Sunday, 9 August 2015


I was lucky enough to visit the wonderful brand new Polish Jewish Museum in Warsaw during a two week holocaust study trip I led last month to Poland.  It's located in the heart of what was once the Warsaw Ghetto and is a celebration of 1000 years of flourishing Jewish life in Poland.

It is a stunning post-modern building and tells the story of how the Jews of the Rhineland moved eastwards to settle in what is today's Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine.  They brought their language, Yiddish, (or Jüdisch in German) and German sounding surnames (Sonnenschein, Hirsch, Goldberg, Morgenstern, Spielberg, Silverstern etc.) with them.  The museum's highlight is probably a staggeringly beautiful full size reconstruction of the painted interior of a 17th century wooden synagogue.

The Warsaw Polish Jewish Museum

This part of the world formed the heart of Jewish life in Europe.  Poland's Jewish population numbered around 3.5 million, or 10% of the entire country before WW2.  By comparison the Jewish population of the UK today is around 290,000 or just 0.45%.  Lwów had a 45% Jewish population, Cracow 25%, while Berdychiv in neighbouring Ukraine was 80% Jewish, with 80 synagogues serving the local population.  Warsaw, where one in three residents was a Jew, was second only to New York in the total number of Jewish residents.  The city was the crown of European Jewry.  

The reconstructed Gwoździec synagogue inside the museum

Then, brutally, and without any warning, the story in the museum changes to the German invasion of September 1939, and to the horrors of the holocaust that followed.  The 3.5 million Jewish population of Poland was decimated: 90% were murdered by the Nazis in those short six years.  Jewish Europe's "New York" ended up primarily in the gas chambers of the death camp at Treblinka.  And there the story stops.  Nowadays there are an absolute maximum of 20,000 Jews in the country (0.05% of the population).

All of this was amazingly well told in the way that only brand new museums can do, but for someone really interested in this whole subject, one name was missing for me in the exhibits: a town called Kielce.  It's 3 hours south of Warsaw and I decided to stop there with my group on our way to Cracow for a look round.

The Kielce Jewish House

When we arrived in the nondescript former mining town, ringed by grim communist tower blocks, I wondered what we would find there and how this would go down with the group.  Using the wonders of Google Maps on my iPhone, I got the driver to drop us off close to the centre.  Just as our coach pulled up, three coaches filled with kippah-wearing orthodox Jewish high schoolers from New Jersey were getting ready to leave.  I trusted this meant we weren't barking entirely up the wrong tree.  Other than them we saw no other foreign visitors at all in the town.

After lunch, I took my group the 5 minutes from the town square to Planty Street 7, an address I had found on the internet.  And there it was: a neat, ordinary looking house next to the little Silnica river that flows through the town.  The images on the side perhaps give a clue as to what this once was: the former "Jewish House" of the local community.  On a trip that was full of remembrance of horrors, this one stood out for a number of reasons.

Planty Street 7, Kielce

On 1 July 1946 the Jewish House was home to around 200 Polish Jews.  These were people who had by miracle survived the starvation, disease and death in the ghettos (there had been one here in Kielce), the murder squads of Einsatzgruppen that followed behind the German army front line, and the living hell of Nazi concentration camps.  Around 1/3 of Kielce had been Jewish just seven years before: some 24,000 of their fellow community members had perished in this time.  The handful of returning holocaust survivors often found their reception hostile.  Their homes had been taken over, and Catholic neighbours who had been entrusted with possessions were not always forthcoming in returning them.  This is classic, historic Christian-Jewish economic rivalry and jealousy in action.  But what happened here went way beyond that.  It was a little over a year after the War had ended.

The Pogrom

That day, 1 July 1946, an eight year old local Catholic boy called Henryk Błaszczyk disappeared.  His father reported him missing, and when he reappeared on 3 July, he told his father he had been kidnapped (actually he'd been visiting a friend in a village 25km away).  A family friend suggested this was probably the work of Jews or Gypsies.  On their way to the police station, young Henryk pointed to the Jewish House and a Jew standing outside and said he had been held there in the cellar.

On the morning of 4 July the police dispatched a force of 12 men to search the property and let it known more widely that they would be searching for the bodies of other Christian children who had disappeared and allegedly been "ritually murdered".  At the same time around 100 soldiers and five officers were also sent along and a crowd rapidly assembled and began pelting the house with stones.  The police and soldiers entered the house forcibly.  Their search rather unsurprisingly revealed no bodies and more to the point, no cellar.  Henryk had been lying.

Faces of some of the victims

Firing broke out inside the house and Dr Kahane, a holocaust survivor and head of the local Jewish Committee, was shot in the back by an officer and killed.  He had been trying to call the Kielce Office of Public Security for help.  The soldiers forced the Jewish residents out of the house into the hands of the angry Christian mob.  By noon up to 1000 steel workers had assembled and began to physically attack the handful of Jews with steel rods and clubs.  Twenty were clubbed to death in the street outside the house.  Others were stoned to death in the river.  Nine were shot by the police or soldiers.  Two were stabbed to death with bayonets.  The killing frenzy lasted over a period of all a full five hours, with attendant security forces not only failing to intervene, but actually responsible for starting the the violence.
The sight of the large, modern apartment house on Planty Street was the ultimate in ruthless havoc. ... The immense courtyard was still littered with bloodstained iron pipes, stones and clubs, which had been used to crush the skulls of Jewish men and women. Blackening puddles of blood still remained. ... Blood-drenched papers were scattered on the ground — sticky with gore, they clung to the earth though a strong wind blew through the yard.
S. L. Schneiderman, “Between Fear and Hope, 1947

