Today’s Podcast is taken from one of my mini travelogues entitled
Wonderful, wonderful, Kobenhavn
Travel writers are rather like politicians, although they don’t lie quite as often, they tend to write just what will please their editors. Every once in a while a politician, usually after he has retired or has lost his seat will publish a book which professes to open Pandora’s box and tell the truth, unfortunately the new revelations are more to sell the book than to tell the truth. My blogs have no kiss and tell revelations, I just have no longer to please my paymaster, and these are my personal notes on how I really saw some of my destinations.
For the next of my hereto unpublished mini- travelogues for the delectation of my friends; today we go to Denmark which seems to have cemented its position at or near the top of every global quality-of-life survey. Take a look around, and it’s not hard to see…
Denmark has a total population of 5,600,000 and Copenhagen a population of just over half a million. Compare that to the population of London at over 8,600,000 it isn’t overcrowded. Most of the population have bicycles and in fact there are twice as many cycles than there are motor vehicles. So many people cycle because there literally are no hills so it is fairly easy going. This lack of hills also means that when the wind blows it really blows and it seem to be windy most of the time. It also rains or snows for half of the year and that’s not in the brochure.
I have a number of Danish friends and have visited many times, they seem duty bound to put a positive spin on their harsh environment. They seem to be united in turning lemons into spiced mulled wine; they call this cultivated cosiness ‘hygge’. And is considered the major weapon in combating the dreary darkness that befalls the Nordic countries over the winter, where the sun shines fewer than seven hours during the length of the winter solstice. I personally found it hard to adopt ‘hygge’, and felt it perhaps a good reason for the high alcohol intake among the Danes. They are however a happy people with a sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity
One of the main attractions I find is that although they speak a peculiar “Harf’n’harf’n’harf “lingo among themselves they all speak far better English than what I do. What is more everyone understands what I am saying; I don’t even have to shout.
Copenhagen is a gorgeous city filled with beautiful people, but has two over-hyped and most disappointing attractions that most people will have heard of before arriving. The first ‘attraction’ this wonderful city has, is this statue dedicated to the famous fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. The Little Mermaid statue, as you’ll read in your guidebook, was unveiled in 1913 and is most famous among locals for all the times her head and arms have been sawn off by vandals.
Your expectations will naturally build as you take the surprisingly long and out-of-the-way walk along the harbour, and your only real clue that you are getting close is the crowd of bewildered tourists assembled who are taking their own photos and asking each other, “This is what we walked all the way out here for?”
The Little Mermaid statue is about 4-feet tall and looks more like an ad for bad posture than a city’s proudest landmark. It was built by the owner of the Carlsberg brewery and is not quite original. She has sat on her boulder since August 23, 1913, but has had a very turbulent life, with at least eight vandalism attacks. She has been dowsed in paint numerous times, had her right arm amputated, been decapitated three times, and even pushed from her rock in 2003. Fortunately, the sculptor made a mold so the Little Mermaid’s “parts” have been reattached from the original mold.
We then read about the Tivoli Gardens, the most famous and the greatest attraction in Scandinavia and one of the world’s best known amusement parks. However it is also the most expensive with a charge of around £15 entrance fee and every ride costing a little over £2 it’s not the place to go if you have a lot of kids although kids under 8 get in free. It is also renowned for being jam-packed with people queuing for cheesy rides. I cannot vouch either way because no-one mentioned that it is only open between April and September. I read about the gardens being lit up at night-time with 120,000 lights and the evenings come to a close with a spectacular firework display. One day I must go when it isn’t shut.
The city itself is truly a wonderful city and I love it, go and see the rococo Frederiksstaden district and its royal palaces and on neighbouring Funen is Odense, the hometown of storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, with a medieval core of cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses; but take my advice, you can give the Tivoli Gardens a miss along with the Little Mermaid.
