The night we made our night drive to the worst place in the world, it was February cold. Ryan Air from Prestwick to Frankfurt Hahn. A fiver a head. And the airport was like being in a weird arthouse movie. Canned music and no people. An old Cold war US airbase made over German style for budget travellors. Like us.
We were the only punters at the line of car rental offices. And the sense of the surreal just kept rolling along. Wanna upgrade to a Jag for an extra ten Euros? Sure. Why not?
And then we were gliding east under a sky of glittering stars. The dashboard said it was minus 10 outside. Ever east in light traffic. An autobahn I had travelled in a another lifetime. In another world. Once upon a time I had driven the super smooth German tarmac all the way to the ark lights and razor fences of Eisenach. Smiling West German border guards. Unsmiling East German border guards. Through the Iron Curtain to a world of pot holes and chugging Trabants.
Now Eisenach was a gleaming service station and the smooth tarmac stretched all the way beyond Erfurt and Jena and Leipzig. And Gorlitz. And Chemnitz. Back in the day, Chemnitz had been Karl Marx Stadt. A crumbling, concrete manifestation of the slowly crumbling Bolshevik dream. Little did we know in a matter years Chemnitz would become the pin up town for a whole new generation of strutting Nazis. What goes around, comes around.
The autobahn went single carriageway for the last handful of miles to the Polish border. The road signs promised a hundred kilometres or so to Breslau. Which was a lie really. For there was no Breslau. Not any more. Not since 1945 when Hitler's last 'Fortress City' succumbed to the guns of the Red Army and mass rape. The Soviets were having none of Breslau. They renamed the place Wroclow and populated it with grey high rise blocks and Poles from the East.
The three in the morning border was kind enough for us. No fences or Alsation dogs. No watch towers or ark lights. And then a ten mile parked up queue of waiting wagons. Maybe it was sneak preview of what awaits us on 29 March 2019.
Potholes and no salt on the road. Odd cabin like bars gleaming puddles of light into the icy air. Glimpses of hard drinking HGV guys. Throat stripping vodka and trafficked girls from Moldova. Not a place to break down.
By four, my eyes didn't want to stay open any longer. A lay by and a couple of hours of sleep in the the Jaguar's cocoon of warmth. I opened my eyes onto a steel grey dawn and silver birches and a world of flat nothing.
An hour to the belching smoke stacks of Katowice. And then more surreal. A McDonalds gleamed in the wall to wall grey. And we were from Mars. A mixed race family in a Jag.
And suddenly were into the last few miles to the worst place in the world. There was no fanfare. No signs to speak of.
Just a small turn off. 'Osweicim'.
Light traffic in the grey early morning light. A pedestrian here and a pedestrian there. Crumbling apartment blocks and vast industrial estates and no clue as to the whereabouts of the worst place in the world. And it's not the kind of place you stop a well wrapped pedestrian to ask for directions. Not when you're in a Jag. Not when you own not a word of Polish.
A sign at last. Small. Unloved. 'Holocaust Museum'
Only a kilometre. Hidden away amidst all the factories.
We parked up and wrapped up and walked through the most famous gates in history.
'Arbeit Macht Frei'
We stood it for two hours. A gas chamber. A crematorium. Vast piles of suitcases and spectacles. The wall where 20,000 were executed. The railway siding in Birkenau where life and death was chosen for thousands a day.
Fences and watch towers and accommodation blocks and a bone chilling wind from the East. Well of course it was from the East. Where the hell else was it going to come from?
I have a memory of just standing there on the ground were so many had walked their last. I smoked and tried to absorb a brutal truth. We would have been on one of those trains. A mixed race family. An abhomination to the Nazi goons. An affront. I would have been guilty of committing a heinous crime against the purity of my race. And Carol would have been classified as a subhuman. And Dyonne and Courtney would have been deemed to be mongrels.
And for our sins we would have been stripped and gassed and incinerated. Four more souls in the midst of five million.
