Rattlesnake vomits

I moved into a place which I (or someone along the way) dubbed ‘Castle Aspenlea’. There were five of us there, with various other hangers-on, dossers, dodgies, friends, losers, freaks, units from all over the place lobbing in from time to time. A fairly typical antipodean sharehouse, the Castle was the temporal junction point (of the entire space-time continuum – just wanted to use that line!)… no it was a London sharehouse dream – we should have had a camera installed, would have made an awesome reality tv show.

One Saturday morning I got up about 11am to find Rattlesnake still drunk from the night before. He clearly hadn’t been to bed yet, and wasn’t planning on it for a while, as he sat muttering and drinking a Fosters on the couch. A tall, lanky, messy haired, Aussie, Rattle was the quintessential occa bloke. His drunken, drug-fuelled ramblings were some of the most priceless speeches ever uttered in the history of antipodean dodginess in London.  I hung out with him in our converted kitchen/lounge while I had a cup of coffee – perfect comedy entertainment to start the weekend, and I was feeling fairly good myself, not having gone out the night before.  It was a fairly normal occurrence, for Rattle to still be up after a big night, but by this point he was usually on the downward turn to crashing out for a few hours before doing it all again on the Saturday night. Today he was clearly going for a record.

I popped out to Sainsbury’s for some breakfast items, probably for about 20 minutes at most, and when I came back through our front door, there was a nasty surprise just in front of the doorstep.  On the tiled area leading to the street pavement was a significantly large pile of regurgitated beer.  I side-stepped the revolting deposit and yelled out, ‘Rattle, did you throw up out the front?’ as I came through the front door. The man was adamant that it had nothing to do with him, when it was clear it was his. He claimed initially that he’d never vomit, it wasn’t his style, that he was a hard arse, a ‘unit’. I hadn’t heard that term until I moved to London – coming from Canberra I don’t think I was a very typical Aussie, and a lot of these types of expressions were foreign to me.

Anyway, so finally, Rattle said, ‘well there’s nothing wrong with throwing up, everyone’s done it. You wouldn’t admit it but you’ve done it.’  I laughed because I’m famous for being sick from drinking too much. But he wouldn’t let it go, obviously feeling a bit stupid for being sick.  Eventually, Siggy, our token South African flatmate, came downstairs and I told her about the vomit. ‘Rattle!’ she shouted, half laughing, half revolted.  Then her boyfriend Jim came down and saw the vomit too; he promptly retreated back upstairs in disgust.

By this point, Rattle started to feel a bit guilty – ‘you can’t just leave it there, someone will step in it, it’s gross!’ I said.  So as I cooked my breakfast, he sat quietly sipping his beer on the couch, then stumbled out the back for a cigarette. ‘I feel bad,’ he said, when he came back inside. He did his ‘hovering’ act, when he’d elect to lean precariously against the kitchen bench, can in hand, and I’d almost hold my breath looking at him, thinking he could drop the can or keel over at any moment.  Dear Rattle, I thought, he has a good heart, despite his drunken rampages and being a general menace to society more often than not. ‘Just get the bucket and wash it away with water,’ I suggested.

So next thing I knew, he was stumbling up the hall with our handle-less bucket, full of water.  I couldn’t miss this moment of comedy gold, but I didn’t want to distract him from cleaning up – the only time we ever saw Rattle clean was when he couldn’t get to sleep on a Sunday after 12 hours of coke the night before! I crept after him down the hallway and ducked into my room, which was right at the front of the house, used to be the lounge. I didn’t dare lift the wooden blind on the bay window, so I stood and listened to the water sloshing across the tiles, washing the offending material into the gutter. Suddenly, I heard Rattle’s voice over the trickle of water. ‘Hey ladies. Just doing some cleaning. Someone vomited in front of my house.’ I laughed out loud as I heard the poor innocent girls walking past giggle and groan in disgust. ‘Ewww!’ Rattle, true gentleman that he is, gave us yet another priceless moment. ‘So,’ he said to the girls, ‘you ladies fancy coming in for a drink?’ I burst out laughing and ran back to the lounge to relay the turn of events to Siggy.

‘All sorted,’ said Rattle, wandering back into the lounge.  He gave us his signature smirk-cross-intoxicating smile, realising I’d told Siggy about his pickup attempt whilst simultaneously cleaning up his own vomit. ‘Yeah,’ he said, taking another sip of beer and sending the empty bucket flying across the kitchen floor – almost outside. ‘They were keen, you know.’ We fell about laughing, it was pure gold!

People who ask you for money

I felt bad yesterday not giving some dude a measley 5p… and then I got over it.

