How long have you lived in Lewes, and what brought you here? My wife Anne and I moved here in 1995. We loved the geography – how you can see the Downs wherever you are. I did persuade my parents to visit once before – when I was 14, after I read about the town in the Shell Guide to Britain…
So, you were reading travel guides even back then? Yes. My first and only school prize was for my ‘Baltic Holiday’ diary, when I was 10. As a student I helped a publisher research their Drinker’s Guide to Walking. That was my first of many travel books. After I graduated, I went to Japan to teach English: this was 1981 (when hardly any travel guides to Japan existed). When I got home, after a short spell at Saga Holidays, I literally got on my bike and found and wrote up walks in east Kent, which I then sold in local bookshops. It was the start of a long, mainly freelance career – with Which?, Reader’s Digest, AA, Rough Guides and others. For Which? I travelled all over Britain, on public transport or hitching (I couldn’t then drive), ten days at a time, researching some 400 walks. Then I’d come back and write them up, including drawing the maps, before starting out for another burst.
My heart is especially in the Bradt Slow Travel series. It was nice to edit guidebooks that release the shackles. Here we allowed space for the author’s voice, including humour, and freedom to go off at complete tangents. And I’ve written my own one, on Sussex.
Since your mother Ruth died, in 2012, you’ve been researching her history, as a German Jew who emigrated alone with her brother in 1939. What has this journey meant to you? I felt a duty to do it. I’m the last in the line, and the record is so complete: all these diaries and letters. An incredible archive. The Imperial War Museum in London is taking over the whole lot – they’ll include my family’s story in the remodelled Holocaust Gallery.
My mother didn’t talk about it much, and rarely expressed emotion – her younger brother Raimund was the opposite – but there was always a trunk at home full of all this material from the 1930s and 40s. When we came to empty her house I kept everything that related to that time.
Reading your grandmother Vera’s last letter feels an incredible privilege… Yes. Ruth and Raimund came by Kindertransport to England when Ruth was 15. Both their parents died in camps. Their father, Hans Neumeyer, a blind composer and music teacher, survived for a couple of years. Their mother Vera wrote home from the train deporting her to her death, we now believe at Auschwitz. Miraculously this letter, thrown out of the train window, found its way back to her family – and eventually into Ruth’s trunk. Indeed the very first letter I pulled out was the last Vera wrote.
Tim shares extracts from his extraordinary family archive at ephraimneumeyer.wordpress.com