I liked guns a lot.

But anyway, why were we with ISIS? Because they hated Al-Queada. We hated Al-Queada, which was presented to us as The Enemy, the same way the guys in the grey uniforms and different shaped hats were throughout the twentieth century, rather than the loose alliance of pissed-off foreign people who thought they’d been sold down the river by the West after they were paid to fight the Russians in Afghanistan then told thanks guys, see you but not if we see you first when the Russians went home.  We armed the mujadheen in Afghanistan all through the 1980s and 90s. We gave them Stinger missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters. We gave them a bounty if they could bring-in a Russian SVD sniper rifle There are so many references to all of this on the web that I really haven’t got the time or the inclination to cite them. Do it yourself. That’s what Google’s for.

Or you could do what David Cameron does. Make your opinion on what the” facts” are or what to do on who makes the loudest noise in the media. And remember, the media lies. And lies. And lies. They’ve got chemical weapons. It doesn’t matter that we sold them to them. They’ve got weapons of mass destruction. Like the atom bombs that Israel has which it’s rude to mention, apart from the fact the baddies didn’t have WMDs at all. That was just made-up. They’ve got missiles which could strike our bases within 45 minutes. Everyone wanted to think that meant places like Purbright and Warminster, not Cyprus at the very outside, and they couldn’t meet that timeframe anyway, and that’s what things like Iron Dome anti-missile missiles are for in the first place and we won’t hear a word against that, will we? Most of all though, they’re trying to destroy our way of life.

What does that even mean? If it means that some Middle East countries might put a price on the oil we’ve built our entire economy on, which was stupid, that we don’t find convenient or acceptable then our wonderful free markets should be able to sort the problem out. Markets are efficient, after all. The most perfect of all economies. So why shouldn’t we pay four times more for what’s left of the oil? Because like any spoiled child, we don’t want to. And it’s not fair. What we should do is go round the housing estates where there aren’t any jobs and get the brightest kids there to put a uniform on, then nobody really has to care if they get killed or not. They’re Our Brave Boys, fighting for our way of life, or the right to fill every Tesco car park with second-hand Range-Rovers, which is pretty much the same thing.

We do not give a fuck what happens in these countries. We do not care if every woman there gets raped or stoned to death. If you think that’s outrageous then direct your outrage to the fact that the government we installed in Afghanistan demands that wives are obliged to fulfill their husband’s sexual desires. That’s the law. If they don’t – and let’s face it, the Kabul Anne Summers shop probably isn’t much to inspire anyone – they can be starved to death. Us. We did that. It was against the law before our favourite Afghan changed the law there. Do we care if Arab women get stoned to death? We certainly didn’t care when a Saudi princes was beheaded in a carpark for playing away. We made a documentary about it (Death Of a Princess) and then decided not to show it, in case it upset ‘our way of life.’ Not the way of life that doesn’t generally behead women for shagging someone they perhaps ought not to have done, but the way of life that likes Saudi oil.

So let’s do what we always do. Let’s have a war. It doesn’t matter what side we pick, or who or what we’re fighting for, or how many times we change sides. That never happens. You won’t see any mention of it in the media. Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania and it’s Rude To Mention It anyway.

Vote for Rupert Murdoch, which in the UK should suit most people because you don’t even have to bother voting. Just remember when you don’t then you do. You vote for how things turn out. All of it. You wild non-voting rebel you.

And please, don’t go to the Remembrance service. Dying to support a pile of lies is a big enough insult to deal with, without people wrapping themselves in your shroud.




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