Monday 21 December 2015

Uncle Karl

A Christmas story from 'Left Field'. "A regular guest at our house was Karl Henrik Køster, a Danish neurosurgeon who’d met my father in Bergen-Belsen when they were both serving in the RAMC. They became close friends and my sisters and I called him Uncle Karl. Because he always came to stay in December, this large man with his deep voice and Nordic accent was Father Christmas, though now I realise he looked more like Karl Marx. Uncle Karl always arrived with a large bottle of Cherry Heering, a Danish liqueur, and gifts for us children. I remember the nine-inch-high brightly-painted wooden soldier with its red tunic and blue trousers. It had moveable arms and a detachable lance which was quickly lost. Karl Henrik was a surgeon at Copenhagen’s Bispebjerg hospital. After operating on a wounded member of the Resistance, medical students asked him to help hide 40 Jews while their escape by boat to Sweden was organised. But how to get them into the hospital? Karl Henrik organised a ‘funeral’ with dark cars, black clothes and flowers. 140 turned up and all of them had to be hidden. He then arranged for ambulances to take them to the coast. In all, he and his hospital saved 2,000 Jews. Then their luck ran out. One day, when leaving his apartment he passed the Gestapo on the stairs. They asked him where Dr Køster could be found. As he left the building he passed the body of a medical student shot in the back. He then followed the same route as those he had helped save and escaped by boat to Sweden. He made his way to the UK and joined the British army. His wife Doris was at home and the Gestapo imprisoned her … The last my father knew of Karl was when he heard from a mutual friend that he had, as my father put it, ‘taken up with his secretary’. He had no idea what happened to poor Doris. Karl committed suicide in the 1980s and didn’t live to see the 1998 Disney film made about his life, Miracle at Midnight, directed by Ken Cameron which starred Sam Waterson as Karl and Mia Farrow as Doris. I recently came across words of his explaining why he acted as he did. ‘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.’ " 

Thursday 17 December 2015

Jeremy Corbyn

I met Jeremy Corbyn in my local pub this evening. He talked about his day in Brussels and I told him about my day at Unbound. I said 'Left Field' was being published soon and that he features in several chapters. He was involved in helping me instigate an enquiry at our local hospital when a neighbour committed suicide. In the chapter 'Ships at Sea' I explained that my politics had been summed up in a lifetime's opposition to joining any parliamentary party, but that I had now had to add a postscript. Because of him, I have joined the Labour Party. He has accepted a copy of the book and wants to attend the launch. It's not too late for you to pledge your copy and, if bought before the end of the year, your name will be printed in the book.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Behind God's Back

In 1994 Anne Aylor wrote 'Behind God's Back' after visiting War Child's operations in Mostar. The New Republic asked to publish it, but wanted the article to focus on the charity's mobile bakery which was feeding the besieged town. She felt the whole piece was important and so, 20 years later, it will appear in 'Left Field'. Here is an excerpt: “I meet Hamid, the official responsible for food distribution in the city. Over whiskey, he explains his view of the conflict. ‘Before the war the mosques were empty. Even now, after all this talk of us “Muslims”, there are still only a few old women there at prayer time. The bridge was our life and they took that from us. They took what was most important. This war has nothing to do with religion. When you hear the muezzin call, you can tell the time.’ He adds, ‘I used to live in West Mostar, close to the cathedral. I loved that cathedral and I loved its clock. I used to look out at it from my flat. When the clock stopped because some idiot damaged the building, I was very sad because I couldn’t tell the time any more. It removed something important in my life. You know,’ he said, ‘that clock on the cathedral and the call to prayer from the mosque are one and the same.'  

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Questions for Tony Benn's son

1. Is your leader a 'terrorist sympathiser'?
2. The Lancet estimated that, "as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area.” Do you accept these figures and if so, do you worry about your responsibility for supporting the UK's involvement in this carnage?
3. Why did you support the sanctions against Iraq prior to the 2003 occupation. When former UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Iraq Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday described their effect as a 'genocide' of children, were they talking rubbish?
4. Are you aware that many of the bombs dropped on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya contained depleted uranium. Have you asked the Ministry of Defence whether these 'cancer-inducing' components are to be used in any forthcoming Syria bombing?
5. I often dream about my dad. I wake up smiling. Do you have the same experience?