What Children Worry About Most

Quote: “It is well known that parents spend a lot of time worrying about their children’s future, but do they know their children are worrying too?”

Watching the Midday News today an item caught my attention. They were talking about a survey done of 10 to 13 years old.

43% worry about their future and 37% about family. In the news item, they were mostly talking about the latter.

It made me think about the time when I was 10 to 13 years old.  That was 1945 to 1948 and it was a particularly bad time to grow up in Berlin after WW II.

Luckily we weren’t bombed out and still lived in our now windowless apartment. My mother worked as a Trümmerfrau during the cold winter months and beyond. 

My father, unknown to us at that stage, was in an American PoW camp. Did I worry about my future? Not one bit it only could get better, I thought. But it did not for a long while.

For me, it was more worries about the family.

Dad returned in May 1946 and brought my two sisters along whom he had picked up on the way from Bavaria. We were a family again for the first time since 1939.  On that beautiful Spring day, the future gave us a glimmer of hope.

It was not to be. Dad had lost a lot of weight and his old job as a taxi driver was not available. No cars, no petrol! After a few months of unemployment, he landed a job with a road construction company and had to work with a jackhammer. That was heavy work for his emaciated body. The food was rationed and meals were never enough for him.

Sometimes during the night he got up and ate food that was for us kids for the next day. That was when the trouble started. My mother accused him of stealing food from his children. Dad started to sell things from the household to buy extra food on the Black Market. Anything could be bought there if one only had the money. Some of the money he took to the racecourse do “double it” as he said. He never had a big win.

So arguments arose often for any reason, or so I thought. Dad became abusive and family life became a nightmare for us all. Finally, my mother could not stand it anymore and she left him. She took us children with her.  On the day before, when I realised we would move out and the family would break up, I started to cry. My mother mistook my weeping and offered me to stay with dad. That was not what I wanted. I wanted the family to stay together.

Dad was especially nice on the night before and he told us about his wartime experiences, especially in Italy. He was a motor lorry driver taking supplies to the front line. The convoys were constantly under attack by American warplanes.  As the convoy proceeded on the high mountain roads along the Apennines  Mountains the planes were actually flying below them and they attacked the German lorries sideways. There must have been carnage.

It took me about fifty years to realise that Dad actually suffered from PTSD. In those days I did not know anything about it. And if he had said anything to Mum she would probably have said to him, “Pull yourself together!”

Through all this time when my parents had marriage problems, Berlin was blockaded by the Soviet Union and it was the time of the Airlift. We had even less than after the war. One hour of electric power a day and that during the night when industries worked less.

We all worried about the family. How would we cope? As it turned out, badly. After Mum had left Dad things became quieter for us. No more fights. I became the go-between who had to see Dad every month and collect the maintenance money for us kids. My mother had no trust in him but he always paid what had been agreed on.

They were divorced in early 1949 but remarried twenty-five years later so Mum would be able to receive a widows pension after he died from lung cancer. So he looked after us even after he passed away. Mum shared half of his pension with us children.

Coming back to the survey mentioned above I can understand that children at that age worry about the family as they themselves try to find and understand their place in the world. Their childhood comes to an end and they become aware that their parents are not perfect and struggle with life’s challenges. So they question themselves, what will become of us?

Especially now with Climate Change giving us all a big scare. Children formed a new Crusade with their Friday for the Future movement. In my time our problems were more immediate and we had not much to lose. But now, the children realise that the future looks pretty grim if nothing is being done.

I worry with them and for them.

 

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future”, everyone knows that title from the film trilogy  by Robert Zemeckis with Micheal J. Fox in the starring role. It is with a rather quiet satisfaction that I can say, I thought of the title already in 1977  before anybody thought of the film.

 

The title came to my mind for a diary I was going to write about my first trip back  from Australia to West-Berlin.

Germany, and with it West-Berlin, had experienced an economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) and I wanted to see those changes.

 

 

I bought a big, fat copy book. Its title is still  the only written evidence  of that trip. Actually, it is no evidence at all, just a thought bubble.

