Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Sunday Post

Hullo ma wee blog,

Drifter. {1950.}

The long net, tassled with corpses, came
Burning through the water, flowing up.
Dogfish following it to the surface
Turned away slowly to the deep.

The Daffodil squatted, slid ahead
Through the red kyle* with thirty crans*
Of throttled silver in her belly.
Her anchor snored amid its chains.
And memory gathered tarry splinters,
Put shadowy sparkles in her bag,
Slid up her sleeve the hills of Harris
And stole Orion and the Dog.

I sat with that kind thief inside me;
I sat with years I did not know
Heaped on my knees. With these two treasures
I sailed home through the Gaelic sea.

Norman MacCaig.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Hullo ma wee blog,

It's nice to get a comment or two on something you've published. Most comment comes from those readers who're kind enough to regularly share their thoughts or reactions to what's been posted but occasionally I'll get a comment from someone as a new visitor or someone who follows but hasn't commented before. Normally, as is probably the case in your own blogging experience, most readers don't comment one way or the other, which is fair enough.

This week though I had some contact that was a bit different. A lady in New Brunswick in Canada emailed me to say her husband had stumbled onto 'Crivens Jings' while looking for some information about a relative killed in WWII. They'd been hunting for some time with limited success, partly hindered by lack of information about her relative and partly because records weren't available in Canada and gaining access in this country seemed a convoluted rigmarole of red tape. The situation was complicated too by family memory being sketchy on detail so long after the event. They knew he had served in 153 Squadron, that the squadron had been based at Scampton and that he had been lost over Germany in January 1945. Family recollection of the name of the place he'd been killed wasn't matching anything they could find until her husband had found my postings on the history of the squadron set out as a campaign diary across 1945 and found that I had listed the men lost on each operation. The email said she was very excited to see the name of her relative at last and asked me if I could help them. The frustration of the search so far and the hope raised by finding his name in my obscure wee blog was obvious, as was the hope of renewing the connection lost over a generation to someone existing only in family folklore and a few fading photographs. She explained that the man's brother was still alive and had tried to find out what had happened without success over several years. Could I give any more information on the raid? Did I know what position in the crew the man held? Did I have any more information about the man I could give them? Could I give them more information about the aircraft he had been flying in. I think it was this not knowing that struck a chord with me, similar as it was to my own previous lack of knowledge about my late father's wartime experience in the same squadron. These people clearly felt a similar lack of understanding and need to try and fill in the gaps.

 How could I say no?

 That evening I sent her an email giving her a slightly expanded description of the raid on Zietz on 16th January 1945 during which her relative had been lost without trace, giving her some background as to why so much detail is sketchy. I would be happy to check for the information she was looking for. I'd done a lot of work on the squadron history and background research about war in Lancaster bombers in WWII and the material I used is still here. I said I would get back to her within a week and if lucky would be able to give her something solid on her ancestors career in the squadron.

Memorial plaque - Scampton Church.
The next day was a day of dreadful weather here which made me swap my plans for a day outside for a more comfortable day indoors. Unexpectedly I had an opportunity to do a bit of digging into my books and records to see if I could find any trace of this missing airman. I quickly found myself absorbed in the task and had quite a bit of information about aircrew around, so within a couple of hours I could tell when he had joined the squadron, who his fellow crewmen were and that he had been the bomb aimer onboard. He'd been part of a crew made up of two British and five fellow Canadians too which may help with a search for information back in Canada. I was able to tell what flight within the squadron the crew had flown in and therefore who their direct commanding officer was. Luckily the flight commander had also written a book on his experiences as a bomber pilot in his later years and this contained detail about the raid which made it more immediate. With a bit more digging I was also able to track down the number of raids, targets and the dates which were flown. I could tell when the aircraft had been delivered and both its squadron and Avro serial numbers. Later that day I emailed the information I'd found along with some photographs I had of key squadron personnel her relative would have worked with and a contact name for the archivist of the squadron association who might be able to provide photographs of the aircraft and crew.

