When lightning strikes: David Bowie and mining identity.

Paparoa's Blog



In the tidal wave of emotion that has swept the world since David Bowie’s death was announced on Monday, I have found my myself in a curious position: saluting a great artist who I never really got know, or cared enough about. Certainly I knew of his music and songs in the 1970s when many of my young druggie friends would turn up at my place and play them, but they were a good 5-10 years younger than me. They had been struck in the heart by his lightning: my electric shock had happened a fews years before in the early-to-mid 1960s when I first heard Bob Dylan and those powerful bolts of energy –  where a 14-16 year old mind is transformed by such an encounter – had already surged through me.

I was born in November 1947, in London, Kingston-on-Thames, not terribly far away from Brixton where…

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When lightning strikes: David Bowie and mining identity.



In the tidal wave of emotion that has swept the world since David Bowie’s death was announced on Monday, I have found my myself in a curious position: saluting a great artist who I never really got know, or cared enough about. Certainly I knew of his music and songs in the 1970s when many of my young druggie friends would turn up at my place and play them, but they were a good 5-10 years younger than me. They had been struck in the heart by his lightning: my electric shock had happened a fews years before in the early-to-mid 1960s when I first heard Bob Dylan and those powerful bolts of energy –  where a 14-16 year old mind is transformed by such an encounter – had already surged through me.

I was born in November 1947, in London, Kingston-on-Thames, not terribly far away from Brixton where the ten month old David Robert Jones was about to endure his second English winter in the chill of a battered post-war England. In May 1950 when he was three years old, my mother and my brother and I stepped aboard an immigrant ship to New Zealand and my ways and Bowie’s were geographically set apart. Both of us were born into a lower middle-class-cum-working class suburbia and it would stand to reason that being peers in age, I might have had more in common with him than a descendant of European Jews brought up in a comfortable middle class America of the 1940s, way up in the mining town backblocks of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota.

Not that reason or sense has a lot to do with our choices and even less when it comes to others’ moves. Even though I heard Dylan first, it could be argued I should have had more in common with Bowie by birth and temperament and even my natal culture. My parents remained English, and I lived a working class life; I was something of an outsider who didn’t fit but desperately needed to belong. But I was not in London now, I was in New Zealand and that 1950s macho culture had done its work. I could handle Dylan: he had something of the frontier about him in those early records and even when he went urban electric, he held me in his thrall.


The truth is, I’d been struck by lightning almost ten years before Bowie hit me and for some people, in adolescence, that only happens once. Sure, there were the Beatles and the Stones, I loved Procol Harum, the Yardbirds and plenty more – but it was only Dylan that made me want to be something I wasn’t yet. He woke the urgent need to write, to write poetry – and it’s never gone away. He’d been shaped by the James Dean imagery of his day which was still around when I hit high school and later, in my callow sixth form cynicism. I’d found in this man a strong ancestor; even though I lost him as I went through various incarnations in search of a self I could be – failing to escape from the bully jocks of my childhood by doing the kinds of jobs they did, to fit in – I never lost his example, his following of a road his own.

Thinking about it now, in the 1970s when I first saw the album covers of records like Aladdine Sane and Diamond Dogs, it was too weird for me and the music never took hold; it was just there in the room while we got stoned. I don’t think my Kiwi conditioning machine from the ’50s would have allowed me out of its straight jacket back then and I don’t think I’m alone. Come the 1980s, I was deeply into a conservative evangelical Christian change and so Bowie – along with a whole lot of others – was off my radio. Dylan turned up Saved too, so he was an artist from my old life that kept getting through. A return to England in 1987 and ten years there, with six of them bookselling in central London gradually shifted the gravity of  my Kiwi identity into some kind of neutral. I became more open while retaining a working faith, pivoting more and more around my recovery from alcoholism.

Bowie Daily Mail

I guess I could say I ended up in London working with a lot of David Bowies: people on the edge, booksellers who wanted to be writers, actors, musicians, artists – anything in fact but bloody booksellers. For many of us, it was all we could find to get by; but I did get to meet a lot outsiders who affirmed the outsider in me, the leftover rebel who’d dropped out of high school and university (twice), the wanna-be-poet still held down by the great New Zealand clobbering machine of Depression and World War Two experiences that had shaped our elders. I saw great writers read and heard poets you would cross rivers to encounter: Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky, Ivan Klima and Jeanette Winterson. I stood before Salman Rushdie as he signed a book for my son; I made a cup of tea for Tony Benn. I had found my tribe at last.

