A Random Memory

Wandering around on a cold bright afternoon with Ollie, it often surprises me what pops into my mind.

Once my Mum was in her eighties, and could hardly see, she often spilled things down her clothes as she was eating. On occasion, I would visit her to find her sitting in a top or dress that was obviously quite badly stained. I would point this out, and offer to find her something to change into from her wardrobe. But every time she was adamant that there was nothing there, that her clothing was not stained, and she was fine as she was.

She didn’t have any loss of mental faculties at that time, so I suspect her reluctance to believe me came from a mixture of embarrassment, and natural stubbornness. One evening, I was due to take her to a restaurant to celebrate some occasion. I arrived to find her wearing a rather fancy black outfit that was quite obviously spattered with stains from what she had been eating the last time she had worn it. I mentioned that she might want to change, as many other people would be there, and might wonder why her top had so many marks on it. She became unreasonably angry, and told me that if I was that bothered, she would stay at home.

I took her as she was, feeling sad that a once elegant and immaculate lady was perfectly happy to be seen in food-stained clothes by an assortment of family and friends.

Not long after this twenty year-old memory had been in my head, I saw a fellow dog walker, with her two dogs. One of them jumped up to me a few times, leaving muddy paw prints on my trousers, and then on the sleeve of my coat. She apologised, and told her dog off for jumping up. I assured her it wasn’t a problem. “They are only my dog-walking clothes, don’t worry”.

Maybe it runs in the family?

Russian Sector: Part Thirteen

This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1160 words.

Berlin, 1953.

I passed the physical and the compulsory written test, then got called in for a formal interview. I expected questions like “Why do you want to be a police officer?” But sat in the large room facing four very official-looking men, one in full uniform, it seemed that they mainly wanted to talk about my family.

“Your mother was a loyal Party member. Your sister is part of the gymnastics team. Your father was killed serving with the Afrika Corps, and neither of your parents ever joined the Nazi Party. Is that correct, Kraus?” I sat up straight as I replied. “All correct, sir”. The man tapped the paperwork containing my application form.”And you speak English and Russian, as well as being able to write in both too, yes?” I was glad that they had actually read it. “Yes, sir. Correct again”. He exchanged a look with the man in uniform, and they both nodded. “Thank you, please take a seat outside. We will be calling you back soon”.

All that build up, and just those few questions. I was sure they were going to reject me.

Almost one hour later, the door opened, and I was asked to go back in. Other than the man who had asked the questions, the people inside had changed. A stern-looking woman sat at one side of the desk, and a heavily-scarred man was in the central chair. As I sat down, he spoke to me without looking up from the paperwork in front of him. “Tell me, are you prepared to become a Party member?” I answered quickly, remembering what my mother had told me. “Yes sir, I am happy to do that”. He looked across at the woman, and she turned sideways, staring me straight in the eyes. “Tell us what you know of the State Security Service”.

I had heard talk of the Stasi, which had been founded a few years earlier. Mother spoke about them in glowing terms. “They will safeguard us against western spies, Manfred. Help root out the undesirables, and those who seek to undermine our new republic. They will also deal with those ex-Nazis who hope to take back power”. I repeated what she had told me, word-for-word, making it sound like my own conclusions. The woman nodded, and wrote down a lot of words in a large book on her lap. Then the man finally looked up at me. “How would you feel about being offered a job with us, instead of becoming a policeman?” It only took me seconds to realise that him and the woman were something to do with the Stasi, and only one more second to reply.

“I would be honoured to accept, sir”.

The woman nodded to the man, and he smiled. It was a rather scary smile, given that his face was covered in scars. “You are prepared to undertake investigations into people from all walks of life, some of whom you might know? To listen to taped recordings of conversations and telephone calls, and to translate them from other languages if necessary? You would agree to become part of an interrogation team, and participate in arrests of individuals when ordered to do so?” I gathered he had stopped talking, and was awaiting a reply.

“Of course, sir. Whatever duties were required of me”.

The woman closed the book on her lap. “Welcome to the State Security Service, Herr Kraus”.

