The interesting thing about being an old person, as I admit to being, is that many readily assume you do not know of modern tastes, modern technology, modern fashion and mores, and are often surprised to the point of having their jaws drop onto their chests when you converse with them on a certain higher knowledgeable level. I find it amusing that a young sales assistant in a computer shop will tone down his explanations of the advantages of a certain computer or laptop to fit his perceptions of my abilities and understanding, and then be completely thrown when I begin using the sort of technological language we employed back in the mid Eighties, when I was working on live computer systems and real code. Today everything is in packages, whether it is Microsoft or Linux, and there are courses and web sites dedicated to the simple task of tweaking pages, changing codes, and making your own web site look slightly better than the standard, out-of-the-box version. This ageism is also a form of prejudice which I have been trying to rid myself of, although mine is directed toward younger rather than older people, being in the latter bracket by many decades myself.

So it will probably come as no surprise to you, as a younger person, that twerking is not only a term that I am aware of, but have also experienced in many different times through my life. Of course, when I was young, twerking was not a thing with a name, it was merely an action. Younger women had that particular sway when walking, that stance when still, which many appreciated, both men and women. And the modern form of twerking, as many care to claim it, is hardly new, although it has been appropriated by some and enhanced (if you can call it that) beyond the original into a sexual call or sign, as much as an ethnic signal. That said, I had to add this term, this word, to my computer dictionary. Many years ago I had the great pleasure of living and working in Belize, and had a Black girlfriend with whom I lived in the former slave quarter of the city. Late at night, when the Whites were safely tucked up in bed we would go out on the town, with our chicken and rice meal from a small kitchen table cookery on a street corner, either into one of the bars – a garage with a pool table and a good selection of homebrew liquor – or the dance hall / disco. I was generally – or always – the only White person there, and had a wonderful time as a result, and took part on the usual dancing which such establishments promote, and which included the entrancing twerking dance style of younger women. Men generally continued to dance from one foot to the other, but the young women, regardless of size and shape, went all out. It was all in good fun, and not the animalistic form of provocation many employ today, merely an attractive dance style.

My prejudices and fears began to be broken down during this time, along with many of my school education induced preconceptions. Having been introduced to the fact that the French were just like us at the age of fourteen, entering Black society in Belize in my mid-twenties was merely a continuation of this process. My life in London was in a very White, concentrated area, where not even the dilapidated slum tenements of the areas between my home – a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace – and Victoria had anything but White faces. The first Black man I ever encountered was working on a building site around the corner from my home at the time – we’re in the late Sixties now – although I knew of Sidney Poitier and other Black actors from the cinema and television. This building worker told me to grow up and become a doctor, as a very good trade in his mind, but I suspect my Doctor title is not quite the trade he had envisaged. And, despite my lack of contact, I never felt the fear of Blacks and other people many claimed to have; they were simply other people to me, and I tended to talk to them on exactly the same level as with anyone else.

My White privilege meant that I went to a private school, and the first Blacks who came there appeared in the late Seventies, sisters who fit in better with us than many of us fit in with them. I think I mentioned it, but Black workers in Harrods, when I was there in the Eighties, worked behind the scenes, not on the shop floor. No Blacks in many of the regiments I worked with, although some of my military work did have Black colleagues which was strange, since they were set to work in communities where Black people were exceptionally uncommon. It’s not necessarily my prejudice, but that of those around me who affect the workplace and make the decisions of employment and placement.

The dropping of English from the syllabus of one British university might seem strange to you, but it is part of an attack – if you care to call it that – of education on the Humanities. Less than one hundred and fifty years ago the British education System was very different, and based on the old Roman system of education, with seven main subjects taught at specific levels to specific parts of the population. This was the time when going to university at fourteen was quite normal, and at seventeen many men went on their Grand Tour of Europe before coming back to go into business, or sit on their estates and govern the local population. The main changes to this system, adopting the German (formerly Prussian) system of education were in place in England by the 1920s, introduced by Lord Haldane who, because of his connections to Germany, and an educational year at the university in Göttingen, has been virtually wiped out from the current history books.

The Humanities, it is felt, are no longer of much use to modern society, which is built upon business and industrialisation, and which gains its funding through businesses and the fees paid by students who, after their graduation, demand the best paid jobs available. Money rules. This, I hasten to add, is not just a matter which has reared its ugly head in England, but has been going on in the United States for decades. Harvard, as one example, is prepared to push more money into its business and divinity courses, than into the medical sciences – back in the day they had a special department for coroners and medical examiners, which they closed down after a few years., The result is that many States in the USA have an unqualified coroner who decides on cause of death, rather than a qualified medical examiner. And the original medical examiner facility at Harvard was opened and sponsored by a woman – Frances Glessner Lee – who did not have a degree, but did have the financial clout and the time to push and promote forensics in the States.

