“You bombed our chip shop! I wouldn’t have cared but I was in it at the time!” -
That was the frosty reply from the customer on the other end of the telephone.
It was 1988 and I was working in the Telephone Sales Department of an international company in England and my German accent was all that was needed to trigger yet another example of the Brits favourite past-time: Poking fun at foreigners – especially Germans!
You might judge this as some form of xenophobia but, as any good Brit will tell you, it merely forms part of the illustrious and wonderful world of British humour.
In the same way that the appreciation of a fine wine or a theatre-evening does not come overnight, so it is with the British humour. For the average foreigner, the comprehension and appreciation of this delicate balancing act between humour and insult has an approximate incubation period of three years. Some people never get the hang of it.

As most British, given the chance, will never stop teasing you for being foreign there are essentially two ways open to you if you happen to be a ‘Kraut’, a ‘Spic’ or a ‘Frog’.
Either leave the country or grow thick-skinned! I preferred the latter!
If you can’t beat them, join them!

As I finished the phone call I reflected back on those early years in England, it seemed so long ago and I tried to remember, how it came to pass that I now reside in this country and hold a British passport.

I blame the parents! Everybody does these days!
Parents are not always right, as I have found out whilst being a parent myself but when it comes to my mother and father, it has to be said that they were more often right than not!

Coming to England for nine months was my Dad’s idea. He had arranged for me to work at Rowntree Mackintosh in York for a nominal fee, which means ‘just enough to rent a room and feed myself’. “Just don’t come home with a Peggy!” was his parting shot. “?????”
To this day I never met anyone called Peggy but in order to protect the innocent, all names in this book (bar my own) have been changed.
During this time of cultural change and faced with different surroundings, different customs, different situations and different language it was like being a German Shepherd amongst Yorkshire Terriers.

Monsters on the Move
‘You bombed our chip shop’?
These days I would have a suitable, and just as witty, reply ready such as “Yes, sorry about this! We cod have avoided it but thought batter of it!”
But this is now and that was then.
Then, back in 1980 in the early hours of an August Saturday morning I boarded my mother’s bright yellow Renault 4 and was driven to Cologne train station, to await the 07:16 Express to Ostend. True to German obsession with punctuality it arrived at 07:12, allowing just enough time for boarding and finding a suitable “Smoking” compartment. I pulled the window down, lid a cigarette and stuck my head out just in time to see the controller giving the signal for the train to depart. As the train slowly moved out of the station I got a final glance of the Cologne Cathedral, the main landmark of my birthplace. I closed the window and, unknowingly, with it closed a chapter of my life. As I sat in my compartment, armed with a gigantic back-pack and various other bags, it reminded me of my time in the army back in Germany and scores of weekends spent taking the train to and from the barracks. Only this time the feeling in my heart was a mixture of trepidation and quiet excitement rather than one of dread. In 1980 the borders were still very much controlled and unlike today, we were not all just Europeans. So when the train stopped at Aachen and before entering Belgium, the German locomotive was replaced by a Belgium one and so were the guards on the train; one of which appeared shortly afterwards in my compartment asking for my ticket and my passport, which I handed over. After looking me up and down and asking me questions as to my destination and reason for travelling he opened up a book the size of an old bible and proceeded to thumb through the pages to see if my name might feature in his “wanted” list. Alas, it was not and with an almost disappointed look he handed back the document and left. I was once again alone with my thoughts, which now focussed on my destination – York!
I was none too pleased with my Dad to have chosen a town so far away from London, where I had been with the school some years prior to this. In my mind there was London . . . and then there was boredom.

Back then, in the summer of 1975, our English class took the same trip I was on now for a one week visit to London followed by a one week visit to Swansea. To this day I have not figured out how and more to the point ‘why’ Swansea was selected as a visiting place. To this very day Swansea is a town void of character, beauty and interest and is best avoided. I can only surmise that cost (or the lack of it) must have played a part.
I was slightly younger then and together with 23 other boys and girls was being let loose on an unsuspecting British public with only two teachers to supervise us. As I never liked school, including the subject of English, the trip merely served as a change of scenery.

It all started when our English teacher, Mr. Best, agreed to take his class back to his native country in order to give us a flavour of the British way of life and to give us a chance to practise our well-learned language skills on the unsuspecting British public. There were 24 of us and just 2 teachers, both of which were young and not known for wielding a sword of authority. The second teacher, a woman whose name I just cannot remember at all, did not remain a teacher if memory serves, due to depression and frayed nerves. I don’t however believe that we were the cause of this. The morning of our departure the heavens were grey and a chilly wind from the West was rushing through Cologne Station as if the gods had stopped smiling in nervous anticipation of bad behaviour on our part and general disapproval of our appearance.
Don’t know what I mean?? Let me help you picture the scene!
We are talking about the mid seventies – arguably the best example of “the time slice that fashion forgot”. Flower-Power with its display of multi-coloured clothes, flowers and ribbons had gone and restyling of hair and garments in the 80s had not yet started leaving the 70s with long, unmanageable hair, jeans, jumpers (Mmmmm!!), Parker coats from the Mods ‘n Rockers scene of the early years of this decade and a complete void of femininity.
After several struggles to quieten the school monsters, Mr. Best finally succeeded in his attempt to inform us of the all important coach number of the train in which several compartments, seating six people each, were reserved for us.
After an eternity and a couple of cigarettes somebody finally spotted the train pulling into the station upon which chaos ensued!

Note to reader:
In order to understand the next paragraph allow me to explain that in every group there is an elite unit – “the cool guys & hot girls” – and also another, not so revered group – “the Panschaedels (pronounce ‘paan shadles’) meaning ‘numb-skulls’ and Gesichtstruemmer meaning face-ruins”. It is of some importance to your street cred to hang around the cool guys as much as possible and stay away from the panschaedels. As there are compartments of six people each, everyone tries to get a seat in one of the few ‘cool’ compartments, if that makes sense.
Which group were my friend JP and I in??? Neither!! We were in the “leave well alone” group as you will see.

The red train engine passed by followed by an entourage of dull, dark-green wagons showing a coach number next to the doors. “There is ours!!” someone shouted, running after it, rucksack on back and arms flying everywhere as further coaches drifted by. Immediately rucksacks, suitcases and bags were snatched from the big pile and dragged along as nearly all school monsters started running after the idiot who by now had a sizeable head-start.
“Panschaedels!” JP mumbled whilst dragging on his fag.
“Affenaersche!! (Monkey butts)” I replied, flipping my cigarette end after the running crowd.
As the train finally came to a stop, we too picked up our bags and boarded the train at the nearest available door. Out of the corner of our eyes we could see that the female teacher (whose name I still cannot remember, so let’s call her Maria from now on) had spotted us and was shouting for us to join the monster mob. ‘Yeah, right!’ we thought and just ignored her.
Remembering that we did not have individual tickets, we decided to walk along the corridors of the train until we had rejoined the group. There was no mistaking their location as the noise level increased by several decibels even before we got there.
Now . . . do the Math . . . 24 pupils + 2 teachers equals 4 full compartments of 6 pupils each + 2 seats in a separate compartment for the teachers.
Arriving last, there was 1 seat in one compartment of ‘panschaedels’ and 1 seat in another one. JP opened the door of the compartment in front of us and asked for 2 volunteers to give up their seats for us. “There are a couple of seats somewhere in the next compartments!” he motioned, his thumb pointing left.
Not known for my patience, I grabbed the person nearest to me by his parker, yanked him out of his seat and sat down myself. One of the girls then stood up and left the compartment mumbling something about not wanting to sit next to idiots anyway.
In those days, you had ‘Smoking’ and ‘Non Smoking’ compartments but in all the gangways you were allowed to puff away. As our coach was ‘Non Smoking’, and virtually all pupils were smokers, all you could hear throughout the journey was doors opening and closing as people took frequent smoke breaks.
Whilst I was on such a break myself, I observed in the compartment next to ours the concealment of Erhard Bose, a dwarf-like short person with a warped sense of humour. He climbed into the luggage rack above the seats and asked his fellow pupils to camouflage him with bags and parkers just to see if the border passport control at Aachen would spot him.
I thought it was stupid then and I still think it was stupid now! Secretly I was hoping he would be discovered and thrown off the train but nobody seemed to care about a dwarf hiding up on the luggage rack – not even the border police.
We had only been travelling for about an hour when some dipstick started singing the German version of ‘Ten Green Bottles – (the rude version)’ and every other person knew yet another disgusting verse.
General boredom was interrupted when the train slowed down to pass through larger stations without stopping. On those occasions JP and I pulled down the window and shouted “Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!” at the top of our lungs watching commuters on the platform jump back in horror and then recompose themselves waving fists at us from the distance. Extra ‘cool’ points were awarded for any person jumping back and falling over his/her luggage or colliding with another person on the platform.
JP won this game hands down as I couldn’t help fitting with laughter at the mere thought of it all.

Now . . any self-respecting German teacher would have at least tried to call these rebels to order and would have uttered numerous threats of reprisals but Mr. Best just sat calmly in his compartment reading the newspaper, chatting with Maria or looking out of the window and his expression did not change the few times he emerged onto the noisy corridor in order to smoke his pipe. “Aah, Erik!” he smiled through a haze of pipe tobacco which he had just lid whilst returning his scratched silver lighter back into his jacket pocket. “Is this your first trip to England?”
“Sure is!” I acknowledged in German. “You are on an English trip so do speak English, will you!!”
“Ehm, OK. You live in London?” I asked, immediately wishing I had kept my big mouth shut.
From what I understood of his reply it was something like:
“No, I come from a town . . . bla . . bla . . North . . bla . . Industrial . . Coventry”
Then there was something about a “Lady called Ivor” and a naked horse, which was
totally beyond my understanding.

The countryside had by now become as flat and boring as Monika Dreiton’s chest and the train had slowed down on the approach to Oostend.
“Oostend! OOSTEND!!” a voice squawked through the rusty old loudspeaker hanging high up on a mast on the platform as if to say ‘why on earth have you come here??”.
The station was old and uncared for and reminded me of how I imagined stations to be during the war – cold, eerie and depressing. The weather did not help either, being grey and damp and a strong wind was carrying the salty stench of the harbour to our noses.
Everyone seemed to be labouring under their pieces of luggage and the girls suitcases seemed to be the biggest of all. JP and I on the other hand were travelling light by comparison!
We eventually started our walk across from the waiting area to the boat via a bridge not unlike those used between the airport and a plane – only much longer.
Once on board, we dumped all of our belongings into one area and upon hearing the sound of teacher Maria saying: “Now let’s all stay together!” everyone dispersed into various directions to explore the ship.
JP and I found the bar but it was not open yet. “I’m starving!” JP said, making a face like an undernourished kid. “So am I. Let’s find the Fast-Food Restaurant!” I replied.
We noticed that the boat had left the harbour as it was swaying from side to side quite a bit and we felt like drunken sailors trying to walk in a straight line with bowed legs but not quite succeeding. When we got to the food hall, the queue was quite long but being hungry teenagers, we joined it anyway. Then an amazing thing happened.
Due to the stormy sea and the unpredictable rocking of the boat, people in the queue started turning and walking away looking rather green. More and more people seem to lose their appetite and before we could get rid of our silly grin on our faces we were at the counter.
“2 egg and cress sandwiches – Twice!!” JP demanded from the bored looking fat bloke with sausage fingers behind the counter. “?????”
“OK, . . . 4 packets of egg and cress sandwiches just like the ones behind you!!” JP re-iterated pointing to the sandwiches and rolling his eyes like a drunk person.
The fat bloke turned around with the speed and motion a turning tanker at sea would muster and his small, thick fingers grabbed the top of the sandwich packs. Like a crane he then turned around, both hands stretched out before him and dropped the packages onto the counter, mumbling some price.
We each opened a package of sandwiches and started walking back to find the rest of the class. On our way we noticed that many people were looking distinctly green and pale due to the motion of the ocean which we found quite amusing in a sadistic sort of way. Nothing however prepared us for the effect our egg sandwiches would have on people and especially on the girls in our class who, upon getting just the slightest whiff of them, not even managed to get as far as the toilets around the next corner.
With this, the smell of boiled eggs mixed with fresh vomit and yet more people hurried to “speak to God on the big, white porcelain telephone”!! It was divine!!
Any girl refusing to be sick was offered a bite by shoving the sandwich under her nose! That mostly did the trick.
Having finished our meal and wreaked enough havoc, we went upstairs, smoked a cigarette, zipped up our parkers and went outside. The wind nearly blew us away and we sheltered in the corner behind the bridge. The sea was boiling with white-crested waves and big dips in between. A wave would smash against the side of the boat - the boat would shake - a wall of water spray would rise up and the wind would whip it across the deck. Huddled in the corner we just missed getting wet but we did not realise the force of the wind until Peter Scholz, a geek from our class, walked out onto the deck and stopped looking at the sea.
He saw us – grinning away – but could not figure out fast enough why.
‘BAAM!’ the next wave slammed into the side.
‘FSSSHHHH!!!’ the wall of water came up on the side of the boat next to where Peter was standing and ‘WHACK!!’ whipped across his face and body.
Like someone who had just been punched by Mohammed Ali he staggered back, holding his face, turned around and vanished through the door he had just come through. We were in stitches!!
When we saw him later, his face looked as if he had fallen asleep under a sun lamp.
He was a very self-conscious, nervous, puny little fellow with panic-eyes at the best of times and whenever you approached him with a question, his mouth would open and shut a couple of times without words coming out (a bit like a non-threatening version of ‘Animal’ from the Muppet Show) before finally replying in a soft, girl-like voice. Now, looking like Lobster-Louis, he was mostly looking down to the floor in order to avoid any eye contact.

Booze and Basement Brawls in Bayswater
As we arrived in Dover, everything already seemed to be different . . . well . . . ‘old’ I thought! Old train, old houses, old money but I didn’t overly care.
We eventually managed to reach our first destination – a cheap hotel in the Bayswater area of London which was going to be our home for the next week.
As we queued to get rooms allocated to us (2 persons per room) I noticed that the main choice seemed to be a room in the basement or a room on the first floor.
Having lived in a room in my parents cellar for the past years (my choice – it is nice and quiet as nobody can be bothered to walk the stairs too often) JP and I agreed on a basement room. There was however none available once we got to the reception desk so I just had a glance at the names in the reception book, found out who had a basement room, went over to them and grabbed their key off them.
The initial complaint of “Oi!! What the . . “ was met by my stony face and a stare that said: “Do you really want to spoil your good looks and your vacation on the first day??!!”
I completed the key-swap and JP and I walked down the stairs to find room No. 5.
All I remember is that the room had 2 single beds divided by a bedside table between them and a wardrobe in one corner. At the far end was a window looking onto a dirty wall. Looking up I could see the black iron railings which fronted the hotel separating it from the pavement. Not much light was coming into the room but when we switched on the lamp on the bedside table the room seemed quite cosy in a rough-and-ready sort of way.
We threw our belongings on the beds and went to the hotel bar, which was situated to the right of the hotel reception. To this day I cannot remember having a meal that night even though it is highly unlikely that we didn’t have any dinner. I do however remember stepping up to the bar and ordering my first ever English beer. JP opted for Lager but I thought that this was the wrong choice and went for some Ale. To the average German palate used to continental light brews Ale tastes like sheep dip and I was no exception to this rule. Whereas JP got handed a cold clear light-golden straight beer I received a bucket of cloudy Ale without much of a head on it which was served at room temperature and tasted almost chewy.
Was I going to admit my mistake after laying into JP for being a “Girl” by drinking Lager?? Not likely!!
Another thing about being a teenager and being ‘hard’ is that you must not under any circumstances fall behind in the drinking game lest someone shouts: “Look at you! Girl!! You have striking arrears!!” and “Put that beer down until you have grown some pubic hair!!”
With JP’s glass showing only a small amount of liquid I just had to speed-drink my pint ignoring the taste.
Before I could say anything JP had ordered another round of the same stuff but luckily, half way through that round, he went to the toilets, giving me the opportunity to return my drink for a new round of 1 Lager and 1 London Pride Bitter (Lager for me was no option because of my earlier remarks!).
By the time JP returned, he was looking at 1 ½ pints and me holding a new glass.
“Get on with it, Girl!” I teased and watched as JP downed the remainder of the half empty glass to draw even.
Bitter was actually quite nice and I was relieved to have found something I could stomach. By now, several other people from our class had arrived at the bar and there was a general atmosphere of fun, excitement, hormones in action (between some of the boys and girls) and laughter. Mr. Best and Maria had also arrived and were busy chatting to various pupils. Someone had the great idea to invest some of his money in the Jukebox.
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel was piping out “Make me smile (Come up and see me)”, 10CC sung “I’m not in love” and the first version of “Lady Marmalade” by Le Belle was in the charts.
The evening ended with us feeling pretty drunk and all I remember is sleeping well.
Too well, I fear, which was part of the trouble to come. We awoke the next morning when a woman arrived at the door with a Hoover looking at us puzzled and taping her watch. It was 12:30 p.m. and neither of us was interested in sight-seeing.
We got washed and dressed and left the room. It soon became clear that there was nobody else from our class about anywhere and JP seemed to recall Mr. Best spouting something about 9 am breakfast and 9:30 am leaving for the Tower of London.
We decided that we were starving and upon flipping a coin turned left out of the hotel in search of food. After yet another left-turn we spotted in the distance a big window with the name “Pizzaland” on it.
Neither of us had an enormous amount of money and in those days credit cards were non existent so we opted for one of the cheaper pizzas – “Cheese and Onion” and a coke.
The pizzas, which were not very big for a teenager’s appetite, arrived and to this day I have seldom enjoyed pizza more. The combination of cheese and baked onions was magical and JP agreed. They were so good; we just had to order another one each.
The clock on the wall showed 2:15 p.m. as we got up to pay. We walked a bit further on discussing important things:
“Listen, Erik, if we carry on drinking in the bar like we did yesterday, we’re going to be broke before you can say ‘penny-farthing’!!!”
“You are right! How about buying alcohol rather than paying the prices in the bar??!!”
“I like your thinking!! Let’s find a shop!”
We didn’t have to look for long as we passed by an off-license. Looking around the shop and comparing prices whilst trying to look macho we were watched suspiciously by the woman behind the counter.
We agreed that it would be cheaper (and easier to carry) to buy a bottle of whisky and 12 cans of Coke rather then buying sufficient beer to last us all night.
“So, woher aus Deutschland kommt ihr denn?? (So, where about in Germany do you come from??)“ the woman behind the counter said in perfect German.
“Cologne!” we said truthfully.
“I don’t believe it!! Me, too!!” she replied excitedly, her hands raised and her fingers twitching like Wallis saying: ‘Cheese, Gromit! Wensleydale!!”
We spent the next half hour answering her questions about what’s going on in Cologne and explaining what various areas of the city now look like. She told us that she had not been back there for almost 30 years and since we all spoke in German with Cologne slang she seemed to be delighted to have met us.
We did eventually manage to get our whisky – Highland Mist (never heard of it since) – and promised to come back.
The remainder of the day was spent in our room and waiting for the rest of the class to come back.
Here then is the itinerary as it happened every day for the week:
6 p.m. Have dinner
7 p.m. Buy a single pint in the bar and persuade the others to buy us some more.
11 p.m. Leave the bar, drink Whisky & Coke until whisky empty
3 a.m. Fall asleep
12 a.m. Hoover-lady wakes us up
1 p.m. Pizzaland for 2 Cheese & Onion pizzas plus Coke each
2 p.m. Visit Off-License German lady for next Whisky & Cokes
3 p.m. Chill

Correction!!! Not all week!! One day the routine was interrupted by JP and me throwing caution to the wind and joining the class. Why?? Well, because that days’ activity comprised a walk down Portobello Road to see the street market which according to Mr. Best was very long and interesting (ever seen ‘Notting Hill’??) followed by a trip on the London Underground (Tube) to Piccadilly Circus and a visit to Carnaby Street, which all young Germans thought of as being the ‘hip centre’ for fashion and vinyl records.

