School has broken up for Easter. On the second morning of the break I am walking through the park on my way to meet Tony at our usual coffee shop. I am near the duckpond when I see a jogger coming towards me. It’s ‘Brussels’ Sproat, our games master. I stand to one side of the path to give him room to pass.
“Morning, Sir,” I call out when he is nearly level with me.
“Morning, lad,” he answers.
As the sound of his footsteps fades away, I resume my walk. But now I can hear more slap-slap noises approaching from behind. I move to the side once more and turn to face this new runner. Except it’s Brussels again.
“I’m glad I bumped into you,” he says. “I wonder if you can do me a big favour?”
“Depends what it is,” I reply. I have been caught out by ‘little favours’ before. Like the time Tony and I had to help Brussels clear the furniture from his office — not that he is the only offender — and this time he said ‘big’ favour!
“I don’t know if you know, but there is an international youth soccer tournament in Sheffield during the holiday”.
I do know because Grandad told Dad last time he rang that he was having to cover the tournament for work and that there was no point it trying to visit him and Grandma during the holiday. Although he did say if we wanted to watch the matches he could get complimentary tickets! Dad and I declined the offer as none of our local teams is involved.
I nod and make yes noises in response to Brussels statement.
“In that case you might know that our school has been asked to host some pre-tournament match practice for one of the teams.”
Now that I didn’t know.
I like to kick a ball around but I don’t think I would be much good against a team qualifying for the tournament. I don’t even get picked for the ordinary school team. I am wondering where Brussels is going with this. It must show on my face.
“Don’t look so worried, lad. I’m not asking you to play. Although they are roughly your age group, we’ve agreed they will play a more senior team of ours for a closer match to their skill level.”
“Won’t that be a bit dangerous if our players are a lot bigger than theirs?” I ask. Some of the school matches I've watched have got a bit rough.
“Our team has strict instructions not to throw their weight about and take extra care to avoid injuries. They are meant to be playing football, not rugby.”
Brussels’ quip makes me smile. “So, if I’m not playing, how does it affect me?” I ask.
“Their team members are supposed to be staying with ours. You know: like a cultural exchange. I thought I’d got everything all boxed off, but one family have given back word this morning after hosting just one night. To make things more difficult they had agreed to have two boys. I can’t take them in. It wouldn’t be appropriate…”
If Brussels is gay, and we think he is, then probably not. Tongues would wag and he would be out of a job.
“…Miss Rutherford has said she would have them if I can’t arrange anything else but it would be much better if the boys are with someone near their own age. You and your parents couldn’t take them in could you, please? It would only be a couple of nights.”
“Er,” I mumble to get time to think about where they would sleep. “Not really. We’ve only got a double bed in the spare room.”
I am about to suggest that we could possibly host one of the boys, when Brussels interrupts.
“In the circumstances, I don’t think that will be a problem. I’m sure they will be only too happy to share.” There is an amused tone to his voice. I look up at him. Yes. His eyes are twinkling and a little smile is on his lips. What’s that about?
“Well, if you think it would be alright, I suppose I could ask my parents. You’d better tell me what’s involved. They’ll want to know all the details. Even then they might not agree.”
If it was one of my friends stopping over, I’m sure I could blag my parents to agree without asking first. This is different.
“The two boys are called Karl and Marvin. They are with a team from Wolfsburg in Germany.”
Mr Sproat starts to go into details about their schedule and meals required. I stop him.
“You’d best talk to my parents,” I say. I expect there will be things they’ll want to know that I won’t think of. “Mum is at home. Give her a call. Do you need our number?”
“No thanks, I can get it from the school system. I’ll give her a bell when I get home but, in the meantime, would you ring her first, please, and let her know I will be calling?”
“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver!”
Brussels readies himself to resume his run but has to make a final comment.
“Of course you’ll have to entertain your guests in the evenings. If Tony helps, it’s a good excuse for a sleepover!”
He grins and jogs away.
I pull out my mobile and ring Mum. Yes, I am capable of using it for calls and not just text! I tell her about Mr Sproat’s request.
“It might help you with your German,” she chortles before she hangs up. At least she didn’t say no.
“Should be interesting. It might help you with your German as well,” Tony says when I have explained why I am later than expected getting to the cafe. “Good job Brussels met you and not me,” he continues. “I would have had to say no. We’ve got Grandma staying with us this week. She still hates the Germans.”
“Why? Not the war, surely? That was nearly eighty years ago!”
“I know,” Tony sighs. “But I suppose she does have some reason. Her mother’s house was hit during the Blitz. Great Grandma survived but when they dug her out of the rubble, she was clutching her dead baby. Grandma should have had an older brother.”
Tony reminds me that his parents are a good bit older than mine and that the gap between our grandparents is nearly twenty years. That would make the war seem closer.
I am struggling to think of something to say. I am saved by the bell. Mum is calling my mobile.
“Hi. Mr Sproat has rung and told me about the boys. I have agreed they can stay with us for the next two nights. He wasn’t worried about them having to share a bed. He’s going to bring them round after they have finished training. Probably at about half past five. Can you make sure you are home by then, please? I’ll need you to translate. You know I don’t speak German. You’ll have to entertain them as well.”
“If you are with Tony, tell him he can have a sleepover if he wants. Mr Sproat suggested it would be a good idea. I’ve cleared it with his mother.”
Tony jumps at the chance when I ask him. “It’ll be way better than having to entertain Grandma!”
As I close the conversation with Mum, Tony pulls his own phone out of his pocket and looks at it.
“It’s a text from Mum,” he says, “confirming I can stop at your place while the German boys are staying with you.” He texts back our thanks.
In the afternoon, we go round to Tony’s house to pick up the things he wants with him for the next couple of nights. I get to meet his grandma. She seems nice enough but I am careful not to mention that my guests are from Germany!
We get to my house with plenty of time to sort ourselves out before Brussels arrives with the two footballers and their bags. Their training session over-ran so they are about an hour later than he had suggested. Long enough for Dad to be home from work.
Mr Sproat introduces the boys as Karl Mueller and Marvin Gram. There is a size and age difference between them similar to Tony and me. Marvin is the older of the two. They reply to their introductions in good English although Marvin has a somewhat melancholic accent.
Before he leaves, Brussels reminds the boys of their schedule tomorrow: training in the morning and the practice match against our school seniors in the afternoon. Tony and I are charged with making sure Marvin and Karl get to the school on time in the morning.
Once Brussels has gone, Mum announces that our evening meal is ready. I show the boys where the bathroom is. We can show them the bedroom they will be using after the meal.
Mum has done savoury ducks, with mash and cabbage. Tony raises an eyebrow towards me. Yes, I am a bit embarrassed that Mum has done such a cheap meal for our guests. I thought she would have done something a little more up-market, — Tony would say sophisticated — maybe roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. At least Karl and Marvin seemed to enjoy them. Even after we have explained what they are made of.
Although the conversation is mostly in English, there are limits to the boys’ vocabulary. Still miles better than our German though! Karl, in particular, tends to pick the wrong synonym. There is also a bit of confusion between Kartoffeln (potatoes) and offal until we explain the latter means the edible innards of an animal.
“We have similar things in German,” Karl says once he has understood. “In Lower Saxony we have Bregenwurst that has brains in it. Or at least did until they were banned in 2001. We serve it in our restaurant.”
“Is that in Wolfsburg?” I ask.
“Just outside the original city boundary. My great grandfather’s family had always been in the restaurant business. I’m named after him. He started the restaurant after the war. Since he wasn’t employed by Volkswagen, he wanted to be outside their universe.
I can see Dad trying not to laugh. What’s that about? Now I’m going to have to tackle both of the ’rents for explanations. Dad suppresses his laughter by asking a question.
“Why did he set it up there? Was his family from that area?”
“No. They were from the Ruhrgebeit. They were all killed in the flood after the breach of the Moehne dam. He only survived because he was in the army at the time.”
“War is a nasty business,” says Dad. We all take a moment to reflect on that thought.
“Volkswagen and Wolfsburg were fortunate,” Marvin restarts the conversation. “They were in the British sector of the post-war administration. The factory was nearly dismantled and the equipment taken in reparations, but the administration needed repair facilities and new vehicles. Major Ivan Hirst was put in charge and he resurrected the factory. It gave much needed work to local people. Hirst and his successor Heinrich Nordhoff laid the foundation of the successful company it is today.”
“If it had not been for them,” Karl adds. “There would be no Volkswagen and the city would be a village. The company is a big influence in the city. They even own the football team, VfL Wolfsburg, which plays in the Bundesliga.”
“I’ve heard of them,” I comment.
“They support our team with training facilities and equipment. Our team strip is based on theirs,” Marvin states.
Our plates are empty. Mum decides it is time for afters.
“Rhubarb crumble and custard. Or ice cream if you prefer,” she says as she starts to collect the empty dishes. I get up to help and follow her into the kitchen.
“Why did you do faggots?” I ask her. She rises to my implied criticism.
“Listen, mister. I wasn’t given a lot of notice, was I? I had plenty of these in the freezer. You both like them so why shouldn’t Karl and Marvin? Judging by the empty plates, they did!” Mum draws a breath. “Not only that, but they would keep warm without spoiling if the boys were late - which they were.”
I make apologetic noises and Mum’s attitude softens. She is not done though.
“I also thought they would be an ice-breaker. They were, but not in the way I was expecting. You decided to call them savoury ducks, so that set off a conversation about what they were made from.”
I must be wearing that blank look on my face again.
“Think about what you called them just now. Where might that discussion have gone?”
Er? I’ll have to ask Tony what he thinks.
I help Mum carry the puddings through to the others.
Once the initial clatter of spoons has abated, Mum restarts conversation.
“Tonight’s meal was what I had available and is very much what would I call peasant food. We should have something a bit more exotic tomorrow. Do you two like Indian food?” Mum is asking Karl and Marvin but she is also watching me.
“I do,” replies Karl. “There are a couple of Indian restaurants in Wolfsburg. It will be interesting to compare with the style you have here.”
“There you are then,” Mum says looking hard at me. “Will you cook tomorrow night? We can get take-away if you’d rather.”
Game and set to Mum. I’d better make sure I don’t lose the match!
“Sure, no worries,” I reply, trying to sound pleased to be asked.
There are whispers from the other end of the table.
“He’s been taking lessons from the Indian lady that has the corner shop. Good home cooking.” Tony says.
“He’s good. Don’t worry, it will be fine.” Thanks for the endorsement Dad.
Although Mum has cooked, Dad volunteers her to help him with the clean up after the meal.
“You two,” he says looking at Tony and me. “Help your guests with their bags and show them where they will be sleeping tonight.”
We duly traipse upstairs and show the German boys into the spare room.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to share a double bed,” I say. “I hope that’s not a problem.”
Karl and Marvin laugh. They also move to stand next to each other.
“It’s not a problem for us, if it’s not a problem for you.” Marvin explains.
“Not a problem for us. We’ll be sharing the bed next door.” I reply.
“It was a problem for the mother where we were last night,” Karl remarks.
Tony sits on the bed and pats it indicating everyone else should sit, too.
“Tell us more,” he says.
I sit next to him and we lean together, but with no more intimacy than that between good friends.
Karl and Marvin are in similar positions on the other side of the bed. Karl starts the tale.
“Everything was fine when we got there yesterday afternoon. The son welcomed us and was friendly. His mother was okay, too. The meal was pleasant although we had to give thanks beforehand. That was fine. Neither of our families are religious so we don’t bother, but lot of our friends are so we are used to it.
“We had a pleasant evening and were shown to our room. There was a bed, not as big as this…”
“I think you call it a three-quarter bed,” adds Marvin.
“… and a sleeping bag on the floor. The son apologised for the arrangement, but said they didn’t have another spare bed. We accepted his apology and didn’t say anything more. We had already worked out what we would do: share the bed. Like you, we are not full grown; there was plenty of room.”
Marvin takes up the story.
“We are used to sleeping together. We sleepover at each other’s houses every weekend. So we had a good night’s sleep. Too good. We forgot to set an alarm and the mother burst in in the morning to wake us. She went — what is the expression you use?”
“Ape-shit?” I offer. Marvin nods in acknowledgement.
“Calling us queers and for us to get out of the house.” As Karl resumes the tale, he puts an arm around Marvin and draws him close. “Cursing us with everything she could think of. Not just the ‘Jesus and Hail Mary’ of Catholics, or even Lutheran outrage. This was worse than a Calvinist ‘fire and brimstone’ rant!”
I pull Tony closer at the thought.
“Such irrational, behaviour,” Marvin commented. “The son must have agreed with what we were thinking. He was standing behind her rolling his eyes, and he apologised at the practice session this morning.”
Tony asks the name of the son. He has a reputation as a blabbermouth.
“You can expect this to become common knowledge in our team. Yours too.”
“Don’t worry. Our team know we are boyfriends. Some have more problems with it than others, but all have to live together.”
The conversation drifts into a discussion of what it is like to be boyfriends in our respective towns and countries. We share a worry that society seems to be becoming less tolerant again.
At ten o’clock, Dad knocks on the door.
“You need to let these guys get some sleep,” he says to me. “They’ve got training in the morning.” He pauses for effect. “And you have to get up to make sure they find their way to the school on time! Good night everyone.”
Dad’s parting words are: “Bathroom’s empty.”
Tony and I say goodnight to Marvin and Karl and go to my room. We give our guests time to use the bathroom first.
“I wondered why Brussels was so sure they wouldn’t mind sharing,” I say to Tony while we are waiting.
“And why he suggested a sleepover for me.”
“He must have told Mum as well. She told me she chose faggots for tea as an ice-breaker.”
We take our turns in the bathroom then climb into bed.
As I turn out the light I realise I forgot to ask Dad why he was laughing when Karl was telling us about his restaurant. Too late now.
I mustn’t forget I have some shopping to do in the morning.
I cuddle up to Tony and…
…it’s not long before we are asleep.
After lunch Tony and I go to the school playing fields to watch the match. Karl has told us he has the number six shirt and Marvin number seven. We will look out for them.
The match goes well. The German team is swapping players on and off the field to give everyone some match experience. Although the visitors’ skill levels are better than those of our senior school team, this is offset by the additional strength and weight due to the school team being older. They are following Brussels’ orders not to turn it into a rugby match. Or at least they seem to be until, just as a goal scored, we see someone running from the pitch towards the visitors’ bench, hands covering his face. It’s number seven: Marvin.
Karl has been sitting on the bench. He grabs Marvin into a hug, holding his boyfriend’s head to his shoulder. Marvin must say something to Karl because he looks out onto the field. His face shows an impotent loathing of the target of his stare.
We are not far away, so we hustle across to support our new friends.
“Wass ist los?” Tony asks, presumably guessing the boys are too upset to speak anything other than their native language.
Karl’s reply I translate to mean that one of our team has said something that really hurt Marvin. Tony asks the obvious question.
“Nummer zwei und vierzig”
Forty two! I look round to check who he means. Yup! It’s Roger Prescott.
“Oh, him. Thinks he’s the answer to life, the universe and everything.” I make my tone sound as dismissive of Prescott as possible. “His ex-girlfriend sorted him out though.”
While I am looking Prescott’s direction, I can see Mr Sproat is talking to him, although the body language of the pair suggests ‘interrogating’ would be more appropriate.
In Karl’s hug, Marvin calms down. Just in time for Brussels to appear.
Mr Sproat explains that he had seen Marvin run off in distress and questioned Prescott on what had happened.
“Prescott claims he was just sledging you,” Brussels says.
Marvin interrupts to ask “What is ‘sledging’?”
“Insulting or verbally intimidating an opposing player. Trying to weaken their concentration so they make errors. Otherwise known as ‘trash-talking.” Brussels explains. “Would you tell me what happened, please?”
“I have been beating him in tackles and every time he has sworn at me and called me a Nazi. I have been saying I’m not a Nazi but otherwise ignoring him but this time he said if I’m not a Nazi, I should go kiss my boyfriend and the pair of us fuck off and check into Auschwitz.”
“That would be over the top even for the Australian cricket team and they have turned sledging into an art form.” Brussels comments.
I can see Marvin is trying not to get upset again. Karl adds some more detail.
“Marvin’s great grandfather was in the Arbeitsdorf. He was a slave labourer at Volkswagen during the war. The rest of his family were sent to Buchenwald and Dachau for elimination.”
Tony, Karl and I rub Marvin’s back, while Mr Sproat expresses his sympathies.
“… unfortunately,” Brussels continues before passing judgement, “We can’t expect Prescott to have known about your family. However he can still sit out the rest of the match.”
Brussels gets that look Dad has whenever he is in teaching-point mode.
“Prescott’s comment was unacceptable, but you can expect sledging at the tournament. Any tournament. You have not to react. Even in situations like this. I don’t know what your coach would say. Probably ‘toughen up’. Where is he, by the way?”
I was wondering that.
“Maybe busy with the restart,” Brussels surmises but not sounding convinced.
The slightest of smiles appears on the teacher’s face.
“It’s probably inappropriate to say this,” he says. “But Prescott’s comment shows we did get something into his thick skull in his history lessons. That it wasn’t just Jews sent to the death camps, but gays and other groups deemed undesirable as well.”
Tony and I see the humour in the comment. Surprisingly Karl and Marvin get it too. It lightens Marvin’s mood.
“I thought cricket was supposed to be about fair play and gentlemanly conduct,” Marvin says after Brussels has left to talk to the German coach. “Sledging does not seem gentlemanly.” Marvin’s dead pan delivery and melancholy tone make the comment seem even more sarcastic.
“My grandad says the only thing gentlemanly about cricket is the beer tent!” I reply.
The match plays on to a finish. The visitors win by one goal, but more importantly they have been sufficiently challenged by the school team to get the experience they wanted. The German coach takes his team into the gym for a debriefing. Mr Sproat calls our team together and signals Tony and I should join them.
“Thank you everybody for turning out to play and for hosting our guests for the last few days. I hope you have all gained something from the experience.”
There are murmurings of agreement from the group. Brussels continues.
“They are having a light training session in the morning and have invited anyone that wants to join them. It would be an opportunity to experience a different approach.”
“What time, Sir?” someone asks.
“Eight o’clock. Don’t be late!”
There are a few groans about it being the school holidays and eight o’clock shouldn’t exist.
“Also,” Brussels resumes, “after the practice a bus will be taking them to Sheffield, but will be stopping at a pub on the way for a light lunch. Anyone that wants to come is welcome. It will take our visitors mind off their first match that they have in the early evening. We won’t be able to stay and watch the match though.”
He asks for a show of hands. Tony and I put ours up. Even if we don’t stay for the match, we might get a chance to meet Grandad — without Grandma being there.
“The bus will leave at eleven thirty. I would expect to be back here around four,” Brussels says after he has done a head count. “Okay, thanks lads. See you tomorrow.”
Dismissed, I head back to my house. I have an evening meal to prepare. Tony will wait for Karl and Marvin. Not that they are likely to get lost on their way from the school to my house.
For the evening meal, I’m doing some of the dishes I have learnt from Mrs P at the corner shop. I’ll try to vary the textures and flavours for balance the way she says I should. Okay! I will admit I asked for her advice when I called at the shop for some poppadums, naan breads and other supplies.
I suppose I am trying to show off, but I need to answer Mum’s challenge. And with Karl in a catering family, I want to be on top of my game.
It is longer than I expected before Tony returns with Karl and Marvin. In fact Dad has beaten them home again.
“Something smells good, lad,” Dad says when he walks in. He sniffs the air. “My eyes aren’t watering so not one of your really hot ones then?”
“No. Just a variety, nothing really hot.”
“No need to put a loo roll in the fridge then?”
“Dad! Out!” I point towards the door out of the kitchen.
Dad is almost out of the room when Tony arrives with Marvin and Karl. I see him hesitate. I give him some side-eye and shout ‘out’ at him again. The boys are a bit shocked that I should talk to Dad like that.
Tony doesn’t bat an eyelid. He’s seen me and Dad before. “Smells good,” he says as he goes to the stove and lifts the lid on one of my pans.
“Leave it,” I growl at Tony.
Karl breaks into a smile
“Ach, der patzige Koch — the snotty chef!” he says. “Just like the kitchens at home!”
“A better translation might be stroppy,” adds Marvin.
I shove them all out of the kitchen with a final instruction to Tony.
“Go find Mum and tell her the meal will be ready in twenty minutes.”
She keeps out of the way when I’m cooking. Mainly because she will have volunteered me for the duty!
Thankfully, Everyone enjoys the meal. The ’rents offer to do the clean up so that the four of us have more time to talk. We go up to my room where we can be freer in our conversation.
“Did your coach have anything to say about the sledging incident and you running off the pitch?” I ask Marvin. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it earlier.
“Same as your teacher said: I should toughen up. Only he was a lot less polite about it.”
I grimace at the thought.
“No worse than we expected,” Marvin adds.
We ask what Wolsfburg is like as a place to live before falling to talking about our lives more generally.
Except Karl and I seem to spend a lot of time talking food and the restaurant business, while Tony and Marvin discuss universities!
It doesn’t seem long before Mum knocks on my door to remind us the boys have to be up in time for training tomorrow.
Mum makes sure everyone is awake in time for Marvin and Karl to get to their training session. It’s not really any earlier than she makes me get up in the holidays anyway. Since we are up, Tony and I decide we will also go to the training session. We might learn something. We do say to the boys — and the coach — that we are not very good at football. Which we successfully demonstrate.
We do learn something — we aren’t interested in playing regularly for a soccer team. Too much commitment. We both have other things demanding our engagement.
After the session, we all get cleaned up then climb aboard the bus for the trip to Sheffield. The driver asks their coach to confirm everyone is present and that they have loaded their bags. Brussels does his own headcount.
“We have plenty of time,” he announces. “So we thought you should see some of the countryside instead of driving straight up the motorway. We will be stopping for lunch at a country pub.”
The visitor’s coach then repeats this in German, adding that after lunch the bus will take them to their hotel to drop their bags before taking them on to the stadium.
Brussels acts as tour guide as we take the scenic route along the Derwent valley, past Chatsworth and onward to Hathersage and Ladybower reservoir. Tony and I are able to add some more detail and answer any questions Marvin and Karl have. The bus stops at the Ladybower Inn.
“We are stopping here for lunch,” Mr Sproat announces. “The meal is shepherd’s pie. There is vegetable curry for those who requested a non-meat option. I will lead you to where we have reserved seating away from the bar.”
“What is this shepherd’s pie?” Karl asks as we wait our turn to get off the bus. I explain that it is minced lamb with vegetables, usually peas and carrots, cooked in a tray or dish, with a mashed potato topping.
“With luck they will have put some grated cheese on top,” I add. “That makes it really tasty.”
Marvin has a different question. “Why did your teacher say our seating had to be away from the bar?”
Tony chuckles. “You spotted that did you? It’s to do with our complicated licensing laws and how old you have to be to be where alcohol is served…”
I let him explain — complicated isn’t in it!
We find our seats after inspecting the plumbing. While we are waiting for the food, Karl has another question.
“There was a sign outside the building. It had a picture of an aeroplane, painted black. Do you know why?”
It’s local knowledge but I’m not sure Tony knows. His family is from away. Before I can think of how to reply, Marvin comments.
“I think it looked like a Lancaster bomber. You have one still flying I believe.”
I knew he was smart. I’ll have to answer.
“You’re right. On both counts.” I can feel myself blush. “Knowing Karl’s family history, I’m embarrassed about this. It was insensitive of Mr Sproat to pick this place to stop. Lancaster bombers were used for the Dambusters raid that destroyed the Moehne and Eder dams.”
“Ja,” agrees Marvin. “But what is the connection to this place?”
“The reservoir outside was built later,” I point in the direction of the lake. “But there are two more reservoirs further up the valley. The dam of the lower one was used for training the aircrews in bomb aiming and flying low over the water. If I had known we were coming here, I would have said something before.” I look across at Karl. He doesn’t seem upset.
“I didn’t know that,” says Tony. “Do you think we should tell Brussels and ask him to apologise?”
“Not necessary. I wouldn’t expect him to know about my family,” Karl remarks. The boys have picked up on Mr Sproat’s nickname.
“Might be interesting to tell him anyway and see what reaction we get.” I reply.
The idea gets forgotten as our food is served.
Yea! The shepherd’s pie has a nice crispy cheese top. And there is a bottle of Henderson’s Relish on the tray of condiments. What’s not to like? Karl and Marvin certainly aren’t complaining.
Brussels herds us back on to the bus when everyone has finished. After he has done his headcount, I ask him what time he thinks we will get to the stadium. He gives me an estimate but says it will depend on how long the team spends unloading at the hotel.
During the short run from Ladybower into Sheffield, everyone exchanges phone numbers and email addresses. All say we will keep in touch and maybe even visit one day, but somehow I doubt that will happen.
I also text Grandad with our current ETA. He texts back that he will meet our bus in the unloading area and to let him know when we leave the hotel. Which I do.
As we roll into the stadium grounds, Brussels makes another announcement.
“I hope everyone has enjoyed the last few days and made some new friends. We wish them luck in the tournament. When we stop you can have five minutes to say goodbye to our guests. You should also visit the loos if you need to. The bus will leave in ten minutes if you are here or not!”
The German coach makes a similar announcement thanking us for our hospitality and telling his team to be ready to follow him in five minutes.
Grandad is waiting for us in the unloading area. He is in a high-viz vest and has a security lanyard around his neck and an earpiece in one ear. Although he is able to tell the German coach where he should take his team to check-in and tell people where the toilets are, I’m pretty certain that is not his official function!
I am able to introduce Karl and Marvin to Grandad and they have a brief conversation before we have to give them a quick hug and say our final goodbyes. The two boys leave with their team.
“A lot like you two in some respects,” says Grandad. “That Marvin seems a bright kid. Like you Tony.”
How did Grandad work that out? He only spoke with them for a few minutes.
“Oh, I think he’s brighter than me,” Tony admits.
Grandad starts to chuckle.
“Brain the size of a planet then!”
He sees we don’t get the joke.
“Sorry, just remembering an old radio show.”
Grandad puts his finger to his earpiece. There must be something he needs to listen to. Or perhaps fake listening to!
“I have to go, lads. Give my love to everyone.”
We just have time for a leak before we have to get back on the bus.
On the journey home, Brussels works his way along the bus talking to the various team members asking for their thoughts on the last few days. Not just the football, but how well they got on with their guests.
“Thanks for digging me out of a hole, taking those two in,” he says when he gets to us. “How were they? It looked as though you all got on well.”
“All right, I think,” Tony replies.
“Good. I thought it would work out. You were nearer their own age than some of the other placements, and I think you still had something in common, even though you two aren’t very good footballers.”
Brussels might be grinning to show he means that last as a joke but it still needs countering.
“You dropped us in it though,” I say.
“By taking us to Ladybower. Most of Karl’s family were lost in the Dambusters raid.”
“And?” Brussels is beginning to sound concerned.
“The pub sign is a picture of a Lancaster bomber because the Derwent valley dams were used for training prior to the raid. Karl saw the sign.”
“Ah. I never knew that.” Brussels colours up. “I’m sorry. I’ve put my foot in it, haven’t I? Was Karl upset?”
I let him off the hook.
“Not really. He accepted you wouldn’t know about his family.”
“And it is several generations ago,” adds Tony.
“It’s been an interesting couple of days,” Tony says as we walk towards my house.
“Quite fun, too, in some ways,” I reply.
“Bet you didn’t learn much German!”
“Depp!”* I smack him playfully on the arm. “Neither did you!”
Copyright © Pedro, March 2023
Many moons ago — many, many moons — the pub sign at the Ladybower Inn actually was a picture of a Lancaster bomber. It has since been removed.
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