The violence spilled over into other parts of the town.  A Kielce resident and former concentration camp inmate described a Jew being beaten in the head and face on Sienkiewicz Street by a group of 8 young Poles:
I would like to mention that as a former prisoner of concentration camps I had not gone through an experience like this. I have seen very little sadism and bestiality of this scale.
Other Jewish survivors were taken from their homes elsewhere in Kielce, including Regina Fisz, who was murdered along with her baby Abram.  He was three weeks old.  He was apparently killed with his mother "whilst trying to escape".   Jews not killed, but injured (sometimes seriously), were robbed and beaten by soldiers on their way to hospital, and wounded Jews were also attacked in their beds by other patients.  Trains out of town were searched for Jews trying to escape the violence and at least two more victims were thrown off moving trains and killed.

A total of 40 Jews (and 2 non-Jews) were murdered during this post-holocaust bloodbath.  It occurred just 69 years ago in a peacetime European nation.  Two somewhat understated and technically inaccurate plaques on the wall of the house at Planty Street 7 mark the events.

One of the remembrance plaques

1000 Years of History Ended 

News of the horrors tore through the battered post-holocaust Polish Jewish community.  Almost all of the surviving Jews in Poland took the massacre as their prompt to leave the country.  For many it was the signal that there could no longer be any Jewish life or future in this country.  A flood of 150,000 survivors had left the country by the spring of 1947.  This was the final end to the 1000 years of Jewish history in Poland.

That's why it's so surprising to me that Kielce wasn't even featured in the Warsaw Jewish Museum.  Or perhaps not.  The Polish police, soldiers, steelworkers and Christian mob in Kielce in many ways finished the work of the Nazis in making the heart of European Jewry Judenrein - and that's a very uncomfortable narrative to deal with.

Polish WW2 Collaboration

The museum is keen to stress that Judaism and Christianity co-existed peacefully in Poland for centuries.   That is true to a great extent, but co-existence is just the word.  It was as if there were two separate nations living within the country for most of the time.  Unlike in other countries where Jews assimilated, at least to some extent, and became for example French or Dutch Jews, in Poland most Jews retained their own language (Yiddish), schools, theatres and other community structures to a remarkable extent.  They traded and mixed with Polish Catholics, but they remained Jews, not Poles.  The sheer size of the communities tended to keep them safe.

During WW2 Poland suffered horrendously.  Nazi crimes were instant and they were particularly brutal.  Poland lost a total of 17% of its population during the war (just under 6 million total, which the Poles interestingly still tend to split into "Jewish" and "Polish" victims).  Only far smaller Belarus endured a higher death rate at the hands of the Germans at 25%.  Britain lost less than 1%.  Unlike in Western Europe, the sentence in occupied Poland for even giving a single night's help to a Jew was the death penalty instantly.  Anne Frank's helpers did not face any such penalty in the Netherlands, for example, and only two of the men who gave help to the hidden group over a far longer period spent any time at all imprisoned (one for just 7 weeks).

Despite this there are 6,532 righteous gentiles from Poland honoured at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, more than from any other single country.  These are Polish Christians who aided Jews in the horrific circumstances of the German occupation at enormous risk to themselves.

Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

It is also actually quite uncontroversial to assert that collaboration between Poles and Nazis during WW2 was considerably less than in other occupied countries.  Israeli War Crimes Commission statistics indicate that less than 0.1% of Polish gentiles collaborated with the Nazis.  This wasn't neighbouring Catholic Slovakia, for example, where the fascist government of priest Father Tiso paid RM500 per person for the Nazis to systematically deport and murder its own Jewish population.  Nor even is it France, where it was French police who rounded up Jews for the Germans.

However, the picture isn't quite that simple.  There might be 6,532 righteous gentiles in Poland, but equally this is geographically where the vast bulk of European Jews who needed help were located.  By way of demonstation, Poland had 3,500,000 Jews whereas the Netherlands had just 120,000.  Yet there are 5,413 Dutch righteous gentiles, which means that there is one righteous gentile for every 22 Jews in Holland.  In Poland the ratio is one righteous gentile for every 535 Jews.  These numbers tell the story from a very different angle.

Then there are the clear examples where Poles did join in with Nazi genocide: The 1941 massacre at Jedwabne is the most well-known example, where 340 Jews were herded together, beaten, then locked in a barn and burnt to death by ordinary Polish villagers working on German orders.

In addition it's an obvious and simplistic mistake to assume that non-collaboration with the Nazis of itself precludes the existence of widespread antisemitic attitudes.  Just because Poles hated and feared the Germans, it does not mean that they didn't also harbour deep feelings of animosity towards the Jews.  And that same utter hatred can go a long way to explaining a lack of desire in working alongside them, whatever their endeavours and targets.

Christian Roots

The Kielce Pogrom did not come from nowhere.  The number of people involved, the level of the violence and the nature of the prejudices (primarily the blood libel one) clearly had deep roots somewhere.

The blood libel charge, if you're not familiar with it, is that Jews murdered Christian children for their religious ceremonies.  It dates back to Easter 1144 when the Jews of my local city, Norwich, were accused by Christians of crucifying a local boy, William, and using his blood for their passover celebrations.  The charge was spread repeatedly around England and later Europe, and used to justify Christian attacks on and murders of Jews.  Apparently Christian blood was necessary for making matzo bread.  This clearly unhinged allegation was still so powerful in Catholic Kielce in 1946 that it led to these events.

