It has been quite a busy few weeks, now that the restrictions in Germany are gradually changing, as more and more people either get the vaccination, or recover from our virus. There are still a few who are holding out, but the new rules tend to shut them out of partaking in ordinary life or, at the very least, in the cultural side of life. In some areas we are operating a 3G policy, in others a stricter 2G one – that is either vaccinated, recovered or with a valid test, using the initials of the German words. The final G, the test, is being cut out by more and more businesses as being too unreliable, too easy to falsify. So, for many, the old form of life has returned, with galleries and concert halls, bars and clubs open to all those with the right credentials, and everyone else either out in the cold – quite literally, as they can congregate and enjoy outside an establishment but not within its walls – or staying at home with a beer, the television, and their self-righteous tears of self-pity. And the new normal is taking over with a vengeance, as people become used to slipping their mask on to move between tables, or to enter a building, or when meeting up with strangers, as well as pulling out their cell phones and showing certificates of vaccination while logging into an event with the luca warning device. One great advantage of the new system: masks are preventing many of the other common ailments which hit people during the year. We have fewer people suffering colds, and the influenza rates have dropped dramatically. What hasn’t changed, however is the anger of those who feel their rights and freedoms are being trampled on, and who cannot bring themselves to wear a mask. Sadly this has lead to several violent scenes – not on a level with football matches, but reported in the press because this is new and newsworthy – and one murder. Personally I don’t think that the request to wear a mask is enough to cost someone their life.

For me this means I continue to go to work, wearing a mask when I walk to my new office, then discarding it for the rest of the day until it is time to walk out of the building once more, and into the fresh air. My office is large enough that I could have someone working with me, and not need to wear a mask, but I rarely get visitors and can just get on with my work without a second thought. And, at the moment, I also do not need to share my office with anyone, an advantage which is likely to last until at least the end of the year, when this form of work is due to come to an end.

In the outside world it has been quite a revelation to see how things have changed since this all began. At weekends there are parts of Bremen which are packed with people, mainly wandering around on the street, or sitting close to the area where they wish to be. It’s not that they have necessarily been refused entry, but more that the clubs and bars are full. On Friday night I went to a bar off the main track, and the first question I was asked was whether I had reserved a table. Now this is a normal bar, and not a restaurant or club – although they do serve nachos baked over with a mass of cheese which makes eating an adventure – and even though it is off the main drag, or perhaps because, it is exceptionally popular now. Perhaps because it is a gay bar, who knows. Younger people go there, of both sexes, and seem to prefer it to many of the other bars closer to the centre of town. I was lucky, a smile and a few words with the young barman, and he allowed me to sit at a reserved table, and then change over to another which had become free when the customers arrived. Or perhaps it was my charm and the fact that I was out and about, as usual, in my kilt and with absolutely no feelings of embarrassment at the many people watching me.

Now, bearing in mind what I look like, my age as much as anything else, it could come as a surprise that I manage to get into any building without people throwing me a side glance, and especially a bar where young people are very aware of their appearance and linked possibilities. I think one of the reasons why I receive regular, donated meals from my Turkish neighbours is that they haven’t seen me all dressed up, but just in gardening clothes, and that was enough to convince them I am destitute, on my last legs and in desperate need of assistance. Which, I hasten to add, I do nothing to push, as such, but the meals I receive from them, now and then, are quite delicious, and my expenses are always on the red side of a bank balance. As a friend of mine recently commented, unable to join us for a meal out, there is often too much month at the end of the money.

This photograph was taken last year to be used as a promotional piece for a newsletter, to let members of my Lodge living in the United States know who they are dealing with, and for several newspaper articles over my work and my writing. Since then the beard has grown slightly whiter – I’m, not exactly getting younger by the day – and perhaps a little longer and fuller too. I went to a barber to have it trimmed as soon as they were able to work again, and it came out a bit shorter and thinner than my preferences – but far better than the mess a so-called qualified beard barber made of it a few months earlier – and since then I have been handling all changes myself. If a man can’t look after his own beard, then he should just shave and be done with it – rather like my policy on laundry; a man who can’t wash and iron his own shirts has nothing to say in the household.

At the moment I am being faced with several British people over here, those who have discovered that they need to take on citizenship in order to remain, unless they are married to a German, and who are still talking about how much better it is back in England. I’ve given up asking why they remain here if the old country is so much better, because the excuses are all the same, but it has been interesting to see that practically all had applied for dual citizenship while they could, and the remainder are now having to give up their British citizenship or face the prospect of being dealt with like an immigrant, something they are most certainly not used to as former European citizens. And also I’ve met several who are in denial about what England is like at the moment, and desperate to get back there and leave the European life behind them.

Leaving the European Union and effectively banning all foreigners from the British mainland – excluding Ireland and Northern Ireland – has brought the British no benefits whatsoever. Quite the opposite, and this is what some are unable to accept. They refuse to believe that supermarkets have empty shelves, that the supply chains – so often supported by European truck drivers – have collapsed and that thousands of people are being plunged into poverty. Fruit and vegetables are rotting in the fields and on the trees, as there are no foreign workers to harvest the bounty. Petrol is running out across the country – inducing panic buying this week – because there are no drivers to deliver it, much the same as no drivers to deliver to the supermarkets.

