Visiting Brian

Yesterday I traveled to Hastings with an old friend to visit Brian, another old friend now in a care home in St Leonards-on-Sea (the ‘posh’ part of Hastings).

John and Alice were waiting for us at the station in a car to take us to the care home. John being the nephew of Brian’s life-partner Noel, who died in 2005, and Alice being his fiancee. None of us had met Alice before, John having found romance in his mid-60s (Alice seems a nice woman, considerably younger than John.)

Brian, who suffers from dementia, recognized us all (except Alice of course who he’d never met before) and was so happy and pleased to see us. He hadn’t seen Tom, the friend I traveled down with from London, for many years. They are two of the old friends of my own life-partner, George, who are still alive. George died in 1991.

There was much talk of old times when Brian, Tom, George and a whole host of other gay men were ‘on the game’ in London. It was another world, one I was never familiar with, when loads of gay men from the provinces, or indeed from the London suburbs, congregated in the West End and were more or less forced into male prostitution.

In those days, the 1950s and early 1960s, homosexuality was illegal, and if landlords found out you were gay you were frequently evicted. Without a fixed abode it was almost impossible to get a job, or to get National Assistance (unemployment benefit), so there was little alternative but to beg, steal or go on the game.

There were times George and others were gainfully employed and had places to live, but inevitably they’d eventually get evicted when their landlords or landladies suspected they were gay. Once into prostitution it became a way of life, mixing with others on the game from both sexes, and those in between. Many were cross-dressers or had gone thru a sex-change.

There was much talk of this yesterday, people I didn’t know. Effeminate males or male-to-female sex-changed individuals with names like Miss Thornton, Robina and Kay. Not to mention Red Riding Hood who was photographed in a home for the mentally disturbed in the grounds with a bald head and a mini-skirt.

We couldn’t locate this particular photo yesterday, presumably chucked out with much junk collected over the decades in Brian and Noel’s old flat when the house clearers came in recently, the flat now handed back to the landlord. We looked thru some photo albums of Brian’s though with many pictures of past times.

We posed for some photos with Brian, possibly the last time we’ll have an opportunity to do this, I took one from his window with its view of the sea, and also two of the old house near Hastings station where their flat (actually a maisonette on two floors) was located. This had been my home-away-from-home for nearly 40 years, yet I had never photographed the outside before. So many happy memories of this place for me, I thought I’d better capture it on film (I haven’t gone digital) before it is changed beyond recognition or demolished and redeveloped like some of the buildings which once stood opposite.

A happy day, which must have cheered Brian up a lot. His memory seemed pretty good, and he was making saucy remarks much like the Brian of old. Alice seemed intrigued by this colorful new character, well new to her anyway.

I shall visit Brian again soon after his 76th birthday in June when I shall be down that way again for a rock’n’roll Weekender along the coast at Camber Sands.

Time marches on. All the gay couples and characters we knew and who came to our many parties now just memories. Freda who did cabarets in drag at our parties (and other places), the life-partners of myself, Tom, Brian and another old friend Frank all passed to Spirit. All of these partnerships lasted many decades until death parted us.

As Tom remarked on the journey home, which one of us will be next for the care home? A depressing thought perhaps, but true of many gay men and childless individuals whose partners have died or who never had a life-partner. I just hope, if we do end up in one of these places, it will be as good as Brian’s which has friendly staff and a pleasant environment.

One memory sticks in my mind, and we recalled it yesterday – Brian saying: ‘fancy you remembering that!’ Not that long ago, about 10 years or so. Brian, then in his mid-60s I guess, gray hair dyed blond, wearing a bright yellow shirt and scarlet shorts, walking with me along the promenade at Hastings. Passing the beer garden by the White Rock Theater bar, a man looked over the railings at Brian and said cheekily: ‘I’m seeing it, but I don’t believe it!’ Brian replying in his usual manner: ‘Well I’m fucking here dear, so you better believe it!’

The colorful adjective was used several times by Brian yesterday, each time he apologizing to Alice for his language. She didn’t seem to mind, and was rather amused at this larger than life character. Old queens like Brian certainly brighten up places like that. They should perhaps have ones for gay men where they can all reminisce and camp it up together.

War is no solution

War has been described in various ways. Barbaric would be the most apt description; a complete breakdown of humane and civilized behavior.

It has also, I believe,  been described as a continuation of politics by other means, and a way of solving international disputes when all else has failed. I would dispute these last two descriptions, and supplement: a way of making a lot of people very rich, shoring up the unstable capitalist system, culling people in an overpopulated world and of course gaining access to new lands and resources (i.e. imperialism, colonialism or neo-colonialism.) It also seems to actually excite certain people who actually enjoy playing war games and destroying things.

Looking at all the wars thruout history, I honestly can’t see that any have solved anything. They might have eliminated one problem, but they then create more. Basically all wars are a means of one country or group of countries exerting power over others. A way, in other words, of widening countries’ empires, spheres of influence or access to mineral and other resources.

Just take the big 20th Century wars for example. The First World War was clearly a traditional imperialist one involving the Kaiser of Germany and his kinfolk in the British Royal family seeking to widen or hold on to their respective empires or spheres of influence. Other nations joined in of course. The defeat of Germany led to the Treaty of Versailles which imposed reparation fees and re-drew German borders in favor of its neighbors.

This Victors’ Treaty led directly to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and to the Second World War. So much for the so-called ‘war to end wars’ as the First World War was described at the time; it actually directly created the most devastating war in human history to date.

‘Ah but the Second World War was a just war; it defeated Nazism’ people cry. Well as has just been seen, there would have been no Nazi Germany had it not been for the First World War and the unfair conditions imposed upon Germany. That’s the first point.

Secondly, Nazi Germany was only following in the footsteps of other brutal empires in the past, such as the British Empire for instance. Never let it be forgotten that the British invented the concentration camp, and executed ‘inferior races’ en masse if they opposed or resisted British rule.

Thirdly, Britain’s reason for going to war with Germany in the first place proved to be hollow. Czechoslovakia and Poland had both been annexed by Germany, and the latter was the pretext for the outbreak of war in September 1939. Six years later at the end of the War far from regaining their freedom, Czechoslovakia, Poland and a lot of other Eastern and Central European countries were handed over lock, stock and barrel to the dictator Joseph Stalin, then an ally of Britain and the USA.

This was agreed at various treaties between the Allied powers at Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam, etc. As in all wars, the victors carved up the spoils between them. The Soviet Red Army was already in occupation of most of Eastern and Central Europe at the end of the Second World War, and was not going to give up these newly acquired ‘satellite states’ as they became known in the West. It more than anything wanted a buffer zone of friendly client states in case Germany or some other power tried to invade the Soviet Union again. It also wanted to impose its own political system on its neighbors, rather than have capitalist states right on its doorstep again.

The USA and UK had similar aspirations. So two ‘spheres of influence’ were created in Europe. Nominally independent states became allied, thru NATO and the Warsaw Pact, to eiither the USA or the USSR. Germany was again divided and lost territory to neighboring countries, and Austria was also initially divided, but later the Soviets marched out on condition it remained neutral.