I would write drafts of poems in a little cafe across the road from my Waterstone’s branch on 121-125 Charing Cross Road, while in another cafe on the other side, Dylan Horrocks would be drawing his Pickle comics. I had published nothing for nearly twenty years, but I was home. In 2012, writing finally took me to Berlin: Bowie’s Berlin, it would turn into for me, as I traveled on the S7 from Grunewald to the Goethe-Institut in Neue Schönhause Straße for my language lessons, with his new song, Where Are We Now haunting me in the headphones – “The moment you know, you know, you know…”. David Bowie had caught up with me and I with him; this wasn’t like the Dylan lightning strikes of 1965, more the rich melancholy of a grateful old age.

And now I know this, I can return to his huge catalogue and explore;  it is always too late, it is never too late, it is always now. I’m going to start with the German version of Heroes in the link below and see if I can find a new hero by the fallen Wall, where I have since 2012 in awe and honour stood.

“Dann sind wir Helden für deisen Tag/Then we are heroes for this day”


i.m David Bowie 1947-2016

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The Blue Outboard, by Nick Williamson. Review.

Blue Outboard

Those of us poetry readers and writers around Christchurch over the past twenty years will have come across Nick Williamson’s work in a variety of venues: readings, haiku competitions, anthologies and his previous lone entry into the single volume lists, The Whole Forest (Sudden Valley Press, 2001). That lovely and lonely work – published by the late godfather of the Canterbury poetry culture, John O’Connor who died last year – has now been joined by a second small press collection, The Blue Outboard (Black Doris Press), the imprint of another Southern poetry man, David Howard. I learned of its existence through a Facebook post and made sure of a copy soon after by visiting Nick and his partner, the poet and fiction writer, Frankie McMillan.

The cover – one of Nick’s magical childlike artworks – bespeaks what is contained within. He has always been good on the shadows and lights of childhood, captured earlier in the poetry of The Whole Forest, growing up in 1950s Auckland, looking out to Rangitoto. His ability to encapsulate a moment or a mood – his haiku training – as the child viewer (typically) ponders the tall, distant world of adults, gardeners and fishers, gives these poems a lasting presence and resonance. We have been somewhere like this and he takes us back there, with him.

My father’s eyes drift towards the window.

He stares at the buffalo hill and the macrocarpa

hedge, the shimmering line of bamboo.

Time to put in the silverbeet, he observes,

and the broad beans.

(Father comes home).

This is of course a 1950s’ baby-boom childhood world that Nick Williamson evokes, turning its edges over and over in poem after poem to see what the light reveals; yet it is also outside of a specific time in its truth to universal experience. Children are ethnographers in their own right as they make their own kind of sense of themselves in their parents’ world.

He isn’t limited to any one life stage, chronicling as well his adult journeys, relationships and obsessions. He knows that less is more and has a deft touch with voice and character: “He said he was on the Sickness./Nerves”. (Repairing the head). The head in view is that of a BSA Bantam motorbike, but as his friend does a running repair in curtained lounge, cutting head gaskets from Weetbix packs, we see without being told that the subject is really the friend’s condition and not the bike, his glasses held together with sellotape, his fingers “engraved in oil”. In the background a TV blares, there is talk of a ghost and how this guy “knew Norm Kirk”. You’re back in the drug-raddled 1970s with one of its wounded.

These are poems of deep humanity and often great beauty. Nick deserves a wider  audience and as a friend and a reader, I wish it for him. We both know there’s no money in poetry but we are working now as superannuitants on a wider project, what I think Osip Mandelstam called “the eyesight of wasps”.

Nick Williamson brings to life what he sees, what touches him and gives it back in his poetry in a form others can see and feel. It’s a book you should seek out, if you care for poetry and especially poetry made in the South, in cities and towns where poetry took root in this country.

Tonight Chagall is coming

to sing a Russian hymn

& charm the blackbird in our pear

tree with his yellow violin.