I could certainly see why the current tide of immigrants invading Europe would find Denmark an attractive target especially for the economic migrants with the reputation of its government being people friendly. However the Danish parliament has backed a controversial proposal to confiscate asylum seekers’ valuables to pay for their upkeep. Police will be able to seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (1,340 Euros; £1,000) from refugees to cover housing and food costs. All I can say is jolly good for them and the Merkel’s of the world can go hang.
The internet is full of stories of complaining migrants. One of them is Baraa Jehad, currently accommodated in the abandoned hospital in Helsingør, now a Red Cross reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees. He says that he is very unhappy with the government’s plans to give Syrian asylum seekers a provisional one-year residence permit without the possibility of bringing the family to Denmark. .”If I had known this, I would not be fleeing,
if I knew about these rules before I left Lebanon, I would have stayed there. If this one-year rule comes true, I would rather go back and live with my family,” Some asylum seeker! There you are, away you go then.
If this had been one of my sailor’s yarns instead of a mini travelogues I could tell you of the time I spent over 3 months here in Copenhagen, when my frigate on leaving harbour was blown off course (I told you about the high winds) and into the Danish Royal Yacht whose bow we sliced off and then proceeded over its anchor cable chopping off both our screws. But that’s another sailors yarn so I will keep that tale in my locker for another time.
Right, that takes care of the Viking marauders with their silly horned hats, “Skål”. Now who can I upset next? The world is a book – and those who do not travel read only a page. Thanks for listening.
I have divided my Podcast into two parts because even edited from my original article it is still rather long; my throat can only go for so long without a breather and I would hate for you to get bored and lose interest.
It is amazing how far the English language can take you in even the remotest corners of the world. However it is a gesture of respect to learn at least a few local words and phrases even it only to ask the location of a WC – I found the phrase “Where’s the bloody dunny mate?” extremely useful when in the outback beyond Cairns.
The Spanish I learned from watching Westerns in my youth served me well when I was travelling on a stagecoach from Durango to Mazatlan in Mexico – someone actually began a question to me with the words “Hey Gringo”, but now that I am older and wiser I take a relevant phrase book and a mini-dictionary. Plus I practice sentences in the local language so that I am able to ask the location of a Vegetarian Restaurant so that my wife is not left to starve.
The Volunteer Trail
I have no intention for this to be a guide to suitable organisations whose aim in life is to recruit volunteers to build mission schools in darkest Africa or to muck out orphans in Bucharest. These charitable organisations are brilliant at recruiting helpers and if this is your bag then they will take you under their wing and will in all probability arrange your flight and accommodation albeit in some cases somewhat meagre. Some of them will even pay you some sort of subsistence allowance and feed you. I feel that you should avoid any temptation to become an aid worker in Iraq at this particular time. I will however float a few ideas that I have picked along the way, especially with the more mature traveller in mind who will have life skills to offer.
My son’s father-in-law, a country town GP took a sabbatical from his practice and took off for Afghanistan to give his services as a medic with the land-mine trust to the Mujahadin and anyone else who needed his help. This was before Osama bin Laden, just after the U.S.S.Rs trial run at empire building. The country hasn’t been the same since his visit!
It cannot be emphasised enough that commitment, no matter how fervent, is not enough to work in an aid project in the developing world. You must normally be able to offer some kind of useful training or skill plus have overseas experience already, unless that is you are prepared to fund yourself and don’t mind that your efforts will be more a token than of any lasting benefit. The main operational aid agencies such as Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, World Health Organisation, UNHCR, Department for International Development, Care International, International Rescue Committee and Handicap International do not use untrained volunteers.
What agencies are looking for in first-time volunteers are:
A serious and proven professional track record
Good skills with people management and development
Specific technical or other hard skills
Ability to provide training and technical supervision in the above areas
A knowledge of a foreign language is a further advantage
This probably sounds very daunting and off putting but don’t be discouraged a lot of the same agencies offer fee-paying volunteers the chance to experience life at the sharp end in developing countries by working alongside skilled aid workers and local people for a short period.
I wholly commend this sort of Gap Year. You will gain more from it than you give, in fact the more that you give, the more you will gain. I however have not done it or even researched it. These are professional charities who know more about organising aid volunteers and I would not deem to give any more advice or even point you towards such organisations. Google it!
