My mate Paul comments that continental quilts will stop working after 29th March. I do hope not …
I recall the very first time I came across these excellent items of bedware. It was 27th or 28th May 1965. The band was in transit to Rome in an old 15 cwt van to take up a month’s residency at the Piper Club in that city; it was the first time that any of us had been outside of England, and needless to say, none of us spoke any other language than English.
After Belgium, we were travelling through Germany, suppressing hilarity at the Ausfahrt (exit) signs on the Autobahns, when shortly after coming into the state of Baden-Württemberg in the south of the country, a red light lit up on the dashboard. This was serious, because it meant that the dynamo (alternator in later years) was no longer charging the battery. We took the next Ausfahrt, and drove into the city of Ulm.
Ulm, as I learned later, is famous for at least two things: it has the tallest church steeple in the world – 530 feet – and is the birthplace of Albert Einstein. We knew nothing of that at the time, and heading for a garage, we soon learned the German for the fault with our van: it was Lichtmaschine Kaputt! The Germans were very decent and accommodating, but it was late afternoon, and we would have to come back tomorrow to pick up the repaired van.
We found our way to the central square of the city, and a very helpful girl in the tourist information hut found us a hotel for the night. It was an inn really, and we caroused with the locals – all of an age such that they must have been involved with the war, over only 20 years before – but of whom none seemed to bear us any ill will. On the contrary, we played a hilarious game with them, consisting of clucking like a chicken on hands and knees, and ducking ones head between the hands of the opponent, who tried to catch the opponent’s head between clapping hands. It sounds absurd but it was most amusing, and quite difficult to do.
Come bedtime – our rooms cost us 7 Deutschmarks each, (exchange rate, 10 Deutschmarks to the Pound) – we were seriously confused, assisted no doubt by the beer we had consumed. Anyone who has travelled in Austria or Germany knows that hotel beds are made up with the bottom sheet and pillow, but with the continental quilt usually folded in half at the foot of the bed. And so it was, and we had no idea what to do with it.
I was detailed to find out. I went downstairs, and finding the landlady, who knew as much English as I did German, I managed to get her attention by the expedient of taking her by the arm and dragging her up to our rooms. I pointed to the beds and signalled incomprehension; she understood and showed us how to use the quilt.
Apart from the beds, the other thing that intrigued us were the lavatories. In those days, the standard German lavatory bowl was arranged, how shall I say, back to front, with a ‘ledge’ at the back so that the results of using said item could be ‘inspected’ before they were flushed away … Funny, how something so basic could cause such consternation when first encountered.
The next day we picked up the van with a brand new Lichtmaschine and went on our way. It was a most instructive interlude. The very pleasant evening we spent with the locals in that inn in Ulm, who were as friendly as one could have wished, did generate one memorable trope: long before Fawlty Towers, we had coined the phrase, ‘For God’s sake, don’t mention the War!’
But they were all so generous and uncomplicated. I have had a soft spot for Germany and the Germans ever since.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs