This is one of those posts that i have been waiting to write for a long time.
I was tempted to try and make a humorous explanation right at the start about going from 1 word titles down to random collections of letters and numbers, if i left it at that some readers might get the significance of that group of letters although its probably only me that has such strange obsessions. Instead of a direct explanation i will tell a short story instead. Today i was using an amazingly powerful modern tool within the internet to go and search the small town in East Anglia where i grew up. I found the town and the street and then zoomed in so far that the view changed up to a street view and i could look at the first house i remember. I was specifically looking for a particular window that at one time was my bedroom window right up in the eaves of that house and doing that because i was trying to work out the azimuth of view from that window. The reason i was doing that was because it was far easier than driving all the way there and taking a bearing : although i could have gone to a place nearby to see ‘Mellow’ (the yellow Devon Yawl)
It took me just a few minutes to orientate myself from map view and then into satellite view which then changes to street view at a certain level of resolution. Of course the street has changed although not much and i was able to find the house by moving the view up and down the street and panning the camera around. I found what i was looking for and from that i worked out the starting position although i can’t see a way of translating that to an OS map reference and then worked out the azimuth of the view that i would have had : just west of north. The reason for doing that exercise : well that’s the window from where i watched an unidentified flying object descend quite clearly for about a minute when i was 7 or 8 years old !. I can draw and describe the object to this day and still today i can’t explain what i saw. I know i was awake and looking out of that window sometime around civil twilight on a summer evening, it wasn’t dark, wasn’t the setting sun or the moon nor can it have been a star. I have a good sense of scale and direction just as i do now so i would still be able to hazard a guess at size, distance down range and rate of descent….after that i have no idea what my young brain saw.
Task complete, and it didn’t really help me any further, i went for a virtual wander around the town : went to find the 2 schools that i had attended and then went to see if i could my boyhood friends houses. Along the way as i was panning the camera down one street i came across one thing that really brought back a memory. It was a small double-fronted shop that i used to walk past every day to and from school and it was the left hand window that had a magnetic attraction for me. I’m surprised that there isn’t a permanent grease mark from my forehead being pressed up against that window. You see , the shop had been a hardware cum DIY store out front and i think a funeral director out back but at some time the proprietor had converted part of the left end to a hobby store and specifically selling ‘Airfix’ kits….anyone remember them ?. If you do then we are speaking the same language of delight and obsession because for most of the years after that first discovery building model kits became my total obsession. Funny thing is that i can not only remember the exact layout of the shop and the display shelves at the only important end but i remember how the smaller and lower priced kits were all in little plastic bags on hangers almost exactly at my eye level…..the bigger and more expensive kits all went up in layers above that and way outside pocket money range. Not only that but i remember exactly which model i bought and put together first : yes the SDKFZ 234/4. Astute readers will now spot the deliberate error.
*That’s nearly the real thing BTW but not quite !
Here is the nearest thing i can find to that little model .
Ok but so what ?….you may ask.
What possible relevance or significance does a childhood hobby have to anything today ?
Well allow me to explain what mere model-making did for me as a child and then where the hobby took me. First it gave me an incredibly accurate eye for form, structure, scale and detail : next it taught me concentration, patience and a high-order level of hand and eye coordination. Next it taught me how to research and learn about a subject and that was a long time before we had the internet : to get any information at all i actually had to go the library and see if there was even one book about the subject and if not then dare to approach a forbidding but bemused librarian and ask if was possible to find something. My parents clearly thought that it was a massive waste of time and effort. Where i wanted it to take me by about the age of 14 was to become a professional model maker for film and TV and that didn’t happen. Some time at around 16 when i had already left school and was working i just put my brushes down one night, packed everything up and went over to see my mate and help him polish the alloy casings on his Norton Commando….in return for a blat around the back lanes ! I didn’t ever pick up the hobby again, maybe it was just a fantasy escape but what it left me with was a reasonable level of knowledge of military history and actual history of the 20th century. By the time i finished modelling i knew to a high degree of resolution how tanks were organised and operated within say Panzer divisions. I knew something about all the major campaigns of the second world war, knew the commanders off by heart. My fascination even extended to the ‘bad boys’ of the Waffen SS and my favourite unit to model was ‘Das Reich’ (more later).
