A Minstrel in Spain
Chapter Nineteen

Life on the French Border

I was pleased to find that the town of Saarbrücken had changed for the better since my last visit with the Dankworth band. The town being quite small, it is a maze of one-way streets, which can be terrifying for an out-of-town driver.

Driving up the Bahnhofstrasse main drag in the old days one could quite easily encounter a tram thundering along right in the middle of the road in the wrong direc­tion, with the driver tapping his head as you screeched desperately out of the way. Now the trams are gone. One pleasant aspect of the new town is the covered-in pave­ments around the shopping area, where it is possible to walk around, even in the worst of weathers, without getting wet. Couple that with easy parking, and, once again, only a short drive of ten minutes to the radio station, and the place suited me right down to the ground.

As I’d suspected, the band in Saarbrücken was terrible. It had been cut down from a regular eighteen piece band to eleven men. The bandleader was a very pleasant guy who played the valve trombone. His name was Pokorny, and he was a very good trombone player, but far too nice a man to be a bandleader. The staff of the radio station had lost all interest in the band and it was gradually going to pieces. Not only that, but the members, all German, disliked the fact that I was playing with Peter’s band, with all of those marvellous American musicians. They felt that I would be comparing their per­formance with their own. I was, of course, but I said nothing to them about it. It took years before I was really ac­cepted into the band socially. By then I’d had my deadly dental operation, and was no longer playing with Peter anyway.

The radio station was really quite beautiful. Situated on top of a hill in the middle of a pretty forest it was clean and healthy. A castle topped the hill, which had been the headquarters of Saarbrücken’s French Commandant before the town reverted to German rule. Next to it were the modern radio buildings, arranged in a square around a very tall thin an­tenna, which had been erected in the centre of a huge lawn, with fountains and fish ponds all around it.

The car park was lower down the hill, and you had to walk up to the sta­tion. It was healthy to walk, they said.

Every morning I would pass poor old Franz, the third trumpet player, stopped halfway up, wheezing away like an old locomotive

Franz and the other trumpet player Karl-Heinz were heavy smokers and drinkers. These seemed to be their only hobbies, and they pursued them full time. The older one, Franz, now in the band for over thirty years, had made himself so comfortable in the job that he even took a portable television set on to the stage sometimes, dur­ing concerts or dances, so that he could watch a football match. He had the set un­derneath his music stand, and spent most of the evening watching the game instead of playing.

I didn’t mind that so much because the band usually sounded better when he didn’t play. Franz had another little trick which I only found out later on during the long carnival balls. On such occasions we used to get free drinks all evening. Halfway through the evening Franz, and sometimes Karl-Heinz, the other trumpet player, would wind up sitting at the side of the stage over the beer crate, and drinking away, convers­ing in low voices, while I played away on my own. I pro­tested about that. If they did it again I was going to stop playing as well. It was Pokorny’s fault. As a relatively new bandleader he didn’t want to make himself un­popular with the lads, and was afraid to say anything.

One of the recording engineers, a heavy smoker, developed what the Ger­mans call Raucherbein, or Smoker’s Leg, which eventually led to one of his legs being ampu­tated. He died shortly after, but not before he’d returned to let us all take a good look at him, white-faced and stumbling on his crutches.

‘There you are,’ I said to Franz. ‘That’s what you get.’

‘Terrible,’ he said, lighting a cigarette, and coughing his guts out.

The other trumpet player, Karl-Heinz, died just after his sixtieth birth­day, also from Raucherbein. Franz died not long after, at age 70; no one seems to know the cause, but he smoked and coughed right up to the day he died. I suppose that he must have enjoyed it.

The first time I walked into the studio I was awe-struck. It was light, airy, air-conditioned, uncluttered, friendly. The music stands, and for all I knew, the musicians, too, had been dusted and polished. Everything was squeaky-clean. There was no smoking. I had already been warned about the sprinklers. Light your pipe here, they said, and you’ll be in water up to your neck within two minutes flat.

