History is whatever people in the future are led to believe happened in the past.
History is what you are told it is in the People’s Paradise…
In North Korea, they are taught that the Korean War started when, unprovoked, the South Korean allies of the US invaded the North. The valiant forces of the North then pushed the US invaders back into the south where, with their backs to the sea, the defeated Americans pleaded for peace.
This does not explain why the current border is halfway up the peninsula nor why people alive at the time would have seen US and allied troops in the north of North Korea and Chinese troops pushing them back south. (In North Korean history, as taught in schools, the Chinese were never involved.)
So history is fluid. It is whatever you believe happened.
When I wrote an obituary of comedian Malcolm Hardee for the Independent newspaper in 2005, I started it by saying he “was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”. I did this partly because I thought it was arguably true but also because I figured that, in future, it would be picked up by other people writing about him and stated as fact rather than opinion.
And, occasionally, it has been. It was, after all, printed in a respected national newspaper.
History is whatever people in the future are led to believe happened in the past.
A couple of days ago, comedy icon Janey Godley hosted her Big Burns Supper on Facebook and YouTube, attracting a live digital audience of over 327,000 with viewers tuning in from Scotland and 50 countries across the world…
Janey Godley’s Big Burns Night line-up
Performers on the show included KT Tunstall, Donovan, Skerryvore, Camille O’Sullivan, Dougie MacLean, Tidelines, Manran, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Robert Softly Gale, Amy Conachan, Grant Dinwoodie, Ray Bradshaw and LOKA.
Yesterday, someone I know – an intelligent and well educated Englishman – told me he had seen Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper and it had been a revelation to him.
He thought Burns Night was a celebration of the burning of the cakes.
For my reader in Guatemala…
The legendary cakes were allegedly burned by Alfred, a Saxon king in southern England, around 900 years before Robert Burns’ time. The legendary spider was encountered by Robert the Bruce around 500 years before Robert Burns’ time.
Life is but a dream.
And it is probable that neither event actually happened.
However, Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper did happen and did get those verified viewing figures.
For educational reasons, a recording is, at the time of writing, still available on YouTube:
With all the hassle over Brexit and the Irish border, I think it would be wise to bear in mind these two simple explanations of the British Isles, taken from 1066 and All That:
“The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).”
“Gladstone… spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question.”
One explanation of the British Isles (there are many conflicting explanations). This one on MapPorn
Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places
In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.
‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.
In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.
His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.
Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.
Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.
This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.
For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up…
The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on
MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017)
February 26th, 2017
“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”
I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.
We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.
I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.
In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.
In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.
Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.
A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented
There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.
The book’s title was to have been Traveller.
When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:
“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”
Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.
When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.
“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”
It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.
“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.
One key point in his life had been in 1967.
2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”
He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.
He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.
He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.
The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’
“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.
“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”
Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.
When we talked, it was mostly on tape.
“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.
“But ambiguity?” he had asked.
“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”
“Me too,” he had interrupted.
“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.
Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”
During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.
“Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!
“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:
“I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.
“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer, that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”
This report was printed in the Bury and Norwich Post on 13th September 1815. That is Bury as in Bury St Edmunds.
The Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Henry O’Neil’s painting Before Waterloo (1868)
Bonaparte, it is said, had made a complete arrangement, previous to the battle of Waterloo, to entrap the British Staff by finesse. He had engaged the Ladies of Brussels to apply to the Duchess of Richmond to give a ball; her grace consented. On the evening of the day of the fete, he posted 600 men dressed in blue frocks, with arms underneath them, in an appropriate situation, where they remained unobserved.
The dancing commenced, and the hour rapidly approached when the signal was to be given; and Bonaparte meant to enter at the head of the force already named. Providentially one of the Ladies became violently enamoured with the personal attractions of her partner, so much so that she could not resist the impulse to disclose to him the situation of himself and his gallant brethren. She took him aside, and communicated to him the plan. The Commander in Chief was directly appraised of his situation, and as promptly took the necessary steps to seize the enemy in ambuscade. The counterplot succeeded. – The credibility of this story may be suspected.
I rarely remember my dreams but, this morning, I remember I dreamt I threw something on the floor and out of it came a brown spider. A big one.
“It’s too big,” I told someone,” to put a glass over it. And then I realised it really was too big – vertically – because it was white and black with orange-yellow feet or flippers, because it was a penguin. But it was not smooth and slimy as, I suspect, penguins actually are. Instead it seemed to have a slightly ruffled and wrinkled cotton skin as if it was made from cotton and was maybe one size too big for it.
That was in the early hours of this morning.
This afternoon, I had tea with Scots comic Del Strain at Soho Theatre. The very first thing he said to me, rather excitedly, was:
“I’ve got a new gun!”
“Is it legal?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Del. “It’s a new stage prop. I treated myself.”
“Most people who want to treat themselves,” I suggested, “might have a tea and fairy cake or something like that.”
“This is a sight to behold,” said Del. “It’s a Smith & Wesson but it’s too heavy to go down the back of my strides; I think I will have to buy a shoulder holster.”
“How can this possibly be legal?” I asked.
“I dunno,” said Del. “Ask the man in Newcastle who sold me it… It’s one of these old shops you go in and…”
“Is this genuinely legal?” I asked. “Can I mention it in my blog?”
Del Strain at home with his new Smith & Wesson purchase
“YES!” insisted Del. “I’ve got a receipt and everything. This shop does everything: replicas, gas-fired guns. It’s legal. If I was in the foyer of Barclays Bank with a mask made out of a pair of someone’s old stockings, I would be in a lot of trouble.but, as I’m on stage…”
“How do you carry this around?” I asked.
“In my bag,” said Del. “The old gun I’ve got was enough to get you shot, believe you me, but this one would REALLY get you shot.”
“By whom?” I asked.
“Armed police, who are nervous and who seem to shoot poor black guys for just having a diary in their pocket. They’re getting a bit trigger-happy on this side of the pond too, John. But I bought it for a prop. See, rich people have got TESSAs and pensions and shit but, the way this country’s going, I’ve got this.”
”I think,” I said, “when John Wilkes Booth went to the theatre he may have claimed it was only a prop.”
“Well,” said Del, “maybe that bullet DID kill Lincoln – or maybe the people that were ready to send Andrew Johnson in to rape the South and kill all the Indians and steal the gold killed him. Who knows? History is a wonderful thing when it’s written by the victors.”
“But,” I asked, “surely politicians would not lie to us?”
“I don’t trust none of them,” said Del. “Brown, Blair, Cameron, Osborne – all playing the flute of Rothschild and the EU bankers. They’re never going to change nothing, because they’re all greedy madmen and they’re going to end up leading us all to the brink of destruction. They’re raping London; they’re ripping the soul out of it – all to build these ghettos in the sky where no-one can hear you scream. It’s ridiculous. They’re taking out the salt of the earth that made London what it was, because people can’t afford to live here no more.”
“Is Scotland going to be the People’s Paradise?” I asked.
“Yeah, well,” said Del, “I don’t know about that. It depends if we’ve got some undercover oil that we haven’t declared, which is what I hear.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. Apparently the Yanks are in on it. The Norwegians. Just rubbing their hands in glee, waiting. So who knows?”
“Until Apple brings out an electric car,” I mused. “But, then, plastics need oil in the manufacturing process, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” said Del, “but it’s that synthetic oil that I think the Nazis started inventing in World War Two. When they couldn’t get any oil, they invented synthetics in drugs and oils and everything else.”
“When you live on the dark side of the Moon,” I said, “you can develop all these things. Have you seenIron Sky?”
Iron Sky from the dark side of the Moon
“No. Is it about Nazis on the Moon? I don’t even think the Americans went to the Moon.”
“Surely,” I suggested, “the Russians would have known if the Americans did not get to the Moon and would have told everyone?”
“The Russians,” said Del, “are quoted as saying to the Americans: If you don’t tell people about the aliens, we are going to. The Russians are quoted as saying that Eisenhower met these people in 1947 and the American newspapers from the time are actually quite open about the fact of there being aliens.
“You don’t know what to believe, because these people propagate and manipulate history so much that it’s like archaeologists putting dirt through a sieve to find what is real, because there’s just so much rubbish out there. All I know is that these people have been running the show since the Battle of Waterloo.”
“Iron Sky,” I explained, “starts from the supposition that, In 1945, some Nazis escaped to the dark side of the Moon and Now they’re back!”
“There is a swastika up there on the Moon,” Del told me. “Someone took a picture of it and there is a swastika on the Moon. No shit. The guy who was in charge of all the Nazi’s specialist weapons, his body was never found. He disappeared. The bell that they had – which was a little mini flying saucer – was taken to America. They were on it. The Nazis had been building these superstructures in South America. Some people say that it wasn’t even Hitler that died – that he lived out his days there.”