 

Now, thirty-eight years later, it came to my mind again, as my wife and I, plus a large number of my family are preparing for another trip to that beloved city of my personal history.

 

Berlin has undergone another tremendous change from the time the Wall came down. That event changed the whole world by accelerating globalisation.

 

In the meantime, the youth of the world has discovered Berlin and they are  moving in great numbers  to the city at the river Spree. Berlin is a modern city but not a mega-city per se. It has still a human scale  to it.  It is a far cry from “Metropolis” the famous film by Fritz Lang. It is a much more laid-back, creative city now than was envisaged during the Twenties.

 

For me, the journey back will be my tenth one. I always have to catch up  with what has happened. Only in this way can I keep up with its latest development. So, it is  really a trip to the future as I have not experienced the developing city. I’m playing catch-up with the immediate past. Every time I go there a new future is awaiting me.

 

Last time, four years ago, were there,  we had a good time. This time, we go there with our three surviving children and some grand- and great-grandchildren.

 

Will they notice the unique Berlin sidewalks? Will they see the bullet holes in the masonry of many buildings? Will they fall over the “Stolpersteine (stepping stones)” let into footpaths to remember the Jewish citizens who have been taken to the extermination camps during the black days of Nazi regime?

 

Berlin, like no other city, has shaped the 20th century and we are still living in the aftermath of it. I’m a child of the 20th century and all that happened to that city is ingrained into me.  What I know now  made we wary of politicians. When I see or hear  one,  I smell a rat. The next disaster is just around the corner because of them.

 

When I’m there, I’m fully there and Australia  seems to be a memory only.  This time, it will be summer in all its glory when we get there. Berlin is a green city and most of the streets are tree-lined and the city is surrounded by forests, rivers, and lakes in a landscape shaped by the receding Ice Age twelve thousand years ago.  There will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, outings, river cruises, and to refresh memories.

 

Some of those memories are three-quarters of a century old. Like we, as children, being banned from the main air raid shelter for being too noisy. Grown-ups, who were afraid of the falling bombs,  could not stand the singing and playing of innocent children. Who would have thought then of the year 2016? That would have been the  far-off future, yet  I’m living in that future now.

 

People are being made to feel afraid again; this time by politicians who would like to stay in power. If I could speak to the people of the nineteen-forties, I would tell them of the future and how good everything would be. But for us, the people living now, we have new fears. Fears of others and fears of a future of unimaginable heat and rising sea levels. Our present fears  were not even dreamt of  then.

 

Then we were told, by the politicians of the day, to be afraid of the Bolsheviks and the hordes from the East. Now we are being told to be afraid of asylum seekers, and refugee who come by boats. We are being told that they are illiterate, take our jobs, and they live on welfare. We are being told that the ravages of climate change  are just a load of crap. Climate change does not fit into the electoral cycle.

 

What would  the people, living then,  have thought of a description of the second decade of the 21st century?  Then we lived at the edge of death from the bombs and starvation. Death was a constant companion. Today we ignore the real problems and indulge in imaginary ones.

 

What does the future hold for me? The short-term future looks good, as I’m preparing for my trip to Berlin.  The long-term future is promising me a cool grave and a peaceful eternity. For mankind, as a whole, I can’t predict anything. But, I would like to hear from a time traveller how the future is panning out in seventy-five years from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Typewriter

The wind was howling through the streets of Sydney, which were shrouded in an eerie twilight, as Cathy was walking fast, almost running, and carrying a box under her arm. The box was heavy and she wanted to get home and out of this cold, biting wind. Despite all the discomfort she felt elated.

She had found a typewriter in the attic of her late parents’ home. Not much was left of the house or its former contents. She had been rummaging in the half ruin of the home were she had grown up. Her parents had not survived the upheaval and its aftermath. Dad had been murdered by looters and Mum died shortly after of a broken heart. Times were not good as a nuclear winter descended upon Earth that brought to an end the much hated coming climate change with the threat of an unbearable rise in temperatures. Mankind experienced two climate changes within fifty years. Catastrophe upon catastrophe!