I have to say that I did enjoy the day! The Portobello market was a sight indeed with market traders selling everything from antiques to fruit & vegetables and from clothes to junk on either side of the road for about a mile.
We did not have any money to buy anything but it was just interesting to see the different nationalities, skin colours and clothes of all the people milling up and down that road and to look at the goods on offer. Time just flew by and when we finally decided to move on, it was lunch-time.
The Tube was an interesting place to be and I have to say that to this very day I am somewhat fascinated by this labyrinth of tunnels and escalators.
I was amazed by the frequency and speed of the trains and even though everything in England seemed to be ‘good ol’ British’ stuff, the Tube seemed to be ‘state of the art’!
When we left the train at Piccadilly Circus, several of us threw our tickets away only to have our progress hampered at the turn styles at the exit. We tried to explain to the official in the uniform that in Germany you do not need your tickets any longer once you have left the train and that we did not know any better. His only reply was: “I don’t care! You are not in Germany now!!” I could see that JP was contemplating slugging him and therefore asked him to be cool!
Eventually Mr. Best arrived up the elevator and had a friendly chat with him.
I always imagined Piccadilly Circus to be bigger than it really was.
It reminded me of the time I went to Copenhagen. The famous ‘little mermaid’ was exactly that!!! Little! Tiny to be exact!!
From Piccadilly Circus we walked to Carnaby Street, which again is only small but there were some interesting shops there.

In a record shop I saw a picture disk of Abbey Road by the Beatles (the picture of Abbey Road is actually pressed onto the disk) and just to have a memento from London I decided to buy it. It is still in my possession now.
Needless to say that all the girls squeezed into the clothes shops going “Oooh, look at this!” and “Oooh, look at that!” . . . and did what girls do best! Yap!
We eventually managed to crow-bar all the girls out of the shops and carry on to Oxford Street.
That evening at the bar we were particularly thirsty and so it seemed was everybody else. It was near midnight before I decided to return to our room.
there was a commotion going on in one of the rooms at the end of the basement hallway and I decided to investigate.
Remember Peter Scholtz? Geeky guy?? Well, this red haired little weasel was disliked by all for being a swat and a mummy’s boy and this night, under the influence of too many beers, the lads had decided to grab Peter, strip him of all clothes and dump him into a bathtub filled with cold water.
They then invited all the girls to come and laugh at him.
As I made my way through the crowd of jeering pupils I found Peter frozen to the core sitting in the bath trying as best he could to cover his nakedness. His eyes were large and wild with fear and he was shaking uncontrollably.
I went back to my room to fetch the pyjama my Mum had packed for me. I never wore pyjamas and to this day still don’t but my Mum, bless her, just couldn’t resist packing everything bar the kitchen sink “just in case”. I guess, that’s what mothers do.
I got back just in time to prevent the attempt by two of the lads to lift Peter out of the bath in order to embarrass him further in front of the girls.
I asked them to stop it and upon receiving no reply punched one of them in the head, sending him sprawling across the floor. That brought an abrupt end to the proceedings!
As the German school systems dictates that anyone failing to come up to a certain level in more than 2 school subjects must repeat the year and as I had already done so twice, I was somewhat older than the rest of my fellow pupils. This combined with a rather moody and angry disposition, resulting in various fights at school earned me the nickname “Eis” (“Ice”), as in “Oops, Erik has gone mental again and ‘iced’ someone (laid him out cold)”.
Thus the crowd thought better of it and duly dispersed.
Seeing Peter waddling past me back to his room in pyjamas far too large for him and thanking me, triggered in me the resolve to use my anger in future to protect the under-dog – something which benefited various people during my military service.

For the rest of his school-days, Peter lived in reasonable peace as word got out that he has the protection of “Eis”.
Thus a week flew by in no time and a bus arrived to take us to the train station for the trip to Swansea.

Stupidity and stiff Brushes in Swansea
The train journey to Swansea was very uneventful and since we left the hotel in the early morning hours I was hardly awake enough to notice anything anyway.
Swansea has left such a deep impression on me that I can’t remember if we arrived in Swansea itself or hopped off somewhere before that. I think it must have been the latter as I cannot remember seeing anything apart from the station and a bus which took us up some hill to a youth hostel like building standing in its own grounds. The road in front of it fell away sharply on both sides and seemed to be the only road of any reasonable size in view. This then would serve as our abode for the next week. After claiming our room and unpacking our stuff, about a dozen of us decided to have a walk and explore the surrounding area. As we trotted down the hill and around a bend, we could see the sea and what looked like a deserted beach below us glistening in the bright sunlight beckoning us to pay a visit.
It took another 20 minutes to walk down the hill and through a village or suburb of Swansea to reach the beach. There was a stiff wind blowing from the sea and we all raced towards the waterfront . . . . but . . . . never reached it!
Because as we were running towards the sea, the sand all of a sudden and without visible warning turned to mud and most of us sunk into it up to our knees.
We had a hell of a job getting out of it without losing our shoes and when we finally managed to do so, our shoes and jeans were a horrible dark brown colour half way up our legs. We looked as if we were wearing special Wellies and by the time we passed through the residential area on our way back the wind had almost dried our mud-caked trousers causing a lot of head-shaking from people we met on the way.
My thoughts were: “If anyone says anything I’m going to ice them!” and “I hope I’ll be able to wash this stuff out!”
We finally arrived back at the hostel and took our shoes off on the grass outside. There was dried mud on our shoes, in our shoes, our socks were brown – it was a right mess.
I banged my shoes together sending dried mud flying in all directions and contemplated taking my jeans off to beat the majority of the mud off it. Alas, there were girls around and I thought better of it. Why I bothered I’ll never know as you will find out in a moment.
It took several fillings of the bath to finally clean my jeans, socks, shoes and legs but eventually the water run clear and I hung everything up on the shower rail to dry.
The same evening we decided to avoid the hostel food and get a take-away. The only shop we could find was one selling battered fish, battered sausages and chips. I went for sausage and chips and immediately regretted it, as the sausage was awful and the chips (for someone used to French Fries) tasted like soggy potato wedges.

The next few days passed with us visiting various places in Wales including watching a rugby match. I was thinking that there must be an easier way of getting your head kicked in but admired the efforts of the players to inflict pain on each other.
To summarize: A highly uncivilised game played with a misshapen object where players looking like thugs can use any body part to wound the opponent without penalty. It would never catch on back home.
One nice sunny day we passed by bus another beach on the way back from some place and decided to make a stop.
The guys (well . . . some of them) were teasing each other saying that they would not dare strip off and run into the cold sea.
Yes, you’ve guessed it!! A handful of “the macho guys” stripped totally naked and plunged into the freezing sea (girls present and all).
All per usual with showing off, we soon wished we hadn’t, when we emerged from the cold sea – our manhood shrunk to ‘teeny-tiny’ size. Let’s change the scenery quick!!

Evening and night times were the fun times!! Here then is only a short selection of juvenile nonsense perpetrated by yours truly and Co.

Nonsense I
Our female teacher had her room on the ground floor and noticed that her window was left open most evenings. Someone had the idea of saving all the empty Coke and Sprite cans and one night we sneaked into her room and built an enormous pyramid of cans on the inside of her door.
As she finally went to bed around midnight, there was a gigantic crash which seemed to go on for ever as the can pyramid collapsed. The people running the hostel were not amused, as other groups were also staying there at the time.

Nonsense II
On each floor there was a small kitchen with fridge-freezer.
Whilst people were at breakfast, we raided some rooms and took any toothbrushes left in the bathrooms. We then filled empty Coke cans with water, placed the toothbrushes into them and left them in the freezer during the day. During the evening meal we placed the toothbrushes – now frozen solid to the cans – back from where we took them. There was a lot of puzzlement as to what had happened that night.

Nonsense III
We noticed that there was a service lift which was for “Staff only”. This lift was not normally used until half way through breakfast, when one of the kitchen staff pressed the button and the display over the door would show “2” . . . “1” . . . “G” . . . “LG”.
“LG” was where the breakfast room was and the doors would open to show a huge empty inside. The kitchen staff would wheel a trolley into it with all the items needed to re-stock the fridge-freezers on the various floors with Coke, Sprite, Water and other things.
JP and I often joked about how the lift was big enough to play football in it. That morning a plan crystallised in our heads and we spent most of the day planning the details.
One of our lads was always eager to be part of the “cool guys” and usually hung around us like a bad smell. That evening we ‘accepted’ him into the circle as long as he didn’t fall behind with the drinking.
That evening he managed to keep up with us almost to the bitter end when we ‘made sure that he got into bed safely!!’
We were pretty drunk but unbeknown to him we had spiked some of his drinks with Vodka and he was out cold.
So we called the lift, carried his bed into it (it only just fitted), stripped him naked and laid him in it. The lift doors closed. The time must have been 3 a.m. and we fell asleep with our clothes on after laughing so hard in anticipation of the next morning that I thought my lungs would burst.
We awoke what seemed to be only a few seconds later and my tongue had stuck to the roof of my mouth. For the first 5 minutes I had totally forgotten about Karl, who was snoring in the lift.
JP however reminded me of this fact and added the words “by the way . . you look like sh*t!!!” Thanks JP.

Breakfast came and we were longing for the trolley lady to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally appeared, pulling her trolley behind her and pressing the button. The display lit up with “2” and each step was like torture.
Had Karl woken u in the night and rescued himself?
“1” . . . “G” . . . “LG” – the doors opened and the trolley lady jumped back almost falling over her trolley. There, in the lift in all his glory, was Karl who was just waking up. The room exploded in roars of laughter and we felt very proud to have pulled off our stunt.
Only him lying on his back would have been funnier but I think the girls were happy with his backside.
He was still drunk and made no attempt to cover himself – unlike the trolley lady who furiously pressed the button inside the lift for it to close and vanish to one of the other floors.
This however was probably a bridge to far as Mr. Best, who up to now was relaxation personified, seemed not amused at all and gave us all a verbal dressing down about childishness, irresponsibility and ungrateful behaviour.
The ensuing search for the guilty party narrowed the field to a handful of possible perpetrators but the case was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence – especially (and luckily) Karl’s recollection of the night were less than helpful and complete.

All good things must come to an end and we were told to ensure that we would be standing – bags in hand – in front of the hostel the next morning at 6 a.m. for the long way home.
In order to avoid drawing any further attention to us, we were indeed ready at the requested time and so was everyone else.
Everyone that is . . . . apart from the bus driver who was supposed to take us to the train station. He was nowhere to be seen and after some phone calls to the bus company it became clear that the driver had overslept! He eventually arrived 45 minutes late.
When we arrived at the station, we just saw the back lights of the train. The bus driver then gesticulated that the train track runs in a half moon shape and that we could still catch it at the next station, as the road is a straight line towards it.
So he turned the bus and drove as fast as he could (which wasn’t very fast, as the bus was a knackered old piece of junk) to the next station where – yes, you’ve guessed it – we just saw the back lights of the train.
So we had to wait for the next train, which was due in a couple of hours. Brilliant!!!!
By the time we boarded the next train Mr. Best seemed to be back to his relaxed self and both teachers and all students were contemplating (in good old German manner) the time-table implications of what had just happened.
After evaluating all the angles, the following conclusion was ratified as correct:
If the train we are currently on keeps going at the speed it currently does it will arrive at London Paddington at 12:05 pm.
If the connector train leaves on time then it will depart from London Victoria at 12:18 pm.
A normal Taxi ride from Paddington to Victoria takes about 15 minutes.
So we decided to speculate on the likelihood that the trains in England are not always totally punctual and the group was divided into sub-groups of 4 or 5 people.
Each sub-group had the task of jumping off the train and hail the first taxi, persuading the taxi driver to hurtle through town in order to make the connector train.
The first group to arrive at Victoria should – if the train was still there – jump on board and pull the emergency cord in order to delay departure.
The ensuing fine would be divided by all and therefore become miniscule to the individual! GREAT PLAN!!

Our train arrived at Paddington just as predicted and – to the utter bewilderment of the British commuter delegation - a horde of German youth jumped and fell from the train and sprinted towards the Taxi rank.
JP, two others and I also hijacked a taxi but it soon became clear, that we wouldn’t be the fastest, as the taxi driver was between 80 years old and clinically dead. For him “driving fast” was getting into third gear even though JP tried his best English on him.
On arrival JP gave him a tip of £0 and 0 pence! I also gave him a tip: “Stop driving!!”
By the time we found the train on the display board it flipped over and vanished. Apparently the first group had arrived in time but due to the strict German upbringing of all things ‘Wrong’ and ‘Right’ they bottled out and did not dare pull the emergency cord.
Great plan!! GREAT, GREAT PLAN!!!!

More sitting around! More waiting!
Eventually we boarded the next train to Dover and as we arrived, we could just see our ferry floating towards Oostend in the distance.
I won’t bore you any further with details but suffice to say that on this particular day we managed to miss every single train and boat. Having (almost) set of at 6 a.m. in the morning we finally arrived back at Cologne Central station at 2:45 the next morning. Apparently parents kept phoning the school for updates as to when to pick up their little angels. Some of them even used their common sense and looked for trains arriving from Oostend.

Out of my Brain on the Train
I awoke with a shock as another train sped past us in the opposite direction, causing the window to slam against the frame. Have you ever wondered how much time we all spend in transit throughout our lifetime? I have! Numerous times . . and this was one of them. By the time we approached Ostend it had become very warm as the sun was standing high in a near cloudless sky. I could not help but wishing I had used my school time more wisely in learning the language I was just about to have to deal with.
I recognised the layout of Ostend station and the harbour from those school trip days and it occurred to me that in a blink of an eye several years had passed since then and the only thing that had seemingly changed in all that time was ‘me’.
There were the same surroundings, same ferry and same amount of luggage to carry around. Being a great believer in ‘travelling light’ I can only assume that my mother must have packed for me - my mind is refusing to remember the exact details regarding this. Today I do realise that it doesn’t take much to fill up even the biggest rucksack if you go somewhere for 9 months but back then I cursed every T-shirt, shirt, jumper, coat, pair of trousers and pair of shoes which was now trying to conspire with all the other items in trying to bring me to my knees and in leaving semi-permanent grooves on both shoulders and in both hands. Why is it that everything seems to take ages and everyone is in your way whenever you are laden like a mule? Constant thoughts of ‘I need to take this rucksack off!’ and ‘I need to put these bags down!’ were fighting with thoughts of ‘Hang in there – won’t be long now!’ and ‘Don’t lose your place in the mass of people currently squeezing through the funnel of customs!’
Having to change mode of transport thus became a fixation in my brain as I was mapping out the journey in my mind. ‘Right! Dover . .from boat to train . . London Victoria to Taxi, Taxi to London Kings Cross, York to Guesthouse . . so that’s . . eehm . another 4 back-breaking changeovers!!! Oh, no!!’
Weighed down with this thought my luggage began to feel heavier than ever but just then I managed to get to the customs desk, where a small, skinny man with a typically French nose did not even look at me until I nearly decapitated him with my rucksack, as I turned. Glad to be ‘on board’ I decided to take up a window place in the ship’s bar area. My rucksack took up the bench opposite and my bags filled the spaces next to me and to my right. Sweating like a bomb-disposal expert with hiccups I purchased a beer and lit up a cigarette. By the time the ferry had slowly trundled to the middle of the harbour and turned around, the world was looking fine again.

