Tag Archives: Second World War

They f*** you up, your mum and dad. Example? My chum Lou, the gunman.

Lou greeted me with a small firearm yesterday

Lou greeted me with a small firearm yesterday

When I went to see my chum Lou at his flat yesterday lunchtime, the first thing he said was: “Ello, mate.”

The second thing he said was: “I’ve had a new machine gun delivered.”

All perfectly legal. Bullets can’t be fired from them. He provides them for movies.

“Did I tell you I found out who my grandfather was?” he asked me later.

“You didn’t know?” I replied.

“Well, I did and I didn’t,” he said. “Two or three years before my mum died, I said to her: Why don’t you tell me all the family secrets?

“She said: Well, I’m illegitimate. She was very ashamed of it. I said: Well, it ain’t your fault. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are born bastards; some people become bastards.

“Yes,” I said. “After my father died, my mother told me her father had been illegitimate. But, to our generation, it doesn’t matter at all, does it? My grandfather was born in the 19th century. My mother told me in the 21st century. It was a shameful secret in the early 20th century; by the end of the century it was just normal.”

“I asked my mother,” Lou said, “How did you find out? She told me: I was born in 1917 and my father came home from the War in 1918… Oh! I said. That’s why he used to knock YOU about and not all the other kids? She said: Yeah. That’s why she was partially deaf. He used to bash her.

“When she was 13, her sister said: Do you know who that man is? My mum said: That’s the tallyman – it was a bloke who used to turn up in a Rolls Royce every week or two. Her sister said: No, that’s your dad. He’s giving mum some money for you.

“I thought my mum said he was the Honourable Playdel Bouvier so I looked it up. I found the Bouvier family, which was President John F Kennedy’s wife’s family and I said to my mum: Oh, you’re illegitimately related to JFK’s wife. But I was wrong.

“I tried to find this one Playdel person and eventually it came up Did you mean Pleydell-Bouverie? So I pushed the button and there he was. The Right Honourable Sir William Pleydell-Bouverie, 7th Earl of Radnor.

Lou's mum and her Second World War medals

Lou’s mum & her World War II medals displayed on his wall

“This man didn’t have to give my mum’s mum money every week. If he owned the land she lived on, he could have just told her to fuck off. It was 1917. He would have been like a local god. He had huge amounts of money and nobody else had anything in those days. But he gave her money to raise my mum.”

I asked: “When did he die?”

“1968. I could have met him when I was young if I’d known.”

“Do you look anything like him?” I asked.

“I look more like my father,” said Lou. “And my son is more like my father than me. He’s just like his grandfather: a hard man.

“My father used to tell people that, during the Second World War, he dished out bullets and blankets. He said he didn’t actually fight in the War. After the War, he drank 50 bottles of Whitbread a day, because he was in the trade. He was a very dangerous man. If you touched him when he was asleep, he’d hit you and then he’d get the hump because you’d upset him. He was a very hard man to deal with.

“He’d tell me: Here’s some money, son, now fuck off. I could have any amount of money I wanted, but he wouldn’t put his arms round me and tell me he loved me.

“When he died, this bloke called Dosser Chapman phoned me up and said: I served in the War with your dad and I’m doing this scrapbook for the Lifeguards Association. Have you got any pictures of your dad?

“He said: Your dad was a wonderful man. I said: Was he? You shoulda tried living with him!

“This Dosser bloke said: No, no. We went rough the War together. He was a wonderful man. I said: You might have the wrong bloke, mate.

“Dosser said: We used to go on missions behind enemy lines. We’d say to each other: ‘You do it. No you do it. No you do it.’ And he would say: ‘Give me the fucking knife; I’ll do it’ and he’d go and kill a sentry.

Lou’s dad as he remembers him

Lou’s dad after the War

“I said: How many of these sentries did he kill? Dosser said: Well, I didn’t go on every mission with him, but I know he killed at least eleven men and he only ever got upset once. I said: Why was that?

“He said: He cut this bloke when this bloke was looking at his pay book. The pay book dropped.