Salve Maria etc.

No serious holocaust historian in fact disputes the Christian Church as the historical driving force behind hatred of, persecution of, and attacks on Jews.  It is the starting point of every discussion on the subject.  Recently deceased Professor Robert Wistrich was one of the all time leading scholars on the history of antisemitism.  His seminal work "Antisemitism: the Longest Hatred" carried the strap line "From the Cross to the Swastika". 
Without centuries of Christian antisemitism, Hitler's passionate hatred would never have been so fervently echoed...because for centuries Christians have held Jews collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.  On Good Friday Jews, have in times past, cowered behind locked doors with fear of a Christian mob seeking 'revenge' for deicide.  Without the poisoning of Christian minds through the centuries, the Holocaust is unthinkable.
You might think the above are the words of someone who is biased towards the Church.  In fact they belong to Robert Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.  The narrative was repeated again and again from pulpits across Christian Europe over the space of centuries.  Professor Hans Küng of Tübingen University reinforces the sentiment.  Father Küng is a Catholic priest:
"Nazi anti-Judaism was the work of godless, anti-Christian criminals. But it would not have been possible without the almost two thousand years' pre-history of 'Christian' anti-Judaism"
It therefore would actually be somewhat surprising if the heavily Catholic Polish nation (still one of the most observant Christian nations in Europe today) were not antisemitic given the involvement of the Church in the history of the persecution of the Jews.  It was only in 1964, in fact, almost twenty years after the holocaust and after heavy lobbying by a French Jewish holocaust survivor, that Rome dropped the collective charge against the Jewish people that they had been the "murders of God".  A more serious crime in the minds of their believers cannot exist.

Reaction of the Church to Kielce

We now come to what is for me the most staggering part of the story.  The fact that violent, uneducated and indoctrinated Christians, motivated by economic concerns and superstitious tripe fed to them by their spiritual mentors, did such an act is depressing enough.   Poland in 1946, although behind the nascent "Iron Curtain", was still far from entirely cut off from the rest of Europe and the world.  News of the horrors of Kielce caused a sensation in the United States in particular, where full details of the holocaust were still coming out.  The reaction of the Catholic Church in Poland caused as much of a stir as the events.

The tiny surviving Kielce Jewish community had been attacked by hand grenade just before Christmas 1945 whilst celebrating the holiday of Hannukah: the first such celebration since the holocaust.  The community approached the Bishop of Kielce to ask him to tell his flock not to attack Jews.  He refused and said it was "no surprise that they had been attacked" because they [the rag tag group of holocaust survivors] were trying to control public life in the country.  This came straight from the widespread belief that Jews were all communists and a dislike of the new political direction of the country under Soviet control.   Just as with the Nazis, Jews were accused both of being world capitalists and communists: total opposites, but logic did not come into it.

Meanwhile the Bishop of Lublin added that the question of Jews' use of Christian blood in their religious ceremonies had "never been completely clarified".  This is a Catholic bishop, a highly educated senior Catholic cleric, repeating in 1946 the early medieval blood libel charge, post holocaust.

Because of these somewhat disturbing utterances, the US ambassador to Poland demanded that the Archbishop of Warsaw, Cardinal August Hlond, hold a press conference to set out the position of the Catholic Church on the massacre.  He did condemn the violence, a week after it had taken place, but tried to explain it away with reference to rumours about the killing of Polish children by Jews.  He omitted to explain these had historically been put out by the Church itself, and went on to blame the deterioration in relations with Jews on their "occupying leading positions in Poland in state life."

Wawel Cathedral, Cracow

The Archbishop of Cracow, Prince Adam Cardinal Sapieha, who is buried in the resting place of kings and national heros, Wawel Cathedral, and is worshipped as a saint by the population there, voiced similar sentiments.  He suggested that the Jews had brought the murderous pogrom on themselves.  He ordained the young Karol Wojtyła as a priest a few months afterwards.

Finally the controversial wartime Pope Pius XII was pressed to end his silence some three months later, and to condemn the killings by Rabbi Bernstein, the US advisor on Jewish affairs to Europe.  The Pope declined to do so, claiming that it was difficult to communicate with the Church in Poland because of its position behind the Iron Curtain.  Communication clearly improved at some point because Karol Wojtyła went on to become Pope John Paul II.  Strangely enough that was in 1978 when the Cold War was far more intensively underway than in 1946.  Hey ho.

Cardinal Hlond and Pope Pius XII have both been declared "Servants of God" by Rome decades later and are being canonised.  Saintly men. 

Persistent Attitudes

The Polish president described the events in 2006 as a "crime and a great shame for the Poles and tragedy for the Polish Jews" but tried to tried to brush off characterisations about Poland being an antisemitic nation as a stereotype.

I remember being puzzled during visits to Cracow, a city I absolutely love, by paintings of orthodox Jews counting their bags of money.  They were openly on sale in the Old Town, and were displayed in tourist restaurants.  I asked a Polish friend what they were about: she replied they were hung up because Jews are thought to have lots of money.  Therefore people believe that having a painting of a Jew counting his bags of gold in their home would bring good fortune to the property.  A cruder and more basic antisemitic stereotype is hard to imagine. 

A Jew counting his money bags. Poland, 2015.