This time around the sea was calm and the sea reflected the blue sky above, unlike 5 years ago when the sea looked menacingly grey and the Channel was boiling with white-crested waves. Then, the ferry was filled with people being, having been or just about to be sick, including most of our pupils on that trip. Happy days!!
Now however the sun was shining and everyone was of good cheer.
None more so than one group of young, muscled lads with no necks but powerful voices who, having consumed an enormous amount of alcohol only 2 hours into the 4 ½ hour crossing gave us the benefit (?) of their performance, which involved standing on the tables, singing rugby songs and pulling their trousers down from time to time.
Even though their rendition of “I had a dog named Rover” and other songs was dreadful, I was glad of their company, as it had emptied the bar area of families with screaming kids and old people as well as passing the time. ‘These English’, I thought to myself, ‘They are crazy!! Maybe I’m going to enjoy my stay after all.’

Having successfully ordered and drunk my third pint of beer I glanced at my watch and noticed that we had been sailing for about 4 hours already. Leaving all my earthly possessions behind I decided it was high time to go on deck and have a look if England was already in sight.
As I stumbled out of one of the side-doors leading to the upper deck area, fresh and salty sea-air hit me together with warm sunshine. Apart from the sea there was nothing in sight. I decided to light up a cigarette but had to go back inside to do so after several unsuccessful attempts trying to beat the wind by huddling in a corner. As I did so, I could see land out of the opposite side-door and as I stepped out, there they were before me in all their majesty – the white cliffs of Dover!
‘My home for the next 9 months’ I thought, flipping my cigarette end into the sea. One thing I had learned during my last trip 5 years ago is that it takes absolutely ages from the time you think you have arrived at the dock to the time they actually let you disembark. Rejoining my luggage I sat patiently watching people shoving and jostling for the next 20 minutes before once again doubling my body-weight by picking up my rucksack and bags.
I swear that the train standing there waiting for me was the same one I boarded years before. With its half wooden and half cloth compartments and small windows it reminded me of one of my most favourite music LP by “The WHO” called ‘Quadrophenia’, which I bought in the early seventies. It told the story of one young man during the time of the Mods and Rockers in England. Accompanying the Double-LP was a black and white picture book depicting typical British scenes relating to the various tracks. One track was called “5:15” and related to the train from London to Brighton, which left London at that time. The picture showed a young man sitting – just like I did now – between two smartly-dressed older gentlemen in a train compartment just like this one.
As the train pulled out of the station I felt distinctly woozy – no doubt due to the beer I had consumed on the ferry.

When we came closer to London, rows and rows of ugly looking houses came into sight. Coming from a background of individually designed big houses with gardens and a forest near by, I puzzled why anyone would want to live in a house which is squeezed in between lots of other houses, has no garden but only a concrete yard and looking exactly the same as all other houses – old, dirty and gloomy.
As the train slowly passed by, you could literally see into the lounges and bedrooms of those places and I was amazed to find that amongst rubbish and the obvious air pollution, people had their washing hanging out in the back-yard or out of a back-window.
Try as I might, I could not find anything ‘nice’ there. No pretty flower-beds, no freshly painted doors or windows, no yard which was white-washed or sand-blasted or even tidy! I had seen these rows of houses before – in old English war-films and watching Margaret Rutherford as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.
Yup! Somewhere between Ostend and London I had slipped into a parallel universe, governed by a clock which is constantly losing time. Whereas the rest of the world reads 1980, this universe can have at best progressed to 1962 and I was stuck in it!

Without warning and as if someone had just fired a starting-pistol the train came alive with people getting up and collecting up their various suitcases, bags and children swiftly followed by the train jolting to a halt and before you could say ‘Mind the gap’, my luggage and I were alone in the compartment. After laying out my luggage in usual ‘bags – rucksack – bags’ formation I once again took up the crouching position, looped my arms through the rucksack belts and grabbing my bags on the way back up, squeezed through the train door onto the platform at London Victoria.
As anyone will tell you, when you are a stranger in London and weighed down by gear similar in size and weight to a small cow, then the London Underground is not for you! “You need a cab?” the man suddenly standing opposite me asked. “What??” I enquired. “You need transport?” he replied. “Kings Cross Station?” I asked back. “Yes, yes!” he replied, ending my first successful conversation on British soil. He took my bags and I followed him to his car. There was no taxi sign on top, it was not black like most of the others and there was no clock inside showing the fare-price but I did not care – I had found transportation across London in record time and without having to wait. After an impressive journey through the back-roads of London, avoiding most traffic jams and trying to avoid the question and answer game Taxi drivers all over the world just love to play with their customers we pulled up at Kings Cross Station.
“Here you are! Better than taking the Tube, huh?!” he smiled. “Tube?” I puzzled. “Underground train!” he explained. “Aah! Yes!” I motioned, giving him a thumbs up sign. I paid him, not knowing whether it was a fair price or if I even received the correct change. It was only many moons later when I visited London again that I realised that there are many of these ‘helpful’ people touting for fares and charging double. On this day however I did not know and I did not care, as I was in good time to catch the onward train to York.

Kings Cross station provided me with my first lesson in what it means to be British.
Having figured out which platform the train for York was leaving, I noticed that the platforms had gates, which were closed. Asking a guard for an explanation, I was told that the train was being cleaned and I should join the queue which had formed in an orderly fashion along painted black lines on the station floor. As my eyes fixed on the first column of people (3 persons) in this line and wandered along the seemingly never-ending rows of people to the back of the queue, my heart sunk as I realised, that there was no way, I would be able to obtain a seat for the 4-hour journey ahead, as the queue was resembling the train in both length and breadth.
Maybe being German might not be so bad after all, I thought, as I joined the queue – at the front!

The British Rail Shuffle and the Comedian
“Oi! What do you think you are doing?? The end of the queue is back there”, an irate, red-faced old man in row eight spewed out. Figuring, that an old man would not want to start a fight with a 24-year old, I replied, lying through my teeth,
“Tut mir leid! Verstehe kein Wort! (Sorry, I don’t understand a word)”, whilst turning to face front, just in time to see the guard open the platform gates.
I picked up my bags and led the queue to the train, pursued by words from the crowd such as:
“Cheeky beggar”, “Well, I never!”, “Typical” and “Bloody Germans”.

The train was somewhat newer than I expected and the compartments in the old trains had given way to a long line of repeating pattern of 3 seats, one table and 3 facing seats. Inside the train it was stiflingly hot and by the time I had managed to store my belongings I was sweating like a sinner in church. More and more people shuffled into and through the ‘coach’. I did wonder why they called the wagons ‘coaches’. I always thought that coaches were pulled by horses – such as ‘stage-coach’ in the old Wild West??! How confusing!
As we pulled out of the station I reflected back on my first lessons:
· Wagons are Coaches! Taxis are Cabs! Undergrounds are Tubes!
· Germans are seen as brash, loud, insensitive people, unlike the pleasant, courteous and well-mannered Brits.
· If you are British, you queue! Making people understand that you are a cheeky, ignorant German, will exempt you from queuing, as long as you can stand the verbal abuse.
My initial pangs of guilt melted away as I scanned the landscape outside from my rather comfy window-seat.
As fields and little villages passed by and the shadows became longer, I thought to myself: That’s me! Not Erik the Viking, but Erik the German!

During the next 5 hours on the afore-mentioned train, I tried to make ‘heads or tails’ of the ‘British Rail’ set-up.
So, let me get this right:
Instead of standing well spread on a platform ready to board the trains various coaches, everyone queues in long lines across the station (thus presenting a human barrier for anyone wishing to walk through the station) for some considerable time.
Fire the starting pistol and everyone runs onto the platform to board a late arriving train with insufficient ‘coaches’, hopping on the first coach they come to and spilling into the adjacent carriages.
Many then spend the next hours standing in one of the open-plan carriages triggering, without meaning to, the automatic divider-doors between the carriages, which for the ensuing hours open and close constantly by omitting a very annoying “Swish” noise. This is only interrupted by the even more annoying crackling of the tannoy system and the guard apologising for the 5th time about the delay of the train, which (so rumours have it) is due to a signal failure in the Selby area – wherever that is?!

Another masterpiece of British planning is the availability of a “Buffet-car” which, as the guard points out after each stop, ‘is situated towards the back of the train and offers light refreshments such as teas, coffees and sandwiches’.
Would it not have been better positioned in the middle?? Is it me???
Thus starts what I lovingly call the ‘British Rail Shuffle’, as an unprecedented amount of people decide to throw caution (and personal safety) to the wind and squeeze their way past hundreds of other people standing in the gangways to get to the buffet-car, some 10 carriages away in order to buy sandwiches which, as I now know, taste awful for prices defying belief and thus supporting the closest example of daylight robbery since the good old days of Robin Hood.

They are in turn met by people returning from same car and laden with drinks and food, completing the ‘shuffle’ as people, unfortunate enough to sit near the centre-aisle, receive unwanted gifts of hot chocolate and tea over their shirts, skirts or trousers.
Every time this ‘high-speed’ train stops in the middle of open countryside and without explanation, an acrid smell wafts over from the fat lady sitting two rows up from me, who by now is sweating profusely and who apparently does not believe in the use of deodorants.
The feeling of nausea and the slipping into the unconscious is suddenly halted by some kid screaming his head off, closely followed by the screeching voice of his mother advising him that he “is asking for a good hiding!”
Everybody in earshot agrees with this well-rounded analysis but even though the child is asking for it, he does not get it and thus carries on screaming.
Looking around me, I seem to be the only person adversely affected by this as, so it seems, the ‘stiff upper lip’ British dare not make a fuss but instead carry on pretending to read their newspapers or being engaged in conversation.
As for me, I by now want to wring the little sh*t’s neck and throw him off the train.
Patience was never one of my strong points.

Thus the hours creep by interrupted only by the guard’s proud announcement, that ‘he it delighted to advise us that we have made up some lost time and are now only 30 minutes late!”, to which people smile at each other with words like:
“Great, looks like we are on time!” and “See, I told you we’d be on time!”

On time??? Maybe it is British Rail who caused the slowing down of this universe?!
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching York - the next stop is York – York your next stop!” squawks the guard over the tannoy in an attempt to rearrange the same words in a different sequence.
Don’t know about you but I reckon that this could be ‘YORK’?!?
Wrestling myself through the masses, knocking people unconscious with my back-pack I arrive at the exit and panic, as there are no handles on the inside of the doors to open them. Just in time, some kind person opens the window, reaches out and opens the door for me from the outside, as I finally manage to extricate myself from the steely monster, half falling onto the platform and being swung round by my back-pack, looking in disbelief and puzzlement at the train which is already pulling out.
“It’s so that the kids don’t open the doors and fall out!” the kind gentleman shouts as he waves at me from the train.
I would have sworn in English but didn’t know how to!
Tired, sweaty, exhausted and vulnerable, what I don’t need right now, is having to climb up and down some stairs in order to bridge some other platforms. Alas, that is what I got!

Walking out of the station I was confronted by the most enormous and impressive city wall I had ever seen. It was raised up on top of a mount of earth and stretching as far as the eye could see.
There was the obligatory queue for the taxis – sorry – ‘cabs’, all of which were cars, similar to our Mercedes-Benz taxis. Datsun Cherrys to be precise!
When it was my turn I pointed to the name of the guesthouse on a piece of paper and the taxi driver nodded knowingly and started the engine.
We drove through a gate in the wall and over a bridge, with the wall now stretching in all its glory to my left and the York Minster rising up in front of me.
York looked like a replicate of a town from centuries ago and I was pleasantly surprised by its beauty and character. As I was drinking in the views I promised myself to come and explore – tomorrow being Sunday. Having crossed the river we turned left, leaving the city walls behind. Two minutes later we stopped in front of the Wold View guesthouse. Paying the driver I wondered if “Wold” was a misspelling of the word “World” or if I once again had not paid attention during my English lessons.
I made a mental note to find out.

“I am Erik, the German!” I said, stretching out my hand. Nobody shook it but I was greeted by the owners with a cheery
“Aah, nice to see you! So, the train was on time, huh?”

The Brits certainly seem to agree with my father and if my English would have been good enough, I would have replied:
“It’s just like my father used to say:
‘Punctuality is like garnish! - Nice, but superfluous to requirements!’”

It’s an inexplicable fact of life that whenever you have bulky or heavy items to shift, such as when you are moving somewhere, your room is always at the far end of the top floor and there was no exception to this fact at the Wold View guesthouse, where I was allotted a rather small room at the very top under the roof. Having been spoiled at home by a rather large family home with large rooms, this was not the size of room I had hoped for. Once I had dropped my bags and rucksack the room was full but I did not care as I collapsed on the bed, glad to have survived the journey and actually arrived at my destination.
I was hungry but too excited to eat the remaining sandwiches, which my mother had kindly made up and packed for me. My mother’s idea of ‘packing some sandwiches’ always includes a gazillion sandwiches, fruit cut to size, drinks, a glass, a knife, napkins, chocolate bar (which incidentally was melted to a blob) and stops just short of a table cloth. Bless her!!

As I was lying there with my eyes closed just reflecting on the journey there was a knock on the door.
I opened it to find the guesthouse owners, Mr. & Mrs. Kitel, standing there inviting me to join them for a theatre visit. Having just spent the whole day travelling, the very last thing I wanted to do right then was to visit a theatre. Theatre for me conjured up visions of opera with boring story-lines and fat ladies singing teeth-melting Italian songs in high-pitched voices and therefore scored about minus 10 on my clap-o-meter. Alas, I needed allies if I was to survive in this strange and foreign land and so I agreed to come along to see someone called “Ken Dodd”, apparently a comedian.
“You will love it, Erik! He is so funny!!” was the excited assurance from Mrs. Kitel, who got quite animated at the mere thought of it all.
So I was bundled into a car and driven back to York before I could even freshen up.
As we arrived and were all seated, the curtain parted to the entrance of a strange-looking man with wild hair and incredibly goofy teeth, waving a couple of feather-dusters around in a ‘windmilling’ sort of way. He no sooner started speaking, that the audience began roaring with laughter. As for me, I did not understand a word of it and spend the next two hours laughing along out of politeness or laughing at other people’s laughter.
However, it had to be said, that this man on the stage was very funny to look at.

There was a well-known episode back in my Grammar school days. My English was pretty poor and my reading in this language was very staccato, earning me the title of “The Preacher”, as each sentence was delivered very slow and deliberate. The shout of “Preach on, Erik”, was frequently heard during English lessons.
Why am I telling you this??? Because it will make you aware of how meagre my knowledge of this beautiful language really was when I first arrived in York.
The first days and weeks in England were therefore riddled with puzzlement and misunderstanding due to this fact, resulting in some justified laughs from the British public.
The conversation with Mrs. Kitel during the interval of the performance was as staccato as my initial grammar school experience and went somewhat like this:
“Did you enjoy this?”
“Wasn’t he great?”
“He is so funny and his timing is fantastic, isn’t it?”
“Which bit did you find most hilarious?”
“What do you call ‘tickling sticks’ in German?”
“Did you understand any of what I just said?”
“What, please?”
“Do you un-der-stand?”

Sipping a drink and listening to the wall of foreign language all around me made me chastise me for not paying more attention during lessons. How on earth was I ever going to catch up with the mountain of vocabulary sadly missing in my repertoire?
As we were driving back to the guesthouse Mr. and Mrs. Kitel were still laughing about the performance, reciting jokes from it and glancing at me in the mirror for approval. My cheeks were hurting from repeated false grinning, my back was hurting from dragging my rucksack around, my behind was hurting from sitting most of the day and my eyes were hurting from being tired.
And there it was – the first day in England done and dusted, as I retired to my little room under the roof at the top of the guesthouse. My hand hit the light switch, my head hit the pillow and my last thought was: “It’s very late; I will have to sleep faster!”

Buses, Bars and the British Inquisition
The next day, Sunday, I eventually awoke to sunshine beaming through my roof-window, beckoning me to crow-bar my head off of my pillow and get up to explore the city.
As I arrived downstairs in the dining room for breakfast, I was greeted with the phrase:
“Good morning, Erik! English or Continental?”
I stretched my hand out, (which again nobody shook)
“I am continental!” I replied truthfully.
“No, not YOU – The BREAKFAST!” was the reply.
This was going to be another long day, I thought to myself as I shrugged my shoulders and in the absence of a menu I was not quite sure of what the problem was.

Eventually a plate of bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, mushrooms and tomatoes arrived with some thick brown gooey sauce on the side and a mug of tea.
I dissected the bacon by taking off the rind, discarded the black pudding as well as the tomatoes, both of which I hate and pushed aside the very suspect looking sausages.
This now left me to enjoy the bacon, eggs and mushrooms – all of which tasted a bit bland. ‘To hell with it’, I thought, slapping some brown sauce on the bacon.
WOW!!! Now that’s more like it!!
Brown sauce on bacon, on eggs, on mushrooms and the owner wanted to know, if I wanted some ‘breakfast’ with my sauce – a question which, little did I realise, would repeat itself many times over in the coming years.

Looking around the dining room, there were three other gentlemen sitting each on their own at various tables and, as all of us had finished our breakfast and just sat there sipping tea, the British inquisition started:

“So, you are German?! Where are you from? I am from Glasgow!”
“Glasgow, huh?! Nice city! I am from Liverpool and just made a pit-stop on my way to Scarborough!”
“I am from Scarborough, just here for a weekend! So, you are German, huh?! Where in Germany are you from then?”
“Yes! – Nice to meet you!”
“Are you from East-Germany or West-Germany?”
“Which one?”
“I am Erik, the German!”
“Pleased to meet you, Erik. We know you are German but where from?”
“Yes, but which town?”
“Ah, Cologne!”

