We fell asleep to the last frog chorus coming from somewhere out in the darkness of the Aue. Our last night on the Balcony had been slightly hijacked by Simone’s ex sister in law, Monika who had previously rented the flat. She turned up with a bottle of wine, 3 Jagermeister miniatures and a screwdriver to take away the 2 brass plates of a small pissing Dutch boy and girl on the bathroom door that she’d omitted to take with her last time she moved out. Simone and I were both lagging when she eventually left, the day having taken a heavy toll with the prospect of an even more stressful one ahead drove us to bed.The frogs saying their goodbyes was a sweet lullaby.
We were up early as we hadn’t managed to get in touch with the road train and wanted to give them a heads up on the route through Durlach that was easiest for a long vehicle. Carsten had saved us a headache as he had arranged the street notices to forewarn locals not to park in the 19 metre area outside the flat. I’d just finished replanting the front balcony boxes when I saw the wee hero below me lugging these huge iron weights and poles into position on his own a few days before. He’d finished before I could even offer to help and had managed to swing us a favour from the local council. This meant that any car parked there on Thursday could be ticketed and removed by the police. We’d been told to expect the removal guys at 10 by the agent in Norfolk but by 11 no one had arrived and we had no contact with the road team. We’d been shouting down from the balcony at drivers parking up while they went into a bakery opposite the flat as they were just ignoring the signs. I expected a monster vehicle anytime and the prospect of gridlocking the Aue was not what we wanted today. After an hour it was becoming tiresome and the call from the driver telling us they were 45 mins away and just dropping the trailer was heartening as it meant only the truck was coming in which was far easier on every level to deal with.
We had 2 cups, powdered coffee, a kettle to be filled in the bathroom, no milk or sugar and we were getting hungry and impatient. Liam had just finished his packing and was heading out to meet his girlfriend after he returned from the bakery with serious coffee and a couple of sandwiches. It was just then, shortly after 1 that the truck could be heard coming up the Westmarkstrasse. It was unmistakeably ours. The huge letters on the side of the vehicle spelled out ‘Britannia’ and the blue white and red design gave no doubt as to where this truck came from. Only a couple of weeks after “Brexit” I considered it a brave statement as I’d discovered quite a few people in Germany weren’t too happy about the referendum result. ( I can remember sticking SCO stickers and hanging St Andrews flags in the back window of a tour bus in Italy when English football thugs were making headlines and few friends. Nothing like flak deflectors to be on the safe side!)
It turned out one of the reasons they’d been late was that a car driver had tried to deliberately block them from maneuvering from an on ramp lane onto the autobahn and in doing so had got so close he’d rattled his nearside mirror off the truck. The truck had pulled into a rest area and the driver of the car had called the police. It all ended up with a hefty fine for the Britannia crew and a longer wait for us on the Balcony.
We’d expected about 4 removal men as they had the stairs to negotiate and although we didn’t have that many belongings there was a landscape of cardboard boxes, wardrobes and a double bed to dismantle, a large and heavy couch that had taken 4 of us to get up the stairs 2 years before, enough large terracotta pots to build a ‘Bill and Ben’ city and those pesky kitchen units that weren’t on the manifesto and that I needed deposited in the street garage downstairs for pick up that evening by Steffen. Simone and I looked at each other as 2 small guys got out the truck and no one followed.
They introduced themselves as Andy and Paul from Liverpool. They were no sooner in the flat when the first box disappeared after they both declined a break for coffee and sandwiches we’d bought in for them. I was taken aback at the speed and the fitness of these two guys. They just bounced up and down the stairwell, which was now sweltering in over 28 degrees carrying box after box and showing no sign of fatigue. Their only complaint was that the agent in Norfolk had given them no info on the flat and they didn’t even know the load out was down 4 flights of stairs. In saying that they just got on with the job before them and I never heard them moan once all afternoon apart from at the heat we were all struggling with and which against I was constantly filling water filter jugs in the bathroom. I was wringing with sweat and I was only making a tenth of the descents/ ascents they were making as I tried to make sense of the contents of the cellar that also had to be emptied out.
It was Paul, the older of the 2 guys who recognised me and sometime during a water break we had a natter and I had a selfie with Andy the team leader. They were incredibly helpful guys and they told me they had a lay up that night at a hotel in a rest area after they finished our load out.I told them about the kitchen and offered some beer money if they could help out getting it downstairs. The cynic in me expected a union meeting but they were immediately positive and at the end of a sappingly tough shift they carted the entire kitchen down to the street garage. I cannot praise them highly enough for what they did on the day against all the odds and I have never seen blokes work like that in those conditions with those fitness levels that could still retain genuine smiles at the end. They promised to look after our stuff which we discovered was arriving in Liverpool that weekend to be stored awaiting a move to Scotland. That move we discovered from the agent was now going to take close to 3 weeks! We were glad the special plants had gone with Yatta and only another climbing rose and an hortensia plant would have to survive this trek to the Studio garden. Andy and Paul said they’d do what they could, keep the live plants at the back of the truck and make sure they looked after them in Liverpool. We signed off, exchanged paperwork, shook hands and said our goodbyes to these amazing wee guys.