“Can I quote all this?” I asked.
“If you want,” said Del. “Some people say that. I am not saying it is a fact, but what I’m saying is, considering some of the shit these people have pulled – the deaths of Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, Bob Marley… Bob Marley gets cancer through playing football but no football player has ever had that injury? Come on! When people get too vocal, when people listen to them, you become a danger and who knows? Who knows if it was his body? I hope it was his body. I think they dug him up in he 1990s and said it definitively was.”
“Who?” I asked.
Del Strain showing his sincerity at Soho Theatre earlier today
“Hitler,” laughed Del. “Not Bob Marley. I’m not definitively saying that. I’m only surmising. But Hitler still has living relatives in America. They changed their name.”
“I suppose they would,” I said.
“The CIA,” Del continued, “took them all over there as well as the 90 Nazi scientists who were the ones who invented the Moon landings and Apollo 11 and all that. If you look at The Odessa File, that was based on a true story. Within four or five years, they all slipped right back into their old roles running the courts, the police system, running everything.”
“In Germany?” I asked
“In Germany, yes. I see the EU flag as a swastika. I see it as a sign of oppression. They are doing now with a pen and economics and banks what they used to do with Panzer tanks and MP40s. It’s still the same terror. It’s still the same control. It’s still the same dictating.
“You cannot make Barnsley like Barcelona at 4.00am on a Saturday night. Barnsley will never be Barcelona because, in Barcelona, they’re sitting and talking about Gaudi and architecture and philosophy and drinking Stella Artois. In Barnsley, they’re fucking each other over skips, eating kebabs, drunk that much that they’re lying on the fucking road. That is Britain. You can’t change that. It is everything that made this country strong.
“You go from Lancashire to Yorkshire to Scouse – 28 miles and we’ve got our own slang, our own foods, our own people. That is everything that made Britain Britain. We are an island nation. We need that. But they want us all to be a bland little revenue gerbil, just spinning on the wheel for some feed and some water.”
Mr Methane issued a ‘ring tone’ to celebrate Diamond Jubilee
My chum Mr Methane is the world’s only professionally performing flatulist.
He farts for a living.
And a very good living it is.
His sister recently decided to look into the family history.
“Yes,” Mr Methane told me, “Margaret decided to do our dad’s mum’s side of the family first, because we didn’t know a lot about them.”
“Our dad’s mum was a Hulley but, in olden times, they also spelled it Hooley. We had a great granddad in Sutton, near Macclesfield, called Jasper Hulley and he had 19 children.”
“Bloody hell,” I said.
“Yes,” said Mr Methane, “he really got going. He had two wives – I think because he wore the first one out. Going back through Jasper’s family, we ended up in among the Brindleys.
“Margaret said: Ooh! We’ve got Brindleys in the family!”
“You can,” I told Mr Methane, “get tablets for that.” He ignored me.
James Brindley with his Barton Aqueduct in the background (by Francis Parsons, 1770)
“She only follows the direct bloodline,” he continued. “The ones who did the deed which means we exist.
“I said to her: I wonder if we’re any relation to James Brindley. I knew he had served his apprenticeship at a place called Gurnett near Sutton. The Brindley Society say James was one of the thinkers and doers that made the Industrial Revolution kick-in.”
“Is that because of the canals?” I asked.
“Well, he was a millwright. He came from Wormhill in the Peak District. He understood water power and he also got himself abreast of steam power, so he was working on the first factories and he was big friends with Josiah Wedgwood of Stoke – the pottery man – and the Duke of Bridgewater in Manchester.”
“Exactly,” said Mr Methane. “He built the Bridgwater Canal and that changed everything, because suddenly the Duke of Bridgewater could transport lots of his coal much cheaper than he could by packhorses. It completely changed the economics of moving stuff around.
Mr Methane’s modest, mild-mannered alter ego Paul Oldfield
“And Josiah Wedgwood wanted his factories not just to be making pottery but also delivering it all over the country. He wanted his raw materials in and his goods out. So the new canals were a transport revolution. In the end, my sister found out that James Brindley is our great-great-great-great-great uncle.
“So we were quite happy in the knowledge that we were linked to this guy who helped launch the 18th century’s equivalent of the space age.