This conversation went on for a good 30 minutes and those people could be forgiven for thinking that I was ‘thick’. What they however did not realise is, that to a German the thick accents from Glasgow, Liverpool and Yorkshire sound nothing like English. They might as well have spoken Swahili!

Thoroughly lost and fed up with just smiling sweetly as if I had any clue what they were asking me, I slowly backed out of the room.

“Bus to town?” I asked Mr. Kitel, who explained that there was a bus stop outside the Rowntree Mackintosh factory next door, pointing to his left. As I walked outside I saw the factory, which looked more like a big school building from the last century. At least I would not have far to go when I would start work tomorrow, I thought. There was indeed a bus stop there with several people waiting in a perfectly formed line and not wanting to repeat the experience from Kings Cross, I added myself to the end of it. A typically English double-decker bus arrived and the sign at the front read “1 – Chapelfields”. I expected to see ‘York’ and did not have a clue where Chapelfields was but since the bus was pointing in the direction of York, where we went to the theatre the night before; I boarded it and followed the other people in the queue up the stairs to the upper deck where I sat down.
The upper deck was occupied by various people busy dragging on cigarettes and the top half of the deck was engulfed in a haze of smoke.
‘How cool’ I thought, getting out my packet joining them. This would not be allowed back home. A lady conductor dressed in black appeared with a bored look on her face asking “Where to?”
“York!” I replied. “Whereabouts in York?” she probed.
“Just York” I shrugged. She rolled her eyes, shook her head, mumbled some amount and held her hand out. I placed a Pound note into her hand and she adjusted the little wheels on the contraption around her waist and turned a handle like an organ grinder. The ‘organ’ spat out a piece of paper which she handed me together with some coins and no sooner had she moved on I recognised the theatre building on my left and made my way back down the stairs and off the bus.
As I stood there, surrounded by ancient walls, double-decker buses and foreign- sounding accents, I thought to myself: ‘Right, this is it! It’s sink or swim!’
I deduced that the best way of getting the hang of living here was to try everything and keep eyes and ears open.

I had correctly guessed that the city was lying just on the other side of the wall and I could see a gate just to my left, which I went through. On the other side of the gate was a narrow street with ancient shops selling antiques, books and memorabilia.
I entered a touristy looking shop and purchased a map of York.

Finding my position on the map I walked towards the Minster, which was just around the corner. I was amazed how clean it looked, considering the fact that it had been standing here in its present form since 1220 A.D.
It was only much later that I learned that the cathedral, unlike the Cologne cathedral, had been cleaned by sand-blasting in 1967, restoring the original sandy colour of the stones.

As I got closer, I found myself in the middle of a medley of languages such as Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Most of the people were engrossed in reading guide books whilst others were posing for or snapping away at their cameras taking photographs.

I decided to have a look inside and was not disappointed. From the inside the already impressive looking coloured glass windows were elevated to their real beauty by the sun shining through them from the outside. There were people sitting in the rows of pews just marvelling at the grandeur of the place or maybe having a quiet word with the God, it was placed here to glorify. At that time I was not a believer but could nevertheless sense the awesomeness and majesty it represented.

I took up the offer to purchase and light a candle to symbolise . . . well, I didn’t really know what. Life maybe? I was certainly glad to be alive and glad to have the opportunity to be in a foreign country and a town as beautiful as York. It just seemed the right thing to do and surely couldn’t hurt.
For a nominal fee you could pick up some head-phones and listen to the history of York and the Minster in your own language – in my case “German”.

Being a “here and now” sort of person I have never had much interest in stuffy historical facts, as they didn’t seem to have any bearings on my life now or in the future. Thus, listening to some (as I envisaged him to be) sad old man with a beard and prescription spectacles wearing a cardigan droning on about historical dates and facts had me quite bored after about . . . the second sentence coming through the head-phones in a monotone, ‘pay attention, I might ask questions later’ sort of way.
I had taken A-Level History at school but before you get any false ideas let me tell you that the only reason for this can be found in the fact that I had to select four subjects for the A-Levels. Since my linguistic skills in English, French and Latin where as undernourished as my knowledge of Physics, Chemistry and Maths, it did not leave a busting lot to choose from. Neither womanising skills nor drinking skills were on offer so History was it.
There are of course plenty of books available to all those wanting to know everything about the history of York and I would not want to compete with any of them. So here then is the history of York and the Minster as ‘translated by Erik’s brain’ version.

Looks like York has always been a magnet for tourists throughout the ages. They were of course not called tourists but, like me, must have found York irresistible as they all wanted to stay longer than just a few days, thus forcing the next tourists to go and evict them forcefully.
There were Anglo-Saxons bringing their Dash hounds, Danes bringing Carlsberg Export, Norwegian Vikings bringing bad manners of rape and pillaging as well as syphilis and of course those pesky Romans, always looking for a place where they can go in order to straighten out roads and find ‘volunteers’ for the circus in Rome.
York Minster started its history of building and re-building somewhere in 627 A.D. when some architecturally challenged people decided to build a wooden church in the centre of what was then merely a village. Human nature being what it is always wants to improve on things perfectly ‘o.k.’ for the purpose at hand. This forced the next generation to tear the building down and replace it with a stone building which, according to them, would be less likely to combustion by fire.
In 741 A.D. however – guess what – the building burned to the ground only to be replaced by an even bigger and better new church containing no less than 30 altars.
In 1069 the church was badly damaged in a struggle between the Danes, Normans, and Saxons, all of which insisted that the others should leave for not paying their hotel bills.
The Danes phoned home complaining about their treatment and whinging on about ‘discrimination’ resulting in their families coming over to ‘sort things out’!
They certainly did and when they arrived in 1075 A.D. , having finally figured out the badly written directions of their cousins, destroyed the church completely. So there!
That didn’t go down well with the Normans, who went berserk and send the Danes back to Denmark with less than a sandwich and a packet of crisps (my Mum was not yet born – if you get my meaning).
The new Norman Archbishop of York rebuilt the Minster, beginning in 1080 but in 1137 A.D. and before you could say ‘lighting conductor’, the Minster suffered severe fire damage yet again.
Are you still with me? Do you indeed care to hear, that the next re-build of the Minster began in 1154 and by the time it was finished, looked like a prostitute amongst Royalty – totally out of place?
Over the next decades, the Minster was rebuild in stages yet again several times as new ‘tourists’ came along, took pieces of it away as trophies or changed its looks to their liking.
As my eyes glazed over with the squawking of the history teacher still continuing through the head-phones I was considering taking a piece of the Minster away myself but everything I saw was too heavy to carry.
I forget who stayed in the end but looking at human breeding pattern, I guess in some way, they all did!

Dropping the head-phones I walked around the Minster, admiring the impressive array of multi-coloured glass windows as well as the size and height of this place.

Leaving the Minster by the side entrance I could see a pedestrian street in front of me beckoning me to investigate. Consulting my map I found its name to be Stonegate. This was a bit confusing as I could not see a gate anywhere but a little guide book in German I perused in the corner shop there cleared this up. The city gates are called “Bar”, such as Monkbar, Micklegate Bar or Bootham Bar and the word “Gate” comes from the Viking word “Gata” meaning “Street”.
I was immediately thinking back to tubes, cabs and coaches!

Ambling along Stonegate I soaked up the atmosphere of this old-fashioned looking little street.
Every house and shop had some original feature to display. There were old windows, wooden beams, small doors or crooked walls, to name but a few. There were shops selling Scottish blankets and whisky, antique crockery, pictures and frames, the odd tearoom, an old pub and even a church, which was set back in one of the alleyways coming off it.
Even though it was the middle of summer I couldn’t help but imagining what this must look like in the evening under a blanket of snow. Just like a picture postcard from the past.
At the other end of Stonegate, there was a square with a red and white building facing me. The map stated “Mansion House”, which didn’t mean anything to me. To my left however there was a glass fronted building which did mean something to me!
Betty’s Café Tearooms!
Sightseeing is a thirsty past-time and “Betty” was definitely beckoning me to stop and pay a visit.
I had no sooner sat down as a woman dressed as ‘a servant’ (?) came up to me and asked: “Cream Tea?”
‘Tea with cream?’ I puzzled but I nodded and thought to myself ‘When in Rome . . ‘.

Whilst waiting for my tea, I surveyed the other clientele around the tearoom and without wanting to sound condescending, it has to be said that the combined weight of the customers present was sufficient to sink another Titanic or similar sized boat. It was as if someone had fooled overweight people into believing that cream-cakes are the quickest way to reduce weight and size. The mathematical formula seemed to be: The bigger the waist, the bigger the cream cake.
The rattling of cups and saucers broke my thought as ‘the servant’ filled my little round table with them as well as some sort of cake, whipped cream, jam and tea.
“This is wrong! I ordered cream tea!” I protested.
“Yes! This IS cream-tea!” was the reply as she walked away.
‘Aha! Just as well’, I thought feeling hungry anyway.

Observing other customers I copied the fine art of eating ‘cream tea’ and I must admit that this tasted ‘jolly good, indeed!’

As the bill arrived I made a mental note not to do this again too soon, as it was rather expensive and I was about as rich as my command on the English language.
Leaving Betty’s Tearooms, I stood in front of the Mansion House wondering what it was and who lived there. Another shopping street to the left, Coney Street, drew me in and I followed it, window-shopping all the way. The map showed a bridge over the river Ouse and I turned sharp right to have a look.
I must say that I had rarely seen so many people out on foot on a Sunday but was no longer surprised, given that there was so much to see in a relatively compact area.
Reaching the bridge I looked along the river, which was on one side teeming with barges, moored there and with the odd pleasure boat slowly floating along, hardly disturbing the mirror image on the water of the buildings on either side.

Next to and just a few steps down from the bridge there was an inviting looking pub called “The Kings Arms” with pebble stone paving from the pub to the river’s edge.
This area was covered by wooden tables and benches and a multitude of people were engaged in conversation, sitting in groups of 4 or 6, drinking ale, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sunshine reflecting back from the river.
The view before me was too tempting to resist and my feet took on a life of their own as they walked down the steps to join the picture.
Sitting there amidst the chatting and laughing crowd, sipping beer and being utterly at peace I thought ‘Someone pinch me! This is just too good to be true!’
My Dad had obviously been right once again and I was glad that the place he chose to send me to was not London.
Gone were any thoughts of home, of buckling under the strain of rucksacks and bags, of work and of anxiety. London couldn’t hold a candle compared to this slice of heaven.
A glance at my watch brought me back to reality. Holy smoke! It was almost 6:30 p.m. and high time to get back to the guesthouse.
There would be plenty of time to explore more of York over the coming weeks and months, I mused as I finished my pint and walked over the bridge to find the nearest bus stop, which was only a few steps away.
I could see the bus coming around the corner and tried to get my speech ready. ‘Rowntree Mackintosh?’
The bus came . . . and went straight past me! ‘?????’
Maybe not a normal service bus, I puzzled.
Another bus arrived . . . and again did not stop!
On the opposite side of the road I saw a lady waiting for her bus and as it arrived, she flagged it down as if hailing a Taxi, eeehm . . I mean ‘cab’ and sure enough . . it stopped!
Well, how was I supposed to know that?
I flagged down the next bus, which dutifully stopped and asked the driver:
“Rowntree Mackintosh???”
“No, Mate, wrong side! You want to be on the other side of this road! But you are too late! It’s Sunday and the last bus left 10 minutes ago!”

As I started the long walk back retracing my steps back over the bridge, along Coney Street, past Betty’s Tearooms, down Stonegate, past the Minster, through Petergate Bar and along the long road from the theatre towards the Wold View guesthouse I remembered the words of my father, who used to say:
“Whatever you haven’t got in your brain, you have to have in your legs!”
How very true!
Nevertheless, I had a great day and had fallen in love with York, so I didn’t care.

Work – As sweet as Chocolate
Monday arrived with a knock on my door by Mrs. Kitel, the lady of the guesthouse and with it my first day at Rowntree Mackintosh chocolate factory.
Yesterday’s sun had been replaced by grey skies and yesterday’s jeans and T-shirt were replaced with suit and tie as I made my way down to breakfast.
Otherwise the routine seemed familiar. The same outstretched hand remained unshaken, the same bacon, eggs, sausage arrangement arrived and the same ‘brown sauce’ joke ensued.

Walking across the little railway bridge and past the bus stop I turned into Rowntree Mackintosh territory and reported at the gate, giving my name and handing over the letter, which had been sent to me back in Germany. After a swift phone call I was escorted through the factory, which had metal flooring throughout, to the purchasing department.
I noticed how utterly clean everything was, despite the fact that this was quite obviously not a new building. Wonderful smells wafted across my path, as we passed the various production sections.
A smell of chocolate and sherry at the “Black Magic”-line, chocolate and biscuit smells at the “Kit-Kat”- and “Drifter”-Line, a biting smell which took your breath away at the “Polo-Mint”-line.
We finally got towards the back of the factory, where the offices were located and walked along old corridors, up and down flights of stairs, around corners and arrived at an open-plan office with glass panelled offices located all around it.
There I was introduced to one of the main buyers:

“Hello, you must be Erik! Pleased to meet you! My name is Keith.”
“Hello, Mr. Keith”
“No, not Mr. Keith, just Keith!”

Just Keith? How can this be? This is not good enough. How am I expected to address this person if I do not know his surname?
In Germany, where at all times it seems to be very important what you are and any ‘status’ you can achieve swells the chest and offers opportunity to command someone around, you absolutely do not offer to be on first-name terms to anyone, except when he or she is of equal standing and it might be advantageous to your career progression! Otherwise it is just not done!
I however was a mere minion from nowhere and even though I acknowledged his correction, I could not bring myself to call him by his Christian name for some days – reverting rather back to ‘Sir’ and the odd slip of “Mr. Keith”.

I was assigned to another person by the name of Martin Frompton.
He was a man around the age of 40 with kind features and a hairstyle not unlike a young George Harrison. His voice, accompanied by a warm smile was deep and reassuringly easygoing and I liked him instantly. He certainly seemed to have a way of making you feel welcome and at ease.
Unlike the other men around the department, who shed their jackets once at work, Martin seemed to never part with his and the creases at the back made me wonder if he might actually sleep in it as well.

Over the next months he took it upon himself to introduce me to all things British (or at least ‘Yorkshire’) and we became good friends.

“C’mon, I’ll show you around and introduce you to a few people!” he said softly and for the next five minutes, all you could hear around the open plan office was conversations like:

“Erik, this is Henry.” “Hello, I am Erik, the German!” “Pleased to meet you, Erik the German.”
. . . and
“Jean, please meet Erik.” “Good morning, Jean!” “Very nice to meet you, Erik.”

All along I was hoping no one would ask me questions and thus expose my lack of English.

After I had met most people sitting there, without remembering any names whatsoever (a problem that had always dogged me and has persisted to this day), Martin introduced me to ‘the most important room for miles’ – i.e. the tea/coffee break room.
“Are you a smoker?” he enquired and his eyes lit up like a Marlboro cigarette when I admitted that I was.
“Good!” he laughed, giving me the ‘thumbs-up’, “In that case you will be able to breathe!”
What on earth did he mean?
All became clear as he opened the door to the tea break room.
A heady cloud of thick smoke billowed out from inside and Martin asked: “Coffee?”
“Yes, thank you!” I replied, sitting down on one of the four rows of yellow-coloured seats. The whole room was without window and seated about 20 people. As I was waiting for Martin to pour the coffee, people constantly came and went, lighting up cigarettes as if there was no tomorrow, eating chocolates and drinking teas or coffees. We had a smoke and I found it fairly easy to talk to Martin, who made every effort to counteract my linguistic shortcomings by speaking slowly and avoiding complicated sentences.

I found out that this was the only room on the entire floor where you were allowed to smoke – hence it’s importance! The walls reflected the yellow colour of the seats but in fairness it has to be said, that this was mostly due to nicotine discolouring of what used to be a beige wall.
During my stay at Rowntrees it seemed, that the longest period we stayed away from ‘the most important room for miles’ was rarely more than 30 minutes – and we were no exception to other smokers!

At first I felt very guilty for disappearing from my desk every half hour or so, always waiting for Martin or Henry or Audrey to grab me on their way past but I soon realised, that this was by no means frowned upon.
“What are you doing for lunch?” Martin enquired. “Do you like fish & chips?”
Now, in German fish is fish and chips are crisps. I couldn’t quite see how crisps would be a good accompaniment to fish but according to Martin it was a perfect marriage. Never having tried it, how could I disagree?!
Sitting in ‘the most important room’ Audrey took down an order for various portions of fish & chips and, stubbing out her half smoked cigarette, disappeared.
She duly reappeared some 10 minutes later, handing everyone a package wrapped in ordinary newspaper. “Here you are, Erik, - fish & chips with mushy peas!” she beamed, handing me mine.

For the average sophisticated German, being presented with fish, chips (which were no crisps) covered in salt and swimming in vinegar accompanied by a green porridge served on an old newspaper is quite a shock. Have these people never heard of hygiene??
But, as one should try everything once, I did and as it was . . . it tasted absolutely delicious!
As I was sitting in the haze of this hot room after lunch relaxing, the excitement of the day caught up with me and I felt very sleepy.
I was painfully awakened by my cigarette end burning the finger of my own hand.
Most of my initial work at Rowntrees involved some sort of filing, which suited me fine and gave me a chance to acclimatise myself with people, conditions and surroundings.
I was pleased to see Friday had arrived and with it the conclusion of my first week in York. My language skills were improving very slowly all the time and people at Rowntrees were very friendly and seemed to like me. I got the impression that they saw me a little bit like a mascot, which I did not mind! It was quite nice to be different besides which. . Germans have a reputation of producing ‘quality’.
Friday lunchtime approached and Martin suggested that we visit the local pub for what he called ‘a bite, a beer and a bulls-eye’!?
With this, various people piled into three cars and drew up in front of a pub some five minutes later. I was asked what I would like to drink. As I would never have even thought of visiting a pub for lunchtime in Germany I replied: “A Coke, please”.
“You can’t drink Coke”, was the swift reply, “Have a pint of Yorkshire Bitter!”