Four more statistics in the place where racism morphed into genocide. The place where Coon and Nigger and Wog and Spade and Darkie and Paki and Yid and Rag Head and Haji mutated into Zyclon B and carefully curated statistics of the day's kill: the day's industrial kill. Flesh to ash.
And in case you're wondering, no, the birds didn't sing. Not a note. Not a cheep.
The worst place in the world left me infected. Contaminated. A monster in the cupboard. A creak on the stair in the dead of night. A bottomless terror waiting around a distant corner.
Waiting. Always waiting. Never dead. Always patient and ready and waiting for the next moment. The next manifestation. The next infestation.
It is the lesson of the worst place in the world. Never say never. Not ever. We have found cures for TB and Yellow Fever and Cholera and Typhoid and Aids. And one day will no doubt crack Cancer. But Racism? The dark cloud in the soul of humanity?
And for the fifteen years since we drove away from the worst place in the world, the lights have been going out one by one. In the Philippines. In India. In Brazil. In Sweden. In Denmark. In Italy. In Poland and Hungary and France and Spain. In Holland and Belgium and Russia and Greece and Ukraine.
And in America.
And right here.
So called strogmen popping out of the ground like poisonous weeds. Duterte and Mohdi and Erdovan and Putin and Urban and Bolsonaro and Farage and Tommy fucking Robinson. Hate for breakfast. Dog whistles and death squads. Lackeys for the 1%.
And of course the daddy of them all. Trump.
So laughable. So pathetic in all his preening stupidity. The butt of a million jokes a day. An orange monstrosity, but surely too much of a clown to do any real harm? Surely?
But the men who built the worst place in the world were once jokes themselves as they goose stepped and preened in their silly clothes.
Trump is their mutated spawn. The puffed up, pathetic strutting vanity of Mussolini. The venal, sweating, bottomless corruption of Goering. And Hitler's Satanic ability to turn pond life into a cult following. Whilst the world laughed, the 1% bankrolled these joke figures all the way to fifty million dead. Hilter had Krupps and BMW and Mercedes to sign the cheques. Trump has Lockheed and the Koch brothers. Hitler had his very own poisonous elf called Josef Goebbels. Trump has Bannon.
Everything has been road tested. When a handful of oligarchs are hell bent on stealing the wealth of the world, they need a useful idiot to distract the masses with a tsunami of hate. And if people can be induced to spend their every waking hour hating the Niggers and the Spades and the Coons and the Wogs and the Pakis and the Yids and the Rag Heads, they won't notice the fact that sixty people now own more than half of the world. Of course they wont't. They never do.
All of which brings me to tonight. Another agonising sit through the small hours before the dawn. The Midterms. Maybe the last chance to turn the tide. Maybe the last chance for enough people to remember the better angels of their nature. Maybe the last chance to stop a the poisonous tide which is rising all over the world.
And I'm dreading it. There have been far to many desperate nights over the last few years. IndyRef. Brexit. Trump. Triumphant, fist pumping racists wrapped in the wrong flags. And so called experts wondering how such a thing could have happened. And dawn breaking on a darker world. A world a few miles closer to the worst place in the world.
Will tomorrow bring yet another dark dawn? More memories of a smoked Camel on a railway siding where once some were allocated life and others allocated death?
Will my skin once again crawl with a gnawing feeling of coming doom? The feeling of being a mixed race family in the midst of a world turning to the dark side. A family deemed to be wrong and impure and sinful and abbhorant. A family to be blamed and hated and spat at. My two sons classified as mongrels. Sub humans. Responsible for every problem in the lives of millions.
And of course everyone will put on brave smiles and say of course it can't happen again. Of course they will. I wonder if they have ever smoked a Camel on the cracked stones of that Birkenau railway siding? I wonder if they have ever stared through the ice cold air to bare trees and mute birds?
Tonight could be the tipping point. It could be the moment when evil is stopped in it's tracks. Or it could be the night when the world slides quietly into a new dark age.
In the bleak grey of tomorrow's dawn, our small mixed race family might well be pinning our futures on a sanctuary called Scotland. The Switzerland for the twenty first century.
But right now the only voices in my head belong to the witches of Macbeth.
'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.....'