Behind an enormous (clean) glass window sat the engineer surrounded by his minions. They, in turn, were surrounded by tons of exotic, sophisticated, ex­pensive electronic junk. It was all there—harmonizers, synthesizers, sympathizers and tran­quil­izers—whatever you wanted, it was there somewhere.

Out in the studio, lumped together, disconnected from the world, stood sev­eral huge loudspeakers, each one costing roughly the same as a middle-class family car. They had all, over the years, been contemptuously discarded in the never-ending search for the perfect playback.

On the recordings we played very loud indeed. The playback, however, was so quiet that we could hardly hear anything.

‘Don’t you want to put it up a bit, then?’ said someone.

‘Help yourself,’ said the engineer, ‘It’s your ears that’ll get damaged, not mine.’ One of the musicians had lit a cigarette and he looked severely at him for some moments, before pointedly opening a window, letting in a blast of sub-zero air. When we turned the music up full-blast he walked out into the cutting-room, closing the sound-proof doors behind him.

Afterwards, we told him that we needed much less bass, more drums, an­other sound for the Fluegelhorns, less echo and please don’t keep shouting ‘NICHT ZUSAM­MEN!’ every few seconds if we aren’t quite together, because this is a jazz band and we don’t have to have absolute perfection all of the time, even if this is the country where they make the Mercedes-Benz.

He smiled sympathetically, and gave us more bass, less drums, a worse sound for the Fluegelhorns, more echo, and shouted ‘NICHT ZUSAMMEN’ every few seconds.

Afterwards, I went upstairs with the bandleader to the music department to meet the King. He was the boss of everything, and everyone, and he would decide whether our tape was worthy of the high standards set by the radio station.

As we went through the door, bowing low, he snatched the tape from the trembling hands of the bandleader and flung it contemptuously across the room. A slave in the corner fumbled it on to the tape machine and started it up.

For a moment I heard nothing, then a tiny squeaky sound entered the room. I pinned it down to a small portable radio on the king’s desk, and traced the wires com­ing out of the back over to the tape recorder.

By now, the King was talking loudly to his secretary about getting a new set of winter tyres. He broke off for a second to bark ‘Not enough bass!’ in our direc­tion, and then proceeded to tell a dirty joke to the yes-men gathered around him. Through the sniggering I tried in vain to catch bits of the solo I had just had to play twenty-seven times, until the engineer was satisfied.

‘Don’t say anything,’ whispered the bandleader. ‘They only want to know what it sounds like in mono on a portable.’

‘Then why all that rubbish downstairs?’ I asked, indignantly.

‘Look, don’t ask me, OK?’

Later on, one of the disc jockeys told me that they received so many hun­dreds of new pop records each week to consider for the programmes that they only had time to listen to a few bars of each one. They judged the merits of each record on these few bars (which is fair enough for a pop record).

When I asked him how they judged the tapes we were sending up to them he looked at me pityingly. While they were struggling a tape on to the machine, listen­ing to a few bars, running it back and struggling another tape on again they could have gone through about ten EP’s couldn’t they? I had to be reasonable, right? Oh, abso­lutely, quite so, and pardon me for asking.

Later on, the bandleader took me down to the tape archive. It was a clean, air-conditioned, gloomy vault, filled with thousands of thin, red tape cartons.

‘Look at this!’ he said. ‘According to the union they’re supposed to delete all these after two years.’ He pulled out one or two at random.

‘These are some of the tapes we’ve been making for the last twenty years. The recording data is on the front, and it gets stamped every time they broadcast it.’

I turned one or two of the cartons over. They must have run out of ink nine­teen years ago. None of them had been stamped.

There was a charming, educated man named Helmut Fackler sitting beside the engineer on all our recordings who was supposed to oversee the productions technically. As he ran, on the side, an amateur mandoline band, he fancied himself enormously as a music critic, and constantly stopped the band during recordings with shouts of ‘Not together’, ‘Slowing down’, and, sometimes, ‘Absolute rubbish!’ His favourite sentence was, ‘The tuning is criminal’.. We managed to make some fine recordings, in spite of him. Dusko Goykovic came over from Munich and played in the band sometimes, and nicknamed the guy Motherfackler.