“But then my sister said: I’ll go into the Bowmans now. They were related to us and they were a noble family who had their own crest. They were very early in the Quaker movement and got locked up. Some of them stood up in church at Alstonefield, Derbyshire, and renounced the Church of England and they were put in prison, because Quakerism was a bit naughty.
Mr Methane prepares to fart a dart from his bottom in the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at Edinburgh Fringe
“Then, through the Bowmans, we ended up in the Beresfords who are a proper noble family from Fenny Bentley in Derbyshire. They’ve go a family tomb there. One of my relations is Thomas Beresford. He was called Sir Beresford of Beresford.
“He had about 16 sons and the tomb doesn’t have his effigy, because the tomb was made much later and they didn’t know what he looked like. So the sculptor made a shroud and, on the tomb, he’s in a shroud that looks not unlike a sack tied at one end. It’s a bit like a magician’s act, I suppose. It’s a shame about Keith Harris, isn’t it?”
“Eh?” I asked, startled.
“He died, you know,” said Mr Methane.
“The ventriloquist?” I asked, surprised. “I know. Is he related?”
“No, no,” said Mr Methane. “I was just thinking about magicians’ acts and Keith Harris came into me head. Apparently Orville (his ventriloquist’s doll) has taken the death terribly. He just lies there, saying nothing…
The Beresford Bear
“Anyway… Thomas Beresford… He was a proper nobleman and it says on the Beresford family tomb that the Beresfords were from Beresford Dale. Their crest has a bear on it and there’s a Beresford Society.
“Margaret rang up the genealogist there and went through it all with him and he said: Yeah, you’re in the family.
“Sir Thomas Beresford is like my 13th granddad. As a nobleman, he had to raise an army of at least ten men and go fight with the king whenever he was asked, so he fought at Agincourt… Well, they’re not sure if it was Thomas Beresford himself or his father.
“And that was quite exciting, until we found out his mother was Lady Elizabeth Bassett and the Bassetts of Blore and the Beresfords for years just fought and nicked each other’s sheep. Blore is the next parish down from Beresford Dale and Fenny Bentley.
“Then, when you get into the Bassett (earlier called Basset) family, it just goes mad. You just end up related to every noble person around. They went all over the place from Cambridge to Wales to Cornwall. The Queen is descended from one of the Sir William Bassetts – there were loads of them.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
“There’s a family strand that goes through the Cavendishes, then the Bowes-Lyons – the Queen Mother was a Bowes-Lyon – to the present Queen. She’s probably like a 1,017th cousin of mine or something but the Queen and us are definitely in there in among the Bassetts.”
“And your sister Margaret is still researching?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” said Mr Methane, “Following what the Bassett Society and The Beresford Society have done, we’ve got back to Thurston de Basset, who was Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. That’s where we’ve ended up.
“And apparently two Bassetts were among the King’s counsellors at the signing of the Magna Carta. I see a whole American market here. I think I might just give up farting or build a theme round it that includes the family history. I think I might have found my route into after-dinner speaking.
“So I think I have to go up-market now. Not just common-or-garden farting but noble farting. I mean, Thurston de Basset, Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings – They were firing arrows at King Harold in 1066 and I’m still farting darts out of my bottom at balloons on stage all these years later. It must be in the genes.”
Mr Methane, distant claimant to the throne of England, displays the bottomless pit of his patriotism
This week, via Skype, I talked to Hermann Goering’s great-niece Bettina Goering in Thailand. She is writing a book.
“Hermann wasn’t really a nasty Nazi, though, was he?” I asked her. “He wasn’t identified with the Holocaust. He was simply head of the Luftwaffe. The image I have of him is an overweight man, who liked art, stamping around in rather flamboyant uniforms.”
“That’s what I thought,” replied Bettina. “That’s the image I had too, until I started digging further and it’s much more complex. The truth is that he was involved in the Holocaust too. I didn’t know that until I started the process of writing this book. He was as involved as any of them. He might have not been as gung-ho in his rhetoric about Jews. He came across as ‘the Luftwaffe guy’. But he was just as involved. I first learned that when I did a documentary called Bloodlines. He was part of the Final Solution. He co-authored it. So he was very involved. He was part of setting up concentration camps. And, when they decided to do the Final Solution, he was part of all that.”