We stood alone in the flat and stared at the detritus around us. Liam’s late pack meant he’d thrown out a lot of clutter and even after 3 trips with his Mum to the recycling centre that afternoon ( where they now knew us by name) we still had more in the cellar. Some of that belonged to Mona, Simone’s daughter, and she was supposed to have been at the flat with her Dad at 11 that morning to clear her room and take away a large Ikea kitchen unit for her Dad’s holiday caravan in Poland. They didn’t show and the refugee centre pick up was also in question. Steffen works for the fire department and he’d been put on the roster for working the Formula 1 race that weekend at the Hockenheimring. On the Thursday, move day, he had drills and incident rehearsals at the track and we got a call saying he might not make it back in time that night.The landlord who owned the apartment block wanted the street garage cleared out as she parked her car there. We assured her it would be done by midday Friday as Steffen had guaranteed transport for then. The rest of the boxes for the refugee centre would go at the same time. The flat wasn’t as clear as we had hoped when we got up that morning but it was close. We hoovered, wiped down and picked up debris until about 7.30 until the running on empty signs appeared. With no word from Steffen we drew a line under the night and headed to the Biergarten for Schweinshaxen ( pigs knuckle) and Radlers ( beer shandies- so called as Rad means “bicycle” and these drinks are intended for thirsty cyclists who have journeys to complete). Our day we thought was over until the mobile phones rang out.
Steffen was on his way with others and we were moving the kitchen units that night. It was a mixture of resignation to the task and elation that another proverbial log was heading down river. In this case it was a jumble of white units and failed electrics heading to a garage somewhere near the Turmberg. Simone and I headed back to the flat where we had our luggage ready to go to an hotel that night. Steffen was already there with his stepson Marvin, his partner Petra and Carsten. We had a small van, a car and our transporter to fit everything in and had to split the kitchen into vehicles with our suitcases was a Rubik’s Cube.It was achieved and after a short journey we ended up in Berghausen where we met up with Carsen’s ex wife and her partner to offload the convoy.Their hospitality was immense with cookies and a variety of whisky on offer. Simone and I were too tired to indulge and we had to meet Liam at the hotel where we were staying a couple of nights. We still had to deal with the final clearance next day and return the flat keys. It wasn’t over yet.
It was with a hysterical laugh I entered our hotel room to find that it was on 2 levels and a brain defying split step staircase took us up to the bed. With my leg muscles and tendons in small tiny painful knots, my back pinging shockwaves and knees crunching like an ‘Action Man’ doll recently found in an attic this was not what I needed.We showered and headed to the nearest available wine bar. Simone’s daughter had phoned us just as we checked in at reception to ask if we could bring the van back to the flat as she had arrived with her dad to load her stuff out and they hadn’t realised it was so much . Simone and I were done. This was one trip too far and we reluctantly hung up the white flag. We hunched up together in the bar and drank slowly and blissfully and enough that I wouldn’t feel the agony of the ascent to our hotel bed. We nearly had a long lie in if it wasn’t for the wasps darting through the velux window, their nest close by in the roof space. Cue thrashing phone books and flicking towels as we tried to dispatch them, the rush better than any hardcore Columbian coffee could provide. We faced our final day in Durlach weary but happy to be facing the dream up close and personal.
Take away coffee and ‘Berliners’ ( jammy doughnuts plus) from the bakery for breakfast on the Balcony before the final mop up. The pipework behind where the kitchen sink was had been leaking as Steffen had redirected the hot water so we could have a shower on move day. The bucket to catch the drips was full and I had a worry we might have a serious problem as Simone didn’t know where the stopcock was. It was eventually found and logic triumphed, the possibility of a 2 floor ceiling cascade averted. Final trips to the recycling centre with the rest of the cellar detritus and a visit from Carsten to pick up the last remaining bags of usable stuff for the refugee centre left empty rooms. Only the sad Ikea units in desperate need of a rejigging and straightening that the new tenant had volunteered to take remained. We tidied up the final smatterings of evidence of our habitation. The Balcony was bare. Carsten took the last photos of us before he left us together in what had been a special place for us over the years. Simone took the last box downstairs. I was the last to leave.
I admit to having a tear in my eye as I remembered all that had been and gone and done. Phonecalls to my Dad after Hibs games on Saturdays, Borgumil the Irish Wolfhound – the Life and Death of, writing ‘High Wood’ ,’Perfume River’ and sketching other songs for ‘Feast’, tour scheduling and business confrontations on e mail and occasionally irate phone calls from the kitchen table, my first meetings with Simone’s kids and long “Gerglish” conversations introducing them to mince and tatties, tablet, fudge, Irn Bru and the fact their stepdad could cook reasonably well; late night kitchen sessions on laptop watching ‘Father Ted’ on You Tube or footy matches on dodgy websites on a Sunday, fireworks at New Year under the Turnberg, the valley a Hollywood war zone, 9 magpies in a tree, crows heading out on winters days to the hills beyond the Aue, the mimicking parakeet that belonged to the landlady, her Alzheimer cursed husband smoking at his window and waving up to me; Fritz the neighbour/ gardener with his Koi carp, tomato house, banana plants and immaculate garden holding conversations like old friends between the ground and the balcony, shouting at each other and bluffing understanding across the language barrier; Thomas the mad eyed upstairs tenant who could be threatening and friendly across a blink of an eye and who we were never sure of as he dragged the pack of dogs he looked after past us on the stairs, cursing in heavy local dialect at every misdemeanor from a tenant as he was lord and master of the tenement and living on the top floor in the attic, a self righteous deity. So much, so much, so many memories all now tied to this empty space we were now vacating. There’s a book in all this and I will find it one day.
And in it all, and in it all there was born a dream over chilled Grauburgunder wine on a remarkable Balcony between 2 people that would one day live somewhere together. This was where we cherished our future and where we grew the crystals of a reality. It was our special place, never to be duplicated but now an empty dried up cocoon to be left behind in the sunlight as we flew elsewhere to begin the rest of our lives.
And the strangest of the strangest were my last words, uttered irrationally and so naturally that they seemed somewhat perfect calming and final for the moment.
When Monika, Simone’s once sister in law had lived in the flat her son Tim had died of a cancer related illness age 9 and had spent his last days there.The previous night Simone’s daughter Mona had freaked out in the cellar as a musical chime of her favourite tune started up inexplicably from an old toy and a bible fell into her hands from a collapsing pile of books opening up to a photo of Tim. She was understandably spooked by it all and I have to admit I had a chill going into the cellar next morning. I’d never met Tim but knew him from the tragic story I’d been told. Liam slept in Tim’s old room and always felt uncomfortable there. I never had any bad feelings in the flat or in the cellar that Friday on the day we left but right at the very last moment just as I was closing the door to the flat for a reason I will never understand I said “Goodbye Tim”. And it was over.
The final trip to the recycling unit who’s staff greeted us like old friends. We were covered in shit, sweat and dust. There was a meeting at the accountants straight after and neither Simone or I gave a damn. The numbers were crunched, the balance announced and we signed off on the Fishheads Club DE and left the building. It was done.
The rest of the day was spent chilling in town, Pho soup at Sen by the Ludwigsplatz for lunch after shopping for shirts that was curtailed by my aching knees before a night in the square with Simone’s daughter Tara, her mother, Christiane and her partner Rolf. It was another emotional night as we had said goodbye to Simone’s father Gunther and his wife Gabbi the previous Saturday. We were all aware that this was the leaving and that it was a huge change for everyone involved. I wasn’t unaffected by any stretch of the imagination and really felt for Simone as she was making a huge commitment .
The night concluded with ice cream cones on the Kaiserstrasse and a walk back to the hotel via an Italian restaurant serving wine into the relative small hours. We’d had a free ride on a rickshaw to meet the family but the walk back was spiritual.We met up with Liam who’d been saying his own farewells to his girlfriend and all headed back for our last night in the hotel. Tomorrow was the journey to our new home together in Scotland but we had one more last goodbye and we all knew this would be the toughest.
The hotel was in an area devoid of street cafes and we ended up in a dodgy bar nearby it’s only occupants 2 Croatians attempting to learn English from the young barmaid they were drunkenly leching over at 10 in the morning.Turning up with Simone, her 2 beautiful daughters Tara and Mona and Mona’s Vietnamese boyfriend in a dive like this was like a scene from a Tarantino movie. The diverted leching towards our group was quickly extinguished as the 2 girls, both black belt Shotokan karate gave them fight stares. Being with a 1.9m Scotsman might have helped on an appearance basis but my 2 Amazons were the real deal. I was unperturbed. The request for id’s from the barmaid was quickly forgotten by everyone including the barmaid.
I felt incredibly awkward and conversation was difficult at first. I was taking their Mum and brother away to another country and we were leaving them behind. It took a while to find our balance but when we eventually moved back to the hotel to await the taxi to the station we were together as we knew we would be in this different repositioning of family. I made my promises to the girls and we all hugged and said our farewells. I found myself crying as they were all part of our bigger family now and having a daughter of my own who was going through her own repositioning within the family I appreciated and tried to understand what Simone’s daughters were feeling .It was tough for everyone but with Simone and her kids it was an exceptionally difficult and emotional moment. I will never forget as the taxi headed off and we were silent throughout the journey, each of us deep in our own thoughts with sporadic optimism breaking out as we moved to the railway station.This was all now very real.
The railway journey a blur as was check in. We were on time.
At the gate there was the disturbing irony when we were told the flight was overbooked and that Lufthansa may not be able to get us on the flight. Maybe it was the horrible laugh worthy of The Joker that turned it but I was in absolutely no mood to take prisoners and the young lady at the boarding gate recognised I was not a man to be dallied with in these circumstances. The seats were confirmed, the flight was boarded and we took off into the blue for Scotland. We were on our way to our new home. It had been a very long week.
(to be continued)