A young, educated and otherwise perfectly lovely Cracow city guide, who showed me the Helena Rubinstein birth house in the former Jewish district of town, then said to me "You might wonder why it is in such a state.  I mean, show me a Jew who doesn't have money."  One comment like this doesn't make an entire country of antisemites, but it sure took my breath away - and I found the fact she was comfortable expressing it to a relatively complete stranger fascinating.

Beyond this inherently unreliable anecdotes, seventy years on there is however ample academic proof that antisemtic attitudes are widespread in the country.  A report by Professor Bilewicz of Warsaw University put before the Polish parliament in 2013 reported the following:
  • 63% of Poles believe in a Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media (classic modern day antisemitic stereotype, expounded by the Nazis)
  • 23% of Poles blame Jews for the murder of Jesus Christ and believe that Christian blood is used in Jewish rituals (traditional Christian based antisemitic views)
  • The 23% statistic represents an increase of 8% over the number who held these views in 2009
Another recent 2014 Polish survey showed that:
  • 44% of Warsaw High School students wouldn't want a Jewish neighbour
  • Over 50% of Polish youth visit antisemitic websites 
  • Prejudice is growing in particular amongst young Poles, who are of course the future of the country
These figures are staggeringly high and quite remarkable for a country where there are virtually no Jews left.  Professor Dariusz Stola, director of the wonderful Polish Jewish Museum above, has little doubt where Polish prejudice comes from: it is classical anti-Semitism rooted in the belief that the Jews killed Jesus Christ.  She believes that roughly a quarter of Poles can be labelled hardcore antisemitic.

God Help Us

So there we have it.  A thoroughly depressing, barbaric event that is probably completely unknown to most of my readers.  Amongst all the stories of barbarity during the holocaust it has a special place because it occurred afterwards, with knowledge of these crimes, by a group of predominantly ordinary people, over a space of five full hours, aimed at survivors of the genocide.  The Catholic Church's reaction is depressing, telling, and of course typically utterly abhorrent.  I didn't think my respect for the institution could sink much further, but it has.

If antisemitic attitudes are indeed increasing in the country, it is not enough for politicians to just dismiss them as a crude stereotype.  They have to be acknowledged and worked against.  It is up to the 75% of the Polish population in this wonderful country that I love so much to challenge the views of the other 25%.  The victims of Kielce deserve to be remembered, which is why I wrote this lengthy blog post. If we cannot learn from it, we really are screwed.

With Smok the Dragon, Cracow Castle

Let's end on a happy note.  This is my wonderful group who accompanied me on the tour.  27 high schoolers from New Jersey who gave up two weeks of their summer to visit Warsaw, Treblinka, Kielce, Cracow, Auschwitz, Olomouc, Prague, Theresienstadt, Lidice, Amsterdam and Westerbork with me.  I'm so glad these type of people exist in the world as well.  One of them, 17 year old Matt (with the camera in the front), created this beautiful 4 minute short film "Perspectives" during the tour.  It really does deserve a watch!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Auschwitz Bookkeeper

I'm just about to fly off to Warsaw to lead a 2 week holocaust study trip. Therefore sorry for this very rushed flow of consciousness written on my iPhone! I just wanted to react to the Oscar Gröning "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" case though as it's something I feel very strongly about:

Lots of people are apparently pointing out 1) he has "repented", 2) he came forward voluntarily to challenge holocaust deniers, 3) some are calling this "vengeance" rather than justice; 4) and of course he's extremely old.

They're missing a set of points.

1) and 2) These are relevant in law only to mitigation in sentencing, not to establishing culpability. What matters was whether he committed a crime then, or not. His subsequent behaviour might be admirable (I indeed think it is and he comes across as a good, decent person now) but that doesn't affect his involvement at that time. The court found he broke the law. 

He was facing 3-12 years and was sentenced to 4, ie right at the bottom end of the scale. The court therefore correctly applied the mitigating factors to reduce his sentence. End of debate. Christian bullshit about repentance and forgiveness of sins has no place in this legal discussion. He can take that nonsense up with "God" if he believes in one.

3) criminal law broadly has three  purposes: a) individual prevention of reoffending and rehabilitation, b) societal deterrence, and c) retribution. It's clear he won't be doing this again, so the first point here is irrelevant. In terms of societal deterrence however it sends out a message that even after 70 years those involved in genocide will be punished. Therefore this is good. Finally retribution (or "vengeance") is a relevant element of criminal law. It must not be the only motivating factor, but it does provide valid and necessary comfort to victims and it provides a sense of justice being done more widely. Again therefore this is good. 

4) I remember reading about a friendly Gestapo policeman in Cologne who helped an 89 year old German Jewish woman to her round up point by giving her a lift on the back of his  bicycle. She was deported to a ghetto in Poland where her life expectancy would have been days. Gröning's age now is utterly irrelevant to what he was part of back then, at least in terms of culpability (it might be relevant to sentencing). Old people and babies were murdered. He's had 70 long years of freedom and happiness that was denied to millions.

Another interesting point is the small cog in big wheel discussion. He didn't put people in gas chambers, but without the administration the camp could not have operated. As a book keeper, his exact job was to record the currency stolen from the murdered victims.  In his own words he witnessed the gas chambers and believed that the Jewish children murdered in them represented a danger to Germany because of "their blood". He chose this "cushy SS office job" voluntarily. The court found that the whole site was involved in mass murder, and therefore anyone involved was complicit in it. That's absolutely correct. 

