I can't quite remember how the story starts but I presume that at some stage I agreed to go to the German National Beard Championships in Schömberg and the next thing I knew, Rodders in a flurry of efficiency had booked the flights and hotel and arranged to pick me up at 10.30 Friday morning to make sure I didn't forget. Better yet I got a text on Thursday not only as a reminder but also telling me not to wear jeans as he had blagged us into the business departure lounge.
Friday morning I was duly collected at the appointed time. The plan was for us to leave the car outside one of Rod's friend's houses and take the bus from there to Heathrow, replacing a king's ransom in airport car parking charges with a two pound bus journey. An excellent plan indeed, I thought, but clearly not excellent enough for Rodders who had decided that saving a king's ransom was insufficient and he could refine the plan still further having got wind of a job lot of half-used travel cards for sale in a dubious Albanian tobacconist's some twenty miles off route. By the time we had got there he had run out anyway.
Well, we arrived at the pre-arranged parking space and met up with Ted and bussed it to the airport together. There we were to meet up with Jonathan and the Despicable Parsons, the DP then proceeding to break the zip on his sports bag and cause consternation throughout the terminal trying to scrump up the wherewithal to effect some sort of running repairs. Eventually the offending case had been double bagged in transparent bin liners held together with perforated baggage tape and we could go through into the business lounge. There may well be no such thing as a free lunch but a small mountain of ham and cheese rolls and the best part of a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape comes a close second. To Rod's mate Sue, if you are reading this... then thank you.
As if to make up for it though, when the flight was called we appeared to have been allocated a pilot with a fear of flying because we spent far more time taxiing on the ground than we spent actually in the air. Rodders did not care, he had been upgraded to business class where he was happily snoring like a rhinoceros but from what I could work out (and I would not swear that this account is 100% factual) after half a dozen laps of the runway the pilot hopped the plane over the perimeter fence, drove it half way round the M25, onto the M20 and barely plucked up the courage to take off when the only alternative was our imminently plummeting over the white cliffs of Dover into the English Channel.
We arrived at Stuttgart airport and there was no sign of Rodders. We automatically assumed that the VIP lifestyle had gone to his head and he had forgotten about the championships, had his luggage gold-plated and been taken by limousine to join the Bundestag. Eventually he deigned to rejoin the hoi polloi and by the time we had got the hire car sorted out we had been found by Jürgen Burkhardt and his friend, who had very decently suggested that we follow them for the hour long drive to Schömberg to so we didn't get lost. Jürgen's car is not a particularly difficult one to recognise. Well we did get a bit lost, but not very, and were soon in the hotel unpacked and rather looking forward to a beer. Before then, for reasons I did not fully grasp, we went to the school hall where the event was to be held the next day, introduced ourselves to the organisers and then drove to a local bar that was wall-to-wall beards for a much awaited beer.
Next morning we found the final Handlebar Club member Dave in the hotel at breakfast. Apparently he and his attendant film crew of Mike and Casper had flown in from city airport on an ancient biplane the previous night and got lost ten times trying to find the hotel. Having scoffed breakfast we took a couple of taxis to the venue so Rodders could get plastered and by about ten we were signed up and on our first beer of the day. It was a fine do, plenty of people, plenty of beer what more could you ask for?
In terms of results it was a pretty poor show. Most of us had entered the English class. I think there were nine
entrants. Steve came third and made off with the only piece of silverware (not including Ted who came second in the Fu
Manchu) Jonathan came seventh, Dave eighth and I maintained my traditional last place in the class. Rodders did
just as well coming last in the natural moustache class. There was also a longest beard competition and a bizarre
device was trotted out to measure them that looked a bit like a cross between a Dalek and a lavatory seat.
The festivities finished at about ten so we got a minibus back to the hotel and decided to have a couple more for the
road. We had been drinking for twelve hours solidly by that time. No wonder everyone thought that I was talking complete
rubbish, they were all drunk!
Next morning, after a hearty breakfast and probably the worst coffee since the fourth series of Black Adder, we (without Dave and his crew who presumably had to head home earlier) went to the carnival museum in Schömberg. It seems that one of the things on which Schömberg prides itself is its carnivals. There is a huge event there in January which is a sort of Halloween, Lent and bonfire night all rolled into one. After that we drove back to Stuttgart where we met up with Jorg from the Herfan club and did a tour of the Mercedes Benz museum. It was quite interesting but the most amusing thing about that episode was that Jonathan had bought two old age pensioner tickets. One was for Ted (which was fair enough) and the other one for Rodders who was most indignant about it. Clearly it was a good call by Jonathan though as no one queried Rodders' geriatric status for the entire afternoon. Finally it was time to head back to England, no doubt to get equally sozzled next weekend at the AGM.