That lunch-time I learned various new things, which I filed to memory under ‘interesting, but stupid’:
In England, there is no problem with ordering and drinking beer at lunch-times!
Darts is a game where you throw arrows across the room into a round board, trying to score as many points as possible, which in turn will reduce your points??!
The bulls-eye is the red dot in the middle of the board and is most difficult to hit, yet it does not yield the highest score if you actually manage to hit it??!
Hitting people with the darts is seen as unsporting whereas hitting the wires on the board and bouncing off, thus hitting people is seen as ‘hard luck!”??!
Chicken and chips in a basket is just that! – Chicken and chips in a wicker basket!
Drinking just one pint at lunchtime is not an option, so don’t even try! Drinking one pint before the chicken and chips in a basket arrives improves your scoring ability (points and people) at darts.
You know that you have just about finished your third pint when one or more of the following occurs:
90 minutes have passed since you left work
30 minutes ago you should have been back at work
There is a 15 % chance of any work getting done in the afternoon
There is 0 % chance that anyone really cares
There is a 100 % certainty that you absolutely will need a toilet NOW!
Now, what was the first thing that happened back at the ranch??
Work? Nope!!
A visit to ‘the most important room for miles’ for a well-earned fag and a coffee!
Not the healthiest pastime, I’m sure.
Alas, being only 24 and fancy-free, did I really care? I don’t think so! Weekend!

A week passed by during which I actually did some constructive work but it was now high time to go and find myself a flat, as the booking at the Wold View guesthouse came to an end.
Martin made some phone calls and suggested I take a trip across town to see ‘Marjory Porter letting agency’.
So I hopped on the bus for a trip across to the other side of town where a stern-looking Marjory Porter ushered me into her office and, shuffling through a pile of papers with details and pictures of properties on them, pulled out the one she had ear-marked for me.
I was bundled into a car and driven along the York racecourse and up a small hill to a row of houses, not unlike the ones I had seen and moaned about sitting on the train from Dover to London.
Opening the door we found ourselves in a dark, dingy hallway with stairs going up on the right hand side. The flat for rent was the ground floor one. To the left was a door leading into the living room. She unlocked the room to reveal a small, square room with hideous brown curtains drawn across the bay windows overlooking the road. We drew the curtains back, which hardly increased the light in the room but exposed a horrid looking, patterned wall-to-wall carpet in grey, red and green and an even uglier wallpaper with Chinese motif. Panning around the room from the window there was a small television on a wooden stand, an old-fashioned fireplace, an armchair from Victorian times, the door and a grey sofa.
I flicked the light switch but nothing happened. “The gas and electricity works via a meter” Marjory said, fumbling in her pockets and inserting a 50 pence coin into a little black box at the far end of the room. Twisting a little knob on the box, the coin fell into a repository below and the light came on. I wish I hadn’t bothered, I thought as I looked at the dim light shining through the dirty, saucer-shaped glass hiding the bulb. There were several dead insects lying on top of the saucer, throwing their contours through the glass.
We went back to the hallway and into the room bordering the living room.
She switched on the light to expose a dark red shag pile carpet and an enormous looking old bed in a dark wooden frame draped by a pink bed cover. The bed virtually took up the whole room from the door to the dirty window at the back.
Outside the window was a concrete yard bordered to the left by a red brick wall and on the right by, as I assumed correctly, the kitchen. At the far end there was a wooden double gate, which had been painted brown at some stage but the paint was now flaking badly, exposing patches of rotting wood.
Moving back out and along to the back of the hallway was the afore mentioned kitchen, sporting to the left a door to the yard, a sink, an old gas cooker and to the right a table with 2 chairs and a fireplace, similar to the one in the living room.

The ceiling tiles, which were made out of thin polystyrene, were in places curling at the edges and showed numerous patterns of old, dried watermarks. A neon strip light at the centre of the ceiling catered for ‘ambiance’! Underneath the neon strip as a curious looking contraption made of wood which, as I found out, is used for drying clothes on. Only the British could contemplate drying their clothes in the kitchen, where you cook fish, bacon and God only knows what other smelly things, I thought.
‘Have they not heard of tumble dryers’, I wondered before reminding myself that due to being in this parallel universe the date was 1962 and tumble dryers had not been invented yet. Beyond the kitchen was the bathroom and toilet!! Never in all my days have I seen a kitchen linked to a bathroom! It was grotesque – and so was the bathtub and toilet, sporting as it was the grime and limestone of a thousand years. The loo seat seemed to be made of a foam material covered with plastic and I vowed that my behind would never have to face it.

There were more cracks in the wall than wrinkles on an old woman’s face and as all the above mentioned rooms were connected via a hallway, which was open to anybody such as the people living upstairs (more about them later), any visitors, etc. you needed to lock all rooms at all times.
Nevertheless, I decided to take the place since it was the only one I could just about afford and at least it was near the big green park known as the Knavesmire, where the York racecourse is situated and yet still in walking distance to the town.
So we drove back to the agency where Marjory copied my passport details, got me to sign my life away and took two monthly payments off me. In return I got a bunch of keys – one for every door.
As I was sitting back at my desk in Rowntrees on that Monday I somehow was in no hurry to get back to the flat, wondering if I had made a mistake.
It was only during the next week, when the lodgers from upstairs returned from their holidays that I was almost certain of this.
Since I didn’t have many options, I surely was not to blame . . . Was I??
I was just about to leave the flat one morning, when there was the jingle of a key in the front door and I was confronted with a couple in their mid 30s.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I am Erik the German and I live here” I replied, pointing to the downstairs living room and stretching out my hand which nobody shook.
Why is this, I wondered. Do the British have a phobia, fearing they would catch terminal diseases by shaking hands or is this just too personal?
I just couldn’t figure it out. I must remember to ask Martin about this! He shakes hands all the time and seems to get away with it!
They gave their name (which, if you have paid attention previously, naturally eludes me) and we went our separate ways. Me, out and they, in!
Returning home later that evening I watched some TV and decided to hit the sack in order to be fresh for the next day.
I was just about ready to take the fluffy pink slow-train to Snore-donia, when I perceived some squeaking, followed by more squeaking interlaced with knocking, followed by even more squeaking interlaced with knocking topped up with loud moaning and finally banging, squeaking, knocking, moaning and shouts of “Yes, YES!!” All I could think was . . No! NO!
Give them their due . . this carried on for a good 45 minutes during which I wondered several times, if they were actually just outside my room or in fact about to break through the ceiling.
Apart from robbing you of your sleep, this is about the last thing you need when you are young, on your own and virile.

This blatant display repeated itself most nights during the remaining 7 to 8 months with the exception of one night, when they had a party with numerous friends. In the middle of the night, all hell broke loose and fighting broke out, during which the front door got smashed up. It turned out, that one of the so-called friends was checking out the lady of the flat and got caught. The police eventually calmed the situation down by taking the very irate, drunk and fist-swinging guy from upstairs into custody.
Apart from the fact that anyone could now just walk in from the street as there was no front door, it all went eerily quiet.
Over the next weeks and months I began to appreciate my parents place back home, where there were so many things I had always taken for granted.
Here are just a few things I was not used to:
There was no central heating and operating the gas fires in winter was expensive and left you roasted from the front but frozen at the back. Getting out of bed in the morning under these circumstances was a challenge, as you tried not to freeze to the floor. You had to conjure up thoughts of hot, steamy coffee and sitting in the ‘most important room’ for a well deserved cigarette break in order to motivate yourself to jump out of bed and into your clothes before your private parts fell off through frost-bite.
The money you inserted into the pay-box taking 50 pence at a time would always run out at the precise moment of one of these:
During cooking or boiling the kettle for a cuppa
During an extended session on the loo at night
During the crucial point at the end of a film on TV
During particularly cold evenings
And when you had freshly run out of 50 pence coins, in which case it is “On with the coat, run down to the off-license, which is 5 minutes away to buy something you don’t need, ask for 50 pence in your change, run back”!
Double glazing??? You must be kidding, right?! There was more water streaming off the inside of the windows than could be extracted from the ill-working shower in the bathroom. To top it all, was there a groove underneath the window panes to collect the water running off them and guiding it outside, like is usual back home? Nope! That job was performed by the wallpaper underneath, which soaked it up nicely.
Hot and cold water mixer taps??? Never heard of them! Take your pick:Would you like to use
a) Tap No. 1 – with water cold enough to cut your hands in half or
b) Tap No. 2 – which will boil you alive and melt your hands (that’s if the meter hasn’t run out!!).
The furniture including the bed and mattress were remains from a time when Queen Victoria was a child and were no doubt collected together from the tip or a jumble sale. The springs in the mattress had the elasticity of custard and the blanket . . . well, let’s draw a veil over it, shall we!
The TV picture quality was great if you like snow storms but useless for viewing anything else apart from ITV and that was in black & white!
Lighting the oven was an interesting exercise, too. You had to switch on the gas, open the oven, light a match and hover it over the very far bottom area of the oven, praying all along that it would ignite without blowing your hand off. Most of the time it did not light straight away and you would burn your fingers on the match. So you had to strike another one by which time sufficient gas had escaped, which would ignite with a big “WOOOFF” sound, frightening the Bejesus out of you and leaving the kitchen smelling like Gas-leak-alley! Having thus successfully managed to overcome the forces of ill-design, the meter would run out, leaving your meal uncooked. If you happened to have a bad day and re-loaded the meter before turning the gas off first you returned to a gas filled kitchen and could thank your lucky stars that you had run out of cigarettes. As Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in ‘Dirty Harry’ would have said: “This could blow your head clean off!!”. The mind boggles!!
Cockroaches are living beings, too! Ugly ones!!! And fast!! I pretended that they would eat the many spiders, which in turn would catch the many flies which were attracted by the damp, mouldy stench coming from the carpets. It’s amazing what one will dream up in order to cope with things. I imagined how much better my situation was compared with that of people living in previous centuries. At least I did not have to go to an outside toilet at night – even though . . . sometimes that looked like an almost inviting proposition.
These days I would have spend the first two days cleaning and disinfecting everything from top to bottom but back in 1980 I didn’t even have a Hoover at my disposal and, being young, might not have used it anyway. Enough of grimy thoughts and let us move on to a more pleasant pastime.

Some pictures




The gang of 1975




York Station




The Wold View Guesthouse




The York Minster




The Kings Arms at the River Ouse




The River Ouse in York




Corner of Petergate and Stonegate




Snow outside my flat




Clifford Tower in Springtime






The Kings Arms during flooding







The Micklegate Run
Anyone who knows York is aware of the fact that it’s encased by a wall with different gates offering entrance to the city! Some of the main ones are Monk Bar, Bootham Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar. My daily journey to work took me from my flat near the York racecourse along Blossom Street through Micklegate Bar and along Micklegate which descends down to meet the town centre and the river Ouse.

One Friday in September I was sitting at Rowntrees happily filing away invoices as I was approached by Lesley and Henry grinning at me and enquiring if I had anything planned for the evening. Not knowing a busting lot of people at that time, what would I have possibly had planned? “I’m free!” I stated truthfully. They then proceeded to invite me for a night out and asked me if I know where Blossom Street is.
“I live just around the corner from there!” I reminded them.
“O.K., let’s meet in the Windmill Pub, which is close to Micklegate Bar at 7 p.m.” they suggested.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked.
“You have been here for over a month now, which is long enough to qualify for honorary citizenship of York. However, anyone wanting to be seen as true resident of York, needs to have experienced the famous 'Micklegate Run'!” was the reply.
“Micklegate run? Do I need sports shoes?”
“Haha, no! Just come in T-shirt and jeans, but eat something before you meet us!”
Open to any nonsense, I duly went home, took a shower, had something to eat, changed my clothes and walked to the Windmill pub.
About six of the Rowntree people had already arrived and I was asked what pint I wanted.
“A pint of Bass, please”, I replied, “. . and what please is Micklegate Run about?”
“OK, Erik, ask any local and they will tell you that there are 365 pubs in York, one for every day of the year. Although in reality the actual number may vary from year to year, this figure is never far from the truth. The most popular pubs in York are found along the famous Micklegate Run, which is an infamous run of pubs usually started somewhere close to the top of Micklegate, like here or the Punch Bowl where we go next, and progresses all the way to the bottom of the run, and into town. The idea is to drink one pint in every pub! Although many have attempted to drink a pint in every pub on "The Run," few have succeeded. In fact as the chain of pubs has grown over the years, most tend to skip a couple along the way. Once we have run the gauntlet of Micklegate, we may manage to venture in to the nightclub at Walker’s Bar.”
“Gott im Himmel! How many is the number of Pubs?”
“Let me see . . there is Edwards, The Falcon, Harry's Bar, The Nagshead, The Phalanx and Firkin, Scruffy Murphy's, Walkers Bar and don’t forget The Punch Bowl! There are more than that but we never remember ever going there!”
“I am not surprised”, I gasped and so began Erik’s first Micklegate Run.

By 7.30 p.m. everybody had arrived and it was time to drink up and move on to the Punch-Bowl. It seemed to me as if the whole town had suddenly decided to visit the local watering holes as the pub continued to fill with lots and lots of young people, both male and female.
Even though it was a struggle to get through to the bar, there was never any angry word spoken or any unpleasantness to be seen, as everyone just seemed to be out to enjoy the evening and have a laugh. As the second pint came to an end I was grateful for the training in drinking pints I had undertaken during many evenings of utter boredom in the previous weeks.
By the time we got to the Nagshead, my head started to feel a bit like a nag. The pubs were by now so full that we just dove in and formed a kind of chain to the bar, passing the beers down the line to the rest of the group still remaining outside and then extricated ourselves again in order to drink and talk in front of the pub.
My inhibitions had by this time all but gone my English was getting better by the minute – well at least that’s what it sounded like inside my head!
“Keith, you old rhino!” I slurred. “Why is no one of you English bastards shaking hands, huh??”
“I don’t know. It’s just not one of those things that people do much! If you want people to shake hands, you need to stretch your hand out slowly and unthreatening and then people usually don’t mind!”
“What a Nags behind! Put it here . . “ I said, stretching out my hand which Keith nearly crushed whilst someone else exchanged my empty pint glass with a full one.
There I was, standing outside a pub in the middle of York, swaying slightly and thinking to myself: ‘I like this country, I like this town, I like the British, I like this beer and I like my life!’
Yes, it was quite obvious – but not to myself – that I was getting completely blotto!
My initial plan of trying as many different types of Bitter in order to find out which one I prefer had collapsed by the time we got to Scruffy Murphy’s, by which time all beers tasted roughly the same and since we were not able to get to the bar to find out what was available, I just took whatever was pressed into my hand at any given time.
One very annoying fact about England at that time was that the pubs all served “last orders” at about 10:45 p.m. and closed shortly after 11:00 p.m.
“Now, what is this all about?! I demanded to know.
I was told that this is an old rule going back to the war which, as everything is a bit slower here in England, nobody had revised since. This could be the reason for many a drunken brawl, as punters tried to down as many pints as possible during the dying minutes before closing time and then got out of control.

As Scruffy Murphy’s bell rung out for last orders another pint was lifted over the heads of others and found its way to me.
“Last pint then?!“ I slurred. “No, no! There is a nightclub, which is open until 2 a.m. and it’s just a few steps down the road!” was the quiet reply from Lesley . . or was it Sue . . or Debbie . . I forget but at least there was no “Peggy”!

After about 9 pints we fell into Walker’s Bar! All I remember is that there was a nightclub either in Walker’s Bar or next to it. I remember sitting down whilst one of the lads went over to a group of girls, asking them to join us. One of them took a shine to me and promptly sat on my lap.
I can’t remember whether I enjoyed it or what she looked like, which is probably just as well. Some people danced, some just drank and chatted – well, shouted over the loud music thumping out of the loudspeakers and others just observed the scene.
I met Henry in the toilets speaking to ‘God’ on the big, white telephone, if you catch my drift. I didn’t feel too hot myself, wondering why the urinals kept moving.
As the music stopped and some bright lights lit up, everyone tried to walk, crawl or drag themselves up the stairs, including me. As I got outside, a mass of people had spilled onto the cobbled street in front of Walker’s Bar (‘Bar’ as in Pub, not ‘Bar’ as in Gate! Stupid language!) and the air was chilly, compared with the hot, sticky nightclub air down the cellar, where we had spent the last three hours. I could see none of the Rowntree crowd but was grabbed by the girl I met earlier. I think she asked me to come home with her but despite the fact that I couldn’t remember the name of my street I was fairly confident I would find the way there. I was feeling completely and utterly drunk to the point where my knees were buckling under me but had no desire to wake up somewhere strange with someone strange. Besides, I had planned some serious sightseeing for the next day.
So I declined and started the long stagger home, up the steep hill to Micklegate Bar. One thing that does stick in my memory is watching some legless lads pulling their pants down in the middle of the road at the busy Micklegate and Blossom Street junction, which was now only frequented by numerous taxis taking the drunk home. No sooner had they dropped their pants, a police car pulled over and had a quiet word with them.
As to how I got back to my flat from there, I have no idea but I awoke the next day still fully dressed including shoes.

