Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A week on the German/Dutch border in the back of beyond in Ostfriesland. And I confess to a very, very silly cock-up

It’s that itch write again and sooner or later one of us is going to succumb. Quite how I can imagine. Either I give in and write, write, write with no thought or concern for what the reader might want, be interested in or even choose to avoid, or I don’t give in and suffer for ever - or until my death, whichever is sooner - the self-laceration that I am just one more of the several million of bullshitters who have not only walked this world but while doing so have bored to oblivion and beyond their fellow men and women. At the moment, it seems, pointless and inconsequential writing - as here - might seem to be winning the day. . . .

For once, I think, this entry won’t be about one thing but will be split into several short - shortish, for whenever was brevity my virtue? - sections just as and when they must occur. I have been at my sister’s ‘place’ in the more or less back of beyond in Ostfriesland in the North-west of Germany. I and my son, very lovable lad called Wesley, who is 16, have come here for a week as has my younger brother.

When I refer to this former farm, now putative retirement home of my brother-in-law, as her ‘place’, it is only to due it credit: she and my brother-in-law had an immense stroke of luck when, casting around for somewhere to move to when he retires, they happened upon 18, Heinitzpolder, Bunde. You might think that as the property as a number and what might seem to be a street name it is not remote. You would be wrong. It is quite remote, though surrounded by a farm here and a farm there. Whatever. As the crow flies we are less than a quarter of a mile from the Dutch frontier. In fact, you must drive seven miles to get to Holland because the road from Bunde, the nearest very small town to here, runs for six miles parallel to the frontier. And I love it.

. . .

It is now 10.30pm, but unlike at home where it tends to get clammy and thus chilly even in August, I can sit outside and compose this entry. Earlier we had a barbecue but one by one they all, the others, that is my brother-in-law and my son, retired to bed, until a short while ago it was just my younger brother, my younger sister and myself sitting outside and chewing the fat. We talked of our parents, our older brother, who died last December, and this, that and t’other. And not for the first time, and most certainly not the last, I was struck by how individual reminiscences of the same occurrence and event can vary a great deal. And obviously that means that mine, too, could very well be amiss. All of this was to the background of my choice of music on my iPhone.

What is playing was as shuffled collection of all the pieces I have collected in a playlist usefully names ‘Jazz’. It is an eclectic miscellany - aren’t all collections miscellaneous? Must look it up, but don’t be shy to rap me over the knuckles. Quite possibly they are - and for some one of a certain age, which unfortunately I have become, it is good listening: Roy Eldridge, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Steely Dan (yes, iTunes also calls them ‘jazz’, and who am I to argue?), and many, many more. Stick it all on shuffle and you get a hell of a programme.

. . .

My German grandparents came this area (though they were Roman Catholics - Ostfriesland was divided into strict Lutherans and Calvinists, and Roman Catholics), she from Papenburg, a town created by an RC bishop who was non-too-happy at the dominance of the Protestants, and he from Str├╝cklingen in the Saterland, an area so remote until a century or two ago that (according to Wikipedia, the usual caveat) the people living there, the Saterfriesen, are recognised by the German government as a ‘minority’ and had their own language. It was remote because the Saterland was a strip of sandy land ten miles long and just under two miles wide completely surrounded by marshland, not the easiest of terrain to cross.

So people simply didn’t bother coming or going. I should think - though this is only speculation - that there was a fair number of the six-fingered folk you tend to come across in remote areas. Certainly there is a streak of mild lunacy in our family, though I suspect there’s a streak of mild lunacy in every family. We’ve been visiting ever since and as my brother-in-law is also from Papenburg there’s a lot of extended family. When I was young and we came to visit and stay, I was forever being introduced to folk and informed ‘this is your uncle/aunt/cousin’ and the tenuous relationship between us.

. . .

Later (three days later, as it happens, that first entry was curtailed after one beers on top of one too many gins and tonics) Went off to Winschoten today, just across the border in Holland (which I’m told I should call The Netherlands and that Holland is just one province, but . . .) looking for tourist tat for us to take home to Wez’s sister and my daughter, Elsie, and Wez’s mum and my wife.

There wasn’t a lot, mainly because Winschoten isn’t much of a tourist town and, however pleasant it is and but for the Dutchness of this, that and t’other, it is pretty much one of several thousand euro-towns which are evolving throughout the EU Empire. Everything is pleasant enough but half close your eyes you could be anywhere, even bloody Redditch (and anyone who has been to Redditch knows I don’t mean the comparison as much of a compliment.

We’re back off to Old Blighty tomorrow, leaving here at 8.30 in good time for me to fuck up the drive to Schiphol airport and our flight at 13.50. The drive should only take two and a half hours but on the fuck-up front I am rapidly gaining form. Yesterday, checking on this, that and t’other, I realized that when I first booked my flight - my son coming along was a later development - I made my return flight on August 19, today. But when I booked my son’s flight it was for August, 20, tomorrow. Sadly, because this cheapskate had booked the cheapest flights available, there was no way I could change the departure date for less than £133 - £73 for the new flight and a £60 ‘fee’. So then it was onto Skyscanner, which came up with a flight for just £72 on my son’s flight, though actually getting it to be booked proved impossible for some reason. Finally, I found one for £110.

It is stupidity like that which makes me feel doubly guilty because for many pensioners and unemployed people, £110 would be very welcome indeed and mean the difference between misery and abject misery when a bill falls due. Don’t carp, it’s true, and I am very lucky that, although I am by no means wealthy, I am able to drum up that kind of money without going into debt.

Pip, pip

The East Friesian Ponderosa

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