 153 Squadron graves, Scampton kirkyard

I've been pleased to help someone in this way, delighted that the information I'd researched and posted - mainly for my own coming to terms with bereavement - had provided clues to someone trying to piece together a family story of their own. I'm gratified too that my efforts a year ago have left me in the position to do this quickly and with relative ease.  I've mused over the last couple of days on the power of the web to make connections across continents and generations, to allow complete strangers help attach links and provide clues that will hopefully bring comfort and understanding. I've thought too about how no matter how challenging a prospect looks, chances are that someone somewhere has had those same thoughts or has that missing bit of information which can allow things to fit together.

All we need is the ability to make contact.

Listening to

Monday, 23 May 2011

Why I should never re-read Old Postings

Hullo ma wee blog,

I should never re-read old postings because..........

As far as I'm concerned there are few rules to blogging. Think what you want, write it down, bung it out there. That's about it as far as I've ever considered what I've written. Sure, it's nice to get a comment or two. Aye, even better when you get to know a regular commenter and fellow blogger and there develops a bit of banter, a mutual understanding. Shared thoughts, themes, values are batted back and forth between us, mutual appreciation and encouragement given, questions and challenges made and deeper understanding develops. That's the good side.

There's a concept about blogging I never really came across before today though. You see, when I post something, I generally do it like I am just now, off the top of my head. You know the stuff; brain cell engaged; thought occurs; post done; hit spellcheck; quick read and then 'bang' it's gone, out there for all to see. That's when - and I know it's wrong and my old school teachers are probably turning in their graves or getting ready to send letters of complaint to their local MP or something - I get that wee twinge of concern, the lack of confidence that almost always makes me go back and re-read what I've just posted and tweak it a bit. Just to make things a bit better. Or a bit clearer. That's what I do. Have done pretty much since day one. And it's helped me catch many a badly structured thought or poorly proof read missed-by-spell-check kind of error.

What I don't normally do is go back to a post after several months and re-read it. After all, it's done, any comments have been made and {generally} replied to. {sorry if I haven't. I genuinely do try to respond to all of them, it's just that I'm a bit of a forgetful if well meaning prat at times}

So what possessed me to go back and look at a post done last year I have no idea. Maybe I thought if I re-read it I would find some inspiration for another post I could do. Heaven knows - cos I don't. So, I started reading - it was one of my history posts and therefore a long one - and almost straight away I was thinking 'this isn't very well organised' and 'Oh, I shouldn't have said that in that way' or 'why isn't this further up near the beginning where it would make more sense?'. The more I read the more I began to cringe and get frustrated. Why on earth didn't I spot all this at the time?  How many people have started reading this and thought "What a load of tosh! Did you actually read this after you wrote it, you moron?" But I manfully ploughed on to the end and by the time I got there I decided that I've no option but go back and rework that piece or it's going to niggle. I need to take half of the stuff in there and throw it out or cut it down. I need to restructure it and get it to make more sense, never mind about the punctuation. { I think I may need to ditch the 'Crivens Jings' thing for a more accurate 'Blog of Unnecessary and Incorrect Punctuation Marks'}

Before that though I decided I needed to vent a bit of my frustration and that's why I'm sitting here writing now.

But I know what I'm going to be doing this afternoon..........

Oh - no! What about all the rest of the stuff I've posted?

Jings! Crivens! Help Ma Boab!!!

I'm not even going to look. I feel better already.

Listening to

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ritual Smugness....

A Jackdaw lands on the roof.

Hullo ma wee blog,

Mornings, especially early mornings, are my time in the house. This is particularly true for Sunday mornings like today when I wake rested and ready to go at 5.15am. Today the sun glints soft gold into the bedroom through the bottom of the cracked open velux window. Birds are singing and there is a definite feel of freshness and vitality to the air. Despite this I try to resist the allure of morning as I've had a rare settled night and have slept for at least 6 hours, which is luxury. I reach out and touch the soft skin of the Lovely G lying fast asleep beside me and lie for a moment or two connected by this touch before brushing a few strands of her thick black hair away from her face. I see her pout in her dreams and am content for several long minutes to just watch her sleep before gently easing myself out from under the covers and, collecting my clothes from the untidy, half-heartedly semi-folded pile at the side of the bed, make my way out to the hall where I head for the bathroom to get dressed and do the usual morning routine.