You’re Going Where?
It is not my intention either, that this should be a gazetteer of suitable destinations; other than as a passing reference. What I do intend, is for this to be an experienced old travel writer helping you to avoid possible mistakes, pass on tips and give as much helpful guidance as possible.
Whether you are 18 or 55 you are going to learn quite a lot about yourself. Yes, even those of you who are like me ‘too old to die young’. You will learn independence and self reliance and will learn to appreciate the people and things all around you. That cannot be bad, just so long as you remember that there also will be dragons out there. Maybe a few black bears and wild boars too!
You will have to look after yourself when you are ill. You will have to live out of your back pack. You will also have to face up to every problem and decision that confronts you. However life is like that anyway, a series of highs and lows so why should travelling the world for your Gap Year be any different?
Without doubt, you are going to learn a lot about the world, no matter where or how far you go but even more certain is that you are going to learn even more about yourself. You might even find that you like your new self. Make no mistake however old or young you are, wherever you go to or how far you go, this will be a life changing experience.
I believe it was Billy Connolly who said “We pass this way but once. There is no normal, and there’s no such thing as normal. There is you, and there’s the rest. There’s now and there’s forever. Do as you damn well please!” He may or may not have written it but for a change he certainly wasn’t joking
Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
Have you decided where to go? If you still haven’t decided, you need to do a lot of homework. Travel Agents, Library, look at pictures, take some brochures home, and get a flavour of what’s in store. Look at photos of rapids, deserts, mountains, crocodiles, elephants, camels, Sydney Opera House, Graceland and the Grand Old Oprey in Nashville. Have a look at pictures of Table Mountain, Ayres Rock, the Rockies and the Grand Canyon, Route 66 and the Great Divide, the Taj Mahal and Mount Everest. Surround yourself with pictures of the Inca trails, paradise, and people having fun. Don’t forget to look at Bangkok, Beijing and Sumatra. It really is big wide world out there and the choice is yours. However only you can decide where to go. Get the adrenaline going because; as the walrus said “the time has come”. It’s make your mind up time.
Special Forces have a mantra that is worth adopting – Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, they call it Pea Picking and I commend it to you. Ten minutes of prior study can make such a difference to a well-planned trip. At this stage you should know where you are going, when you are leaving and how. You should have a good idea of how much it is going to cost. You will also have so many other things buzzing around in your head. It is now time to get out your notebook again it’s more PeaPicking for you.
Always looking for a Bargain!
While carrying out your planning it might be good to do some research to see how far your cash will go in any particular country. I have just heard that cash in Rio de Janeiro is inflating quicker than a dead dog in the sun – a colourful description but an obvious flag for the crafty traveller – The Dollar or Stirling in your pocket is going to buy you a lot more in Brazil and there are many countries whose economies are worth serious consideration when you are Pea Picking but also consider that muggers and bandits thrive where the economy is poor and they can target rich westerners. Compared with some, even an impecunious western traveller will appear rich. I think that it was the travel writer P.J. O’Rourke who quoted somebody who said “I thought that I was poor because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”. You have shoes even if they are smelly trainers.
I read an absolutely brilliant wheeze – so good it could have come from Billy Connolly. On your way home somewhere between the luggage carousel and the arrivals lounge – stop at a washroom and spray dye your hair magenta or similar outrageous colour, strip down to a sleeveless vest and cover your arms and neck with several fake tattoos and some fake rings for your nose, ears and eyebrows. Your family will love the joke once your father has revived your mother from her faint. It would be even funnier if it were your 40 year old daughter and your son-in-law who both burst into tears when they spotted you.
However everything that you have heard here are my thoughts from my research and experiences. Certainly some of my suggestions have not been tried and tested by me so perhaps I should urge you to take them with a pinch of salt. The idea was to give you a flavour of taking time out from the daily grind. Any decisions that you make should be of your own free will. If you choose to fall off a cliff, marry a lap-dancer or step under a bus during your travels I take no responsibility for your actions. When you get back please don’t forget – hair dyed magenta – fake tattoos – fake nuts bolts and earrings all over your body. This will cheer up your relatives no end.