Linda insisted that we keep paying the rent for the apartment in Berlin, even though it was now empty. As long as we paid we could never be evicted. I wanted my twenty thousand marks deposit back. After three months we were invited to visit the lawyer in Berlin, and he handed me a cheque for the full amount. The house was to be sold and turned into a yacht club. Once again my new wife had shown remarkable business acumen.

She took a job in the news department of the radio sta­tion, actually the same job she had just left in the SFB. She was able to type from dictation at a re­ally fero­cious speed, which the editors there needed, as a fresh news­cast was broadcast every hour, and she had to type the bulletins under im­mense pressure, under a permanent deadline, with the news reader waiting to snatch them out of her hand as soon as she was done.

While she was at work one day our Siamese cat Susy began to have her kittens. It was April 1st, and Linda didn’t believe me when I phoned her of­fice, thinking it was a joke, be­cause Susy gave birth to seven kittens. One after the other they came out, like little black sausages.

I had to act as midwife, because she gave up tending to them after number three, and just lay there purring. I had to cut the umbilical of each one, and wash it. It was a marvellous experience.

We kept the cats for three months, then, eventually, gave them all away into good hands. In the mornings Susy used to carry her babies, one at a time, into the bed, and tuck them in around my feet. When all seven were there she would select one and take it into the centre of the room, where she would play with it as if it were a mouse, biting and kick­ing it and throwing it through the air with reckless abandon. The kittens seemed to thrive on it.

We bought a house in the district of Auersmacher, right on the French bor­der. You could see France from our windows, across the river Saar. Simultane­ously I bought a new Mercedes 200. I was so sick of the Volvo that I just left it there in the driveway. I didn’t even think of trying to sell it for another year. When I did it was snapped up at once, faulty automatic and all.

We kept the new car for a bit, but it wasn’t powerful or comfort­able enough for the long trips I had to make, so we sold it and bought a white eight cylinder Mer­cedes 350 SE automatic with dark blue velvet up­holstery and an electric sunroof. It had been a company car for the di­rector of a steel works in Es­sen and was in new condition. We at once attained the big snob upper-class society eminence which goes with such cars. Hotel managers ran up to open the doors and touched their forelocks when we rolled up in the Merc. In Spain they polished it for us every day as part of the hotel service.

Linda took driving lessons. She looked like a princess sitting be­hind the wheel of that Mercedes.

As soon as Richard Krueger saw the car he began to laugh. Apparently there was a pecking order for cars in the radio sta­tion. The boss of the place, the Intendant, had an upper-class SE Mercedes the same as mine. Because of this the boss of the Telefilm TV section of the station could only buy an inferior car, so he had an Opel Commodore. I was ruining the protocol.

It was true. We had the only other luxury Mercedes in the place. We milked the situation for all it was worth. I cruised around the car park looking for the boss’s car and always tried to park beside it. This used to infuriate him. Finally the Intendant got himself an even more expen­sive Mercedes, the absolute top model, made for oil sheikhs and princes. I couldn’t beat that. It was a company car, so what the hell, they could af­ford it.

I’d done the same thing to Johnny Dankworth back in Lon­don, upstaging his Ford Zodiac with my brand new Volvo 122S, which had been a real humdinger of a car. The guys in the band used to nudge one another when John saw me turn up in it. One day John arrived in a James Bond As­ton Martin D.B.III, and put an end to that.

One wall of the cellar in our new house was damp. The neighbour, who was a prominent schoolteacher in the area, told me that there was an underground stream running down the hill, and right under our house. He said that when he first moved into his house, his whole family had not been able to sleep at first. Then they hired a water-diviner, who told them to turn all the beds around to run along a different line, at an angle to the little stream. That did the trick.