Last of all it is never, ever, our place to forgive. We just literally do not have the standing as the wrong was not done to us. Only survivors can do that, or not, on a personal basis for the wrongs committed against them, and not against the other millions affected.  Our job as a society is to keep the memory alive and for our courts to deal with all these issues in a way set out by law. I therefore really welcome this. He will be accorded dignity and care in prison in Germany, which reflects the civilised society it has now become. The victims had no such fortune.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Strapping Young Collies

The collie duo are growing up!  They are now 7 months old (Hector) and 6 months old (Florian) and have finally lost all their milk teeth.  They therefore have a beautiful pearly white set of adult teeth each and amazingly my furniture has survived the teething process.  I found that catfish skin chews and puppy sized antlers were perfect when they need something to gnaw on.

Taken this week.  Snuggled up close, as usual.
Since my last post on 12 April they're looking more and more like proper young dogs, rather than puppies.  Hector in particular is huge and is weighing in at just under 17kg.  That's practically elephant sized for a young collie boy of his age: a grown adult male is normally around 22kg.  Florian, by contrast, is 14kg at a month younger, but is catching up fast in terms of height at least.

Hector, looking very much like a young dog, rather than a puppy

Individual Update: Hector

Hector's mottled colouring and amazing fur never fails to take my breath away.  It's so unusual (only 45 blue merle rough collie boys were registered in the whole of the UK last year) and so striking.  He has the most enormous bushy tail and his white mane is starting to grow out.  By Christmas he'll have his first adult winter coat and should look even more stunning. 

Handsome Hector

Hector is a hooligan.  He's got such a naughty streak in him, is incredibly clever, and just a little mischief maker.  He's less confident than Florian, more skittish, and less able to come forward for spontaneous cuddles.  I therefore try to snuggle him as much as possible, precisely because of his reserve.  Whereas Oscar used to sing to me in the mornings, Hector tends to make the most horrendous dinosaur type noises.  It's a kind of "Hello Daddy, BLURGHHHHH" dry-retch noise.  He's a Colliesaurus Rex.

Stick in mouth, up to his mischief!

Individual Update: Florian

Florian on the other hand is, and always will be, my little Golden Boy.  He can't do anything wrong, and when he does we blame it on his big "brother" anyway.  Florian is such a Daddy's boy.   He looks like a little teddy lion collie and is always smiling and wagging his tail.  He's nowhere near as bright as Hooligan, but is the happiest soul on earth. 

Golden Boy Florian

And he's ADORABLE... I mean look at him, asleep cuddling his teddy for heaven's sake!

It's actually a giant teddy mouse, not a bear, but hey
The one time recently when I caught him being naughty (the little sods had stolen a sandal of mine and were playing tug of war with it in the garden) I raised my voice to him.  The look of devastation of his little face would have been appropriate if he'd just seen me beating his mother to death with an iron bar in front of his eyes.  Move over RSPCA adverts, you have nothing on Florian's expression on the rare occasion when he's just been told off.

Growing Up

It's ridiculous how rapidly they've grown, and you can see from the photos below.  The first one was taken on 1 February, the day after I collected Hector.  I remember thinking, gosh I could easily fit 9 collie babies in that vast boot. 

"I feel a bit lost"
Now look at the two big lumps.  The plan still is eventually to get a third one, a tricolour called Leopold (possibly Florian's son, in a couple of years' time).  I'm not sure where we'd put him though, given my Mercedes E-Class is one of the biggest estate cars on the market in the UK! 

"My, we've grown"
By the way, yes as you can see, Florian wears a little polka-dot red harness and has a matching polka-dot lead.  His name means "flower" after all, and it suits him!  Hector has a red harness and a red leaded with little silver bones on it.

Walkies and Leads

The boys adore each other.   They seem to be joined by an invisible elastic band that extends a maximum of five metres when they're out on walks.  Every sniff has to be examined together, every path explored in tandem, and they keep exactly the same pace.  One always seems to keep a little button eye on Daddy to see where he is, and they will drop behind me as they get up to their doggy things, but they never leave each other's side.

"Ooooh a sniff, let's explore it together"

They're both walking perfectly off the lead by the way, when we're out in the countryside.  They come beautifully when called, even to be put back on the lead.  2 years competition dog training when I was 16 has paid off with lessons for life in how to bring up a dog!  Having spent 5 months now with Hector, and 4 months with Florian, I feel they are losing their "L" plates and are really starting to behave how they've been taught without constant reinforcement.  That's such a joy: you put in the time and effort at the start and you have beautifully behaved dogs for life.

Two puppies, one finger

I literally walk them with the leads round one finger on my left hand.  Hector will only pull if he's startled by traffic (remember, he's far more skittish) - Golden Boy of course never pulls and is the one who walks closest next to me.  I don't know how they worked out that order, but it's always the same.  Me, then Florian, then Hector on the outside.  Walking all three next to each other.

Oscar virtually never wore a lead - I suspect these two will get to that stage within a year or so.  For now, I want them on leads anywhere there is a road close by, just in case.

Little Brothers

Even though they're technically distant cousins, they behave completely like little brothers.  They play fight, knock each other about, get up to mischief, and then snuggle together in the evening.  They love, love, love each other.  I never realised just how much two puppies can give each other: even if I played hours on end with one of them, I couldn't replicate the fun they have together.

Young tearaways up to fun and games

They of course have a big box of toys at home, which they empty every evening and never tidy up at bedtime.  The cheek!  Florian is excellent at making toys squeak, whereas Hector is the expert at "fetch".  Florian is generally far too lazy for that type of thing, and prefers to sunbathe, and wait for his next food.  That is VERY important to him.  Fat little fluffy bastard. 

