Category Archives: Autobiographical

It was forty years ago today…

As I don’t keep a diary, I don’t know the actual date in 1980 when I stuck my thumb out, at the beginning of the M4 motorway, on the Newport roundabout starting a holiday trip that would take me away from the UK forever. It was, however, sometime in the middle of a mild September. I had intended a trip of a few weeks maybe a couple of months but I have now lived outside of the land of my birth for forty years.

As I look back I wonder where the time went. What follows is a brief survey of some of the things that have filled out those forty years. The astute reader will note that they add up to more than forty years because many of them took place concurrently. 

I started out by going down the Orwell route and worked for six months as a dishwasher in a luxury hotel. If you don’t speak the language! That ended when I walked out after calling the manager a racist, because he was. I could never keep my mouth shut. This was followed by a period of working as a freelance gardener; growing up in the country, in a house with half a hectare of garden had to pay off sometime. Gardening brings meagre pickings in winter, so I got a job as an industrial cleaner, the man for special jobs, for the next four years. I got around quite a bit and got to see the inside of quite a lot of leading German companies. If you keep your ears and eyes open you can learn an awful lot, nobody takes any notice of cleaners, so you get to see and hear things that are supposed to be kept secret! 

The language thing was the most important problem and right from the beginning I started going to evening classes to learn German. This was too slow so I looked around for something better and started a German as a foreign language course at the local university. German lessons in the morning, cleaning factories and office blocks in the afternoon, the high life. This was the start of twelve years spent at university as a mature student. The first three years studying mathematics and philosophy, with an emphasis on history and philosophy of science. Then I shifted to philosophy, same emphasis, with English philology and history. For nearly all of those years at the university I worked as a research assistant in a major research project into the social history, read external history, of formal logic, my real apprenticeship as a historian of science.

Before I quit the cleaning firm I had already started working in a local cultural and youth centre that would become my home from home for fourteen years. Here I managed a jazz club for ten years and worked for a couple of years, as a fly poster. I spent two afternoons a week, for many years, working in a self help bicycle workshop, where people could maintain and repair their own bicycles, with assistance from people like me if required. For ten years I was one of the centres evening shift managers responsible for the running of the whole building. With up to three thousand guests on a Friday or Saturday night and a shift from six in the evening until four in the morning a more than somewhat strenuous task. In the same building when I wasn’t being evening manager I also worked as a live concert lighting and sound technician. I had been lighting and sound technician for theatre groups earlier in the UK.

In the middle of the 1990s I was studying full time working a paid thirty to forty-hour week and an average thirty-hour unpaid week, whilst basically living on drugs and alcohol. What inevitably had to happen, happened. As I have documented elsewhere the wheels fell off and I discovered the joys of German heath care for the mentally ill. I spent several months in the loony bin followed by several years as a very active member of the AA and even more years in outpatient therapy. These days I’m reasonably healthy, mentally that is, fairly stable but I am very much aware that I will never be cured; there is no cure for my afflictions.

In Germany I also became a dog owner for the first time in my life. I have owned loved, cared for and lost four wonderful dogs over the last thirty years. They have been my constant, loving and true companions through thick and thin. My dogs helped me to cope with and overcome my mental illnesses and I owe them big time.

When I was reasonably sober and stable, being aware that I was never going to become a professional academic, I quit my studies shortly before my master’s exams and left the research project. I was the most sensible way of reducing the stress in my life. A few years later the cultural centre dispensed with my services. After a period of unemployment, during which I was official classified as unfit for work, a judgement that is still formally valid, I spent a year working for a mail order company selling Apple computers and accessories. As a result, I acquired my first iMac a cute, Bondi Blue G3. There is a certain irony here, during my research project I had become an expert on the history of the computer but unlike many of my contemporaries I had never previously owned a computer. 

The computer company was bought up by a larger rival and moved to Stuttgart about 240 km from where I live and I became unemployed again. I then ran into the problem of agism, a concept which up till then I had found mildly amusing. I was only around fifty but apparently too old to be employable. A typical telephone conversation from this period:

Me: Good Morning, my name is Christie and I ringing about your job advert

Them: How old are you?