(Tonight Marc Chagall)

Blue Outboard Humber Hawk.jpg

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The ablation of John Philip Key

A recent article by the journalist Rachel Stewart – where she throws up her hands at our Prime Minister John Key’s apparent self-immolation during another humiliating appearance on the aptly, crushingly named radio station, The Rock – has finally convinced me that yes, he is deliberately throwing himself under a bus. That bus is his insatiable desire to be loved, the vacuum every fatherless child tries to fill; when Key was six or seven years old, his father left his mother Ruth and she never remarried.

Little is known about George Ernest Key (1914-1969), or little has been made known of what is out there. An article published in the Western Leader in 2010 reveals something of what lies behind the emotional enigma that has many of us wondering about why Key behaves in the way he does and yet manages to surf a remarkable wave of popular approval.


Every child who loses a parent loses a role model, and while that loss may sometimes seem the best result when the modelling given is destructive, or negative, nevertheless the wound and the absence remain. I’m speaking here from experience: an alcoholic father, an emotionally unstable war veteran, a bully who damaged his wife, his children and himself. He was there, but not there and when he was there, often it would have been better if he wasn’t. I’m still cleaning up the mess sixty-plus years on and so are my siblings.

John Key’s problem in my view is different. Like me, a State House kid from Bryndwyr, he had – along I assume with his other now publicly invisible siblings – the job of looking after his solo mother, in his case from the age of seven. Where does a boy in that position get his affirmation as a male, how could he – as Jesus said – do the things he saw his father doing? We all need both approval and correction as we mature; these are the two black holes that skew the psychology of our present Prime Minister. He can’t get enough love and he doesn’t know when to stop.

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This is how he gets himself into the spotlight and into trouble: all those nagging unmet needs. Who am I really? How do I know what to do? Where is my role model? Where is my father? Key’s mother Ruth, sanctified in his accounts as a hard working, loyal and dedicated mother certainly had role model credentials as an Austrian Jewish escapee from certain death in the Holocaust to have given her youngest a backbone and a sure moral compass.

Yet somehow, her influence has not proved enough to save him from the nagging self-doubt that sees him flinging himself at all manner of flaky opportunities for self-promotion. In fact, they are proving a self-ablation, eroding every last vestige of dignity as he places his reputation in the hands of vacuous radio hosts who must secretly enjoy their power over his weakness. The play is Shakespearean in its implications: not who is his nemesis, no Norman Kirk, no David Lange waiting off-stage to dethrone him, but how long will it be before his inner conflicts bring him down?

The uncomfortable corollary of all this is that we, the people – or enough of us anyway – have been seduced into meeting his needs, mistaking the openness and blokiness for a sense that he is one of us, he belongs to us and we to him. That’s a mistake: Key is aiming higher than the middle class barbie next door, he is aiming at Remuera love and Hawai’i love and Obama love, all the love he can get at the top table. The Richie love, in case you hadn’t noticed: “See how loved I am? See how much I matter?”

We need to stop giving Key what he doesn’t need and give him what he does: a reality check, as a good parent would. Tell him the game is up, invite him to get help and more than anything, get him out of the Beehive, stop him doing so much damage to himself – and to us.




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Dirty water? Post-ban thoughts on Ted Dawe’s INTO THE RIVER.

Ted Dawe

Now that the dust has settled after the banning and un-banning of Ted Dawe’s novel, Into The River, it might be a good time to reflect a little on what the fuss was all about. I might never have read it, if not for its detractors and defenders; once the ban on sale was lifted, I decided I should even though the book was not aimed at mature adults, but the YA market – teenagers, in other words.

Coming to the end of it, I did wonder just what it was that had so exercised the minds of its critics- or indeed if their minds were truly on the job of literary judgment, rather than policing morality. I don’t reject the idea of censorship classifications per se, but this seemed to me a case of gross over-reaction.

Zeroing in on the two sex scenes in the book (heterosexual encounters), the implied sexual relationship between a schoolboy and a teacher that hovers in the background, along with the use of drugs (mainly marijuana and alcohol) did not say a great deal about the real intent of the storytelling. These were things any teenager could read about in a newspaper, see reported on television and in some cases, be involved in at the weekend. In other words, a familiar world.

The real intent of the author, from my reading was to show what it was like for somebody who was different, from a marginalised background, to leave his safe rural nest, then be dropped into a den of bullies in a city boarding school for boys.