Many people cannot understand, and that includes those in industry and government, what use a degree in philosophy, history, literature or the arts can be used for, and forget that they promote research, thought and self-confidence as opposed to a line of thinking and work that everyone else has followed, without much change, for generations. This has always been a problem for the British, who still look back to the golden era of the British Empire, when everything was so much better, when the British ruled the world, and there were no problems. That the old system of education ruled at the time is easily forgotten, or pushed to the back of a person’s mind as being irrelevant. Major changes were demanded and promised during the early years of the last century especially to the working class during the First World War, but the government of the time failed to live up to its promises and returned to the old ways prior to the Second World War which, through the massive ineptitude and inefficiency of the British political and business system, forced changes both to general outlook, to education, to social welfare and industry.

The Second World War was a major shock to the old system, and brought changes with it which have shaped the European world ever since, but which many in the country have not yet managed to fathom. There are some who honestly believe that leaving the European Union will not only bring back a golden era for the British, but also reinstate their former Empire. The idea that the United Kingdom – which is less united than ever before – is still one of the top super powers of the world lives on, and there are those who refuse to believe that this is no longer so, among them a wealth of politicians of all political hues.

I’m always amazed at the selfishness of some, especially when they are caught within a community which should breed communal activities and concerns for the greater good. The idea of all being in it together, all having to make the best of what they have seems to have escaped the attention of some people. These are often also the very same people who complain, when the time comes, that they are not being treated as part of the whole, and forget their own actions which led to them being cast out. Being self-centred is fine, to a certain extent, but not when it harms others, and not when the whole community suffers as a result. We were taught this, the hard way, at school: if one person broke the rules, the whole class or dormitory shared the punishment. And still there were some who didn’t realise what would happen, didn’t accept the consequences of their actions, and blamed others for their earned punishment, before doing exactly the same again and then, after a while, complaining that others went out of their way to avoid them.

Fortunately, by the time I came into the army, I noticed things had changed. Here there wasn’t so much of the joint punishment, but often the shovel-to-the-back-of-the-head type of self-justice. I daresay some parts of the prison system are much the same: where one person does things which ruin the day of everyone, they get a quick smack-around as a lesson in behaviour. Not that I condone violence, as such, but a certain degree of physical education does go a long way with some people.

I’d love to be able to give one of my neighbours a quick smack up the side of her head, and that of her adult daughter too. I may well have mentioned, a few months ago, that the roof of my neighbour’s house extension collapsed into itself, leaving rubble and remains next to my car and across my property. In the intervening months, since the fire service made the property temporarily safe, there has been no work on the building whatsoever. It has just been standing there, in its dilapidated and dangerous glory for all to see and bewonder. Last weekend my other neighbour pointed out that a section of the wall, holding the struts for the remaining roof section up, is tending towards ground level at a dangerous angle. About six yards in length and one in height, this very slender piece of brickwork is not going to hold up much in a storm, and we’re entering the windy season. Throughout this week my neighbour appears to have taken no action to secure the wall and roof supports. She claimed that the insurance wouldn’t cover the costs, and didn’t believe they’d get a loan from the bank for even a partial demolition. On Thursday a two yard stretch of the brickwork collapsed onto my property, without any strong winds.

That is, the building fell onto the remains of the rubble which my neighbours have still not cleared away from my property, which will probably now fall to my cost. I am fortunate that the cinema owner is a friend, and I can park on her property across the road, but there are others here who have a parking space on my land without such a chance. It may be a small community of people, this neighbourhood of five or six houses, but it is still a community.

The sad thing is, their lack of action will cost them even more than if they had reacted when the building first collapsed. Aside from having to clear up the mess on my property they will also need to repair the roof of the main house, since the two are joined. When the final roof support from the extension goes, the main roof space is open to wind and weather.

Education here is quite a complicated matter, with three forms of general school and many different forms of graduation qualifications. In general, though, both forms of German are taught, depending on which area of the country is situated. Platt deutsch is not just a northern thing, but tends to be thought of as such, and is an option – as a separate, recognised language in Germany, rather than merely a dialect – at all levels. The main second language in the two lower forms of schooling is English, and the higher form – the Gymnasium – also has many other languages available, but a requirement for more than one foreign language to be learned. Generally everyone does English, and many take either French or Spanish as their third option, although I have met people who’ve done Chinese. Platt deutsch is, however, still considered the language of the land, or the countryside, or even the farming community, and rarely spoken in larger towns apart from by older generations. The language of the courts and parliaments is High German, generally, but Bavaria tends to stick with its strong Bavarian dialect unless speaking to the rest of Germany. There was even talk of bringing back Saxon, as a language, but too few people speak it now, as the former German Democratic Republic pretty much wiped it out in favour of German and Russian.

