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In Memoriam – Vernon Nash

In Memoriam – Vernon Nash

Jane with Vernon pointing at me

Three years later, Vernon is a mature student at Birmingham University, doing combined French and Spanish. The anecdotes you’re about to read – if you’re interested-   I heard many, many times. He relished recounting them. It was in 2014, when this photograph was taken, that Jane and I encouraged him to put all those stories in writing. He did so in 2018, a year before he died. That is why I am transcribing them on the blog. Remembering him always and, particularly, on his birthday.

How I met Pablo & Michèle, and the man who'd been in two different armies in WWII

It was the summer of 1977 when I met my first friends in Spain.

 That summer, as usual, I made off for the continent. In Calais I’d been waiting quite a while for a lift when a VW camper van stopped.

“We’re going back to Germany.”

Not quite what I wanted, but I hopped in, arriving at nightfall in Alsace. Near the German border, I saw a sign “Camping” in the midst of a dark, sinister forest.

“Drop me here. Hertzlichen Dank!Auf Wiederschen!”

I marched for a couple of hours and then saw a sign “Dossenheim-sur-Zinsel 8 Km.” As I approached the village, daylight was breaking. The village was tiny and picturesque. I put up my tent on the campsite and got some kip. On waking, I breakfasted late at the campsite bar. Croissants beurre, café-crême. A peaceful place for study. I began my marathon reading of Don Quixote. Then lunch, omelette au jambon with vin rouge, back to D.Q.

In the evening, I took a stroll round the village and quickly learned that one side of the street was French-speaking, the other Alsatian dialect, German-based.  Not just the language but the décor, too. French side, chromium counters, fluorescent lighting, Formica tabletops, customers sporting berets and gulping vin rouge. The Germanic side, subdued lighting, wooden-panelled walls, gingham tablecloths and dried flowers in pretty vases, customers swilling beer, like Germany or Austria.

For me, a linguist’s paradise. I could practise both languages in the same village, which is exactly what I did, crossing the street to change lingo. I was having a whale of a time, the locals were most friendly but thought it quaint that an Englishman should want to do this. One lunch-time at the campsite, I was discussing politics with some Frenchmen when we were interrupted by a young Frenchwoman.

“Quelle heure il-est?”

“By my watch, it says 3.30, but I can’t guarantee it. I bought the watch from a gipsy in Madrid’s Rastro”

“Really? My husband and I live in Madrid. He’s Spanish.”

She introduced me to her husband, and we had a good old chin-wag. We get to be more friends. When I’m not with them, I read “El Quijote” and talk to the locals alternately in French and German.

One lunch-time, I’m tossing up whether it would be a “petit rouge” or a Halbes Pilsen, when a bloke shouts at me.

“Engländer, Camberley! Engländer, Camberley!”

What was he talking about? He being a Germanic and me being the usual gregarious Vernon, I invite him for a beer, and we sit in one of the low-lit “Gasthäuse.” He was the village butcher. And Camberley? He tells me that, believe it or not, he fought on both sides in World War II.

  • How come?”

I’m intrigued. As we gulp our “Helles” he tells his story. He starts in the French army, but when Hitler crosses the Rhine, he’s straightaway taken P.O.W. His choice: join the German army or go to a concentration camp. Hobson’s choice. He enlists in the German army and joins the advance across France, reaching the West coast just in time for the Normandy landings. He’s taken P.O.W. by the British and spends the rest of the war in a P.O.W. camp in Camberley, Surrey.

“So fascinating, but how did you feel about all that?”

“I was always the cook, so I always had enough to eat.”

French army—cook. German army —cook. British P.O.W. camp —cook. This made sense in a way and was rather philosophical. We bade goodbye, and I thanked him for his story. I told Pablo and Michèle about this, and they were mildly amused.

“Where are you bound, Vernon?”

“Actually, Madrid.”

“We’ll take you in our car. But first, we’re stopping in Lyon to see my family.”

Since more anecdotes are taking place at Michèle’s family’s, I’ll stop here and carry on some other time…or perhaps next year, on Vernon’s birthday. I hope you find them entertaining.

Desde sus orígenes, el objetivo de PoppieS es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que tus alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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