The Second World War thus led directly to the Cold War, the nuclear arms race between the USSR and USA, the division of Europe between East and West, and of course to the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel on Palestinian soil and all the wars, terrorism and trouble that has caused.

The six million or more Jews, gipsies, homosexuals, Communists, mentally and physically handicapped people and others who perished  in the Nazi concentration camps are cited as justification for the War, but the Final Solution was a direct result of the War and was only made possible by the War.

Hitler said long before war broke out, that if started the Jews would be punished. Even if he hadn’t said this, it is perfectly obvious that atrocities of the kind that took place in Nazi Germany – the gas chambers and all the rest of it – are made much more possible and likely in the atmosphere of all-out war. With soldiers and civilians being killed every day nobody had much time to worry what was happening to these various minorities in the camps.

Would we in Britain have known, and would many have cared anyway, what was happening to the German and other foreign nationals rounded up and incarcerated for the duration of the War in the UK? Had we gassed them, would Britons have been up in arms when they were more concerned about the nightly bombing raids on our cities? Would we have even known or bothered to find out about what went on in the incarceration camps?

Had the Allies got rid of Hitler by other means, had they accepted en masse the Jewish and other refugees in the 1930s, perhaps setting up a separate state for them in the vast, underpopulated areas of countries like the USA, the USSR and Australia (not in the tinderbox overpopulated Arab Middle East), then not only would the Holocaust have been prevented, but so would the Second World War and its consequences.

I see the Second World War as yet another imperialist one, whereby the rival empires of Nazi Germany, Hirohito’s Japan, Mussolini’s Italy, Brtain, the USA and Stalin’s Soviet Union all fought over territory principally. In the end the new empires were established, and most countries came under the domination, if not direct rule, of the two biggest super-power victors of the Second World War, the USA and the USSR. The concentration camp victims, the bombing victims on both sides (including those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atom bombs were dropped), and the ‘cannon fodder’ (soldiers of both sides) were just casualties of yet another imperialist war which created as many or more problems than it ‘solved’.

There has to be found another way of dealing with dictators, of settling international disputes, of preventing genocide and torture other than all-out war which only really succeeds in profiting the arms manufacturers and dividing the spoils of the war among the victors, which in effect means the rulers of the victorious countries. Nobody actually wins wars except this relatively small ruling clique of politicians, arms manufacturers and other big businesses which gain access to mineral and other resources. The ordinary people of all countries lose heavily in all wars, not least in the civilian and military casualties which barely affect the ruling elite safe in their bunkers directing the mayhem.

The only long-term solution is some sort of permanent world security force under the auspices of the United Nations. This security force needs to replace national armed forces, and be stationed permanently in all countries. National sovereignty must take second place to world peace and the authority of the United Nations General Assembly, or to a confederal world government if that can ever be established.

I’m sure the independent kingdoms of England would have held up their hands in horror if told that the only way to stop the constant wars between them was a united England under one government, along with effective policing. Clearly, though, this is the way the world had to go and is in fact going slowly but surely. The European Union, while by no means perfect, is an example of nation states coming together for their common interests.

Eventually, or ultimately, the EU and similar groupings of countries must develop into fully federal entities, and they in turn must be policed and come under the overall authority of a confederal world government.

Safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that the whole system is democratic, and that powers are devolved down to national and regional levels. The United States is a pretty good example, where the Federal government in Washington DC has limited but effective powers, and the individual states of the Union retain a State legislature and a great deal of autonomy.

A new war between the States is now unthinkable. The same should be true of Europe, and one day, of the world if this federal/confederal approach is adopted.

Otherwise wars will continue indefinitely, and with the weapons now available we could easily destroy our planet and make it permanently uninhabitable.

Annie Nanji Recordings

A Swedish woman who after her death talked regularly with her husband, born in India but who later moved to Sweden, over a period of 13 years from 1970 to 1983 via Direct Voice medium Leslie Flint. Actually Annie has more of a French accent, and I believe mentions relatives in France, so it may just be that the couple lived in Sweden.

Listen for yourself, it is really quite remarkable, and like the modern ‘Diana’ voice messages, it is a person no longer living speaking very naturally from the Spirit world about all sorts of things – such as Annie’s husband putting the bed-covers on the wrong way round, or advising him he should retire in a year or so and do some writing, not sit around the house listening to music all the time. She also tells him he has a hole in his trouser pocket, and she wishes she was there to mend it for him but that he does his best.

All this is in the second message, which is much, much clearer than the first when Annie is not used to speaking via Direct Voice. Mickey can also be heard, a Cockney lad on the Other Side who helps Spirits communicate.

The Annie Nanji recordings can be heard here, and it’s probably best to start with the second message as in the first Annie is almost inaudible and speaking in a whisper until well into the recording:

Official OAP

Last Saturday I had my 65th birthday anniversary, so I’m now officially what in UK is known as an OAP, or Old Age Pensioner entitled to a State Pension.

I took early retirement nearly three years ago to look after my mother, whose 95 and lives nearby in sheltered accommodation. I often wonder who’ll look after me and others like me who have no children or partners if I get unable to do things for myself. Presumably carers will be needed, or like my friend Brian whose gay life-partner died a few years ago, I may end up in a care home.

But at the moment I’m still very active, though don’t have the energy/enthusiasm I had for certain things a few years ago. None of us who reach retirement age can be sure how much of an active life lies ahead, but I certainly seem to keep busy and wonder how I ever fitted in work, even though it was a part-time job.

My mother and I have been going to various clubs, but we’ve dropped the luncheon club twice a week and a Drama Group for senior citizens may or may not be continuing after about July, depending on whether a new coach takes over.

I also belong to a Senior Service group which has outings/meals, etc. twice a month, a Friday club which includes a lunch and other activities, a group of us have organized Thursday outings for those who are retired or not working, I go with a friend to the cinema and a meal about once a fortnight, and we have meet-ups in a pub with a meal in a restaurant afterwards once a month, plus a few gigs and parties with often live bands.

I certainly don’t regret retiring since the last job I did was the most boring one you could imagine, isolated in a Reception area and hardly seeing anybody. I didn’t even get a lunch-break, so little opportunity to socialize either.

And at the annual Christmas lunch in a restaurant/afternoon in the pub we on Reception were expected to rush back to work while most of the others got plastered all afternoon and into the evening.  No wonder I hated the job, which hardly used my keyboard skills, and was glad to retire.

I feel far more useful in retirement than I ever did those last few years at work.  No more shouting at visitors who came in during the lunch hour without appointments, surprised that people they hoped to see were out at lunch. No more losing my temper and asking visitors/telephone callers if they expected me to wave a wand and make people appear out of thin air! Or telling them I’d had no training for the job, and was just dumped in Reception with no people skills, and was also hard of hearing so often unable to hear visitors thru the bullet-proof glass with inadequate microphones and speakers. Often I was quite oblivious to visitors in Reception, my head buried in my computer screen unable to hear them.  At least my old department head gave me a nice coaster for my morning coffee which read: ‘Do I LOOK like a people person?’ Ha ha! I had no patience or skills for dealing with people on Reception and the Switchboard; any ‘people skills’ I do have lie elsewhere, though patience and temper control is not one of my best attributes. Victor Meldrew/Basil Fawlty syndrome!

