Monday 10 June 2024

Gold Hill

 


Springtime for Hitler

I have a D-Day story which is both personal and political. I was born in March 1945 which means I was conceived in June 1944. My father was a military doctor who was on a hospital ship some days after the first landings. As a neurologist, he treated psychologically-damaged troops and worked in field hospitals, moving east with the advance into, and across, Germany. He was one of the first Allied medics into Bergen-Belsen. I remember him telling me how British troops handed out high-calorie rations to the starving prisoners and that thousands had died after their liberation because they were unused to food.

When I was 5 years old, I discovered photos in the bottom drawer of his desk that he’d taken while at the concentration camp. There were wheelbarrows full of corpses with limbs trailing on the ground. Faces with protruding eyes. The pyjamaed living carrying the naked dead. Bodies lying on top of each other in mass graves. I would stare at them in horror. I think it was these photos that made me a lifelong anti-fascist.

When I was sorting out my father’s desk when he was moved to his care home, they weren’t there. I would like to have asked him what had happened to them, but I’m left to guess his motives. Perhaps he felt guilty that he could have intervened to stop the disastrous food handout by the well-meaning British troops. Perhaps he just felt guilty to be in such a place at such a time. That was something I felt when I, too, was a helpless witness to war deaths I could do nothing about.

When he was in Belsen, he became a close friend of a fellow neurologist, Karl Henrik Køster, who’d fled from Copenhagen by boat to Sweden. He had helped over 2000 Jews escape by organising ‘funerals’ with hearses, black clothes and flowers. Escapees were hidden inside coffins and posed as funeral attendants. One day when leaving his apartment, he passed some members of the Gestapo on the stairs. One of them asked, “Where is Dr Køster?”

“He lives on the top floor,” he answered, rushing out of the building and passing the corpse of a medical student shot by the Gestapo as they entered the building. He then made his way to the UK and joined the British army. His wife, Doris, was not so lucky. The Gestapo imprisoned her. She survived, but their marriage didn’t.

Karl committed suicide in the 1980s and didn’t live to see the 1998 Hollywood film made about his life, Miracle at Midnight. Directed by Ken Cameron, it starred Sam Waterson as Karl and Mia Farrow as Doris. I recently came across his words explaining why he’d joined the Resistance. ‘It was the natural thing to do. I would have helped any group of Danes being persecuted. The Germans picking on the Jews made as much sense to me as picking on redheads.’

Before my father left for Normandy, he’d been based at a military hospital in Shaftesbury which was at the foot of Gold Hill. I was born in Bell Street which is at the top of Gold Hill.

My mother used to tell me that I was a ‘mistake’, but when she’d say it, she’d give me a big kiss. I’d like to imagine that my father returned home from the hospital the night before he embarked for France, and their conversation might have gone something like this.

My father would have cleared his throat, put down his pipe and said, “Betty, dear. I’m leaving for Normandy tomorrow. Shall we?”

My mother would have poured herself a glass a sherry. She already had two young daughters. “Only if you have a condom.”

My father didn’t.
“Then you must go back to the hospital and get one. Two children are enough.”
“I might be dead in a few days, and I’m not going down and then up that damn hill 
again.”

Nine months later I arrived.

At the recent D-Day celebrations, the French insisted the 400 British parchutists reinacting that fateful day produce their passports.

The Russians who, 80 years before, had organised a D-Day diversionary attack on German forces on the Eastern front, resulting in half a million Russian deaths, were not invited to attend.

However, Ukraine’s leaders were invited whose predecessors had collaborated with the Nazis. One of their current army brigades––the Azov––proudly wear Nazi insignia.

Our Prime Minister spent about as long there as the first D-Day troops who never made it on to the beach.

King Charles was photographed wearing more medals than the centenarian veteran he shook hands with. The only beaches he has been on would be with a G&T in hand and not a Lee-Enfield.

In this short piece I’m not going to mention the genocide taking place right now with the UK’s backing.

In memory of my first spring, and with a nod in the direction of Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler”, here’s the steep hill I owe my life to.


Tuesday 4 June 2024

Private Passions

 




I am presently in Spain helping Anne Aylor with her 14th Novel Writing course 

As always it is a wonderful experience to be able to act as her ‘administrator’. This involves me with very a little work, lots of great food thanks to chef Lee Pennington and the chance to meet and talk with lovely people and great writers. 




This year one of the participants is Dorothy Byrne who was a recent guest of the BBC on Michael Berkeley 'Private Passions’. I’d like to give the show a plug, not only because it is very interesting and includes her excellent music choices, but also because I owe Dorothy a debt of gratitude. Thanks to her I was able to expose the wrongdoings in the charity I co-founded over 20 years ago and, more recently, she and Gráinne Palmer helped me through illness and operations. And you are right Dorothy about the composer Amy Beach. She ran into her freedom with spirit and joy. I love the title she gave this composition.




Friday 10 May 2024

Jan Woolf's 'The Rhythms of Mount Velež



The Rhythms of Moun Velež, Bosnia Herzegovina' - collage, acrylic and watercolour on card.

"I loved doing this one. It came together suspiciously quickly. Thanks to David Wilson for the original photo." JAN WOOLF


Writer and artist Jan Woolf is a friend of mine, living and working in London. After I had sent her a photo of Mount Velež she decided to work on this collage This is the photo Jan worked from. Taken on a bad weather day




This is the mountain on a good weather day




On a good weather day and sitting in a garden below Mount Velež I wrote these words.

  I was in Počitelj, 30 kilometres south west of Mostar. It is a small town and, as you can see, an example of how mankind can impress additional beauty on that already provided by landscape and nature. But this is not written about Počitelj nor about Mostar.




I have been staying in Bijelo Polje, a few kilometres to the north east of Mostar and I am writing this soon after dawn and two days before I return to London. The human world is silent, broken only by the scraping of my chair as I change position and my fingers tapping on this keyboard. The only other sound which connects me to other humans is the distant barking of a dog, bred by humans and many, as I suspect of this troubled barker, abandoned by them. The family dog here doesn’t bark, is as content as I am, and is still asleep on her blanket. 

It is getting lighter and the sun appears from behind Mount Velež. As it does so birds get louder with their dawn chorus. They seem to be expressing their delight at this new day. I have no idea what birds I am hearing as there are different chirps, songs and calls from, and in, every direction. I have read that there are more than 150 species in the Mostar area, not all here at one time, but I have counted about 10 different birdsongs this morning. 

The sunlight moves across the fields and woods like an incoming tide, adding sunlit patches and tree shadows as it advances. It reaches me and I move my laptop into shade. Dew on the wet grass sparkles like fairy lights and look as though they jump from one spot to another. I can hear a rooster. Two butterflies flutter by. The dog wakes, moves into the morning sun, stretches her legs, yawns and flops down with a sigh. It’s time to make coffee.












 

Saturday 20 April 2024

Honouring Ken Livingstone

 




On Saturday 20th April Jan Woolf organised a 'Thanks Ken' afternoon at the Gatehouse pub theatre in London's Highgate.  Family and friends wanted to celebrate his life and honour his legacy as Mayor of London.  On sale was a pamphlet which included my conversation with him over a takeaway curry and contributions acknowledging his many achievements  as an honest, good and effective politician. A few are included below  


In Conversation with David Wilson]


My father used to tell me that you can always tell who is the honest politician. He’s the one wearing the pink hat. When leader of the Greater London Council, Margaret] Thatcher accused Ken of introducing an “eastern European” style “tyranny” for crimes such as lowering bus fares and organising anti-racist celebrations. When I met with him recently in  a north London restaurant, a woman sitting at a nearby table came over, shook his hand and thanked him for all he had done for her city. That was fifteen years after the end of his time as Mayor. The last word must be given to the man in the pink hat and this conversation over a take-away curry allows him to do just that.



DW How are you feeling, Ken?

KL I have a very bad memory. My diagnosis is ‘early onset dementia and

Alzheimer’s disease’ and ‘just the beginning’. I also have arthritic knees, but

my earlier cancers (expand) haven’t amounted to anything. Other than that,

my doctor tells me I’m in good health. But I’m an old man now. How old

are you?

DW The same age as you.

KL At the time you and I were born, the average life expectancy was 63. We

are products of the Welfare State and our marvellous National Health Service.

DW I’d like to ask you a few questions. Maybe the best place to start is with

your health.

KL Might be very short because I might not be here much longer.

DW You mustn’t talk like that. We’re here while we are here. Chrysippus,

a Stoic philosopher, said ‘Where there is life there is no death, and where

there is death there is no life.’ And he died from a fit of laughter. Are you a

happy person?