Today’s Podcast by retired Travel Writer and Journalist Jakethewriter
The Gap Year
It was prompted by the pontifications of a Europhile from the CBI, who spouted that Gap years are a waste of time along with a lot of other rubbish. All his speech really proved was that because he didn’t do it, he doesn’t get it. A bit like his love of the European Union and trying to lay down the rules for those who wish to escape. My item was taken from one of my articles written and published some time ago which I called
Mind the Gap please!
I have divided my Podcast into two parts because even edited from my original article it is still rather long; my throat can only go for so long without a breather and I would hate for you to get bored and lose interest.
Why should students have all the fun? Gap years should be for those who have earned it and what is more who are old enough to appreciate it. Right! that has upset all of you who have decided to go and see a piece of the world before getting stuck into several years of study at university having just escaped the struggle of our education system from the age of 5 to 18.
I don’t mean to upset anyone, I just think that if students believe they have earned the right to a gap year just you wait until you have graduated and then joined the JOB market. Working the statutory 40 hour week for the just over minimum wage. We enlightened souls, who work for themselves; smugly call the JOB market the “Just Over Broke” market because employers will never pay you more than they have to, object if you want to knock off early or even if you spend too long in the loo. But that is another hobby horse that I am not riding today.
To return to the subject of worked out, wage slaves, deserving a Gap Year equally with the student getting off of the gravy train somewhere on the route between GCSE’s, ‘A’ levels, University and job. So let us all plan to have a Gap Year whether we are 18 or 80. Everyone would benefit from a Gap Year or even Gap Three Months. Does it matter if you are going to work for 43 years or 44 years whether you take time out to re-charge your batteries at the beginning, the end or even in the middle?
There is always a worry about taking time out and wasting time – At eighteen it will be parents worried about the dreadful things that could happen to their little darling and they will be trying delicately to suggest that you really should keep the momentum going until after you have graduated. Quote the anecdotal facts that fewer people drop out after year one if they took a Gap Year than those who didn’t.
Once you have graduated, qualified or whatever – the advice (cold water) will come again from parents, who will have enlisted the battalion of grandparents who will all ignore the fact that they do not know what they are talking about and the fact that you are not sure in what direction you want to go yourself, right at this minute. Tell them this time that you need something more than Nursery School, Primary School, Secondary, Comprehensive, Grammar School, Sixth Form College and University to fill in all of those blank bits on the CV and the application forms. By this time you will have lost them, so quote me – You need a break
Then when, “To old to die young!”, you are tired out, worn out, battered by life at the JOB, having done your job as a wage slave for 40 hours every week plus commuting and to put it politely having seen better days. Now you have the time and inclination to take time out. You will find that all the negative advice will be coming from all of your family. – Grown up kids, your grandchildren, all of them telling you that you need to put your feet up not to be thinking of offering your services and all of your hard learned skills to some Romanian orphanage. Thinking about that I must add a warning; in the early 1990s after the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu, I allowed one of my staff to go on a one month paid sabbatical, as a volunteer to help sort out the ghastly mess he had made of his orphanages. My well meaning lady volunteer came back quite damaged mentally by the horrors she had seen and took some months to recover. So think carefully before making your decision.
Believe me your family’s concerns are less for your welfare and mostly about you spending their inheritance while you are away and “Who is going to look after your cat?” – Quote me – You need a break not a rest. As for someone to look after the cat, you could always put a hyperlink between those who kindly took care of Tom and your Last Will and Testament.
So who am I to be giving all this friendly advice and waving you Bon Voyage as you step into the unknown? I didn’t get to University, I left Naval College at 15+ to travel twice around the world on a cargo boat. Some Gap Year! actually my first voyage took 15 months which was followed by two years before the mast on a luxury liner plying the South African route and then into the Royal Navy. What is it they say when singing the praises of taking a Gap Year? “There is a world out there … go and see it … and live life to the full.” I saw the world, I saw the sea and I lived life to the full and when the time came to settle down, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.