Funniest visitor was a drunk who wandered in from Rosebery Avenue demanding to know why Lord Rosebery hadn’t left him any money. I just sat there not knowing what to say to him, quite unable to handle the situation. Eventually my colleague and my department head came to my rescue and ushered him out into the street. As I say, I had no natural aptitude or training to deal with such awkward situations.

(Jennie, I hope you find this blog more readable – not too long!)


Hot on the heels of the mathematical theories of British scientist Ronald Pearson which state that all living things survive death and that the conscious i-ther permeates the universe or multiverse, comes the quantum physics theory of Biocentrism developed by American scientist Robert Lanza which says much the same thing: that the Universe and everything we perceive around us is a creation of consciousness, the prime force behind the Universe.

This is all based on quantum physics which has proved that matter is affected by the observer. Indeed, according to Lanza, the particles which make up matter only exist as probability waves unless there is a conscious observer. This is proved by the double-slit experiment whereby photons are passed thru a single slit, but when not observed the photon particles become waves and go thru both slits.

Further experiments along these lines with a beam splitter seem to suggest that past events can be altered.

According to scientists like Lanza, and indeed Einstein, Time is not an absolute. Indeed Lanza’s theory suggests that Time and Space are illusions created by consciousness. Indeed all solid matter is an illusion, we know that from the science we are familiar with, since nothing is solid but made up of sub-atomic particles with huge spaces in between them. Now it seems these particles only exist when being consciously observed. If not consciously observed they are, at best, waves of probability.

All this ties in perfectly with what Spiritualists, Survivalists and mystics have been saying for years: that Mind (or Spirit) is the prime force behind everything, and that all sorts of environments can be and are created simply by the power of thought. In the after-life dimensions this is very apparent, as you just have to think about something and it is created. In our own Universe it is not so obvious, but also appears to be the truth, since the building blocks of all matter only exist when being consciously observed, suggesting consciousness converts probability waves into the sub-atomic particles which form matter.

This brings us, inevitably, to the scientific concept of the Big Bang as the origin of our Universe, and the religious concept of God/Allah or whatever as the origin of the Universe and everything in it.

The problem with both concepts is that they, in fact, explain nothing about the origins of the Universe. What happened a millisecond BEFORE the Big Bang, and where did all the matter come from which was dispersed in the Big Bang? As for ‘God’, where did it come from, and what exactly is it anyway? Certainly not a man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud.

The new theories of Lanza, Pearson and others suggest that the prime force or energy behind everything we perceive is consciousness. This is what creates order and matter itself. It also creates the illusion of Space and Time. Outside of Space and Time there can be no beginning and no end, everything is eternal which means it exists outside of Space and Time. Einstein recognized this when he said that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. The implication of this statement by perhaps the greatest scientist of the 20th Century is that everything coexists outside of Time, so could be said to be eternal with no beginning or end.

Also, science recognizes that energy cannot be destroyed. It can be converted into matter, but it cannot be destroyed. What, then, happens to the energy which animates our bodies? Scientists still don’t understand what this is, but it is becoming very apparent that the living brain is not the source of consciousness but rather a kind of radio receiver which controls the physical body. Consciousness or Mind exists separately from the body, as has been proved by many cases of out-of-the-body, remote viewing and near-death experiences where physical objects, conversations, etc. are seen and heard remotely from the body, without the use of physical eyes or ears, and in the case of near-death experiences, when the physical brain is clinically dead and flatlining.

It is becoming quite obvious to those who study the evidence that Consciousness or Mind is the prime force or energy behind everything. Some would call it ‘God’/’Allah’/’Jehovah’, some ‘Spirit’/’The Great Spirit’, scientist Ronald Pearson calls it the i-ther, scientist Robert Lanza simply calls it Consciousness without giving it a specific name.

If it creates matter by converting waves of probability into sub-atomic particles, then clearly Consciousness cannot originate or be created by a physical brain made up of sub-atomic particles which couldn’t even exist if they weren’t already being consciously observed. The classic ‘chicken and egg’ enigma.

So scientists are on the way to solving the mystery of the origin of Life and the Universe/multiverse (for there are many dimensions/planes of existence existing alongside the physical Universe we are most familar with). Einstein searched for a unified field theory to explain everything, and scientists are still searching for it. 

There are so many unanswered questions: why is the Universe still expanding? Why is over 90% of the matter in the Universe unobservable (described as Dark Matter because scientists know it must exist)?  Why is the sub-atomic universe of quantum mechanics so weird, with particles which revert to waves of probability when not being consciously observed, and when they do exist they can be in two or more places at the same time, maybe many miles apart?

All these unanswered questions point to Time, Space and Matter being illusions created by Consciousness or Mind. It seems that science is now coming very close to the religious concept of ‘God’ and that Consciousness must exist separately from matter, and indeed that matter cannot exist without Consciousness. Whether you define this prime force of Consciousness as ‘God’, the i-ther, Spirit or some form of energy is really just playing with words. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that this Consciousness, Mind or Thought Energy is the prime force behind everything, the Creator of matter itself.

We are essentially Consciousness, and mystics/Spiritualists/Survivalists all say everything is inter-connected and really One. If Time, Space and Matter are all illusions created by this Consciousness, as the latest scientific theories suggest, then we must all surely be One – inter-connected as part of the prime Consciousness behind everything.

Characters at work

I thought I’d do a light-hearted blog about some of the characters I’ve worked with over the decades. My first job in the Work Study Office of the Alcuin Press, Welwyn Garden City from 1961-1962 brought me in touch with the Father of the Chapel. ‘Oh, they must be very religious,’ I thought, till I discovered in the printing trade this is what they call the shop steward of the Union.

Len Poulter worked there, and was always ribbing me about the ban-the-bomb badge I wore. For some reason he completely ignored a girl in the same office who was a Communist, her father also being a member of the party. Making for lively discussion there was also a Roman Catholic named John and a Jehovah’s Witness in the office. Most of the heated discussions took place between these last two, such as whether JC was crucified on a Cross or a Tree.

I moved on to the head office of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmanent) in Carthusian St, London EC1 (later we moved to Gray’s Inn Road) where a whole host of characters were to come into my life.

There was David who worked with Jimpy (another character) in the sales department. David greeted everyone who came in to this department, be they customer or staff, with: ‘Greetings comrade!’ Jimpy had rigged up an alarm to make sure nobody made off with ban-the-bomb badges, etc. – it consisted of a tin can on a piece of string attached to the door.

Peggy Duff, the Organizing Secretary, chain-smoked all day and rushed around like a demented being organizing the Aldermaston March and other protests, screaming: ‘Get me the Canon on the phone’ (Canon Collins, CND Chairperson) or slagging off George Clark (a Committee of 100 member who was also a character and a thorn in some people’s sides, along with fellow Committee off 100 member Peter Cadogan. These two were loose cannons in the movement).

Canon Collins was a figure-head for the movement after Bertrand Russell resigned as its only President to form the direct action Committee of 100. The Canon would visit the office at Christmas, and staff stood round awkardly with a drink wondering what to say, so someone suggested a song. Since the staff consisted of Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and a lot of atheists and agnostics, Christmas carols were off the agenda. We finally thought of a song we could all sing with gusto, and the Canon led us in a vigorous rendition of ‘The Red Flag’. This Leftie canon of St Paul’s Cathedral annoyed a lot of people by voting for Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 election, justifying voting for the most rightwing Tory Prime Minister ever by saying it was time a woman was given a chance. We sympathized with his motives, but not the woman and Party he voted for. The Canon died soon after, so never suffered the full consequences of his vote. Just helped to  f***k things up for the rest of us.

Poor young Dorothy, the receptionist/switchboard operator, struggled in an hour late most mornings having come all around the Circle Line from Victoria, and then we acquired from the Canon’s Christian Action office a Tanganyikan named Dadu, whom we called ‘David’, who was a Muslim till he fasted at Ramadan, said it nearly killed him and converted to atheistic Maoism. David refused to do any work, and passed it all on to me saying I knew English better than he did. He ran down everything in the country, such as Buckingham Palace which he said didn’t even compare with the splendor of buildings back home in Dar-Es-Salaam.

David insulted a dedicated voluntary worker called Joan Stavenhagen, saying she was ‘a bourgeois housewife’ and ought to get a proper job. In the nearby cafe, Silvios, one day he asked Joan and Helen, both happily married to men, how lesbians make love.

When Queen Frederika of Greece paid a State visit to London the nuclear disarmament movement, both CND and the Committee of 100, organized protests because she was a fascist, ex-member of the Hitler youth, and the rightwing Greek government had recently murdered a leftwing MP, Lambrakis, who had been on an Aldermaston March. David, however, claimed it was he who started the booing of not just Frederika but Queen Elizabeth II outside Claridges. The newspapers were full of it the next day: ‘Queen Booed’.  David was unrepentant.

He was adept at getting this sort of publicity, and organized a protest of his own because Woolworths were segregating their dining rooms. He busied himself making placards and then got me, a Kenyan and a Sikh who worked in the office to go with him to Oxford Street in the lunch hour and picket Woolworths. A reporter from the Daily Telegraph saw this tiny protest, and got out of his car to ask David what it was all about. David told him, and claimed hundreds more were waiting to join the picket.

Not only was the Woolworths who segregated their dining room in Alabama rather than Oxford Street, London, but there was nobody else involved in the protest. David said he had friends at an African club nearby who would have said they were ready to join the protest if the Daily Telegraph reporter had asked to see the reserve troops. Next day a full column appeared on the front page about this non-existent campaign to boycott Woolworths.

Next David ordered some posters saying this year’s Aldermaston March was being organized by Afro-Asian CND. This was another organization which didn’t really exist except in David’s vivid imagination. It consisted of three people who worked in the office – David, Duncan the Kenyan, and Gurmukh the Sikh. Only David was actively involved, mainly in ordering these posters. Peggy Duff was furious when she saw one of these posters, but David calmly pointed out the microscopic lettering beneath the legend ‘Organized by Afro-Asian CND’ which read: ‘in conjunction with CND’. In actual fact, of course, David had nothing whatsoever to do with the organization of the March, nor did the non-existent ‘Afro-Asian CND’.

On another occasion David noticed Union flags flying from public buildings, I forget the exact occasion, possibly the Queen’s official birthday. The way he asked about them was: ‘Why do they fly these rags today?’ He then proceeded to make a flag of his own out of a white CND symbol on a black background and stick it out of the window in defiance.

One day David came into the office and gravely announced to Jessie Goodchild, the office manager, that his sister was seriously ill and dying in Switzerland. Naturally she was very sympathetic and granted him compassionate leave. Weeks later someone rang up and asked for David’s job. Jessie explained that David had not left, but was visiting his dying sister in Switzerland. ‘Oh no,’ the caller replied,’He’s working at the East African Embassy, and said I could have his old job as he doesn’t want it anymore.’

Jessie was furious. There was no dying sister in Switzerland, David just wanted to keep his options open in case the Embassy job didn’t work out. Duncan went to visit him there, and said he had caused chaos the very first day. He walked into his office and demanded a picture of the Queen be taken down, and threw the desk Bible into the wastepaper bin. They didn’t suffer him long, and next thing I knew Duncan said David was offering a free ticket to Peking (now Beijing) and would I like it. I said I’d be interested if it was a return ticket, but that wasn’t on offer. We later heard that David had taken advantage of the free ticket himself, and was working for Radio Peking broadcasting Maoist propaganda to East Africa.

There were numerous characters in CND. Malvin Side, a sweet little old lady who was on all demonstrations, and who came in with a little donation but then wasted everybody’s time by chatting all afternoon. I recorded one of her visits once and played it back to my mother. All she heard was Mrs Side complaining of everything that was wrong in the country and the world and then adding: ‘And it’s all that dreadful Harold Wilson’s fault!’.

She came into the office one day looking ill, telling us all to meet in Trafalgar Square the next weekend to confront the fascists. It turned out Mrs Side had a fractured skull from when a marble clock fell on her from a mantelpiece, and she had been advised to rest. No matter what we told her, she was determined to go to Trafalgar Square and heckle the National Front cracked skull or no fractured skull. She was last heard of selling ‘Sanity’ the CND newspaper in a care home where she then resided.

Little Lucy Behenna was another voluntary worker, very quiet and timid, a Quaker. David Wickes, my boss, asked her if she was canvassing for the Labour Party in the General Election. ‘Oh no, I’m not allowed to,’ Lucy said timidly. ‘Not allowed to? Why ever not?’ asked David. ‘Well I’m CP,’ whispered Lucy. She was a Quaker but also a member of the Communist Party.

David was little more use to the Labour Party. Yes, he went out and canvassed for them, but on Election day voted Communist. (There was a surplus of ‘Davids’ working in CND Head Office over the years. David, Jimpy’s assistant, who didn’t stay long after I arrived. Dadu, known as David, the Maoist Tanganyikan. David Wickes, a rotund aging accountant and my boss for many years. Also David Bolton, editor of CND’s newspaper ‘Sanity’.)

Gertrude Minnion was another voluntary worker whose son, John, was a leading light in West Midlands CND.  Mrs Minnion was a Labour Party member, born in Saskatchewan, Canada. She hated anything to do with the USA with a vengeance, and swore Coca-Cola was a CIA plot to rot the world’s stomachs. She flew into a fury if I bought Maryland Cookies to go with our tea, saying we should have English biscuits. She was convinced American singers that I liked such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc. should be banned from touring here, especially after I and some other rockers wrecked the Saville Theater when they brought down the curtain in the middle of Chuck Berry’s act. She was going to the same theater later in the week to see an African Dance Company perform, and was unimpressed when I told her the best way to invade the stage was to climb up the side of the orchestra pit.