The information didn’t help our cellar, though, so I sued the guy who sold me the house. One of the resulting court sessions was held in our lounge, at the scene of the crime, so to speak. I sat there not quite believing what was going on all around me.

There sat the judge, a proper barmy old duffer, surrounded by his court of­fi­cers. There we sat, and there sat the accused, with his lawyers, all on my expen­sive upholstery. A legal argument took place which I didn’t understand. We all trooped downstairs to view the wall. As was to be expected—on that day it showed no signs of damp.

The judge took us aside afterwards and advised us to get hold of a ‘black’, tax-free hand worker on the side. We could get one from over the French border, he said, no questions asked. He slipped us a wink when he said that. In a sub­sequent hearing before him, when asked for the repair bills, we told the court that we had no receipts be­cause, on advice from the judge, we had employed a ‘black’ worker, to save money. The judge denied all knowledge of this at once, and threw the case out of court.

We took a trip to London in the new car, staying the night in Calais en route to sample the wonderful scallops they serve along that part of the coast.

Once in London we stayed in a small house in Harlesdon, near Johnny and Thelma Keating. Linda was enchanted by London, and we spent many hours in the Wedgewood shop in Regent Street, buying some porcelain din­ner sets. At first we had quite a lot of problems getting the salesgirl to under­stand what we wanted. In a flash of inspiration I asked whether she was by any chance Spanish. Yes, she cried, and fell on her knees in grati­tude when Linda began talking to her in her native lan­guage. Then every­thing went like clockwork, the girl couldn’t do enough for us.

Linda went shopping with Thelma a few times. Those were the granny days, so Thelma used to put on a ragged bit of a fur coat, which she’d found in a junk shop, and wrap her Siamese cat around her neck. Wherever she went, the cat stayed in place, wrapped around her like a fox fur. Most of the time it slept. The cat only allowed Thelma to touch it. Anyone else who tried would get his throat ripped out.

Linda got on fine with my Mum and Dad, even though she could only speak a few words of English. But then, everyone who ever met Linda was either enchanted with her, or madly jealous of her. She never left anyone without having made some sort of highly emotional impression.

The owner of the house in Harlesdon had a beautiful Golden Re­triever. Linda fell in love with the dog at once, so I phoned around a bit and discovered a kennels down in Sussex that had some young Retriever pup­pies.

I also called up my son Marc, and he agreed to drive down there with us. I hadn’t seen him for several years, and when he met us at Norbury station I didn’t recog­nise him. He looked nothing like his childhood photos. In the car he sat in the back, saying very little. When we arrived at the kennels he stayed in the car, saying that he felt car-sick.

I should have thought that the best remedy would have been to get out of the car and have a walk around, but he wouldn’t budge. I guess that there was a little more to it than that. I didn’t feel like going into a psychological huddle with him right at that moment so we left him to it and took a look at the dogs.

Of course, once you see any collection of puppies you want to take them all. The most heart-rending of all were the Saint Bernard pup­pies. Going within a yard of them was good for a complete face wash, never mind getting all the skin licked off your hands. The Dalmations were no less appealing, but the most lovable of all was one jet black Labrador puppy, about a foot long, who stole our hearts as soon as we clapped eyes on her.

We took her home with us, keeping her in our bedroom all night. The house retriever could smell the new doggie, and spent most of the night snuffling and whin­ing under the door.

Before we could take her home we had to visit the Min­istry of Agri­culture and Fisheries to get an export licence.

This was down Kingston way, on the bypass. I got lost, so I stopped the car in a little space before one of the houses, intending to ask the lady owner, who was talk­ing to someone at her gate, the way to the Min. of Ag.

‘You can’t park there!’ she shouted, waving her fists at me. ‘I’m sick and tired of the likes of you parking where you want to in your bloody fancy cars. Bugger off before I call the police.’

‘Good day Madam,’ I said, ‘I wonder whether you can tell me the way to the Ministry of Agriculture?’