I came ashore, tried working at a JOB as a wage slave, picking up a wife and two kids on the way together with a mortgage and all the accoutrements that go with them. I then came to my senses and took on board the fact that I was not born to be a wage slave and didn’t like the JOB factor, in fact I was unemployable because I didn’t like being bossed around. So I have been my own boss since before most of you were born and since 1986 was the Managing Director of a travel company and after taking early retirement have been a freelance travel writer and my researches have taken me even further than my seafaring or my travel agency.
Also on my CV is the fact that I did a lot of survival training in the Navy. I did Arctic warfare training and then put it to good use in the heat of the Middle East. I have eaten weevils, earthworms and witchity grubs. In my youth I was a keen rock climber and a sailor and have taught outdoor pursuits at an Outward Bound School in the North of Scotland. I possess a qualification in mountain leadership from Plas Y Brenan and a Board of Trade Yacht masters Certificate. So as the lovely Gloria Gaynor tells us “I will survive”
I now travel at leisure, for pleasure, with my much loved and long suffering wife. My two married kids have added two grandchildren who are now adults. Because I have always been somewhat of a free spirit – I believe my granddaughter calls it being a loose cannon – We get no grief when we decide to – Just Go! – And my lovely daughter looks after William my Burmese cat. He being an adventurous spirit like his butler (me) and likes a change, sometimes packs his bags and takes himself off to stay with my sister for his gap year/week/month.
Anyway that is my CV – A much travelled wrinkly, nearly a crinkly, much researched travel writer who has been there and done that and had all of the corners knocked off on the journey.
Do you have to have a reason?
Why do you want to travel? If you are doing it for any other reason than because you want to – maybe you want to see the world before it’s too late. Maybe you want to see life, Maybe you want to appreciate how the rest of the world lives or maybe you need to “find yourself”, any other reason, don’t do it. It must be your decision, it’s your life, and so do it for yourself – NO OTHER REASON.
Deciding to take a period of time out and then deciding how to spend it may not be as momentous as some other life decisions like getting married, having babies, choosing or changing careers, but it is still a big decision. It certainly takes guts and that is an essential ingredient in achieving a break in your lifestyle. The hardest part is the summoning up the determination to JUST DO IT! No book can make the decision for you. All outsiders, even someone who knows the ropes, can do is set out the possibilities and see if any take your fancy. Do as much research as possible. Ask yourself if you can imagine yourself trekking through a Costa Rican rainforest or teaching in a Tanzanian village or studying art in Florence? The next thing to ask yourself is do you have the energy to make the dream come true?
There has never been a better time to travel around the world. No matter what your age is or where you are bound there are literally hundreds of people doing the same thing. If you think about it you probably know someone who is doing it and if you know someone and everyone that you know, knows someone else who is off into the wide blue yonder, can you imagine the number of backpackers out there? It is easy for me to say and to imagine as I’ve been there, done that and seen towns literally full of backpackers. If you imagine that you are going off into the unknown, completely on your own out there you can forget it. This is simply not the case.
You couldn’t make this up!
I have a chum who went to get away from it all to Ulan Bator in
Outer Mongolia and found that the place was full of backpackers. I met someone from the next village to mine when I was half-way up a mountain in Whistler, British Columbia, and my hairdresser bumped into one of his customers in a Souk in Beirut in the Lebanon. The world has become a very much smaller place and there has never been a cheaper time to travel, it’s not only budgies that go cheep!
No time like the Present
Seriously with the increase in demand, prices for flights and travel in general are coming down the whole time and it has never been cheaper to travel. As a result of this increased demand it has also never been easier to travel, with youth travel companies, help the aged travel companies (I just made that one up), tour operators, coach routes and even internet cafes everywhere, all making it easier for everyone to JUST GO, or as Nike say JUST DO IT.
