ROUTINE family conversation often became too idiomatic or
full of dialect for me to follow, leaving me free to listen to the sound of
the language, and its intonations, an experience much like listening to opera
in an unfamiliar language (isn't it always?).
And as in opera, five minutes of emotion and high drama often boiled down
in the subtitles to the crashingly routine, perhaps the possibility of rain.
Not that the Germans talk much about the weather - their fixed subject is
Opera was also on my mind as I came to one of the older parts of the town
which had escaped allied attention in the war. The houses were of an age we
would call Victorian, built for prosperous burghers in a Wagnerian vernacular
with overwrought wooden framing in heavy browns, symbolist blue-greys and
olives, primeval colours full of darkness, a massive folk-gothic - as in an
Old German book face.
A stage set for some brooding drama.
As I walked, the lighting became more and more theatrical, the sky dimming
to black as the cloud thickened, changing mid-afternoon day for night. I began
to feel the air thickening and growing heavy with static, and as the storm
broke I ran for the shelter of the railway bridge.
As holes go, it was a well-placed one. Opposite, a fifty metre sprint would
make the Catholic Fellowship beer hall, while a mere ten yard dash would gain
one of the town's few remaining public urinals, its convenience now somewhat
reduced by the lack of roof, allowing rain to provide a welcome and sanitary
The bridge's main attraction was however its dryness, and after twenty minutes
of downpour this began to wear thin as the water increasingly soaked through
from the tracks above and dripped from the roof to run streams round my feet.
Fortunately the sky began to lighten and the rain slackened enough for me
to head for the bus and home.
Things seldom run that smoothly. As I reached the main street to cross it,
the lights changed and I was faced by a red man. Two minutes later, the road
now clear and all traffic halted, the lights still showed no sign of changing
to release the small crowd now waiting on each side for green as the law requires.
Suddenly a pair of youths broke ranks and ran across. Scandalized mothers
commented sternly to their children; the man beside me said to us all that
they should be locked up; an old lady screamed abuse.
I didn't have the nerve to cross although the lights had obviously given
up the ghost, and so I missed my bus. I turned and went for a beer. At the
lights they are presumably still waiting.