So normally I have this whole thing about not giving people money for nothing. It stems, I think, from when I lived in Italy and I noticed no beggars on the streets during winter, but as soon as the sun (and the tourists) came out, suddenly there were all these poor people asking everyone for money!  I spoke to a few Italians about it and they all said that most of the beggars aren’t actually beggars and that you should never give them money. So I became a bit of a hard-arse, and developed this policy that I wouldn’t give anyone money for doing nothing.

Now, living in London, I maintain that policy. Beggars here are pretty clever; they ask you for ‘just 25p’, a specific and small amount, so it sounds somehow more legitimate. But for me it’s the principle, I just don’t hand it out for nothing. And it’s not because I’m greedy with money, I’m not; I don’t have much myself and with my boyfriend currently out of work, money is very, very tight.

Anyway, so yesterday I was standing outside St James Park tube station, about to go in, and this fairly young but quite rugged-looking guy with a quilt bundled up on his back comes up to me. I knew he was going to approach as I made the mistake of making eye contact a few seconds before. He had lovely bright blue eyes, quite a sweet demeanour, although it was clear he was doing it a bit tough. I was waiting for the usual ‘can I have…’ question, but this guy began with the ‘sorry to disturb you…’ line.  The problem was, he couldn’t spit it out! He obviously didn’t speak English as a first language, and he was a bit out of it, wanted to be more expressive than he could be. He began to speak, but just couldn’t tell me what he wanted to say. I wanted to ask him to ‘spit it out’, but I thought better of it, realising that, a) it would mean I want to enter into a dialogue, and b) he probably wouldn’t understand an idiom like that. So I looked him straight in the eye and waited. He stammered something about being a ‘bloody stupid Eastern European’ (himself) and eventually managed to articluate his apology for disturbing my ‘break’, or whatever if was he thought I was doing, and then promptly asked for 5p. It took him so long to get the words out that I found myself considering giving it to him – his eyes were so bright and I felt like he needed something, a bit of a lift, some encouragement. It seemed like he had something important to contribute, but for some reason hadn’t ever been able to do it. I hesitated momentarily, gave him the time to get his words out, and then said I don’t have any money, whereupon he went and hassled two guys standing nearby.

I quickly rushed inside the station, as if the interaction had made no impact upon me, and jumped on the next tube.  As the train sped away, I felt an immense sense of guilt for not giving him the measley 5p (about 12 cents, I thought, immediately converting to Aussie currency). What was 5p to me? Wouldn’t it be so much more to him? Why was he asking for such a tiny amount?  He phrased the question with, ‘I’m short 5p…’, making it sound like he needed that last little bit to make up a train fare, but I thought maybe it was something else, a pack of cigarettes, a coffee, something stronger… It took me a good while to get rid of that guilty feeling, and I found myself vowing to give money to the next person who asks; which is not what I’ll do, but if someone had caught me in that moment, I would have. And then I’d probably have felt silly for giving away money that I myself needed.

Other stuff happend in the war too you know…

So you always hear about World War II and the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps etc.  There’s been so much written/spoken/filmed about it all, and why not, it’s such a historically significant period, such important events which changed the world.

But other stuff happened too, stuff that was connected to the Nazis and probably at some level the Jewish plight, but it wasn’t all about Nazis and Jews.  What about the people who lived in the places that constantly changed borders as a result of the goings on during the war? I can’t say I know a lot, as I was born over thirty years after the war ended, but I’m learning…

What I want to talk about and research is what happened to the Danube Swabian people (known in Bavarian German as ‘Donauschwaben’) who lived in the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia), right near the border of Hungary. These are an interesting group of individuals. They originally came to the area from Bavaria, and not really of their own choosing. I haven’t done a lot of research yet into what exactly happened, but as far as I know, the Austro-Hungarian Empire got their hands on that part of the world and realised that no one lived there (this was in the 1700s). So they decided to populate the area by bringing in some of their Germans. They gave them an incentive to go, setting up some houses, giving them food and money to help them establish in their new home.

So these Donauschwaben spoke German, and were very Germanic in their customs, but they actually lived for generations in what is now Serbia. I am descended from these people. My grandmother was one in fact. She spoke Serbian as well, but apparently the Serbs in the area were considered beneath them, or like peasants, and it was frowned upon to fraternise with them.

My grandmother was wilful, and probably quite spoiled. The family, by 1914 when she was born, lived in a large, pentagonal dwelling, with a courtyard garden in the centre, and were obviously doing quite well for themselves. I’ve since found out the name of the village was Torschau (Torzsa in Hungarian, Savino Selo in Serbian), and it was located in the Batschka, an area in or around the Banat.

Being, as I said, wilful and full of confidence, as a young girl of 14 or 15 often is, my grandmother wanted to do what her friends were doing – get married. She told her father she intended to marry, just like the others, and have babies etc. Luckily my great grandfather wasn’t standing for any nonsense and he told her there was no chance she’d marry now, just to be with the ‘in’ crowd. To deter her and make it easier for her to steer clear of an early marriage, he arranged for her to start working as a nanny in nearby Belgrade. She went to live with a family there, no doubt fairly well off, and in what was then quite a cosmopolitan city. Little did my great grandfather know, but his plan to educate her in fact brought her to her future husband.

