The Trans-Siberian Railway
One of the things I have always wanted to do, but never really looked into, is travel from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railway line, just for the experience more than anything else, since it would be impossible to see most of the countryside or visit towns and cities along the way and, probably the only thing which puts me off the whole idea, I’d be stuck inside a railway carriage for several days with no relief from the closeness of many, many other people. I have no doubt that you can imagine what I mean, just take a look around you, but then remember that there is no mess hall on the train, no recreation area, no yard you can go out into. And I would have loved to be able to get out of the train at some stage, and explore all those small towns and villages along its route which, normally, you’d never get to hear of, let alone see. It has always been my greatest pleasure, whenever I travel, to deviate away from the beaten path, away from the areas that are congested with tourists, or which appear in all the guides and books, and see what lies behind the well-visited, away from the rush and commercialisation. Sadly, I don’t think that the train, which has a very tight schedule, would wait for me, and I cannot imagine the hundreds of other people travelling across this vast expanse of country would be too keen to wait while I explore for personal pleasure. I shall have to content myself either with doing the whole journey, and regretting what I could not see, or stick to the idea and the possibilities in my head, where there can be no real disappointments, aside from that of not having tried to complete the whole. And, of course, as we all know, if you don’t at least try to live your dreams, to accomplish something, then you can only be disappointed in yourself.
There are, of course, many other plans I have made over the years, and luckily many which I have also been able to realise in one form or another. One of these dreams which bore fruit came to me very late in life – your estimate of how old I am at the time that photograph was taken is correct – and began in a very strange manner. I have always been interested in history, in finding out how things came to be, what our ancestors did in their lives, how and where they lived, and an interesting opportunity to explore an historical event in this small town came my way back in 2005 or, at least, I thought it was to do with history. The image I sent you shows me presenting a shield to the town for display on their May Tree, which is basically a wooden structure raised in the centre of town each year on 1 May and then removed again at the start of October. It has a series of shields from local organisations and associations – but not businesses – displayed on six arms. Back in 2005 I was told that a Masonic Lodge had once been in existence in our town, which had been formed in 1786 and then closed again in the 1830s or so because of demographic changes away from smaller towns and into the larger cities. A small group of Masons from Bremen decided that they wished to revitalise this Lodge if at all possible, and had begun meeting with men they considered suitable for initiation as Masons from the local area. I managed to get myself invited and was then initiated as one of the first members of this new Lodge, before it was officially formed, and eventually became an initiating or founding member of the Lodge which, I am pleased to say, is still going very strong today. The photograph shows me, as Master of the Lodge, presenting this shield to the town in order to publicise its existence since, because of their history, German Masons are very private and tend not to let it be known that they have joined the fraternity, unlike in the United States where it is clear, and honourable, and Lodges take part in parades through the centre of town each year. In fact, my presenting the shield was breaking a sort of tradition in the area, whereby Lodges only make their presence known in very subtle ways and tend to avoid publicity as much as possible. There is still, thanks to the years 1933 – 1945 in Germany, a good deal of antagonism and mistrust against the Masonic order, which was condemned and outlawed by Hitler’s regime.
So, my initial idea was to join and learn something about the Order, about the history and what it managed to do in my area during the few years it was represented. Things didn’t quite work out as I had imagined – which is a good thing – and I ended up learning not only a good many other things, but I also took responsibility for the Lodge, being its Master for two years, and expanding my small circle of friends and acquaintances in the process. Since joining I have helped found a second Lodge in north Germany, and then changed over to a new Grand Lodge where I helped rescue an old Lodge in Bremen and form another new one in Hamburg. I was also elected Master of the Lodge in Hamburg and then, before I had a chance to finish my term of office – which I did finish, of course, but the elections came beforehand – I was elected to the Grand Lodge to be a District Deputy Grand Master, and responsible for four Lodges in all. This, in its turn, means that I get to travel a good deal more – my Lodges are not close together – and visit many other Lodges outside of my own jurisdiction. A different form of travelling, but a very satisfying one. As an example of my obligations: last Friday (20 October) I attended a meeting of a German Lodge working together with a Turkish Lodge and visited by a large delegation from a Swedish Lodge in Bremen. On Saturday (21 October) I travelled to Hamburg where I was guest of a British Lodge, and celebrated the installation of their new Master. Yesterday (23 October) I visited another Lodge in Bremen for the initiation of a new member to their Lodge. As you can tell, I have no doubt, an interest in travelling is a vital necessity!