The training was a lot more basic than I had expected. Based in an old army barracks outside of the city, it involved being taught to use a pistol and assault rifle. There was a bit of physical exercise too, but no marching or drilling. Most of the time was spent in a classroom, with the eleven others in my induction group. They ranged in age from eighteen to almost forty, and there was only one woman. Lots of lectures about borders, foreign spies and agitators, and working alongside the Russian military and MGB. We were told that this would soon be known as the KGB, and already had a vast network of agents and informers. It was going to be the model that the Stasi would base itself on.

I was surprised to hear how much information they already had about so many people still living in East Germany. They referred to them as ‘dissidents’, ‘trouble-makers’, sometimes even ‘Nazi-lovers’. I also learned about the everyday dilemma for ordinary people who had chosen to remain in our new country. If they had done that, why had they done that? They could have emigrated to the west, but chose to continue living in the east. That very loyalty made them suspect, and their motives questioned. Unless they were long-standing Socialist Party members, served in the current armed forces, or had joined the Stasi like me, it seemed everyone was to be considered ‘dubious’.

Early on, I realised that this was going to be a very busy job.

The suspicious nature that was the culture there extended to our colleagues, the other recruits. We ate together in large groups, up to sixty at a time. I found myself scanning the rows of diners, wondering ‘what’s her story?’ or ‘he doesn’t look the type for this job’. I shared a two-bunk room with three others. Other than our names and places of origin, we didn’t have a lot to say about our lives before joining up. After a relatively short time, paranoia had well and truly set in.

Upon completion of some practical assessments and written tests, I was interviewed to be told that I had passed the course, and was now a Stasi officer. In another part of the barracks, they kitted out those of us who had been successful. We got two suits, not new, but clean and serviceable. Two pairs of shoes, and shirts and ties too. Some also got uniforms, but I wasn’t told to go to that queue. The final issue was a lined raincoat, and a wide-brimmed trilby hat that made me feel very grown up when I put it on. There was also a suitcase to put the spare clothes in, but nobody got socks, or underwear. They were up to us to supply.

I was sent to wait outside an office with around a dozen others. One by one, we went in to sign a document that we would not divulge anything about our training or our job, and I was given a Walther PP .32 pistol in a small holster that fitted in the waistband of my trousers. I was told it was loaded, and more ammunition would be available wherever I was going. Then I got my identity documents and badge in a leather holder, and was advised to guard them with my life. Everyone had to go back to their rooms to wait for the postings notice to be put up in the canteen.

The rest would all be learned ‘on the job’.

Why Don’t Followers Follow?

Back on my blogging soapbox about followers again, sorry!

Today is the 19th of November. In the nineteen days of this month, I have already been notified of 114 new followers.

Naturally, this is a nice feeling, and I am very pleased to welcome any new follower to this blog. If they have their own site, and good links, I thank them, and usually comment on one of their posts too.

However, with six notable exceptions, none of those followers has left a single comment on any of my posts during that period. A large percentage of them have not even bothered to so much as to ‘Like’ a post.

That is their business of course, and it is not up to me to criticise them. But why are they bothering? Presumably, they want to grow their blogging experience into something worthwhile. Hopefully, they want to become part of the wider community of blogging, and perhaps get more satisfaction from being a blogger.

If so, that will not happen. Not unless they interact with comments, and also reply to the comments made by others.

It could just be that they expect me to follow them back, without realising that I have been doing this for a long time now, so already follow more than one hundred other blogs. Even so, I might be a lot more inclined to do that, if they could be bothered to leave so much as one comment.

Once again, I am going to repeat myself, as a message to anyone else considering following this blog.

Blogging is not Facebook.
Blogging is not Twitter.
Blogging is not a ‘quick fix’ Social Media platform like so many others.
Not everyone you follow can just follow you back.
Blogging is not just about numbers of followers.
Blogging is about engagement, interaction, community, and friendship.

My sincere thanks to all those followers who have taken time to actually ‘follow’. To leave likes and comments, or links and discussion topics.

