Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest Blog: Country Feasts & Festivities

Commentary by Country Bumpkin
It hardly seems yesterday since I wished you Season's Greetings, or Happy Chanukah, and yet here we are again. It's a bit scary when time goes past so fast, and there is one theory which has it that as you get older every day is a shrinking fraction of the life you have lived so far, and therefore time seems to slide by more quickly. It sounds like rubbish to me, except for the bit about time seeming to slide by. It does! But you all know that without me telling you, don't you?

Since I wrote in August -- four months ago! -- there have been the customary amusements and entertainments which come from living in the country, and because they have been largely customary it has not seemed fit to bore you with them. That said, there have been one or two which may be worth repeating, so I will continue.

On November 9, many countries and cities, including Berlin, commemorated the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass (top photo), when the Nazis mounted a pogrom against the Jews of Germany, which is being seen more and more historians as a defining event in the history of the Holocaust. That night, synagogues all around Germany were burned, smashed or looted; 90 or so Jews were murdered, and maybe 30,000 Jewish men rounded up and sent to Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen or Dachau. My grandfather spent a fortnight in Sachsenhausen at that time.

In Wellington, the celebration took the form of a commemorative concert in the Michael Fowler Centre, a 2,000-seat auditorium which was nearly filled -- which is a bit startling as the audience was made up of much more than the Jewish community. Certainly a high proportion of Wellington's diplomatic community turned out. And a fine concert it was, featuring a requiem by one Bioris Pigovat, an Insraeli composer who was there helped by sponsorship from the German and Israeli governments.

Significant enough in itself, the timing of the concert was close to an even more startling event. On November 20, the British Foreign Office unveiled a memorial at its Whitehall offices to the British diplomats who had helped rescue Jews from the Nazis during the 1930s. The received history until very recently has been that the British behaved badly at this time, for which claim their Palestine policy is cited as proof. But historians like Martin Gilbert have been digging deeper, and it is now increasingly accepted that the British behaved much better than most nations. Together with the Americans, they took in for shelter about half the Jews who did leave Germany at the time, which adds up to about 125,000 individuals.

One of those British diplomats was Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, who together with Captain Frank Foley was instrumental in helping me and my family to make it to New Zealand. As the result of a complicated series of events, too long and uninteresting to detail here, I score an invitation to the Foreign Office function (photo, right). I searched the envelope in which it came most carefully but could not find a ticket, but hey, who wants to be in London when it's cold and snowing when I could be home enjoying the early summer sun? Suffice it to say that there are probably not many British Foreign Office invitations in Masterton or even in the Wairarapa, and this invitation will find its place in my archive of family historical documents.

In a couple of months I will reach the 25th anniversary of having been diagnosed with diabetes, and until a few weeks ago this had proved no major impediment to leading an active and normal life. But then my hands and feet started to get pins and needles and their strength was comprised, and life has become very uncomfortable indeed. The medical people are able to relieve the worst of it, but it's a situation which rather takes away some of the fun and convenience . . . As a further reminder of the passage of time, this has no peer (refer to Paragrah 1) but the lawn still needs mowing and the regular chores need doing. Bah humbug!!!

Louis the cat has grown a great deal since I last wrote and is now able to defend himself very well against Nellie from next door who wishes him dead. He has also acquired a friend in the form of a beaten-up, scarred old tabby and while male who comes around every day to play with him. And to eat his food which he will do at the least drop in our watchfulness. The old guy is friendly to us too, which is also no doubt connected with the plentiful food supply. Meanwhile, Nellie from next door prowls around the outskirts of this friendship with troubles of her own because he owners have just acquired Socks and there is much jealousy in their household, I hear.

It's been quite a year, hasn't it, not least because of the American and New Zealand elections which have changed the political landscape in ways we can't yet see. The economic downturn still seems somewhat vague and undefined from where we're sitting, but the pre-Christmas discounting which New Zealand retailers are doing is on a scale never before seen and I can hardly wait for them to open their doors on Boxing Day. We also know that car dealers are freezing, and it is clear that we'll learn much more before many weeks go by. This is quite a good time to be a pensioner, let's be clear, but income from interest-bearing investments looks as though it will be squeezed downwards-- though if there is a shortage of bank funds for on-lending,
they may keep on competing for our dollars for a while yet. And anyway, the price of

Now if we could just get our electric utilities and local councils to stop sucking disposable income out of the system at the absurd pace they do, life can go on being pretty relaxed and comfortable.

And so 2008 is almost gone. may you and your families, whatever festival you observe at this time of year, prosper and enjoy in peace not only the feats themselves but 2009 as well!

Our affectionate best wishes to all of you!

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 Reminiscences, 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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