My grandfather – a native Serb and apprentice bootmaker – was short and stocky but a handsome, open-faced, charistmatic young man. He and my grandmother courted in secret, and he would walk ten paces behind her down the street in case they were ‘seen’ together. I’m sure my great grandfather wasn’t impressed that his daughter was now keen not just to marry but to marry a Yugoslav; but by this point almost ten years had passed and perhaps his daughter, now a twenty-three-year-old woman, was quickly becoming an ‘old maid’. They married in 1937 and lived in Belgrade to begin with. My great grandfather visited them and was appalled to find they didn’t have bread in the house – for him, the quintessential sign of a properly domesticated household.

My grandmother was actually able to claim German citizenship, with documentary evidence of her Danube Swabian ancestry, even though her family hadn’t actually lived in Germany for many generations. She managed to get my grandfather out of a work camp during the war because of this.  But that’s another story…

What is interesting to me is that these Donauschwaben were uprooted and deposited – granted in a very organised and calm manner – to another country first of all, developed such a sense of pride in who they were and where they came from, their Donauschwaben identity. They were actually content in their German village in the middle of Yugoslavia; but being quintessentially German, and the Germans knowing this, the children were recruited into the Hitler Youth Movement, just like any German young person of the time. It was a good thing at first. But of course we all know what happened…

Finally begun blogging…

My first blog, my reasons for blogging, and some tasters of my current intriguing genealogical mysteries.

In the beginning was the Word. And the word was… ‘curious’. Well either that or ‘inquisitive’. Took me a while to decide which was best, but anyway, you get the idea. I was trying to think of why I do what I do – all this researching and writing. And I decided it’s because I’m generally curious about… stuff. I want to know why things are the way they are. And I don’t mean in a basic philosophical way – all that ‘what’s the meaning of life’ and ‘why are we here’ stuff just doesn’t do it for me. I always thought those cocky, intellectual philosophy dudes at uni were really wasting time. Perhaps for them it was fun, but for me it wasn’t; maybe I just felt intimidated by their intelligence.

Anyway, whatever it was, I am interested in life in terms of people; I’m curious about what makes them tick, how events unfold and the issue of conincidence versus kismet; ‘synchronicity’, as my great auntie Gwen says.  So that’s why I do all my genealogical research, not just because I want to know where I come from, but because I want to know how people’s lives unfold. So I do other people’s genealogy too, unravel the mystery, like a detective.

At the moment I’m trying to find out the details of an Irish ancestor, born 1857 or thereabouts, who went to live in Carlisle (in England, right near the border of Scotland). He went to America, apparently to Detroit, Michigan, in the late 1880s and had two children there with his wife – I can’t even work out where they were married, perhaps it was even on board the boat! The family then returned to Carlisle, two kids in tow, and had another two there, then this guy apparently went back to America without his wife and children and never returned. By 1915, according to his son’s marriage certificate, he had died. There are some odd things about this guy. He is shown as a Blast Furnace Foreman on a couple of different records, but on the marriage certificate, where he’s listed as deceased, he’s shown as a Master Hairdresser (whatever that is!) I wonder if he reinvented himself when he returned to the US alone.  Did he remarry? Did he have other children? And now I have evidence to suggest he went back and forth between the US and Carlisle in 1895, fathering children with his wife either side of that trip, both born in the UK.

The other mystery I’m keen to solve is that of my ggg grandfather, who was born about 1828 in Shoreditch, east London, UK. He married, had a few children, and then died suddenly in 1880, at the age of 52. Even for those days, this was fairly young. When I got his death certificate, I was intrigued to discover the cause of death was ‘violent fracture of the skull – accidental’. He was a bricklayer, so perhaps a brick fell on his head. Or maybe he fell off a building site. The certificate mentions an inquest was done at the time, but I’m yet to find records of it. His wife and youngest son (my gg grandfather), who was eight when his father was killed, seemed to disappear – they were nowhere in the 1881 census. Out of desperation I eventually checked the 1881 Scotland census, only to find the mother and son living in Edinburgh, working as servants in the house of some grand-sounding widow and his bachelor son. Why did they go to Scotland from east London – it was a long way in 1880! Could it be that there was some family connection there? Is that why my great grandfather’s middle name was McDonald? Or is it connected to the mother of this bricklayer ggg grandfather, who I suspect was Scottish? How I find this out, I really don’t know. But it fascinates me!

So when is a blog over? Whenever I choose, I suppose. Curiosity didn’t kill this kat… or at least it hasn’t yet!