To counter this, the government has just announced that the British army will step in – that is those people who are already covering for the ambulance service, for vaccination centres and doing their own jobs, despite the force being cut back by forty thousand over the last quarter century or so, and not all of them having truck licences – and that they will grant temporary, three month visas to European drivers. The cut-off date for these visas is Christmas Eve, and the Home Secretary has already announced that anyone overstaying their visa will be deported at cost. Underpaid and unwanted truck drivers, for whom there have been no provisions for living in the country aside from in their trucks, deported on Christmas day. I can’t imagine the queue for these visas, which have to be bought, will be too long. Another wonderful plan from the government is to make the training for a truck licence easier and shorter. They’ve already said that new drivers completing their licences will not be required to learn how to drive in reverse. Again, though, they have to pay for everything themselves. My German heavy goods vehicle licence was coupled with a trade training course, which I completed in one year. The standard course today is three years long.

I don’t feel a lack of hope for the future, and wouldn’t want anyone to have that impression: I have always been a fairly optimistic type of person. I find it sad that some things have happened which were easily avoidable, and that many people are denying what is right in front of their noses, if not slapping them across the back of their heads. Younger people here, to a certain extent, are showing great optimism for the future, and taking a good deal of responsibility for their own futures. This last weekend we had the Fridays For Future rallies in many of the smaller towns – my own included – showing that the younger generation do care about their future. I hope that they keep this open-mindedness as they grow older, and do not revert to the type we have in power now, those who claim to have been a part of the Sixty-Eight, but have learned nothing from the freedoms the movement brought back then. The even younger, those in the earliest stages of school, have adapted far better than the adults: putting on a mask has, for them, just been part of their day, and it is their parents who are complaining. The children just go ahead and do it.

And I am also very optimistic for myself, even for those few years I have left. I enjoy the work that I do, and the leisure time which surrounds it. I have a good group of friends, and have not descended into the Grumpy Granddad attitude many others of my age seem to have attained – otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been admitted to that bar. I have even, after a rather bleak period of the last few weeks, found my love of reading again. I made the major mistake of buying a complete set of books by one author rather than taking one to judge their skill and depth by. Had I bought the first book of these fourteen – which all follow a Scottish forensic criminologist – I would not have bought the rest. The result was rather like that which many experience at school, they have literature forced at them and it scares them away for life. In my case it was the idea of reading fourteen books where the author cannot even get out a decent description of the main character, let alone anything else. Admittedly, the books began to improve slightly with the fourth volume, but that has more to do with a change of publisher than the author herself.

Now, however, I have had a new delivery from my Berlin bookseller, and have several books in the pipeline –providing the wholesaler in England can still operate – and once I have finished a short foray into the world of Commissario Brunetti in Venice – from Donna Leon – I will transport myself off to the past once more, to the Steppes, and to the empire of the Mongols. For some reason I have far more luck when reading non-fiction than I do when delving into the many worlds created from people’s imagination. There are exceptions, of course, but not as many as I would wish, and they are often very hard to find. Optimism is very much a part of the way in which a person looks out upon the world. Now, if I concentrated my thoughts and energies to all that is happening in England right now – less Scotland, as they’re preparing for another referendum and possible independence in the near future – and the attitudes of many who cannot see what is happening, I would probably be a pessimist, and with good reason. But I tend to look at what it is possible for me to do, and to join those groups of people who look at what can be done, rather than those who settle back and insist others do all the work, and complain when things do not go to their liking. Much the same for some parts of the United States. However, I live in Europe and consider myself a European, where we are still, in theory at least, experimenting and building a future. It’s almost impossible to be pessimistic where you are actively involved.

For now, though, I shall concentrate myself on my dinner – much the same as shirts, never trust and man who cannot cook his own meals – and then read for a few hours. Tomorrow is a work-free day for me, as I am travelling to Hamburg-Harburg to take part in the installation of a new Master in the British Lodge there. Next weekend I will be in Bremen again, for the initiation of two candidates into my own Lodge – which has a sad and an amusing side to it. Our usual restaurant, almost next door to the Lodge house, is closed for the foreseeable future as they cannot find the right staff. Many returned to their own countries during the pandemic – it’s a Greek restaurant – and have either not been able to get back, or have new jobs in the meantime – there has always been a staffing problem in gastronomy. So we decided to eat at a local hotel, as we did at the start of this month. They, sadly, decided that only hotel guests can eat in the hotel restaurant at the moment, rather than having to get involved with all the 2G restrictions and checks. It makes life easier for them, but not for those who simply want a good meal. So, the Lodge has booked a room for the night, so that one member is a guest in the hotel, and can then book a tale for the other twelve who wish to eat on Saturday. That means I do not have to drive home late at night, after our work, the meal and all, and can enjoy a few glasses of wine, being the person selected – as one of the few who does not live directly in Bremen – to stay and provide them with an excuse to give us a table for our meal. Now, if that isn’t a good reason to be optimistic for the future?