Some have made a lot of the fact that the protagonist, Te Arepa was Māori and  of the theme of racism underlying his experience, but I didn’t find that aspect of Dawe’s characterisation so central, or even convincing. What came through was the dreadful sub-cultures that can exist in elite schools which still behave as if the twentieth century never happened: Tom Brown’s Schooldays and every clone of that book ever since.

Dawe’s experience as a teacher comes through here and his ability enter that world and represent the minds of boys-into-men. Does sex happen at this age? Of course it does. Should fiction written for teenage readers ignore this? I can’t see why, no more than it should ignore the other realities we have to face from twelve to twenty. Were the few sex scenes gratuitous? Not for me. Can we protect teenagers against erotic literature, even if the sex is there just to titillate? Probably not.There is worse out there at the click of a mouse. Some might even say, “Thank goodness for books boys might want to read”.

Dawes is pretty damn good on cars and racing too, something for petrolheads to enjoy as Te Arepa aka Devon (he gets a new name at the school) goes through another rite of passage, learning to drive and to indulge in risk-taking behaviour that doesn’t just involve his body and one other.

The book – if its banners only knew – is in the long and well tried tradition of the Bildungsroman, the novel of formation, the coming of age genre epitomised in such books as The Catcher in The Rye. We all go through these changes and Dawe tracks them ably enough. I read far worse in my early teens: The Scourge of The Swastika and Knights of Bushido, adult histories of war crimes. I learned of genocide and mass rapes, unspeakable cruelties; nobody protected me from those truths about the world I was growing into.


My non-fiction books were “worse” in the sense that they alerted me to the depths of human depravity and I have never been able to expunge the images and the stories from my mind. If I had read Ted Dawe’s book at the age of fifteen, I think I would have forgotten it long ago; but at the time, it would have been comforting to have learned that there were other “different” boys in the world somewhere, getting a hazing most days and learning to hide who they really were.

Yes, I would have found the two sex scenes horny, but corrupted by them – no. For good or ill, my family had formed me long before that. I was allowed to read anything I could and I did so. I formed my own tastes and learned discrimination. My parents trusted me that far and I salute them. It was all about the journey into self-awareness and self-knowledge, the slow and tricky formation of identity and a socialisation that does not kill the spirit.

I think that is what Into The River is all about; its benefits to a teen audience – a chance to see themselves in a book – far outweigh any imagined corrupting influence. Teenagers will take drugs and have sex, in and out of literature. I just wish that the people who wanted to stop this book reaching teens would remember what their own growing years were like and try a little to identify with Te Arepa/Devon and his band of brothers.

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Unter den Deutschen – Among the Germans: 4. Standing on Hitler’s Grave.

These are my last two days in Berlin: by this time Wednesday 28 January I will be in the air en route to Frankfurt to catch the flight home. It’s been a quite a ride and no more so than this last week when I bussed to Dresden, took a 100-year old US flag back to the city from which my great uncle Ulysses Bywater had removed it from the roof of the American  Consulate in 1912, and presented it to Holger Starke, a surprised and delighted historian at the Stadtmuseum in Wilsdorfer Strasse.

The 45 Star Old Glory.

I also got to sit in the magical restored Frauenkirche and have my soul and all my senses drenched in the most celestial organ music I have ever felt. I say felt and not heard as its sublime power went right through me and rendered me silent and still, like all the other visitors. If ever a city underwent a resurrection, it is this one, burned rubble in February 1945 and strewn with charred human remains; today, an island of peace, even amidst the rumblings of the anti-Islam and anti-immigration activists, Pegida.

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In the Frauenkirche

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Lovely old Deutsche Post box, Dresden.

Back in Berlin on Thursday, I was getting ready for a trip on Saturday to Wolfenbuttel with Konrad and Gaby, who wanted to show me around the famous August Herzog Bibliotek and the Lessing Museum nearby. I was probably a bit worn out for another big day on the road and it did prove stressful, but well worth the journey. We even saw the sun and blue sky after passing through what were the two checkpoints Berliners had to get through until 1989, if they wanted to visit West Germany.

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August Herzog under snow, Wolfebuttel.