“You don’t die right away when your throat’s cut. It takes about 10 or 12 seconds to bleed out. And, as the bloke dropped, my old man picked up the pay book and there was a picture of the guy’s wife and three little girls.

“He showed it to the bloke on the ground and the bloke looked at the picture as he died.”

“What happened then? I asked.

“Dosser said: Your old man started crying. So I left it about five seconds, then touched him on his shoulder and said ‘We gotta get on with it, mate’.”

“And then?”

He wiped the knife, Dosser told me, and then killed the next one. So I said: Nah! I said: My dad didn’t fight in the War.

“Dosser asked me to send him pictures of my dad and he sent me some. He sent me this picture of a group of them with my old man sat at the front and at the bottom, written in at the time, was HELL’S ANGELS. This was about 1942 or 1943.

“I said to my uncle – who was about seven when my dad was a teenager: I didn’t realise my father fought in the War and killed people. He said: I’m not surprised. He was seconded to the Long Range Desert Group. I mean, my God! They were a load of murdering bastards dressed in pink.”

Now there are children’s toys of the LRDG vehicles

Now children’s toys of the Long Range Desert Group vehicles

“Pink?” I asked.

“They used to paint their jeeps pink.”

“Because it merged in with the sand?” I asked.

“Apparently so,” said Lou. “My dad also won the King’s Medal. It was stolen with my mum’s wedding ring from the old Conservative Club in the 1950s when I was a tiny child.”

“Your father ran the local Conservative Club, didn’t he?” I asked.

“Yeah, from 1950 to 1978 and, before that, he ran another Conservative Club for a year and, before that, he was at a Working Men’s club.

Lou’s dad (left) behind the bar at the local Conservative Club

Lou’s dad (left) behind the bar at the local Conservative Club

“He was in the booze trade as soon as he left the Army, really. He gave up his driving licence and took to drink and then later he got pissed off with me cos I took drugs.”

“You were just doing weed, though?” I asked.

“Oh no, I got into everything.”

“But, at that time…”

“Oh yes, I was just smoking puff and he thought I was an awful person for taking cannabis and there was him banging back 50 bottles of Whitbread a day. For him, that was normal.”

“Literally 50 bottles a day?” I asked. “He wouldn’t be able to stand up.”

At home with Lou last night

Lou greets me at his home, 2012

“You would think so,” said Lou. “But he could drink that amount and seem sober. If you gave him one whisky, though…fuck me, he was a really dangerous cunt then. He would knock my mother about.

“His family owned half of Upper Brook Street in Winchester, a hotel, two hairdressers and a bar. It’s all gone now. Him and his brothers were very good at betting on one-eyed, three-legged horses and drinking. It all went.”

Yesterday afternoon, my chum Lou showed me a couple of knives he had made recently.

They have little holes bored in their hollow blades so the fake blood will spurt out when it is pumped through a tube when you pretend to cut someone’s throat.

Leave a comment

Filed under Psychology, World War I, World War II

Life is but a dream of Nazis, Russians, the Ukraine and my father’s fatal cancer

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks like the human brain

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks to me rather oddly like part of a human brain – but, then, I am only very barely awake…

On the rare occasion when I remember a dream, I feel obliged to write about it.

This morning’s blog had been going to be about my father’s cancer in 2001, but I woke up at 6.22am and remembered I had been dreaming about some presumably purely fictional Rhine mine line deaths in the Second World War. The rhyming phrase Rhine mine line was what kept swirling round in my mind. It was something about large numbers of people being taken or thrown down a mine in the Rhineland by the Nazis and a railway line that led to the mine.

Just a dream.

I guess it had something to do with me half-seeing an anti-Ukrainian documentary last night on the RT (formerly Russia Today) TV channel. The purpose of the documentary was to link in viewers’ minds the wartime Nazis and western Ukraine which, admittedly, did have a fair number of Nazi sympathisers. Is it my imagination or is Russian propaganda getting more sophisticated?

The whole Russia-Ukraine thing is so complicated and swirling dreamlike with facts intertwined with the past and political spin that it is rather unsettling because it echoes the build-up to the Second World War.

