Category Archives: War

Ships, and paradise

It was the ‘Ship with no harbour‘ I thought of first. Was it last month? Time is strange right now. But anyway, those cruise ships that weren’t allowed to put into harbour in the Far East because of the contagion on board.

I felt there were many parallels with Lisa Tetzner’s novel set in the late 1930s, where poor, and ill, Europeans tried to start a new life in South America. But no country wanted them so they sailed on. And on.

Closer to home [Scotland] we have Teri Terry’s Contagion from three years ago. That was pretty terrible. I’m not even going to mention percentages here. I was only able to like it because it was so very fictional.

And that witchy feeling I had about the current Bookwitch Towers? I wasn’t sure what bad stuff I was expecting until Brexit happened. Then I ‘knew.’ That’s what was going to forcibly remove me from here. Maybe.

Then there’s the television drama from 2003, Virus au Paradis. I loved it at the time. It, too, was fictional. It was, wasn’t it? But I feel a lot worse about it now.

At the moment, I can only read nice fluffy books. I can only bear watching nice fluffy films. Before long I’ll be nothing but nice and fluffy.

Out of Berlin

When Daughter moved to Berlin for work after the summer, there were all the normal feelings you have about that kind of situation. Plus, I had one more. I could visualise her being stranded in war-torn Berlin, unable to get away.

As some of you may know, I am a witch. I see things, but don’t necessarily know exactly what my seeings mean. I told myself repeatedly that this scenario was pretty unlikely, and that I was using old prejudice and mixing up WWII and Berlin with… I don’t know what with, actually.

But the image stayed in my mind.

And then she decided to move back home and I felt that was it, then. No more war in Berlin. She returned to Scotland for a couple of weeks, before finalising the moving out. I was to go with her to help pack, and we booked the flights. (Out this coming Sunday, and back early April.)

Then Friday evening last week, I felt it would be much better to go sooner. Like on the Sunday morning. Because the travel issues to do with that other war, on the virus, made everything look almost undoable. We re-booked.

When he dropped us off at the airport the Resident IT Consultant looked like he’d not be seeing us again for a very long time. And I knew we couldn’t be certain of getting out in time, so we packed while keeping in mind that we might very well be stranded in the company of many, many boxes. Although for a pessimist I was a bit optimistic.

But I couldn’t un-see my premonition of being stuck in Berlin. I just hadn’t seen myself there as well.

After 24 hours we’d made enough progress that we re-booked our return travel on the first flight to Scotland, which was for two days later. Fingers were continuously crossed as more and more borders were reported closed.

With unprecedented optimism we threw out the last fish fingers the night before, and slept very little. Checked really carefully that the outbound flight had left Glasgow, feeling that this would almost guarantee that the plane would fly back as well.

It did, and I’ve never before been so pleased to see the pretend Scottish landscape at the airport, complete with birdsong and a ‘view over the loch.’ The Resident IT Consultant had made the most of his drive there, picking up coffee beans at IKEA. The way you do.

I understand the last scheduled flight to Scotland is some time today.

A close shave.

Speculating on Liz’s new book

I frown on speculation. People can write a lot of words on stuff they know very little about, guessing as they go.

But piecing together news from more than one source, I am hoping that the new novel by Liz Kessler – Chasing the Light – that Simon & Schuster will publish next year is based on a story Liz has told several times, about her own family’s past. (Yes, you are quite right. It is a long wait.)

The Bookseller says it’s set in the 1930s, it’s about three children, and it’s got something to do with an event in ‘her own family’s history.’ I forget the exact details of the story I have heard, but if that’s what we are dealing with here, it’s a tiny coincidence; the kind that happens all the time, but which in this case saved lives. Without it we wouldn’t have had Liz, or her books.

I hope this is what it is. And I’m looking forward to it. We are now back in darker times, and need all the help we can get from that period we believed we had long ago put behind us.

Remember them

At the back of The Missing Michael Rosen recommends many excellent books, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly on WWII related topics, but also books in a similar vein from later on. Because we never learn, and someone, somewhere is always doing something bad to another human being.

I thought I’d mention a few books here too, before we start forgetting again. It’s anything but an exhaustive list, and I have tried to choose books that are seen more from the German or European side of the war, and actually during the war.

One I share with Michael is The Children of Willesden Lane, by Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen. Admittedly, this one is set in London, but not being fiction it shows the fates of unaccompanied German minors.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monika Hesse. This is about the resistance in Amsterdam.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik, begins in Poland and then turns into that awful kind of forced transport of innocent people to somewhere a long way away.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, which features Ravensbrück as seen from the inside.

Once, Then, Now, After, Soon, Maybe, Always. All by Morris Gleitzman. All – probably – wonderful. I say probably, because I’ve not managed to keep up with the last ones. But there are ways of remedying that.

The Missing

We both had reasonably normal and uninteresting and safe childhoods, ten years and many miles apart. We also had [maternal] grandfathers with a liking for holes. But where my Morfar asked me to save him the holes in the Emmental cheese, Michael Rosen’s Zeyde wanted the holes from their bagels.

The other difference is that Michael’s father had two great-uncles who ‘were there before the war, but weren’t after.’ The war was WWII, and when Michael had grown old enough to realise this was not a normal thing to say about your family, he began decades of research to discover what happened to Oscar and Martin Rosen.

It’s rather amazing that in the end it was possible to discover enough of what probably happened. It was slow, but then Michael was looking into things in a different country, in the past, during a war. I feel he could easily have found absolutely nothing.

His search is both inspiring and frightening. It’s wonderful that he could find, but what he found is horrific and tragic.

I’m just grateful that he went to the trouble and that he then wrote this little book, The Missing, about his great-uncles, and filled it with so much feeling and so many of his beautiful poems.

And then we learn how he has gone into schools to talk about this and some children ‘know for a fact’ that none of this actually happened.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s time to remember the Oscars and Martins of the past. While we hope there will be no more in the future, we know there will be.

White Eagles

This relatively short – because it’s for Barrington Stoke – novel by Elizabeth Wein, featuring a Polish teenager at the outbreak of WWII, is as wonderful and, yes, life affirming, as you’d want it to be.

Elizabeth Wein, White Eagles

I would obviously have welcomed a much longer novel, but White Eagles confirmed that you can have a full grown novel with few words. It’s as heartrending as Code Name Verity, as exciting and as sweet, as well.

Again, it’s worth being reminded that war didn’t only start in Britain. It broke out all over Europe, and it was equally devastating, or possibly more so. It’s easy to forget. And reading White Eagles I realised that there may well be an outbreak of fiction to ‘celebrate’ that it’s now 80 years since the war began. Unless one doesn’t mark the start?

18-year-old Kristina is a flying instructor in Warsaw, but when the Germans invade, she soon finds herself having to escape, with her plane, and before long nothing is as she’s known it.

Kristina is another young pilot in the mould of Maddie from Code Name Verity. I can read any number of stories about these early female pilots.

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.