My hosts remember the Cold War only too well. Konrad was hired to work in the Ministry of Education in Berlin in 1969, the first Federal German agency inside the encircled city. The Russians responded to this “provocation” by flying Mig jet fighters over the city and above the Ministry building, breaking the sound barrier high above as well, in a pointed message that they were not to be trifled with. We forget this time now, when so many fingers were on hair trigger.

Back from the Bibliotek – a bibliophile’s heaven of ancient printed and handwritten manuscripts,  delighting also in snowfall that whited the town – I was ready for Sunday and a trip to the Grunewaldkirche with my new friends, Rainer the veterinarian and Alexandra, his pianist wife. The service was being recorded for radio and the priest had emailled everyone to come and fill the church.

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Rainer and Alexandra on Teufelsberg.

During his sermon he mentioned the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer several times and questions to Rainer and Alexandra revealed that the young Bonhoeffer had been confirmed there with his sister in 1921, the family living nearby in Wagenheimer Strasse 14 (where I determined to go if I could). Here was a man who confronted the Nazi evil head on and paid the price, suffering death by hanging in 1945 when the war was all but over. His memory is a shining star in that long night of darkness.

The next – and last – visit to a site of great interest was to be Teufelsberg, the famous mountain and Cold War spy station run by the American NSA to track Soviet bloc communications. A graffitied ruin now, in those days it kept watch over what Moscow and its satellites in the East were up to. Abandoned and sold to developers after the Wall fell in 1989, it proved to be a major commercial failure as none of the projected apartments were completed and sold and its promoters went bust – then the spray can tribe moved in.

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There is a locked gate there now and a couple who act as caretakers. Rainer has privileged access as the vet who looks after the three dogs that guard the fort these days, a Rottwieler, a Dobermann and a little Schnauzer. We drove straight in and took a guided tour through a labyrinth of dark concrete corridors and cold bleak stairways, every available surface so choked with graffiti that it resembled the set of some dystopian epic, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

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We made it to the top, freezing, looking out not on Berlin but on a blanketing canvas of swirling mist. It was time to go and find the dogs and give them their injections. The caretaker and his partner live inside the Minotaur’s cave like postmodern techno-hippies. You really would have to love the lifestyle to survive up there in winter. Confidences preclude any further revelations of their privacy, but the coffee was great and the atmosphere in the bunker – out of this world.

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As we left, Rainer pointed out to me a small series of what looked like porcelain figures, white flowers on the wire that upheld them. He told me it was a memorial to the Trummerfrauen, the German women of Berlin wh0 cleared away the millions of tons of rubble that the Allied bombing campaign had  reduced their city to.

This then was not a natural rise. It consisted of 20 million tons of bomb-broken stone, brick and concrete that was trucked to Teufelsberg from the war’s end until 1972. The Americans had built their spy base on top of it, on top of a site where Hitler himself had laid the foundation stone of a never to be completed military school. This was Berlin’s wartime graveyard and the grave of Hitler’s dreams.

2014-12-14 11.23.00 HDR

This was a good place to end my journey, overlooking a city and a people I have come to embrace in the past three months, upending my old stereotypes,  showering me with goodness and human stories.  Berlin! Berlin! as Tucholsky saw it was a place not to be resisted or ignored. Standing silent today before Bonhoeffer’s house in Grunewald, my prayer was for them, as much as myself. The good Germans.

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Konrad and Gaby Kutt, Grunewald, my peerless Berlin hosts.

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Unter den Deutschen – Among the German: 3. Moin, moin, Hamburg!

The broken umbrellas of Hamburg would have been a good title for what might be my last post from Germany, as time is running out and I leave in just over a fortnight with some writing to do and some visits to make: hopefully to Dresden and maybe, Gottingen. But last weekend it was Hamburg, my first real trip in the pursuit of material somewhere that I knew for sure my quarry had lived, at least until 1928, at Klosterallee 20. What I was to find – in the teeth of a powerful North Sea storm that battered us the entire weekend – was broken umbrellas.


Another victim, this time near Alexanderplatz in Berlin.

