Before I begin with introductions and explanations, a word on what I have read and understood from the Michigan Department of Corrections Policy Directive: Prisoner Mail, Directive 05.03.118 from 6 November 2023. Prisoners may receive mail from private individuals, not exceeding twelve single sided pages, which is then photocopied and forwarded to the recipient, with the original, after a defined and appropriate period of time, being destroyed. Not quite clear is whether I can write a letter on both sides of the page, or whether it has to be single-sided. Photographs sent will also be copied, and the originals returned to the sender, if desired, at the expense of the recipient. As there is no definition of the type of stationery which may be used, other than that for stamped, self-addressed envelopes in specific circumstances, and all mail is photocopied before being forwarded, I believe that ordinary weight white printing or writing paper is acceptable, and that a definition of envelopes includes international airmail envelopes – as with this letter – affixed with a stamp, as pre-paid international envelopes are not available for airmail. The envelope also being photocopied and not forwarded in original to the recipient. The sender’s name and details must be on the outside of the envelope, and the recipient’s name, number and address clearly shown to facilitate forwarding. If this is in any way not correct, please let me know, and I will adapt in the future.

I’m not sure how much of an introduction is needed, and I am not too good at introductions anyway, but tend to get right down into the meat of a letter, even when it is the first one, and let correspondents learn through the gradual unfolding of a hopefully lengthy exchange. Your sister, Bridgette, was trusting enough to forward me your address, with the suggestion that you might be interested in writing, and I have every intention of treating it with the trust intended. I am sure you are aware of the strict rules and guidelines of our Fraternity, and any exposure of your circumstances would not necessarily be beneficial to you. I also believe it should be your decision whether you wish to open up to the Lodge in person, and not mine to expose you. That said, in certain circumstances I would immediately begin the necessary actions, if I felt it was of potential good to all, to remove or expel but, having written to many inmates over many years, I feel there are certain guidelines and personal boundaries which we have to set for ourselves. We can, perhaps, explore that at a later date.

As a very basic idea: I am a Scotsman living in Germany, and have been here since the mid-Eighties; initially with the military, then as a civilian. My interests come and go, but a staple foundation revolves around literature, history and philosophy, collecting old photographs and cameras, and writing letters. Just over a year ago I moved to this address, close to the centre of Bremen, having lived on the outskirts for over twenty years. Although, many years ago, I swore I never wanted to live in a city again, the level of public transport, my interest in the Lodge, in exhibitions, theatre and concerts – and also good food in good restaurants – convinced me that living outside was a waste of time. All of my friends, all of my interests revolve around institutions in the city, so I might just as well live here. Added to which, the public transport from my minor city of the time was distinctly lacking. Anyone who wanted to have a good night out required a car, something which is not a given in Germany, as the last bus left Bremen before ten at night when most concerts and films, theatre shows and other events were still in full swing. I now live in a considerably smaller apartment, still surrounded by boxes of books and pictures which I have not yet found a place for – and this is fourteen months after I officially moved in! – and am happier than I would have imagined. There is an Irish bar just around the corner, run by a Turkish man and his Filipino wife, and bus stops with regular transport into the centre at the end of the street. Buses also run throughout the day and night, so I no longer have to fear missing the end of a play simply because I need to get home and, far more important, I can afford the time to enjoy my food, to have a dessert and even, perhaps, a coffee afterwards with friends. We don’t have that many malls as such here, they’re not really a European thing, but there’s a good shopping centre nearby, and all needs are well catered or.

I don’t know whether you’ve been able to follow the recent history of our Lodge. Quite a few years ago it was effectively consigned to paper as unable to work. The US drawdown of troops from Europe, and the increasing age of the remaining members, with many going back to the States to their families and home towns, meant that no candidates were coming in, and all,the different positions couldn’t be filled. Then a few Germans heard about the Lodge and, since they were looking for something new, and preferably outside of the German Grand Lodges, received permission to affiliate and work. There followed a time of reasonable expansion in Bremerhaven until, as with all things, the last original member living up there laid down his Working Tools. Since most of the newer members came from Bremen, we decided to move the Lodge to the city, and continue our work there. With no other English-speaking Lodges in the city, there has been a lack of competition – there are six or seven different German Lodges here – and, despite the misgivings of the German Lodges, that we might steal their candidates, we have managed to make the revival of our Lodge a success. That doesn’t mean acceptance by the German Lodges, but I see from the Bremerhaven history that this was also not always the case there either. Candidates are knocking on the door, and we had an initiation on 1 June, following on from a Open Day presentation which brought us more names for consideration. The Lodge remains small, but this year we won the Best Lodge award from Grand Lodge for the second time in three years, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Not that this makes a great difference: we work because we wish to work, and the recognition from the south is merely another feather in our caps. Without it we would still be content to follow on with what we are doing, but at least now we no longer have to claim we’ve been forgotten or are ignored. I’ve included our latest Bremer Trestleboard for you, the newsletter which gets sent out now and then, as I don’t think you would have received it otherwise. If you wish to have earlier issues, let me know and I will send them on to you.

