Saturday 15 August 2020



When I was a little girl, living in Leoben with my Aunt, just after the war had ended, I had a very best friend and her name was Ute. We were both born in May, although she was a year older than me, and we were inseparable. We played together and spent time together and as far as I remember, we never once fell out of friendship with one another, We completely trusted each other and we always believed what the other one said with all our hearts. This is an important fact to remember for this story.

It is also important to give some idea of what this house was like, although I find it is hard to describe, but here goes. The Totz Haus was a big, beautiful Baroque Town House. The entrance to the house was through an enormous, carved, wooden door, which was so heavy, I hardly managed to push it open. When you entered, you were hit with the warm, beautiful smell of baking bread, because most of the right side of the ground floor was taken up by the bakery. Even now, when I can smell the baking of bread, I am instantly transported to those days. There was a huge entrance hall with a stone mosaic floor which separated the bakery from the shop on the left,  where the bread and rolls and pastries were sold. On that same side, next to the shop, was the ‘Bauernstube’, a beautiful dining – cum - living area furnished in the traditional Austrian peasant style and further along was a vast kitchen, where the meals for the whole family, including the men and the young apprentices who worked in the bakery, were prepared.  

At the end of that vast corridor was a structure made of wood and glass, with a lockable door in the center, which led to a large courtyard. On one side of that courtyard were the rooms where the apprentices slept, followed by a very big ‘wash kitchen’ – a laundry room, which served all the residents of the house, and at the end of that was the Grain Store, where the flour was stored. Beyond the Grain Store was another huge door consisting of two wings, which lead out onto the Glacis. These doors were locked at night. 

The courtyard was as wide as the entrance hall, and on the right side of it were the stables, which housed a number of horses and a very large cart. A couple of the horses belonged to the Blümel family and were used for riding, but the other two belonged to the bakery and were harnessed every day to the cart, which was used to take the bread and pastries out to customers around the town and beyond.

On top of the ground floor and the stables there were two stories, which were divided into flats. The Totz family occupied one of the flats on the first floor, which was the largest and grandest in the house. The other flat on the first floor, over the stable block, belonged to the Blümel family, where Ute, my friend lived. My Aunt and Uncle and myself lived in the flat above, on the second floor.

On each floor there was a very large space in the middle, a kind of lobby, and each of these had a wooden framework with windows overlooking the courtyard similar to that on the ground floor, and which made these spaces light and airy and pleasant places for us kids to play in. When you looked out from these lobbies you could see everything that went on in the courtyard and the stables. They also provided a good view of the two flats over the stable blocks.  

The Blümel family had a small soft drinks company, which was doing quite well. Every morning they took delivery of berries in big buckets, which people had gathered in the nearby woods and clearings that surround the town of Leoben. The fizzy drinks they made were delicious. They came in glass bottles with a hinged stopper and they were called ‘Kracherl’. I can taste them now, but with money being very short, they were a rare treat for us kids. The Blümel family consisted of two sisters, one being Ute’s mother. Her husband had sadly died in the war. The other sister was married and was expecting a baby. Her husband and his mother were also living in the flat. With just two bedrooms, and one big kitchen, which also served as a living room, things were a little crowded. But it was just at the end of the war, and people were happy to just have somewhere to live, really.

Then came the day when the new baby was going to arrive. My Aunt went down to help and Ute and I were told to stay with Frau Skiber, who lived in a spacious two roomed flat on the top floor. Her husband had still not arrived back from the war. He had been taken prisoner by the Russians and it was hoped that he would be back soon and resume his job as a master baker in the bakery. Frau Skiber’s job that day was simply to make sure we stayed out of everyone’s way and didn’t get into any mischief. 

Ute and I were highly excited that day. We were ready for the big event. We had a clear view of the flat where the baby was going to be delivered by the Stork. We had heard about this Stork so many times, but we had never managed to see one with a baby in a bundle carried in his beak, except in picture books of course. We knew, that if we stayed in the corridor, looking out of those windows, there was no way we could miss that Stork. There simply was no other way for it to arrive. We made a pact; we would not leave our post, come what may. If one of us had to go to the toilet, the other one would remain in post. If we had to eat, we would eat standing up by the windows. In any case, we were both too excited to need food that day and Frau Skiber had a problem getting any nourishment into us. 

