In Germany, though as things have turned out, in Germany for rather longer than I had planned. My niece, my sister’s oldest child, was married on Saturday, and I caught the ferry from Dover on Thursday afternoon to get to my hotel in Dusseldorf at about 9pm. I should have got there about and hour and a half earlier, but was caught up in commuter traffic on the Antwerp ring road, which can give London’s M25 a run for its money any day. I came in what I call ‘Ken’s car’, and there’s the rub and the reason why a planned four-day break has become a week-long break.
I call it Ken’s car because a chap called Ken, who died a year or two ago at the age of around 80, left it to my brother in his will, and my brother – god bless his soul – gave it to me because he lives in London and said he had no use for it. It is not young – a T reg (i.e. registered in 1999) – but it had only 38,000 odd miles on the clock when my brother gave it to me, and still has only 45,000. So it seemed a better bet than my Rover 45 which is a year young but already has 149,000 on the clock and is due to have its cam belt replaced. Bad move.
On Friday I drove over to see my sister at their base in Langenfeld, and then in the afternoon I set my heart on sitting in a Lokal somewhere in the country, supping Bitburger, smoking a cigar and doing absolutely fuck-all. Unfortunately, the ares around Dusseldorf, Langefeld, Leverkusen and Cologen is as built up as it is around London and finding such a Lokal in a rural setting seemed improbable if not impossible, until my sister suggested a place called Diepental, which is more or less just a few Lokale on a small lake. It was perfect, and I stayed for three hours, eventually, as one does, falling into conversation with four German pensioners.
What was not quite as perfect at eventually getting into my car, turning on the ignition and being greeted by nothing more than a slight click from the engine which is a sure sign that something is amiss. It wasn’t that my battery was flat, but the the starter motor had decided to bugger of to the great car park in the sky and needed to be replaced (although I found all this out only a few hours later).
To cut a long story short (not so say an increasingly tedious narrative which is beginning to more even more, so Lord knows how scintillating you, the reader, are finding it, after a great deal of hassle – I stress a great deal – finding the number for the German equivalent of the RAC who came and read the last rites over the starter motor and arranged to have it towed away. This happened 90 minutes later at a cost, as I was told later of 145 euros (which for the sake of convenience and as everything is always more expensive than the estimate. The garage rang a minute or two ago and informed me – I’m sure regretfully – that there were problems, it was more than the starter motor and would cost around 500 euros.
Fuck. Remember, please, in your prayers.
. . .
Last night I went out for a meal with relatives (in the neck of the woods where they all originally come from they like to claim more or less everyone as a relative. In fact we are all cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews several times removed, but I like it. And they are all very nice. What’s more relevant is that I hadn’t seen some of them for at least 20 years and some for much longer.
The plan was that I would pick up my car this afternoon and drive north to stay with my sister in the old farmhouse she and her husband have bought. Well, that will now be tomorrow night (and I might even post some pictures – it’s right on the Dutch border and a rather nice, if isolated and very flat neck of the woods.) But one thing I shall do is visit an aunt (see note above about the Emsland attitude to relatives – they’d rather you were one than not) who I haven’t seen since I was about 22, perhaps even before then.
. . .
The Germans don’t usually drink tea, but they do in the Emsland and are a very down-to-earth people who I rather like. They call a spade a spade and have a dry sense of humour. Ironically, for one reason or another, many of them now live down here in this town, Langenfeld, are nearby. It just happened that way. I must say that I far prefer German food and dishes to British food and dishes and also like the way they socialise. Some Germans have a tendency to sentimentality (and the Americans caught that particular disease from their German and other immigrants) but not all, and the folk from the Emsland are among those who don’t.
When I was young, my mother spoke to us in German, so to this day to me German is as much not a foreign language as English is. When I hear Italian, Spanish or French etc spoken, it is foreign. German isn’t. But I didn’t learn German until I went to school in Germany for four years, and eventually I spoke German like a German. I was rather proud of that because it was the one thing I – an Englishman – could do: speak German so that Germans thought I was German. In most other ways I didn’t shine, except, perhaps, talking bullshit.
That, I’m sorry to say is no longer the case.
German is still not a ‘foreign language’ and when I hear people speaking it, it is just people speaking rather than ‘people speaking a foreign language’. But my command of the language has slipped rather. I like to think that it is still better than your average Brit, but it is not as fluent as it once was. I know that it would be just a matter of time to regain the command I once had, but I can’t see myself living in Germany at any time in the future. It is also rather frustrating in that I can’t express myself as fully as I should like. It’s not that I don’t have the vocab and phrases, it’s just that some are tucked away somewhere and aren’t readily available.
Oh well, at least I’m not being gassed to death as some poor Syrians are now.
. . .
The situation there is looking dire and doesn’t seem likely to improve at any time soon, especially as the US and Britain seem to have made up there mind that the fuck-ups that were Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam and Suez weren’t enough and a new fuck-up must be added to the list. Granted that Assad’s forces used poison gas – although it is all very strange as to why they did it (and I can’t quite buy the notion that the gas was used by the rebels in order to try to discredit Assad’s government) – but if it was Assad and his side, it was all rather badly timed (thought ‘bad timing’ is the least obejectionable thing about the affair). Granted all that, but the wise old dictum Never Take Sides surely to goodness should count here.
Perhaps the wiseacres in the Foreign Office and State Department have some sophisticated wheeze up their sleeves and bombing Assad’s forces is just a ploy in some greater scheme – though I don’t beliveve it – but backing the once side rather than the other seems to me to choose between cancer of the bowel and cancer of the stomach. Never take sides: I learnt that years ago when I was working in a bar and intervened when a drunken man started knocking six bells out of his equally drunken wife – who immediately turned her husband to turn on me.
Never take sides, the pub manager told me later, and never was a truer word spoken. But Obama and Cameron seemed intent in getting the West more involved. What with the betrayal the Muslim Brotherhood are feeling in Egypt and the standard scepticism many Middle Easterners feel for the West, its interference in the matter there, however much the handwringers proclaim ‘something must be done’ is not going to end well.