Karin Obermeyer fertigte diese Übersetzung für ihren Partner Ron, meinen englischen Freund aus alten Tagen.
At the age of sixteen, in 1966, I had the chance to practice my English, which needed improving. Ron Frampton, the boyfriend of my friend’s sister, invited me to spend my summer holiday with his family in Lower Holditch, a tiny hamlet in West Dorset. Ron was nine years my senior, a motorcycle mechanic. In 1960, at the age of 20, he had started his own business with his younger brother Brian.
Here, in this totally isolated area in Dorset, I was supposed to grasp the basics of the English language. The prospect was bad and good.
The bad thing was; that most people spoke a dialect I could not understand. Other people, obviously, must have had a similar problem.
A girl I met on the beach one day asked me from where in the Midlands I was. (People in the Midlands are sometimes quite difficult to understand). Only after I had shown her my German passport was she convinced I was not from that part of the country. That seemed to be the end of our acquaintance.
The good thing was; that until I sat in the special school train back to Cologne and Hamburg, I never spoke a single German word. I had, in the almost six weeks in Dorset, learned many idiomatic expressions and words, especially concerning the auto technique and work tools. Even my English teacher Dr Lenz would not be able to do better in that subject. But most importantly, I had lost the fear of speaking English, never mind the mistakes I made. The Midlanders would accept them all.
Ron’s parents were humble and wonderful people. All their lives they worked for the gentry around Ford Abbey. (According to Ron, they were in-house servants in the Axminster and Lyme Regis area.) They never had time or money to travel. And now, at their old age, with time available, money was still missing and there was no desire to travel anywhere.
A few years back Ron met Marion, a German girl, who worked in the neighbourhood for a year as an au-pair. Mr and Mrs Frampton knew her very well, and when Ron decided to visit her in Hamburg, they were greatly concerned. They watched with suspicion Ron’s adventures and travels to far away Germany.
The Frampton family treated me with great kindness and hospitality. Mrs Frampton was easy to talk to. She spoke accent free English and showed much interest in my life abroad and my family. Mr Frampton was as difficult to understand as he was lovable. He had a very deep, penetrating voice, and a tendency to drag several words into one. Ron called him ‘The Old Man’. He, the old man, liked standing with his hands in the pockets and a pipe in his mouth, watching the chickens and his sons at work.
In the evenings I watched the news with the old folks. It was a good thing that pictures accompanied the speakers as it seemed to me that they all talked too fast.
The family had told me to be very careful and maybe even leave the room when wrestling was broadcast (which, at that time, was fairly regularly). This quiet old man seemed to undergo a complete transformation – he got really excited, he actually took part in the fight. He threw his arms in the air and waved them about so that no-one near him was safe. He gave Mum a black eye one day when she was sitting next to him on the sofa; another time he dismantled part of the sofa in his enthusiasm. Only when I saw his behaviour with my own eyes did I believe it.
Mrs Frampton soon became aware of my eating habits; I ate little. She missed the ravaging hunger her boys had shown when they were my age. The simple explanation was that the food tasted too British; I just ate enough to stay alive. After a while Mrs Frampton obviously realised what the problem was and asked me one day what we ate in Germany. We must have sat for an hour talking about food, when I finally arrived at black bread, – Schwarzbrot/Graubrot/Pumpernickel. In those days, what we called Toastbrot, was the only bread known and available in that part of the world. The white-haired lady was astonished – she had never heard of anything like that. Would people really want to eat it? A life without white bread was unthinkable for her.
As there were no mobile phones in those days, and land-line phone calls to Germany were complicated and expensive, I wrote a postcard to my parents in Hamburg, asking them to send me, per express, a loaf of black bread. I told them that I was craving it – I did not tell them that I wanted to show my hosts what it looked and tasted like. My dad, who missed the German Graubrot badly, while imprisoned in Egypt during the war, took action immediately. Within two weeks a parcel arrived, packed as perfectly as only my dad could have done it. A loaf of black bread! I ate one slice immediately, without butter, and the rest of it I left on the kitchen table, for the family to try some real bread.
In the parcel was a letter from my dad: “My dear son, this should help you for the time being. Never forget that your father had to eat white bread for more than six months. Give my regards and best wishes to your hosts.”
When we gathered around the kitchen table that evening, I asked Mrs Frampton what she thought of the bread. “Oh,” she said, “was that eatable bread? I had no idea. I fed it to the chickens.”
Ron and his dad burst out laughing and we all joined in. The British chickens obviously survived the German bread. Perhaps, much later, members of the Frampton family might have learnt to appreciate and love the taste of black bread, with an egg, for breakfast.
Much later the conversation with my dad went like this:
“The bread was good; I had one slice of it.”
“What happened to rest of it?”
“It was given to the chickens.”