When We Were Very Young

British, Telephone, Red, Box, Booth



A shilling was a treasure then

Our sweets cost just 2d

There were but three channels on the telly then

When we were very young


We played with wooden sticks then

The “joy” type was unknown

A red box on the village green

Was our only “mobile” phone


We wore blazers or pinnies

When we went to school

At break time we chased or bulldog played

When we were very young




Christine’s Daily Writing Prompt: When We Were Very Young

Reflections on the Birkenau Sky


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image: Padre

Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

I stand alone.

Above me -rich blue of heaven

Below – a place

Of horror I could but feign imagine


For Wiesel – this place was night

Even with the blueness of its sky

The darkness of its past

I cannot, nor should any, deny


I stand alone.

Above me – rich blue of sky

Below – I offer a tear and a prayer

In memory of those who died


For the last decade or more, I have been a Holocaust educator. My training and research has taken me to many of the darkest places in human history. On one such study trip I had the opportunity to wander the perimeter fence at the Birkenau site at Auschwitz. As I did, I remembered Elie Wiesel’s poem, Night.  

“Never shall I forget that night,
that first night in the camp,
which has turned my life into one long night,
seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the faces of the children,
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me,
for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God
and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.
Never shall I forget those things,
even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.

I was there seventy years later under the same sky.  The place itself, no longer a killing centre, but a museum of its evil past.  It was the idea of a silent sky which I pondered. Wiesel, I believe was using dual meaning here. The sky was silent, serene even, despite the horror below; but also God did not act.  Heaven was quiet.

It is here that I beg to differ with the late professor. I do not, and cannot believe God was unaffected by the scenes below. Even such unspeakable evil, was of man’s making not His. We are our own worst enemies when we abuse free will.

My poem is an honest reflection of my own powerlessness in the face of the above. All I have to offer is prayers and tears.  And these continue to go out, not just to those who perished there, but to their surviving loved ones as well.

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image: Padre



Some Reflections on Walls

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Robert Frost wrote that, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  While this may be a poetic truism, it still begs the question on whether these structures are positive. Most all of us have “walls” both figurative and physical.  Our houses have them, usually our yards and gardens are partitioned by them.

But what about nations?  The Oracle at Delphi had indicated that Athens would be preserved by a wall of wood.  And true enough the Battle of Salamis proved that “the wall” of the Greek fleet was enough to forestall a Persian invasion.  That same wall, however, was not capable of stopping the Spartans seventy-some years later. Nor did the massive undertaking of China’s “Great Wall,” stop the invasion of the Mongols.

In more recent times we can reflect that Berlin’s wall, had a less than complete success at keeping the subjugated people in; and the DMZ of Korea is only effective because corresponding troop build-ups on each side of the border.  It does not provide “protection” in and of itself. Even Israel’s so-called “security wall” is riddled with breaches and tunnels.

I am not going to make a political statement here on the idea of national sovereignty, and the right of nations to secure their borders.  That is not my concern.  I penned the previous paragraphs more philosophically as to the advisability of such structures (in any country).

There is a fundamental moral question here too. Is it right for humans to place barriers between themselves and others? This is not focusing on the aforementioned walls, but in our stand-offishness  with others. I began this post with a quote from a poet, so I will close with one as well.  John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.” As humans we need each other.  Isolation (whether inflicted, or self-imposed) brings loneliness, and potentially depression.  Real joy is in sharing.  There is a spiritual truth in that. As the Hebrews writer said, “Let brotherly love continue (Heb 13:1).”


Advent: The Coming . . .

Advent is “the coming of a notable person or thing.” It is the expectation of something spectacular, and spectacularly the world is transformed. Lights, lights, and more lights mark the expectation. Quiet suburban streets are transfigured into something resembling a Tokyo business district, a world of incandescent glory.

But what is the great expectation for? Is Black Friday a term packed with more meaning than first meets the eye? Is it a season bereft of any spirit other than hype?

Yet, in our churches, the very place where the true “Light of the World” is proclaimed, a ring of four simple candles, one lit anew each week marks the coming of “a notable person,” one whose arrival was first marked by a single star.



Inspired by Weekly Prompts: Advent

Abandoned Faith



photo credit: Karen Roe

A few years ago while I was walking through the woods in Nowton Park, near Bury St Edmunds, I came upon and archway door, and an upturned font. These religious relics, overgrown and neglected,  profoundly affected me.  The following is a reflection prompted by the memory.

