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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

SUNDAY 20th FEBRUARY 2000; A Diary Surprise

Arrive at my parent's house in Sherburn, near Durham. Lunch at the Bowburn Hall Hotel. A bit of a contrast to last night! It is full of large family parties celebrating 50th birthdays. The North East breeds a certain type of waitress, spanning a wide age range but usually of similar girth. (If there is a waiter, he will be small, shy and put-upon).

In London restaurants, you generally get some combination of politeness, friendliness, arrogance or incompetence. The North East tends to a competent, yet highly inflexible and assertive style, reminiscent of school dinner ladies, that can make you feel about 10 years old. These ladies are not in the slightest unpleasant, but you do feel like putting your hand up and shouting, "Miss, I've finished!" after each course. And you don't often get mashed swede served these days in Virginia Water. (Who said "Thank Goodness!" You boy! Stand in the corridor!)

I thought after 42 years that parents were unlikely to surprise you, but later my Father produces a sheaf of papers and a small, scruffy notebook and introduces his "project". During his national service, in the late forties, a colleague in the RAF gave him this notebook. This colleague's father was in intelligence during the war and obtained it somehow from its original owner, a young German officer fighting in the 1942-43 Russian campaign.

My father, who did German A level at school, started translating it years ago, but is now working on it again. It is fascinating - very personal and quite shocking in places. I have no idea whether it is of significant historical interest but I am no historian and it gripped me. Perhaps my father will become famous, although I can't see him doing the chat shows somehow.

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