Heading down the stairs to the hall the light is soft through the gauze of the curtain at the foot of the stair until I fold it back and the light changes to a warmer hue. The birds are already out in force, seven or eight jackdaws strutting around beneath the apple trees until they see my shape at the window and they leap into the air and depart complaining loudly. The local sparrows who live in our back hedge are already busy with the remnants of yesterdays filling of feeders hanging on the two apple trees, excitedly clearing the way for the morning refill. I go through the door beside me into the kitchen and turn on the computer before filling the kettle and flicking the switch. Both will be ready for me by the time I'm finished with the birds. I pick up the large tub of birdseed with one hand as I roll open the patio door with the other and step out into the morning.

By the time I've taken my first step to cross the small patio towards the grass at the far side my bare feet have registered the depth of cold from the concrete slabs, a hint of night-time rain and a gossamer spider web. As I pass the small rough wooden bench table I put down the tub and a few steps on the chill of concrete changes for the soft dampness of grass, a refreshing cold rather than the hard cold of the patio behind me. I always smile when I do this. I love walking out here in my bare feet, almost regardless of the weather. I might be just a bit strange but as I walk to the first feeder with a small pot of seed to fill, I'm actually laughing quietly out loud, partly in exuberance and partly in expression of the shock of the cold on my toes. I go through my routine, filling one, two, three, four feeders and then I empty and wipe the two water dishes before refilling them with clean water and putting them back down, one on the small table where the seed tub is and one for the ground feeders which I leave at the edge of the patio. I pick up the seed tub and scatter a handful of seeds beside the newly filled water dish at my feet before walking back onto the grass and along the length of the house, past my neighbours softly clucking half dozen hens in their wire run through the slatted wooden fence. I pause there for a moment and we eye each other amiably as we do most mornings unless rain or wind forces us to concentrate only on the task at hand. This morning, bucket still in hand, I make them watch my impression of a chicken - nodding head, soft clucking, jerky movements - but can tell they're less than impressed. Nothing unusual there then.

Beyond the hen run, at the end of the fence where our garden drops down a metre or so to the lowest part, I pass the plum trees and turn back around the front of the house away from the younger pear trees and walk across to my favourite part of the garden, the old pear tree which sits at the edge of the drive right in front of the house. I often wonder what changes this old tree has seen here over the last hundred years as it's watched the space change from orchard to building site to garden. Once it had many companions but now it's the last of its kind, solitary until two new trees were planted nearby. As I often do, I run a hand on its rough bark and pluck a few dry twigs from a branch here and there as I fill the feeder that hangs from the stout finger that's all that remains of a branch clipped by other hands perhaps generations ago. All around the garden here there is birdsong and eager squeaks and squawks from birds excited by the morning sun at the front of the house and the prospect of breakfast being laid out before them. I walk back across the lawn dropping yet another handful of seed by the stone pillar of the bird bath and stop to fill the two window feeders that are in front of the kitchen and the library.
The tree on the hill opposite.
I've spent more time out here this week than anytime so far this year, the garden is looking good - for me anyway - things that should have been gone a while back have been lifted and taken to be recycled or dumped and there is an air of order and control about the place. Grass is short, borders are neat and tidy, things are as things perhaps should be more often. I decide that the computer can wait until later and I'm going to bring my coffee round here to the sunshine. I'll sit on the step and be smug for a while and enjoy what may be the last bit of sun for a few days.
see you later.
listening to

The Sunday Post

Hullo ma wee blog,

Goat. {1956}

The goat, with amber dumbells in his eyes,
The blase lecher, inquisitive as sin,
White sarcasm walking, proof against surprise.