For the rest of you who follow for reasons best known to yourselves, I understand. You may not feel confident enough to comment. My blog may well have proved ultimately disappointing for you. The fact that I didn’t follow you back might have caused you some offence. Maybe you just followed far too many blogs at once, and became overwhelmed?

Do you need help, advice, or encouragement? I am here for you. My contact email is on my about page. Feel free to use that more private method to contact me, anytime.

Until then, before you click to follow another blog, think about what that really means.

Russian Sector: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 1365 words.

Berlin, 1949.

It was all over. We now had a country that was no longer just Germany. Mama was ecstatic, and attended numerous celebrations. I found it all a bit much, and cited having to study as my reason for not accompanying her. No matter how many times she told me I would regret missing the parades and speeches, I remained unconvinced. Life was not that much easier than it had been last year, and shortages of everything was still the norm. We had issues with the new apartment too. Electrical problems, frequent power cuts, and those doors that I had suspected were hung wrong never did close properly. Mama said I shouldn’t complain. “Remember what it was like after forty-two, Manfred”.

She had a point. The last three years of the war had been horrible. At least there was no bombing, nobody was being killed, and the city was slowly returning to something like its old self. So what if some countries hated us?
We had our own allies now, and the strong backing of the Soviet Union. Mama was sure life would get much better, and I had to agree with her.

After my woodland liaison with Hannelore I calmed down a great deal, and stuck to my studies. I would be taking preliminary examinations next year, and hoped to do well enough to go to a good high school when I was sixteen. Inge was doing fine in Moscow, according to her letters, and she hoped to be able to visit us next year, when her gymnastics team was coming to do a big display. Mama was now home most evenings, and we settled down into an after-dinner routine where she would discuss things with me as an equal.

“When you are older, you should join the Party, Manfred. It will help you a lot in whatever career you decide to embark on. Of course, I have my contacts, but they only have so much influence”.

I supposed that the trauma of the war, losing her husband, and having to be used by a Russian soldier had all made her determined that such things should never happen again. She was putting her faith in this new order of things, and her trust in the Party to make life fair for all.

I wasn’t so sure. But I made the right noises, to keep her happy.

Berlin, 1951.

The year after I got back from summer camp passed by without too much change in our lives. Inge hadn’t been able to come home with the team, as she had some sort of contagious fever. Mama worried a lot of course, but one of her contacts spoke to one of his contacts, and assured her that Inge was just unwell, and receiving good treatment. He also made a vague promise about getting Mama a trip to Moscow some time soon.

Nothing came of that.

What nobody could fail to notice was that thousands of people had gone. Migration to the west was depleting the population rapidly. And the Socialist Party was losing face too, with some of the most important members expelled. Mama of course took the side of the hard-liners, and thought it had been good to inject some new blood into the membership. She was also very critical of those leaving, and one evening made a comment that I later had cause to remember very well. “They should be ashamed, Manfred. How are we to build a successful new country if so many want to go and live in the west? They should build a wall, or a high fence perhaps. Some sort of barrier. It will keep people safe here, and stop spies and suchlike”.

For someone who had spent her youth as a waitress, Mama had come on a long way indeed.

When my examination results were announced, I was very pleased. I had come in the top ten percent for English and Russian, and in History and German too. Only the science subjects let me down, but I had no intention of pursuing a career in that field. I put in my application to study languages at High School, and waited to hear if I was successful.

One afternoon when I got back from the library, there was a note pinned on the door. Mama had been taken ill at work, and was in hospital. I didn’t even delay to put my books inside, and left for the long walk to the clinic mentioned on the note. They made me wait on a chair outside the ward for almost two hours. When I was finally allowed in to see her, I was very shocked. Her face was as white as chalk, and her arm was connected by a tube to a big glass bottle containing what looked like blood. I kissed her cheek, and held her hand. “What is it, Mama? What has happened?”

She told me to sit on the small chair by the bed. “It is just a woman’s problems, Manfred. Don’t ask me too much now, as it is embarrassing to talk to you about it. Don’t fret now, I will be well very soon”. Ten minutes later, a stern-looking nurse arrived and told me I would have to leave. “They are all ladies here young man, and they don’t need you sitting here looking at them”. I wanted to say I hadn’t looked at anyone, but Mama patted my knee. “Go home now, son. There is a potato salad under a cover, and still some ham left on that joint. Come back tomorrow”. I kissed her cheek again, and left. I was already well-used to looking after myself.

