Celtic Illumination, part 170, Wake me up before you go go.
It’s touching that so many of you are asking how I felt when leaving Venice. Well; I felt as if I was in the film, The Blues Brothers. That scene towards the end of the movie where Jake and Elwood get into their car, Elwood says. “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Well it is seven hundred miles from Venice to Wildenrath, a distance that was well known on 92 Squadron as on a number of occasions the troops would race to Venice for afternoon tea and back again for last orders in the rugby club. Why, I hear you ask. Well; as a mountaineer would say, ‘Because it’s there.’
I aimed the little Beetle for Innsbruck via the Brenner Pass and set off. I pulled in to a motorway service station around Verona and filled the tank. We pooled all of our money and saw that we had enough for a decent meal each, but accommodation would be perhaps a bit too much of a stretch. I did have some Lire, which I was embarrassed about, but only about eighty or ninety pence worth. What I was unaware of was that when you were given your change at a restaurant the waiter would include some small tender notes. The value of these would be one hundred Lire. As it was fifteen hundred lire to the pound each one hundred lire note was worth only five or six pence.
I was really taken with these notes of small tender and decided to collect them and perhaps frame them when I got back, for each was a little work of art. What I wasn’t aware of is that each county, or district, in Italy had their own version of small tender notes, that were only valid in that area, and these should have been returned to the waiting staff as a form of tip. I was now aware that perhaps they had not been wishing us well as we would have left their premises. We were suitably refreshed and had got back in to the Beetle when we were approached by some men.
On arrival we had been pestered by some young boys who wanted to wash the car. Thinking it was them again I was about to shooo them away when I saw some swarthy looking types approach me. I rolled down the window and one of them produced some gold bracelets. “How much dollar you give me for these?” he asked. “Give me fifty dollars each.” I explained that I didn’t have any dollars. It was then established that we were not American but British forces. “Give me pounds sterling.” Living in Germany. “Okay, okay, you give me Deutschemark.”
I explained that we had no dollars or pounds sterling or even deutschmark for that matter. I started the car and was about to drive away when the fellow reached in. He threw two gold bracelets onto my lap and stated. “Okay all the money in your top pocket for these.” with which he stabbed his fingers into the breast pocket on my jacket and removed my collection of small denomination Italian notes. “Done!” I said, and he had been. I accelerated away as hard as I could and prayed that the little Beetle would reach optimum cruising speed in double quick time. For a good number of miles we kept an eye on the traffic behind us fearing that mafia flavoured limousines would be zooming up behind, us but thankfully we were not to sleep with the fishes that night. Although there was a sort of nautical theme as I have to say I was feeling like a pirate with my load of gold and silver.
Austria was stunning and I had hoped to spend some time there as I was desperate to meet a Prussian prince. I had always been intrigued with the literary and film version of the German, or Austrian, aristocrat. The clicking heels, the monocle and the duelling scar. I had read a lot about the duelling scar, and would love to have met someone with a duelling scar as I wasn’t sure if they were very brave or very stupid. I had often imagined two brave young men duelling away with swords, on a lawn, at dawn, but on delving deeper into the subject discovered that this was far from the truth.
A duelling scar is a mark of honour and is very much an aristocratic badge. But it is a sign of courage in being able to take a blow. In fact it’s the loser who wins. I know very strange indeed. The two combatants would face each other both encased from their chest to the top of their head in thick leather and chain mail. They would have goggles to protect their eyes and the only area of bare skin would be the left cheek. I know I’m sorry, I’ve just ruined any German film you may watch in the future. Duelling scars only appear on the left cheek. I was watching the original German version of Das Boot some time ago and was really enjoying it till one fellow pops up with a duelling scar on his right cheek. Sort of ruins the show for you, well; it did for me.
Anyhow, the two combatants would slice and parry at each other with their swords until one, if not both, sported scars. The wound would be packed with horse hair, or sand, so that the scar would become more pronounced. During the Second World War many Jews had their left cheek surgically cut in the hope that they might pass themselves off as German. The practise still continues today and if part of the grand tour was to meet and establish connections with European aristocracy I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t try to meet them.
Unfortunately with both time and money running out we could do no more that have a wander about Innsbruck. We decided that we should aim for home as we couldn’t really afford a decent hotel room that evening. We decided that I would drive as far as I could into the night, have a brief kip in a car park and use our remaining money for a slap up breakfast in the morning. I floored the little Beetle and was zipping along, enjoying the Bavarian scenery flash past. I suppose I should have kept my wits about me for I didn’t notice the motorcycle cop creeping up behind me. He pulled me over and fined me thirty Deutschmarks for speeding.
I don’t think he realised that he had just taken away our breakfast in the morning. It did deflate our mood a little so I pulled into a motorway service area and parked up. All four of us nodded off and it was quite funny as Irene woke screaming. It was still dark but a juggernaut, that had parked next to us, had started up and was moving off. The sensation we got, as we were on a slight hill, was that we were moving backwards. I of course jammed my feet onto the brakes wondering why we were still moving. It certainly woke us all up so we fired up the Beetle and headed for Erkelenz, arriving back laden with gold and silver, not a penny in our pockets but a mind full of wonderful memories, and a nagging thought that I should have that knocking from the back wheel looked at.