The Finishing Line

A few years ago Betty and Jack had a friend, Vera, who had been living in a hostel for the aged for many years. They were good years for Vera, having been able to keep away from her domineering husband. But in the last few months her health had deteriorated to the point where her doctor decided, she should be in a hospital.

Betty and Jack were visiting on the day the ambulance came. As the ambulance men lifted her into the ambulance several people had gathered around to farewell her; nursing staff, a couple of friends and Daniel her elderly male friend.

Daniel had struck up a friendship with Vera during the last few years and they had become very close. So much so, that Daniel very often invited her to his room in the afternoons, where he would prepare a cup of tea or offer Vera a glass of sherry. She liked that very much. They would listen to some music and talked about things past, like the war years and before that. He knew what pleased her and she appreciated it, that he knew.

As Daniel saw Vera being lifted into the ambulance, he knew that this could be her final outing from the home. He shuffled his feet nervously, observing everything.

‘Cheerio, girl,’ he called out, ‘don’t stay too long and look after yourself. You know what those doctors are like.’

His voice started to crack and he took out a handkerchief to wipe his nose and a tear or two. Vera did not see that any more as the ambulance man shut the rear door suddenly with a bang.

As the ambulance headed out the drive way and the people dispersed, Betty and Jack overheard a couple of nurses. One was saying,

‘I wonder who will go first, Vera, the Pope or Prince Rainier?’

‘Perhaps we should take bets,’ the other answered, well aware, that the last two mentioned were in the news at the time and were not expected to live much longer.

A few days later, on a Thursday, Betty and Jack visited Vera in the hospital. She was not very well, would neither eat nor drink. She was sitting in an armchair to help her breathe and a drip was attached to the back of her left  hand. Vera could barely speak. Betty told her husband to go and fetch Daniel to see Vera.

Jack drove to the nursing home and was wondering how he could ask Daniel to come

to the hospital. When he arrived at Daniel’s room, he saw the door was open and Daniel was sitting at his table. As soon as he noticed the visitor, he jumped up, walked towards the door and asked, ‘Mate, could you take me to see Vera, please.’

‘Yes, Danny, that is what I came for,’ Jack told him relieved that he did not need to explain the situation.

‘I’m missing Vera,’ Daniel said when they were driving to the hospital.

‘She is not very well,’ Jack told him. ‘She seems to be much weaker today.’

On arrival at the hospital they went straight to Vera’s room. Jack and Betty left the room to leave Daniel and Vera in private. As they left, they could hear Daniel say,

‘How are you girl?’ She did not answer his question but said to him very softly,

‘Where were you? I was lonely….’

The couple heard no more and felt they had been eavesdropping. It took only two minutes when Daniel came out of the room and said, visibly upset,

‘Take me back. I can’t see her this way.’

Nothing more was said in the car on the way back to the nursing home. Daniel was in deep thought. Even though he was ninety-seven, he still jumped out of the car quickly when they arrived at the home and said,

‘Thanks, I’m all right,’ and he disappeared into the building.

Jack went back to the hospital and picked up his wife. They decided that they would visit Vera the next day again. Next day, after lunch, they were preparing to drive to the hospital when they received a phone call from the hostel. Betty took the call. It was a lady from the staff,

‘Hello, Betty, as friends of Vera, you should know, that she passed away today, around lunch time.’

‘Oh no, how sad,’ Betty said with a sigh and then asked, ‘that must have been upsetting for Daniel?’

‘No, no, he passed away suddenly here in the hostel, two hours before Vera did.’

Jack and Betty were very sad, but were musing that Daniel must have died of a broken heart, feeling after his last visit that he was not able to do anything any more for Vera: No sherry, no tea, no music nothing at all. His life would be empty.

A couple of days later, a Sunday morning, the couple heard on the morning news that the Pope had died on Saturday. Jack remembered the nurse’s conversation at the hostel regarding who would die first and he said to his wife,

‘So, a rank outsider won the race to the finishing line, he came from nowhere through the field. Daniel must have been waiting for Vera on the way to heaven. He probably called out to her, “what are you hanging around for, girl?” One to go,’ Jack finished the analogy, thinking of the Prince of Monaco.

A few days later, Prince Rainier too, came to his finish line.

Old Age

The paraphernalia of old age are waiting beside me on the computer desk: glasses, hearing aid and (sorry) my denture who at the moment gives me some pain and my gums need a rest from time to time. But don’t worry, when I “Skype” with my friends I slip them back in again. And then, there is a cup of herbal tea (lemon balm) to pep me up.

In case you wonder what that thing is with the big, fat 22. It is, what the Germans call, an “Abreisskalender” ( a calendar were you tear of the previous date). There are always some useful informations on it, some quotes, important dates in history, sunrise and sunset for the town of Kassel  (the centre of Germany). I love those calendars and they show Sundays and public holidays in red.

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I’m getting old. At first I wanted to say, “Old age is catching up with me.” But on second thoughts  this is , strictly speaking, not true. It is rather the other way around, I’m catching up with old age. I’m entering a zone that was always there and was really waiting for me. “What took you?,” the zone seems asking me. Three score and ten was a long time ago.

As with the poor, the old will always be with us. People who die young usually become famous and are never forgotten; even by generations who have never seen them alive. Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy are good examples of that.

I’m neither of them and will never be famous. All my life I have been sliding into the “Old-Age-Zone”. Slowly at first and then lately faster and faster. The other day, at a funeral, someone mentioned that the Fridays are coming faster and faster around. What about Christmas and New Year? They seem monthly occurrences.

Apropos funerals. They are happening more often too. Friends and relatives, who mostly happen to be in the same age group, are taking their leave and, according to the priests, are turning to dust. And isn’t that the truth? Someone reminded me, that we are all made of star-dust. Just think of it, the star-dust could be 13 Billion years old. No wonder I feel tired sometimes. I have been around!  😉 Perhaps been part of another galaxy?

The eternal universe will claim us back when our Sun (Sol) expands in another 4.5 Billion years and swallows us up. A few million years after that the Sun will blow away and the atoms, that are me now, will return to the emptiness of outer space. What a future. 🙂

Meantime, here on Earth and in my time setting I’m ageing. I’m still running, about three times a week and I can just about make it back home. The worst are the shopping centres. I get tired very quickly and search out the places for a rest. And you have no idea how upset I’m getting when they remove a settee to make way for another stall in the mall.

Another sign of old-age is, when one takes note where the toilets are for a quick dash. I might not know where I parked the car, but by jolly I know where the toilets are in various shopping centres around the country. This knowledge is of paramount importance.

Food is another matter. I eat less and less and thereby deprive myself of nourishment. My darling wife, who is ageing too, tells me that she likes sugar less and less. My mother was the opposite, as her taste buds lost their sensitivity she told me, that sugar is the only food she can still taste and enjoy.

Funerals disrupt our own time-continuum and remind us that our own time is not really our own time. I had an appointment with my dentist and yesterday the receptionist rang to tell me, that he has to go to a funeral and my appointment has to be rescheduled. So, two days of my life will now happen in a complete different order than they had been  planned, just because a person passed away I have never met or even heard of. A train will run to Sydney without me and I will be deprived, at least till the new appointed time, of this beautiful view from my dentist’s chair.

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It is really like the old TV show “Day’s of our Lives”:
“Like sand through the hour-glass, so are the days of our lives”.

And one day we run out of sand and someone will write an epitaph for us.

Berlin’s U-Bahn

Not long ago we  returned to Australia from a ten week stay in Berlin.

It is a restless city. Always on the go, go, go…. So much so, that I will say, ” New York eat your heart out”. The lifeblood of the city are the people and they are not always Berliners but also the people who stream into the city, every day, from the rest of the world. Once you step onto the pavement of Berlin you are hooked. You are swept away by the tempo.

The U-Bahn (the underground, subway or Metro) is the artery that pulsates below the surface. There is no off-peak in Berlin. The yellow trains come and go with great speed. It is a rapid transit system where the word “rapid” is to be taken literally.

Just one of the beautiful yellow trains

Just one of the beautiful yellow trains

"Small profile" train at Rahthaus Schoeneberg (Town Hall Schoeneberg)

“Small profile” train at Rahthaus Schnoeneberg (Town Hall Schoeneberg)

Some of the lines are running on elevated viaducts similar to the Paris Metro. In fact it is the oldest part of the Berlin Metro system.

Me, in the elevated train (Hochbahn)

Me, on the elevated train (Hochbahn)

Train pulling out of "Gleisdreieck" station

Train pulling out of “Gleisdreieck” station

A train crossing a a canal. one of the many waterways in Berlin.

A train crossing a canal. One of the many waterways in Berlin.

One of the stations of the elevated train line. (Moeckernbruecke)

One of the stations of the elevated train line. (Moeckernbruecke)

Berliners are using the U-Bahn for short and medium trips. Most stations are without attending staff. All stations are being announced in the carriages in German and at important stations in English too. On most trains there are electronic indicator boards too. So you don’t need to get lost.

These boards are also used to give the passengers important emergency news effecting them. I was once on a train when the board gave a warning that the train would not run the full length of the line as there was a bomb scare and the line had to be closed at a certain station. We, the passengers where able to change to a bus on another station which would bring us closer to our destination then the terminating train could do.

In fact we, my sister and I, were on the way to the Concert Hall in the centre of the city. The nearby Hotel Hilton was threatened with a bomb ( a hoax as it turned out later). Because of the police operation many people were delayed and the concert started half an hour later. All ended well at that time.

Concert Hall. The Hilton Hotel can seen at the left margin beside the church.

Concert Hall. The Hilton Hotel can be seen at the left margin beside the church.

On the U-Bahn the younger people are extremely friendly and are giving up their seats for the elderly. I love the U-Bahn and wish Sydney had a similar mode of transport. It is so easy getting on and off quickly. One needs not to go through an electronic barrier to get onto the platforms. You don’t need to rush either as you know there will be another train in two or three minutes. Most stations have lifts now and wheelchair people have no trouble at all getting on and off the train. There is no such thing “As mind the Gap” as you have on the London Tube. The gap on the U-Bahn is only millimetres.

"Platz der Luftbrücke" Station. Airlift Square

“Platz der Luftbrücke” Station. Airlift Square

The last picture is from the station named in honour and memory of the Berlin Airlift 1948 – 1949. That airlift saved West-Berlin from being swallowed by the Soviet Union. It is also the station at the end of the street were I grew up. When my sisters and I were little, during the war, we went there every evening to meet our mother when she came back from her work.

I grew up in Kreuzberg and I will write about that in another blog.

New Years Resolutions

It is the time of the year again when people make New Years Resolutions. Some people do this, because they assume there is something wrong with themselves and the way they run their lives. Something has to change and what better time when you kiss the old year “Good-bye” and start the new year with, as they assume, a clean sheet.

There might be a new calendar that looks enticingly clean. But what about the person who is making the resolution? Has he or she got a clean sheet? They are still the same procrastinating people they were all their lives.

They say hope is eternal and so people are making new resolutions year after year with the same result. Nothing changes and the resolutions melt away like snowflakes falling on a hot plate.

I’m not making any New Year Resolution – never have. Partly, because I think I would not be able to stick to them and partly because things do never play out the way one thinks they should. It is hopeless, really. Life is a random affair and the only hope one has, is that one is able to cope in the onslaught of life’s events.

I had a discussion with my wife this morning about it too. She showed me some prayers some one had sent to her. She thinks prayers help in working towards a goal. They would give the power to pursue ones goals, with God’s help, of course, after you asked him.

I pointed out to her, that Jesus told his followers that you don’t need to ask God for anything, as he already knows what you need. If you have the goal to quit smoking I assure you, he won’t help you. You have to overcome the devil nicotine yourself.

If your resolution is to simplify your life and to relax more, and taking life not so serious any more that, in itself, seems to be a worthwhile goal or New Years Resolution. But your own temperament and character could be an obstacle. Can you change? That is the question. People who have trouble relaxing and are unable to let go of a task or issue are probably perfectionists and keep on doing things that prevent them from relaxing. It will do them no good making “relaxing” their New Years Resolution. And dare I say to my wife, praying won’t help either.

Years ago I wanted to be a perfectionist. After multiple failures I realised, that I had no talent or aptitude to be one. At least when you are rich and can order others to be perfectionists for you, this is a different matter. You can pay for your New Years Resolution.

While my wife and I discussed the “power of prayer” we were sitting in our back yard and were indeed relaxing. Our back yard is not your typical English Park nor is it a Baroque French garden but it is more the wilderness taking over from the other side of the fence. It’s pure nature, but somewhat restrained by our intervention here and there. It is a compromise between what we like and what we can bear.

The perfectionist who asks for order in all things, will just declare, we are plain lazy. But we are not and the indicator of that is, that we are never bored and are always active somehow. The hours of the day are not enough and when my final day arrives I will probably say, “The ride was much too short.”

I haven’t got to that yet and decided, this year, as every year, my New Years Resolution is not to make a New Years Resolution.