Sunday, 21 June 2009

Gardens a Pub and a Park

A nice half at the Prince of Wales in Moseley, and a trip to the annual Moseley in Bloom - gardens open to the public - made for a pleasant Sunday stroll and suburban nature away from the centre.

Chantry Road, Augusta Road, a church, Salisbury Road, gardens of splendour delight, bijoux and grand-scale.

Moseley, that unique Birmingham suburb of rich, not at all rich, culture large houses ...

And gardens.

And a stream going through at least one..

Then there's the lake, only for key-holders normally, but today ...

Relaxing, nothing better ...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


An international weekend just been with Celebrating Sanctuary, visitors and bands from around the world including the Congo and Zimbabwe.

Also the German Meetup which is going strong now, a chance to talk German with other interested parties, not least a good number of native speakers who find themselves in Birmingham or nearby, by accident or design.

So while the pictures are copying onto the computer, for later deletion no doubt, here's some thoughts ..

A place is what it is through the people that stay with it and come to it, without migrants, immigrants it stagnates, lacks the impetus and fresh outlooks that others bring: without a certain mass of 'locals' it can be transitory, lack roots. At best, there's an openness and tolerance (despite extremists) about Britain that can absorb and grow from influxes: at worst, a suspicion of anything from outside.

Birmingham is remarkably peaceful in diversity, but the real problems need addressing. I love being in the city centre at the weekend, or at Cannon Hill Park, because so many different communities are there, but different peoples tend to dwell separately. Common ground is a step forward.

Friday, 12 June 2009


I belong to one of Birmingham's Amnesty International volunteer groups. Tomorrow - Saturday 13th - we're at the Celebrating Sanctuary festival in the city centre, supporting local refugees and Asylum seekers, who so often and so unfairly get a bad press, yet want to contribute so much (and often do through voluntary work, churches, etc).

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Reader - read
Examinando las escrituras diariamente. Accessed 050609.

The Reader

Keywords: Reading and listening, guilt, avoidance, self-knowledge, intimacy and avoidance, honesty, suffering, recognition, atrocities, Holocaust or Shoah.

Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink is the novel that was filmed recently, with Kate Winslet as the tram ticket collector with whom the narrator falls in love and has a brief, passionate affair that shapes his whole life.
A chance encounter in the street, while 15-year old Michael is recovering from jaundice, leads to the affair that lasts for a Summer, before ending with Hanna's abrupt unexplained departure from the town.
As a law student, he then follows her trial for complicity in an atrocity while a concentration camp guard at a feeder camp for Auschwitz. Frustrated, he watches her inability to help her own cause by her bluntly honest defence of what she did while a guard - what else could she do? She even asks the trial judge at one point, 'What would you have done' (the judge makes a general moral statement, but doesn't answer the question). As the trial progresses, the other accused ex-guards are only to happy to shift the blame to Hanna, though just as guilty themselves.
The crux of the novel: understanding our actions, how they affect others ... Hanna is illiterate. This emerges during and after the trial. Hence her need for Michael to read literature to her, just as she asked girls in the camp too before they were sent off to Auschwitz and death. Hence her sudden change of jobs - when promotion beckons, she disappears rather than face the humiliation of having her illiteracy revealed.
Imprisoned for life - 18 years in the end, though she is badly aged by the experience - she listens to tapes recorded by Michael which he posts to her, though he sends her no letters. She slowly writes to him, struggling and succeeding to master literacy.
How much does this matter? Jewish women and children were trapped in a church guarded by Hanna and her colleagues who did nothing to let them out - it was bombed, the spire fell in, fire spread and all but two prisoners died.
The whole mentality of following orders, maintaining order, and simply not understanding what was wrong - this is shown all too clearly. Making scapegoats too - were these trials designed to make other Germans feel less guilty?
The two survivors of the atrocity were a mother and daughter. After the shock of Hanna's suicide the day she is due to leave prison - and be collected by Michael who is her only contact in the outside world - Michael visits the daughter in the USA, who cannot accept Hanna's remaining money from her will, but points to finding a charity. Accepting the money would mean offering absolution - she cannot do this.
There is no escape from awful deeds and from complicity - Hanna's tragedy is that in trying to escape the handicap and social shame of illiteracy - by leaving Siemens to become a camp guard - she walks into the crime of active involvement in the horrors of the Nazi holocaust.
Her personal shame blinds her to the national evil of the Shoah.
Her passionate, cold, unsatisfactory but longing relationship with Michael haunts his whole life - he avoids intimacy again, has a broken marriage and other short relationships, unable to allow women to be really close and to hurt and dominate him as did Hanna.
This sounds a heavy book, but it is subtly and beautifully written, with the right balance of compassion and distance, empathy and objectivity.
Life isn't simple, we are complicit by our involvement. But some things are wrong beyond any doubt or challenge.