We saw people come and go. We saw a woman arrive and we never saw her leave. My Aunt occasionally went up to our flat on some errand and she urged us to be sensible and have something to eat, or at least play a game and not just stand staring out of the windows the entire time. She assured us, that the baby would not arrive any time soon and she would let us know when it was here. Little did she know that we would probably know of the baby’s arrival sooner than any of them, because we would be the ones to see the Stork come flying through the air. Sometime later, the doctor arrived. We couldn’t understand why so many people needed to be there, and we began to wonder, why we were the only ones excluded? It did not make any sense.

And then, all of a sudden, the doctor left, followed almost immediately by the woman we saw arrive earlier. My Aunt made her way up the stairs in a state of agitation and excitement and told us that Ute now had a little niece! The baby was here!

We were thunderstruck. How could this have happened? No way was it possible for that Stork to have got past our vigil. We didn’t see it come, and we certainly didn’t see it leave, either. There was something really not right about all this. 

My Aunt left us there, in our perplexed state, and went off to do some vital thing to do with the baby no doubt. The only available adult who could answer our questions was poor Frau Skiber. She seemed distinctly uncomfortable. She kept suggesting that we might have just left our spot at the wrong moment or maybe lost concentration for a bit. Not surprising really, since we spent the entire day looking out of that window. But we knew what we knew. Somehow these grown-ups had tricked us. But we just didn’t know how they did it. Luckily for Frau Skiber we were too tired by then to start on our inquisition, although there would certainly be one. We were due to stay the night with her, so we decided to leave it for now, have some cake and lemon tea and get some sleep. But we were not going to let this just slide. No way. 


Wednesday 8 July 2020


This is a feel-good story. A Sasha friend, let’s call her Truda,( which is indeed her name), decided that she would do something wonderful to cheer us all up. For those, who will read this story in the future, this is the year 2020 – the year that COVID-19 decided to make our lives a misery, the year of the LOCKDOWN and SOCIAL DISTANCING! So, Truda decided to make a number of sets of beautiful clothes for our beloved Sasha Dolls and to make distribution fair, she thought it would be great fun to hold a lottery! We could all nominate either ourselves, or nominate a friend. One of my best loved Sasha friends, Vicky, nominated me and my name went into the hat. To my utter delight and surprise, I was one of the names chosen. The following is a kind of recreation of the process as seen by a few of my Sasha dolls. Yes, they are as human, as you or I, so suspend disbelief.  

The excitement is mounting in the Sasha room. Truda’s parcel has arrived and three of the girls are very keen to have that outfit. In order to make it fair, they have put their names in a bucket and have asked Harry to draw a name. I have a feeling that Harry should not have agreed to do this, judging by the way the girls are looking at him. Poor Harry!

It took no time at all to pull out a name and to find out that it was Kalaya, Kally for short, who was the winner. ‘This is just not fair’, said Amelie. ‘No, it isn’t’, said Phoebe.  It is clearly all Harry’s fault, they both agreed. But Kally was delighted and threw her arms up in the air. ‘Yesssssss! I have won! Wow, I never win anything’. Harry was beginning to realize that even if you are only the messenger, some people will put the blame on you.

Kally gave Harry a very big thank you hug. ‘Good grief’, said Harry. He was pinned against the bookshelf and couldn’t get away. ‘It’s nothing really to do with me, Kally. Stop it!  Amelie and Phoebe looked at one another and thought that Harry had probably been punished enough.

Kally sat down and opened the parcel. Inside was a really beautiful dress with matching pantaloons and a hairband. ‘Oh, this is so lovely’, said Kally. ‘I love the colour. This is such a lovely present. So kind of Auntie Truda! Let me go and try it on’. The kids had to agree, that it was a beautiful outfit. ‘I am sure we can borrow it some day,’ said Amelie. ‘Yes,’ said Phoebe. ‘She can’t be wearing it all the time!’

Kalaya in Truda Taylor’s COVID-19 ‘Let’s cheer you all up’ present

Sunday 28 June 2020


Iona singing a song from ‘Annie’!

