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The salute.Returned from a business trip to Germany recently. Visited our distributor there in a little town called Neuenkirchen. Hans, ‘our man on the spot’ was our host and a superb one too. After essential work had been completed Hans and his lovely wife Gretel (I know, I know but please, not here!) offered to take us for a meal.
Beforehand though Hans wanted to show me a local ‘Pub’ as he called it and which was run by Peter, a good friend of his. The place is located close to the town centre and we could all walk to the restaurant afterwards. It was delightfully called ‘Sweet Home’. I think something may have been lost in translation here but in any event the establishment has been quite effectively and tastefully modelled on a typical English country pub. Antique pictures of old English hunting scenes adorn the walls. There is even an engraving of Charles Dickens and a Union Flag (Union Jack) hanging over the fireplace. It even sports English beer pumps.
Hans, Gretel, Memsahib and I all perched ourselves on bar stools and started chatting with Peter the owner. Much to our shame everyone spoke perfect English whilst my German is limited just to haltingly counting up to a hundred or to ordering a fried egg (‘bitte möchte ich ein Spiegelei’ ‘I would like a fried egg please’. You didn’t think I could did you!?). The atmosphere was great. Lots of good natured jokes and banter. Everyone laughing and having a thoroughly good time. Suddenly it all changed.
A quite old man staggered in through the front door. Clearly drunk and very loud. He sat down at the last free bar stool at the end and ordered himself a draught beer. Peter looked at us and discretely raised his eyes skyward as if to apologise for his countryman’s poor behaviour and dishevelled appearance. Obviously Peter knew the man well, he smiled whilst shaking his hand. Peter told him though he could only have one beer and after that he tactfully suggested that he should toddle off home as there was a good match on the telly that evening.
“Ja, zere iz. It iz ve Germans thrashing ze Englanders tonight!” enthuses the drunk old German.
We ignored the man and carried on with our conversation, albeit in somewhat quieter and more subdued tone. Peter busied himself drying glasses but by now was beginning to look a little stressed.
The drunk man started staring intently at our group and was clearly listening to every word we were saying. “So, ve have ze Englander here.” he suddenly announces. Standing to an exaggerated attention in military style at the same time. I smiled but resisted replying as did the rest of us and we continued chatting amongst ourselves.
“Did you not hear me?” remonstrated the inebriate. “I said, ve have ze Englander here - in our midst!” he reiterated though much louder this time.
I figured it could do no harm to acknowledge him and despite being totally drunk he was probably quite harmless. If I responded politely I thought that might satisfy him and he’d go away. I said “Yes, I am from England. My name is Chris and who might you be?”
My plan of being polite in the hope that it would satisfy him and he’d go away didn’t work. Instead he got even more excited.
“I vos in ze army. I like ze English. Zay von ve vor. Zat iz vhy I hung ze Union Jack here over ze fire.” he turned to look at the flag, mocked a half hearted Nazi ‘Sieg Heil’ salute of some sort and turned back to face Peter, hoping to gain corroboration for his philanthropy. Peter ignored him and by now I suspect was simply hoping he’d either disappear through a hole that would magically appear in the floor or far more likely but better still, suffer a coronary and drop dead. He did neither.
“Vot do you say Englander? Vhy do you not thank me for hanging your Union Jack in zis G-e-r-m-a-n bar?” He dragged out the word German in a long and loud sneer clearly designed to antagonise me. He succeeded. Memsahib could see my face and she knew from experience what was coming. I am generally a very polite, calm and restrained person but when riled, if aggravated incessantly and rudely enough, I can get very cross indeed. She tugged discreetly at my sleeve by way of urging restraint.
“It is not called the Union Jack it is properly called the Union Flag. You have also hung it upside down!” I chastised him. “The way you’ve hung it means it is a distress signal. Did you not know that? If you did not then you could be excused but if you did know and you did it on purpose then you certainly could not. If nothing else, as ex-army you should know that flag toggles always go at the top and that should have given you a clue. As it is now it is an insult but I suspect you knew that all along!”
“Ah so. You fink you know about flags zen do you? This is perhaps because you ver in ze vor, fighting against ve G-e-r-M-A-N-S!? he again dragged out the final word and exploded the last syllable by way of firing it as a weapon.
“I hardly think so. Even in your pissed condition you can’t fail to see I’m much too young to have fought in the Second World War.” I remonstrated by way of hoping this would finally end the matter. It didn’t.
“Zen perhaps it vos your father zat fought us?” his tone dropping to a threatening and measured hush but at the same time as his colour rose until it almost matched the hue of the Cross of St George on our nation's flag. “Vot did your father do in ze vor? Vos he ze Admiral in ze Royal Navy?”
“He was a Lancaster bomber pilot.” I replied (true, he was). “He bombed hell out of the Rhur!” (true, he did.)
It did the trick. The idiot fell silent. Our evening was restored to pleasant and mutual humility between great friends.
I’ve finished warring now.
For the day anyway.