Me: fifty something

Them: Thank you for your call.

Some didn’t even bother to say thank you before ringing off, so I became self-employed.

Since then I have tutored school kids in maths and English, taught, mostly business, English to adults, copyedited a very wide range of English texts written by non-native English speakers and translated an equally wide range of German texts into English. It has never made me rich, but I have over the years mostly managed to pay my bills. Four years ago, I officially retired.

Somewhere down the line I got back into the history of science and seventeen years ago began holding public lectures on a diverse range of topics. Eleven years ago, I started this blog, having previously discovered the world of #histSTM blogging and having been encouraged by other #histSTM bloggers to do so. It still feels kind of weird but somehow late in life I seem to have carved out a rather strange career as a historian of science. 

I suppose the final consequence of my forty years of living, working, studying, loving, and suffering in Germany is that last year I became a German citizen. As should be obvious from this very brief sketch, my life has followed anything but the normal life and career path, or at least what is considered normal for a white, male Northern European, but has meandered over a wide terrain, taking quite a few detours along the way. I wonder what the future will bring, knowing me and looking back over the last forty years it probably won’t be anything normal or conventional.

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T’would appear so!

When you have very little income and no reserves and you run out of money, it is not easy asking other people for help, things like pride, shame and self-esteem tend to get in the way. Because of this I battled with myself for several weeks about setting up a Gofundme after it became clear that at some point I was going to have to buy a new computer. Even after I had grudgingly accepted that it was probably my best bet and wrote the text that I posted here on Saturday, I didn’t post it straight away but vacillated for more than a week, editing, rewriting and generally procrastinating, shall I, shan’t I? In the end I metaphorically closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and pushed out my text on Saturday afternoon, in my opinion probably the worst time of the week to launch an appeal, as lots of people take a sort of break from the Internet at the weekend. Because of this I was totally dumbstruck when I realised less that eighteen hours later, on the Sunday, that I had already almost doubled my original target in donations.

My immediate reaction was the following text that I posted on Twitter:

To say that I’m totally and utterly mind blown at the unbelievably kind and generous response to my appeal for help in buying a new computer would be an understatement. Will write a full response on the blog soon but till then thank you one and all!

Because so many people on Twitter had not only donated themselves but also boosted my signal on Twitter often added their own recommendation and praise for my humble scribblings, I added the following:

People moan and complain about Twitter but the #histSTM community is an incredibly rich and vibrant source of advice, information and help. Which is all offered openly, freely and with much good will. A true republic of letters.

Internet friend, seventeenth century historian and author of the excellent Killing Beauties, Pete Langman (@elegantfowl) tweeted the following:

Guess we all want you to keep on doing what you do!

To which I replied:

T’would appear so!

I currently have more than double the sum I asked for, donated by 119 wonderfully generous people and the donations haven’t stopped, yet!

I am totally overwhelmed by this unbelievable affirmation of the value of my work here on this blog and nothing I could say would adequately express my deep and heartfelt thanks that you all want me to keep on doing what I do to quote the good Dr Langman.

So I’ll just simply say:

 

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P.S. this week’s post is somewhat behind schedule but I’m working on getting it finished, so hang in there!

 

 

 

 

 

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Keep the Renaissance Mathematicus Online!

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My ancient iMac[1] is displaying increasing signs of giving up the ghost and moving on to the great electro-junk yard in the sky. My daily confrontations with the spinning beach-ball of death are increasing in frequency and the number of time where it doesn’t cease to spin and I am forced to shut down and reboot are also increasing. I assume it is only a matter of time before I will attempt to turn on my loyal workhorse and the screen will simply remain blank; this actually happened with its predecessor. This of course means that I will have to invest in a new computer, preferably before the current one decides to depart forever.

I am a pensioner with a very basic state pension, for which I am very grateful, but which doesn’t even totally cover the basics in life. I supplement this with private tutoring and some other bits and pieces. I have little or no reserves and can, quite simply, not afford a new computer at the moment. I have some potential work lined up for the autumn, but in order to do that I will need a fully functioning computer and I also don’t think that I will earn enough through that to cover the full costs of a new computer.