So what do we have ? an adolescent with a very nerdy hobby and a weirdly arcane knowledge base. At the time of course i was at school and it would have been the time when the school transitioned from being a grammar school to a comprehensive. We ‘learnt’ history or at least sat through history lessons with the worlds most boring history teacher delivering the most boring history known to man : parliamentary reform in the 19th century for fucks sake !. There i was deeply immersed in a recent history that had given us both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism and was giving us a cold war ‘right now’ and there was school curriculum history droning on about something totally irrelevant. Now, i won’t say i knew it all : i wasn’t that pretentious. In my own time and my own reading i had ‘discovered’ Auschwitz and the holocaust and even then was just getting a sense of the soviet terror too. In my own time too i had stood alongside the runway as one of our own nuclear deterrent ‘Vee’ bombers blasted past in a visceral roar that was so loud it could only be felt…..and then leapt into the air to do staggeringly low flypasses at near supersonic speed. Years later i knew and talked to one of the Vulcan pilots about the ‘mission’ : literally to fly very fast and very low (you should hear the stories) and deliver the weapons of apocalypse. None too surprising then that i left school at 16 with a more than slightly nihilistic view and preferred to ride motorbikes, drink beer and climb cliff faces for fun : after all what did it matter in the face of possible total destruction yet to come.
Do remember that i grew up in East Anglia with the RAF and USAF bases dotted all over that flat countryside that was so perfect for long flat runways. Over time i lost interest in the military history side as i had already absorbed so much of it. I can’t say i got over the nihilism of that era either because by the time we had regular TV we were straight into ‘live’ action from Vietnam. Putting the military history aside i started to read more general histories of the period and yes that’s the entire 20th century that i looked at and do remember that period was the one when the cover was ‘blown’ on the soviet utopia as Solzhenitsin’s writings became commonly available and suddenly the academics had nowhere to go. In my own small and limited way i began to understand the whole era of extreme state nationalism on the one hand and extreme state totalitarian marxism on the other. I remember once asking myself and others a staggeringly simple and crucial question something like “what would i have been like and what would i have done if i had been born a young German male say around 1920-1930” and its here that i am going to digress and tell another true story.
Some time in the late 1990’s i often worked in cardiothoracic intensive care in a hospital on the south coast : often in between my major races and voyages. I worked a lot with an older night sister called Trudi whom i got along very well with. At the time we were both solidly embedded in the sailing scene there with her being married to one of the most prolific yacht designers of that time. At work in the intensive care unit i worked a lot of night shifts and it was normal practice that the oncoming shift would first meet in the staff coffee room and receive our shift handover. It was a great team mainly on nights and there was frequently a lot of banter and good humour in the staff room. On the evening that i remember the banter had been all about the girl-guides and brownies : i think one of the nurses had brought in a picture of herself in ‘brownie’ uniform. Of course i was pulled into the humour : i think i said something about being kicked out for bad behaviour !. The joke ended and the laughter died down, in the corner the night sister said “of course i was in the hitler youth” and everybody laughed and then suddenly stopped laughing because the night sister wasn’t joking at all. Later that same night during the shift when the night sister was doing her walk-around i asked her to tell me more about that time. What she said was initially a statement in German which i remember as being something along the lines of it being ‘in ordnung’ roughly translates as ‘normal, ordinary or ok’ and what she said was exactly that ie that at the time it was normal, ordinary ok and even expected that the children would all have been members of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler youth).
Shortly i will attempt to come to a conclusion here and after that i am going to post a link to one of Dr Jordan Petersen’s best lectures. The lecture is actually about existentialism therefore Nietzshe et al but the main part is a blistering talk about the Kulaks and Gulags and the failure of western academics and intellectuals to realise what what was happening.
From a childhood obsession to an adolescent interest i read and modelled just one of the famous/notorious SS Panzer divisions : the 2nd SS Panzer or ‘Das Reich’. Through my own reading then and the internet today i followed that unit from its epic battles inside soviet Russia and back to southern France where it refitted and re-armed before marching north to eventually be the hammer that nailed allied paratroops that had dropped into occupied Holland. Along the way of course they had encounters with the French resistance and that ended with the horror of Oradour sur Glanne
I’m going to end this now although it would be logical now to talk about where this knowledge and this understanding takes me : one obvious conclusion is that had i been a young German male in the 1930’s i might have well have been a tank driver, gunner or commander and might well have worn a deaths-head patch. Today we think we are informed and liberal and that we would never act like that. I disagree and instead would say that had we been there that would have been us. Today where it takes me is that i watch very carefully the rise of both extreme nationalism in europe all over again and now the seemingly inexorable rise of the ‘Antifa’ goons on the streets and the idealogues in academia spouting marxist doctrine. Ask a black clad ‘Antifa’ goon today what they mean when they label someone ‘Nazi’ and they don’t seem to have a clue : it just seems to be everything they hate….and they seem to hate everything that isn’t them…does that sound familiar ?