Walking on the Wall
With my head feeling the size of a zeppelin and a taste in my mouth as if I had chewed on a badger’s behind I decided to take several painkillers but it was only due to my youth that I recovered at all.
My fried eggs did not please my stomach and I decided that fresh air was the answer.
I dug out the map I had purchased when I first arrived and set off in glorious sunshine to do some serious sightseeing.
My first stop was the Castle Museum, which according to Martin is well worth a visit. I am not one for Museums but Martin assured me that this Museum had nothing to do with paintings or Knights armours. As I crossed the river and walked towards the place indicated on the map, I saw an interesting looking tower raised high on a mount by the name of Clifford Tower. There was a long set of stairs leading up to it and despite my hangover I decided that I just had to climb it in order to take a look – a decision I regretted about halfway up, when my legs started hurting like hell and my head was pounding and throbbing. After stopping for breath, I nevertheless carried on and finally got to the top.
Clifford’s Tower is all that remains of York Castle, which initially used to be a wooden construction overlooking the river Ouse in 1086. In an eerie foreplay of what was to come in Germany during the Hitler period, a mob of citizens rioted against the Jewish population of York, and 150 of the Jews took refuge inside the castle. Many of the Jews committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured by the bloodthirsty mob outside, and more died when the building was set on fire. The remainder were slaughtered by the mob. Belonging to the nation who took this kind of behaviour to a new and infinitely more horrific plateau during the Second World War, I found myself feeling very uneasy and undeserving to stand here.
Now, having burned the building to the ground, you and me would have probably left it at that but in those bad old days, another wooden castle was build in its place. God Almighty must have objected and sent a storm galloping in from over the Yorkshire Moors and blowing the whole building down.
As with the Minster, the people of those days did not get the celestial message and rebuilt it in stone only to – wait for it – suffer severe fire damage shortly afterwards and thus loosing the whole roof structure, which caved in. Yorkies 0 – God 2!
In 1322 the tower gained its present name when Roger de Clifford was executed by Edward II for treason. Clifford was hanged in chains from the walls of the tower, and ever after the building has been "Clifford's Tower".
Most of the tower that you can still see today dates from the 13th century, with some 17th century additions, notably the Debtor's Prison, Female prison, and Assize Court. Spiral staircases lead to the walls, and those who like me make the climb are rewarded by superb views of the city.

Unfortunately you’ll have to climb back down again, which is no fun when your legs are still not entirely obeying your commands from after the night before.

The castle museum is just next door and I was not very pleased with Martin, who suggested it, when I found out how much the entrance fee was.
It was however worth every penny!
The Castle Museum, which recreates daily life in England through the past 400 years is housed in Grade 1 listed 18th century prison buildings.
The museum centres around two life-sized reconstructions of authentic street scenes. The first is the Victorian Kirkgate (so named after the originator of the museum, the Edwardian doctor, John Kirk). You can wander into shops, see a family at home, and call at the police station.
The second life-sized street is Half Moon Court, depicting daily life in Edwardian York. The "street" is built in the former debtor's prison, and you can visit the old prison cells, some of which house displays of authentic Yorkshire crafts and rural skills. Don't miss the cell where the famous highwayman Dick Turpin spent his last night before execution.
The museum is also home to the Julia Austen costume collection, and extensive social history, and military exhibits (and the children will love the giant dolls houses).
Having spent a good 2 hours in there, I consulted my map and walked to the “Shambles”.
The Shambles is often called Europe's best preserved medieval street, although the name is also used to collectively refer to the surrounding maze of narrow, twisting lanes and alleys as well. The street itself is apparently mentioned in the Doomsday Book, so we know that it has been in continuous existence for over 900 years.

The Shambles has the effect of a time machine, transporting you back to a time long past. The houses that jostle for space along The Shambles project out over the lane in their upper stories, as if trying to meet their neighbours opposite. In some places the street is so narrow that if you stand with arms outstretched you can touch the houses on both sides.
The name "Shambles" comes from the Saxon "Fleshammels", which means, "the street of the butchers", for it was here that the city's butcher's Market was located. You will notice the wide window sills of the houses, where the meat for sale was displayed.
The butcher's shops have now been replaced with shops catering to visitors, including jewellery and antiques; indeed, the Shambles is now one of the premier shopping areas in the city of York.
I bought something to eat in one of the small sandwich shops and ate it, whilst walking towards Monk Bar. I decided to have a walk on the city wall from there to Bootham Bar, which is near the theatre.
Most people don’t know that York has more miles of intact city walls than anywhere else in England, and some sections of the walls date back to Roman times who, seemingly frustrated by the lack of road-building projects available, took to fortification.
The main gateways into the old city stand at Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar. The name "bar" refers to the simple bars which were levelled across the gates to restrict traffic in and out of the city and not to the watering holes frequented by locals and tourists alike. They are called pubs. The bars also acted as toll booths during the medieval period.

Should you be interested as to why not the entire wall around the city is still standing, then the answer is baffling but simple. Committees!!!
In 1800 the Corporation of York applied to parliament for permission to destroy the old walls and gates due to their age and the cost of maintenance. Despite opposition, including that of King George II, the city proceeded to demolish 3 walled forts, four gates, and short sections of wall. Some sections of wall have since been repaired.
Let the reader heed the lesson!
As I came to Bootham Bar I decided to cut across the Museum Gardens and walk over Lendal Bridge where I picked up the wall again towards Micklegate Bar.
I found myself standing on top of the wall next to the railway station, where I had arrived some weeks earlier. From here I had an excellent view over the city and the Minster, which to this day is still my most favourite picture postcard view, which is why I have chosen to depict it on the cover of this book.

I made my way back down the wall and towards the station to visit the railway museum, which is Britain's largest repository of historic railway material and includes locomotives dating as far back as 1829 and the 1938 Mallard - the fastest steam engine in the world at the time.
The first thing I noticed with delight was that there was no entrance fee!
Inside I witnessed one of the largest turntables in the UK being demonstrated, turning one of the historic locomotives. I turned a corner into a big hall, called Station Hall.

Station Hall, a re-created period station, complete with sound effects, contains a variety of carriages and wagons-dining cars and sleeping compartments as well as coaches-into which visitors can peer. There is also a "Palaces on Wheels" Royal Trains exhibition, which includes carriages dating from the 1840's to the 1940's and show how England's kings and queens travelled with bedroom, dining room, and saloon carriages.

The ‘Warehouse’ is full of thousands of railroad objects and memorabilia. Included are such items as gold and silver travel passes, model trains, railway medals, and the bullion box involved in the 1855 First Great Train Robbery. Tickets, buttons, posters, archived documents, videos, old movies, photographs, silver and crockery, drawings and art bring the railroad experience to life. Station platform clocks, office clocks, and guards' watches, are part of the memorabilia.
All in all one hundred and three locomotives and one hundred seventy-seven other items of rolling stock are just part of the world's pre-eminent railway collection in the National Railway Museum. If you love this sort of thing, you can easily spend a whole day here but I unfortunately inherited my father’s short attention span for anything called ‘Museum’ and therefore whizzed through it in an hour and a half.
As the sun began to set over the town, tiredness overwhelmed me. It was time to go home and capitulate to the call of my sofa and a soft pillow. Tomorrow – Sunday – would have to be a chill-out day.

Don’t mention the War
The month of October signalled the end of summer with a stiff, chilly wind blowing from the east. Standing on the corner of Scarcroft Road and Blossom Street in the morning waiting for the bus it seemed to double the waiting time as I folded my arms in an attempt to maintain some body heat. How I envied the people driving past in their warm cars and how I wished back those warm summer days knowing that I would have left England by the time they would return.
The bus arrived and I climbed the stairs to the top deck. Looking out of the window towards Micklegate Bar I reflected quite proudly about how much I had learned in the past two months. I knew bus routes and the town layout and could follow most of the basic conversations by guessing the blanks left by my lack of vocabulary – a trick I picked up by watching a lot of films on television. There you could follow the storyline (visually enhanced) and guess the rest. I had seen a lot of the older films, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s and Agatha Christie’s films as translated versions back in Germany and managed to ‘stay with it’ as long as no English humour was involved, which still eluded me.
I also felt a bit more useful at Rowntrees now, not having to ask a million questions about everything and finding it easier to ask them if I needed to do so.
Everybody was very helpful and supportive and Martin dragged me along to many a meeting with representatives from other companies, which always included a pub lunch. One girl in particular caught my eye and I was amazed to find out that she was living in the same road as me just a few houses away.
One day she invited me to ‘come and meet the family’ and to have a Sunday lunch with them. Never known for passing up the opportunity of a free lunch I found myself knocking on their door. A kind faced man, her father, greeted me warmly, ushering me inside. Entering the lounge I met her mother and her two sisters, all of whom were beaming at me with brought smiles. “I am Ben” her father announced, “and this is my wife Claire and my daughters Lena and Sarah!”
“Pleased to meet you, I am Erik, the German!” I announced, upon which the girls giggled like schoolgirls – which, coming to think of it, they were at that time.
“I don’t know whether this is a good thing,” Ben announced, “but Lena has cooked the lunch today! Do you like Lancashire Hotpot??” “Hot-What??” I enquired.
“Never mind, let’s just dish it up” Carla, the girl from work, replied, waving the hand about in a ‘who cares’ sort of way as Lena carried a big casserole dish to the table.
We sat down and Ben ‘thanked the Lord’ for the food. I did not know who ‘the Lord’ was but guessed by their posture of lowered head, closed eyes and folded hands that it must be ‘God’. Alas, at that time I did not know Him either.
The moment I took my first mouthful of food however, I found myself inwardly uttering the words “O my God!!” as a strong taste of undercooked lamb hit my taste buds. My brain went into over-drive, feverishly searching for ways to avoid eating any more of this . . this . . stuff without upsetting the ‘cook’ and the family, who had so kindly opened their door to me!!

As I took a long sip of water to get rid of the taste and to buy more thinking time, nothing sprang to mind. Trapped and frozen like a deer in headlights I was about to forfeit all goodwill I had earned by telling this kind family and my work colleague that the food they served up for me was awful!
“I am sorry! I. . I cannot eat this!” I stuttered, feeling my cheeks flushing red-hot with embarrassment, as I looked around me for their reaction.
There was an awkward pause!
“I am glad you said that, Erik! It’s blinking awful, isn’t it?!!” Ben replied as everybody dropped their knives and forks in relief, joining in the chorus of “Lena, what have you done to this???” Even Lena had to admit that this was inedible and we all had a good laugh about it all.
To say that I was relieved would be an understatement!
Ben suggested a trip to the seaside and, with the exception of Lena, we all filed into his car – an old, grey Austin Cambridge from the year I was born – and trundled towards Scarborough. I had never driven in an old car like this. The steering wheel was the size of Australia, there were no seatbelts or headrests and even at top speed we were overtaken by anything capable of movement. If you ever watch driving scenes in old black and white films (the ones where the camera shows a couple sitting in a car and the scenery is superimposed onto the background) you will observe the driver constantly rocking the steering wheel back and forth. I thought that this was done in order to give the appearance of the car actually being in motion but here was Ben doing exactly the same thing and I realised that the steering was so inaccurate; you had to do this in order to stay in a straight line.
Conditioned by the way the seaside looks in Germany I was expecting us having to park up and walk over sandy dunes and sea grass to the tranquillity of the beach beyond. When we got to Scarborough I got my first taste of a typical British seaside resort. The sandy beach was framed by the sea on one side and a busy road on the other. This coastal road was littered with fish & chips shops and amusement arcades blaring out sounds of games machines and music to such a level, it drowned out any sounds of the waves. The air was heavy with pungent smells of fish & chips as well as sweet candyfloss. Even though it was the middle of October, there were scores of people here and cars parked everywhere. Most people were walking around with cones of ice-cream or some sort of food and the pavement looked like a pizza, topped with paper, dropped chips and ice-creams, cigarette ends and discarded drink cartons.
I could not imagine why anyone would want to spend their main summer holidays here but apparently lots of families did just that every year.
Nevertheless, I was grateful for the trip out and the change of scenery.
We returned home and Claire asked me to stay for dinner. After my earlier experience I was not sure whether this would be a smart move but Claire assured me that this time the food would be fit for human consumption, prompting me to accept the invitation.
“This will only be a snack!” Claire announced as she filled the entire table with salad, coleslaw, pork pies, sausages, quiche, grated cheese, pickles, sandwiches, crisps and a whole host of other things. Everything was delicious and to this very day, Claire’s mixed cold buffet has not been surpassed. Whenever I go to York these days, which is rarely, Claire repeats her buffet, which is still of the same high standard.

It was that evening that I discovered one of my favourite sandwiches – white bread with grated Cheddar Cheese smothered in Salad Cream.
I very much enjoyed this family’s company and good sense of humour – there was something about “Don’t mention the war!” and “Fawlty Towers” but I did not understand exactly what this was all about. In due course I would find out.
This, I reasoned, must be a typical English family as I would have expected them to be as the whole day was segmented by numerous tea breaks.
You’d frequently hear things like: “Oooh, I think I’ll make a cuppa!” and “Fancy a cuppa?” or “I boiled the kettle! Who’s up for a cup of tea?” or “I could murder a cuppa!”

The following Wednesday Martin asked me if I would like to join him that evening for a game of Bingo and some Dominos. Knowing neither of them, Martin told me all about his working men’s club and what to expect.
This was another institution completely alien to me - a ‘Working Men’s Club’.
Basically, it’s a sort of pub from yesteryears, where men can get away from their nagging wife and screaming kids.
Entrance was strictly controlled by the combination of a sombre looking man, old enough to be my granddad and the signature of an existing member of the club.
I could hardly believe that this club was indeed for men only!! There was one single room where women were allowed, just in case your missus was a bit of a gripe-bag and would sharpen the rolling-pin if left at home unattended. In this case you would deposit her on arrival in that room (a bit like you would your umbrella or coat) next to some other chatterbox and collect her again some hours and Babychams or Cherry Bs later.
Meanwhile you would join the other members of the club in some beers, conversation or games from Darts to Snooker and from Snooker to Dominos.
This then was the last bastion of utter male-chauvinistic outpouring, as swearing, burping, scratching your privates and breaking wind loudly went un-reprimanded and unpunished.
Surely life isn’t getting much better than this, is it?!
Martin introduced me to Adam, Ted and Albert with the intention of making up a double for Dominos. “Hi, I’m Erik, the German!” I said (without trying to shake hands).Big mistake I guess, as fiery looks of hate and disapproval hit me. Albert, who as I found out later, had fought the Germans twice and stored up enough hatred to kill a medium-sized army with it, could not understand just how this German managed to infiltrate his sanctuary.
Over 30 years had done little to heal the wounds and – at least for now - I was clearly the enemy and even a simple game of Dominos turned into a desperate struggle to ‘beat the Germans’. Martin’s comment to me as we went to the bar for a much needed refill was “Don’t mind Albert, he’ll come round to liking you. Just one thing . . . Don’t mention the war!” I had no intention to do that.

Fortunately, after losing a couple of games to the ‘British’, a game of Bingo was announced, breaking the death stare and allowing for a further refill of beer.
I liked Bingo, as it was a simple matter of crossing out numbers on a ticket whenever they were read out.
Martin explained the rules:
“They’ll read out numbers and if it appears on your card, you cross them off. If you are the first person to have crossed out a line, you shout ‘LINE’ or ‘HERE’ and they will come and check your card. If it is correct, you win some money. The same happens when you have all your numbers crossed out, in which case you shout ‘HOUSE’ and you win more money!”
The first few times I got totally confused, as they did not read out just numbers but seem to package them in sentences only meaningful to fluent English speakers. For example:
“Two fat Ladies – 88, Downing Street – No. 10, Kelly’s eye – No.1, Top of the shop – Line 90, Click-e-dee-click – 66 and those legs – 11!”
A few tries on however I got the hang of it and was waiting only for ‘The score on the door – 44’ when it was called out.
Not wanting to make a fool of myself I quickly re-checked my numbers whilst others were read out. Deciding to go for it I shouted “Line!!” and a man with a bushy beard and bad breath appeared to take my ticket away for checking.
What Martin had not told me was the fact that you have to shout before any further numbers are announced. By the time I shouted, they had carried on a couple of numbers to 68. Since I did not have number 68, my shout was declared invalid, drawing unwanted attention towards me. Some were shaking heads, others rolled their eyes and there was a general murmur of disapproval humming in the air. Only Albert seemed delighted by the fact that ‘the German’ had crashed like a Messerschmidt aircraft which he had just shot down.
I was having to wait 3 months before I won the Full House, netting me the then princely sum of £15.
During the next weeks and months I became a regular visitor to the working men’s club and eventually became a member myself. This involved me facing ‘the elders’, who grilled me and other members about my character, past behaviour and intentions. After a unanimous vote of confidence, I was given a membership pass and number which for me was another significant step towards full acceptance in a foreign country.
Always meeting Albert’s hatred and mistrust with kindness and a smile slowly lessened his aggressive stance and over time his growling features mellowed.
It was a tear-filled day some six months later when I was about to leave England that Albert took me aside and told me in confidence how much he liked me and thanked me for breaking his hatred for all things German. I was not to see him again, as by the time I returned, he had sadly passed away.
As for Martin, Ted and Adam, we would see much more of each other in coming years. How fortunately I was to have met such great guys!

Martin, Ted and Adam were all part of the Fulfordgate Working Men’s Club Quiz-team and once a week they would compete against other working men’s clubs in the area. I just tagged along as a kind of mascot and was amazed how much these guys actually knew. This way I got to meet lots of people and clubs but never got good enough to actually participate. In later years, when I returned to York to live I became a quizmaster for the clubs, which was both enjoyable and rewarding.