The nothing like him goat, goat-in-self,
Idea of goatishness made flesh, pure essence
In idle masquerade on a rocky shelf -

Hangs upside down from lushest grass to twitch
A shrivelled blade from  the cliffs barren chest
And holds the grass well lost; the narrowest niche

Is frame for the devils face;the steepest thatch
of byre or barn is pavement to his foot;
The last. loved rose a prisoner to his snatch;

And the man in his man-ness, passing, feels suddenly
Hypocrite found out, hearing behind him that
Vulgar vibrato, thin derisive meh-eh.

Norman MacCaig.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The last byte!

Hullo ma wee blog,

It's been very quiet this week in the house of 'Crivens Jings'. A quiet week tinged with sadness as I come to terms with the passing of a close friend. This friend - who's name isn't important - was a confidante in the wee small hours when things are sometimes at their worst. A friend, never judgmental, no matter what secrets were told, trusted with treasures and important things to hold for the future and who could always be relied upon to be entertaining when needed, serious when it mattered, able to be called upon when insomnia and worries kept sleep from me, always able to give me a view of the world that showed me that things are rarely as bad as you fear and that a smile can come from the most unlikely places.

Thankfully I was there at the end and in the end it was quick and probably painless. I tried resuscitation but it was not to be. So, gratefully, I'm left with photo's, songs we shared and letters we'd written. Things I can keep and remember an old friend.

 My lap-top is gone. Deceased. Popped its clogs. It is an ex lap-top. Gone to the virtual afterlife and the great workshop in the sky.

I hope it's at peace. I hope it's happy.

I hope the insurance covers it.

In the meantime access to the blog will be via the Lovely G's lap-top. There was no doubt she would step up at a time like this and offer her support. She only asked one question.

"Did it die or did you kill it?"

There's no answer to that really.

Bloomin cheek!

Listening to

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Sunday Post

Hullo ma wee blog,

This weeks Poem is dedicated to blogger pal Big Swifty, a keen poet and avid walker who loves the highlands and who is in Scotland at the moment raising funds for charity with a poetry performance in the most remote coffee shop in the country in aid of Leukemia research.

All the best Swifty.

Climbing Suilven. {1954}

I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down.
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
Its silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go.

Parishes dwindle. But my parish is
This stone, that tuft, this stone
And the cramped quarters of my flesh and bone.
I  claw that tall horizion down to this;
And suddenly
My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.

Norman MacCaig.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Curious tale of the Dog and the.......

Hullo ma wee blog,

I sit in the car waiting for the lovely G  to come back from her shopping, idling away the time by people watching. Close in front of the car is a bench seat and a fairly young mother is sitting there with her back to me. A push chair type of buggy with a very young child in it is in front of her and this is getting all her attention. A small blond haired boy of maybe six or seven is sitting beside her but separated by a couple of feet and at his side is a Labrador dog. It’s facing him and is paying him rapt attention.

As I watch another young mum comes along and they greet each other as friends and start to chat. Greetings are exchanged with the wee boy and then the two ladies bend animatedly over the buggy, getting deep in what can only be baby talk. The little fella beside them is clearly bored by all this but possibly he knows that he shouldn’t interrupt and he certainly seems to know to stay by his Mum as he doesn’t try to get away or even mindlessly wander from her side. He looks off to one side and seems to sigh and I imagine him resign himself to being here for a while as the conversation continues and he now returns his attention to the ice lolly he has in his hand. His free hand reaches out to stroke the dog’s head and in doing this the dog moves it’s head out of the way of his hand to keep a clear view of the ice lolly. The head movement is expert, soft and gentle and the boy understands that what has made his pet sway is it’s determination not to lose sight of the lolly. He sticks it back in his mouth for a long and no doubt enjoyable second before taking it out and moving it slowly, like a hypnotist’s watch, in front of the dog’s face. The dog’s head responds by following the motion, the head and shoulders swaying slowly from left to right and back again in a matching rythm to the ice lolly and as it does so, it's mouth partially opens. You can almost see it drool. {I'm almost drooling myself}  The boy's shoulders tighten and it looks like, just as I am, he’s having a quiet giggle to himself as he repeats the manoeuvre two or three times with the same result.