‘You’ll have to go and find it yourself,’ she cried, advancing on me like an an­gry rhino, ‘And get your bleeding car off my property.’

‘I do apologise,’ I said, ‘But we only just arrived from Ger­many, and didn’t realise that we were parking on your property, even if it does appear to be a part of the public road.’

‘Germany eh?’ she said, her eyes narrowing. ‘You want to go back there pretty sharply then, don’t you? We beat you bastards once and we’ll beat you again if you don’t move that bleedin’ car.’

By now she was leaning in my window, threateningly. She had biceps like Mighty Joe Young, a face to match, and a body odour that made my eyes water.

Like a fool I flashed my British passport.

‘That’s right,’ she sneered, They’re giving ‘em away now. First the wogs and niggers, and now the bleedin’ Jerries. We may as well have lost the war. Now f— off, before I lose my temper.’

The incident embarrassed me greatly, because I had always insisted to Linda that the famous British courtesy was to be encountered even in the lowliest places.

As we drove off Linda lowered her window and shouted ‘Silly bug­ger’ to the woman. She’d heard me say that to the cat when he tripped me up.

When I phoned John Keating that evening he was in a bit of a panic and asked me to come at once. When I arrived it was the old situation all over again. Ten copyists sat around his table while he scribbled furiously at some scores over on the couch. He had to write twelve titles for a Caterina Valente LP. The recording was booked to begin next morning and he only had two scores finished. I stayed all night to help him, and drove him to the studios in the morning. He sat in the car, still writing away as I lurched and fought my way through the London rush hour.

The guys at Decca wondered where the hell I had suddenly come from. I only had time for a quick word with Laddy Busby, then I had to pick up Linda and leave for the coast. There were quite a few classical musicians there, including three men playing D trumpets. The scores had been massive, and were obviously an experiment for John. Still he was working in his old last minute rush.

We had a bit of time to spare in Dover next day before getting the ferry, so we took a walk around the town, looking at the shops. There was a fierce wind blowing that day.

Linda bought something or other, and when she came out of the shop the wind snatched a five pound note out of her hand. Passers-by were then treated to a highly edifying Jacques Tati type scenario as we rushed around Dover trying to catch the fiver.

Twice round the blocks we went, stumbling against each other with laugh­ter. The wind took the fiver higher and higher until it suddenly wafted into an open bed­room window.

‘Well!’ said Linda. We giggled some more, then solemnly sketched the scene for posterity.

Up in the bare garret lived a poor poet, books all over the place, rusty top hat hanging on the stovepipe, an an­cient stove struggling to take the chill off the miserable room. Starving and lonely, he is praying for a sign from God. Suddenly a gust of wind rattles the window, and a brand new five pound note lands gently on the bedspread.

We named the dog Mandy, and, as Labradors will, she quickly grew to roughly the size of a small horse. We had to take her everywhere, which fi­nally led to our being banned from most hotels, and having to pay a heavy supercharge in others. For, no matter how we tried, how often we took her for walkies, Mandy would only do her thing on carpets, the more expensive the better. She went crazy in fur shops, jumped up at old men and pregnant women, frightening the life out of them, and was untrainable and lovable. Bless her, she couldn’t help being a big unruly dog.

Some evenings, when she had nothing better to do Mandy would get me down on the floor for a wrestle. She always won because she used her teeth and back legs. The more we wrestled the more excited she became until Linda got afraid that she would do me in.

Waking up in the mornings was now accomplished without the aid of an alarm clock. As regular as clockwork Mandy would appear in the bed­room at sun-up and place an enormous paw on my face, In a way, not too dissim­ilar from Mar­c’s erstwhile method of awakening me, when he used to wrench one of my eyelids open.