“What did you find today,” asked Dan, her partner, when Cathy arrived home and shut the door with a loud bang giving it a good kick with her foot, making sure the outside world did not enter their warm home. He had got used to her disappearing and coming home with useful things. He noticed that she cradled something in her arms.

“I think it is Granddad’s old typewriter!”

“That could come useful,’ said Dan and continued, “would love to write something.”

“Let’s see whether it is still working.” She took the cover off and inside was a great looking orange travel typewriter. It had German keys, but this did not matter one bit.

photo (1)

“Look here!’ he even had a couple of new ribbons taped to the inside of the cover. How thoughtful!”

“He must have anticipated our bleak future,” Dan said.

“Dad never threw anything away. ‘Could be useful one day,’ he used to say. He learned that lesson from Granddad who lived through WW II.” She added after a while, “ We could be on a winner here.”

Dan was putting some wood on the fire in the stove that was used for cooking and heating. Plenty of wood could be found in the neighbourhood from the destroyed and deserted houses that used to be family homes. On top of this all trees had died off and could supply wood for a long time to come. Electricity was only supplied for one hour a day and that mostly during the night.

“Paper could be a problem,’ he said as he stocked the fire and added a piece of wood that used to be part of a beautiful crafted banister in a terrace house , “all the post offices and supermarkets ran out of paper long time ago.”

“You remember the old printing shop in Newtown?” Cathy asked. “They used to sell old stocks of paper. Nobody has a printer any more and we could be lucky.”

For a while Cathy was busy with the typewriter. She gave it and and the cover a good clean and exchanged the old ribbon with a new one. She found a piece of scribble paper and hammered out a few words. “Today is a beautiful day,” she wrote and the clicking of the keys and the ringing bell at the end of a line could be heard. She was proud that she was still able to use the typewriter. As a child she had amused herself with it. She actually had no use for it as she grew up with all the modern electronic gear that was available at the time.

From all her activities and the fire in the stove she got quite warm and took her jumper off.

“Dad is helping us from the grave – sending us a message!”

“We could sell or swap it, Darling,” said Dan, “and get something useful.”

“Like what? This is useful! I could write letters with it.”

“When are you writing letters?”

“Not for myself, Dummy. For others. Like writing to the ‘Disaster Agency’, making claims etc. People will come when they hear about this. And when the weather gets a bit better I take this thing onto the road, like they did during the Dark Ages. I’ll become an official letter writer and earn a bit of money. My Granddad always said everybody should learn to touch-type.”

“Clever girl. I knew you would be good for something when I saw you the first time,” said Dan and pulled a funny face.

Next morning she took the bike and rode to Newtown to see the old printer. It was an arduous journey. People walked everywhere unless they were lucky, like Cathy, and owned a bike. There where no cars on the road. It was cold again and this in November – minus 5° C. The position of the sun could only be guessed behind the thick, yellowish clouds.

When she arrived at the former printers she found the large wooden doors shut. People used to walk straight into the shop from the street through the open, welcoming doors. The printer used to earn a bit of money, supplementing his pension by printing small editions of books for mostly self publishers or invitations for weddings and other occasions. But since there wasn’t any more electricity for the general population he could not use his printing machines.

There was a sign at the door, telling people to come around to the back door. Cathy pushed her bike through the lane to the printer’s back yard. A Blue Heeler started to bark like mad announcing her to his master. An old man opened his squeaking back door to see what annoyed his dog so much.

“Don’t worry about him. He is all bark,” he said when he saw it was a young woman only. “He won’t harm you, just alert me!”

“I came for some office paper,” Cathy explained. “I hope you still have some?”

“Nobody has a printer any more. They are useless without electricity,” the old man said and beckoned her inside.

“I found a typewriter and want to make good use of it.”

“Ah – that’s good. I haven’t seen any like that for many, many years.”

“I found it in my parent’s old home. It actually belonged to my Grandfather.”

“Yeah, the old people never throw anything out. Kept it. Used to say, ‘It will come useful one day’.” The old man waved his index finger as he said it.

“That’s what my Dad used to say.” They both laughed. Once inside, he asked her into the old storage room. And led Cathy straight to a pallet with office paper.

“Is that enough for you?” the old man asked, “I bet you can’t cart this away on your push bike.”

“Can I really have it?” Cathy asked, “I can only use it until I run out of ribbon.”

“Ribbon? There must be a box full of them somewhere around here and collecting dust,” he said and limped to the other end of the storage. “Here it is,” he called out, “ ‘will last you for a while and with a bit of luck, there will be electricity one day again.”

“You dear man, what do I owe you?” she asked him.

“Oh…,”he scratched his head and said, “it was pure luck that the fire didn’t get it, but surely the cockroaches will eat it in the fullness of time. So it is free. I like someone having a go and seeing your radiant face is reward enough for me.” She was so happy she planted a kiss on his cheek. His hand went up to his cheek and he smiled a bit taken aback.

“Next time I’ll come I bring you a cooked and preserved rabbit,” she promised and took a couple of packages of the paper and put it and the ribbons in a basket in the front of her bike. She bit him “Good Bye”, swung herself onto the bike and headed for home.

By now the wind had become stronger and snow was falling. She wanted to be home before total darkness set in. The streets were almost empty and when she arrived home Dan said,

“I was worried about you.”

“Ah chucks, the devil gets good people only.” She laughed and gave him a kiss as she dragged in the bike and its precious cargo.

During the next few days she wrote out a few flyers to hand out and putting up on notice boards that had sprung up all around the neighbourhood. She advertised the fact that she was able to write letters for anyone to anyone. A small fee would apply according to the size of the letter.

Her business, that is what they called it, began slowly and over the next few weeks increased. People paid in kind or with the new Emergency Dollar that was issued by the local authorities. Canberra had been wiped out by an atomic bomb and there was no more Federal Government. At least this was a good thing, some people thought.

In the new year the temperatures climbed above freezing point and she decided to take the typewriter on to the street. Dan had prepared a billboard for her. With that she went out and looked for a good spot. She found an abandoned shop and set up store in its doorway. That way she was out of the wind. Because of the bill board people were still able to see her.

“What a good idea,” people encouraged her. And when they understood what she was going to do they promised to use her service. And so it happened. Soon she had people queuing to have letters written. It were mostly claims and statements to the authorities why they had overused water or electricity. Such was life in the new Australia after the Catastrophe.

“What is it you have there and what are you doing?” a girl asked her one morning. The girl, about eleven or twelve, was all wrapped up against the cold. She had her hands in a muff. Her nose was red and dripping. From time to time she wiped her nose with the muff.

Cathy stopped writing and looked up to the shivering girl.

“I’m writing a letter on a typewriter,” Cathy told the girl.

“What is a ‘typewriter’?” the girl asked looking puzzled.

“Well -,” Cathy said and paused a moment, “you remember we used to have computers and wrote on a keyboard? This isn’t a computer, but you can still write on a keyboard and instead of seeing what you write on a screen you see it on the paper. Look here!” She stopped writing and turned the typewriter around so the girl good see what was happening.

“That’s real cool,” the girl said and a smile flashed across her face. “A kind of – manual word-processor,” she said after a moment of thinking.

“You could say that,” Cathy said and smiled back at the girl. She kept hammering away and the keys jumped up to the paper and left a string of words. The clatter of the typewriter filled the air, finishing with a ring of the bell announcing the end of the line and Cathy pushed the carriage back to the beginning of the next line. The girl was enthralled. What a wonder, she thought. The keys chasing each other to and from the paper and the carriage, with the paper, moving forward so the next keys could hit the right spot.

“I never saw anything like it in my whole life,” the girl said, “and the sound the letters make when they hit the paper! I just love it. It is music to my ears!”

Cathy and the girl did not notice a bystander, a young man, who had stopped and observed what was going on. Often people stopped, looked on or asked question. So, this wasn’t unusual. But he seemed fidgety, he moved his fingers like they were itchy. Cathy and the girl were not taking any notice of him till he suddenly stepped forward, grabbed the typewriter, lifted it up, and screamed, “Noooo!” while throwing it onto the footpath. He jumped on it with his boots, lifted it up again and threw it with full force, one more time, onto the foot path. After this it did not look like it could ever be used again for writing letters.

Cathy and the girl were stunned. “You bastard!” Cathy screamed at him, “what have you done? This is my livelihood. I was able to help people – what now?” The young man looked at them with bloodshot eyes and his lips started to move. He had trouble forming words.

“You…you..,” he tried very hard, “you want …to…bring back, the old time! Never again. You people are mad. This is how it started! Printing followed and too many words made people crazy. Never, never again!” he screamed and gave the mangled typewriter a kick with his boot and it landed in the gutter. He turned and walked away.

Cathy and the girl were both crying now. Through this shared experience they had instantly bonded. Cathy was sent back to the past and for the girl a hope for the future had been destroyed. Cathy looked at the girl and took her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze,

“I’m so sorry, darling – what is your name?”

“Cathy,” the girl said and a smile came over the face of the older Cathy as she wiped the tears from her face. “So is mine,” she said and now both girls smiled. The older Cathy walked over to the orange typewriter and picked it up, uncertain what she should do with it. After a few moments of thought she decided to take it home. Dan was very handy repairing things but she doubted that even he could fix it. She gave the younger Cathy her address and said, “If you want come and visit me. Perhaps we could start a new project together. What do you think?”

“I would love that. My Mum is teaching handwriting to me as the schools stopped teaching writing before the ‘Catastrophe’ ”.

“I know, they thought it would not be necessary with every one having the new electronic tablets.” They said, “Good bye,” to each other and Cathy went home with her mangled typewriter.

When she arrived home she found Dan sitting by the emergency radio and turning the handle of its dynamo.

“There is a rumour going around,” he said, “that the government will make an important announcement.” He looked up and noticed that Cathy was carrying the mangled typewriter, “What happened?” he asked as she put it on the table and she dropped into a chair, almost crying.

Cathy told him the story about the fanatic. “Some fundamentalist nut,’ she added. They were both depressed because the little income they had hoped for would not eventuate.

‘I met a young girl, her name is Cathy too,” Cathy said, “she is pretty bright and might come around and visit us.”

“What for?” Dan asked

“What for?” she asked back. “Perhaps she needs companionship or an extended family. And, it will do us good to have contact with a bright child not having any of our own.”

Suddenly the radio came to life. Every day at the same time the government radio station, the only one in the country, broadcast the news and useful information to the public. Five minutes before the broadcast an old alarm clock could be heard ticking and the last ten seconds short pips could be heard ending with a gong telling the listeners that the full hour had arrived.

It is precisely 1800 hour Australian Eastern Standard Time,” the broadcast began.

The Chief Minister of the all party National Interim Emergency Government has announced today that it will start immediately with the construction of localised :Geothermal Electricity Power-plants” or GEPs. It is anticipated that within a year the supply of electricity could increase manifold…….”

Cathy and Dan did not hear the rest as they began shouting with excitement. Things would look up from now on and the worst would soon be over. 

Mary wants to go to Heaven

It was early afternoon and the first guests were arriving. Mary was dressed in a long, bluish gown, emphasizing her still tall figure. Her silvery hair, set for the occasion, was topped by a diadem. She looked almost regal. Despite her age her body was trim and her eyes sparkled in anticipation of a great day.

‘All ready to go, Sis?’ asked her younger sister Emma on arrival.

‘As ready as can be!’ was her reply. “I have been waiting for this day for eighty years. And now, it has arrived.’

On the 3D monitor on the living room wall a parade of well wishers appeared and wished her luck. Some expressed their admiration for her decision and said that they would like to be as brave as she was.

‘It has nothing to do with bravery,’ Mary told her best friend Eve.

‘This is something one does, when one turns eighty. The papers have been signed and when my death certificate has been issued the government transfers the agreed sum of credits to my daughter’s account. What is brave about that?’

‘Zero population growth is more important than the departure bonus,’ Eve said.

‘The decision really was easy after Max died five years ago,’ Mary could be heard saying. ‘I miss a man in my life…,’ she said and bent over closer to Eve’s ear and whispered with a smile on her face, ‘…and the lovemaking that goes with it.’