She was also unimpressed when at an office party I jumped up and danced on the trestle table which the volunteers used to stuff envelopes. She, at her own expense, had covered it with marble-like formica, but after a few glasses of scrumpy cider, the sounds of Mr Presley singing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ caused me to jump up and bop on her table, something she never let me forget. ‘Tony Papard gets up and dances on the table’ she’d tell visitors, as though I did this every day. She also told visitors that I would answer the office phone by shouting: ‘Wotcha want?’ This was because she came in after I answered the phone, put it down to get a pen and some paper, and then asked the person on the line what they wanted, as they were ordering merchandise.

Mrs Minnion was of the strong opinion that the uprising and Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 was entirely the fault of the Americans. ‘What did you expect the Russians to do with the Voice of America encouraging the Hungarians to rise up and revolt?’ she said.

Keith Nicholson organized Project 67, which was a holiday scheme for mainly young people to visit Israel and the Socialist countries. I went with them on my first trip abroad, by train across Europe to Moscow and Leningrad. Irate mothers would ring up and demand to know why CND was encouraging their daughters to go gallivating halfway around the world with a group of irresponsible, sex-mad hippies likely to put their offspring in the family way.

There were many more characters who came in and out of CND head office – a girl who claimed she was in love. We asked her who with, and she said: ‘With Communism!’ This or another girl who came in to do voluntary work always stood in a galvanized dustbin when answering the phone – the dustbin was kept in the office in the day and put out on the pavement at night (the girl was no longer in it by then of course.) Yet another girl came in with her young son, who amused himself tearing up invoices we were due to send out. One day she came in heavily pregnant again. ‘Who’s the father this time? ‘ asked David Wickes. ‘Don’t really know,’ she replied, ‘Could be almost anyone at university.’ She was still at university 20 years later, in her 40s, her children grown up by then.

At the Gray’s Inn Road office in the mid-1960s Molly Coffin arrived, CND’s first Membership Secretary. The organization had no formal national membership before that,  just supporters. Molly declared she couldn’t work in any environment which wasn’t painted white, so proceeded to paint the walls and everything with white paint. She couldn’t be bothered to move the duplicator, so just painted the table round it which it stood on. Later she moved into Peggy Duff’s office, and painted her half white, but the brush-strokes just petered out on Peggy’s side of the office which remained unpainted. CND adopted World Cup Willie, the lion which was the mascot of the 1966 World Football Cup (which of course England won that year), as the mascot for the membership drive, and a lion suit was acquired. Whenever Molly got bored with addressing envelopes with the addressograph she said: ‘I feel like going out in my lion costume’, so she’d put on the lion suit and walk up and down Gray’s Inn Road, along High Holborn etc. I don’t think she got many, if any, new members this way, but it relieved her boredom.

She knew I loved rock’n’roll and promised to bring a load of old 78s from her home in Cornwall when she next went down there. She fulfilled her promise, sort of. Having kept the records safe for over a decade, she dropped the case containing them on the platform and most were smashed or just held together by their labels. They were  rock’n’roll records by the likes of Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and Little Richard. I still have a few which just about survived, though have nothing to play them on.

Leaving CND, I went to Post Office Overseas Telegrams based at Electra House. This was full of eccentric characters, like the neat man in a suit with a neat attache case. It was full of hardcore pornography which he hawked around the building. Many people had sidelines selling things, including Edna who had her hair in a 1940s page-boy style (this was in the late 1960s/early 1970s). I was working with a woman one day and she said: ‘To think I turned down a career in the WRAF to work in this dump!’ Looking at Edna she said: ‘I mean look at that woman there, she hasn’t had her hair done since 1946!’

Then there was Miss Prout, who loved cardinals. Any cardinals – real ones or actors portraying them. She sat around looking at pictures of them all day, saying to anyone who would listen: ‘Hasn’t he got a lovely face?’ Then there was Millie, on permanent nights on double time every other night which counted as overtime. She was so rich she traveled to and from work in a taxi, and never did a stroke of work all night. A lot of people on nights brought in camp beds and slept, since many circuits had little or no work to do – only the Far Eastern ones were busy at night. Millie amused herself making tea for the supervisors, and perhaps filing one or two telegrams in a 12 hour shift.

One man signed in at 8 am, then went off and took his family to the seaside for the day, telling his mates if the supervisor asked where he was to say he’d just gone for a break. The place was so big, and you changed jobs every few hours, so nobody knew where people were or who they were half the time. The man went to the seaside, came back into work and signed off, getting paid for the day.

Another man on nights went straight down to the bar, instead of reporting to the supervisor. Eventually going up there an hour or so later,  the supervisor said: ‘I’ve been looking for you since 8pm.’ ‘Oh have you?’ said the man, adding cheekily:’Well you wouldn’t have found me unless you came down to the bar, ‘cos that’s where I was!’ The Post Office tightened up on all this laxity eventually, and people like Millie didn’t like it at all.

Later I worked at an Australian company with my life-partner. The two directors were brothers called Roy and Llyn Evans. Born in Australia, they had gone to a British public school, and had thoroughly British upper class accents and attitudes. All the male staff were addressed by their surnames only: ‘Oh Papard, I have a telex for you!’ This was Mr Roy as we called him. One day he rang the man in the postroom: ‘Ah Twigg, I need my fountain pen filled.’ Peter Twigg was furious, and mixed the ink with blotting paper, tea leaves and all sorts of other things to clog up the director’s expensive fountain pen.

‘That’s the last time he’ll ask me to fill his pen. Who does he think he is? He and his brother were running around the Outback as kids with a load of bloody Abbos with the arse hanging out of the back of their trousers!’

Reigning supreme over Austral Development was Queen Hilda, who’d been there since the year dot and had the Office Manager twisted round her little finger. She did very little work, though was supposed to be a filing clerk. She sat looking at Argos catalogs much of the time, ordering little luxuries for the ladies’ room (the men had to be content with a basement room full of old junk.) At the annual Ladies’ Christmas Lunch at the Overseas Club nearby, she sat at the head of the table like the Queen of Austral.

She annoyed my life-partner George one day in September, before we’d even gone on our annual holiday to Spain, by giving her silly smile as she looked at the Argos catalog and saying: ‘Time to be thinking about Christmassy things!’ George bloody hated Christmas, and certainly didn’t want to be told about it before we’d even had our Summer holiday. His mother died at Christmas time, so it wasn’t a cause for celebration. Being Scots, he celebrated Hogmanay instead. When the Company Secretary died, Hilda passed me on the stairs, gave her stupid grin and said: ‘Lovely day for a funeral!’

The men were not invited to a Christmas lunch, all we got if we were lucky were rusty and dented cans of Foster’s lager which was then imported by us from Australia and sent out in Xmas packs. One day I saw Peter Twigg bashing crates of this lager on the side of his big wooden bench so they were all dented before he posted them off. ‘This is another lot which will come back rejected. Plenty of lager for us this Christmas, lads!’ he said.

You couldn’t really blame him. He’d had a good job as a shipping manager at a previous firm, been made redundant and because of his age could only get a job in the postroom.