If you stagger off the plane in Sydney you will find that you have landed in the number one destination for backpackers. You will be surrounded by them – hundreds of them, all doing exactly the same as you. You will find that there are buses continuously running up and down the coast from Sydney to Cairns. You don’t even have to thumb it, just get on a bus and get off at the next town where you will be met by a representative who has a free mini bus to take you to the hostel that someone on the plane told you about. Australian joke “How do you know which is the plane that has come from Heathrow? – It’s the jet that is still whining after the pilot has switched the engines off”.
When you are ready to move on, the rep with the mini bus will take you to the bus station to jump on yet another bus to take you to the next town where you will be met by another rep with another mini bus to take you to another recommended hostel. It’s tough out there in the bush – Have you ridden in those mini buses?
I feel another anecdote coming on – My wife and I were staying in a small town called Zakapane in Poland at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and decided to make our own way up to the starting point of a locally renowned, 8 kilometre uphill trek through the forests to a restaurant with stunning views.
Following a locals’ advice who told us, when he discovered that we intended to walk the route, that it was a “damn long vay” – Under his guidance we duly found a mini bus which ran from the town centre to our setting off point – the 16 seater mini bus gradually filled up and then the courier/rep/conductor walked up the aisle to the back of the bus carrying wooden planks which he placed under the bottoms of those seated passengers, across the aisle and hey presto! Eight more seats for eight extra passengers.
As we lurched along in our now 24 seater mini bus the said courier/rep/conductor made sure that we were aware that the forest we were about to trek through, was the home of some of Poland’s much loved black bears and wild boar and that in this enlightened age they were protected by new and rigid laws. – I know that his English was rather broken unlike my Polish which is totally non-existent – but I believe the message he tried to get across was that Bear and Boar are protected – rubber-necking tourists were not. We were not to protect ourselves if we were attacked by wild animals.
All you have to do is Find A Man Who Does
I digress – All over the world not just Australia there is a well –trodden backpacker trail and everyone you meet will be on it or have been on it. Every time that you meet up with someone you will find yourself swapping traveller’s tales and ideas over a beer or two. Have a look at www.backpackeurope.com which is the brainchild of an American and veteran backpacker Kaaryn Hendrickson, this site is a gem for any young person about to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe.
Even before you leave, the best advice comes from someone who has already done it. They will have learned the hard way, so talk to your friends and acquaintances who have hit the road or the volunteer trail abroad. Make use of the internet to locate travellers who have gone before. You could even find a pub in Earls Court and chat to a few Aussies going walkabout. You then must sit back and cherry-pick all the good and bad advice and try to make sense of what makes sense to you. You will have to filter advice based on prejudice on one hand and bravado on the other. All of the advice in the world is useless unless you make a personal approach to every particular situation.
Thanks for listening to Part One I’m stopping for a short R & R and hopefully I’ll see you on the flip side
In today’s podcast I recall how Great Britain coped without the rest of Europe when our backs were really against the wall, I have called it There’s no waste where there’s pigs
that was one of my mother’s much used expressions
With my interest and hope of Great Britain leaving the European Union I’ve been chatting to friends and relations, not I would add, trying to influence them in any way. That statement will cause some disbelief among friends on the social media, but it’s true. I have no idea how my family are going to vote in the forthcoming referendum.
I’m first to admit that I’m quite a political animal with leanings to the right of Margaret Thatcher and next to Attila the Hun and on top of that I have never agreed with anything the European Union stands for. As a writer I use the social media as a tool to express my views which I am happy to do and am first to admit they are strong views.
At home however although I make no secret of either my politics or my religion I also believe they are personal and have never attempted to evangelise either. This could hark back to my time at sea when both subjects were Taboo. In a confined space of a ship, a shipmate was just that and everyone’s personal space was sacrosanct. I can still hear a much travelled Master at Arms saying “If yer can’t stand the smell of yer shipmates’ breff yer shoon’t a joined”. Hence no preaching or tub thumping at home!