KL I am right now. It’s very nice to get out and socialise. I spend so much

time at home reading and watching documentaries as nobody contacts me

for work since I was accused of anti-semitism.

DW You used to write a food column for the Evening Standard, but you’ve

hardly touched your curry. Why?

KL I’ve lost my appetite. I eat a banana for breakfast. At lunch I have some

prawns or fried onion rings with salad and the same for dinner.

DW And drink?

KL I go to the pub every day and like to meet other old men who don’t have

a workplace any more. I enjoy maybe two or three beers during the day.

DW You talk about your own extinction, but you were quoted a few weeks

ago saying that you thought humans would be extinct this century. Can you

say more?

KL I know that sounds dramatic, but all politicians must take this seriously

– it’s the biggest issue we face – it dwarfs everything else. When people do

things right, like cities introducing the congestion charge and ULEZ type

schemes, set up wind farms, reduce plastics and recycle, it gives people

a sense of agency, and we must praise these actions and be positive. But

it’s the politicians who are not doing enough. Now it’s about promoting

themselves and getting rich, and it’s at the expense of the environment, like

the destroyed forests and new oil extractions in the ocean. Governments

should be investing green with laser panels, etc, rather than seek to make

themselves and their friends rich. If I wasn’t an old man with arthritis and

early onset’, I’d be out with Just Stop Oil.

DW You are on record as saying that this government is the worst in our life-

time. What should Keir Starmer be prioritising to help the working people

of this country?

KL I see that Keir is now chatting away with Tony Blair. Might they discuss

a massive redistribution of wealth by cracking down on all the tax dodgers?

that we don’t increase tax on ordinary people, but on the corporations

and super rich? He should be reinstating child benefit for all children as

it’s working class people and different ethnic groups that have the bigger

families. Keir should just be a proper socialist and dismiss the legacy of Blair

who stopped the Labour Party being a socialist party.

DW As GLC leader and Mayor of London, your legacy seems to be secure

as the London politician whose progressive policies made a real difference to

the lives of ordinary Londoners.

KL Of course I was always controversial. Break the word down – contra-

versial means an opposing story. I had different policies from many in

the establishment – whether Conservative or Labour – and had to fight

democratically to get them through. As leader of the GLC, my Fares Fair policy

and Freedom Passes for the elderly are examples, and as Mayor the congestion

charge and efficient city transport. My transition from GLC leader to Mayor

is well documented in my books, Livingstone’s London (Muswell Press), Being

Red (Left Book Club) and my autobiography You Can’t Say That (Faber). Let’s

just say, as a working class Londoner, I fought for progressive policies for all

Londoners, whether they were born here or not. The policies and details of

political shenanigans to get to power to get them through are all in the books.

I think I’ll have some of that rice and dal now.

DW As Mayor of London, you played an important role internationally,

speaking out for peace and reconciliation. What is your take on the

international situation right now?

KL I want to return to this. The biggest climate polluter on the planet is

the war machine. Governments need to be doing all they can for peace,

not stoking war scenarios that only benefit the arms manufacturers. No

government in the world is tackling climate change. I’m so worried about

my kids. We grew up in a world where there were socialist governments

everywhere, and even conservative governments were making concessions

to the working class. Churchill actually said you either give people reform,

or they will take it in the form of revolution.

DW Thank you very much.

KL You’re welcome. I just love talking about myself. It helps me remember

what I did. These days I have to check my autobiography to find out. Another

beer?

DW Yes please






Richard Kuper, publisher, Dartmouth Park

Ken’s period at the GLC was an inspiration. Constantly on the radio and

in the news, he was always able to explain what he was doing in simple, no-

nonsense terms. No-one could box him into a corner. To put it another way

– with a hat tip to Antonio Gramsci – he made socialist ideas and policies

sound like the common sense they were (and are). He was a real leader, not

out for self-aggrandisement but using power to empower others, encouraging

and facilitating people’s ability to organise themselves. And always willing to

stick two fingers up to the Tories in the nicest possible way. Just by being at

the GLC. As the title of his book would have it, “If voting changed anything

they’d abolish it”. As they did.


Merilyn Moos, writer, retired teacher, Archway

I’m glad you were willing to stand up against John Mann’s Zionist onslaught

against you. As you said at the time, “There’s been a very well-orchestrated

campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticised Israeli policy

as anti-semitic.”