At my last job, Amnesty International, people were relatively normal. I can’t think of any really eccentric characters. Some nice ones, some not so nice, some very bossy. There was one guy who did very little work, and his office was decorated with Xmas decorations all year round. He boasted it was always Christmas in his office, and always had some sherry and mince pies ready for visitors.

There was a temp who came to work in the Telex Room for a week or so soon after I arrived. She was a black girl but had an English accent, so must have either been born here or come here very young. She was looking at a world map around the Caribbean, so I asked her what she was looking for, thinking probably Jamaica, Trinidad or Barbados. ‘I can’t seem to find England,’ she said. Didn’t she wonder why we had such cold winters here? Didn’t they learn geography at school?

Another temp, a man, sat and read the Urgent Actions we were supposed to send out by telex. I asked him what he was doing and said: ‘We haven’t time to read them all, these have to be sent out urgently.’ ‘Oh it’s good here isn’t it?’ he replied. ‘I love reading all about torture.’ Needless to say he wouldn’t have been allowed within a mile of the place as a permanent staff member, he came for a day form an agency to fill in when someone was on holiday.

So these are just a few of the characters I’ve worked with over the years. If I myself am now considered whacky and eccentric, well is it any wonder?

Physical Phenomena

There are various categories of physical phenomena which provide evidence of survival, or life after death. There is physical mediumship, ITC/EVP (Instrumental Trans Communication/Electronic Voice Phenomena), and then there are poltergeists, ghosts and hauntings.

The problem with all these is testing under laboratory conditions. With physical mediumship this is particularly difficult, as not only are the phenomena sensitive to light, but they are also sensitive to negative energy, so the very presence of skeptics can stop the phenomena occurring.

ITC/EVP does provide documentary, recorded and photographic evidence but the problem there is that all this is very easy to fake. So you have to be absolutely certain the evidence obtained was done so under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, monitored by independent witnesses.

With poltergeists, ghosts, hauntings, etc. again the presence of cameras and scientific equipment often seems to adversely affect the phenomena, but even when they do occur it is not necessarily evidence of survival. Poltergeist activity is probably related to telekinesis, the power of mind to affect physical objects, and often an adolescent is present in the vicinity of the recurring phenomena, so may well be the person unconsciously responsible. Ghosts and hauntings could be entrapped Earthbound spirits, but many are much more like recordings of traumatic events absorbed by the environment and played back over and over again on certain occasions.

Physical mediumship was much more prevalent and popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has to be said that it was tested rigorously by some of the top scientists of the day, and whilst there were fraudulent mediums, many were pronounced genuine. So many scientists and inventors, initially skeptical, became convinced by the evidence for survival.

The Helen Duncan trial in the UK at the end of the Second World War effectively put paid to public demonstrations of physical mediumship in this country. In that trial Duncan was allegedly framed by false witnesses sent to her seances by the intelligence agencies because she was revealing wartime secrets, such as the sinking of Navy ships before the Admiralty had announced them, which was considered bad for morale.  In actual fact most of the witnesses at her trial testified that the phenomena she produced were real and that they had been put in touch with relatives and friends who had died.

Indeed, the very fact that Navy intelligence officers attended the seances and then apparently testified against her are itself proof, surely, that she was not a fraud. Why would they get involved at all if she were not revealing information she could not have obtained other than by genuine mediumship? Had they suspected she was obtaining the information from the Axis powers, then she would have been tried not for Witchcraft but for spying or treason.

How Helen eventually died shows the problems of proving or disproving physical mediumship. Police burst into one of her seances in 1956, shone lights on the scene, and the ectoplasm present being extremely sensitive to light shot back into the medium’s body causing fatal injurities from which she later succumbed.

The fact that even today physical mediumship has to be conducted in complete darkness, with the medium usually sitting inside a cabinet to protect them from any light sources, etc. is not helpful at all in ascertaining that the seances are producing genuine phenomena evidential of survival. One would hope, in this day and age, that physical mediumship could develop and use energies not dependent, like ectoplasm, on complete darkness.

If physical phenomena can only be produced under these conditions then it not only creates opportunities for fraud and conjuring tricks (magicians also use cabinets of course, and like mediums are often bound and gagged like Houdini before apparently escaping from their bonds), but how can sitters be sure that the ectoplasmic forms produced really exist and recognize them? Even infra-red glasses and cameras inside the seance room seem to adversely affect the ectoplasm, and so are not permitted. All this gives rise to skepticism.

The only way it is possible to recognize the phenomena as being genuine is by touch and sound. Sitters are touched by ectoplasmic forms, hear footsteps, table raps, and other audible phenomena, including in many case voices which may or may not be recognized as that of people who have died. Under dim red light some ectoplasmic forms are dimly visible, and tables, etc. are seen to levitate. Also the medium him or herself often is levitated in their chair, still bound and gagged, and even on occasions appears to dematerialize and then rematerialize. Apports also sometimes appear – objects not present in the seance room initially appear from nowhere.

The trouble with all this, of course, is that unless conducted under strict laboratory conditions, most of these things can be reproduced by conjurors and illusionists. We’ve all seen things appear and disappear on stage and on TV, and seen escapologists get free from their bonds, which would suggest dematerialization in  both cases, but in fact is just clever deception. The fact that physical mediumship always takes place in the dark makes deception even easier.

Because of the opportunities for fraud, the Duncan case, and the sheer time and patience it takes to develop genuine physical mediumship, there are now very few good physical mediums around. There is one in Australia and about three in England who demonstrate semi-publicly to groups of sitters (who have to be carefully vetted and searched because of what happened to Duncan and others).

It takes years of sitting in development circles for hours on end before even simple physical phenomena can occur, and to produce full ectoplasmic forms takes even longer. In the past some physical mediums were even able to produce ectoplasmic forms in full light, or so it is claimed. In the modern world, with so many distractions such as TV, computers, etc., few have the time or inclination to sit in darkened rooms for hours on end year after year, decade after decade trying to develop physical mediumship which would then probably be dismissed as fraud or conjuring tricks by most people anyway.

The most interesting aspect of physical mediumship for me is Direct Voice, whereby voices of spirits, approximating their voices in life but not exactly the same, are said to emanate from an ectoplasmic voice box created in the seance room some distance from the medium. Since the rooms are sealed and searched for any loudspeakers, microphones, etc. and the medium is usually gagged, these voices coming some distance from the medium are evidential of some unexplained phenomena. Moreover many have been recorded, and are freely available on the Internet.

There is a whole library of recorded Direct Voice messages from the late Leslie Flint, and there are also some by the living physical medium David Thompson. I have listened to many of these recordings and to me most do sound genuine.

I have the great disadvantage, as do most of us, of never actually having attended a seance where physical mediumship is demonstrated. Those who have had this opportunity, including as I say top scientists, also inventors, lawyers, etc. not easily fooled, have although initially often skeptical come away convinced of the reality and genuineness of the phenomena, and pronounced it evidence of survival.

