FIRST PERSON: Gwent inventor Andrew Hubert Von Staufer
Updated 7:52pm Wednesday 16th April 2014 in News
Andrew Hubert Von Staufer, 66, environmental consultant and inventor who lives in Monmouth, tells CARYS THOMAS about his ancestry and his creations.
"It was not an easy ride for my mother, I was the eldest of six with four brothers Simon, Christopher, Mark and Jeremy and one sister, Stephanie. My father Tomaz was polish, I had a very curious family.
I have both German and Russian titles which sums up the history of Poland. My mother Angela was essentially English, her father was a Reuters war correspondent - he took her to Germany with him.
He was trying to get an interview with Adolf Hitler and instead he had an interview with what he called a rather nasty creepy man named Joseph Goebbels in some ways he was more frightening than Hitler.
She met my father at Bletchley park during the war as he had come down to Brighton to do his navigation training. When she got married they had to leave Bletchley park, she had to become a polish citizen to marry him. He flew in 1944/45 and shot down three planes, he also did a lot of flying spitfires with the second tactical air force.
My father was treated abysmally after the end of the war. When the victory parade happened not a single member of the Polish armed forces were allowed to take part. Dad was feeling very abandoned as his part of Poland had disappeared as it had been completely absorbed, his hometown was called Lviv, which is now part of the Ukraine.
My grandfather had a lot of property that was sequestered from them. My grandmother was booted out, my father saw her briefly in Tashkent, she died of typhus fever. One of his sisters managed to get away and lived in Argentina eventually, I still have family there.
Dad felt very disconnected, I was brought up in this background. My mother went out of her way to give him something to re-connect to his polish roots so as a surprise for Christmas Eve she did her best to re-create a polish Christmas Eve.
That is a very strong memory that sticks with me. To her credit all her children and now the next generation have inherited this.
Traditionally you lay the table on top of hay. Beforehand you would break a wafer which has a nativity scene on it. The youngest member of the family goes and looks for the first star, that's when it begins.
And you break this wafer wishing health and happiness among other things. The intention is that all family members wherever they are all do this at the same time and are all united.
You have 12 dishes which resemble the 12 apostles. As Christmas Day was traditionally a day of fasting there aren’t any meat courses. Since moving to Monmouth I now catch pike in the River Wye.
When I met my wife Maria, a thing we had in common was Christmas. She was brought up with her Yorkshire traditions. More by accident than design we started collecting and researching Christmas objects.
We built up a collection of 100,000 items all to do with Christmas and an international photo library. It was a very successful business, we did a lot of television and radio shows. Maria was known as the Christmas Countess.
I loved it, Wales has been very good to me. A Japanese agent offered to buy the collection, they didn’t really know what Christmas was about. So we sold it to them in 1991 and our daughter Emma learnt Japanese and went off to work there.
I have three children Emma, Marijan and Kazik. (corr) I have eight grandchildren.
I consider myself to be European, because I have a German surname, Russian titles and German titles, was born and brought up in this country. I lived initially outside Brighton and have lived in Wales for the last 10 years.
We’ve got nearly 20 languages in our family, I speak English, French, German, Spanish and I can get by in Catalan, a little Italian and Dutch. My granddaughter can speak to you in Korean, Welsh or English.
My family can easily be traced back more than a 1,000 years. Truthfully I am related indirectly, 93rd cousins to most of the crown heads in Europe. It’s fun, I never did use my title as I was brought up in a bungalow in Brighton - what was the point?
I didn't want to go to university straight away so I trained as a meteorologist for the met office. I've done a variety of jobs - I've worked at a plant nursery and as an assistant editor for an air freight magazine.
Then I became an air traffic controller. I started off at Gatwick on ground control and tower control. I was an assistant at Shanwick Oceanic control, controlling all the aircrafts across the Atlantic and it was absolutely fascinating.
I was involved with a flight which went in completely the wrong direction for all the wrong reasons, eventually it ditched in the Atlantic and the pilot had drowned. We sent out a nimrod to find him, it was night time in winter.
I’m glad I didn’t have to tell his wife, but that had a serious affect on me because I knew for about 45 minutes that this man was going to die and that there was nothing we could do about it. I had a bit of a break down.
I met my wife Maria in 1974. I was working as a ski instructor giving a class to beginners. She was a single mum with a little girl, she was 18 months old. At the time she lived down near Llanarth.
Within three days I proposed to her. That was on April 1, 40 years ago. I came to Wales and we were married on June 22, three months later.
I worked for a short while at the agricultural college in Usk. Maria was schooled in Spain and a cardinal persuaded her to go back to Majorca to take care of the priests.
We had a small wedding business out there, Maria sorted out weddings and I did the photography. At that point I was doing environmental consultancy, it’s an interest I’ve always had. I was also trustee for Wye Valley trust foundation.
Maria spent most of her time there and the children and I went back and forth. What I didn’t know at the time was that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
At the same time a tumour was found on my kidney. I had my kidney out. We saw a lot of each other, but it was as if quite suddenly an invisible wall had gone between us.
I knew she had polyps in her stomach. I was fishing when Father Julian, a close friend rang me and said come quick - we all went out to Majorca.
We saw her on life support at the hospital and she died three days later. I discovered later that she had been diagnosed with cancer six years beforehand and hadn’t told anyone.
That’s a really difficult thing to live with, I now realise the strange gulf that grew was as a result of that. It was cancer of the oesophagus.
In Spanish law you have to have the funeral within 24 hours. That was in 2007, it was a blur. Her diagnosis was so terminal it's a surprise that she lived as long as she did. She was given about a year.
I was developing the Skiiroder at the time, it's a scooter which is used on the snow with the intention that people who have never been on the snow before could use it.
Maria never had time to ski, she had arthritis. Unfortunately she died before it went into production.
I won Gold and platinum for design British invention and silver for my invention for the Skiiroder. We are testing it in British Columbia and found that amputees can use it too - a blind skier even used it last year."
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