Abandoned Faith

This is England –

Land of Anselm, Becket, and Bede.

Where “Hallelujah” so moved a king –

As to rise him from his royal seat.


But now gone is Lent and fasting,

and memories of the martyrs who died;

Lonely Lindisfarne,  now beset –

By a different kind of tide.


Football and Sunday shopping,

Now, our time requires,

Faith abandoned for “the new and now”  –

Leaving forsaken, empty spires.


This is England –

Home of Lennon, Dawkins, and Fry.

Land of no “Hope and Glory” –

“Above us only sky.”





Tech and the Kitchen


photo: John Lewis

I have seen a lot of blog traffic in recent times about the wonders of Instant Pots, and other electric pressure cookers. I have to admit that while I can see the great advantages of the time saving in the hectic world of the 21st Century of  such “time saving” devices, I am still reluctant to go that route.

First of all, I have memories of the bomb-looking, stove top pressure cookers of the 1960s, with their twist to lock lids, clamped handles, and top-mounted pressure gauges. These beasts were used to make corned beef and cabbage, stews, and the like.  They were efficient, but scary.

Speeding up the process may have merits, but will we ever be satisfied? There is an episode of the Simpsons in which Moe buys a surplus fryer from the Navy, which “can flash fry a buffalo in 40 seconds.” Homer responds, “Forty seconds, but I want it now.”


image: The Simpsons

On the other hand, I watched a documentary, Fannie’s Last Supper, in which modern chefs sought to replicate a banquet using Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cook book, using period equipment (including a cast iron wood burning range), this was slow food to the ultimate with some dishes taking days to prepare. Labour intensive? Yes. Time consuming? Most definitely. But the results were in the eating.

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image: Fannie’s Last Supper

Today we need to find balance.  Most if not all of us do not have the time to feed and regulate a wood burning stove. We don’t have the desire to hand grind meat, or to shred veg. A food processor has become more a “necessity” than a luxury.

And in the spirit of honesty, I seldom make soups in a pot. When I do, I still blitz it afterwards rather than potato mashing or whisking it to smooth. I fact, I am a great fan of my Morphy Richards soup maker. I generally run my ingredients through two cycles of cooking, to make sure they are ultra soft, and then use the internal blades to make a perfectly smooth soup. Timing is usually comparable to the pot method, but there is somewhat less slicing and dicing, and the final blitz is a “one stop” process.

Will I give in and go for a modern ultra quick pressure pot?  The jury is out on that one. But I do like the look of many of the recipes I see for them.  But like in Fannie’s kitchen, I will reserve judgement until I give it a taste. [I would really love comments and advice from those who use these devices as to merits/drawbacks – especially on the taste front].

For now, I have my electric cooker, my spiraliser, my food processor, mixer, blender, and a vast assortment of hind utensils for grating, squeezing, juicing, and grinding. I guess tech has been with us since the invention of pottery, but where will we find balance  between quality and “I want it now.”



The Power of Food


Ravensbruck Cook Book Photo: Sydney Jewish Museum Collection

On this Foodie Friday, I am taking a slightly different approach to the topic.  While I will be returning with recipes and reviews next time, my musings this week led me to ponder the importance of food beyond mere nutrition.

Most all of us know that food brings people together. The Christian celebration of the bread and the wine is often called “communion.”   It is something to share in common. The Sedar meal of the Jewish Passover symbolically calls those sharing it to remember the events of Exodus. In the United States there is a tradition, and nostalgia, related to the legendary “first thanksgiving,” when the English Settlers and Native Americans shared a harvest meal.  Food is a social glue.

Foods also have personal significance. Most all of us have that special dish from our childhood.  The one that was always at Grandmother’s house, or that you made on the weekend with Mom. Some smells, and tastes transport us to “better days.” A particular flavour of ice cream, or a brand of chocolate or even breakfast cereal can awaken memories.

Add this personal psychological/emotional to the nature of some food stuffs (sugars and fats especially) and we enter into the realm of comfort foods. Be it lasagna, cheese cake, or even Pop Tarts we seek comfort in the filling familiarity.