Yasmin Wilde

Monologue written by Miriam Babooram, performed by Yasmin Wilde

Kali Summers Theatre

My brilliant daughter. A wonderful piece of writing (Miriam Babooram), beautifully and touchingly delivered by Yasmin. Made me cry and made me laugh!

Saturday 9 May 2020


My brother Rudi is 3 years and 1 day younger than I am. My mother always joked that he was my birthday present – the only one I will ever need! He was born in 1944, in the middle of the war, and although I lived with my aunt in Leoben (my mother had enough on her plate) I occasionally visited them and I was often asked by my mother to ‘look out for your brother’. He survived my well intentioned ministrations, at least physically, but there were a few near misses along the way. Like the time when we were going out together, my mother, myself and Rudi in his pram. Someone called to my mother just as we were leaving and she told me to watch the pram until she got back. I had often seen my mother ‘walk’ the pram down the stairs, so I thought; how hard can it be??? I took the first step and the pram got away from me and came to a crash landing at the bottom of the fairly steep stairs. Incredibly, my brother was fine, just a little startled. I was in shock, and so was my mother.

My brother was one of these fidgety children, who was always finding things to play with, which were not really safe and that often tried my mother’s patience. When he was two or so, he became fascinated by scissors and knives. He came close to harming himself a couple of times, so my mother asked me to take knives and scissors away from him, if I should see him playing with them. Sure enough, the day came when there he was, with a rather sharp looking knife in his hands. As instructed, I pulled it out of his hand, but he was holding it by the blade and the inevitable outcome was that he had a rather nasty cut with copious amounts of bleeding and had to be treated by a doctor. By then, I would have thought my mother would have realized that it is not sensible to ask children to watch children. But worse was to come.

The war had already ended although we were still under occupation and my mother and Rudi came to visit us in Leoben. Again, it was May time, around our birthdays. Rudi was 4 years old by then and I was 7. We were in the Glacis, the large park just outside our row of houses. My mother and my aunt were sitting on a shady bench, talking. I was playing with my friends and Rudi seemed at a loss as to what to do. He started to be a bit silly and annoying, so my mother asked me to keep an eye on him.

At the end of the Glacis, about 200m from where we were playing, there is a fast road, which takes the traffic through the town and out onto the main highway, which would then take you further towards Salzburg, or Linz or Munich etc. That road was often busy with through traffic and we were told to stay well away from it. While playing with my friends I noticed out of the corner of my eye, that my brother was running towards that road. I left my friends and started to run after him. I had recently had an operation on my left foot to correct a problem, and consequently he was a lot faster than me. I shouted for him to stop, but that only made him run faster. When we got near that road, to my absolute horror, I saw that there was a long convoy of huge British army lorries making their way slowly down that road and out of the town. I shouted for Rudi to stop, but he did not. He ran across the road between the lorries with me in hot pursuit. I was hoping to catch him on the other side, but he had already turned round and was running back across the road, between the lorries, somehow managing to avoid being hit by one of them. I seemed to have no other option than to follow. We both managed not to get killed, (a minor miracle, I think) and my brother reached the opposite pavement unscathed. I was not quite so lucky. A motorcycle, coming from the other direction, caught me and we both went down. The lorries kept rolling on, seemingly unaware of the drama we had created. In the mean-time my mother and my aunt had reached the road and my mother was relieved to see that Rudi was alright. It was only then, that they realized I was actually hit by the motorcycle and was lying injured in the road. The motorcyclist, thank goodness was ok. It could have been a lot worse. His bike was a bit battered and my main injury was a huge burn from the engine which had landed on my thigh. I was then taken to my aunt’s doctor, who was nearby.  He sent me to hospital, where they treated the burn.

I learned later that it was part of the British Army leaving our Province forever.  A contingent of the British Army went on to Vienna, where they remained with the other Allied Forces for quite a few years after the war.  Each of the Allies (Russia, America, France and the UK) were given a sector to administer. We finally saw off the last of them in 1956.