Dopiaza, Delhi Belly and the Whitby Work Bypass
After a long night at the Working Men’s Club, playing dominos, fighting Albert and drinking beers with Adam and Ted, Martin was always kind enough to take me home.
“Fancy something to eat?” he asked one day, turning another corner.
“Couldn’t you think of a more stupid question?” was my reply as he pulled over and stopped at a place called “The Indian Take-away”.
As I looked at the big Menu which was plastered on the wall, I noticed, that due to a lack of these kind of shops in Germany, the only thing I could read and understand was ‘chicken’, ‘meat’ and ‘prawns’!
“I like chicken, but what’s good?” I asked Martin.
“Well, try a Chicken Dopiaza!” he suggested. “They are made with double-onions! That’s what ‘Doziaza’ means!”
“Sounds good! I like onions!” I replied as Martin leant over the counter and ordered allsorts of weird stuff as if it was the most natural thing to have for dinner.

We waited hardly 5 minutes before the Indian guy behind the counter came back with a carrier-bag full of stuff.
Back home we unpacked everything and started chomping as if we had nothing to eat for about a week. It was de-li-cous!!! It was hard to contemplate, that I had missed out on this for the last 20 years but watch out, Indian Take-aways, the German eagle has landed!!
As the Take-away was in walking distance from my flat, there was absolutely no reason why I should ever want to cook again and risk blowing myself up, trying to light the oven. After a further dozen or so Dopiaza I got to know the owner of the Take-away quite well! I found out that he was in fact from the beautiful island of Mauritius and that he was planning to go back there in about a year or so.
He tried to persuade me to come to Mauritius and see for myself and maybe even work for him, as plenty of Germans and British people apparently take their holidays there and someone with linguistic skills would be an asset!

I was not quite sure if linguistic skills were really required for ordering food. Surely you can just point at things or have some sort of translation on the menu!?
Maybe it was just me – maybe it was the fact that I just arrived here – or maybe it was the picture of me in some sweaty old café serving Onion Bhajies and Sheek Kebabs to rich, fat bozos for a salary the size of bird droppings – but I declined the offer and redirected the conversation back to my initial reason for my visit!

In order to get to know the vast variety of Indian dishes, I devised a cunning plan:
“From now on, whenever I ring you up for a take-away, I want you to just prepare something – anything – and if I ask questions as to what you will prepare for me, you must tell me that ‘this is not one of my business’”
“You mean that this is ‘none of your business’!?”
“No, it’s not one of my business!!”
“Yes, I know what you mean, but in England we say it’s none of your business!”
“Never mind, . . . but what if you don’t like it??”
“Is there any dish with offal in it??!”
“Then I will like it!”
“Why don’t you just order something different from the menu each time?”
“Well, it’s not one of your business, but I guess if I order from the menu I might be tempted to just go back to what I tried before and liked!”
“NONE of your business!”
“What isn’t??”
“No, - you said not one of your business again! It is none of your business!”
“Whatever! – You cook it, I pay – we are both happy! OK?!”
“Ok, so what do you want to eat today?”
“You don’t get it, huh?! Just make something!”
“This is highly irregular! The chef will not like it!”
“What’s not to like? You choose, you tell him, he cooks it, I eat it! Besides which . . who is the boss??”
“Me, I guess!”
“There you are! Don’t you realise that I am offering you a guaranteed sale AND you can cook what you like! – As long as it’s fresh! . . . By the way . . how do you manage to prepare it so fast?”
“That, my friend, is not one of your business!”
Drat! Outwitted by a phoney Indian!

I nevertheless enjoyed many delicious surprise meals and got to know the full palette of Indian food without the dreaded ‘Delhi-belly’ – Unlike my friend Mike.

I was introduced to Mike and his girlfriend Julia by Carla, the girl at work, and after the usual jokes about “don’t mention the war!” and “don’t mention the world-cup of 1966”, which Mike is still harping on about to this day, we all went for a meal at an Indian Restaurant in the centre of town.
The evening went extremely well and we all seemed to like each other. Next time I met Mike he wanted to know if I had recovered from the Indian meal. Apparently he had been very ill after consuming his meal but I had been perfectly fine. Since most of my Indian food involves extremely hot chillies, I surmised that any bacteria would have been killed off before I consumed it.
Over the next months and the years, Mike and Julia became good friends of mine and I enjoyed watching them get married, having children and I even became God-father to Marcel, their first-born.
On a recent visit to see them Mike told me that they are still laughing about that time back in York when my English was not quite up to standards. According to Mike, he will never forget the time they invited me to a restaurant and when we were ready to order the meal I (and I cannot believe this to be true) flagged the waiter down with the words: “Waiter! Pay attention!”
The words “excuse me” and “listen” must have been paraphrased by me and lost something in the translation.
These little faux-pas and others were gleefully recited by Mike to an interested audience during his Best Man speech at my wedding.
With friends like these . . . .

One Thursday evening Martin collared me just before I was leaving work with the words: “Tomorrow, wear your jeans and a warm jacket! Don’t ask, but we are going on a little outing!”
‘Sounds fine to me’, I thought and turned up on Friday morning just as I was asked to.
Martin grabbed his car keys, jacket and 20 Regal King Size and we were off!
“Where are we going and why?” I enquired.
“As it was your birthday last month and I missed it, we are taking the day off work and I am going to show you something of the area – namely the Yorkshire Moors and the coastal town of Whitby.”
“Cool!” I replied, giving Martin a thumbs-up sign.
The North York Moors comprise an isolated area of moor land with the towns of Guisborough, Scarborough, Thirsk and Whitby at the corners. They are bordered by the Vale of Mobray to the west, Teesside to the north, and the North Sea to the east.
To the south of the North York Moors lie the gentler hills and valleys of the Yorkshire Wolds, where (as it now became clear) the Wold View Guesthouse got its name from.

The Yorkshire Moors is a bleak, rugged area of peaty terrain often frequented by walkers or ramblers and the weather can get bad enough for some folks to be lost for good, as blizzard conditions, torrential rains or dense fog plague this part of the country.

There is essentially only one road crossing the North Yorkshire Moors from Pickering to Whitby – the A169 with just the odd small path leading down to what can only be described as ‘three houses, a barn, a horse and a dog’. Martin somehow knew of a pub in the middle of this emptiness and, not known for easily refusing a pint, we just had to check it out.

Thus began the lesson about different beers, ales, Bitters and Lagers as to their origin, colour and taste, which continued throughout the remaining six months.
After a couple of pints we proceeded to Whitby. Martin suggested it was time for me to taste the best fish ‘n chips with mushy peas for miles around!

A famous Whitby landmark is the 199 steps that connect the parish church on the cliff top to the town below. It’s a good climb from the Church Street below to the church itself, and there are still resting places at regular intervals – no doubt the pallbearers would have particularly appreciated these when a funeral was underway. Even though we weren’t carrying any coffin, I was cursing Martin by the time we got half the way up for suggesting the climb.
The old town of Whitby huddles at the foot of the church stairs. The houses back up the cliff, with narrow alleyways leading down to the harbour. Beyond Church Street, in Grape Lane, the Captain Cook museum can be found. In 1746 the house belonged to Captain John Walker, a ship owner whose vessels carried coal from the Tyne to the Thames. It was in this year that he took on an apprentice, the 17-year-old James Cook. Captain Cook was of course killed during a violent quarrel on the beach at Kealakekue Bay, following the theft of a boat from "The Discovery".
Captain Cook himself is now surveying the whole of Whitby via his monument on the West Cliff. Whaling was an important industry in Whitby during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and there is a famous whalebone arch nearby. According to Martin, whaling ships left Whitby for the whaling waters of Greenland, returning with barrels of blubber, which was rendered down to oil making a fearful stench.

Today, Whitby is mainly a touristy seaside town with only a small fishing fleet.

We walked around the small streets with little shops and the fish was indeed very tasty.
By the time we returned to York it was already dark and I was glad to get back home, light the fire in the living-room and relax with a beer on the sofa.

Snowy Scenes and Hovercrafts
December arrived and with it numerous reminders of a fast approaching Christmas.
The shops in town were filled with potential presents and the window displays showed a wide range of snowy scenes and nicely wrapped gifts.
The streets were now much busier than usual and you could hear Christmas songs blaring out from most shops as you walked by.
I did not care much for Christmas at that time as for me, in previous years back in Germany; this had been mostly a time of mixed emotions.
To my mind, Christmas should have been a time for much joy; a time of laughter, sharing and relaxation. Things were however too regimented with too many ‘rules’ and set-ups. Let me give you some examples:
Weeks before Christmas we were tasked with learning some Christmas poem which we would have to recite for our parents and grand-parents on Christmas Eve. I have never had any leanings towards poems, nor could I remember such things easily. It was a chore I did not relish and I resented the fact that I had to do this before any presents could be received. It built in me a great reluctance of receiving presents and for many years I would have preferred not getting any.
The day before Christmas the lounge was locked up and declared a “no-go zone”, as my parents would use this room to decorate the tree without us seeing it. According to them, it was “Father Christmas” who brought the tree, decorated it and left presents as well.
In Germany, the handing out of presents (and all the other things) takes place on Christmas Eve. The usual day would go like this:
After arguing most of the morning about the question why we had to learn a stupid poem, I then had to join my father in an afternoon nap, which I did not want to do.
When we finally got up I argued the case of not having to take a walk (“Let’s see if we can meet Father Christmas”) as even as a small child I had cottoned on to the fact that every time we arrived back home we had “juuuust missed Him!” and when I was older and did not believe in Father Christmas any longer – what exactly was the point???!!
Next on the list of arguments was my parents insistence of having to get changed into our ‘Sunday Best’ clothes, which considering the fact that only ‘family’ was assembled seemed to be utterly unnecessary and pointless, since the moment the presents had been distributed we run upstairs to get changed back into comfortable attire. I cannot remember one Christmas when my Dad and I did not fall out over these things.
We then would sit around in the kitchen whilst my Dad would light the (natural) candles on the tree without setting the house on fire. A bell (how annoying is this?!) heralded the permission for my grandparents, my mother, brother, sister and me to enter the living-room and admire the tree. Then came the awkward “stand in front of the tree and recite your poem” time. First off was my sister, then me, then my brother.
Most of my efforts went into selecting the shortest possible poem acceptable to my parents but even these presented a big hurdle to a young person harbouring a very negative attitude to Christmas, lazy to learn and hating to be pushed into any lime-light.
The presents were handed out and apart from a meal together, that was Christmas!
Christmas day and Boxing Day were total non-events!
This procedure did work fine when we were small kids but became utter nonsense by the time we got to the age of 12. Unfortunately, having a younger brother dragged this out until he was 12, by which time I was 17!
I guess my parents got the hint that year, when my ‘closely guarded’ poem for that year went like this:

‘Weihnacht ist heut’
Wie mich das freut,
Ich wünsche das Beste
zum fröhlichen Feste!

Loosely translated meaning:

It’s Christmas today,
How this pleases me,
I wish the best
On this happy occasion!

My father was not overly pleased, judging on the expression on his face but not wanting to kick-start another argument in front of my Grand-parents, mumbled something about lack of effort and telegram style (i.e. veeery short!).
In my heart I had determined that this was going to be the last time I would participate in this charade, since I would be 18 the following year and therefore ‘of age!’.

As I was on my own in York, I did not bother with trees, presents or any other Christmas items but spent quite a bit of time with Ben, Claire and their family across the road. It was therefore a bit of a culture shock when I saw how the whole family decorated the tree together a week before Christmas and that the presents were placed under it, without any secrecy whatsoever. Presents were opened on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve and there was no sign of ‘formality’, no dressing up, no reciting of poems, no stress, no rules, just fun and laughter.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am sure my parents tried their best and no doubt were conditioned by the way they had been brought up. It just didn’t work for me, that’s all.
In the name of true reporting it must however be pointed out that we always got terrific presents and a gourmet feast over the Christmas period, regardless of the state of finances in the parents household. I guess, since we were living in a nice house and in a nice area on the outskirts of Cologne, we kids never knew when things were tight.
The week before Christmas my colleagues at Rowntrees informed me that everyone in the department was invited to a Christmas meal out one night. Again I thought of a formal occasion but was asked not to get dressed up too much, which was fine by me.
I arrived, dressed in slacks and a nice shirt at the venue and was greeted at the door by a waitress offering me a glass of Champagne. The room was decorated with balloons, garlands and the tables were set beautifully. The Christmas music, which in Germany would have been a sombre “Silent Night”, was a mixture of up-beat pop music.
After a delicious meal where I discovered my favourite dessert – sherry trifle – we were going mental on the dance floor, any inhibitions erased by plenty of drinks.
By this time I still had not met the Lord Jesus Christ, whose birthday Christmas was to celebrate but was quite sure that he would approve of this kind of birthday party.
New Years Eve was spent on a barge on the river Ouse, which had been converted into a discothèque. We danced, drunk and sung ‘Old langsyne’ at the stroke of midnight and I had the feeling of ‘belonging’ even though I did hardly know anyone around me. This, as far as I was concerned, was my town, my home and I was happy.
Thus the year of 1980 came to a close and with it my first five months in England.

I don’t know about you but the first day in any new year is always an anti-climax with grey sky and hangover – and, when I drew back the curtains the next day, there was no exception to this rule on the first day of 1981.
The only good thing about it was the thought, that work would only restart on Monday, and today was Thursday. I unlocked the front door to collect my daily bottle of milk, which was delivered to me. In Germany, nobody delivers milk anymore and I enjoyed this quaint service. Stepping outside I regretted doing so as it was absolutely freezing and no milk had arrived. Catching my breath, I realised that nobody would be working on this day and thinking of the old song “No milk today” I closed the door, contemplating tea without milk or scrounging some of the neighbours.
As it happened, I did neither but opened the bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry I had received from Ben and Claire for Christmas.
The next two days were spent watching “The year that was” and other reflective programs of the year 1980 on television. On Saturday morning the milkman was knocking on the front door and when I opened it, he was enquiring about “the empties”! “Aaahh! The empties!” I repeated, “Nope, I have no idea what you are talking about!” I said. “The empty bottles! Where are your empty bottles?” he wanted to know. “They are in my yard!” I replied truthfully, motioning for him to come in and take a look.

As we stepped into the yard from the kitchen door he clasped his hand over his mouth mumbling some curse. There, like soldiers, were all the empty milk bottles neatly arranged in tidy rows – all 96 of them!!! Not being used to milk deliveries, I had not realised, that you are supposed to put your ‘empties’ back on the door step!
Now the little notes of “Empties???” which I sometimes found under the milk in the mornings made perfect sense. He refused to take them back but explained that he would leave several empty crates the next day and expected me to fill them and stack them outside. Since he did not look amused, I did not argue with him.
In the afternoon, as I was watching “Blankety Blank”, a show which to this day makes still no sense to me, my eyes were diverted by what can only be described as a snow storm outside my window.
Brilliant! I thought and decided to make the most of it. I wrapped up warm with coat, scarf and gloves and ventured outside into the blizzard. The cold weather of the past few days meant that the snow was not melting as it hit the road, which was glistening like a pure white carpet and the sky was a heavy, dark grey, promising a lot more snow still to come.
As I walked into town, everything looked like a winter wonderland and the sound of the cars were muffled by the amount of snow already on the roads and still coming down. As I got to Stonegate, the pedestrian road in the centre of town it was just as I had envisaged it would be some months ago. I wished I had a camera on me but was ill prepared. I must have wandered the streets for quite a while and by the time I got back home, Indian take-away in hand; it was dark and only snowing lightly.

I awoke on Sunday to a blue sky and an amazing white winter scene. I checked the thermometer in the yard, which showed a frosty -3 degrees Celsius. The snow had the consistency of powder and any attempt to form a snowball failed, as it disintegrated immediately. I decided that it was far too nice to stay at home and so put on my boots, coat and gloves in order to walk in the deep snow along the Knavesmire racecourse.
The usually green expanse of the racecourse was transformed into a glistening white carpet, which was so bright, it almost hurt my eyes. A car came tip-toeing down Scarcroft Hill, sliding to a stop near where I stood and someone called my name.
It was Carla, who invited me to come along for a session of tobogganing.
“Where are we going and what is this ‘tobogganing’?” I inquired. “To a farm near Malton” she replied explaining the word. “Aah! Sledging!” I stated, looking forward to it already.
The journey, which normally would take about 15 minutes, took 45 minutes as we crawled along on snow-filled roads past white fields until we arrived at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
I was introduced to the people living there and some more friends of Carla’s but cannot remember any of their names. To the left of the farm was a long field, which was gradually sloping upwards and the last third of it was rising steeply. The entire area must have been about ½ mile long.
I was about to have the most thrilling tobogganing ever.
“Where are the sledges?” I enquired.
The farmer explained:
“We don’t use sledges, we use a self-made Hovercraft!”
He disappeared into the barn and emerged shortly afterwards with a 9 x 9 foot black sack made from thick plastic. “We use these for storing animal feed but if you fill them with straw, they make an excellent Hovercraft!” he beamed. “We then drag it up the hill to the far side of the field and slide all the way back down. With the plastic, you get some tremendous speed which will carry you all the way back to where we are standing now!” I was fascinated!
We filled the sack and tied it up with some string. There were eight people, including myself as we took the long walk up the hill. We all sat down on ‘the hovercraft’, positioning ourselves in such a way that we were all outward facing in a circle, interlocking our arms with the person on either side and pushed off.
Nothing could have prepared me for the thrill of this, as the ‘hovercraft’ quickly gathered speed, rotating all the time as it was plunging down the hill, spraying powdered snow all over us and around us, just like the sea would spray fine water up with a real one.
We were laughing so hard, I thought my lungs would burst every time I took a deep breath of freezing air and spraying snow. By the time the ‘hovercraft’ arrived back at the farmhouse, all of our clothes were white and all of our heads were a glowing red colour. We just couldn’t stop laughing as we made our way back up the hill for a replay.
This time around someone suggested lying down, facing skywards. It was just as hilarious as before but found out half way down the hill, that this was not the best position, as we could hardly breathe with all the snow-spray and as the ‘hovercraft’ turned, so the wind blew powdered snow up your trouser legs.
Even though it was freezing to the point where we could hardly feel our toes anymore and our clothes were getting wetter every time we ‘hovered’ down the hill, we just couldn’t stop, laughing as much about the ride as we did about the way we all gradually turned into veritable snowmen. Alas, all good things must eventually come to an end and by 3 p.m. the sun had seemingly no heating power left as the temperature began to drop noticeably.
So we followed the suggestion of the couple living on the farm to join them in some hot Gluehwein (mulled wine). We parked the ‘hovercraft’ in the barn and piled into the utility room where we all stripped to our underwear, since everything else was wet or caked in snow.
While the lady of the house was busy preparing mulled wine and hanging our clothes on the wooden rack in the kitchen to dry, her husband was heaping logs onto the open fireplace getting a roaring fire going. Very slowly the feeling returned to our hands and feet and after no time at all, mugs of hot Gluehwein were pressed into our clammy hands and cheese & biscuits found their way onto the coffee table in the centre of the room.
It was only then that I realised how hungry I really was, having eaten nothing all day.
Before me was lesson no. 2 for spicing up dull food. Salad Cream! Liberally pasted onto cheese sandwiches or cheese crackers it has the same heavenly result that Brown Sauce has on bacon and sausages. To this very day both sauces feature large in our household, very much to the annoyance of my wife, who sees her carefully cooked Sunday Roast defiled by lashings of Brown Sauce.
Eventually dried clothes appeared – socks first, then shirts and finally trousers.
By the time we set off for our drive back home it was already dark and the top of the snow on the roads, which had slightly melted in the midday sun, had now frozen to ice, crackling under the weight of the car.
I spent the next few days trying to relive the experience of the day by telling everyone at Rowntrees about it during numerous coffee & fag breaks in ‘the most important room for miles’.