I have seen pictures/photos supposedly of the afterlife dimensions – showing people and buildings, etc. obtained via ITC. I have to say I cannot pronounce them genuine as I have no proof they were produced under laboratory conditions, and photographic evidence is perhaps the easiest of all to fake. I could take a picture tomorrow of a home in the countryside, superimpose (if I had the technical knowledge), a picture of a dead person and claim I received the photo in a paranormal manner from the Spirit world.

However it does seem that there is much more to it than that. Recorded voices on all sorts of electronic equipment are often very evidential, as they appear to come from dead people who give information to loved ones only they could know.

All these physical phenomena need to be thoroughly investigated under strictly controlled laboratory conditions. Materializations and similar phenomena need to be able to be produced in at least dim light or filmed by infra-red cameras, which can be located outside the seance room thru glass windows, etc. Scientists on the Other Side are also reportedly trying to develop alternative energy sources to create materializations without using light-sensitive ectoplasm.

A little ingenuity and it should be able to film, record and thoroughly test physical mediumship and ITC/EVP under strictly controlled laboratory conditions.

I am convinced much of this physical phenomena is real and evidential of survival. Too many scientists and others have investigated it in the present and in the past for it all to be dismissed as fraud. At the same time I am not easily going to believe that some table raps and a cardboard trumpet with an illuminated strip apparently floating in the dark, and some voices or even the touch of a ‘spirit hand’ are genuine evidence of survival – it could just as easily be trickery since it all takes place in complete darkness.

Until I have been to a physical seance, I cannot give an informed opinion. I can only take the word of others, people who as I say are not easily fooled such as lawyers, scientists and others. 

This is an exciting branch of mediumship which needs to be developed and thoroughly investigated, and put on film if at all possible. But until well-known deceased personalities can be materialized, filmed and interviewed it is unlikely to be accepted as proof of survival to those who haven’t actually attended a physical seance and had personal proof of survival from deceased friends and relatives who have made contact with them there.

There are plans to film physical seances, and one early attempt is on the Internet. Someone I was in correspondence with actually has plans to film a materialized Helen Duncan and witnesses at her trial, and thereby prove that she was genuine and was framed.

However, even without any of this physical evidence, other indications of survival from mental mediums like Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell, etc., from near-death and out-of-the-body experiences, etc. in themselves amount to overwhelming evidence of survival and the separate nature of mind and brain.

Not normal?

This was a phrase my Greek-Cypriot cousin used yesterday to describe homosexuality, saying she’d still support any son/daughter who was gay but it was ‘not normal’. This choice of phrasing carries the unfortunate implication that all homosexuals are ‘abnormal’. I would prefer the term ‘not usual’, with the implication that being gay was unusual. Not strictly true, as it is very common in both the human and animal kingdom, but at least it doesn’t imply that being gay is a negative thing.

One could, of course, remark that someone who has lived in this country for about 50 years and has a poor command of English is ‘abnormal’, as are her parents who lived here for 15/20 years and speak hardly any English at all. But I digress, save for the fact that her choice of words might have been wiser had she bothered to learn English better in the last 5 decades.

As to whether being gay is usual or not, well it depends on what circles you mix in, and also on the conventions of society. I know for a fact that many of a naturally gay orientation (and yes, it is perfectly natural for those individuals) because of the conventions of society felt obliged to marry or co-habit with someone of the opposite sex, or alternatively to live a secret gay life, or suppress their gay sexual desires and either remain asexual or have short-lived affairs with persons of the opposite sex.

Only now, as civil partnerships become more common, are these conventions slowly changing. Even so we are a long way from the day when parents do not just assume their offspring will settle down with someone from the opposite sex, or when gay partnerships are accepted as readily as heterosexual ones. Not until the day when most parents lead their children to believe when they grow up they will probably find a person of the same or opposite sex and settle down with them, with no distinction between the two possibilities except there is the possibility of biological offspring from a heterosexual pairing.

This brings us to the hoary old argument that sex is mainly for procreation. This is a gross exaggeration, since if every sexual act resulted in a pregnancy there would be even greater over-population of the world and more would die from famines as the world’s resources ran out.

It would also mean, if taken literally, that not only would all forms of birth control be banned, but that sex between couples during a woman’s pregnancy would be off-limits. Indeed all sex would be banned unless it was likely to lead to pregnancy, which would mean all infertile couples would also be banned from enjoying sexual relationships.

Animals who over-breed have to be culled to preserve the food-chain or many would starve to death, or over-run the countryside. Nobody seriously proposes such a solution for human over-breeding, but famines and wars for scarce resources would have the same effect.

Sex is not simply for producing children, and it cannot be prohibited or even frowned upon in cases where due to birth control, infertility, pregnancy, sexual oriention,  wrong time of the month, etc.  it cannot result in pregnancy.

Coming back to whether a gay orientation is ‘normal’ or ‘usual’, well it is certainly very common. You might as well ask whether co-habiting with or marrying one person for life is ‘normal’ or ‘usual’. It probably is not, either in the human or animal kingdom.

In some societies poligamy is ‘normal’, and indeed many humans of both sexes and also animals have sexual relations with several or even many partners, whether or not they eventually settle down with one (of the same or a different sex).

So making statements about what is ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ is very subjective and colored by one’s own prejudices.

For gay people, being attracted to people of the same sex is perfectly natural and normal, thank you very much.

Greece, and the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus, are notoriously homophobic societies largely due to their macho cultural traditions, the importance put on children and family, and the oppressive influence of the Greek-Orthodox Church. The ancient Greek traditions of homosexuality are not carried down into modern Greek/Greek-Cypriot society, where such relatonships are still taboo.

Until recently arranged marriages (naturally with a person of the opposite sex) were very common in Cyprus, and my father came to England to avoid one. His brother had to marry the woman in order for my dad’s family to obtain the large dowry which came with her. My father also told me that a neighbor in his village in Cyprus was gay as a young man, but under Greek-Cypriot tradition was forced to marry a woman.

I do not need to heed the opinions of people from such a homophobic society as to what they consider ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’. Quite frankly I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss what they think. Like it or lump it, we are all individuals and what is right, natural and ‘normal’ for some would be quite wrong, unnatural and ‘abnormal’ for others.

Diversity is what makes life interesting surely? Otherwise we’d all be fighting each other over the same would-be partners as we’d all be attracted to the same individuals, and billions of us would end up unable to attract a partner at all.


 Click on Montage to enlarge it

Ostalgie is the German term coined for nostalgia for the old Socialist regime in East Germany (Ost being the German word for East, thus: Eastalgia would be an English equivalent).

The film ‘Goodbye Lenin’ gave an idea how many former citizens of the GDR (German Democratic Republic or DDR to give its German initials) have a great deal of nostalgia for the now defunct State which was disestablished and its territory absorbed into the Federal Republic (former West Germany).

Brand names familiar to GDR citizens have disappeared, along with the full employment, security in old age, comradeship, and many other things which the old Socialist state gave them. Gone is the State which subsidized basic food prices, the cost of housing and put the emphasis on public services.

People in the West tend to forget that the GDR was one of the world’s leading industrial nations with a standard of living very high for the former Eastern bloc. Just look at the montage above to give just an idea of some of the excellent products and other things which came out of the former Socialist State. It was not just about the Wall and people trying to escape.