All of this being the case I turn to you, the readers of the Renaissance Mathematicus. I have never charged for the constant stream of history of science writing that I have delivered up over the last eleven years and I hope that the Renaissance Mathematicus will remain free for its readers in the future. I am asking you to make a onetime contribution now if you wish to go on reading the episodes of my Emergence of Modern Astronomy series, (or are waiting for the dead tree version, for which I will also need a computer), my scintillating book reviews, my accounts of obscure Renaissance scientists, mathematicians, cartographers et al and my occasional HISTSCI_HULK stomps all over bad #histSTM, then you are going to have make a small donation towards a shiny new Renaissance Mathematicus computer.

If all the readers of the Renaissance Mathematicus would each donate just €1 then I would have enough to buy two computers with enough left over for a celebratory meal. I appeal to my readers to help me in this endeavour and each to contribute, as they are able and as they are willed. Unlike book authors asking for funds to publish, I can offer no incentives or prizes for particularly generous contribution other than to promise that as long as I am able I shall continue to entertain, stimulate and educate you to the best of my ability as the Renaissance Mathematicus and of course you will have my eternal thanks.

A small special appeal to all the authors, whose books, book chapters and papers I have fact checked for their history of science content in recent years. I couldn’t have done so without a computer and will not be able to do so in the future without one.

For those who wish to donate to keep the Renaissance Mathematicus online. I have set up a Gofundme, which you can access here.

[1] Actually, in real world terms it’s not that old but in terms of computer generations it is positively stone age

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Chilli 19.02.2006–27.07.2020

The sweetest little lady in the world has left us. Somewhat more than a year ago I explained how Chilli came into my life. Yesterday she left it taking my heart with her as she went. In recent months she had begun to display the symptoms of dementia. They were unmistakable but still fairly mild, so I thought we would still have some time together.

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On Friday morning, on the way home from our early walk in the woods she had some sort of brain malfunction that seems to have blown some fuses in her head. She took off like a rocket and I had no idea where she had gone. She ran wild through the area for nearly one and a half hours, till I could finally catch her with the help of a very generous lady dog owner. She was in total panic and didn’t recognise me and attacked and bit me. She is normally the most passive and friendliest dog in the world. I managed to get her on a lead and she immediately calmed down and we walked home. Once there she fell into her bed and didn’t leave it again the whole day except when I took her briefly outside to pee.

Things did not really improve on Saturday; she was confused, disorientated and apathetic. By Sunday it was clear that the little lady, who had brought me so much joy over the last fifteen or so months was suffering without hope of recovery and that I would have to release here from her distress. On Monday afternoon the vet helped her on her way out the vale of suffering and now she is no more. My flat seems suddenly very empty.

Chilli as puppy005

Chilli as a puppy taken from her vaccination pass Added 29/08/2020

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Keith Tippett (25 August 1947 – 14 June 2020)

I was deeply saddened to learn yesterday of the death of the jazz pianist, composer and bandleader Keith Tippett (25 August 1947 – 14 June 2020).

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

I ran a jazz club for ten years in the 1980s, which is not as romantic as it sounds, consisting mostly of tedious bureaucratic bullshit, but if you manage the concerts themselves, as I did, you get to meet a lot of famous and not so famous musician. Some of them just remain names, hello-goodbye and little more. Some, however, become friends Keith was one of those.

I first met him as an artist performing at a small jazz festival I organised, “9 Performers on 3 Stages”, to celebrate the opening of the new large concert hall in the cultural centre in which I worked. Keith played a solo set in the smallest of the three venues. He came out, sat down at the piano, was still for a couple of minutes, then he began to improvise. He played forty continuous minutes of some of the most intense, beautiful, moving, technically challenging, live music I have ever heard and I have heard an awful lot of live music. The room was absolutely packed and during the entire forty minutes you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. When he finished the room erupted in a storm of applause and jubilation. After about five minutes of ear shattering exultation, he returned to the stage, sat down once more at the piano and played a very short Chopin etude. When he had finished he turned to the audience, smiled and said very softly, “that’s all I know” then he left the stage to stunned silence.

