Celtic Illumination, part 176, Interpol’s most wanted list.
It was always nice to get back to Germany; the bomb proof walls of operations gave some comfort and the madness subsided. We would have to gently wean ourselves off the Mediterranean lifestyle, so for a good few evenings after our return you could identify where squadron members lived as the barbeques would have been sparked up on the balcony of their flat. You might have been able to replicate the taste but you could never recreate the atmosphere. Each block of flats had eight flats. They also had a basement. One side was given over as a drying room for inclement weather while the other side was split into eight cages, one for each flat, where you could store your packing crates and anything else you wanted.
A lot of the drying rooms had been turned into bars and every Christmas the Station Commander would visit and have a drink in each bar and then declare which block bar was the best. It was crazy. The drink was so cheap I actually found myself putting tequila in my windscreen washers on the car. For me it was quite a practical approach although I hoped the police would never pull me over if I had just washed the windshield. The German police have an image of being very strict although in my experience they were flexible to say the least.
It would have been a Saturday. Irene and I had been shopping and were driving back to Erkelenz. We were driving through the countryside when I approached crossroads. I would have been crossing the main road. I slowed down as I approached the junction and could see no other traffic in the vicinity, only a motorbike some distance away. As there was no need to stop I simply drove across and continued on my merry little way. The motorbike followed me and as it got closer I could see that it was a motorcycle cop.
He came alongside and instructed me to pull over. He came up to my window and asked why I hadn’t stopped at the stop sign. I explained that as I approached the crossroads I could see no other traffic in the area, apart from himself who was a fair old distance away, so I could see no need to stop. His reply was, “In Germany stop means stop! I fine you forty deutschemarks.” At that time forty deutschemarks was ten pounds so not a lot really. He proceeded to fill out his paperwork. “Erm! Excuse me,” I said, as Irene and I had pooled all the cash we had with us. “We’ve just been shopping. Here I point to all the shopping on the back seat of the Beetle. “We’ve only got twelve deutschemarks.”
Without any hesitation, and having a quick gander at the bags on the back seat, the policeman says, “Okay, I fine you ten deutschmarks.” And that was that. I quite liked their style of traffic management as the fine was dealt with there and then at the side of the road and it was forgotten about, whereas in the UK they would have engaged a whole process involving all sorts of overpaid professionals, resulting in you getting points on your license and a much heftier insurance bill. Although a month or two later I was to learn that the Germans could be as pedantic at the Brits if they so wanted.
We had an appointment at the hospital, RAFH Wegberg. We were driving towards Wegberg when I found myself stuck behind a huge tractor and trailer. As my little Beetle was left hand drive, overtaking was no problem. I could see that there was a build-up of traffic behind me so knew I would have to lead off. The tractor driver could see the problem he was causing so pulled over as far as he could to allow us all to pass. With the road ahead clear I overtook and seeing that the car behind me, a Volkswagen Passat estate, was positioned in such a way that indicated he wanted to overtake me, I pulled over as much as I could, like the tractor driver had done, to allow him past.
He did overtake me but as he drew level I saw a hand come out of the window and the old lollipop wave at me. This was a hand held police badge that indicated you were to pull over. I hadn’t realised that it was an unmarked police car. The officer came up alongside and asked for my papers. He then began to fill out his paperwork and I wondered how much he would sting me for. He then took the usual police approach telling me that if the tractor driver had wanted to turn left I had blocked his way. The tractor driver had not indicated that he wanted to turn and there were no turns for him to turn into. But there was more, in order to overtake I had broken the speed limit.
I knew that I should keep my mouth shut and pretend that everything he said was gospel. He then ripped the sheet from his pad and handed it to me. “How much?” I asked. “No,” he says. “This fine is too big for the side of the road. You will go to court.” I can tell you that my heart sank. I wasn’t worried in the least about the German court, I was more worried about the RAF and how they would react. This would be seen as bringing the good name and nature of the RAF into disrepute. It would be inaccurate to say that I was in the shit again. I was always in the shit, for me it was only the depth that varied.
I told my boss on the squadron who shrugged his shoulders and said that all we could do was wait until the court responded and we could only really deal with it then. When I had arrived on the squadron I had explained to my boss that the bank in England had stitched me up by bouncing a cheque for a barrel of beer. I was quite worried as the RAF took cheque bouncing very seriously indeed, but I was quite surprised that even then bankers were regarded as the lowest form of life as they rightly are today. I was worried about a thirty pound cheque when my boss explained that in his case they had bounced a cheque for over one thousand pounds for a removal firm.
Even the chief clerk, who I had to report to, acknowledged the fact that bankers were a useless bunch and accepted the cash from me, thanked me and the issue was over. I was so happy that the normal officialdom had allowed me a get out of jail free card on that one. This one was different. I could see myself being photographed outside the courthouse, the newspaper headlines, the magazine and television interviews, the book deal, the movie, oh the horror of it all. It was always at the back of my mind but thankfully the Germans were a very efficient lot and with a couple of weeks I was summoned to the chief clerk’s office.
I hadn’t been to court, which was good as with legs like mine the movie would have given me more publicity than I could handle. The incident or the paperwork had been through the court system and I had been fined one hundred and twenty deutschemarks. Again, thirty pounds, which wasn’t too serious, what I needed to hear now was how serious the RAF were going to take it and once again the chief clerk smiled at me. “You do realise why this fine is so big?” he said. “No,” I said, wondering when I would be placed under arrest. “Well; he said, with the air of a person who had seen it all before. In the three weeks before Christmas and the three weeks after Christmas all traffic fines are doubled and the extra money raised is given to the local orphanages.
I couldn’t believe that the incident was over and forgotten about. Well, I suppose I now had a German police record and could theoretically call myself an international criminal. But even though I had been fined, and fined through the courts if you don’t mind, I didn’t really feel that bad about it. In fact I felt good that I was buying some orphans Christmas lunch, sure hadn’t I been one myself once.