She was in there for six days. When she came home, in a car provided by the Party, it took her a very long time to walk up all the stairs, even with me helping her. When I got her settled in bed, she was still reluctant to answer my questions, making what sounded like a short speech instead. “Now Manfred, you must be brave. I am still quite ill, and they cannot tell me if I will get better anytime soon. I am going to need your help more, and Marianne from downstairs has agreed to help out when she can. Leave me to rest now. By the way, I won’t be going back into work for a while, so don’t worry if I am not up early. And you must write a letter to Inge, tell her not to worry”.

With Mama almost an invalid, and in bed most of the time, life did change quite a lot. I had to ask Marianne for lots of favours, including buying our shopping, and doing some laundry. She was a good-hearted woman, but had her own life to worry about too. Mama gave her some money occasionally, and also arranged for her teenage son to get a job as a clerk in her department.

We muddled through, but she didn’t get better.

Berlin, 1953.

My mother died three weeks after my eighteenth birthday. She never heard about my final examination results, or that I had been accepted into university. She was only forty-two. Inge couldn’t get back for the funeral, which was arranged by Mama’s colleagues in the Party. I sent my sister a letter, pretending Mama had died in her sleep. I didn’t let on what the doctor had finally told me, which was that her cause of death was a tumour in her womb, and had been inoperable. I knew that she had been in terrible pain.

Less than ten days after her funeral, an official-looking lady came to the apartment. She informed me in a matter-of-fact way that I would have to move out, to make way for a family. “Your sister is resident in Moscow, I understand? A clever young man like you could easily find work, and a nice room with a good family. Or perhaps a bachelors’ hostel? And you are going to university soon are you not? Good. Then you can arrange accommodation there”.

That evening, I made up my mind.

I would abandon plans to continue my education, and join the Police instead.

A Domestic Update

After my recent post about being disrupted by the arrival of the painter today, it seems that the disruption was not as bad as I anticipated.

With everything piled into the middle of the living room and covered in dustsheets, I have been exiled into the office since 8:30. That meant an early trip to the supermarket, to get out of the way, and a slightly longer dog walk for Ollie after that.

Julie went into the bedroom to listen to music on her phone, and I was unable to sit and watch the midday news whilst eating my sandwich, as is my habit.

Otherwise, we have no curtains at the windows until later this week, and will probably be spending more time in the kitchen. Whether or not I will be able to get anything on the TV later, after having to disconnect the aerial, that remains to be seen. I had forgotten just how many wires sit unseen behind the unit that the TV stands on. Moving it right out this morning, I was actually surprised by the amount of cabling required to be able to watch stuff. There is the TV of course, then the Blu-Ray player. Add to that the streaming box, the PVR cabling, and lots of extra bits for a device that boost the signals, and there is enough electronic gadgetry there to facilitate the 1969 Moon landing, I’m sure.

One family member was very disrupted though. Poor Ollie the dog had his world turned upside down. His toy box had to be stored in another room, and he was unable to lie against the wall until we went out, as he usually does. Having to go out of the front door, along the side of the garage, then back in through the kitchen door confused him completely. Every time he followed me outside, he thought we were going out for our walk.

His frequent disappointment had to be seen to be believed.

This evening, I have to get at least one sofa out of its covers to sit on, and try to get something working on the TV. I suspect a very early night is in the offing.

But the main job will be trying to keep Ollie away from the walls, without shutting him in the kitchen. If we did that, he would think he was being punished for something, and wouldn’t understand.

The painter tells me he might have to give the woodwork a second coat on Thursday, so only three more days to go…

Russian Sector: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 1480 words.

***Content warning. One mild sex scene. ***

Altendorf, 1949.

