Celtic Illumination, part 184, Sodom & Gomorrah & Me
I have to admit that I was very grateful for the experience of living in Germany. It is such a beautiful country. I think I liked it because it was so practical and straight forward. Before recycling became such an issue as it is today, there existed a form of recycling in Germany known as ‘Bulk rubbish.’ When we first heard about this we were quite sceptical; however we eventually discovered that what we were being told was true. One day in every month, say for example the first Thursday in every month, would be nominated as ‘Bulk rubbish’ day. Any household with a large item, or items, that they wanted to dispose of would set them out at the side of the road, on the pavement.
These items would include television sets, three piece suites, table and chairs, wardrobes and so on. Anyone could go around and take any of these items that they wanted. I often saw small trucks nipping about collecting cookers and fridges. We were too embarrassed to take anything, it sort of went against our culture to even consider taking something from what was basically rubbish, despite the fact that much of what was placed out for collection was perfectly good. I have to admit that one evening, on the way home, I spotted a huge cuddly, white, polar bear and took it for our son to play with. The thing was so big it scared him stupid, so it went back out for the bulk rubbish collection the following month.
The shops too were fantastic. I loved walking in to Erkelenz itself and wandering around the shops. One shop in particular offered carved wooden figures and I could stand for hours just looking at the items as the craftsmanship involved was seriously impressive, not to mention the smell of the wood. We had a large supermarket near us in Erkelenz, Famka. For us it was a bit of an experience as it was so large and offered such a wide range of goods. But Famka was only a supermarket, we discovered a hypermarket at Venlo, in Holland, the Tref centre. This place was massive and it could take you a complete day to see the whole shebang, they sold everything from cars to chewing gum. It might not mean a lot these days but for a good ol boy like myself this surely was an eye opener.
We would go to the Tref centre mainly to bulk buy our favourite sausages, which were horsemeat, and were gorgeous, we would also stock up on Dutch beer. It was Derek Aldous who had introduced me to Grolsch. The evening he gave me my first crate I hadn’t really thought much about it and had left it on the balcony. One evening we were sitting chatting and one of us announced that we would like a beer. I remembered the crate out on the balcony and went to grab a couple of bottles. It had been snowing, so the beer was perfectly chilled. It was like nectar and went down a little too easily. I can assure you that the crate of twenty bottles didn’t last very long.
People who would come to visit would be amazed that we would nip into Holland to buy beer and on the way home have a little detour into Belgium where we would buy our vegetables. Someone tried to create a squadron Sunday afternoon session in Holland. It was an Irish bar called ‘The Sportsman’s Bar’ and I only ever went once, for driving from Germany, to eat a British Sunday lunch, in an Irish pub, in Holland, with a load of Brits, was a little too strange even for me. I was still of the opinion that you should eat what the locals ate and drink the local hooch too, otherwise what’s the point of even being there?
Irene’s sister came over. She like Irene had just given birth to a child and really enjoyed Germany as her daughter slept for most of the time they were there. It wasn’t until after the visit that we thought perhaps breast feeding and consuming alcohol may have contributed to the length of time the child had been sleeping. I took her husband out one evening for a tour of the block bars and we ended up returning at dawn having drank ourselves sober. We also learned that first of all you should cook and present the sausage and allow your visitors to eat and enjoy them before announcing that they were in fact horse.
My mother had contacted me and wanted to come over to see her grandchild. I wasn’t really sure what to do or how to handle it after everything she had said and especially the way she and the rest of the family had snubbed Irene. Hopefully it would be safe to say that there wasn’t a nasty bone in my body so I arranged for her to visit. It was quite an uncomfortable visit as I wanted to mention the letter she had sent trying to get a priest to bring me back in to the church as in her opinion the stress and worry I had caused my father, through marrying outside the Catholic Church, had killed him. I sort of knew she would deny any knowledge of such a letter despite the fact that it was sitting in a drawer in my front room.
We were driving along one day, I think we were going to Wildenrath and we passed a local brothel. It was a single building, about one mile outside of the town, on its own, surrounded by fields. We would often call in for a final beer or two on a Saturday afternoon on our way back from rugby. My mother mentioned how nice the building was and I had to laugh when I told her that it was a brothel as she went rigid and refused to look at the building as if she feared being turned in to a pillar of salt. She did mention religion once and it was as she was bathing Gerard. I stepped in to the bathroom and she was in a bit of a fluster. She began to say how easy it would be to take Gerard to a priest and have him baptised. She then, using the bathwater, baptised him.
I actually felt sorry for her because she continued to say that unless he was baptised and we got married properly in a Catholic Church he would always be a little bastard. I couldn’t believe that a grandmother would say such a thing about her own grandchild. We took my mother around the usual haunts and even one day went up to the Tref centre in Venlo. I know that even though I had experienced many things in my life and would still class myself as a ‘good ol boy’, despite the fact that I was really a sophisticated urbanite from Belfast, my mother would have remained very much in the Victorian dream she called life. Indeed the Tref centre was far too much for her and you could see that she really didn’t understand what was going on.
We had simply said that we were going shopping and didn’t make a great deal of the fact that we were in a different country. The German border guards did though when we tried to get back in to Germany. Irene and myself were used to flashing our passports however my mother had left hers in her suitcase in the flat and we were refused entry in to Germany. I drove back into Holland and down along the border to the next crossing point where we were once again refused entry. I could see that I was probably going to have to drop them at a café in Holland and go back in to Germany collect her passport from the flat, come back in to Holland and collect them before returning home.
I secretly smiled at the fun we could have if I dropped my mother at one of the famous marijuana cafes but thought I shouldn’t. I would be in real bother if the uncle priests found out about it. I aimed for a large border crossing which was beside Bruggen. It was a very busy crossing and with a bit of luck, on seeing the British forces number plates, I hoped I would be waved straight through. Luckily enough I was and we returned to our little flat with another fun story we could tell the grandchildren. Of course while with us, my mother had to attend church and this allowed her to make contact with the priest who was then alerted to the fact that there were murderers and bastards lurking with his parish boundaries. Luckily for me he was an honorary member of the squadron and on no occasion questioned the fact that I never turned up for any of the appointments he had arranged where we could have a chat.