As those who are familiar with my postings know, I teach Holocaust Studies as part of my portfolio. The power of food can be seen even in this sad subject. here is an account by Holocaust survivor Edith Peer,

“It was bitterly cold, our spirits and bodies broken. We shivered, not only because of lack of proper clothing, but because of our empty stomachs; we were desperately hungry. There was nothing to warm our emaciated bodies after the infamous ‘Appel’ (roll call) twice a day.

       So we started to talk about glorious food, food that was served around the family table during better times. I was able to gather some paper and pencil and asked my fellow inmates to write down their recipes in the hope that, if the unbelievable miracle of freedom ever eventuated, I would be able to feed my feeble body with those gourmet dishes.”

The  vary thought of food, of the glorious dishes of their freedom, gave hope.  Many of the recipes of the cookery book they produced were exaggerated, and with proportions which are implausible.  They however, were hopeful expressions brought about by the “healing” power of food.

Food unites, food comfort, food gives hope.  Let’s rejoice in the power of food.






Ten Thought-provoking Quotes by the Brothers Wesley


John Wesley (photo credit: )

Although John Wesley never intended to start a separate denomination, he did spark a movement. His call to Christian service and devotion inspired a generation and beyond. While it may not be provable, as many points in history are not, I had a professor in my graduate study who maintained that the reason the English did not have a French-style revolution was largely on account of Wesleyan/Methodist ideals. Political implications aside, the brothers Wesley called people to seek and serve God, and their fellow man.

1.”Be friends of everyone. Be enemies of no-one.” Charles Wesley

In seeking fellowship with one’s fellows, peace must necessarily follow. Jesus had said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Charles reminded us of that.

John Wesley took this idea of brotherhood and neighbourly love to a new level which moved beyond parochial boundaries. 2.”I look upon the whole world as my parish.” John Wesley

But John went beyond mere sentiment in his reaching out to all men.  For him it was a duty. 3. “[W]ere I to let any soul drop into the pit whom I might have saved from everlasting burnings, I am not satisfied that God would accept my plea ‘Lord, he was not of my parish’.” John Wesley

The Wesleys traveled thousands of miles in this pursuit.  John proclaiming the word of God in his teaching and sermons, and Charles magnifying God in his hymns. John summed up this attitude of service well,  4. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” John Wesley 

Miles of travel on horseback, sea journeys, and exposure to the dangers of such endeavours did take a toll. Their message was not always well received, either.  But As for all those who “take up their crosses” to follow Jesus, Charles remarked,  5. “The person who bears and suffers evils with meekness and silence is the sum of a Christian man.” Charles Wesley

The mission was greater than the hardship. Fear of man, fear of elements, and even the fear of evil were not to stand in the way. 6. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” John Wesley 

“The desire of nothing but God,” seeking and serving him with gladness was on the tongue of the Wesleys. 7. “Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore; Mortals, give thanks and sing, And triumph evermore: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again, I say rejoice.” Charles Wesley

And why rejoice? Why desire nothing less than Him? John remarked, 8. “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” John Wesley

So the Wesleys preached, wrote and served.  As should we, single-mindedly and faithful. 9. I build on Christ, the rock of ages; on his sure mercies described in his word, and on his promises, all which I know are yea and amen.” John Wesley

We God’s people should show the same faith and dedication as John and Charles. We should have the same heart to reach the lost. And we God’s people should seek to share the Wesley’s vision of border-less, boundary-less fellowship. Remember we are 10. “One family–we dwell in Him, One church above, beneath . . .” Charles Wesley




Remembering Military Chow

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Both Napoleon and Frederick the Great are credited with the quote, “an army marches on its stomach.” Whoever actually coined the phrase hit on an important factor in warfare – logistics. And within the realm of supply,  food is vital.

My own time serving in the 1980s saw a transition in some aspects of military rations, but the age-old necessity of feeding troops, and some of the traditions associated with it remained the same.

Field rations are literally the meals an army marches on. I was first introduced to C-Rations when I went to Infantry Training School. These canned (tinned) meals were issued at three a day when in the field.  Poultry loaf, beans a franks, and plain tinned tuna were among the offerings. There was also the dreaded eggs and ham, which had to have been the inspiration for Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, as they did actually have a slight greenish tinge to them. These meals were accompanied with crackers, sometimes canned cheese spread, and always coffee, sugar and creamer. Dessert was a semi-chew-able cookie which took some effort to bite through or brake.