Since my course at the Goethe-Institut had ended on 18 December and the following day I had flown to England on Germanwings from Texel, travel and family connections had been uppermost in my mind. I had first stayed with my friend Paul Ewen and his family in Denmark Hill after a baptism of commuter fire at Paddington Station fresh off the Heathrow Express. After Berlin railway stations, it seemed like I had entered a feeding frenzy of bluefin tuna, swarming around me from every direction. Welcome back said London and gave me a shove.


Paul playing with Violet and Vincent.

Paul, who I have only known for just over a year is a sublimely talented satirist and his rightly acclaimed spoof on the Booker and literary prize industry in general is too funny for words. I have – truly – never laughed so loud or so long and almost choked trying not to on the flight back to Germany ten days later. Seek out “How to be a Public Author” and see for yourself. His family – wife Linda, children Violet and Vincent – were delightful and it was sweet to lean back into their hospitality in a London ex-pat household, with Hotere and McCahon on opposite walls of the living room where I slept on the fold-out couch.

2014-12-21 06.47.15The Ewen Gallery, Denmark Hill.

After two nights of R&R I headed off to Woking and an evening with my cousin Jen; the afternoon though was spent with us taking my other cousin Gary from another Holman branch to see his 90 year old father Colin in a Haslemere rest home. We joined in a Fawlty Tower-esque set of Christmas carols with a brass band in one room just visible but highly audible, as Colin sang away to himself, a sweet sound, a song known there and then to no-one but him.

I pressed on the following day to Chesham in Buckinghamshire were another long lost family member awaited: Clive Newlands, the grandson of my famous great uncle Hector Bywater and my second cousin, if I have this whakapapa correctly grasped. I had contacted him from New Zealand earlier in the year as I searched for any family members who might know anything about great aunt Lillian and Carl Hasenburg – but he had nothing at all.

In fact, he hardly knew anything of the wider Bywater connections: his mother, Sylvia, had said very little about her family; he knew of but had never met her brother, his uncle Robin who had wonderfully written to me in 1990 when I had discovered his existence through reading Bill Honan’s book on his legendary father, Hector. If not for Robin’s letter, I would never have known of Carl’s Jewish ancestry, his death at the hands of the Nazis nor Lillian’s repatriation from Germany back to England during the war.

We spent a wonderful evening together with his wife Pat comparing notes, meeting his brother Nick, a cousin and their wives, Pat’s daughter and her Irish boyfriend. They put on pre-Christmas feast which was as good the one on the 25th when it came, and the next morning drove me to a pub lunch at England’s oldest ale house, the 900-year veteran, The Royal Standard of England near Beaconsfield, before dropping me off for my next trip, down the Sussex coast to Selsey.

2014-12-23 13.56.37A memento mori near the door: “Last Orders, Please!”

My time at Selsey was with family connections from my first marriage: I had been the best man when Tony and Kate Grant got married and we’d stayed in touch ever since, with a few gaps. They were my down home Christmas hosts and we had a great time catching up, watching Tony feed his flock of seagulls every morning and sympathizing with him as his once great West Indian cricket team gave him the Jamaican blues with a series of dropped catches against South Africa.

2014-12-30 09.45.53Stephen Seagull rules the roost.

Next stop in the whistlestop tour was Poole and my elderly auntie Pat who is now also in a rest home, not very far from the house she lived in for many years in Broadstone so she can still wander around and visit her neighbours. She was – as I would be too in the same situation – very happy to see me and we spent three precious hours in her upstairs room catching up with my family news and me milking her memories of the Holman clan of Southwark, the ageing aunts and grannies of a long gone era before the Second World War when they lived poor but close and formed deep bonds. She may not have been pining for the harsher side of that era but she conveyed to me something of what our affluence has cost us in loss of community. No sentimental “poor but happy”; rather, “poor and connected”.

2014-12-27 15.07.51Pat Snow, my English aunt with the merino wrap I took for her.

By five pm, my next ride was at the door: Jeremy Windust, a union organiser and secretary of the RBA in the 1990s when I worked for Waterstones Booksellers on Charing Cross Road and was for quite a few of those years a delegate for the London M25 area. We too had stayed in sporadic contact, kept alive by our mutual love of Bob Dylan’s music; he’s way deeper in that fan culture and the musical element than I am, but we follow His Bobness through thick and thin with eyes and ears wide open. I said farewell to my auntie and we drove off down to Weynouth for my furthest reach south before I was to turn around and head back to Selsey.

