Germany 1 England 0 May 16, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Just carrying on the anglo-dissonance theme while fresh back from a jaunt to the Kingdom. It wasn’t to London, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not having seen anyone. No, it was more social duty, but also fun, visiting an old lady I know in the middle of nowhere. She isn’t at all the reason Germany wins 1-0 (or any other score) in this short-term comparison exercise. She was bliss. And, I think, with the passing years, the decreased mobility and, therefore, limited social abilities, feeling as anglo-dissonant as if she was herself abroad. She sang – although her singing was a bit like speaking (or rapping, I suppose), it must be said, but she is 94 – Cole Porter songs, which was lovely, and that made me proud to be American, until I remembered I wasn’t, and then we tried to be proud of Noel Coward instead, but it’s not quite the same, is it? Little knowing that her questions were grist to my current mill of feeling remote from England, I fed her answers that reinforced both my current pro-Germanness and her worries that England’s gone down the pan. “Darling (this is her, not me), do German youths swear as much as English ones? Would a German teenager call his friend ‘a pile of shit’ at cricket (as her great-grandson had just done)?” I ignored the cricket factor, thought for a sec, and answered, “No, he wouldn’t.” I said to the other people gathered that I was finding England a bit philosophyless, a bit empty for my liking at the moment. I don’t think they were overly impressed, perhaps not surprisingly, both at me criticising from afar, and, worse, having gone over to the Krauts.
I think I should only enter England by sea. Although I now brace myself for it, the airports’ swirly carpets still lower my serotonin levels without fail every time. But I think Gatwick must have received complaints. There were only a hundred metres or so of bechewinggummed, filthy, stinking carpet and then it went sort of neutral tiles and glass and, for a sec, with no-one around, sun shining and a neutral landscape, I thought I was in Dallas, or Washington, or anywhere. I queued up to show my passport, which has seen better days since it was issued the second before I moved abroad almost seven years ago and have lived in countries where I prefer to have it with me at all times ever since. Our queue’s woman was a bit of a stickler. I think she was being trained as a man stood a discrete but nosey distance to her rear. “Can you stand where I can see you?” she said to the occasional Engländer who was jumping the gun and wanted to do an emergency bit of extra-shopping – yes, you can duty-free shop when you arrive now too – and I enjoyed watching each of them having the same raising-eyes-to-heaven reaction to their friend next in the queue at the bollocking. Once I got through and met my pal who was waiting, we got down to Anglo-German business. She is a real Engländer(in), not a fading one like me. She had enjoyed the people-watching possibilities afforded by Gatwick arrivals herself. “English people are all perfectly round and pink,” she said. My flight arrived with ones from Faro and Alicante, so there was a gaggle of freshly enpinkened Engländers coming through at just that moment. I’d enjoyed watching them on the other side too. Huge groups compared their tans and there was the fuss, as they approached the front of their respective queues, as each group-leader redistributed to their minions the passports that had clearly been in their control since they’d been waved nonchalantly at Spanish and Portuguese officials a few hours earlier. The men were dressed mostly as if about to walk on to the hallowed turf to represent their nation (but without the studs). And I suppose the women were sort of a bit like footballers’ wives. Clean(ish)-cut. Tarty. (Sorry, am I allowed to write this in 2006?) Stiff-haired. And angry.
But England itself was lovely. Trains are now posh, efficient, and empty. I was in a lovelily quiet bit of West Sussex, with wheezing and almost bracing walks on the Downs, peace and the aforementioned 94-year-old and her miscellaneous descendants. I even had a drop of booze, but it doesn’t count, because England was my Alicante. And I chatted and listened and fussed vaguely round my hostess, her worrying all the time that, what with feeling so utterly well at her huge age, she might never get round to dying at all. She rushed me off yesterday, worrying that I’d miss my train, with ten pounds, “because that’s what grandmothers do. They give their grandsons money.” I reminded her that she wasn’t my grandmother, but that didn’t matter, and she said I could give it to a poor German, if such a species existed. She worried about England out loud to me, and was worried that Germany still suffered from its wartime legacy. “Darling, my first memory is waving my father off to the First World War. As he wandered off down the road, I cried after him, ‘Don’t kill any Germans, daddy’.” Unfortunately, one killed him, and she has been a life-long pacifist and all-round romantic ever since. And bloody good company.
So that England was lovely. But Gatwick wasn’t. So I was in two minds as I got my plane home. Has England gone horrible? Do I want to be in Germany? Is Berlin nicer? (Well, it’s nicer than Gatwick, and, admittedly, no-one lives in airports for fear that their life stories will be made into a Hollywood blockbuster and what could POSSIBLY be worse than having to live down the ignominy of being played by Tom effing Hanks?) Half-amusingly, one of the trolley-dollies was one of the three outrageously drunk ones I met a few posts back and who’d half-made me think I’ve turned into a German (or Russian or composite Euro-type). I didn’t say hello, obviously, and luckily he stopped serving about a row in front of mine and I had a pair of German queens on my trolley instead. The low-budget airline in question, which isn’t Ryanair, likes to make the flight as theatrical as possible and the staff make every announcement as if they are desperately trying to suppress giggles, presumably because Andreas the purser has just been caught trying to snog Mike the pilot. Or something. The announcements were made in two languages. After we landed, and once the gaggle of Italian pensioners on board had finished applauding its smoothness, the queens went head-to-head in a Germany-England match-up for who could make the funniest goodbye speech. My one went first, and heroically got through his spiel about how great it had been having us etc. without letting his voice descend into out-and-out fake laughter. The German queen, who’d made the odd embarrassingly unwitty remark during the flight, peaked at just the right time. His first joke, “Even though I know you want to switch your mobile phones on straight away so that you can ring all your friends and say what great crew this low-budget airline provides, please wait another couple of minutes until you’re inside the airport building etc.” already sent a ripple of laughter down the aisles amongst the German-speakers. To make my annoyingly bilingual, good-looking and in-love Polish neighbours feel left out, I laughed along too. But then he went in for the kill. “Unfortunately, none of the great crew was on duty this evening, but we hope you’ll phone your friends and tell them we did a good job all the same.” The Germans went wild. There were whoops of joy. There was applause. The German women who didn’t have short blond hair, glasses and goofy teeth instantly delved into their bags to get out their comedy-German-outfit set (of short blond wig, glasses and goofy teeth) so they could guffaw as conventionally as everyone else. The German queen had stolen the show. Once I got through immigration – passport checked by a strapping, handsome and friendly policeman – that was it. I knew I was home.