Wandervogel: A name adopted by German youth groups from 1896 onward. It can be translated as rambling, hiking, or a wandering bird. The ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.
I wondered how we would react if placed in a situation where we could run with the herd or follow our own piper into risk and danger. For a child the right thing to do isn't even constant across all aspects of their life. This story attempts to explore the conflict between patriotism and disapproval of brutality… between love of country and love of family and friends… between hate of the enemy and the desire for war to be over.
It is set in Germany during the Nazi period and World War Two… I have tried to treat the period with tact and respect, but… you have been warned, it won't be to everyone's taste.
Paul, London 1987
Nearly everyone in my family has been a doctor. I too now have only one year of school left before I start medical training in London, hopefully at a medical school that people have heard of!
My father was a doctor. His father and uncle were also doctors. They inspired him to become a doctor and he in turn has set me on the same path. I've wanted to be a doctor like my dad ever since I was small. I became determined to follow his career when he died. He died two years ago.
I was fifteen and I idolised him. He was my best friend and a thoracic surgeon… but he managed to die of a heart attack while on holiday. We were on a Greek island, miles from a port, let alone a hospital. Mum did CPR but medivac arrived far too late to be of use.
I just stood and watched, shocked and unable to help. He could have saved either of us in the same circumstances but there was nothing we could do to save him. The day after the funeral, I joined the St John's Ambulance. Next time I'm needed I shan't stand about like a spare part.
Like all boys, I thought my dad was magic… that there was nothing he couldn't do… he was my hero. He taught me to swim and he gave me a fascination with the natural world. If you could see it through a facemask or a microscope then it was on my list of interesting things! He taught me how to make microscope slides. By the time I was twelve I had quite a collection of slides of pond and sea-life.
It was round about then too that he sat me down for "the talk".
He explained the biology of it… maybe it was a bit late… a slightly confused and embarrassed teacher had told us the mechanics of it the previous year. Dad asked me why I was smiling and I told him that Miss Philips had mispronounced most of the technical words, and that I had been pretty sure at the time that she couldn't spell gamete.
He laughed and said that it didn't really matter how you spelled it. What mattered was how well you could apply the knowledge when the time came. He said Miss Philips was probably a great lover even if she couldn't spell. Rather daringly, I said that I very much doubted it. We both had a good laugh at that.
He asked me if I had any questions and I said not about the biology of it all, but…
"Go on… remember I'm a doctor… I've had much more awkward conversations than this."
I said that I wasn't and hadn't and that this one was about as awkward as I wanted for the time being. He gently insisted that if I had got this far then I might as well go the whole way…
"Is it to do with the how or the why?" he asked
"Oh, it's definitely the why. I can cope with the how… I expect that mostly looks after itself. It's when the why gets complicated that I don't really know how you cope."
"That sounds like you understand how everything works when you love a girl and the two of you are ready to go the whole nine yards… so is it the complications that arise if the scene isn't that simple?"
"Let me guess then… nod once for yes and twice for no if your toes are so curled you can't speak!" We both laughed. I relaxed a bit.
"Is it the complications that happen if you aren't actually in love with the other person?"
"No Dad, I guess that's a matter of doing the right thing… or not doing the wrong thing… I think I could work my way through that one… if I had time!" This time it was me who giggled first.
"OK… well let's talk about the obvious complications… what if it isn't a girl in the first place… what if it was a boy that had you befuddled… could you think your way through that?"
I told you my dad was magic… how did he do it? Bulls-eye first shot!
I must have visibly relaxed.
"Well if that's what's worrying you… how you would react if you found yourself attracted to another boy… not such an impossibility either… particularly at your age. Most boys your age form very close friendships with one of their mates. Most of them keep them as close friends once they realise that girls aren't just for ruining a good game. A few in each class, probably two or three in your present home room, will always prefer the company of boys and men… for life… I know you are very close to Jeremy… is that what's bothering you?"
"Sort of… I know it feels OK at the moment and most of my mates have a special best friend, but… what if it doesn't sort itself out… what if I was…"
"Yes, I suppose… I like him so much I can't be sure… what if that's why."
"Well then you'd be gay… some of the greatest men in history… Alexander, Plato, Tolstoy… Julius Caesar had an affair with the King of Bythnia when he was a boy… even J.Edgar Hoover… no, he has to be a bad example!.. Alan Turing… now there's a homosexual man to look up to!"
"It's nothing to be afraid of… you would just need to be careful and keep yourself safe."
"Anyway… the chances are that you and Jeremy will be double-dating a couple of girls in a year or two… but if you aren't, well it's not the end of the world… He is a nice boy and if it weren't him then I would trust your judgement to not fall for a crack-head!"
