Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guest Blog: Country Reminiscences

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Yesterday, a year had passed since we set off on our journey back to Europe. Many of you have tolerated in the best of humour our endless reminiscences about that adventure, and you have earned your right to be spared more of them. The luckier among you have not had to put up with looking at our pictures, of course, but it's reasonable that our experiences should now take their place in history and we get on with something else.

Except that the people of the Wairarapa won't let it. This week I made my fifteenth speech about what it's like for a nice Jewish boy to go back to his heimat, and what should happen but the phone rings yesterday with an invitation to deliver a sixteenth, this time to a convocation of Lions. ("Mummy, how do lions make love?" "I don't know, your daddy's a Rotarian.") The audiences have ranged from about 150 to a dozen or so. The organisations include Rotary clubs. Probus. The Happy Circle. (That what? The Happy Circle.) And so forth and so on, and the common theme among them is that the people in the audience are almost entirely thatched with grey hair, unless they happen also to be balding like me.

Most remarkable of all is the number of people who have come forward after the event and explained how they too are of Jewish or German origin. At a Rotary meeting last Thursday morning there was a man whose forebears came to New Zealand from Westphalia. Like my dad. A short swarthy man at a Probus meeting in Carterton declared himself to be a Jew from Wapping, in the East End of London. A Jewish lady with a German accent at a Greytown Probus meeting told me she had got out of Germany in time and served with the British forces during WWII, while the father she left behind served with the German forces. A Dutch lady told me that during the war she had helped in spiriting away Jewish children out of the clutches of the occupying Nazis! (She firmly wished that no-one should know of this, but since I haven't told you her name no confidence has been broken.)

Now, this is heartland New Zealand! This is where solid Kiwis descended from pioneer stock, raise sheep and cattle and milk cows. Here are the roots of conservatism and good works, and people with funny accents are not often to be found. Well it seems they are and let me tell you, it's an astonishment and a welcome one.

And then there was the elderly and frail Rotarian who told me with tears in his eyes that my account had brought back his memories of flying a P38 over the Channel to France to bomb German supply lines behind the invasion beaches.

This week someone said I should get a manager and start to charge a fee. Modesty naturally forbids, but my collection of ball pens is still growing and I've even scored a pocket calculator. The petrol vouchers are the most welcome rewards, of course. I don't need any more ball pens, but thanks for offering.

Does all this get boring? it can't. The reason is that my wife insists on coming with me to every meeting, and although I ask her if she doesn't get weary of hearing the same things over and over again, she says that each delivery is a bit different from the others. There are advantages in not using notes, it seems.

There are other signs of civilisation here in the countryside. Last evening we went to the Masterton Town Hall to hear a short and dapper Chinese man named Feng Ning play Beethoven's Violin Concerto to a packed house. Hearing music through discs and home theatres has its limitations so my judgement might be warped, but it was one of the finest performances of that work I have ever heard. (And I heard none other than David Oistrakh play it in the Wellington Town Hall more years ago than I'll admit.) There was Mozart and Bach on the programme too, and as we mingled with the crowds leaving afterwards, a lady of my acquaintance said that the evening had been a "breath of oxygen."

She was quite right.

Global warming continues to wreak its vengeance on profligate mankind. A hefty slice of New Zealand is under snow this morning, about a month later than it usually is. Storms have been passing regularly across the country for the past 6 weeks, and while the Wairarapa has missed the worst of the flooding and damage it is 7 degrees outside and we have just been to do some shopping in the hail and sleet. The western hills will presumably have a fresh coating of snow on their flanks, but since we can't see them through the rain we'll have to wait to find out. Despite all this, our first prunus blossoms broke their buds a week earlier than in any of our previous springs here, and now the plum tree is blossoming, too. How they tolerate the wind, rain, hail and cold I don't know, but we ourselves do; pretty well, at that, since we've added a whole bunch of extra insulation to our house. Nevertheless, we'll almost certainly run out of firewood by the time the weather turns.

Before I finish, one more reminiscence is necessary. One of London's many pleasures last year was enjoying an Indian meal in Finchley. Naturally, it was cooled down by a glass or two of Tiger beer. We went to our local supermarket just now, and guess what? They are selling Tiger beer right here in Masterton, Wairarapa, New Zealand.

Country Bumpkin is my cousin, a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand.
He is the author of
Return to the Schilderwald -- A Jew Comes Home After Sixty-Eight Years. Among his other guest blogs are Country Climate Change, Country Reintegration, Country Castles, Country Travel, Country Polikarpovs, Country History, The Country Way of All Flesh, Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.

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