I Knew a Nazi

The terrible events in Charlottesville reminded me that the only Nazi I’ve ever knowingly met was nothing like the vile thugs I watched on news streamed over the Internet. She was a quite lovely lady with wonderful memories she shared with me as a little boy.

The Countess, forgive me but I can’t remember her actual name, she liked to be called Countess was a very strange hire by my farmer father in a long ago time when the sun always shone. I can’t recall exactly how old I was but I’d say about 8 or 9. The Countess had heard that Dad was looking for a farm worker who could hand milk and she turned up explaining that she learnt to hand milk on her father’s Austrian estate before the war.

She had a stereotypical educated German accent and a natural commanding way. She was, for her age, obviously a striking woman but I was pre puberty and didn’t really take that in. It may have given her a bit of an edge when Dad interviewed her. She got the job but because Mum hated her from the first moment they met it was for a trial period.

The Countess was obviously used to having servants and she soon had everyone running about getting her things or doing some of her heavier work. Even Dad used to boil kettles at the crack of dawn to ensure the water she used to wash the cow’s udder prior to milking was nice and warm.

It was summer and the cows were tethered in fields some way away from the farm. The Countess would ride in the tractor pulled trailer but only after bales of hay were found to make her comfortable. I would go along because it was during the holidays and she would have me carrying and fetching for her.

She could milk but she didn’t like the cows moving around and one of my jobs was to hold it still while she milked it. It was then she would tell stories of her grand life before the war. It was very Sound of Music with her father an Austrian nobleman managing his vast estate. 

She was a beautiful young woman, her words, the belle of every ball. She eventually found herself in Berlin High Society and she developed a crush on Herr Hitler. She joined the Nazi party and was “a low number” of which she was very proud. Gradually she got into the Fuhrer’s social circle and lived some sort of magical life.

I told Mum these stories and she said that’s what they were, just stories. The Countess was a liar. 

I told the Countess what Mum had said. This was the time when it was decided the Countess should leave. She was quite sad and just before she left she brought a photograph album to show me. Lots of glossy black and white pictures of ladies in slinky dresses and men in fancy uniforms. She pointed herself out in one and I could see it was a much younger version of herself.

She was at a fancy dining table. The man sat next to her I recognised as Adolf Hitler. She pointed out other men whose names I only knew from a playground song about testicles. She was telling the truth.

Are you familiar with the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separatio? Well there’s only one degree of separation between me and Hitler. Can you beat that?

She was a Nazi, she did know Hitler and she was a very nice lady. 

Years later I was reminiscing about the Countess with Dad. Mum had given him hell until he fired her. He did add a bit to her story which was she was from a Jewish family and had to make a quick exit just before the invasion of Poland. Now I’ve no idea if she was telling the truth or was just trying to get around Anti German sentiment in Guernsey at that time. Who knows?

But I do know that I knew a real Nazi and that she knew Hitler. 

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The Bunny that Shrieked in the Night

The Bunny that shrieked in the night

Woke me from a deep sleep, full of fright.

The three dogs that use 97% of my bed

Were shaking, their eyes full of dread.

The Bunny, in pain, shrieked once more 

Just as the black cat came through the door.

Mystery solved, Bunny was cat Zero's trophy prey

Brought home as tribute which somehow got away.

Following the three quaking dogs line of sight

I saw it hidden under the chair, jammed tight.

What to do, what to do? Don't Panic, sort it out.

Zero calmly advanced to finish her kill. No, I shout.

The Bunny withdraws further under the armchair 

Hoping to find a way to escape but life's not fair

And Zero is waiting there the seeds of death sown.

I can't see what's happening but I hear a crack of bone.

I sit here now killing time before I clear the carcass

Please don't judge my cat she isn't really heartless.





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The Meadow

I've cut a path through my old meadow

And made the long wild grass short and low.

This makes it easier for me to amble

Through the wild flowers that ramble

Amongst the variety of grasses.

I stop and raise my trusty field glasses,

Yes, it's a wren. There she goes again and

She's replaced with flashes of gold so grand

As my favourite, the Goldfinches, feed on seeds.

Everyone should own a meadow, full of blooming weeds.

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My Old Tractor

There’s something about an old tractor that makes my poor heart sing. 

Give me an old grey Fergie with tinwork dotted with rust

And you give me a wonderful tractor which I can love and trust.

It maybe because it was my first one, and I let nostalgia rule

But driving an Old T20 makes me feel young and cool.