“My brother and I had the sterilisation done in order not to give life to other Goerings… I was feeling responsible for the Holocaust, even though I was born after the War, because of my family, who had an active part in it.”
“You got sterilised,” I asked her this week, “because you didn’t want to pass the genes on?”
“I think that was part of it,” she told me. “I think we had a lot of other intellectual arguments. There are enough children. We don’t want children, blah blah. I think, deep down, that was part of it too. It’s kinda complex.”
“And your relationship to Hermann Goering is…” I asked.
“He is the brother of my grandfather on my father’s side,” Bettina explained.
“You were born in the decade after he died,” I said.
Bettina Goering – currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico
“Yes. The only member of that direct family that I knew who was really involved was my grandmother. My book is also largely about her and her relationship to Hermann and her relationship to the whole family. They were a very close-knit family.
“Her husband – Hermann’s older brother – died very young when she was in her 30s. She had three young boys and Hermann took care of her. I just found out she actually looked after his household at the beginning of the Nazi times – 1932/1933.”
“So,” I said, “by the time you’re really aware of anything, it’s the early 1960s, when people are making films about the Nazi era, but it’s not the immediate past…”
“There was a bit of a limbo time in Germany,” said Bettina, “when really not much was mentioned in education or films and it really came home to me when I was about 10 or 11 and documentaries were shown and that’s when I really started to see how bad it was. Before that, I knew bits and pieces, but I didn’t know what it meant, really.”
“Which obviously,” I said, “must have had an effect on you…”
“There have been different stages to it,” replied Bettina. “I came of age around the end of the 1960s and I got into this whole ‘Anti’ movement. I became left wing, hippie and tried to somehow understand this whole dilemma more and create something else.”
“Yeah. They were around and one of my friends became one of the second generation of Baader-Meinhof. I was in a left-leaning organisation but for me to use violence was totally out of the question. But some of my friends were starting… You’d be surprised how many people were sympathetic to them (the Baader-Meinhof activists), including us, for a while. There’s a good movie that came out a couple of years ago…”
“Yes. That was about the time I was growing up and I think they (the Baader-Meinhof activists and supporters) were partly in reaction to the Nazis in some ways, because most of them were born during the War. All that manifested in themselves.”
“A very mixed-up generation,” I said.
“My mother only met my father after the War,” explained Bettina. “My family was the Hermann Goering family on one side, but my mother’s family were the opposite. Very different families who married each other. My grandfather on my mum’s side was an anti-Fascist. He was once arrested. It was well-known he was supporting Jewish people. He had to be really careful.
“So here I have the Fascist side and the anti-Fascist side both in my family and that made it very… crazy. This trouble within myself was always trying to work itself out.”
“So your book is going to give an inside view of a troubled family?”
“Yes. It’s the inside view and trying to find some way to… You can’t really marry those two sides together… Also I was judging them so negatively that I was judging some part of me. Do you get that? That came to a head at some point where I realised I couldn’t really live my fullest potential because I was really judging part of me so negatively. That is something I have been striving to overcome. Exactly that. To find some forgiveness in myself – of myself. It’s like an impossible thing to do, but just in order to feel healthy, I feel like I need to do that.
“There’s a lot been written about the Nazis on a very intellectual level but my book will be maybe a more emotional way to deal with it, which is hard for the Germans to do. There’s still all this guilt, conscious or unconscious, and I write a lot about this guilt stuff. On an emotional level, it is not resolved.”
“Who do you think would like to read your book?”
“Well, anybody who has any traumas in their closets. So far, we’ve only approached one or two German literary agents. Until now, we’ve really not been that ready.
“Maybe it will be that a British publisher will publish it first and then it will, in a roundabout way, go to the Germans. We are writing it in both languages and I have been living more in English-speaking countries than I have in Germany. I lived even in England for a couple of years.”
“You are in Thailand at the moment, but you and your husband live in Santa Fe in the US?”
“Yes, but we are moving…”
“… to where?” I asked.
“We’re not sure just now. We are sort of in flux. We have a house in Santa Fe that has still not been sold. It’s gonna take some time.”
“Could you live back in Germany happily?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s not that I don’t like Germany. We go visit a lot. But I’ve never felt drawn to live there again. I feel it’s a bit limiting.”
The throbbing industrial heart of the mineral water plant
It is ironic that one of the most controlled states in the world is so anarchic.
Every day on our continuing guided – or should that be guarded? – tour of the the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we are told: “The itinerary has changed.”