A *very* rare sight. Florian actually in motion.

They also have a box of toys kept at their Granny's for their visits, as well as a basket and bowl each kept in the conservatory. Here's a cute photo of them having a Mexican Standoff with their veggie burger squeaky toys at their Granny's.

"My veggie burger toy is squeakier than yours"


I've never been a believer in bathing collies: their natural oils do the job of keeping their fur clean, and in any case they hate mud and water and tend to be cat like in their personal hygiene.  They get a good 10 minute brushing every day which keeps them looking great.  Still, Ste convinced me that Hector really did need a shower, and I'm basically scared of Ste, so in he went. 


Hector was actually remarkably good, didn't struggle, took it all in his stride, and it did do a nice job of making him extra-fluffy.  Personally I'm amazed he's still talking to Ste, but he is.

I'd have bitten him, Hector

And my Golden Boy? No, he will NOT be subjected to this evil.  Not on my watch! 

Here is a lovely shot of all the boys together: Hector, Florian, Ste and Bruin (aka, Boggles) who is Ste's family's Boston Terrier.  Yes he's really ugly.  But absolutely gorgeous with his boggly little eyes and cuddly, adorable, soft manner!

Who is the prettiest? GOLDEN BOY, of course!


They have stopped squabbling about food and eat from bowls right next to one another.  I used to put a guard between them so they'd feel secure the other one wasn't going to steal theirs, but so they could see and hear the other eating.  One day I just stopped doing it, and now presumably they're confident that food isn't a scarce resource and they'll get their fill.

And WOW do they eat.  They're on 350g each a day of Lily's Kitchen food and it disappears in seconds.  I can't recommend the range more highly.   The key word to look for in dog food is "meat (or animal) derivatives or by-products" - if it has them in, that means the boiled up skin, bones, offal, crushed heads, hooves and all the other cheap crap that isn't fit for human consumption.  It could be from any animal: your guess is as good as mine.  Derivatives and by-products are the basis of all three of the big dog food producers in the UK, as well as most snacks.  Plenty of dog food has as low as 2% actual meat in it.  The rest is filler and potentially harmful rubbish.  Just look at what Pedigree Dentastix have in them, for example.

Check out the ingredients of what the boys are on, by contrast.  It's 50% real, organic meat with a load of organic vegetables (which are so good for dogs) and a combination of herbs to keep their skin, kidneys, liver, immune system etc in good shape.  No meat derivatives. No animal by-products.  No additives, no preservatives, no fillers, and it's completely grain-free.  It's healthy and delicious, it keeps their coats looking stunning, their breath clean smelling, their poo firm, their skin perfect and they seem in the best of health.  As you can tell, I'm quite evangelical about it!

Hector's Champion Daddy

Congratulations are very quickly due to Hector's birth daddy, Ch Beldones Black Illusion (aka, "Boris"), who was awarded his "Champion" title in May.  He came second at Crufts this year, and in won his third certificate in a championship competition, which means he now bears the title as part of his pedigree name.  I've never seen a dog who looks more like my late, great Oscar - which is no great surprise as Oscar was his great uncle.

Hector's birth daddy, Boris

Florian is incensed, as his birth daddy is also a Champion, and that means the two are now equal.  His mummy is just missing one more challenge certificate, at which point she also will become a Champion.  He's desperate for this to happen as he will then be said to be "Bred in the Purple", a term reserved for those very few dogs whose parents both carry the Champion title.  He has vowed to trade in his red polka-dot ensembles, to replace them with purple, and to wear them round the house to lord it over Hector when this happens!

#1 On Florian's Christmas List

And finally....

Hector recently started sporadically cocking his leg up when he goes for a wee.  That usually happens around puberty, at about a year old.  He was typically advanced (he's SO big for his age) and did it just past 6 month old.  He doesn't do it every time and he seems to lose his balance some times, but it is very cute.  I've yet to get a snap.  Florian is still weeing like a little girl in the squatting position.

My little boy is growing up!!

That's all for now.  It's such a joy having these two little furry scamps in my life.  I look forward literally every day to coming down and greeting them, to spending my day with them, having them at work with me, and seeing them asleep at my feet in the evenings.   They fill my days in the most wonderful way possible and it's a pleasure to share my enjoyment of them with you.  Thank you for reading :-) x


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Homosexuals Crossing

Apologies for the absence..  I've been busy with work, the puppies, and a couple of trips abroad. I therefore think one of my usual ramblings is more than overdue, so here we go.

Caution: Homosexuals Crossing

Homosexuals holding hands. In public!! :o

I'm just back from Vienna, a city I visit a good 3 or 4 times a year.  Hitler had hated Vienna, because when he was there in the 1920s, it was far too Jewish, Slavic, cosmopolitan, and socialist.  By contrast, he declared "Finally, a German City!" when he moved to Munich.  The 20 July 1944 conspirators who tried to assassinate him dreamed of a free democratic European union, with its capital in Vienna, rather than Brussels.  It was the natural heart of Europe, straddling East and West, and the former capital of the great multi-ethnic Habsburg empire.

Instead, Vienna was divided in 1945, in a similar way that Berlin was.  When the Iron Curtain descended on Europe, from "Stettin in the North, to Trieste in the South" to quote Churchill, the effects on Vienna were profound.  No longer a crossroads, you effectively went to Vienna only to visit Vienna because just a few miles past the city you reached a mined, armed, dead-end.  I disliked the place intensely on my first few visits: stifling, Catholic, conservative.  A place where people in their 30s and 40s actually wore fur coats and hats without an sense of irony.  A backwater.