The main memory from that day, which I must admit still bothers me a lot, is that my mother blamed me for the whole debacle. Apparently, I should have known that the best course of action would have been NOT to run after my brother. Apparently he would have stopped and come back of his own volition. Well, excuse me (this is how I still feel), I felt he was in mortal danger and I was only trying to save his life!!! Clearly, I was thinking like a 6year old!

I have never forgotten how that felt, and how very young children can get into trouble for doing what is the right thing in their eyes. I think this has made me a very forgiving and understanding parent. And I don’t want to hear any contrary argument from any of my kids, thank you.

Montan Universität, Leoben, Steiermark, where my father studied to become an engineer.

Thursday 7 May 2020

V E - Day. a personal perspective

We are going to celebrate VE – Day in our Close tomorrow. We are going to have tea at 4pm in the middle of our Close, socially distancing as is required, and to this end, we have decorated our houses with bunting. It’s a small Close, only 4 houses, but we are a diverse lot and my friend Christine (Isle of Man) thought we should use flags from all the countries that mean something to us, i.e, where we were born, or have lived etc. The bunting that I have inexpertly strung around our house portray the Austrian flag, where I was born, the Pakistani flag, where my husband comes from, and the EU flag, which means a lot to me, because I thought that the best way to honour the sacrifices made by so many people in both wars would best be served, if we all got together and created a safe Europe. I still haven’t given up on that, despite Brexit. I am an optimist.

All that got me thinking about the actual VE Day. Where I was on or around that day. Who I was with and is there any connection at all between me and the Brits who occupied our area for a while. Well there is:

In May 1945 – the year and month of VE day - I was going to celebrate my 4th Birthday. I remember that May very well. I was living with my aunt in Leoben, in the Steirermark, the heart of Austria. My uncle was still at war and had not yet returned. My aunt used to breed rabbits for food in the back bedroom. I didn’t know the fate of the rabbits, she kept all that from me, but to feed them  we had to go to the Glacis, which is a sizable park right along the row of houses in my most favourite town, Leoben. The park, during wartime was left virtually untended. There were a number of air raid shelters dug into park, so that the people who lived there could be safe when the bombs were coming over. We didn’t have to use the shelters. We lived in a house with a very deep cellar. All the residents in our house used to go all the way down into the cellar for shelter. We used to pass many barrels of cabbage lined up on the side of the stairs on the way down. That’s where the Sauerkraut was fermenting. The walls were sheer rock which smelled earthy and damp and the air was both cool and musty. The steps were uneven and very steep and at the bottom, there was a coal cellar allocated to each resident for their personal use.  Naturally, there were rats down in the cellars and goodness knows what else. There was some light coming from the ceiling shaft, which also allowed some air into the cellar. I didn’t like being down there but what frightened me more than the rats was the talk amongst the residents as to what would happen, if a bomb did strike our building and destroyed it. The general consensus was that we would all be buried alive and that in the end, the rats would eat us. The stuff of nightmares. But back to the rabbits. The grassy areas in the Glacis were full of Dandelions and we used to dig those out for their food. They loved them.

 On a particular day in that particular month we went to the park as usual to get the Dandelions, and we found the whole area full of Army lorries and soldiers camping near them. They were part of the British Army, and I now think they were massing there before moving on out of our sector. I could see my aunt was shocked, and did not quite know how to proceed, but she could see no alternative, but to go ahead and get the necessary greens for the rabbits. I had strict instructions not to leave her side, and on no account to go near the soldiers, but my curiosity got the better of me, and when a young man in a vest and khaki pants, sitting near some kind of stove, beckoned to me, I went closer. He seemed very friendly and talked to me in a strange language, smiling at me. Then he put his hand into some kind of knapsack and took out a round, flat cardboard box, which he offered to me. After a bit I went closer and took the box and then ran straight to my aunt. Of course I was told off for my reckless behavior, but on examining the box, it turned out to be chocolate. Army rations, as I later learned.

This is the Glacis now, restored and improved. The house we lived in can be seen in the foreground, on the right, the one nearest the two Birch trees. 