Not sure what that digression was about! As I was saying, chatting to my daughter and grandson in particular, about my memories of when Great Britain – I like that, much better than the UK – coped in WWII when we really were on our own. Being of my great age and probably sounding like Del Boy’s Uncle Albert “Djoorin tha wawar!” I began chatting on how we, and in particular my mother coped with the shortages of everything and food in particular.
Ma was a fearsome, strong minded, independent woman and the daughter of a coal miner and brought up in Edwardian times in a Durham pit village. My Pa was a career airman in the RAF, having joined the Royal Flying Corps as a boy cook and a Warrant Officer when WWII broke out. We had left a life in married quarters and settled in a delightful Home Counties village called Woburn Sands which is on the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. As a service wife Ma was quite used to her husband being away for long periods, so she didn’t suffer the sudden trauma of being abandoned when their spouses were called up to serve King and Country and having to cope alone with their children and keep house and home together.
It may have been less traumatic for Ma but having to feed and clothe my elder sister and me when everything that could be, was rationed and if it wasn’t, it was either unobtainable or in short supply was difficult and then just to stop us from getting too soft in our idyllic surrounding the government decided to pressurise us into taking in a Jewish family from the bombing in London consisting of a mother and her two daughters. Their home had been reduced to rubble while they were in the shelter of an underground station. Thank goodness they were an absolutely lovely family but I’m sure you can imagine the total upheaval it brought to our existence.
When I hear the likes of Bob Geldof and the bleeding heart brigade of politicians and actors pontificating about welcoming Muslim Refugees into their homes, I cannot wait for a single one of them to fulfil their promises, their Libtard – ‘promise much and perform little’, fantasy world.
Anyway I digress again. I look back on that time and how my mother decided that no matter how Adolph Hitler aided and abetted by our own politicians and their red tape interfered, we would survive and my goodness we survived. I can only speak for my mother and she is long dead and anyway the statute of limitations must have long expired for mother and all her friends who saw it their duty to get round the restrictions placed on their welfare.
We had a large garden so mother became a bricklayer; don’t ask where the bricks appeared from but Marston Valley Brick Company made them some 7 miles away. She built a fine Pig Sty and two female piglets appeared to become our breeding sows as a way to supplement our meat ration. Our evacuees’ mother turned to and built a chicken run and six pullets and a cockerel appeared. Egg production was the plan, mainly to feed us as eggs were a rationed commodity. Again mother had a cunning plan. We were able to exchange one’s egg ration for an allowance of chicken feed. Chickens were killed for food as soon as they stopped laying eggs and I soon became quite adept at wringing their necks and plucking out the feathers.
Somewhere in my mother’s plan and the reason we added a cockerel to our menagerie right from the start was that she intended to breed her own replacement flock of chickens. Hence the need for a cockerel to fertilise the eggs and thus all of our eggs were fertile. She had read a book somewhere about a family who made their own incubator, I think it was a novel rather than a DIY book but we subsequently had a tea chest cut down and fitted with a couple of electric light bulbs and we eventually supplied ourselves and friends and neighbours with a constant supply of little yellow day old chicks.
It was probably after the war that I discovered that the maker of rules and regulations to put a spoke in mothers’ plans wasn’t called “The Bloody Ministry of Food”, anyway we had started with two prospective breeding sows and mother could only have a licence to keep one. So a second Pig Sty was built on our Allotment plot and whenever an inspector called or someone from the local Pig Club paid a visit their inspections were rotated between the one in the back garden and the other in the Allotment. The licensing was all to do with the supplies of pig food and how much meat ration had been surrendered. For centuries, gardeners and smallholders had kept poultry and the odd pig or two for their own house use. The powers that be recognised that come what may that such practice would continue, so they encouraged groups of people to form Pig Clubs that were allowed legally to buy, feed and look after pigs.
Pigs were normally fed on scraps from homes, cafes, bakeries and anything edible that came to hand. Clubs were allowed to purchase legally small amounts of corn or feed to supplement this meagre diet. You will not believe the number of sacks of meal that ‘fell off the wagon’. Of course this was years before Combine Harvesters became common use and the corn was cut very inefficiently with rotary cutters and stacked in sheaths to dry out before carting them to the threshing drum. Literally hundredweights of ripe corn seeds spilled and were left on the fields to waste. Much to the delight of the wild bird population and the local livestock owners who were given permission to ‘glean’. My fearsome mother recruited gangs of holidaying schoolchildren as ‘gleaners’ and in about two weeks at the end of harvest our two barns and the allotment shed were filled with sacks of free grain.