Then everything changed.  Since November 1989 I've watched the city slowly develop back into the type of place the Nazis loathed.  The road signs point once again to Bratislava, to Budapest and to Prague.  Unlike in the rest of Austria, the (mainly ultra orthodox) Jewish community is flourishing.  It's constantly ranked in the top three cities worldwide for quality of life.  And there's a big, visible, gay community.

Literally every time I see a Vienna tram I smile

I've been used to seeing the city trams flying rainbow flags (apparently by order of the mayor) all around the city, not just for LGBT Pride, but many of them all year round.  But this year there's something new.  It's that many of the pedestrian crossings in the centre of town have been changed to same-sex couples... with love hearts.  They are a mixture of male/male and female/female - as well as male/female couples (nice inclusive measure to bisexuals and straights!)

Here is a female couple dutifully showing you to wait for the green light at the entrance to the main shopping street, Kärtnerstrasse, close to the Vienna State Opera House:

Lesbians say DON'T WALK


A needless, silly bit of symbolism?  The Far Right Freedom Party certainly thinks so, and is sufficiently wound up they've threatened court action over the lights.  But here I am, a 44 year old, out, self-confident gay man, who had heard about the pedestrian lights and who felt a genuine pique of excitement and happiness to see that they actually existed.

When I was a kid growing up in Germany I loved Playmobil.  In about 1980 they suddenly started randomly including Turkish figures (that is brown faced, ordinary people, rather than historic characters dressed in a fez).  They've moved on to a whole range of ethnicities now, such as the black family below.
Playmobil rocks

I guess that unless you belong to a group that isn't in the majority, it isn't very easy to put yourself in the shoes of another group and realise what public invisibility feels like.  Same-sex couples aren't by any means invisible in tv programmes, movies etc in the way they were in say the 1980 or even 1990s, but this little thing (and the rainbow flags on the trams, which I adore) costs very little, will be ignored by many people, but will really matter to some.  

It's so easy to dismiss, but then you think of the unsure gay teenager who sees that someone very senior in the city administration has made this gesture of inclusiveness.  Or you smile at the thought of little child asking their parent why these street signs are different to the ones they normally see, and hope it's a lead in to a "different couples and families" exist type conversation. 

The Times They Are A Changin'

And if you have any sense of history you start reflecting on the place this is happening.   Yes, Vienna was traditionally a "red" city, but it's also the place where tens of thousands of cheering citizens poured out onto the Heldenplatz on 15 March 1938 to cheer Hitler's triumphant arrival in the city.  The sporadic outbursts of violence against the city's Jews in the 2. district led an embarrassed Berlin to radio through orders to tone down the aggression (there were lots of international journalists in town).  Nazism grew in extremely fertile ground in Catholic, right wing Austria, even in its capital.

Hitler addresses Vienna from the Hofburg Palace

Now that same square, just one year ago, was the place for another gathering of a different type.  It was at the far end of the picture and involved some 10,000 cheering Viennese.  This time they were there to greet home triumphantly a different one of their own: a certain bearded drag queen called Conchita.  Look behind the crowd with the rainbow flags to the pale grey building in the distance.  That is the Hofburg, and a keen eye will spot the exact balcony that Hitler had stood on, well within living memory.  And OMG I just noticed that there's one of those hat-wearing Austrians in the front row.  He must be lost.  The woman to his right doesn't look too happy either.  Oh well :P


But seriously, do you get what a massive change this is?  At the incredibly serious, and wonderful, Haus der Musik, which is devoted to the Great Composers, the Theory of Sound etc. there is a Conchita exhibit right there as the first thing you see.  Vienna has gone through 180 degrees, and it's not just since 1938.  It's more like since 1989.

Conchita's Dress and Portrait, Haus der Musik. 26" waist. Amazing!

Just like Ireland, which recently gave a massive two fingers to a long history of the Church's attempts to control, manipulate, oppress and repress people's private lives and morality, this is about so much more than just LGBT rights.  The popular referendum in the Republic of Ireland was about accepting that all sorts of people don't "fit the mould" (whatever illusory thing that mould was).  It was about sending a huge signal of acceptance.  It was about saying that we want a modern society, where people are more than tolerated: they are welcomed.  In both Ireland and Vienna's cases that is probably as much a domestic message as one intended for an international audience.  It's about how people outside view those places today.  And it's a message that genuinely fills me with happiness and hope.

An outstanding, inspiring result in the Irish SSM referendum

Now, most importantly... the next blog will contain puppy updates, I promise!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


It's been a busy morning for the young collie mischief makers, Florian and Hector McCormick Ede....

Florian: "Oi, Hector, I think I've got a plan"
Hector: "Oh, hope it involves destroying things and escaping before we get caught red-pawed?"

Florian: "Let me shut my eyes and think this through really carefully"
Hector: "Take your time..."

Florian: "Right, got it!"

Hector: "Okay, whisper it in my ear"

Florian: *Whisper, whisper....*
Hector: "The washing on the line?! Oh, I'm liking this"

Hector: "Shit, he's watching. We're busted!"
Florian: "Just look innocent.  Remember, butter wouldn't melt :-)"

And so it continues.  Day after day.....