We went into the park every morning to get the Dandelions for the rabbits, and every day I was handed a box or two of these chocolates by the soldiers. They seemed nice and were always very friendly and they did their best to teach me a few words of English. My aunt lost her suspicions of them. I suppose she realized what they were; a bunch of very young boys a long way away from home. One morning, before we went to get the greens, she baked a huge amount of simple oat kisses and handed them to the Brits. The next day they had gone. That was my very first encounter with the British, but not the only one. Before they left completely, a few years later, I had another encounter with one of their Army Lorries. But that’s a story for another day.

Since those days in Leoben, I have always been very fond of the British people and I loved everything to do with Britain. It is no coincidence that I eventually ended up living here. 

Monday 18 November 2019

Professor Abdus Salam

A personal account
by Wasi Faruqi


My first encounter with Professor Abdus Salam was in the early 1950s in Lucknow - though I can only remember this vaguely. The occasion, which brought Salam to Lucknow was the Indian Science Congress (ISC), which took place in 1953. My father worked in the Department of Fisheries as a Senior Fisheries Biologist and was probably roped in to help with the organisation of the major conference. Professor Abdus Salam, who was, I think, still based in Lahore, was invited as a guest to the ISC where they got to know one another.

Six years later, Salam was part of a two-man panel (the other person was I H Usmani, Chairman, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). interviewing for Ph D scholarships, some of which were funded by the British Council for studies in the UK. By this time Salam was already a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) at an incredibly young age and appointed as a Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London.  Following my scholarship award the question arose about which University to approach for admission to a doctoral course. Contact was re-established with Salam by my father to help with admission to the Physics Department in the same institution as Salam. My father had completed his PhD in Zoology at Imperial College, London, in the pre-war period. As my mathematical training was inadequate, Salam suggested that the Experimental High Energy Group as more suitable as I did possess some experience in experimental physics from my MSc course in Government College, Lahore. Coincidentally Salam had been a student and Professor at Government College Lahore prior to leaving for Imperial College. I duly enrolled at Imperial College with Anthony Newth, a friend of Salams, who was, like Salam a Cambridge man.

Nobelprize Banquet in Stockholm 10 December 1979
As an aside, it is interesting to note that Salam was extremely helpful in training Pakistani students, many in his own group, with the noble aim of raising the general level of education in Pakistan. Salam was responsible for the higher education of a large number of Pakistani students, notably the twins Riazuddin and Fayyazuddin who later went on to set up their own groups elsewhere, including in Pakistan. I recall many interactions between the Experimentalists such as Anthony Newth and Salam, particularly when discussing the theoretical significance of some experimental results, or planning future experiments. During the period of my doctoral work, i.e. 1961-1964, Salam was in one of his most productive periods, probably similar to the 1950s when he narrowly missed the Nobel Prize for his work on Weak Interactions to Yang and Lee.  

However, in 1979 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg for his contribution to the Electroweak Unification Theory. He also won numerous other awards, including the Copley Medal and the Royal Medal.

The passion Salam had for raising the awareness for science in developing countries was reflected in his quest for the development of an International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). He correctly imagined that such a Centre could be potentially much larger in scope than individual university departments in his objectives. An expensive venture such as the ICTP was not easy to fund. However, with skill, persistence and tenacity Salam was able to convince UNESCO, the Italian Government, and many others to fund such a centre in Italy. The Centre, now known as the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), flourishes to this day in a scenic location in Trieste overlooking the Adriatic Sea and continues to attract many scientists from developing countries who would otherwise miss out on this rich experience. The Centre ran many postgraduate courses, which included a bi-annual Biophysics Lecture Program. Having switched to Structural Biology myself and working in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, I received an invitation to lecture on a couple of the Biophysics courses on the application of synchrotron radiation in biology. The course was during Summer with warm weather and Salam could be found occasionally sitting on the Veranda, post-lunch, teaching his young son. I joined him in these semi-leisurely occasions a few times but more often did not want to intrude on their privacy. Around this period, the Pakistani Government was going through an anti-Ahmadi phase and Salam was declared a non-Muslim. His reaction to this event was surprisingly mild and philosophical, suggesting that ‘we need to raise the level of education in our country’. I was extremely flattered in being included in the ‘we’ but was more surprised by the lack of bitterness he showed. Maybe you need to have true ‘greatness’ for such a reaction.