It is in the countryside that you realise just how disorganised things are in North Korea.
An ox pulling a medieval plough is a rarity – possibly even a luxury. People sit using their hands on the soil. A tractor is as rare as a raindrop in the Sahara. Not unknown but still visually shocking.
In the cities, cars are a rarity. Even in the capital city of Pyongyang, where there is some traffic, vehicles do not exactly jam; they drip.
When one of our two ever-present guides realised I had been in North Korea before – in 1986 – she said: “You must see a lot of changes.”
I smiled and nodded a lie.
There seems virtually no change in 26 years. The monuments have got bigger. That’s about it.
When I was in China in 1984, people used to bicycle to get around. In North Korea in 2012, they still mostly walk. In the countryside. In the cities.
This is a very pedestrian totalitarian state.
Today, we got taken to a mineral water bottling plant to see the awe-inspiring strides North Korea has taken under the glorious guidance of its three great Leaders: father son and holy grandson.
The mineral water bottling plant, like so much else in North Korea, had a stylish look to it, but was not working. We were told the workers were “rehearsing for the celebrations tomorrow” of the late Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday.
Plausible if odd, given that our two official state tour guides had organised the trip and, in the coach, had told us what we would see happening inside the bustling bottling plant.
Someone in our group had been before to the same mineral water bottling plant – a couple of years ago. It was closed then too. Back then, the story was that it was closed “for maintainance”. No visible maintenance had been happening. It was – and still is – the Marie Celeste of mineral water bottling plants.
Today, the gleaming, suspiciously clean machines looked un-used. We were told by the manager of the mineral water bottling plant that, each day, they produce 400 tons of health-giving mineral water – 10,000 bottles per day. Quick mental arithmetic makes me realise this mean that 25 bottles must weigh one ton. This seems somewhat unlikely. Perhaps they are manufacturing health-giving mineral heavy water for health-giving mineral nuclear bombs.
The manager tells us the factory’s water is exported to 1,000 different countries around the world.
Opinion varies on how many countries there currently are in the world. But it seems to be accepted to be between 89 and 196 countries. (What, for example, of Palestine or Taiwan or, indeed, Scotland?)
So, of these 196 countries, North Korea sells its health-giving mineral water to 1,000 of them?
Welcome to North Korean reality.
Perhaps many of the countries are not of this Earth. I could believe that.
If modern-day Beijing has a touch of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis about it, North Korea has the touch of a paranoid Walter Mitty about it. In that very real sense, nothing has changed since I was last here in 1986.
One of the most frightening parts of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is when the hero Winston Smith is being tortured and is told that it is not good enough for him to say he loves Big Brother; it is not good enough for him to say 2+2=5.
If Big Brother tells him 2+2=5 then he must truly believe that 2+2=5. He must know without doubt that the truth is that 2+2 really does equal 5.
In North Korea, people have no access to outside information sources. The trick is to ban the personal ownership of radios. The people have no access to foreign TV, no access to foreign publications or news sources, no access to radio except state-owned radio sets broadcasting the state radio channel. From cradle to grave, the truth they know is what the state tells them.
I do not know that Adolf Hitler existed. I only ‘know’ because I have been told in books and have seen him speak in old footage used in TV documentaries. But I do not from personal first-hand experience ‘know’ that he existed.
In 1986, the North Koreans showed us (its foreign visitors) a documentary film explaining how the Korean War started. As we saw in the film, the United States’ pet dogs the South Koreans wantonly attacked North Korea without warning. The valiant North Koreans fought back and pushed the South Koreans and the imperialist Americans back to the sea and the Americans begged for peace. The Americans did not push the North Korean forces back significantly; the Chinese did not enter the War and push the US/UN troops back.
In 1986, grandfathers and grandmothers would have been alive who remembered American troops passing northwards through their towns and villages; they would also have remembered Chinese troops passing southwards through those same towns and villages.
But, presumably, they could not tell their grandchildren that.
Because it never happened.
Their grandchildren ‘knew‘ from books and photos and captions and documentaries and museum trips what had actually happened in ‘reality’.
If their grandparents told them anything else, it could only be based on American imperialist fabrications. The only right thing to do, I presume, would have been to report them to the police.
Historical reality is what you are shown to have existed.
I know the aliens were defeated by an Apple computer because I have seen filmed evidence in Independence Day.