Certain points of fairness, etiquette, and tradition came into play with these tinned meals.  To keep the first Marines drawing their meals from grabbing the favourites and leaving latecomers with green eggs and ham, the sergeant would open the ration case from the bottom, so only the bottoms of the individual meal boxes could be seen.  This hide the labels, and made it a bit of a lottery of who drew which meal.  That said there was a fair measure of trading after the fact, if time allowed.

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John Wayne from my key chain.  Most Marine P-38s were mat base metal, somehow, I ended up with one of the shiny ones (though my other is dull metal).

Time was indeed a factor, the cans had to be opened with a P-38 can opener, known to us as a John Wayne. This little device was essential in getting into your meal. There were a few of them in every C-Ration case, and once you had one you hung onto it for dear life. Most of us had them attached to our dog tags, and a spare somewhere in a pocket. [I still have one stored in a jewelry box, and another always with me on my key chain]. These little wonders opened cans, were used to cut string, and the flat end could be used as a screwdriver. These openers were absolutely manual using a lever action, and thus the time pressure.  This was accentuated by the NCOs regulating the eating time. From the sergeant saying “Crack them” to “You’re done” never seemed long enough.

One thing about these rations and Marine tradition that has always impressed me is the reversed eating order.  When in the field the enlisted were given meals first.  Only after the troops were taken care of did the officers and staff NCOs get theirs.

As you can see from the above description, these meals were mostly eaten cold, and straight from the can. Occasionally we would have enough down time to heat the meals in the supplied “heat tabs.” Even more occasionally we would have the opportunity to pool our meals into a Mulligan Stew.  Everything went into the pot, even the eggs and ham, and it was stewed up and there was always an “Old Salt” that had a bottle of Tabasco to spice it up.  It was said that in the “Old Corps” such stews were cooked in a helmet. I really can’t remember ever seeing it done, but I do remember a large cook pot appearing to make it.  By the time I was out in the fleet for a year or two this became a mute point as we handed in our steel pots in exchange for Kevlar helmets, so stewing in you helmet went to the wind. But in the end,  these hot stew days were a real treat when in the field.

The problem with C-Rations was that they were heavy. Remember an infantryman carries everything. Uncle Sam in his infinite wisdom, therefore devised a new field ration – the MRE.  Officially these “Meals Ready to Eat” were an improvement.  Many of the the items were freeze dried and the entrees were vacuum packed in an “easy open” pouch.  There was no longer a need for a can opener. They were more portable, and  lighter. Of course with so much of the MRE content being dried, it did require carrying more water, or eating it as cardboard.  It is why many of us dubbed them “Meals Rarely Edible.”

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Chaplain’s altar made from ration boxes

It can’t be said that MREs were any better than C-Rats in choice either. There was a new eggs and ham equivalent, “Chicken Chow Mein.” This creamed chicken-based paste was avoided.  It is notable that while we were in Korea we sometimes tossed some of our food packets out of the perimeter to the kids that used to come to see us. It is laughable to think that they took every meal tossed to them except the Chow Mein.  In the morning there would still be these packets left where they landed the day before.

MREs introduced some other new varients.  The “Gorilla” cookies still existed, and were just as hard to eat.  Hash brown paddies were like eating Styrofoam, unless moistened (an there never seemed enough time for that).  There was also an overly sweet fruit cake, which was a love or hate affair.

Back at base there was the mess hall.  Marine Corps chow is hot, it is nutritious, and it is a bit predictable.  Salad seemed to always be on hand, and hot meals were very much cafeteria style. We often joked that there were seconds available in the mess hall, but it was a measure of the time you had to eat, rather than the quantity available.

Not surprisingly we enjoyed the meals when “on float.” The Navy fed us with more variety, and often more abundantly. But the real “holy grail” was getting the chance to eat on an Air Force base.  I know of a few Marine duty drivers that managed to always arrange their rounds in such a way that they were at or near the air base at meal time.  There is a Meme which shows Willy Wanka and the golden ticket winners when they first see inside the factory.  Their wide-eyed looks of wonder are shown, but the caption reads, “The first time you visit an Air Force base.”  It really is!  The Enlisted Dining Facility (note not mess hall or chow hall, but “dining” facility) is a thing of wonder!  Choices of entrees, seconds (this time meaning helpings), and real desserts – yes, dining.

Ironically, Napoleon said “an army marches on its stomach.”  But the best military meals are provided to those who don’t march. Well, such is life.