Mandy’s swan song came after she dropped a load all over the main arrivals hall at Frank­furt/Main airport. I was on my way to pick up Linda, arriving back from a couple of weeks with Helena in Tenerife. As a safety measure I had stopped on the Autobahn near Darmstadt and had a good old run around with Mandy in some woods. She thoroughly enjoyed that, gamboling around with little barks of pleas­ure, stopping to squat every few minutes. But she was saving the best bit for the concourse, and when she did it, it was a lot.

I had nothing with which I could pick the damn stuff up, so I had to drag her over to the side to try and get some newspaper or some­thing, anything to use for cleaning up the mess.

Behind me hundreds of people made their way carefully around the pile of dog­ mess, or slipped and skid in it, depending on how much of a hurry they were in, and how much they were watching where they were going.

I bought a couple of newspapers and made my way back. When I reached the spot there was no sign of anything. The floor had been cleaned, repolished and disin­fected, all in the space of five min­utes. That’s Germany for you.

After a while I began to feel sorry for Linda. Whichever town I was playing in she had to drag the dog around with her. In fact, Mandy used to drag her around. Munich, Basel, Cologne — the dog exhausted her. When we ate, Mandy lay under the restaurant table, chewing beer mats, or, fastened to a chair, would drag the chair right across the restaurant and sit panting with joy in front of strangers at another ta­ble.

When Linda wore a long dress, Mandy would chew through the dress too if it got in the way of her beer mats. In the car she polished off a particularly tasty edition of the Michelin Food Guide to France before starting on the headrests.

We gave the dog to the tuba player in the symphony orchestra, a tall, thin, lonely American called Richard Na­haski. We watched her carefully for signs of trauma as they walked away, but it was love at first sight. Mandy didn’t even turn her head to say good-bye.

Next thing we saw of her was in the cover picture of a local maga­zine showing Richard sitting under a tree playing the tuba, with Mandy laying beside him, blissfully chewing at one of his wooden clogs.

After Mandy we just stuck to cats. Susy had already been shot by an angry neighbour, because she was looting the nests in his garden.

Our new cat was a big ginger tom named James. He had a personality rather like Fred Flintstone’s sabre-toothed tiger. One of his favourite tricks was to walk past me slowly, looking straight ahead, as if I weren’t there. Just as I would begin to relax, thinking he wasn’t going to do it, he would fling him­self sideways and wrap himself around my leg, holding on firmly with teeth and claws while his powerful hind legs tried to rip out my liver. I know my liver isn’t down there, but he didn’t.

I saw James laying in the garden one day a couple of feet away from a huge hare. They were eyeing each other up and down. After a while the hare got up and left. James didn’t even blink.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a squirrel sitting right in the middle of our lawn. James saw it at the same time and got up at once.

‘Uh, oh,’ I thought, ‘Here comes trouble.’

James sauntered easily across the lawn towards the squirrel, who was peel­ing a nut. He had adopted his awkward, shambling, Robert Mitchum gait, the one he used on me, which meant that he would spring sideways when he was level with the squir­rel.

As he got near, the squirrel started to walk towards him as well. Now we had a High Noon scenario.

They passed one another in the centre of the lawn, both looking straight ahead. At one moment there wasn’t six inches between them. Neither acknowl­edged the pres­ence of the other.

The incident caused me to wonder whether James had poor eye­sight. At the vet’s he defied all our efforts to get him out of the bas­ket, holding on to the door with all his might until I got the vet to turn the hairdryer on beside him. James hated electric motors of any de­scription, and he bolted out at once.

Once on the table he suffered the indignity of having a thermome­ter shoved up his bum for about two tenths of a second. Then he made a gigantic leap which took him from the table right through the tiny door­way of his bas­ket, which was now perched on a chair about ten feet away. There was noth­ing wrong with his eyesight.

We had glorious weather that summer, with sunshine every day, which turned our thoughts to building a swimming pool in the garden.

One of my colleagues recommended a man who would work cheap, no tax, il­legal slave labour. When the guy turned up he announced that he would dig the pool by hand, thus saving the cost of a bulldozer.