The lure of the capitalist enclave of West Berlin deep inside the GDR, and of products, etc. advertised on West German/West Berlin TV stations which could be received in the Socialist state, tended to make GDR citizens think the grass was greener on the other side of the Wall/Western state frontier.

In actual fact many of the products advertised but not available in ordinary GDR shops could be bought in the hard-currency Intershops, and most GDR citizens had access to West German marks sent to them by relatives in the Federal Republic.

Pensioners were free to cross the Wall and visit West Berlin, but it is true that this barrier surrounding the capitalist enclave prevented most GDR citizens from visiting the Western part of the city, and also stopped West Berliners visiting the GDR capital. This was because the open border in the city prior to August 1961 was bleeding the Socialist state dry.

Apart from GDR citizens emigrating to the Federal Republic permanently, many were living in the GDR capital and getting jobs in West Berlin which was getting the benefit of their education and presumably their taxes. Meanwhile they continued to live in subsidized housing in the GDR capital, shopping for subsidized foodstuffs in GDR shops, etc. West Berliners also took advantage of the open border to strip East Berlin shops of these subsidized foodstuffs, etc. The situation was ridiculous and could not continue indefinitely.

While the border installations between East/West Berlin and the two German states was essential (many states have physical barriers between them to control immigration/emigration, prevent smuggling and other illegal activities), it was not necessary to mine the borders or to shoot people trying to cross illegally. A much better solution would have been checkpoints where GDR citizens could cross to the West on payment of a hefty deposit forfeited if they failed to return (to compensate for their education, etc.), whilst West Berliners could have been free to visit the GDR capital provided they paid taxes on any subsidized products bought there when they crossed the Wall back into West Berlin.

The GDR was by no means the perfect Socialist state. But nor was it just a prison camp with millions trying to get out. Many were happy to live there when there were open borders, and some, such as current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her family, actually emigrated the other way, from West Germany to the GDR.

There were good and bad things about the GDR as with all states. There was undoubtedly a privileged elite, and the political system based on a coalition government led by the Socialist Unity Party (itself an amalgamation of the old Communist and Social Democratic parties) meant it was not a democracy as we know it in the West, or a ‘bourgeois democracy’ to use Marxist terminology.

Socialist democracy was meant to be exercised thru the Dictatorship of the Proleteriat, which meant either a one-party state, as in the Soviet Union, or a one-party led coalition as in the GDR. This form of democracy could only work if millions of ordinary people took an active and everyday role in the process of government thru the party machines. Once they relaxed their grip for a moment, opportunists, careerists and even criminal elements could easily gain control, and thus a ruling clique of bureaucrats, politicians and diplomats in effect governed the country (and others in the Socialist bloc). Once there, it was very difficult to shift them.

However, the upheavals of 1989 were a golden opportunity to preserve the positive aspects of Socialism in the GDR and elsewhere, while getting rid of the negative aspects. In the GDR the basis was already there for a genuine multi-party democracy. All the parties existed and were represented in the GDR parliament – Liberal Democrats, Christian Democrats, National Democrats as well as the Communists and Social Democrats of the Socialist Unity Party. So a simple change in the Socialist Constitution would have broken up the coalition and allowed these parties to put up rival candidates to contest free elections. This would have made it possible to vote out a government considered inefficient or corrupt, or one which was simply disliked, and vote in a new one.

The Socialist Constitution would have preserved the nature of the State based on some form of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, at least unless and until the electorate replaced it with another Constitution in a referendum.

Instead the citizens of the GDR (and other Socialist states) threw out the baby with the bathwater. In many former Socialist countries they actually kept the bathwater (corrupt politicians, etc.) while throwing out the Socialist baby. The GDR simply allowed itself to be annexed by West Germany, and then used as a pool of cheap labor.

At the same time West German companies seized control of former GDR industry (this was the second time factories had been seized, since the Soviet Union grabbed much machinery from the then Soviet Zone of Germany as reparation fees for the terrible damage caused in the Great Patriotic War/Second World War).

In seizing control of former GDR factories the West Germans claimed they were out-of-date and clapped out, and so obtained them very cheaply. How on Earth could world-leading camera/optics brands like Carl Zeiss of Jena, Pentacon, etc. be ‘clapped out’? Not forgetting many other high-tech industries, the GDR being a world leader in electronics and many other fields. Nor should we forget the world-famous Meissen porcelain factory near Dresden, or indeed the excellent S-bahn elevated urban railway system which served both West and East Berlin, run by the GDR authorities.

After reunification Easterners flooded to former West Germany and other Western countries where wages were higher, and remember the shops/rents etc. were no longer subsidized in the East. Unemployment became the new scourge of the Eastern regions of Germany, a concept unknown in the GDR and other Socialist countries.

The former citizens of the GDR joined the capitalist rat-race where it was every man or woman for themselves, and not being used to such a society many fell by the wayside. No wonder there was nostalgia for the old GDR which looked after its citizens from the cradle to the grave. Not perfect by any means, but at least it gave its citizens security.

So let’s remember the good things about the German Democratic Republic, and hope that one day the united German people can again turn to Socialism and find models which work even better than the old ones.

Indeed, I hope many countries in the EU and elsewhere also take this path, and there can be no better example surely than former Yugoslavia with its unique system of worker cooperatives and market place Socialism, combining the competitive element of capitalism without the disadvantages. All Yugoslavia lacked was a political system which matched the economic one in allowing competition and choice.

The GDR achieved much with its State owned and small family companies and showed that if anybody could make Socialism work efficiently the Germans could. They also achieved much in the sporting field of course, winning many Olympic medals for such a small country.

As to human rights, the GDR was streets ahead of the Soviet Union and many other Socialist countries. Homosexuality was legalized in 1968, conscientious objectors were excused military service (uniquely in the Socialist countries), and freedom of religion was guaranteed with even Christian Democrats sitting in Parliament. The Lutheran, Catholic and other faiths flourished (the Catholic church also flourished in neighboring Socialist Poland of course.) In the GDR, as in all Socialist countries there were equal rights for women, and this was not just on paper, creches were provided so women could go to work and earn a wage.

It was a sad day when that Wall came down in Berlin because it did not symbolize the reunification of Germany under a progressive government. Instead it symbolized the collapse of the great Socialist experiments in Eastern and Central Europe, and in the Soviet Union, which achieved much despite the mistakes, faults, corruption and crimes of Stalin and others. It truly symbolized the throwing out of the baby with the bathwater.

Instead of democratic reform and opening up of the borders along the lines described above, but preserving what 4 decades of Socialism had achieved, the former citizens of the GDR lost these achievements, and lost the unique comradeship and identity of their proud little state sandwiched between West Germany and Poland. A state, which against all the odds (Soviet reparation fees, only a third of a country, the divided city of Berlin with the temptations of the West Berlin in its midst, recovery from the devastation of the Second World War without Marshall Aid) became a leading industrial nation with a standard of living far outstripping that of the Soviet Union and many other Socialist states.

May Socialism flourish on German soil again, because all things considered they made a damn good job of it and will do even better next time!