20th May ‘09: ("Bonn: A small town in Germany (John Le Carre)
Peter and I are discussing Cambodia this morning - how we love the Mekong, and the magnificence of the Angkor complex there. But my stomach is rumbling, and I suggest breakfast. Still clutching a Nikon camera and my email address, he agrees…but hardly leaps into action. Peter is unstoppably mid-rant and bearing the expression of a man cheesed to the back teeth with language; he is cocking a snook at the word “ongoing”, regarding it as an Americanism. ‘Why can't people say “continuing”, as they should?’ he asks loftily. Do let me know if I become as pedantic as this, won’t you?
Steering him into the kitchen ought to get breakfast off the ground, I think naively, but the unadulterated jabber continues; he nonchalantly leans on the sink, with not so much as a kettle boiling in the background. Why can't men multi-task? I wonder fleetingly. ‘We've run out of teabags so it'll have to be a blend of Darjeeling and Earl Grey,’ he apologises. After living in Deutschland for nearly thirty years, I'm not convinced that Peter knows what he's doing on the tea front,
and so I opt for coffee.
Monika, meanwhile, has finished her ablutions, and puts out an array of jams, meats and cheeses. ‘Peter forgot to prepare bread,’ she says, looking over her glasses in a mildly reprimanding manner. Fifteen minutes or so has now passed since there was talk of coffee. ‘Shit, I forgot to put the water in,’ realises Peter, raising one hand to his forehead. ‘Erm, shall we all have an egg?’ Great Scott, this is exhausting.
Leaping out of the door at 11.20 sharp, Peter guides me on a delightful walking tour of Bonn, pointing out where he married one of his wives, and launching into a digression about London air shelters in World War Two. He is a fascinating chap and, before taking me to Beethoven's birthplace, fills me in on his 25 years as a professional photographer. After two-and-a-half decades, however, he admits losing his touch, or 'going off the boil' as he puts it. He is the original intrepid reporter, though, a character filling me with inspiration.
‘They sent me to cover The Golan Heights in the 70s,’ he begins, as we stroll through this pleasant city on the banks of
the River Rhine. ‘I was hoping to go home after that, but they told me to hang around in Israel because Nixon was coming. I covered that, looked forward to seeing the kids, then I got sent to Lisbon for The Revolution.’ Wow, those are some commissions, but it sounds like he was in the same boat as me; just when I think I’m finishing a tour, another one starts. Wives, girlfriends and families get put on hold. Remind me I’m supposed to be getting out of the industry, won’t you.
As a photographer, he's done royal tours as well, you know. Yet looking at his pictures of a party we were at together three years ago, I notice he's cut off my head in one of the photos. Hmm.. Well, he did say he’d gone off the boil.
So, to Beethoven - the big draw in Bonn. Ludwig was born in 1770, in Bonnegasse, a little street in the centre of town, and his old house is now a museum. Though precociously dashing off sonatas at the age of twelve, the poor devil had developed hearing problems by the age of 30. There is a selection of
his crude ear trumpets upstairs. Basset horns, an organ keyboard and scrawled manuscripts also fill the rooms. As we enter, Peter knowledgably tells me, ‘the floorboards in here are the noisiest I've ever heard; I think that's what made him deaf.’
21st May: ("Pedal to the Metal")
The next stop on the AC/DC tour is the Hockenheimring, a Grand-Prix circuit near Mannheim, Germany. Now, driving around the track - the Sachs Curve, to be specific - poses challenges in an eighteen-wheeler. The main hazard, rather than cornering hard and tipping the truck on its side, seems to be avoiding forklifts. In the build-up to the concert tomorrow night, the Hockenheimring is littered with them today; they slither hither and thither with crates of staging, their manoeuvres unpredictable. Safety when the track is used for racing, however, is paramount; after Scottish Grand-Prix champion Jim Clark careered into the trees at 225km/h (killing himself instantly), two chicanes were built to reduce top speeds.
On a brighter note, I think we can finally say that summer is here - which prompts that stout fellow, Namibian, to organise a barbecue. He really is in his element tonight: one minute dicing tomatoes,
onions, and adding a secret ingredient; the next minute he flips burgers at the grill, temples moistening. I think if it weren't for his steering wheel fetish, I'd encourage a sideways move within the industry - to that of caterer. The expression ‘Never trust a skinny chef,’ springs to mind.
This really is an absolute corker of a barbecue - even a walk-in fridge has been located to store the beer. Group photos are being taken, and all is tip-top. I'm sure you don't need to know that we tried to light AC/DC's cannons, or what one of the bus drivers thought of Namibian's sausage..
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