Sunday, 12 April 2015

An Update from Collie Towers

It's been a month since Florian wrote his letter home, and what a busy time and his big "brother" Hector have been having of it.  Both are now walking beautifully on their leads, have been and stayed in a real live castle, had two beach outings, stayed with their Granny in Hampshire, and Hector now has his adult teeth coming through.  Florian no longer has little stumpy legs and the pair of them are eating me out of house and home.  So, here we go with a run down!

Hector gets more handsome by the day

Daddy's Boy, Florian. And doesn't he just work it?

Walking on the Lead

Some dogs refuse to walk on leads, some dogs pull like crazy, some stay miles behind you, some get aggressive towards others if they're on leads... and then we have rough collies.  Pop a collar on (or better still, a soft harness) and off they pottle almost instinctively by your side.  Florian in particular didn't seem to even notice he had the lead on.  That might be because he's really quite dumb, but more of that later.  In any case: lead training: so, so easy.

Oscar striking a pose
Oh look, Hector doing exactly the same
I love the above two gorgeous photos.  Hector now walks daily around Oscar's woods.  And he's got the same fabulous "movie star head over the shoulder" collie pose as his great uncle.  It must be genetic.  I thought Hector's tail was ridiculously long and bushy until I refreshed my memory: yup, Oscar's was just as fluffy and huge.

When Ste isn't here, I'm incidentally walking Hector and Florian separately twice a day, as well as together, so they get one on one bonding time with me as their "pack leader".  It's also easier to get them into good habits on the lead when they're on their own, and I want them not being dependent on each other, everywhere they go.  They get enough time together, so this is a great set up.

Astley Castle

Astley Castle near Coventry is a moated castle that's been continuously inhabited for pretty much 800 years.  Apparently three Queens of England have lived there.  It was heavily damaged in a fire in 1978, then had an architect prize winning contemporary conversion with lots of glass and wood inserted into the ruins.  We were lucky enough to visit for a few days and the collie boys rather decided they liked it there.

Gates designed to keep cats and sundry other foes out

Great Puppy Exploration and Fun Potential
Magazine Shot!

Surveying the moat.  More ideal cat defences

Proud Daddy

The Beaches

I'm lucky enough to live not too far from the Suffolk Heritage Coast, and North Norfolk is also an easy afternoon excursion.  So the boys got to sniff the sea air, shove their noses in the sand, build a sand castle, meet lots of other doggies, and generally have a blast.  What's more they had BOTH daddies with them on the two trips, so it was extra special.

Sniff, sniff, sea air. But WHY all the photos?!

We totes built this sand castle ourselves. Honest.

Holkham Beach is fun. But let's not get our paws wet (applies to all 3)

Someone shoved their snozzle in the sand

Glorious, glorious. Dunwich Beach, Suffolk

Good Boys

I'm still really trying to bring the boys up as well as I possibly can.  They're eating their food out of separate bowls, a few centimetres apart, with no squabbling.  They adore each other and cuddle up constantly.  They also play endlessly, making the most funny little collie noises as they do so.  It's Hector who normally starts it, but Florian (who is still a fair bit smaller) often gets the best of him.

If they do fall out, they get told "NO" and split up for 5 minutes as punishment.  During that time, we've seen them staring at each other longingly through the glass door with one in the kitchen and one in the conservatory.  It's completely adorable.  And of course they are never allowed up in the bed when Ste visits.  Heaven forbid.

Cuddle time at Granny's. With some of their (many) teddies around them
Play time! Hours are spent "attacking" each other like this

3 hour car journeys to Granny's are no issue: they sleep the whole way
Florian is definitely winning this round

Peeing on command. Go Team Collie!

No dogs in the bed. Ever.

Collie Love

I just love them both so much.  It's a delight watching them play, wolfing down their supper, taking them to work, even watching them sleep.  Getting two together was the best decision ever - it's a lot of work, but they're so happy having a friend and exercise each other wonderfully.  I also realise acutely what Oscar missed out on when he was in his kennel, the first 10 months of his life, and want to make their puppyhood as beautiful and perfect as I can.  I just adore them.

Hector is the wily, clever one, who is far easier to train, but who is a little more skittish.  He is a bit more reserved with people he doesn't know, but is so extraordinarily affectionate and cuddly to me now.  Florian is the Golden Boy: the little prince.  He's also a naughty bugger on the quiet, and likes nipping my toes, jumping on Hector's head, but he's so little and cuddly you can forgive him almost anything.  The few times he's overstepped the mark and actually been told off, he gets SO upset and wants to get back in my good books as soon as possible.

Hector tends to lead the way and Florian follows. If Hector ever becomes frightened, Florian's natural confidence seems to reassure him.  I'm convinced Florian is really quite thick (his father, Percy, regularly falls into his owner's hot tub, and runs the opposite way when you roll a ball for him) but Ste disputes this....

I suspect Ste doctored this to make him look brighter
The beauty of Hector's markings... just stunning

Florian: Butter wouldn't melt
My boys. 4 and 5 months old now.

These puppies are the best thing to happen to me since meeting Ste, which is 3 years ago now.  Sharing your life with a dog is an absolute blessing: having two is beyond a dream.

They've been asleep as I've been typing this - Florian at my feet (he's not nibbling them for once) and Hector in his basket, lying upside down with his legs in the air for large chunks of it.  Now they're in the garden, playing with a squeaky toy.

I hope I've managed with this post to bring you a little of the sunshine that they're bringing me every moment.  It's wonderful to share my joy and, as ever, thank you for reading!

Peter x