As dogs sometimes do, there appears to be a realisation that they are sharing a moment together and with a pleading look on it’s face that says ‘ Come on buster - stop messing around! You know I want some of that.‘  the dog raises a paw momentarily onto the boy’s knee and shuffles slightly closer for emphasis. Almost without hesitation the lad offers his lolly to the dog who begins licking enthusiastically. After more than a few licks he pulls the lolly away from the dog and sticks it in his mouth with the same enthusiasm the dog showed. After a moment the move is repeated; the dog gets a few licks and then he has a few licks. It's repeated again. And again.

I hear a familiar voice in my head. So long ago but so clear. It's my exasperated mother.

"Alistair! Don't do that! Put that down!"

In my till now long-forgotten memory my Mum grabs the ice-cream that I've been sharing with my dog for the few yards we've come from the ice-cream van behind us and drops it down in front of a delighted Wendy, a gold and white cross between a Labrador and a boxer, who is my constant companion when I'm not at school. Wendy scoffs the lot in about two seconds and I'm left on the brink of tears as Mum explains that it's not the done thing to share your ice cream with the dog by trading licks. She does that thing Mums always used to do by wiping my face with a lipstick and perfume scented handkerchief she always seemed to have literally 'up her sleeve' for occasions just like this one. To me it seems part remedy and part punishment, either from the indignant embarrassment of having your Mum do that to you or from the smell of that lipsticked hanky.

It strikes me years later that this probably wasn't that hygienic either!

Memory fails to remind me if she bought me a replacement ice cream, but I'd like to think so......

As G gets back into the car and I turn the key in the ignition, I have the memory of the scent of that handkerchief so vividly in my mind I can almost taste it. I just manage not to groan but I can't stop myself from screwing my face up the way I used to when Mum would wipe my face.


But thanks for the memory all the same wee man!

Listening to.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

VE Day 1945/Operation Manna

Hullo ma wee blog,

Today's the 8th of May, also known as V.E. Day. V.E. day marked the end of hostilities in Europe in WW2.  It also marked the final 'operational' sortie flown by my father in Lancasters of 153 Squadron, Bomber Command.

A year ago today I was on the point of completing a series of posts on the blog following him and his squadron during the last few months of the war. Since then these posts have proven to be some of 'Crivens Jings' most popular in terms of hits and I've been contacted by people across the world who have a link to the men who flew those missions and served in 153 Sqdn and others of bomber command. I've never re-posted a complete entry before but here's what I posted a year ago. The page had been getting multiple hits over the last week and the anniversary of the end of Operation Manna explains why.  If you'd like to read more of their expoits click on 153 Sqdn on the labels list below my profile for a list of them.


Continuing the story of my late dad's wartime experiences as tail gunner in Lancasters of 153 Sqn and following Squadron operations from Jan 1945 to the end of hostilities.

During the days in April when the squadron was 'stood down' due to lack of operational targets in enemy territory, the crews of 153 Sqn were detailed to carry out low level cross country flying and map reading excercises. No official explanation was given to the airmen. The reason eventually became apparent......

On the 29th April, 153 squadron began humanitarian food drops to civilian populations suffering from starvation in the parts of Holland still under the Nazi occupation. This tragic situation, known even today as 'the hunger winter' came about because although much of Holland was safely in allied hands, a large pocket in Western Holland (including Amsterdam,Rotterdam,The Hague and other major cities) was still occupied by the Germans. After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew worse in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The Allies were able to liberate the southern part of the country, but their liberation efforts came to a halt when Operation Market Garden, their attempt to gain control of the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem, failed.

The Dutch national railways had complied with the exiled government's appeal for a railway strike starting in September 1944 to further the Allied liberation efforts. In retaliation the German administration placed an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands. By the time the embargo was partially lifted in early November 1944 by allowing restricted food transports over water, an unusually early and harsh winter had already set in. The canals froze over and became impassable for barges. Food stocks in the cities in the western Netherlands rapidly ran out. The adult rations in cities such as Amsterdam had dropped to below 1000 kilocalories a day by the end of November 1944 and to 580 kilocalories in the West by the end of February 1945. As the Netherlands became one of the main western battlefields, widespread dislocation and destruction of the war ruined much of its agricultural land and made production and transport of existing food stocks almost impossible. As usual it was the civilian population that suffered worst with many old, young and weak dying from starvation and cold.