We went on holiday to Tenerife, leaving him to it. Laying in bed at night in Peurta de la Cruz I dreamt of marble halls, cool green reflec­tions shimmering on the walls, and both of us in terry cloth sprawled around in an air-conditioned envi­ronment with Bacardi cocktails in our hands.

We returned to find an ugly hole seven meters by three and two meters deep, about half the size I had ordered. The man reassured me that he had built very many swimming pools, and suggested, with a hurt air, that I should take a look at some of them if I didn’t believe him. I discovered only later that the one pool he’d helped to build, up on a nearby hill, had collapsed on to the railway line below, taking two gar­dens, a greenhouse, and a little old lady in a rocking chair called Oma Dillschneider with it.

Meanwhile he had sealed the concrete walls with some tar-based stuff which defied all our efforts to remove, and which wouldn’t hold tiles how­ever much one tried. He had also put a huge cork in a drain hole at one end.

He now demanded more money, saying his hourly rate had gone up to fit the rising inflation. He was standing on the brink of the empty pool as he spoke, and for one blinding second I considered pushing him in. The price he was demand­ing would have paid for two bulldozers working non­stop for a week.

I obtained the services of a plumber, who connected all the neces­sary pipes and fittings to our central heating. The only thing he couldn’t connect was the drain hole because there was no way he could ever get underneath the pool to do so. That should have been done when the pool was being dug, he said.

I phoned a pool specialist in nearby Volklingen. Four experts ar­rived in four different Mercedes. Once they’d finished having a good laugh they told me that I might as well fill that one in and have a new pool in another part of the garden.

We left the pool the way it was. One or two showers put a foot of water on the bottom, so now we had a nice tarry black hole in the garden with our own mosquito colony. During the night a monster used to crawl down into the water and splash around. Huge claw marks on the walls were the only trail we could find in the morn­ing. Neither of us was brave enough to take a look in the night. We just huddled to­gether and prayed that it didn’t eat people.

We played table tennis on the terrace every day that summer, with the cat chasing the ball every time it hit the ground. Linda played Chi­nese style, with a se­ries of ferocious wallops that invariably sent the ball into the pool. I had to climb down into the monstrosity each time to fetch it out.

The woman who subsequently bought the house had the pool con­creted up at once. It would have been a nice thought to have had the man who dug it buried deep inside.

Our new fitted carpets turned up, together with a team of experts sent by the carpet shop to lay them.

I began the day by pulling our wardrobe out away from the wall in the bed­room, telling the men that they would somehow have to fit the car­pet un­derneath be­fore pushing it back. When they proudly came and asked me to inspect their work I found that they had neatly cut and fitted the carpet all around the wardrobe where I’d left it standing, jutting out at an angle to the wall. So much for the much-vaunted German efficiency.

Back in the carpet shop I was told by a supercilious salesman that the shop took no responsibility for the workmen, who had been ‘black’ i.e., working illegally without tax and social deductions. He had sent them in order to save me money. He refused to discuss replacing the car­pet, or indeed, anything fur­ther with me on the subject.

I asked Linda to step outside for a moment, so she wouldn’t be involved in what was going to happen next. After she had gone I grabbed the salesman and dragged him out into the main part of the shop, right in front of the cash desk. About fifty people were standing around in the showrooms.

Once I’d got their attention by screaming for silence, I told them all what had happened, what the asshole I had hold of had said to me, and ad­vised everyone to take note and do their buying elsewhere. I discovered thereby an unknown elo­quence in the German language that even surprised me.

To my surprise I found that I had the sympathy of everyone in the shop. The salesman had, by now, lost all of his arrogance, and was screwing up his face in antici­pation of me hitting it, something which I had next on the agenda. But the cashier, an older woman with some clout in the or­ganisa­tion, asked me to step into a neighbouring office, where she assured me that the company would replace the carpets, and send a team of profes­sionals to fit them.

Linda was waiting outside, and she was proud of me. I hadn’t wanted her to see me getting mad, though.

Chapter Twenty >>>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved