The Morning After the Night Before
There’s no rush.
You crawl out of your sleeping bag, all blurry eyed, whenever the mood takes you. The younger you are, the later in the day this is likely to be. Passing traffic, the dawn chorus, distant nuclear explosions: they all mean diddley-squat to your average 22 year old.
That’s what we did, on the morning of Friday 26th July 1974.
Crawled out of our sleeping bags.
Hauled on our jeans (no need to put on a t-shirt, since we’d have slept in those, I expect).
Stumbled to the sink, one after the other, and blinked at Brigitte as we directed a splash of lukewarm water faceward.
Flung open the back doors, and stepped gaily into the German sunshine (I’m guessing around about 10am, so the sun is already high in the sky).
Blinked in one direction, at the vista of vine-laden landscape stretching away down the hill below our cosy lay-by.
Blinked in the other direction, as a succession of German motorists passing down the road into Enkirch stared back in disbelief. ‘No, Helmut darling. Those are not Struwwelpeters. Those are hippies, from England.’
Blinked into our breakfast bowls, as we devoured the morning muesli. Quite probably we had a sackful of the stuff, purchased from the organic supplies shop in Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town. We did that sort of thing in those days.
Felt better. Gathered up our pans and bowls and cooking stoves and checked that we were leaving the nice German lay-by in the condition in which we found it. Piled into the back of the Earthtruck.
On our way to Istanbul, and all right with the world.
Got some good sounds going on the stereo. Striking it Rich, by Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks (a memory of which I am exactly and precisely certain, for reasons which will become clear much later in this narrative).
Fired up the engine. Swung the wheel to the right, to turn back out of the lay-bv and begin our stately descent back to the floor of the beautiful Mosel Valley.
Let’s be more precise: came to a grinding halt, as Yaya slammed on the brakes to avoid us piling into the opposite verge.
Swung the wheel again, only to discover it swung just a little too easily.
Switched off the stereo, the better to collect our thoughts.
Examined the undercarriage, to assess why the wheel swung too easily.
Noted the bits of British Bedford iron, dangling down.
Swung the wheel again, somewhat more gingerly, to assess the connection between the ease with which the wheel turned and the bits of iron clattering against the tarmac.
Panicked, since Bertha was at this point parked diagonally across the highway (albeit a deserted country highway).
Despatched some of our number up the road, around the bend, to wave at descending German motorists. Or perhaps deploy our regulation Euro warning triangle: I’ve no idea what the law was in those days, or even if we were carrying one.
Panicked a little more, and got out the jack, from the toolkit on the roof we’d never imagined touching or opening, let alone deploying in a genuine automotive breakdown emergency.
Slowly – very slowly – arrived at the realisation that some of us were shortly going to have to walk down into Enkirch. And look for a mechanic.
Who probably wasn’t inclined to speak English.
And that, dear reader, brings us neatly back to the image we first displayed right back at the start of this story…
That’s Yaya, by the way, wearing a small tree on his head, Struwwelpeter-style…