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Dad

Inevitably as Father’s Day approaches my thoughts have turned to my Dad who is no longer with us. A very likeable man who adored children and had very few flaws. In comparison to much more volatile, but equally as caring, Mum he was a saint. It was a great shame that one by one we let him down. Let me explain.

Very much the family man he imagined a thriving family business, the farm, with all of working together with him permanently at the helm. I think it would be unfair to imagine that he purely thought of his five children as a cheap workforce although we certainly were. He actually enjoyed working with us.

His big mistake was educating us well and raising us all to be strong minded and independent. If he really wanted to keep us on the farm he shouldn’t have married Mum who passed on her dogged determination to us as well. 

I have really happy memories of my pre school years with Dad. I was often sent out with him in what would now be a Health & Safety nightmare land of a working farm. It was good fun with the horses and cows and Dad singing lots of old ballads as we clip clopped along. “A Farmer’s Boy” and “If I were a Blackbird” being but two of my favourites. The latter regularly belted out by Grandpa as well. 

My school years broke the bond a bit as we mostly saw each other in passing and when we were together he was usually having a nap in his chair.

I got to know him best and admire him most when we worked together. He was old, slow and in ill health but he knew more about farming than I ever would. I may have been young and fit but I didn’t have the endurance he had to see manual jobs through from start to finish. 

He also had lived through such changing times and had a wealth of stories to tell. He could describe the reality of an age that no longer existed and with such enthusiasm that no matter how bad things sounded he described them in a glass half full way. Extolling the joys of digging out the privy or describing the exhilaration of washing under an outside tap in the middle of winter just endorsed the message of the good old days.

He did expect a lot from us. For instance when I contracted adult mumps, it wasn’t my cheeks that were swollen, I’d never felt worse in my life. I was in pain and running a very high temperature. I soldiered on and milked the cows but by the end I could hardly walk. I almost crawled back to the house where I did collapse on the kitchen floor.

Dad comes in looking for me and sees me in distress. He suggests that if I just wash the milking parlour down and clean the milking machines I can have the rest of the morning off. It seemed uncaring at the time but to be honest he was in worse health than I was. 

Then one day, like my four siblings before me, I broke his heart by heading out into the world on my own. I dealt the hardest blow because I was the last one. Hard for me to realise the impact at the time but now I’m a similar age to him I appreciate how comforting it is to have family close.

I do miss him but I’m comforted by the memories and particularly his one line life lessons which have and still serve me well.

“You’re as good as anyone, probably better” and “No one’s going to get off a galloping horse to look at you” have served me well over the years.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You were a good ‘un,  I’ve tried to be like you but found it was impossible. Thanks for making me what I am today (with a lot of help from Mum). 

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Mum’s Doll

mumTina Turner was blasting “When I was a little girl I had a rag doll. Only Doll I’ve ever owned” from out of my radio. I immediately thought of my mother and her doll made from a tea towel.

Mum had a very disadvantaged childhood. Her father died in a military hospital a few weeks before she was born in 1916. Granny already had 3 other daughters and only a small war pension to live off.

She also had or developed a drinking problem which didn’t add to the families prospects at all. Her Grandfather, James Mitchell, did look out for the family and for a time was the father she never had because of World War 1. He was a distinguished, well known and well liked man but he also had to work as a very old man to earn his living. He was also taken away from the family when he fell down the stairs and never recovered from his injuries.

Times were hard and the modern benefits society didn’t exist then.There was no money for toys. Christmas was about new clothes and shoes not playthings.

Mum’s Grandad showed her how to cleverly fold a tea towel to look like a sleeping baby wrapped in a blanket. That became her toy, her friend in harsh times.

Many times over the years I saw her unconsciously fold a tea towel to make her little doll and give it a sly hug before flicking it out to dry the dishes.

Decade after decade she made that doll continuing right into her ninth.

Comfort can be found in the most prosaic of items.

 

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The Phantom Cosmonaut on BBC Guernsey

Tom Girard

A rare post regarding my musical alter-ego now as, to round what has been an extraordinary year for The Phantom Cosmonaut, I made my live radio debut on Tuesday 3rd December as the guest of John Randall on BBC Guernsey.

Across the half hour session I played my songs Penglais Hill and Lady Dreamer live in the studio as well as covering a whole bunch of things in the interview from playing all three of the Bailiwick’s main summer festivals this year to supporting Wilko Johnson, Norman Watt-Roy and Teaspoonriverneck.

Anyway, you can listen to the whole thing on the BBC iPlayer or through the BBC Guernsey radio pages until the afternoon of Tuesday 10th, just click the links and scroll through to an hour and 34 minutes.

If you want to hear more of my music you can do so on my Soundcloud page and here is…

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