2014-12-29 09.06.43 HDRSunderland Flying Boat, “The Last Patrol”.

Jeremy’s Dad flew Sunderlands off West Africa during the war, which is one more thing we have in common, a love of planes and this big boat especially. I have been spoiled that way on this trip as Clive in Chesham loves flight too and as a boarder in England flying from Nigeria to London every year, more than once over his years of schooling he got to fly in some very exotic types, including a Boeing Stratocruiser, a postwar airliner based on the B-29 atom bomber. So two more days passed in seaside mode as I was treated to pub lunches and a walk on the famous Chesil Beach at sunset. Magic.

2014-12-28 15.53.42How Maui actually caught the sun: pebble, hole, light.

My time there was too soon over and it was back to a brief stopover in Selsey on the way north to a four day hotel stay at the Arora near Heathrow, chosen for its price (excellent), its proximity to the airport when it did come time to leave (convenient) and its halfway point location between central London and a trip I wanted to make to see Jacqui, another old friend from London days now living in Reading.

That was sorted through a National Express bus trip there and the kind offer of a ride back to Heathrow with her daughter and family who turned up for tea in the evening after her Mum and I had had a few hours to touch base and reconnect. It was another special encounter with much to share, but by this time, I was getting very low on battery power and needed to chill out the next day. I was simply peopled out and exhausted, and still had a couple more dates on my dance card and a visit to the National Archives in Kew, in search of Lillian’s time on the Isle of Man as an internee during the war.

2015-01-02 10.05.12Entrance to The National Archives, Kew Gardens.

That was to prove a little frustrating: no trace of her and then to discover that very few of the internees are recorded in what the NA holds; it would be more fruitful to chase the Isle of Man government sources, the helpful man from Lower Hutt New Zealand informed me from behind the bookshop counter. I suspect he knows more than a lot of the archvists. I bought a book from him, “How To Research Your German Ancestors” and left after photographing some files in the archives about Hector Bywater’s hassles with the Foreign Office as he tried to prove he was actually a British citizen, not an American (a fake US birth created for him by his brother Ulysses in the American Consulate in Dresden, so Hector could carry out his espionage activities in Germany and not be taken for being British). Hector was granted the “favour”in the end but it was obvious there was no love lost between officialdom and my great uncle once the war was over.

2015-01-02 13.06.07The end of the Bywater file.

My last two contacts were an old AA friend from London days who of course must remain anonymous here, but I did have a really amazing encounter after a central city meeting with someone who had actually been enrolled as an “enemy alien” during the war, but as a child was not sent to an internment camp. He did recall going to the Aliens Registration Office at 16 Bloomsbury Square, being registered and sent home. My other hoped-for contact, the son of the Czech Jewish obstetrician who had delivered my brother in February 1946 and saved my mother from dying from pregnancy toxaemia, was not to be. Maybe next year.

So it was back to Berlin after four very handy days in the airport hotel, with free buses taking me a ten minute ride to Terminals 1,2 and 3 where I could either catch a flight or a  the Tube into town. We had a bit of flight delay as Germanwings were clipped by the delays of incoming flights due to fog, but by midnight I was back in Berlin, zipping home in Konrad’s black VW Golf and very pleased to be in a German language zone again, as I’d been losing the little I had, I knew it. The next step was to get some good sleep and prepare to go to Hamburg the following weekend.

2015-01-07 05.56.10 HDRWelcome home and goodbye: the Kutts head to Norway.

No sooner was I back than the globetrotting Kutts were off to a conference in Norway and a holiday in the fjords near Stavanger, but not before Konrad had framed a couple of my Phantom Billstickers’ poster poems to hang on the wall for the upcoming Hauskonzertt they are planning for January the 16th. They are hosting Katsuya Watanabe, a Japanese oboist and Ulugbek Palvanov, a pianist from Uzbekistan. Into this illustrious lineup they have invited me to read some poetry and enjoy the experience of seeing them hanging on the walls with their art collection that fills the house. They are such an inspiring couple.

2015-01-07 05.55.02The hanging poems of Grunewald.