He paused and thought, and then said, "For the time being… just relax, go with the flow and don't do anything you feel is wrong or unwise!"
Then he came up with the classic doctor's surgery closing line…
"Is there anything else bothering you?"
I smiled. The end of the "talk" was so obvious. I guess he was glad it was over… I was glad we had had it in the first place. He really was useful at times.
"No Dad, that's it. I know I really care about Jeremy. I don't know if I care too much, but mostly I was worrying that you and Mum might not approve if it was… too much, I mean."
"Jeremy? Oh Jeremy's a lovely boy… now Spike… if you brought him home and got your nostril pierced to match his… then we might worry."
So that was the big father-son talk.
I slept much better that night.
The way things fell apart for me did indeed turn out to involve my feelings for Jeremy although not in the way I expected. It wasn't Jeremy who crashed my world either.
It was Dad, and when my dad crashed my life there really was nothing he could do to put it right.
But… we were talking about Jeremy.
Jeremy was my next door neighbour. He was nearest thing there can be to a brother if you have different parents. We were inseparable. I don't need to recall when I first met Jeremy, because he had always been there.
My first conscious memory has him in it. I was three. Mum was in hospital. She had been rushed off the day before, and I remember that we were playing in his garden. I had slept in their house the night before, while Dad was with Mum. Dad came to interrupt, to take me to see Mum.
So that's why I remember the event. Of course I remember seeing Mum in a hospital bed… it was scary. That's why I remember that I was playing with Jeremy when I was called away.
Jeremy and I went through infants-school and primary school together… we were absolutely inseparable. I remember when I was about seven years old, crying because he had chicken-pox and I had to walk to school without him. He must have been a pretty healthy kid because I don't recall any other time when I was lonely because he wasn't there.
The small town where we lived was small enough for our parents to believe that we could safely wander but large enough that we would never run out of things to do. There were shopkeepers to annoy and places to hide. You could walk right out of town, into the country with parkland that must once have been looked after… large wrought iron gates stood open and there were overgrown shrubs; rhododendron and buddleia… things you don't find in real woodland… neglected shrubs that had hollowed out to form places that two small boys could pretend were secret.
The only real rule was that we must be home for meals, so our parents could do a head-count three times a day. It didn't matter much whether I ate at Jeremy's or if he ate at mine… the head-count still happened. We lived next door to each other and our mothers had a psychic link… what one knew they both knew.
Jeremy and I were the same. What one of us knew we both knew… if it was interesting. He never understood my interest in books and I never quite got his interest in trains. But… once one of us knew something then we both knew it, pretty much at the speed of sound. If it was really secret then we would go to our hiding place in the park.
At ten, what could be that secret? So secret that even the idea of being overheard was enough to make us blush and head for the woods? Well, there wasn't much until…
"The Facts of Life"
We knew it had capital letters because Jeremy had found an article in his mother's magazine. It explained how to approach the delicate subject of explaining to her off-spring that they were in the world because their parents had done an astonishingly improbable thing some eleven years earlier, a thing so unlikely that mother and son would never look each other in the eye again without wondering what the other was thinking!
So, there we were, under a large rhododendron bush with Jeremy explaining to me how my dad had placed his cock in my mother's most secret place and got her so excited she had a baby… well he had read in a hurry and may have missed some months out in his haste. It would be two years before Dad thought it time to sit me down and go through the operating manual for the kit south of the equator. So we were a bit short on accurate detail.
We later compared notes with friends at school. They agreed that it was much the same rumour they had come across. A few had been sat down by their dads and with much embarrassment on both sides had been told "The Facts". So they could confirm it was true, but the details were generally no more complete… what the speaker hadn't left out from embarrassment the listener had failed to hear due to astonishment.
I couldn't grasp "where" they had done the deed.
I wasn't even allowed to eat biscuits in bed, so the idea that they did it in bed never occurred to me. That they could bring themselves to do it once was incredible… that they did it most Saturday nights because they enjoyed it, was beyond comprehension.
The one thing we couldn't get a grip on… literally… was how you got it in. Mine was so floppy that "pushing it in" made no sense to me at all. We puzzled over that for a few days. Then Freddy, said, "Look, as long as we talk about this mine is absolutely rigid, and I bet yours are too! That must be how it works!"
We agreed, but whether it had to stay hard or needed to go soft once it was safely in, to avoid hurting the girl… we hadn't a clue. Freddy volunteered to ask his older brother. We agreed that his fourteen year old brother ought to know, one way or the other.
The next day, Freddy was back, excited to the point of incoherence! His brother hadn't just explained. He had actually shown him how it worked. He said that the "stiff" theory worked, and that once in, friction from where the girl's… thing gripped it did the rest.
