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Posted: 15 May 2012, 05:31
by Stanley
JULY 2000

I decided to stop doing the memoirs earlier this year and start doing the serious Barlick history on my return from my travels. This is still the aim but I am at the point now where I have a couple of weeks before the final segment of the Carleton College Cambridge Seminar and have time to write. I don’t want to start the Barlick stuff until August because when I get into that I want to keep at it in some good solid chunks, I think that this is the only way I’ll be able to hold the narrative together. So, I’ve decided to add another chapter to the memoirs that will cover one or two items I missed earlier and get you up to date with what I have been doing this year.

One of the things I never covered in previous chapters was smoking, it didn’t seem important but I have since thought that it might be of interest in the future because the practice may become extinct.


When you come to think about it, the practice of rolling some weed leaves up in paper and setting fire to them by sucking the fumes into your lungs might seem to be bizarre especially when you realise that it carries the risk of doing your body serious harm. Put like this I have to say I agree completely that it is a stupid and dangerous habit and ought to be banned entirely.

Having said this, why do I smoke? This is where, like many other ‘simple’ questions, the answers get slightly more complicated. When I was a lad, almost everybody smoked. My dad got through about 60 cigarettes a day and mother smoked as well. Remember that this was in the days before filters and mild tobaccos, these were serious sources of nicotine and I well remember the first time I pinched one of father’s cigarettes and smoked it in my bedroom I felt awful, the room swayed, I felt sick and never finished the fag. So why did I do it and why did I carry on. I was nine years old at the time and have, with one break, smoked ever since.

I’m pretty certain that I smoked the first one because everyone else was doing it and it seemed to be part of growing up. I carried on because nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known and once you have started, there is no going back if you are susceptible and it would appear that I was. Not everyone had the same experience, I had friends who tried one fag and never touched one again but most had the same experience as me.

Once started, father must have noticed that his fags were going missing but never once took me to task. He didn’t see anything wrong with it, as it was what he had done as a lad. Remember, we didn’t know as much about the ill effects of tobacco in those days. One brand, Craven ‘A’, was sold under the advertising slogan, ‘Good For Your Throat.’ It was well known that they relaxed you and ‘having a drag’ was regarded as a calm interlude in the working day. I have no doubt that this actually was the case, a fag break was a good thing in terms of relaxing but as we now know, there was a price to pay. I can’t tell you what good fun it was to have a fag with your mates and be one of the lads. We smoked everywhere we had a chance away from the parents and must have smelt like ashtrays! I can’t remember when I first smoked in front of mother and father, I suspect it was after I left school and went to Harrods Farm.

From then on I was on a steady diet of about twenty fags a day. As I got older the number gradually crept up and reached a peak when I was driving for Richard Drinkall in the late 60’s. It was at this point that I realised I was getting chest infections twice a year on average and made the connection with smoking. By this time I was smoking fags, cigars and a pipe as well. I decided to stop and did so. For three years I never had a smoke at all but wanted one all the time. I remember Richard telling me once that either I started smoking again or he would sack me, I was so bad tempered. God knows how Vera fared; I must have been pretty bad.

I remember watching Dan Smith load his pipe in the pub one day and marvelled at the look of utter contentment on his face as he settled back for a quiet smoke. Two days later I bought an ounce of Erinmore on my way home from Ayr and threw it on the table when I walked into the house. Vera said it was the best thing she had seen for three years and brought my pipes down from where she had them stowed away. I filled up, lit up and entered a fag and cigar free phase of smoking that has lasted ever since and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Pipe smoking is completely different from any other form of tobacco addiction. I’ve always said that it takes a particular sort of bloke to smoke a pipe. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye. I often listen to people condemning smoking and think to myself that if they knew the contentment a pipe of good tobacco can give they would soon change their tune. Of course it could never happen because the very fact that they feel qualified to condemn everyone else means that they would never have the temperament to smoke a pipe anyway!

I was talking to a doctor in America last month about this subject and I asked him how many pipe smokers had come into his surgery over the years who could be said to be in trouble because of their habit. He thought for a while and then told me none. He also agreed with me that there might be something in my theory that the mucus in the lungs which pipe smoking encourages, might be the thing that has protected me for years against asbestos, particulates and various other airborne nasties that I have been exposed to. At 64 I have no cough, no problems with breathing and no discernable ill effects at all from my habit. I might just be lucky, I might have a system that tolerates tobacco well, there could be lots of reasons. All I can say with certainty is that I am comfortable with my habit, I don’t smoke much nowadays and what I do smoke I really enjoy.