There are lots of Russian-origined people in Eastern Ukraine. When I was in Kiev in 2012 and 2013, there was talk of the slightly more than vague possibility of the country splitting in two even then.

There were lots of Germans in the Sudetenland in 1938.

The Crimea’s links to Russia and it being part of the Ukraine are complicated, For all the entirely justified Western words about how Russia’s invasion and take-over is beyond acceptability – and it is – the Crimea situation was/is very complicated.

When the Nazi army marched into The Rhineland in 1936 and took over the Sudetenland (which was part of Czechoslovakia) in 1938, there was some similar understanding in the West of the arguments the Nazis put forward for taking them over, just as there was when the Nazis took over Austria in the Anschluss in 1938.

Apparently Hitler had said things like “German-Austria must be restored to the great German Motherland” and “People of the same blood should be in the same Reich.”

Now the Russians are rattling on about ‘protecting their own people’ in eastern Ukraine and there is a clear threat they might invade especially as they claim the recent changeover in power in Ukraine was a ‘neo-Nazi coup’ – thus all the fact-based documentaries on RT and homeland Russian TV about Ukrainian Nazis in the Second World War.

It all swirls round like a dream muddling the past with the present. And I am writing this after waking up ungodly early at 6.22am.

If the Russians were to unacceptably invade and take over eastern Ukraine, there would be a lot of shouting by Western politicians but the Russian propaganda machine could spin the reasons.

Hitler in 1939 believed he could take over the rest of Czechoslovakia without starting a war; he was wrong. If Russia took over western Ukraine, political life would get complicated.

A Google Streetview image of Dreams

A Google Streetview image of Dreams somewhere in London

What all this has to do with my dream of fictional Rhine mine line deaths is another matter.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog about my father being in hospital in 2001. He died a couple of months later. Several people asked me what happened next. So I was going to write about that today, but I was sidelined by this Rhine mine line thing.

It was all thirteen years ago anyway and, at that remove, it all becomes a dream. I would not remember any details if I had not written bits down. Just bits. The rest has drifted off, dreamlike, in time.

Never be afraid to write a pretentious sentence is what I say.

Thirteen years ago today – 23rd April – I had an Instant Message exchange with a friend. I pasted it into an electronic diary I kept at the time. My father was due to have a meeting with the consultant/surgeon on May 16th, when he would decide what to do about my father’s remaining cancer.

The Instant Message exchange starts with what my friend wrote…


Monday 23rd April 2001


My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976.

Your father sounds like he is doing better than everyone expects.

Well, I think the consultant thinks he is recovering fine. He is still very weak, hasn’t been given any food and gets about half an inch of water per hour to drink. He is on drips from bags of clear liquid (glucose and saline) suspended above the bed. It seems like he has 101 tubes stuck in his hands’ and arms’ veins, has his urine piped to a bag under the bed, has some odd bag of green liquid behind his shoulder and has a couple of tubes taped up his nose under the oxygen mask.

That might mean his resistance and willpower is higher than he’s been given credit for by the surgeon. And that counts so much in something like this.

Well, every time I mention the word ‘liver’ to anyone who knows anything about cancers, they wince.

If your father asks you about life expectancy, which isn’t impossible, then you will have to decide on the spur of the moment how to answer.

I would lie to him and say I don’t know. Hopefully the seriousness will slowly dawn on him and the 16th May should solidify it. As I understand it, chemotherapy is used on the whole body and is horrendous; radiotherapy is used on a specific area and isn’t quite so bad. Presumably the consultant (who is a bowel and nether regions man not a cancer man) is going to… um… consult a cancer specialist before the 16th May. He told me he was going to discuss the case and the possibilities with “colleagues” to decide what to do.

Depending on his and your mum’s mental state, I would tend to think honesty is always the best option. 

So do I, which is why I am none too happy about it, but I think they (particularly my father) should be allowed to try to recover from the operation first. May 16th is proverbially another day. At the moment, my father is incapable of having any type of treatment because he has not recovered from the operation, so time is not of the essence before the 16th May.