I must admit, although I was a politician here for many years, I try to avoid politics as much as possible. It doesn’t take long, as I am sure you are more than aware, before those who profess one thing start turning on those with a different set of values and interests, and start forbidding and suppressing the one side whilst using the same arguments and laws to protect their own Rights on the other side. I can, however, say that I was shocked and surprised when Trump was elected, not necessarily because I am a supporter of Clinton, but more because of the values he stands for, and the abhorrent – and to my mind illegal – attacks on women he claimed to have been involved in, and which he professed as being normal for him and his kind. Looking at his politics and those of the people he has called into his government, I can only shudder and wonder how many thousands, if not millions, of people are going to survive this presidency and come out the other side with their homes, education and health. But I have the same bad feelings about the government in the United Kingdom, which is following a path based on proven lies and where the general public has been fed misinformation to convince them to vote for something which cannot be for the public good or the good of the country as a whole. I read all of the news stories – including the tragic, possibly avoidable massacre in Las Vegas – and wonder why there are no concrete and immediate political reactions from Washington, from local government, from the many agencies who should be dedicated to help as much as to prevent. I am pleased to see the massive reactions now to the continued sexual harassment, rape and other forms of sexual misconduct by so many men in positions of power, but still ask myself how it can be that so many children (Sandy Hook) and adults (Las Vegas and many other incidents) have been murdered without any real and decisive action.
I noticed a few years ago that some people suddenly have other things to do, and do not take the time to keep up with old contacts and friends. It’s not always because there has been an argument or they are upset about something that has happened, more that life has intervened, and they have moved on without a reminder that their friends – and even family – are still there. I used to worry about it, certainly as far as family are concerned, and then realised that they will always come back to me when things are not going so good, when they are in trouble or just need someone removed from a situation to talk to. These days it happens more with mail: I answer every letter that I receive – and gain pleasure in reading and writing in the process – but then, sometimes, have to wait many weeks, or even a month or two, before receiving a reply. Sometimes, sadly, there is no reply at all, but this risk is something letter writers, especially those of us who write to ‘strangers’, take onboard from the beginning. I always like to think that those who are no longer in touch are having a fine life, that they have found what they were seeking, and that they have no need to go back to the old ways any more. This cuts back on my feelings of sadness, to a certain extent, especially when it comes to my own family; but if they are happy, if their lives are working out for them, I can get on with my own and not worry. Sad, of course, not to be in touch, but that is the way life goes at times, and I suppose I would rather that than have someone complaining that I am constantly on their tail, or tell me outright that my attentions are unwelcome. And, of course, there are countless other reasons why a person doesn’t get in touch.
Yes, it’s very sad that some people who are placed in a position of trust then go on and misuse that trust, taking advantage of those who have less than anyone else, who cannot defend themselves, who are the most in need of help and assistance. It’s not just financial, the misuse of a position to take physical advantage of a person – sexually or otherwise – is one of those things which annoys me intensely. And there are so many examples appearing in the news these days of people in a position of power – in Hollywood, in politics, in religion – who have abused their powers and forced women (especially, but also children) to perform acts against their will. These are the people I would like to see in prison, who should be taken out of society and punished. A person who is robbed of their money won’t be able to get very much back, sadly, but a person who has been robbed of their innocence, who has been sexually abused or raped will never, ever be able to get back that which is lost, and it will probably follow them for the rest of their lives. The stupidity of a system which attempts to force gays into therapy for their ‘disease’, but allows rapists and sexual abusers to go their merry way as if nothing was wrong and as if such actions were excusable. You could be forgiven for thinking that society, in this respect, hasn’t advanced at all since the middle ages.