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Published: November 23rd 2009
11th March '09:
What is it with the Japanese? It’s a standing joke that their necks support umpteen cameras, but one would hope that the actual pictures might be rather good? Nope. I'd plump for them being dire. And I base my obnoxious generalisation on today's events: Seven Japanese men are standing around the famous statue of Bremen’s town musicians and, one after another, posing next to it. When I say posing, I simply mean standing woodenly, unsmiling. Can you imagine going round to a slideshow in a Tokyo home? I’d rather just see the hotel receipt as proof of a city visit.
Nearby, cabbies stand with thermos flasks beside their Audi and Mercedes taxis, wolfing down the ubiquitous bratwurst. Namibian and Little Dick make preparations to visit the U-boat museum, inviting me along. But I have cousins to visit today - in Oldenburg, half an hour away by train.
I’m sold a stupid ticket, showing a price but no destination, with a stub that needs detaching and validating in a stupid platform machine. The remainder of the ticket has a slogan in German - presumably stupid - and probably encouraging me to ride by train. Well,
I’m already on it. Indeed, anybody in possession of a ticket has already chosen rail over road, so what a waste of printer ink. Stupid.
Aunts ought inherently to be wicked, or is that stepmothers? Well, Heike isn’t. But then she’s not really an aunt. And I’m not entirely sure that her offspring are actually cousins. Oh hang on, that sounds ridiculous. Bear with me: if my scoundrel of a grandfather produced a son, who fathered children with Heike, then are they half-removed cousins or something? Or perhaps “foreign cousins”? - they are German, after all. Oh, what wit..
“Auntie” parks the car underground to avoid 'bits of paper on the window which cost a lot of money' - parking tickets, we say in English - and gives a thoroughly efficient tour of her physiotherapy rooms. Then we're off to meet my “cousins”. We find it easier just to say that we share a grandfather...but if anybody could help, please comment. This is serious!
Oldenburg is a healthy sort of place: residents travel on horseback, by bicycle, or jog like the clappers along its broad, leafy paths. A world away from Bremen, they
say 'moin, moin' to each other, meaning 'well, well'. Clara and Fenna, my cousins who will whoop with delight when seeing their names on the internet, leave their Spanish homework for long enough to polish off a meal and three scoops of ice-cream each. They don’t seem to know about that pain in the temple area when scoffing ice-cream rapidly; they devour dollops - and wafers - in record time. This is another opportunity for a comment, actually: Who can eat ice-cream quickly with no ill-effects?
The Italian cafe owner regards me, as a driver for AC/DC, as a celebrity. “Black Ice” was, after all, among the top-selling albums of 2008 globally. Hopping back into the car, we encounter a roadblock. Heike’s road is closed: between 7pm and 7am the frogs here, devoid of road sense, are protected. So, inching forward and mindful of small animals, she drops off the teenagers, calling out: 'the key is in the cat-clap', and under a full moon drives me back to Bremen.
Talking of keys, Namibian has my spare “house” key, and has left fruit, chocolate and a sandwich on the driver seat. My heart melts. Despite all the teasing,
and painting him as an object of derision, Namibian is a brick. That’s all I’m saying or you’ll be weeping - I’m sure you have a soft spot, too, after all these weeks. He calls in with my flask after the show, dancing over the tram tracks like a disabled hare.
Woudn't it be nice if AC/DC considered doing matinees; we could be away late afternoon instead of early hours of the morning. Actually, there is no mad rush to reach Rotterdam, so there is time for a nap. In fact, Namibian and I use our travel day wisely - yet barely deviate from the most direct route. We park at an unused concert venue in Arnhem, Netherlands, and wander over to the famous war bridge. It marks the site of Operation Market Garden on 17th September, 1944, one of the largest airborne landings ever.
The weather is foul, eliciting a not unreasonable request for Namibian to perform a Zulu sun-dance on the bridge. 'I can’t get my legs high enough any more,' he wheezes regrettably. Cor, I'll tell you what: If we were meant to be out in temperatures like this, we’d have been born with fur.
It’s raining cats and dogs again today, and I’m coming over all unnecessary with a mild bout of diphtheria. Or it might just be a sore throat. Either way, carrying two umbrellas is definitely overkill..
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