If I had not written all that down at the time, I would barely have remembered the details of it.

On YouTube, there is a rather dreary audio recording of a song called Life Is But a Dream by a group called The Harptones.

I have never heard of The Harptones. Apparently they were formed in Manhattan, New York, in 1953, recorded the track in 1955 and it was featured in Martin Scorsese’s over-rated 1990 film Goodfellas.

According to Wikipedia, The Harptones “are still considered one of the most influential doo-wop groups” partly because of (says Wikipedia) their lead singer Willie Winfield. Wikipedia has no entry on Willie Winfield. He may be dead. Or not.

So it goes. Or not.

I think I may go back to sleep and post this blog later. Dreams are strange things.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dreams, Medical, Russia, World War II

In a Soho coffee bar comic Al Murray – no longer as The Pub Landlord – gets serious about British wars and Germans

Al Murray writing at Bar Italia this week

Al Murray was writing at Bar Italia this week

When I first saw Al Murray’s comedy act, many years ago last century, during the reign of the middle-aged Queen, it was an audio act. He came on, a slim young chap, and made the sounds of assembling and dismantling Army automatic rifles and suchlike.

For the last twenty years, he has been performing comedy as the bigoted Pub Landlord.

When I arrived at Bar Italia in Soho to talk to him this week, he was writing down some comedy ideas. Or maybe not. They might have been some Pub Landlord ideas. Or maybe not. I forgot to ask. I have a bad memory. What can I say?

“So,” I said to Al, “you’re an intelligent, sophisticated man.”

“Yes,” he said.

“But,” I continued, “everyone thinks you’re a thick East End or Essex barman. You’re a young Alf Garnett.”

“Yes, isn’t that fantastic?” he replied. (He must have been asked the question hundreds of times.) “I get to be who I really am off-stage, no-one knows who I really am and I get to talk about the things I want to talk about elliptically. I think that gives me great freedom.”

“Though, as yourself,” I said, “you get to do TV documentaries on the Second World War like Road To Berlin. Was that a difficult sell to the TV company?”

AlMurray_RoadToBerlin_Wikipedia

Al’s ten-episode 2004 documentary series

“I was on Frank Skinner’s TV show,” explained Al, “and he said Oh, you’re really interested in World War Two and the woman commissioning programmes at the Discovery Channel saw it. It was a long time ago and I haven’t done one since. In TV, there’s this thing that the person who commissioned your programme moves on and you’re left high and dry and that happened then. We went back to Discovery saying We wanna do Road To Rome next, the desert campaign and then up through Italy – and the new commissioning editor said Oh, I think the whole World War Two party’s over.

“We’re British,” I said. “It’s never going to be over.”

“Exactly,” laughed Al. “For you the War is over! – It couldn’t be any the less true. We like to think we won it.”

“Did I miss something?” I asked. “I thought we did win it?”

“With a little help from our friends,” said Al. “Obviously The Pub Landlord thinks we won it on our own with no-one else.”

“Well, we almost lost the Battle of Waterloo,” I said. “It was the Prussians who won that.”

“No, no, no,” said Al. “Wellington only fought it when and where he did because he knew the Prussians were turning up at teatime. That was the bigger thinking that was going on which, essentially, Napoleon fell for.

The charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo

The iconic charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo. (But did the Prussians really win? It depends what you read.)

“Historically, that’s a real bone of contention. If you read German history, that IS what happened: the Prussians won the battle. But, if you read our history… although our army at Waterloo was probably 60% made up of German soldiers anyway…”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Al. “It was a multi-national army. Soldiers from Nassau, Hanovarians, people from all over Germany, Dutch soldiers, everything. It was a coalition army against Napoleon.”

Culloden,” I said, “fascinates me, being Scottish, because it wasn’t a battle between Scotland and England, it was a battle between Catholics and Protestants; and Highlanders versus Lowlanders and the English and their Hanovarian royal family.”

“And it was a Franco-German dust-up,” said Al. “The French Germans versus the Scots Germans.”

“And the best fighters on Bonnie Prince Charlie’s side,” I said, “were the Wild Geese, who were Irish.”

