PACK TIME

Well, less than a week to go and things suddenly come together. Bike serviced, gear sorted out, maps stacked in order and tool kit ready in case disaster strikes. Most importantly, I collected Harry Davies' generously donated art-work, "Waiting for the Magirus", fromTheArtBay in Fenton, carefully packed by Cheryl Gerrard, whilst I chatted with Alan. The gift is from well-wishers in Stoke-on-Trent to Lidice, in particular the Director of the Lidice Memorial. Mark's ceramic creation - joyful and celebratory, even cuddly, by comparison, will be presented to The Mayor of Lidice.

A few years ago a long cycle tour of three weeks or so (we will be taking thirteen days to get to Lidice, but have another week touring the Czech Republic) or longer was de riguer for the summer. Home was somewhere to leave and return to reluctantly before going off to work again. Now, family - and I never thought I'd have written his twelve years ago - is missed a few days into a ride. Oh, I'll cope without too much trouble. Travel to new places is hard to beat and there'll be a few beers drunk and some time spent exploring towns and villages in places I have never been to before and a good deal of conversation in a patois of English and whatever the native language is accompanied by pointing and gesturing. And, of course, I know I'll see the people I love again. Imagine not knowing what had happened to people who to all intents and purposes just disappeared from life.

In Europe in 1945 there were millions of displaced people. The confusion was added to by the thousands upon thousands of Germans being expelled and deported from lands where they had either lived for centuries, or countries that they had moved into during the Second World War. Throw in millions with no home or hoping to return to former homes only to find a hostile welcome or nothing to return to. What had happened to children, had parent survived in a concentration camp, where were they?

The Lidice women walked back from Ravensbruck, near Berlin. The children who had been sent for Aryanisation were located in the years that followed the war. One survivor explained how he had been rejected by the German children he had been sent to live with because he was Czech and had spoken little German; on his return he was rejected by the Czech children because he seemed to be German.

We had some polo shirts made - decent enough for cycling in, though cycling specific jerseys will be the general garb - and pleasant to wear about the place; smart enough for a bar or restaurant or beer hall. The logo on the back belongs to the Friends of Barnett Stross; on the front, the blunt statement is "Stoke-on-Trent to Lidice Bike Ride." Chatting with Alan and Cheryl today, we came to the conclusion that it would be possible to make up a very sobering tour of Europe; Lidice, Auschwitz, and so many others, without even mentioning the 628 Belarussian villages that were deliberately torched - along with the inhabitants who were generally burned alive in barns.

However, we could just as easily focus on the rebuilding of Lidice and the generosity of the people of the Potteries, the way that communities that suffered can come together to reconcile the tragedies of the past. Why not? Is there a nation that can truly be proud of everything that has been done in its name?

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