Pigs and piglets are greedy animals and feeding has to be constant and never stops. Bins were placed at certain spots around the village for the reception of kitchen waste which was collected by the council’s lorry driver. The stuff was sorted and sold to poultry and pig keepers. We sometimes beat the council lorry and sorted out the good stuff. If you like, cutting out the middle man!
We acquired a two wheeled barrow and as we were surrounded by the Duke of Bedford’s forests and had carte blanche permission to collect firewood most of our fuel was logs long before wood burning stoves became fashionable. I can remember on a couple of occasions collecting literally hundredweights of acorns and sometime sweet chestnuts in that barrow to feed the pigs on. They loved them, shells and all, so we not only had well fed pigs we had happy pigs. As the war progressed we used to get pig swill delivered that was collected from sources in London. This food waste was called “Tottenham Pudding” which we assumed was its source, although something at the back of my mind has me remembering that it was sourced in Edmonton, wherever that is. No matter it was dreadful smelly stuff but the pigs loved it.
Our pigs, both the legal ones and the supplementary ones thrived on the diet provided by my mother. Each sow produced around ten piglets which were fattened for slaughter in around 12 to 16 weeks. There was a big day when Ma’s legal pigs were slaughters through the pig club. Half of the carcasses were sold (for a pittance as Ma said) to the Government, to help with rationing and the remainder was divided between Club members, as either pork or bacon. When the other member slaughtered their animal we also were given our share.
Perhaps a month later, perhaps ten or so of our illegal porkers that had also been fattened for slaughter, this time for a real red letter day when a certain butcher with the help of a long retired slaughter man and perhaps a couple of Italian prisoners of war, collected our harvest in a large lorry. I have no real recollection of the black-market distribution but on those occasions we had whole smoked hams hanging in our barn, legs of pork, sides of bacon, shoulders of pork, pork tenderloin, rib chops, loin chops and of course sausages and black pudding. We of course had no refrigerators in those days but our tame butcher and a back-up from our tame fishmonger did and they were very well rewarded to house our household meat supply.
Not just friends and neighbours received benefits from mother’s allotment, the butcher and fishmonger could only look after so much of our prime cuts and anything that we couldn’t smoke in the form of ham or bacon was distributed that day. I remember our local Bobby always had a roasting leg joint together with some kidneys and liver. Possibly to salve mother’s conscience our Vicar, the Roman Catholic Priest and the Methodist Minister were all beneficiaries and no-one knew of the other recipient; but that was the way of the black market trade. It wasn’t called that then, it was just being neighbourly.
Well that’s the tale of our pigs and poultry, as the war progressed mother acquired two nanny goats and a billy goat. But that’s another story and I’m keeping it in my locker for another day.
I think the funniest memory was of our evacuees, they were orthodox Jews (I used to get pocket money for chopping sticks and lighting their fire on Shabbat which is observed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, oy vey!) but needs must when the devil drives and Momma Levitt decided that rules could be bent for the duration. They enjoyed pork every bit as we did, she told a white lie to her girls namely that it was chicken in case they let it slip to their father when he visited. But they discovered a real fondness for lovely roast crackling.
In this digital age I am sure that my Mother would have been a leading campaigner against rationing and the Ministry of Food in particular. There is no doubt that it was for propaganda purposes, making certain that the British public felt that they were doing their bit every much as the boys on the front. The Ministry of Food employed thousands of civilians, jobsworths every one. As it was, it was sheer luck that Mother wasn’t arrested for doing her bit for the war effort.
Every single part of the pig can be eaten except for the squeal and as Mother often said “There’s no waste where there’s pigs”. These days I would add, that it keeps Muslims away.