“Yeah,” said Al. “These are the kind of conversations I can have all day, to be honest.”

“And you wrote a book about…”

Al’s book: Watching War Films With My Dad

Al’s book about growing up in the 1970s

“It was a book,” said Al, “about growing up in a family where this sort of stuff got talked about a lot, where it was regarded as interesting and important. And, at the same time, about growing up in the 1970s when it’s Action Man toys, Airfix models and Where Eagles Dare type films. That very post-War part of our entertainment culture. And realising that the thing which you think is a big adventure when you’re a boy is actually a vile, disgusting thing, but nevertheless fascinating.”

“It could be argued,” I said, “that the Second World War is the only totally justifiable war – concentration camps and all that.”

“But that’s not why we went to war in 1939,” said Al. “It’s interesting now there’s this current debate about whether the First World War was justified or not. In fact, the Germans invading Belgium (in 1914) is a better traditional British casus belli than the Germans invading Poland (in 1939)… Poland is a lot further away from here and the Belgian coastline is close. Though the 1939 Germans were bigger bad guys than the 1914 ones. Arguably. It’s all very complicated. There’s a way we need to see it and there’s what probably really happened.”

“So what’s the way we feel we need to see it?” I asked.

“That we were fighting the evil nasty Nazis. What really happened in the politics of the late 1930s was the collapse of diplomacy – again – and Britain being run ragged too many times and, on a raw level, a loss of face and prestige and Britain having to do something about that. I reckon. But what do I know? I am but a humble comic.”

“But…” I prompted.

“Well, I was talking about this the other night,” said Al. “I’d managed to inveigle my way into dinner with a couple of real historians and they were saying, in Europe, World War II is regarded as the most gigantic calamity, a hideous thing… whereas we seem to regard it as character forming and it gave us all sorts of good things.”

“Well,” I said, “we’ve always been at war. There’s that statistic that, in the last 100 – or is it 150 now? – years, there’s only been one year…”

“…only one year,” said Al, “supposedly 1968, when no British soldier has been killed on active service.”

“You studied History at Oxford University,” I said. “So really you wanted to be a historian…”

Al as The Pub Landlord

Al as the Pub Landlord

“No, no, no no,” said Al. “When I got to Uni I was thinking What the hell am I gonna do? History was the subject I found easiest. But, once I got there, my academic career became very dismal very quickly, because I got involved in doing comedy.

“I thought I was going to end up playing in bands and I remember unpacking my drum kit on my first day at Uni in a music room in my college and Stewart Lee and Richard Herring were in there planning their sketch show that they were going to do the following week.

“They had been at the Edinburgh Fringe that summer and they didn’t tell anyone their sketch group had sometimes outnumbered the audience, so they came back to Oxford University in great glory and did a big sell-out run and I remember thinking This is the thing I’m looking for – doing comedy. It had never occurred to me before…”

… CONTINUED HERE ..

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, war, World War II

What Hermann Goering’s great-niece told me about the Holocaust this week

Hermann Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe

Hermann Goering, the Deputy Führer

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.”

Bettina has no children.

In the documentary Hitler’s Children, she says:

“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, USA

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.”

“That’s roughly the time of Baader-Meinhof,” I said.

Baader-Meinhof: a troubled generation

Baader-Meinhof – in a troubled generation

“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…”

The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.

“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.”

2 Comments

Filed under Germany, Jewish, Psychology

At the Edinburgh Fringe, Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

(A version of this blog was published in the November 2011 edition of Mensa Magazine)

Paco Erhard is performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe called 5-Step Guide to Being German. We drank English breakfast tea at Fringe Central this week.

“There is an English obsession with Germany,” he told me, “but I think it’s getting less and less. It’s more or less the media who keep it going.”

When I met him, he had just got his first review for his show – a 4-star review – but, the previous day, he told me his show had not been successful –

“I didn’t do as well as I could.

“I am a German. Germany has got an inferiority/superiority complex. We basically have this feeling that nobody likes us and we have to stick together but we are better than everybody thinks we are. So, out of that inferiority complex comes a feeling of superiority and we have had that for too long. Germany has to change.