‘You naughty girl.’ Eve said and gave Mary a kick with her elbow. They both smiled knowingly as they always had done since their school days and they had shared a joke.

‘Mum, have you got your Departure Pill ready?’ her daughter Alice came up and asked.

‘Don’t worry, Darling, there won’t be any hitch and tomorrow you are richer by a few thousand credits.’

‘Ah, Mum, that is not what I meant. You know you forget things and if you are still here tomorrow things might get complicated.’

‘By twelve I will have disappeared like Cinderella. I promise.’ She put her right hand on her heart and lifted her left hand up.

More and more people arrived and the room filled with flowers of all kinds as this was the custom on one’s last birthday party. The family had hired a catering service and there was plenty to eat and drink. People were sipping sparkling wines and laughter could be heard. It was not a sombre affair at all.

Sometimes all were quiet as some important well wisher appeared on the 3D monitor. There was a festive mood as the ‘Voluntary Departure Party’ took its course and it was supposed to end just before midnight. The birthday person would take the pill and enter nirvana. The guest would then sing,

‘For she is a jolly good fellow…’ There was nothing morbid about it at all and all had attended such gatherings before. Mary too had seen other people doing their civic duty and they died in a dignified way surrounded by their friends and relatives and were saving the country lots of credits.

Mary was outside in the garden talking to some friends she knew from her uni days when she heard someone calling her inside.

‘It’s Bill from the former government,’ someone informed her. The laser projection of the 3D entertainment system made Bill seem to be standing in the room.

‘Hi Bill,’ Mary greeted him, after she entered the room. ‘I was wondering when you would show up to send me on my merry way.’

‘Sorry about that, Mary. I only found your name on the “Exit Roll” today. Your PC is not on-line so I could not talk to you personally. I want to make a last-minute effort to persuade you to postpone your departure for a while.’

‘One has to fulfil one’s duty. Zero population growth is not a joke and has become an act of faith. You should know that, Bill. I do it voluntarily as I have no personal incentive to live on. And I save the country a bucket of money. Look around me, people are happy for me to depart,’ Mary said with a smirk as she turned around and her hand motioned into the room.

‘It was ever meant to be voluntarily. I designed it that way or we would not have got the bill through the hung parliament forty years ago. That was the deal.’

‘And now you want me to make use of the escape clause?’ Mary asked him. ‘What about Max? He might be waiting for me at the Pearly Gates.’

‘Max wanted you to be happy,’ Bill said.

‘We all want to be happy, Bill, but the Voluntary Exit Law has a strong social element. We can’t just opt out if it doesn’t suit us as individuals.’

More and more people gathered in the living room and followed the conversation. Bill, as a former Under-secretary was well known in the community. He was an interesting man who looked healthy and strong. He had made use of the escape clause himself. In the middle of the twenty-first century people looked younger and healthier than in previous generations.

‘People make their own decisions in full view of what is on offer,’ Bill said. Mary smiled and said,

‘And you are on offer for me? Is that what you are saying, Bill?’

‘Well, today’s eighties are yesterday’s sixties and we could have a few more years together: perhaps with some travel to Europe thrown in for good measures.’

A murmur went through the room and Mary’s friend Eve said to someone, ‘My God, he is proposing!’

‘What you offer, Bill, is very tempting and my selfish nature leaves me no choice. I will instruct my lawyer to make a claim on the escape clause and we go from there.’

‘I hoped you would say that,’ Bill said, ‘and in anticipation I booked a seat on the VFT tomorrow morning. I will phone you on arrival in Sydney. Have a great time with your friends.’

His image faded and left silence in the room The sun was setting behind some clouds turning the sky red.

‘We will have beautiful weather tomorrow,’ someone said and Mary sunk into an easy chair and said to her friend Eve and sister Emma,

‘I was convinced this morning it would be the last day of my life and now, there will be a beautiful tomorrow. What a turn around. I dare say, heaven can be had right here on Earth.’

‘Now I understand the full meaning of an offer one can’t refuse,’ Eve said and took another sip from her glass.