One other thing, in these days when pipe smokers are a rarity, you would be surprised by the number of people that comment on how nice the smell from good tobacco is. Complete strangers have spoken to me about this many a time and many say it reminds them of their dad or husband. One woman in America begged my old tobacco pouch off me and sniffs it regularly as it brings back such lovely memories of her father. Not a bad fetish really!

On a technical note, I always smoke the same sort of pipe, a Falcon that has an aluminium stem and condenses a lot of the vapour out of the smoke and collects it in the base of the bowl. I change pipes every day and having about eight of them, rest them for a week before using them again. I also keep them very clean and I have little doubt that this care of my pipes is one of the reasons why I seem to suffer so little bad effect. I also recognise the effects of the nicotine and when I have my first pipe of the day always have a small whisky that counteracts the effects of the nicotine by opening up my arteries and reducing my blood pressure. Combine this with the fact I have been taking an aspirin every morning for the last forty years and this might explain why my blood pressure is 120/80 which they tell me is perfect. Whatever the reasons, there are no indications that I should do anything to change my life style. If ever there are, I shall take the necessary steps.

This years travels.

I’ve been travelling since mid-April when I went to Northfield as usual. I was there, with Martha and Roger, until June 10th when we all set off for Europe. They went to Cambridge and I came home to Barlick for a few days. On the 14th of June I went down to Cambridge, we all flew out to Frankfurt and there we met the Carleton Students who had flown direct from America. We then had ten days travelling across Germany and finished up in Flanders. I got home on June 26th and have been here ever since getting straight. On July 14th I go to Keele to teach the students for a week and then attend Martha’s daughter’s wedding in Cornwall, from there I come straight back home. Originally I was going to go back to Germany again in October and November but have decided not to do this as I’d rather be at home in bad weather than trailing round Europe with a backpack!

Northfield was good. Three years ago I offered to scrape the paint off Martha and Roger’s wooden house, as this was the only way to do a proper job of refurbishing it. I told them then that it would take five years at two months a year and this year was the third. It’s hard work but very satisfying because nobody else will ever take the trouble, apart from anything else, if you were paying labour it would be too expensive.

I saw all my old friends and made one or two new ones. I met Carl Weiner and his wife Ruth for the first time and Ruth immediately announced that she had a crush on me. This was OK as it is mutual. We swapped Jewish jokes and had a wonderful time every time we met. I look forward to seeing them again next year when I go to Northfield in August. Bob Jacobsen, who runs the drapery store in Northfield was, as usual, in good nick. He was a tail gunner with the 100th Bomber Group in WW11 stationed at Diss. This was the most dangerous job in the world, their life expectancy was 5 ½ missions, Bob survived a full tour. There are thousands of these blokes still alive, all heroes in the best sense of the word and nobody knows about them. I always point out to the students that these people were their age when they were killed, it shocks them but alters their perspective on life, which is as it should be. More about this later.

The day we left Northfield, President Clinton was due in to present the degrees to the graduates at the college. We got out just in time as the Secret Service cordoned off the college and no cars were allowed anywhere near.

Five days later, M&R and I were in Frankfurt meeting the kids and getting them on the train for Rothenburg where we stayed two nights in the jugendherberge or Youth Hostel. Rothenburg is a wonderful survival, it was bombarded badly in the later stages of the war and when it was rebuilt the locals decided to keep it exactly as it was. The result is a slightly ersatz but fascinating mediaeval survival complete with walls, gates and watchtowers. We spent two days sucking the juice out of the place and then moved on to Nuremberg.

At Nuremberg we settled in at the jugendherberge next to the Kaiser Burg on the north side of the town and started to suck the juice out of the town. My main interest, apart from the churches and architecture was the fact that Hitler had chosen Nuremberg as the spiritual centre of his Third Reich.

I’d never fully understood why this was so but learned a lot while I was there. Nuremberg, in addition to being a major trading town after the downfall of the north German Hanseatic League, was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperors. The HRE was elected by the seven German Electoral Princes and was the titular head of most of Western Europe under the auspices of the Pope. This was the case until 1806 when the post was dissolved by the last HRE to prevent Napoleon from usurping the title. This was the high point of German power in Europe during mediaeval times and into the nineteenth century and Hitler wanted to associate this period of power with his Third Reich so he chose Nuremberg for his rallies and the headquarters of the National Socialist Party.

We went to the marching grounds on the south side of the city where there are the remains of the stadium built by Speer on the Zeppelin Field, which was made famous by Lenni Riefenstahl’s film ‘Triumph Of The Will’. Unfinished and partly ruined, the space is tremendously evocative of what went on there in the 30’s and 40’s. The scale is vast and in the background are the remains of the unfinished Speer Stadium which was to have been the venue for the Olympic Games in perpetuity and which was designed to hold 450,000 spectators. The ‘Marching Road’ which passes in front of the reviewing stand on the Zeppelin Field points directly towards the Kaiser Burg at the north end of the town and was intended to make the association with the Holy Roman Empire. The concept and the scale are so overwhelming that it is easy to see why it was such a potent symbol and so useful to the Nazis when they were building their movement.