In those days I mostly booked my musicians into a small family hotel, Hotelchen am Theater, which was then run by a lovely lady called Tini, who was very artist friendly. In a normal commercial hotel, when you book in for one night, they tell you that breakfast is from 7 to 9 am and you have to vacate your room by 11 am at the latest. When you booked into Hotelchen, Tini would ask, “when do you want breakfast?” Musician, “2 pm!” Tini, “that’s cool, what would you like for breakfast?” Musicians loved her and her guest book is an awesome piece of artistic history. I had, of course, booked Keith into the Hotelchen. When Tini got up at about 7 am, she found Keith sitting on the floor with her then 3 or 4 year old daughter, Nora, polishing shoes! They were playing hotels. Tini died some years ago and Nora now runs the hotel and from time to time I remind her of this very magic moment.

Keith was a very intense family man and whenever he played you always had to arrange for him to call his family back in England. This was before mobile telephones and instant worldwide communications. International telephone calls were in those days expensive and not always easy to set up but I always made sure that we did it for Keith whenever he came to entertain us. Some years later I was working at a big jazz festival in Nürnberg, selling records for a small record company, when I got the chance to hear Keith in duo with the moderately insane but totally brilliant Dutch jazz drummer and percussionist Han Bennink, a mindwarpingly superb performance. Later in the evening I ran into Keith and got introduced to his wife Jules aka Julie Tippetts, a superb jazz singer. For many non-jazz fans she is better known, or should we say remembered, as the pop/rock singer Julie Driscoll, who had a massive hit with Brian Auger and the Trinity performing Bob Dylan’ This Wheel’s on Fire in 1968. Jules was very much one of the 60s ‘It Girls’ and the secret heartthrob of legions of pubescent, male teens. She was even more beautiful, as a mature lady and totally sweet and friendly.

I had quite a lot of Keith’s music before I even met him and have acquired more over the years but it is the real life person, whom I shall miss. Keith was a warm, generous, kind human being and a brilliant musician and the world just got a little bit darker with his demise.

 

 

 

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Eleven

Eleven is a number word in English that derives from the Old English ęndleofon, which is first attested in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. There are cognates in all the Germanic languages, all of which have the same meaning of ‘one is left’. Left that is having counted up to ten. This is of course, a clear linguistic indication that we use, and have long used, a ten based, or decimal, number system contingent on the fact that through evolutionary chance we possess ten fingers or digits. Just to round up the picture twelve and its equivalents in other Germanic languages originally meant ‘two are left’ before we move onto thirteen, fourteen etc., which are simply three plus ten, four plus ten and so on and so fourth.

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Coming back to eleven, on this day one year ago we celebrated, in our own inimitable way, the glorious tenth anniversary of the Renaissance Mathematicus that we are still here 366 days later, don’t forget that 2020 is a leap year, means that your favourite malcontent, #histSTM blogger has managed to fill yet another year with his incoherent scribblings. Counting up to ten we have one left. Ignoring such trivial matters, as the current world pandemic not much has changed in the world of the Renaissance Mathematicus. I have somehow managed, against my usually tendency to wander off and start something else, to complete another twenty-five slices of my, in the meantime, monumental series on the emergence of modern astronomy, bringing the word count up to a guesstimated fifty to sixty thousand. An end is actually in sight even if we haven’t quite reached it yet. This will be when the real work starts if I really want to turn it into a book. I need to go back to the beginning and basically rewrite the entire thing!

Turning to other matters, today is purely by chance the religious festival Corpus Christi or to give it it’s official title Dies Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini Iesu Christi (Day of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Lord), a Christian liturgical solemnity celebrating the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist, to quote Wikipedia.

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Corpus Christi procession. Oil on canvas by Carl Emil Doepler Source: Wikimedia Commons

Now you might think that this particular piece of Catholic mumbo-jumbo (you might remember that one of the things that divided Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, is that Protestants stopped believing that the bread and wine actually changed into the body and blood of Christ) has little or nothing to do with the history of science, you would be wrong.