Hannelore was not that enthusiastic about her job at the camp. She got me to do a lot of the boring stuff, like rounding up the kids, and making them line up for the games. Whatever chance she got, she would sneak off into some trees to smoke cigarettes, something not approved of in a young woman. I was given a list of activities that the kids had to do in her absence, like passing a ball back down the line and then the last one running to the front. I had to decide which line had won, but I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see when she was coming back. That resulted in a lot of shouting from the actual winners, when I made the wrong decision.

When she was really bored, she would make them do things like frog-racing, where they had to run in a crouched position that made the majority of them fall over. That always made her laugh, and I concluded early on that she didn’t like the kids that much at all.

But she looked so lovely when she laughed.

One afternoon, a small girl fell down into the toilet ditch, slipping off the plank as she did her business. Hannelore was summoned by one of the adults, and told to deal with the screaming child. She took one look at the shit-covered kid, and smiled at me. “Your job, handsome”. I took the girl over to the female washing tent, and scrubbed her clean. Hannelore had called me ‘handsome’.
I would have shaved a tiger if she had asked me to.

When the young ones went in early to eat, we got some free time. I followed Hannelore into the woods, and watched her as she sat smoking. Her body fascinated me, but of even more fascination was the fact that she was so unashamedly hairy. She had as much hair on her legs as any adult man in the camp, and when she raised her arms, the hair in her armpits looked like two rabbits were living in them. I considered the fact that she was deliciously feminine, yet in some ways more masculine than me.

One light evening, we were sitting in the woods. I was being bothered by some sort of biting insects, as she was casually lying back on the grass blowing smoke up at the treetops. I couldn’t stop looking at her large breasts under the tight vest, unencumbered by a brassiere of any description. She caught me looking, and I quickly averted my eyes. Too late. “Like what you see, handsome? How old are you anyway?” I wasn’t about to state my real age, so gambled. “You tell me. How old do you think I am?” She ran her eyes up and down me for an uncomfortably long time. “Seventeen? No, sixteen. Sixteen I reckon”.

I smiled, wasting time as I decided what to say. “Almost sixteen”, I lied. She sat up and dug a small hole in the grass with her fingers, burying the cigarette end. The next look she gave me was one I had never seen before, but instinct told me it was a good look. “Old enough then. Come on, let’s go and eat”. On the way back through the woods, she suddenly stopped. “Hang on, I need to piss”. Before I could move, she pulled down her shorts and white panties and squatted just three feet in front of me, letting out a huge stream of urine that ran into the grass. I was transfixed by the sight of her naked behind, and not even remotely uncomfortable about this rather startling display of intimacy.

Still mesmerised, I hadn’t even noticed that she had pulled up her clothes and was standing again. “Come on, dreamer, I’m hungry. Haven’t you ever seen a girl piss before?”

The next day, there was to be a film show in the evening. Everyone was eating earlier so that the kids would be supervised as they watched it, sat in rows on the ground, shortest at the front. The Socialist Party had a film truck, and it had driven out from Berlin to set up for the camp. Some people erected a large screen in front of the truck, little more than a big white sheet supported on long poles. Then a lady stood at the front and announced that the sound was broken, but they would show the cartoons and a silent film anyway. The film about the forthcoming statehood celebrations was cancelled though.
Nobody minded that.

I saw Mama sitting at the end of the front row, her arm around a small girl. I thought she might be missing Inge, and guessed she had volunteered to sit with the young ones. Hannelore told me to sit with her, right at the back, away from the audience. After less than five minutes of the first ancient cartoon, she pushed my shoulder. “This is so lame. Come on, Freddie, I need a smoke”. I followed her into the woods, not minding that she called me Freddie, a shortening of my name I usually didn’t care for at all.

It was the start of sunset, and still quite light. Through the trees, we could see the flickering of the film projector, and hear the squealing of the children.

I was lying on my back watching her smoke, enjoying the fantasy that it was just us two, and she was my girlfriend. When she stubbed out the cigarette, the last thing I expected was for her to roll over and start to kiss me. But that’s exactly what she did. I felt her hand between my legs, and my tongue went suddenly dry. She spoke with her mouth so close to me, I could feel her lips touching mine, and the smell of tobacco on her breath. “Feels like you’re ready”. She stood up, and pulled her vest over her head, then started to unbutton her shorts. It seemed like a dream to me, and I was sure I would wake up. I watched as she slid her shorts and underwear down to her ankles, then pulled them off along with her canvas shoes. “Come on Freddie, you’ve still got your shorts on, get them off now”.