So to Thursday and the bus journey to Hamburg: it worked a treat, with plenty of room, only three hours whizzing along the autobahn passing and being passed at speed, arriving in the city as the rains began. I foolishly opted to walk the 1.5km to the A&O Hostel as the rain set in and soaked me on what would prove to be a stormy weekend. The night on the third floor was not much better as traffic noise finally drove me at 11pm for ask for another room. I went from 337 to 814 and the noise abated. Sleep was pretty much wrecked by then, but I survived a rocky landing into Hamburg in search of my Hasenburgs.

2015-01-08 10.19.24Flash Berlinlinien bus about to leave Messe Nord.

The next morning, I waited in my room for Kate to arrive, my German friend who had stayed with us in Christchurch last year and promised to help me with translation when I needed it in Germany on my research trips out of Berlin. She is a professional translator now training to be an interpreter at a college in Mannheim and she had travelled all that way by bus too, overnight. Once we had connected, it was time to make our way over to the Staatsarchiv where we had arranged to meet Manuel, a friend of Kate’s friend Britta who I knew from Berlin. He was a committed and expert genealogist, an engineer by profession who had taken a day off work to help me. Just look at the kindness of these people, children of a nation I had been trained to distrust and fear.

Manuel was quiet, shy and as they say here, “so freundlich” – so kind. He and Kate noted the remarks of our expert adviser and he went to work on the files in the system, making a copy for me of all the relevant numbers we would have to pull up later. The catch was, anything required had to be ordered for the following day, in this case Saturday and they were closed. I was leaving on Monday, so – I would have to come back. We sat in the cloakroom with cheap coffees and decided that we could do no more and it was time for lunch. Would he suggest somewhere local: indeed. Would he join us: of course. We shared and excellent meal in a spacious Tex-Mex restaurant that could have been anywhere in the world except for the German spoken all around me.

2015-01-09 13.14.50Staatsarchiv, Hamburg, home of the municipal records.

Manuel departed, promising to do some more work on the Hasenburgs for me in the old telephone directories of homes and businesses and being more than willing if I did come back in July as I am planning. Kate and I went sightseeing in the rain down on the canals of the waterfront, only turned back from some fascinating and delightful architecture by the gathering storm that was filling the rubbish bins of Hamburg with hundreds of dead, skeletal umbrellas, their pretty canopies ripped to shreds and their spines sticking up like fishbones.

He later sent me both an PDF with dates of Carl’s addresses in Hamburg from 1924 to 1931 – and an invitation for Kate and I to visit for coffee the next day, Saturday. The wind and rain had dashed their plans for an outing, along with smashing all those pretty brollies ( a new English word I taught Kate). So that was just what we did, after another sight-seeing jaunt to the famous church of St Michelis, chased hither and thither by the the moody weather. Kate lit a candle for her grandmother while I took in the international Holy Family with its Japanese baby Jesus and multi-national Three Wise Men. In view of the current Islamophobia sweeping the West, it was nice to see an Arab sage worshipping a Christ figure wrapped in a tiny yukata gown.

2015-01-10 11.28.26Early manifestation of inter-faith worship.

The afternoon with Manuel, Helena and the delightful three year old Louise capped off a difficult but richly endowed weekend. No, we had not seemingly struck oil, but we were now pretty certain Carl – and Lillian? – left Klosterallee 20 in 1931 and one or both of them left Hamburg. The Crash and the Depression may well have killed Carl’s rubber business: he had gone from a partnership in 1924 (Hasenburg & Lerch) to working from home by 1931. He might just have had to go elsewhere for work. That was a result: more facts to work with.

Then there was the prospect of contact the Hamburg Jewish Genealogy Group when I got back to Berlin, Kate’s offer to contact the authorities in the locality where Carl was born and Manuel’s offers of future help. I gave him a copy of one of my poetry books, Autumn Waiata and promised more. I also left him a copy of the pages of my grandmother’s address book, which had the name of the woman whose nearby house they lived in after they left Klosterallee: Frau Bosche of Mundsburgerdamm 25.


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALillian Hasenburg (nee Bywater), 1877-.

Manuel has since been in touch with the information that Frau Bosche – and I assume any Hasenburgs with her – left that address after 1934. The pieces come together: last night I kept hearing “Wuppertal” in my broken early morning visions. The broken umbrellas of Hamburg. The abandoned shelters of my ancestors, the whispers of their vanished dreams.

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