I have no idea of what your interests are, nor of the facilities available to you to follow your interests. I’ve mentioned mine above, but the main one which always seems to fit in well with letter writing is reading. Quite a few of my corresponding friends – some incarcerated, some not – read and enjoy discussing what they have read, and also inspiring to try new books, new genres. I have just finished reading an excellent work on the philosopher Diogenes, which has given me a few ideas for articles to write for our Grand Lodge newsletter, the Communicator, as well as elsewhere. He was a Cynic, possibly the first one, the founder of this movement, and had many thoughts and ideas which resound down the years to our beliefs today. Not, I should add, all of them, as I am fairly sure there are not too many people who would consider incest and cannibalism a form of free speech or a Right. But he had ideas on Freedom of Speech and was keen to learn from others, as much as to teach. Admittedly his teaching methods would never be approved today, filled with insults and designed to force people out of the shells by attacking them, but interesting nonetheless. Now I have moved on to a work by Jon Fosse, a Norwegian writer of fiction who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2023. This work is a little bit different to the run-of-the-mill fiction we can buy at any corner store. It is in three large volumes, and seems – I’ve not yet finished the first one hundred pages, having started it yesterday – to be the thoughts of an artist as he goes through his daily life. The thought process is one of great interest to many, as being an unfathomable resource and, in some people, an inexplicable force, and Fosse is taking full advantage of this. We’ve all heard of people who simply cannot stop talking; the hero here seems to be unable to stop thinking, as if it’s a factory processing band which runs three shifts and twenty-four hours a day. The thoughts fall,one over another, with repetitions, new insights, weird asides, and as one long sentence. That is: the three volumes do not contain a single full stop.

I seem to remember an author, it would have been in the late Seventies, managed to write a complete book without the letter E, another undertaking which tends to blow the mind, but a three volume work with just one continuous sentence? The original was written in Norwegian, and I am reading the German translation, which makes me wonder how the translator managed to find a good spot to break off for meals and rest. Even with less than one hundred pages read, I’m finding it difficult to decide where to take a pause just to drink my tea. We shall see how it goes!

I have a fairly good stack of books waiting to be read – finding it almost impossible to just walk by a bookstore – but fiction doesn’t feature all that often. Sometimes, when I want to clear my head of facts and philosophical thoughts, I’ll reach for the latest Harlan Coben, or Lee Child, perhaps even some of the older crime writers like Agatha Christie, or the thriller writer which occasionally hit the stands. Here in Germany there seem to be more crime thrillers available than anything else, although romance is also a fairly popular theme. The number of books translated into German from English or the other European languages, especially the Scandinavian ones, is astonishing. Sadly not quite enough time available to enjoy them all. But many, especially ones like Child, can be read in a single sitting; they are hardly challenging at all.

I’m going to wrap my first letter up here, before I write so many pages the envelope doesn’t close. Long and involved letters are my thing, but not what I expect from others who write with or to me. Everyone has their own style – and letter writing is not something taught in schools any more, sadly – and some people have never put pen to paper in their lives, making it a new and – hopefully – exciting adventure. We had letter writing classes at school, probably because I went to a boarding schools hundreds of miles away from home, and it was thought to be needed. An interesting and useful idea, at the time, but held back by the knowledge, for each of us writing a letter to someone, that our words would be read and assessed by a teacher. Not exactly conducive to exciting and revealing works on paper! If you feel like writing, I’d welcome the chance to add an new perspective to my corresponding life. If not, I can understand it too. Regardless, take good care of yourself.