To start with we need to address the chance bit. Corpus Christi, which is anchored to Easter, is one of those movable feasts in the Church calendar the irregular occurrences of which are determined by the Gregorian calendar, the introduction of which involved some very intricate astronomy and mathematics, which have the been the subject of a couple of blog posts here.

The actually Church feast was suggested by and campaigned for, thirty years long by Juliana of Liège (c. 1192–1258) prioress of the double canonry of Liège and her wish was granted by Pope Urban IV, who commissioned his chief theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) to compose an office for the Feast of Corpus Christi to be celebrated on the Thursday after Pentecost, which is itself celebrated fifty days after Easter Sunday. Thomas Aquinas plays a very central role in the history of European science, as it was he together with his teacher Albertus Magnus (before 1200–1280), who made Aristotelian natural philosophy acceptable for the Catholic Church, thus establishing it as the predominant scientific corpus in the European High Middle Ages.

The next #histSTM connection with the feast of Corpus Christi actually occurred in the life of Galileo. In his Il Saggiatore Galileo speculated a little bit with the ancient Greek theory of atomism. Because of this he was denounced anonymously to the Inquisition. The denunciation claimed that atomism contradicted the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation, which was based on the medieval Aristotelian theory of matter.  This distinguished between substantial and accidental properties of matter. In this theory the appearance of a piece of matter is accidental but its true nature is substantial. According to the transubstantiation theory the bread and the wine change in their substance into the body and blood of Christ whilst retaining the accidental appearance of bread and wine. If, however, the Aristotelian theory of matter were to be replaced with atomism this theory would no longer function. The Inquisition never proceeded against Galileo in this matter but it is of note that in England Thomas Harriot and Sir Walter Raleigh were held and questioned on a similar charge somewhat earlier.

Returning to personal matters, as is usually my wont in my birthday posts, I recently had an acrimonious exchange with one of my readers, whose comments were from the beginning aggressive, insulting and historically false. I tried to reason with him and he just got more abusive in his tone. In the end I blocked him and erased his comments but I found his parting shot insult, and it was clearly meant as an insult, fascinating; he stated that I was not a historian but a storyteller.

This is interesting because, as is very clear to see history and story share the same etymological root, the Latin historia, “narrative of past events, account, tale, story,” from Greek historia “a learning or knowing by inquiry; an account of one’s inquiries; knowledge, account, historical account, record, narrative.” It is not until the late 15thcentury that the two differentiated meanings for history and story began to slowly appear. In German the same word, Die Geschichte means both story and history, the different meanings depending on context.

Book of ideas

If I get asked in a formal or semi-formal context how I describe what I do, my answer is that I’m a narrative historian of the contextual history of science. That quite a mouthful and might sound, to some, rather pretentious. If I get asked what that means, my answer is I’m a storyteller. I don’t regard being called a storyteller as an insult; I regard it as a compliment.

 

 

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Time

Who is the old man shuffling into the kitchen? I don’t recognise him

Where has the youth gone, who on warm summer evenings

Ran barefoot through the streets of the small Welsh town

After a long day uncovering the remains of a Roman fort

His long hair and his thoughts flowing free on the gentle breeze

Now I sit, with naked skull, in doctors’ waiting rooms wondering

Where does the time go?

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Tis the season to be jolly

This is one of those very occasional blog posts that has nothing whatsoever to do with #histSTM, so if you come here just for that, you don’t need to read further.

We have entered that time of year with the winter solstice, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years and all the rest, when celebration in all its various forms is written big in most peoples calendars: office parties, department parties, club parties, private parties or just more trips to restaurants or the pub. It is a period when many people eat and drink to excess, which is their choice and not mine to comment on but I do want to say a few words for those, who don’t drink alcohol.

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There are various reasons why people don’t, won’t or can’t drink alcohol. Not just Islam but other religious communities forbid the consumption, some, like myself, are alcoholics, addicted to alcohol, who no longer imbibe, others have medical conditions or take medicament that make it unwise or even possibly dangerous for them to consume alcohol, some sensible car drivers only sit behind the steering wheel with zero per mil, lastly there are those, who simply don’t like alcohol. Given this fact there are some points that anybody planning or hosting a party or other form of gathering with refreshments should take into consideration.

