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Published: November 30th 2009
Crazy Sandra and Uwe
Holding the useless satnav
15th March '09:
“Crazy” Sandra, the avid heavy metal fan, turned up again last night, this time with her partner Uwe in tow. We’re off to a steak restaurant - Namibian, as you may have guessed, likes a steak or three - and a “spaznav” (satnav) device is produced to find it. I ought to just mention here that we are, in fact, pedestrians. A farcical quarrel over directions ensues - left, no, right, straight on? Namibian coolly smokes a Chesterfield throughout the squabble, and looks at a shop selling suitcases. He explodes with expletives, his eye wandering from one expensive suitcase to the next, culminating in near apoplexy at the €300 flagship model.
The German couple are stumped, and eventually ask a taxi driver for assistance - embarrassing, I know, but we're starving. The restaurant that we seek turns out to be just 150 yards away; a pesky pedestrianised street has caused all the confusion. My infallible method of asking attractive women for directions would have been infinitely more productive.
Uwe is suffering from acute tennis elbow, a condition I genuinely thought stemmed from playing tennis. The term must have at least originated in the game,
mustn't it? You see, in my eyes, it just doesn’t add up that a chap moving a computer mouse at work all day can contract tennis elbow. As we're chatting about his complaint, I spot some businesswomen wearing paper aprons to protect their clothes. I want one...and I'm not going to shut up until I get one. The accommodating waitress merrily complies and I promptly behave like a child, liberally smearing my apron with ketchup.
Sandra’s translation of the apron’s text is: 'a bib is nice and saves the fat but only the clothes unfortunately.' Hmm, it makes sense in German apparently. Namibian orders a second Cognac and Coke. Oh,I know - I regularly raise my eyebrows in disapproval, too. He's also been seen adding Cola to good, single malt whisky. The Germans drop us off at the trucks with bonhomie, waving and saying: 'thank you for the to eat.'
As I say, that was last night. Today, Namibian is studying a map in his truck - despoiling the route to Prague with yellow, pink, and blue markers - while Crazy Sandra takes me sightseeing. We're off to a place called Iserlohn, which has spooky caves. At a
constant ten degrees, they would be ideal for storing wine, an idea that might already be in place - only half of the caves are open to tourists.
In 1868, a chap overhead was banging happily away with a hammer...when it disappeared into the depths. He’s jolly lucky it wasn’t a thermos flask that fell through, was my first reaction on hearing this story. Anyway, lo and behold, Dechenhole Cave had been discovered. The tour commentary is in Deutsch, and, like everything else in this country, photography is “verboten”. Sandra translates all the statistics - '1cm of stalactite growth takes 100 years' etc. - while I decide whether the pretty guide would actually mind if I took some photos. Sandra discreetly asks - 'tell her I’m on the AC/DC tour,' I whisper - and the guide agrees to a few sneaky snaps. Far more intrusive than picture-taking is Sandra's mobile phone beeping, shattering the serenity. It is a text message from Namibian - a whole week late - telling us he’s watching the Pink concert..
16th March: (“Dortmund - Prague”)
After the caves, and a friendly altercation with the “spaznav”, Sandra drives north. Fast. Speed always sounds
swifter in kilometres than miles, but, even so, we really are hoofing it up the A45. But then, why not? - German motorways are renowned for allowing unlimited top speeds.
Nowadays, though, these unrestricted roads are few and far between. I wonder how my four-geared Citroen - it was new in 1989 - would fare if I really opened her up here. I'm talking downhill, obviously - to minimise the shaking of the steering wheel at more than 100km/h. German police may object to it being in an overtaking lane at all.
So, engine roaring, and trash metal on the stereo - oh sorry, I believe it’s called thrash metal - we’re off to The Old Henrichenburg Shiplift in Waltrop. 'Are you sure it’s open on Sundays, Sandra?' I ask early on in the journey. She assures me that, come rain or shine, this marvel of nineteenth-century engineering operates daily. There is no doubt, whatsoever, that, at this very minute, vessels are being hydraulically liftted between sections of the Dortmund-Ems canal. We arrive, enthusiastic, to be told that the lift closed in 1970. And all this gallivanting has meant that I've missed the erotic show next to AC/DC's
gig at the Westfalenhalle, Dortmund.
Now refurbished, but certainly not working - for, oh, I don't know, thirty-nine years or so - the Henrichenburg Shiplift is still a sight to behold. Unable to fathom why one needs a shiplift in the first place, we have a look in the museum. Why isn’t there a standard lock system here? I wonder. Surely it’s much easier just to shut the gate behind your ship and flood the tank? The museum blurb proves fruitless.
We move to Plan B - which, as you know, is to ask a pretty girl. Ha, that caught you out - that’s usually Plan A!This building, however - full of pistons and crankshaft cross-sections - houses very few damsels. My petulantly-asked questions remain unanswered. Miraculously, as we leave, there is a passably attractive staff member on the steps outside. She tells us that an ordinary lock system would require too much water - 30,000 tons of it, to be specific. So that’s the reason..
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