Matthew Deveraux, performer, teacher, Archway

Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “All truth passes through three stages: First,

it is ridiculed; second, it is opposed; and third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

This puts me in mind of many of the innovative policies of Livingstone when

in office, both as leader of the GLC and later as Mayor of London.


Keirion Carroll

It was 1984 and I was going on my first Gay march. was  sure all straight men hated gays and then came along Ken Livingstone.Ken didn’t just tolerate gays he actually supported us and believed we were equal to all. A straight man that didn’t hate us was new to me. And he became like a father figure, unlike our own fathers who  had disowned many of us. I began to feel that maybe I didn’t need to feel  ashamed anymore that if one regular man could see meas equal  then why not more. I dared to dream. With Ken's support  we  were fearless.

Friday 12 April 2024

Left Field after eight years

 

My memoir Left Field was published in 2016 by Unbound and distributed bt Penquin. I have been informed that is no longer available in shops and difficult to buy online, but you can now read it for free here and as an e-book and in Audible


 The intervening years have been ones of personal and political hope and of personal and political despair. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Not surprisingly for someone in my seventh decade, these have been years when close friends have left this planet while I remain clinging to its edges, aware of Leonard Cohen’s words to Marianne Ihlen that, “I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”


The subdural haematoma operation I wrote about in Left Field was followed two years later by a heart valve operation, then a stroke caused by a strepsis infection of my new valve. I used my hospital stays to campaign for an NHS that had now saved my life three times.


 


I'm proud that the unfairly much-vilified Jeremy Corbyn visited me when I was in St Barts Hospital. The worst insult he has had to endure has been ‘anti-semitism’ accusations about a man who has been at the forefront of anti-racism struggles all his life.

 

To that end, I helped organise a letter in his support signed by Ken Loach, Brian Eno, Grime4Corbyn, Nigel Kennedy, Alexei Sayle and thousands of others, I consider Corbyn to be our El Pepe. 



His visit to me was organised by Alice Kilroy whose recent death has left my grip on the planet edges more enfeebled. She was a wonderful friend and visited me in hospital more times  than anyone outside my immediate family. I miss her. Here she is with the banner she made for my 70th birthday.

 

 

Before she died in February 2020, Alice asked me to take over her work as one of the contributors to People's Campaign for Corbyn Facebook.  You can view all these blogs on my website at www.davidwilson.org.uk


Plenty to keep me busy and angry in support of Jeremy, but am also finding time to write a new book, about food and memory. My World Café has beem published by Riversmeet in November 2022. It is a collaboration with the wonderfully gifted artist Laura Davis

 


  
These years have been ones when my eldest son lost and won back his disability benefits. Many haven’t and many have lost their lives in the process.


These have also been years of loss for me, not of the dead, but of a living son who has ghosted me. I wrote about this under a pseudonym for Stand Alone, a charity set up for people estranged from their families. 

 

 

My past as co-founder of the charity War Child still haunts me and hope it haunts those I write critically about here. I recently learned that the present War Child CEO receives an annual salary of £116,000.

 

My critique of aid charities continued after two visits to the Calais ‘jungle’ refugee ‘camps’. 

 

Perhaps we have to become more French because La Lutte must continue against a system that rewards rogues, steals votes.




I visit my eldest son Ben in Cornwall and in July 2022 I took the longer journey to Mostar to stay with my Bosnian family who I wrote about in Left Field.


When there I was honoured to see me in the entrance to the Pavarotti Music Centre,






and here are Oha Maslo and Mili Tiro standing with me


 

Here in London I have been trying to play guitar again. My left hand was weakened by the stroke. My music friends are at Camden Guitars and the owner, Deicola Neves, tells me off when I complain. "Didn't you know that Django Reinhardt only had three fingers? 

Here is my friend playing great jazz on bass guitar.




And here is a Dubioza Kolektiv track about borders that kill. I dedicate this entry to the memory o f Alice Kilroy and all those who have kept me connected to music and therefore to life.

 

 

As I conclude this postscript genocide smashes its way through Gaza and Palestine, aided and abetted by our political leaders and the 'liberal media'. All we are left with is Gramsci's - 'pessimism of the heart, optimism of the will.'

 

You can read All of Left Field here.