By early 1945, the situation was desperate for the three million or more Dutch still under German control. Prince Bernhard appealed directly to the Allies for help to resolve the situation. In response, protracted negotiations began with the occupying German forces.

The plan to deliver this humanitarian aid was codenamed 'Operation Manna'

Allied contingency planners eventually devised a system whereby food could be air-dropped by bombers,using panniers (called 'blocks') four of which could be fitted to a standard Lancaster bomb bay. Each block held 71 sacks (giving a total weight of 1254 lbs per block) variously containing sugar, dried egg powder, margarine, salt, cheese, tinned meat, flour, dried milk, coffee, cereals, tea, high vitamin chocolate, potatoes, etc. - all supplied from the Ministry of Food's reserve stockpiles. Before the introduction of 'blocks', a variety of possible delivery systems had been devised by squadrons acting individually. As is customary, user trials were flown, one of which involved 153 Squadron. Fl/Lt Bill Langford recalled,

"On April21st, I flew 'V' Victor to Netheravon, carrying a mixture of goodies, in sacks, slung from ropes on a Heath Robinson {home-made} device in the bomb bay. We were to demonstrate to an assembly of RAF and Army brass, just how food would be dropped to the starving Dutch. Approaching the airfield at around 200 feet, wheels and flaps down for minimum flying speed, we lined up the white cross on the ground, and pressed the button….. when it all went wrong! Sacks of peas, tins of Spam, and all sorts of containers rained from the sky, scattering the assembled brass in all directions. Not what was intended."

A similar presentation also took place at Scampton after lunch April 21st when F/O 'Red' Penman, flying PA 264 (P4-3rd O), successfully carried out a demonstration drop on the airfield in front of the Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Lord Trenchard, who was visiting the station that day.

Negotiations with the German Occupying Authority for a limited truce to allow food drops to begin, assumed a critical state as the death toll rapidly mounted. At Scampton, as on other stations involved, crews practised low speed/low flying techniques and simulated drops. Eventually, on Sunday 29th April, the codeword "Operation Manna" was issued; this was an inspired choice, for not only does it stand for "bread from Heaven" but it means exactly the same in Dutch. 153 Squadron promptly dispatched 18 aircraft (each carrying 284 bags of food) to a dropping zone at The Hague - all following drops were on Dundigt Racecourse.

On 29 April the people of Holland heard BBC radio announce:
"Bombers of the Royal Air Force have just taken off from their bases in England to drop food supplies to the Dutch population in enemy-occupied territory."

Over the ten-day period ending 8th May, the Squadron mounted 111 sorties, shared between all 40 of the active crews, to successfully deliver 271 tons of life-saving provisions. In total, the RAF dropped 7,029.9 tons; the USAF who commenced drops two days later due to concerns about the truce, contributed 4,155.8 tons.

Many crews were initially apprehensive over the realisation that they would be flying, in broad daylight, at a very low level, in full view of the German A/A defences, whose gun barrels could be seen to be tracking their flight. However, the reception by the beleaguered Dutch people, who flocked on to the streets, the rooftops and all open spaces, to wave anything to hand, calmed all fears. Subsequent sorties were flown with panache, at very much lower levels, while crews (most of whom parcelled up their flying rations of chocolate and sweets and attached them to "parachutes" made from handkerchiefs, as personal gifts for the children) exchanged waves with those below. After dropping their loads, many pilots continued to fly at a very low altitudes, waggling their wings and 'buzzing' the crowds to give them a thrill, with their bomb-aimers flashing "V" for victory on the Aldis signalling lamp. It became a carefree, cheerful occasion for the aircrews, and many could not believe that Manna drops were to be allowed to count towards an operational tour.