We went from the Zeppelin Field to Room 600 at the Courts of Justice in Nuremberg. This is not normally open to the public as it is still used as a courtroom for murder trials but we were lucky and managed to get in. This is of course the room where the Nuremberg Trials were carried on after WW11. My first impression was that it was too small but this was soon explained when the court official told us that the end wall had been knocked out by the Americans to make room for the press and spectators. The site was chosen because it had direct access to the prison behind by an elevator in the courtroom and after the trials and the executions, the prison was demolished.

The court official was intrigued when he heard that I had guarded the surviving nazi leaders in Spandau Gaol. He said he couldn’t remember any visitor to the room who had done so. The American students were fascinated by this fact. It is all so long ago to them and here they were with someone who had actually been there and spoken to some of the prisoners.

I can’t say I was disturbed by my visit to room 600 but I was certainly affected particularly so because I knew that later in the week we would be at Ieper in Flanders looking at the WW1 battlefields. It disturbed me a bit when the kids sat in the judge’s seats for photographs but I realised that this was because I had a different frame of reference and shouldn’t impose my standards on them.

Three days later we were in Brugge boarding the coach that was to take us to Ieper. We were accompanied by Brigid Pailthorpe, Emily’s new mother in law, who is two years older than me and who’s father and father in law both served there in the Great War. I got on with her well right from the start because she knew I had been very helpful to Emily and her son Daniel throughout the divorce and all the negotiations for residence in UK for Emily. We also found we had other things in common because her father in law was a surgeon at Ballieul, the dressing station where my granddad, John Shaw Challenger, died of his wounds on Feb 1st 1917. He could have been the surgeon who treated him.

We went round a lot of sites that day and Brigid and I were frequently in tears and supporting each other. The impression of useless death was overwhelming and reached a high water mark at 20:00 that evening at the Menin Gate where volunteers from the Ieper Fire Brigade sound the Last Post every night. I can’t ever remember being so moved in my life. The Last Post has always had this effect on me as I learned during my army service what its significance is. It is sounded every day at military depots and tells the story of a soldier’s daily life in bugle calls ending with the Last Post which signals the end of the day. The symbolism of it is that it reminds all the soldiers of their fallen comrades and whilst I have never subscribed to the military ethos I have always been moved by the reminder of what I consider to be all those wasted lives. To hear it at the Menin Gate was overwhelming. Brigid and I were close to each other but both keeping very private. I noticed that Julia, one of the students, was watching us and was evidently in distress. I spoke to her about it the following day and she said she wanted to help us but didn’t know what to do. I told her I had seen her and the fact that she was so aware of us was a great help. At this, she burst into tears again. I found out afterwards from Martha that the students were up until 2:30 in the morning talking about the day. At first, I was a bit worried about the fact that we were exposing them to such terrible things and such deep feelings. On reflection I think it was alright and may have helped them to understand why our frame of reference is different than theirs. One thing is certain, they were impressed and changed by the experience and I think it can only be for the good.

In conversation afterwards there was another coincidence. Brigid was asking me about my service in Berlin and guarding the war criminals at Spandau and I mentioned teaching the 1st Battalion the Black Watch how to handle the 17pdr. Anti tank gun. She told me that a man called Moncrieff would be at the wedding in Cornwall and that he was an intelligence officer with the Black Watch in Berlin and had been in Korea with them. He will almost certainly remember me, perhaps not personally but the fact that one of the Cheshires came down to instruct them. I can foresee a fascinating conversation when I meet him. Brigid was amazed at the coincidence and also the fact that the Colonel of the Black Watch had given me permission to wear the kilt! She said it was unheard of and was yet another point of contact between us. I have a feeling that Brigid and I will be in touch for many years to come because I was certainly impressed by her. As Ruth said, I think I might have a crush on her!

From Brugge we came back to UK. Brigid parted from us at Waterloo to return home to Exeter and I went with the main party to Cambridge where, after a cup of tea, I set off back to Barlick. I was reunited with Eigg and back in my own hutch by 21:00 and settled down to getting straight and digesting the events of the preceding ten days. I’m still affected by the experiences at Ieper and especially by Tyne Cot Cemetery on the slope in front of Paschendaele. It will take a long time for this to subside but I’m glad I went there. I shall take Brigid’s advice and go back to Ballieul and some day I want to take my daughters there as well. Hateful though the whole idea of war is to me, I have a bond with that blood-soaked earth and that can’t be changed.

29 June 2000