"Look!" said Freddy, and proceeded to graphic demonstration!
We had no idea what you called it, but he knelt there excitedly.
After a short while his eyes widened and his body stiffened and jerked and he jack-knifed forward, jerking wildly and making funny noises.
We watched wide-eyed as he recovered. As he straightened up he grinned and said…
"That's my third time, best yet!!"
"My brother showed me… when he did it last night, white stuff shot out. He says mine will too one day if I practise long enough. He says that you mustn't let the white stuff near a girl because that's what makes babies and if she has a baby she will have to tell her mum that you got the white stuff on her… or something"
I looked at Jeremy and he looked at me. We didn't need to ask, this was a moment when the psychic link was working overtime. As one, we repeated what Freddy had done. The effect was incredible. Freddy said it was the wildest thing he had ever seen.
He said that according to his brother… what happened while we were young was like an explosion or an electric-shock. Now that he makes stuff, what happens to him was, "much more like taking a shower in warm ice-cream."
That sounded a bit silly.
After that Freddy suggested football, and we quietly made our way out onto the field.
Jeremy said, "Should we have done that?"
I said I wasn't sure, and that we'd have to think about it… At least we now knew what it was all about. I was glad we had done it the once.
Once turned out to have not been enough. In fact once was never enough. Some days we did it twice, maybe three times and again at night in bed. Regardless of biscuits and crumbs!
Together with Jeremy was the very best, but we lived next door to each other and had no reason to sleep at each other's house. Freddy provided a solution. It didn't work often enough to satisfy our needs, only enough to sharpen them. He had a birthday party!
He lived at the far end of the main street, and that was a long way at eleven. Freddy's mum suggested that we could bring blankets and a pillow. We could all sleep on Freddy's bedroom floor. The others thought it was a bit girly, but Jeremy and I grabbed the opportunity.
Freddy's mum had got him to clear his room so that there was room for us to camp in it. She provided a double air mattress. It didn't fit beside his single bed but sort of at right angles to it. He faced one way and we faced the other… the added privacy mattered that first time.
Jeremy and I, with interference from Freddy, made up our bed. We agreed it made more sense to make it up as a double rather than muddle it up as two singles. We knew it was going to happen. We had discussed little else since the sleepover had been agreed.
Once his mother had said to keep the noise down for the third time and we had said goodnight for the fourth time, she gave up and left us alone… the door was shut and the landing light was out. We would know if she was on her way up because the light would go on again.
We had been naked a few times in the park, so it wasn't a big thing. But when all three of us got into the airbed, under the blankets, naked and skin to skin… well, that was special!
As you'd expect, eleven year old boys didn't take long. One of us suddenly jerking about was enough to set the other two off. Then we swapped places. The third time I managed to arrange it so Jeremy played with me, while I made Freddy happy. Of course that left Jeremy unfinished… but I was allowing for that!
By this time Freddy was out on his feet, so we woke him up and sent him back to his own bed. There wasn't room for three on our mattress.
Jeremy and I settled down again, whispering excitedly about what we had done and what it must be like with a girl.
I snuggled up to him and having waited until there was a gentle snoring noise from Freddy, I said…
"Want to try it for real, like you would with a girl?"
"Why? Are you planning surgery?"
"Silly, no… come and lie on me between my legs, like with a girl!"
He clumsily climbed onto me.
"Oof! Haven't you heard? A gentleman rests on his elbows!"
A slight change of position… That was better.
I snaked my hand between us and took him in a soft grip. I pressed on his bottom with the other hand, pushing him into my fist, and then let go. By the third time he had got the idea and was off like a rabbit.
"Slow down, make it last." I whispered.
I could tell how excited he was, his cheek was burning.
I whispered as quietly as I could… this Freddy really mustn't hear…
"Let's do it like boys and girls. They kiss to make it hot!"
That stopped Jeremy dead, for a moment, but he was thinking with his little brain.
"OK, but this is so secret!"
"Of course, I'm not daft!" I said.
I put my spare hand behind his head, in the soft curls on the back of his neck. There was moonlight, and I could see his closed eyes as I drew him towards me. He might be pretending I was a girl, but I wasn't… I didn't need to pretend. I was in bed, making love with my hand to the one I wanted.
He came down, lips gently on lips. It was so soft and gentle. His hips sped up as he fucked my hand. His kissing got wilder and his breathing ragged. Then he was lost… fucking and kissing and sobbing, an emotional crash and… he was done. We hadn't made a baby but we had got pretty close to understanding what it meant to make love.
As he came down from his high, he collapsed on me and whispered urgently…
"We can't ever tell anyone what we just did!!"
"Of course not silly, it's just between us!"
Then we curled around each other and went to sleep.
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