Dad recalled being terrified at flying so low and so slowly - just above stalling speed. Crews could see the German anti-aircraft guns tracking them, including the fearsome 88mm guns accurate to 20,000ft, and said he felt like they could have reached up and slapped his backside. It was an eerie feeling for crews who were used to bombing from 15,000ft or more to be flying a slow pass over enemy guns at just a couple of hundred feet. Several Lancasters, Dad's included took some rifle fire from below but luckily no one was injured. Dad's pilot retaliated by diving onto a tented German camp, gunning the engines and blowing the tents apart! He also recalled one trip where the pilot took the Lancaster up a wide boulevard in a town at absolutely zero feet while the crew looked up at the cheering faces in the house windows on either side. For men used to dropping destruction it was an incredibly moving experience and one Dad was incredibly proud of.

Dutch girl Arie de Jong, a seventeen-year-old student at the time, wrote in her diary:

"There are no words to describe the emotions experienced on that Sunday afternoon. More than 300 four-engined Lancasters, flying exceptionally low, suddenly filled the western horizon. One could see the gunners waving in their turrets. A marvellous sight. One Lancaster roared over the town at 70 feet. I saw the aircraft tacking between church steeples and drop its bags in the South. Everywhere we looked, bombers could be seen. No one remained inside and everybody dared to wave cloths and flags. What a feast! Everyone is excited with joy. The war must be over soon now."

For the Dutch population, the food drops signalled something even more significant than an end to starvation. They saw the streams of bombers flying extremely low in broad daylight; they saw that the German forces did not open fire upon these vulnerable targets. They were quick to draw the obvious conclusion (oddly, not so apparent to aircrews) - that this historic event heralded the ending of the war! They hailed the fliers as their " liberators". The Dutch have never celebrated V/E day. For them, there is only the one, unforgettable celebration - the 7th May - a national holiday - which they very rightly call 'Liberation Day'.

On 8th May - V/E day - which marked the end of warfare in Europe, the Squadron made its final Manna drops. During the 10 days of Operation Manna, 3 Lancasters and crews were lost; two to collision and one to engine failure. None were from 153 Sqn.

As a postscript to this story, its interesting to recall the visit of my elder brothers Dutch friends family to our house around 1975 or so. Bart and Gordon had become great friends at university and Bart had spent quite a bit of time at our house on weekends and such. So, it was fitting that when his parents came across to visit, they also came to my parents house for a meal and to meet the family. At the end of the meal Bart's Dad and mine sat talking when the Hague came up - as Bart's family lived there. Dad mentioned that he had been to the Hague a couple of times at the end of the war to drop food and Bart's father became very emotional and gave Dad a big hug.

"I was there! I was hiding from the Germans but came out to see when the bombers came to drop the food. I was there! We were so hungry. We starved through the winter. I saw the green and red flares go down and then the food began to fall from the planes. I was there at the place in the Hague that day"

A small world indeed.

Next month G and I and Gordon and his wife are going to Holland for a short holiday. We will be staying at Barts house, not far from where 153 squadron made their drops during Operation Manna.

Watch a homemade Dutch film here of American planes dropping food near Alkemaar which I found much later after posting this item.

The Sunday Post

Hullo ma wee blog,

Street Preacher. {1962}

Every Sunday evening at seven o'clock
He howls outside my window. He howls about God.
No tattered prophet: a rosy bourgeois, he lifts
His head and howls. He addresses me as friend.

One day I'll open the window and howl at him
And so betray his enemy. I'll call him brother.
Who'd laugh the louder, the Devil or God, to see
Two rosy bourgeois howling at each other.

When he goes coughing home, does he speak to his wife
Of the good fight well fought, the shaft well sped,
Before he puts God's teeth in a glass and, taking
His sensible underclothes off, rolls into bed.

Norman MacCaig.

Late night music.

Hullo ma wee blog,

Sitting doing social work reports prep into the wee small hours for a hefty set of childrens panels next week and listening to some music to help the information sink in.

I thought I might as well subject you to it as well. Headphones on. Volume high. Malt whisky to hand - check!

Time for bed.


Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Cat Who Stares At Postmen

Life's tough you know

Hullo ma wee blog,

Jess was in mischievous mode. She'd been a pain this morning wanting attention all the time when I have things to do. She kept me awake half the night too, tramping on my head and vulnerable bits whenever I tried to fall asleep while she was determined that I would be more usefully employed as a cat masseuse. Each time my hand stopped for more than a moment she would nudge it, slide a nose under it and try to force it back into its position on her neck and shoulders. If this was unsuccessful she would stand and walk meaningfully up my side to look me in the face where she would decide whether to walk on my head or just apply a judicious splat with a splayed paw. Once or twice she rested her paw on my cheek as if to remind me that she could just as easily be doing this 'with' claws as 'without'. Sometime during the night my groans and pushing her down the bed had won the battle if not the war and she had settled herself down to reserve her strength for another time.

Her attentions in the night ensured that I too slept through my normal 4am sojourn to the coffee pot and now here I was at a much more reasonable time, sitting by the computer at the kitchen table checking mail, drinking coffee and checking out my blogger pals latest posts. Jess was occupied in the hall where I could hear her tearing around after the orange coloured ball she was trying to destroy. I heard the sound of claw on carpet giving acceleration to a furry body and the collision with an object that was ultimately too difficult to keep pinned down, the frantic scrabble to recover it leading to the next headlong charge the length of the hallway and the sound of that same ball being batted against doors and skirtings up and down the place. There was a moment's silence and I looked up to see Jess come proudly into the kitchen, chest heaving, tail high and with a wild look on her face that told me she had enjoyed the chase. She looked at me for a second with that same wild look before suddenly turning and going into a crouch, a quiver running from shoulder to tail and she was off again in a manic dash back through the door to give the poor ball yet another doing.

A few minutes later she came back yet again with that same gleeful air of  'That showed it who's boss!' and slumped down on her side on the kitchen carpet,  raising a leg to get to that irritating hair that needed to be licked flat. Job done she stretched out, the last two inches of tail flicking behind. As I watched, the tail kept up its excited flicker in contrast to the seemingly comatose feline it was attached to. A moment later a noise attracted her attention and she raised her head and shoulders until she lay there like a mini-me lioness in the midday sun, ears pricked and a study of concentration on her face. At the bird feeder outside the kitchen window three or four sparrows were noisily negotiating a pecking order for the seeds du jour. Although she could hear the commotion she couldn't see the bird feeder as the breakfast bar was in the way but in a fluid motion she was up and pressed against this side of it as she made her way swiftly to the corner for a peek. In another second she had gone behind the vegetable rack and was crouched down behind that toolbox I really should have put back out into the shed by now where she watched the birds for a while. Once she was sure they hadn't spotted her and were engrossed in their argument she slinked out over the top of the toolbox and, still pressed against the floor, worked her way around the edge of the cooking area under cover of the units until she was able to sit directly below where the feeder was located. Another moment or two of Zen-like mind control and she quivered her tail, lowered her shoulders and, using the not inconsiderable power of her hind legs, launched herself up onto the work surface where in one complete move she thrust herself at the window aiming to scare the bejeesus out of those bloomin' sparrows.

Unfortunately by the time she'd done this our friendly postie had her face to the window to give me a cheery wave good morning and they ended up nose to nose at the window. I really don't know who was the most surprised. Was it the postie who disappeared in a wave of expletives and discarded letters? Or was it Jess who seemed to explode into a giant, hissing furr-ball, do a complete back somersault off the worktop to land less than gracefully on the tiled floor before tearing off out of the kitchen door at a velocity just below the speed of sound.

Honestly, I have no idea.

Hasn't half been quiet around here for the last couple of hours though!


Listening to

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Sunday Post

When he speaks a small sentence,
he is a man
who presses a plunger that will
blow the face off a cliff.

Or: one last small penstroke -
and the huge poem rides
down the slipway, ready
for enormous voyages.

He does more than he does.
When he goes hunting
he aims at a bird and
brings a landscape down.

Or he dynamites a ramshackle
idea - when
the dust settles,
what structures shine in the sun.

'Hugh MacDairmid'
By Norman MacCaig.

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...