If you are going to a restaurant or bar then you don’t have to do anything, as they should have a range of non-alcoholic drinks on offer. However, I experienced, all too often, that especially restaurant have a very small range of mostly poor quality alcohol free drinks at extortionate prices.

The following is purely fictitious but I have experienced variations on the described scenario very often over the years that I have abstained from drinking alcohol. Your genial host, Mr Important (it’s always a man), explains that he drove thirty kilometres to this small private brewery to fetch a couple of barrels of their really special bitter or he knows this chap who does this deal on this super vintage Bordeaux from a little vineyard or your might not know this dry white but it’s a super drop from South Africa that’s equal to anything from Germany and half the price or he’s got Dave the barman from the luxury hotel down the road to mix cocktails for the evening, two of those will put you flat on your back. If you are lucky he remembered at the last moment that there might be some poor sods, who don’t drink alcohol, so he got a couple of plastic bottles of cheap fizzy sugar water from the discounter down the road. Not only is this totally inadequate it is totally insulting. Mr Important is keen to impress his boozing friend by going to a lot of trouble and expense to get them something of real quality to drink but he doesn’t give a shit about the teetotallers. Don’t be Mr Important.

If you are organising a gathering or party with refreshments, as well as getting an attractive range of alcoholic drinks, make sure that you have an equally attractive range of alcohol free ones, too. The abstemious car driver might enjoy an alcohol free beer or wine but not all non-drinkers do. A selection of good quality fruit juices and both fizzy and still mineral waters is a good place to start. Some of the traditional mixers, bitter lemon, ginger ale, etc. are also often enjoyed by people who don’t drink alcohol. I’m rather partial to a St Clement’s myself, bitter lemon and orange juice, fifty-fifty. These days there are good ranges of, often organic, fizzy drinks without too much sugar available, buy a selection. You can also offer both tea and coffee, which will probably also be appreciated by some of your alcohol drinking guest at the end of the evening.

If you do employ Dave the barman to mix cocktails, make sure that he also has ingredients and recipes for a range of mocktails, that’s cocktails without alcohol if you didn’t know. If you offer your guests a welcoming drink, a glass of sparkling wine for example, or an aperitif then make sure you have an attractive alcohol free alternative on offer as well.

My final point is perhaps the most important if you wish to be a good and conscientious host. If you offer somebody an alcoholic drink and they decline, do not under any circumstances try to persuade them to change their mind. Simply accept their choice and offer them something alcohol free instead.

I hope you all enjoy your seasonal festivities and that if you are throwing a party that you make it possible for the non-drinkers to also enjoy theirs. All of this, of course, applies when you are organising a party at other times of the year.

 

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On Becoming German

Ten days ago I got my Personalausweis (identity card), which kind of make me feel like a real German citizen for the first time, although my certificate of naturalisation was issued on the 15 October and I officially became a German citizen when it was handed to me 21 October. It’s a rather strange feeling to become a citizen of another country, although as a EU citizen I retain my British citizenship and am thus a dual national.

It is a move I have been considering making for several years now, but as a ADDer with dysgraphia I hate, fear and loathe all bureaucracy, so my innerer Schweinehund (translates roughly as internal lazy hound) kept me from making it. The result of the Brexit referendum finally pushed me to get off my fat arse and do something but even then my inertia held me back. Last autumn I paid two hundred plus euro and took my German language and German citizenship exams. The first shouldn’t have been necessary, as I took and passed the much harder university German Language exam three decades ago but couldn’t prove it, the records have got lost, so I spent a whole day proving that I could master the German language. The citizenship exam was a joke. You have to answer 33 multiple-choice questions, 28 of which are taken from a catalogue of 3000 questions that you can read and learn on the Internet (I didn’t bother) and 5 specific to the German State in which you live, in my case Bavaria. To pass you have to get at least 17 right. You have 60 minutes for the exam; I took 4 minutes and I wasn’t the fastest. I got 31 right and am annoyed because I know one that I got wrong but have no idea what the other one was!