I couldn’t move, let alone manage buttons. Hannelore knelt down and undid them herself, dragging them and my underpants off over my leather sandals. Then she moved her left leg over me, straddling me with her arms supporting her on either side of my head, the heavy breasts bouncing close to my nose. As she lowered her body onto me I felt an amazing sensation, like nothing I had ever imagined. It seemed as if fireworks were going off behind my eyes, and I thought my heart would stop beating.

Ten seconds later, her voice brought me back to reality.

“Finished already? For God’s sake, was that your first time?” I was past lying now, and slowly nodded my head. When I replied, it sounded like the croak of a frog. “Sorry”. She seemed strangely pleased, not angry at all. Stroking my face fondly, she smiled sweetly too. “Doesn’t matter. We will just have to wait until you are ready again, won’t we?”

She didn’t have to wait long.

By the time we got back, the film show was coming to a close, and we managed to resume our places with nobody noticing we had been gone. I now considered myself to be an accomplished lover, and very much a man. She had been very kind, and as we got dressed, had complimented me. “Well, what you lack in technique, you make up for in enthusiasm. I hadn’t expected that third time”. I went to help her round up the kids, and get them to their tents. I gazed at her adoringly as she shouted at the children. I was totally besotted with her, and wondered if she would become my wife in time.

As things were packed away for the end of camp, I took the opportunity to talk to her alone. “Will we meet up back in Berlin, Hannelore? I can tell my mother that we are together as soon as I am old enough”. She grinned, leaning forward to kiss my cheek. “You’re a sweet boy, Freddie, but I start my training next month. I have applied to be a border guard. Got to be more exciting than working in a kindergarten”.

On the way home in the coach, Mama was chatting non-stop about how well the camp had gone. When she noticed me staring wistfully out of the window, she stroked my head. “Are you alright, Manfred? Did you have a nice time?” I nodded, and smiled at her.

“The best time ever, Mama”.

And I never did learn to swim.

The Noodle Dream

I was reading a post about dreams on Maggie’s blog the other day.

That was a coincidence, as I had woken up from a vivid dream that morning. It is not unusual for me to have dreams, and for those dreams to often be unusual in themselves. But on this occasion, I could find no explanation whatsoever.

The Noodle Dream.

I was living here in Norfolk, and I was the same age. I wanted to buy some noodles to add to a Chinese meal I was planning to cook that night. I wanted fresh ones for preference, but dried would do. I set off in the car, and headed for Tesco, the largest supermarket in the nearby town of Dereham. I know it well, so went straight to the area where they sell Chinese, Indian, and other foreign food products. Not only were there no noodles displayed, there was no empty space where they should have been.

I managed to find a member of staff wandering past, and asked her if they had any noodles in the store-room. She looked at me quizzically, and repeated “Noodles?” I nodded. “Sorry, never heard of anything like that”. Was her reply. I left that shop and walked across to another supermarket situated on the same shopping complex. The same thing happened in there, with a young man shouting across to his supervisor, “This customer wants noodles, do you know what they are?” She shook her head.

There are three other supermarkets in Dereham, so I drove to them all, with the same events played out in each one. Becoming exasperated, I drove out of the town to two villages where I knew I would find smaller grocery stores. One of them is run by an Indian lady. She shook her head at my request for noodles. “What are they like?” She asked me. “Spaghetti”, was my suggestion. “Oh we have that, it is with the rice and cooking sauces”. In the second, much smaller shop, I not only confounded the person serving at the counter, but she got a group of other customers involved too. “This man wants to buy noodles. Does anyone know what he’s talking about?” They shook their heads in turn.

By now, it was getting dark, and my only other shopping options were over twelve miles away, in Swaffham.

So I returned home, with no noodles.

If anyone thinks they know what that was about, I would love to hear it.