I do not often re-read books, simply because there are too many around to spare the time to go back and read one again. I do often refer to books which I have read, but tend to rely on my memory to know where to look, and my memory when cross referencing something I read earlier with something that I am reading now. So, as an example, I do not need to go back and read James A. Michener’s The Source to understand the references made to it in Eric H. Cline’s Digging up Armageddon: the Search for the Lost City of Solomon, the original dig at Megiddo in the Twenties being the basis for Michener’s fictional city and invented history. That said, The Source is one book which I have read twice, along with Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, because I had read them both in the mid-Seventies, and found both to be relevant to my thoughts and interests in the last few years. The Michener is not a book I would quote, as it happens, but the Pirsig most certainly is.

I am sure many would have the luxury to read books more than once, but my pile of titles waiting to be read does not seem to diminish – which is clearly my own fault – no matter how many I read. I currently have one book I will finish tonight – on the background to the myths and legends of the Second World War in British minds’ – then four books sitting on the pile, three titles awaiting delivery, and a further sixteen books that I have ordered in the last four days. I have read about eighty books so far this year, which is a quite reasonable number, but, in my defence, I must admit that I have been doing other things with my life too, letter writing being one of them. And, now and then, I tend to go out and work a few hours most days, or meet up with friends in different cities around the country. Not that there is much of the latter right now.

Germany is going onto a tighter lock down for the whole of November, having tried individual area lock downs and discovered that they do not work. People tended to ignore them by travelling from a locked down area into a different one which, despite the slenderness of the comparison, is rather like the blitz years in England: those working in the major cities which suffered under bombing by the German Luftwaffe overnight, left the city at dusk, and came back into it at sunrise in order to go to work. Now, however, hotels and restaurants are closed –once again – to try and stop a second wave of the pandemic, since the figures for infections have risen drastically over the last week or so. The rises are partially caused by those who insist on protesting their right not to wear a mask, which, like a Trump rally, has produced super-spreaders, and partially by a slackening off of care and attention by others who, not seeing any infections, believed themselves and their circle of family and acquaintances to be immune.

I had originally planned on attending two major functions in November, one in St Leon Rot and one in Wiesbaden, and planned my main holiday around these events. Both have been cancelled, but I can hardly change my holiday. I’m just pleased I have been able to cancel the hotel bookings this time, rather than either lose the deposit for a room, or be almost forced to travel to the hotel and spend time in a city where I have no real plan. That’s what happened earlier in the year, in April, where I had hotel rooms booked for an event, the event was cancelled, but the order to close hotels lifted two days before I was due to go there. Rather than lose the entire cost of the room for two nights – I had booked a slightly cheaper version without the right to cancel – I travelled down to Heidelberg and spent the weekend there. Admittedly, in the end, it was worth the time and the money, and I enjoyed myself, but neither Wiesbaden nor St Leon Rot inspire in the same way.

My biggest fear at the moment is over the delivery of my books. The United Kingdom drops out of the European Union on 31 December and, despite plenty of hot air, accusations and promises, and four years of negotiating time, they have no deal for trade with Europe to look forward to. There has been a lot of celebration about the massive trade deal with Japan, which has gradually died down as people come to realise that the Japanese, despite the Minister explicitly mentioning it, will not be buying up massive supplies of Stilton cheese, as most Japanese are lactose intolerant, and the favourite soy sauce of the British is grown in China, blended in the Netherlands. Added to which, the deal is considerably worse than the one made through the European Union, which the British have now lost, and will result in less trade, not more. But that makes no difference to my need for books, and my absolute resolution not to turn back to Amazon for my supplies. I’d rather pay a few euro more, and know that the company I am buying from pays their taxes, and looks after their staff. Perhaps that’s why I’ve done two big orders for new titles this week, although my list of books still to be ordered, when I can afford to pay for them, is much bigger than a mere sixteen titles. One day soon I’m going to have to order new bookshelves.

I tend to avoid Christians, and others who come door-to-door to tell me about the only religion that this world needs, which just happens to be their own version. All religions come from the same source, much of what they have to say is the same, and no one can tell you how to follow your own faith. I have long given up on the dogma of organised religion, and am quite happy with the Faith that I feel within me. Having had a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses on my doorstep trying to tell me about the manner in which people believe in the country of my birth, even though they have never been there, and then that certain people stuck to religion no matter what – when the truth is completely different – or that a certain person was most definitely a believer – even though his religion was different to the one they thought – was enough for me. Religion and party-political discussions are taboo areas in my world, and I feel that it is all the better for it. The history of politics and religion is a different matter entirely, but I rarely find anyone selling their religion who knows their own history. I am also of the very controversial opinion that freedom of speech is a good thing, but every person taking advantage of this Right should be aware of other people, their beliefs and their lives. Just because you have the right to do something, does not mean you have to do it. Sometimes it is far better to remain within your own cocoon and enjoy life, than to go out and spout malicious hot air which hurts other people.