Having taken this step I still kept putting off having to actually deal with the bureaucracy. Eventually on 27 March just four days before the final Brexit deadline (remember that?!) I finally pulled myself together and submitted my application for German citizenship; with all the forms, documents and whatever that I had to submit, the pile was literally three centimetres thick; the Germans are very thorough. And then you sit and wait! I was actually fairly convinced that my application would be rejected because of lack of financial support. Having led a rather fucked up life, I live on a basic state pension, which is a pittance and have no financial resources whatsoever. I got more and more nervous as the next Brexit deadline approached fearing, I would become an undesirable alien in my country of residence. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I received the letter telling me to come and collect my certificate of naturalisation.

Having changed my nationality or rather acquired a second one as I am now a dual national, as I said above, I suppose I should feel something but I don’t and don’t really know what I’m supposed to feel.

I’m a white, middle class male born of British parents in Clacton-on-Sea of all places, so I suppose I couldn’t really be more British. However, as I pointed out in an earlier post my mother, although British, was born in Burma and grew up in British India first coming to Europe at the age of thirty-one. I’ve never really identified as British. It’s a word I fill in, in the appropriate section on official forms that ask for my nationality and it’s what is on the front of my passport. I enjoy watching sport but have never been particularly or even mildly fanatical about any team. Except for in rugby, which I played and enjoyed at school, and the Olympics there are no British sports teams but separate ones for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I take an Englishman’s perverse pleasure, I think the term is schadenfreude, in watching the inevitable English bating collapse in test matches or another golden generation of English soccer players crashing out of yet another European/World Cup. But that’s about it. I’ve never understood sentiments like “my country right or wrong” or dying for “king and country.” I’m a lifelong pacifist, who would adopt Bertrand Russell’s policy if those that I love and care for were threatened by fascism or anything similar and do what ever was necessary to oppose.

I vaguely identify as a West European; I have lived in England, Wales, Belgium, Sweden and the largest part of my life in Germany, Middle Franconia to be precise. Beyond that, I have travelled and holidayed in Denmark, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Andorra and Lichtenstein. However, my family background and my upbringing have led me to regard all culture and peoples to be fundamentally the same and to abhor discrimination of any sort.

I identify Middle Franconia in general and the area in and around Erlangen in particular, as being my Wahlheimat, Heimat is the German for home, home town, home country but has connotations of belonging that can’t really be translated into English and Wahlheimat is Heimat of choice. It’s where I feel at home, comfortable and everything else considered where I would like to live out the rest of my life. All of this was true before I applied for German citizenship and being granted it hasn’t really changed anything.

Going through the process of acquiring a new nationality has shown me that the word nationality really doesn’t have any deep meaning for me at all. I probably shouldn’t but I worry slightly about this realisation.

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Robert Hunter (June 23 1941–September 23 2019)

If you don’t like the Grateful Dead then don’t read this. The Grateful Dead and especially the songs of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter have been the soundtrack of my life for the last fifty years. Those songs have given me hope when I was down and transported me to the stars when I was up. They have accompanied me through all the up and downs, along the twisting and turning highway that has been my life, the strange diversions and dead ends. They were always there a mental bedrock to which I could cling whatever happened.

Robert Hunter was one of the truly great lyricists of the rock era, with all of the literary and high art implications that lyricist rather than simple songwriter carries. The breadth and depth of emotional colours that his words could and do magic into existence are seemingly infinite. The music and words of Garcia and Hunter are attuned to my soul in a way no other music is, was or ever will be and I own and listen to a very wide spectrum of music. Robert Hunter’s lyrics melded perfectly with Jerry Garcia’s liquid gold guitar lines.

I listen to music when I write and about eighty per cent of the time it’s the Grateful Dead. Hundred Year Hall, to which Hunter wrote some very beautiful sleeve notes, is blasting out of the stereo system, as I write these inadequate words.

I cried when I heard that Jerry Garcia had died fourteen years ago, something that surprised more than a little but which I accepted. I’m crying now having heard of the passing of Robert Hunter. I, and I suspect many others, own him an unpayable debt for all of the joy, sustenance in dark times and peace of mind that he has given me through his wonderful songs.

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