One of my best friends in the South Glamorgan Youth Choir was B8ob Cryer* – he made me laugh, was ginger, liked heavy metal and he was called Bob Cryer which alone made me laugh as I was a big fan of The Bill. Bob went to St Cyres School over in Penarth and in the Autumn of 1990 the music department was planning a trip to Stuttgart which was the return journey of an exchange visit that had seen children from Stuttgart coming over to South Wales that year. The trip back was due to happen in February 1991 but the choir had an issue – they needed more male voices and Bob asked a few of us if we’d like to go. The trip was going to last for ten days, there was only one big concert planned and it would cost £100 – as our American cousins say, it was a no brainer.
The two other ringers to sign up alongside me were Dr Geraint Lloyd and Steffan Adams and we drove over to Penarth every Thursday for rehearsals, we knew lots of people already but there was one pupil there who I didn’t know – he was also called Geraint and for whatever reason he hated me, I swear that I did nothing to annoy him, well not deliberately anyway, but he told various people that he thought I was a twat (as I well could be at the time) that he was going to kick the living shit out of me and for the life of me I couldn’t work out why. Anyway the day before we left for Stuttgart my grandmother died, he got told this and was as nice as pie to me all the way through the tour!
We travelled to Dover via coach and when we got there a new driver got on board and his name was Roger. Roger was a very large man with a South Wales moustache, a very thick valleys accent and a what seemed at first to be a rather crap sense of humour** but I have to tell you that by the end of the tour we genuinely loved Roger, so much so that nine months later when Roger saw that the SGYC were due to travel to London for a concert he put himself down on the rota so that he could drive and see us all again.
We arrived safely in Stuttgart after the mother of all coach journeys and we got allocated our homestays. I got to stay in a lovely apartment in the Stuttgart suburbs with an ex-pupil and her parents and Bob stayed just around the corner in a house with a school family. We were very near a tram that would take us into the city centre and we would make good use of that service throughout our stay. I made my way to homestay got settled in, watched a bit of German telly and then got taken out for a very posh Chinese meal before going home and having a kip. The next morning we all met up at the school before going into the centre of Stuttgart where we had been promised the Generalfeldmarschall Rommel’s son who was the mayor of Stuttgart would be entertaining us. Well what a disappointment, he never showed up. Instead what we got was some German civil servant reading out a statement that Rommel had allegedly written and then our meal was served up to us and we all got veal and nobody ate it. We all got out of the cellar where we were being entertained and did what all Brits would surely do in such a circumstance – we went to McDonalds: “Sechs McNuggets bitte.”
There were two male teachers who came on the tour with us – one was a teacher called Tony Cousins who will feature in a story in a moment and then there was Alan “Salty” Hughes. I had known Salty since I was a little boy as he sang in the Ardwyn Singers with my Dad and he was one of the three people in my life who I didn’t mind calling me Tony – it sounded okay coming from him. I have two memories of Salty on the tour, one was when we went on a trip to a castle outside of Stuttgart and we were sitting on the coach chatting and Salty offered me his hip flask “Go on Tone, have a try, it’s some really lovely cherry brandy.” – it was indeed lovely and just what was needed on what was a very cold day out and luckily I was able to reciprocate and offer Salty some of my Jack Daniels which I had in a hip flask leant to me for the trip by my Dad.
On the final night of the tour we had a reception for us and our hosts at local church hall during which one teacher was on alcohol and very strong painkillers and as a result seemed to be in a different place from the rest of us, laughing at all the wrong places, saying obscene things really loudly – it was cringeworthy but funny. Roger the Driver’s chair collapsed underneath him at one point causing us to cry with laughter and then Salty invited us all to join him at a bar that he’d discovered during his week in Stuttgart: “It’s a lovely place boys, it’s really close to here and we can get a good drink or two in.” Well how could we refuse? So off we all went to this bar, a load of schoolboys with a history teacher walking through late night Stuttgart to a bar. As we walked in all of us sussed it out straight away – Salty had spend his week in Stuttgart drinking in a gay bar. “Salty,” I said, “You do know this is a gay bar don’t you?” “Get out of it Tony!” “No seriously Salt, it is, look, there are no women here.” “Right. Who wants what then?” I loved Salty.
During the middle of the week we’d agreed to meet up in a bar for some drinks and a whole load of us met up there including Mr Cousins who very quickly said that the bar wasn’t his thing and said that he was going off to a Bierkeller around the corner that he knew and would anyone like to go with him. Geraint, Bob and myself decided to go and we found ourselves in cellar with a schoolteacher telling us “Boys, put your money away, it’s of no use this evening, the drinks are on me.” We drank so much that night, and at one point Mr Cousins said “I really hate people who force others to drink too quickly, now come on boys, drink up and I’ll get another round in.” At one point in the evening I threw up my stomach lining in the loos then drank some more and then it was time to get back to our homestays. Bob looked after me getting me on the tram, then getting me off the tram so that I could puke up and then getting me back on the tram and but we made it back and struggling to get my key in the lock I got into bed and fell asleep.
I woke up a while later needing the toilet and made my way to the loo, I turned the light on to discover that inbetween going out and coming back home the toilet had vanished. “Where’s the f***ing toilet?” I yelled. “Er, Anthony” a very tired German voice answered me, “It’s across the hall.” “Right, thank you, danke schoen!” it was at this point I realised that a) I was in the German parents’ bedroom and b) I was naked. The father very kindly showed me to the loo and let me get about my business. I awoke in the morning and I have to say that those people who say that the Germans have no sense of humour have no idea what they were talking about – the mother upon my entrance to the dining room turned around with a massive plate of sausages and asked if I’d like one as she’d made them especially for me.
Oh dear blog readers, it was a great tour, there was a visit to a porn cinema with Dr Geraint and Steffan that ended rather abruptly, lots more visits to McDonalds, Tony Cousins told us about the time he burnt his kitchen down when cooking chips and about the time he got home drunk and got into bed with his mother in law, I snogged a sixth former which was nice, we bumped into our good friend from St Cyres and SGYC, Dr Aydin Kurt-Elli who couldn’t go on the tour as had to be elsewhere that week and that elsewhere just happened to be somewhere near Stuttgart with his family! We sang really well and Claire Dwyer spoke really good German: “Das Swingle Singers!” when introducing the music during the concert which impressed me no end.
* I’m friends with him on Facebook now which pleases me no end as he’s one of my favouritest people ever.
**e.g. On Our first afternoon in Stuttgart we went to the Mercedes factory and Roger announced that the cost on entry was 20 Deutchse Marks each. We complained like crazy, some of the choir said that they’d refuse to pay and would sit on the coach whilst the others went in, at which point Roger said over the mic “Only joking!” -the museum was free, and it was like that for the entire week and I know it sounds rubbish but it was funny and we all thought Roger was ace.