Water, water everywhere but not in my drink
Eventually the big freeze was replaced by the big thaw, turning the white, snowy landscape into a mass of grey sludge. Walking to the bus station on Blossom Street became rather hazardous and calling for chameleon-like action to keep one eye on the pavement to avoid puddles and slippery areas whilst keeping the other on passing cars, which seem to conspire to spray large amounts of water onto your entire body as they swished past you.
I purchased a newspaper at the little shop near the bus station and clamped it under my arm, boarding the bus. Once settled down on the top deck, I lid a cigarette and opened the paper. The headline read:

“York keeps eye on river levels
Flood warnings were set to be issued today at York and Naburn as high water levels were reported across the region's rivers and streams as the snow melts.”

I only realised what exactly that meant a couple of days later when I was walking into York one evening. As I came to Ouze Bridge, literally hundreds of people were on it looking towards the river. The pub at the river’s edge where I had sat many times enjoying a pint or three was somewhat submerged.
The pub apparently appears, partially submerged, regularly on the news during floods.
As I know now, flooding is almost an annual occurrence, and only the most spectacular ones are remembered by a water-line mark on the left-hand wall, as you enter the pub by the front door.
As I stood there, watching in amazement how this usually quaint little river seemingly tried to swallow the town, a tap on my shoulder broke my thoughts and I turned around to look at the grinning faces of Peter and Mark – two of the guys from Rowntrees.
“All that water!! Makes you feel thirsty, huh??!!”
“Nope! I don’t like water” I replied “Unless it has been through a distillery!”
“Aha! So you like whisky!!??” Mark enquired. “It’s alright” I shrugged.
“Alright?? . . Just alright??!! Well, after tonight you’ll either love it or loathe it!” he stated, making ‘come with me’ gestures with his hand.
We walked for a couple of minutes and found ourselves in the Hansom Cab pub in Market Street. Peter told me to relax as I was in “good hands”! Why did this sentence cause a nervous twitch to manifest itself on my facial features, I wondered. Nevertheless I smiled reassuringly and nodded as if I knew what was about to happen.
We occupied three bar chairs and Pete ordered 3 whiskies. “Ya want water or ice with that?” the barman asked.
“No water in my drinks!!” he exclaimed, pulling a face as if he’d been sucking a lemon. “Nor for me!” Mark protested and not wanting to seem unmanly I joined his chorus. With a ‘manly’ shout of “Cheers!” and a reassuring clink of our glasses we downed the golden-brown liquid. The whisky hit the back of my throat and immediately took my breath away. I waited a few seconds until my vocal cords had recovered from the blow and – clearing my throat – breathed the words “not bad!”.
“I cannot afford to drink whisky all night” I mentioned quickly realising that it would soon be my turn to buy three of them. “Don’t worry about that, we got it covered!” was Mark’s swift reply as he ordered again.
So the evening wore on; each order was followed by words introducing the various varieties of whisky to me, such as:
“Erik! Meet Mr. Tobermory!”
“Say ‘Hello’ to Mr. Glenfiddich!”
“What do you make of Mr. Balmore?” or
“Let Mr. Macallan weep on your tongue!”

Funny thing was that every consecutive whisky went down easier than the previous one and seemed to taste better. Half way through the evening even the slightest thing seemed hilarious and we laughed like drains about God only knows what. Months of carefully rehearsed English turned, like the snow outside, into a slushy new language resembling sounds I heard from the mouth of a Welsh person I once saw on TV.
Peter’s eyes looked glazed and whenever he looked at me, it felt as if he was addressing some person standing 3 feet behind me. Mark’s voice had gone up somewhat in decibels and when he spoke it was as if he was in need of combing his teeth. “When itsch wet outschide, you need to get wet inschide!! Right!!” he stated, holding up his thumb and trying to focus on it.
“Riiiight!!” we both chorused, swigging back the remainder of the current whisky.
After another couple of rounds – one of which I did pay for, Mark spewed:
“Barman! Another 3! . . but no water!!” as if this was a radical departure from previous orders. My face felt numb – correction! – my face was numb by now and both Peter’s and Mark’s ears were glowing like Chinese lanterns. Judging on the heat on my face, mine were likely to look the same to them.
“Now we’ll schtart on the good schtuff!!” Mark explained, his look being a mixture of British pride and sadistic pleasure. “Gov’nor! Lagavulin all ‘round!!” he ordered, his voice reaching almost fever-pitch with excitement.
Laga-what?? I puzzled. The glasses were re-filled and lined up on the bar like soldiers.
I grabbed one and took a sniff. “Holy guacamole! Schmells like tar!” I protested.
Peter tried to grab his glass – missed – and promptly fell of his bar stool. Looking at Peter lying on the floor with the bar stool on top of him laughing like a hyena Mark and I laughed so hard, we nearly wet ourselves. During this pandemonium Mark had a coughing fit, his face now matching the colour of the heads on my matches, with which I tried to light a cigarette between spasms.
The barman came over and motioned to ‘come closer’! “I think you’ve had enough!” he said sternly. “Dink up and be on your way!”.
As if to agree with him the old family curse came upon me! Whenever anyone in our family had too much to drink, they get the hiccups. Badly!!
For me – that time had come and I tried to drink the last whisky carefully timed to coincide with a break between hiccups.
As I took a swig of Lagavulin, it was as if someone had just tried to build a road on my tongue.
All I could taste was tar – smoke – peat and more tar followed by another loud hiccup, which caused both Pete and Mark to laugh out loud.
We grabbed our coats and spilled out onto the street, which by now was pretty empty.
The whole town was swimming – not because of the floods from the river Ouze but the floods of whisky washing around my body. Houses were moving, street lights had an eerie, foggy glow around them and my legs refused to work as a team.
As we got back to Ouze Bridge, Mark had the desperate desire to ‘feed the fish’, which sounded reasonable to me – so I joined him! To say that I felt ill would be the understatement of the century. The best I can describe it is “too ill to live and too young to die!”.
I advised them that there was no way I would be able to get home in this state – home being at least 20 minutes brisk walk on a sober day! As luck would have it a cab came by which was flagged down by Pete. After a journey which seemed to go on forever, I fell out of the taxi in front of my flat and didn’t even have to strength or coordination to turn around to waive good-bye. Ever tried to get a giant key into a miniscule key hole?? Took me ages!!
Most of that night was spent between sitting on the kitchen chair and visiting the adjacent toilet which was constantly moving until, somewhere in the early morning hours, I fell asleep with my head on the kitchen table. I awoke hearing a muffled ‘bang’ which was from the people living upstairs slamming the front door shut when they went to work. Something was wrong! I seemed to be paralysed! My head and neck were out of alignment with the rest of my body and I had to carefully massage my shoulders and neck before I could move. My whole body was frozen; due to the fact that this was still winter and automatic central heating was non-existent. I bent down and pressed the button to turn on the heater in the kitchen. After several attempts and with a loud ‘woof!’ it ignited and I could see blue flames dancing behind the safety grid. Whilst doing so I tried to remember what day of the week it was but could only narrow it down to either Wednesday or Thursday. My mouth and throat were burning like the Sahara desert and my head was about to explode. Amongst much moaning, such as was previously only heard from the couple living upstairs, I slowly stood up and sidled over to the sink. I turned on the tap and splashed water on my face. The water was as freezing as I was but I had to revive myself somehow.
I cupped my hands, gulped down some water and was instantly drunk again. There was no way I was going to work today, so I boiled the kettle and made myself a cup of coffee. A glance in the mirror at the far side of the kitchen confirmed that this was the right decision. I looked awful!!! The rest of the day was spent on the couch in the living room cursing Pete & Mark, cursing the devil’s brew called whisky, cursing and feeling very sorry for myself and falling asleep.
During that day I dreamed enough to fill an entire horror book and awoke to the faint sound of ‘thud thud thud’ somewhere in the distance. As I lifted my head I saw Martin’s cheery figure waiving at me from outside the window.
I scrambled to my feet and wished I hadn’t, as someone immediately started to pummel my brain with a sledge hammer. I opened the front door to a wall of cold air and Martin’s deep and calm voice.
“Hey, Erik, are you alright? By the way, someone has puked in your front garden!!”
I ushered him in and over a cup of coffee explained to him what had happened.
“Aah! That explains it!” he said, lighting up a couple of cigarettes and handing me one of them. I thought he meant that this explained why I was not at work but he said: “That explains why neither Pete, nor Mark, nor you were at work today!” There being strength in numbers, I felt better for knowing that I was not the only truant person that day. In an unprecedented and since then not repeated move I refused his offer of an Indian take-away even though I had not eaten all day.
“OK, relax!” he motioned “tomorrow is Friday and there is nothing important on at work. Will you be there?” “I sure will!” I confirmed and indeed I was.

Spookily this episode has not put me off whisky at all but I could not vouch for either Mark or Pete, both of which also turned up for work on Friday. For the foreseeable future the taunt of ‘Don’t mention the war!’ was replaced with ‘Don’t mention whisky!’.

Springtime and Daffodils
As the winter drew to a close and the days became longer again, my general knowledge of York and the surrounding areas as well as life in Britain with all its idiosyncrasies had improved tremendously. The same could be said for my language skills; including the appreciation of British humour and my English vocabulary.
Since I had been ribbed for many a faux-pas over the months, I thought it worthwhile to write a few down so the reader can share in my friends and colleagues amusement of those bygone days.

English according to Erik Translation

I need a small towel for my nose = I need a tissue
High-scratcher = Skyscraper
This is not one of your business = This is none of your business
Kennyballs = Cannibals
Pay attention! = Excuse me, please!
Have you got fire? = Could I have a light, please?
What can I do for you? = Can I help you?
It makes nothing! = It doesn’t matter!
Tell him to call me! = Please ask him to call me!
Do you have a clock? = Have you got a watch?
How much o’clock is it? = What time is it, please?
That’s not in the question! = That’s out of the question!
Trash bucket = Bin
Rain-groove = Gutter
Very small albatross = Seagull
Ice-stick = Ice-lolly
Bitter = Bitter
Not Bitter = Lager
Cherry = Sherry
Suitcase-room = Car-boot
Hand-shoe = Glove
Can you give me the addition? = Could I have the bill, please!
What is this in money? = How much is this, please?
Train-bars = Rail track
I like your spectaculars = I like your spectacles

There were no doubt many more of these but I didn’t want to question those people who knew me then in case I open a can of worms.
It is however noteworthy that somewhere between February and March of 1981 I caught myself thinking in English, which was a good sign and the first major step to a relatively fluent conversation as the steps of translating what I was hearing into German – formulating my reply and then translating back into English began to fall away. By the middle of March the thought manifested itself in my heart that I really wanted to stay in England for good and I wrestled with myself as to how this could be achieved.
I had to go to Paris for my next nine months assignment; there was no question about that. I could not let my father down, who had stuck his neck out in organising these trips and work placements for me. It would not be fair and could even reflect badly on him. Besides, I figured it would be a good move to see if the desire to live here would fade away or increase.
My hunch however was, that I would be sorely missing York as the mere thought of leaving this place filled me with a feeling I had not known before – being homesick.
So I enquired at Rowntrees as to the possibility of a job for me should I decide to return after my time in France.
The woman in the Personnel Department impressed me with her eloquence of speech and diplomacy in telling me, that this was as likely as me winning the Nobel peace prize.
This was not going to be a walk in the park if I really wanted to emigrate but I wasn’t going to give up on it so easily.
April – my final month in England! All around the city walls the grass verges were a sea of yellow flowering daffodils, heralding the return of springtime. The avenue of trees on either side of Blossom Street and the trees in front of Clifford’s Tower were heavy with white and pink blossoms, giving the impression of a city which, like sleeping beauty, had awoken to new life after the long and cold months of winter.

“Before you leave for France, there is just one more thing I need to show you!” were Martin’s words to me one Monday morning before he even said ‘Good morning’.
“I have organised for the working men’s club Quiz team – and that includes YOU – to go and visit the Theakston’s brewery in Masham this Wednesday evening!”
Theakston’s Bitter was one of my favourite beers and it was well known throughout Yorkshire. The other beer they brewed was called ‘Old Peculiar’; a dark, almost black beer with ‘peculiar’ taste, not unlike Guinness. Old Peculiar was a bit too bitter in taste for my liking but Martin said that ‘it doesn’t travel well’ but tastes divine fresh from the barrel. I was not convinced.
Wednesday came and we assembled at Fulfordgate, where a mini-bus came to collect us for the one hour journey to Masham, just on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.
Masham is a very small and quaint looking place with houses made from natural stone. The brewery, in the same style, looked more like an old museum from the outside and much smaller than I had envisaged.
There was a lady greeting us just inside the door, handing each one of us a pint glass with the words: “This is the last time I want to see any of you with an empty glass! Throughout this tour you will find barrels of beer with taps on them – just refill your glass as often as you like!”
Did I hear right? Was it Christmas again already?
There were three barrels right where we stood and the first glasses were being filled already, as nobody needed a second prompt.
“Here, Erik, try the Old Peculiar!” Martin beamed, grabbing my sleeve and dragging me towards the Old Peculiar barrel.
My glass filled with dark liquid crowned with white foam and with a shout of “Cheers everybody!” from our female guide, who also held a pint of the dark stuff we corporately took a good swig.
Martin was right! Fresh from the barrel, this stuff was delicious.
Because the inside of the brewery was just as ancient as the outside of it, the tour around the various rooms of the brewery was very interesting indeed as we proceeded at snail’s pace due to finding far too many barrels with taps on them, commanding us to stop and refill our glasses. Halfway through the tour we noticed some amusing facts about our guide. Firstly that she had taken off her shoes and secondly that she was badly slurring her words. By the time we got to the end of the tour she was completely drunk and all of us were certainly feeling the affect of the beer.
We came through some double-doors to a large room with historic pictures on the wall and some information about the founder and family of Theakston but any attempt to look at them were cut short by the swaying voice of our guide.
“Lishen up! Thish is the end of the tour! We can now go through shis door and finish or go to the toiletsh and then back che way we came and do a reverse-tour! It’s your deshission!”
Before anyone could say “Old Peculiar”, the first few people filed into the gents toilets – followed by our tour guide, Martin, Albert and me.
Having ‘parked’ a few pints of liquid in this way, we started the reverse-tour, which had nothing at all to do with information (our tour guide opted instead to get very friendly with some of the lads) but all to do with consumption!
I was having flash-backs to the Micklegate-run as apparently any communication between my brain and my legs had been severed.
Somehow we must have managed to board the bus for the way home but all I can remember is someone singing some song about “Two smelly socks . . “?!?
In later years I would visit many more breweries in the Yorkshire region but none as enjoyable and memorable as this one.

A week later the day had finally come to say good-bye to my friends in York and the folks at Rowntrees, who presented me with an old map of York, framed in a picture frame to remember them by. Martin gave a moving speech about how much they enjoyed getting to know and love me and we all had a glass of Champagne.
I also gave a little speech in remarkably good English, thanking them for their care and friendship over these past nine month and promising a swift return.
My father always used to say: “When it is nicest, you should leave!” but looking around the room at these smiling, friendly faces, it was a very hard thing to do.

The ringing of the telephone cut across my thoughts and I answered it.
“Hello, darling, do you mind if we have some friend for dinner on Saturday?” the cheery, clear voice belonging to my wife asked.
“Not at all, Jan!” I replied “Love you and see you tonight!”

It was 1988 and I was working in Telephone Sales.
I was no longer living in York but I had become a British citizen living in England with a British passport, a British wife, three children and a brand new baby daughter.

They say that home is where the heart is and my heart was home.

(If you have read this little book and enjoyed it, please be so kind and leave a comment! Many thanks.)