“As a kid, you don’t know what or who you are,” he told me. “Germany is a baby nation. Our country was just pieced together in 1871 and we don’t know who we are.

“The English are like the Germans. They no longer know who they are – the British Empire has gone; they can’t define who they are. The Scots are like the Bavarians. The Scots know very well who they are, what their traditions are and I would love Scottish-type patriotism for Germany. It’s a positive, very inviting patriotism.

“I like Scotland. I like America – I like how positive they are.

“I studied Literature and Philosophy at the German equivalent of the Open University, so I could travel. I lived in America when I was 17 and loved it – North Carolina – very friendly people and I watched lots of stand-up comedy on TV. That is where it started for me. I think it was more or less the year Bill Hicks died.

“I tried to be a writer for a long time but that meant I just stayed in trying to write and never went out meeting people I could write about. I was not quite normal. I got wrapped up in what I wanted the writing to mean rather than just telling a story.

“I did the whole writing thing until I was in Valencia when I saw an ad for a hotel entertainer in Magaluf and thought, Fuck it. That’s what I’m going to do.

“When I was in Majorca, I realised I liked being on stage and met my girlfriend of the time who was British. She had lived in Tenerife and persuaded me to do some compering and comedy there for British audiences there who were not, on average, all that clever. Wonderful people and I really enjoyed compering for them but, whenever I tried my stand-up, if I made any reference to anything that was outside Jordan and The X-Factor, they did not get very much out of it.

“If you add in a lot of racism and a bit of sexism, then you have a good comedy act for Tenerife. And insult people all the time.”

So did he add in racism and sexism?

“Well,” he told me, “I went to borderline things where I thought, I can still live with saying this and feel morally OK with it and not hate myself. But there was some stuff I could never have done with a clean conscience. It was not that terrible, but I would not like doing it for a long period.”

And did he get a lot of stick from predominantly English audiences for being German?

“Oh yeah, plenty! Sometimes I would say to someone in the front row: Don’t worry. Being German is not contagious: it’s not like you’re going to wake up at five in the morning with an incredible urge to invade Poland…

But, often, if I said that, the audience just sat there puzzled because, as my girlfriend explained to me, they had no idea what Poland had to do with anything. These were not 18 year-olds; they were all older people but, to them, the Second World War was just England v Germany and England won 5-1.

“I had lots of material I could never do and so, just over two years ago, I came to London to do ‘proper’ comedy. And, of course, my selling-point in Britain is that I am a German.

“There came a point when I came back from America when I saw my country from the outside for the first time and I started to not want to be German at all. I felt I was German but different. I was born in Munich but moved eight or nine times as a kid, so I saw how various parts of Germany are so different from each other.

“We do have a sense of humour but there’s a much bigger internal division between the different states and between people’s behaviour in public and in private than in any other country I know of. There is the personality you have in private and the face you show to the outside world. In the workplace, there’s no place for humour or screwing around. In private, you can be a completely different person.

“In Germany, there’s a lot you can hate and love at the same time, like the whole order thing. The precision is great, but sometimes you think Just relax. Let go.

“I was at a wedding in Hamburg a few months back – my girlfriend’s friends – and the father of the bride was told I was a comedian and he tensed up. He thought I would go round later making jokes about it and anarchistically destroy everything that he saw as beautiful.

“I think in Germany, there’s a fear of chaos. Humour is great, but it has its place; it is dangerous if there is too much because it might just corrode everything.

“That’s what I love about Britain. Things are more relaxed.

“Here in Britain, I want to be a comedian first and a German second. I do not want to be a comic German. I want German to be the adjective and the noun to be Comic.

A few days after our chat, Paco got a second review for his show – there had been a reviewer in the day before our chat – he had seen the show which Paco knew had not worked well – the show in which, Paco told me, “I didn’t do as well as I could.”

The Broadway Baby reviewer gave Paco Erhard’s 5-Step Guide to Being German a 5-star review.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Germany, Racism, Scotland