Pub quiz night in Dortmund. The stakes are high: two hundred euros in small change and the title of Summer Champions.
I’m responsible for security; a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. Such is the German will to win that I could be in for a busy evening.
I doubt it will get physical but it could get heated. An evening in a German bar very rarely resembles a saloon in a bad western but, in a day and age where everyone carries a smart phone, the temptation to cheat is ever-present and set on vibrate.
My job is to make sure that mobile phones stay in pockets. I am under strict instructions to escort offenders off the premises using the wrestling hold of my choice and feed them to the pack of hyenas circling outside.
You might be asking yourself what qualifications I have for this particular role. Well, two things mark me out above all other candidates. Firstly, my friend Frank is the quiz master, and secondly I’m happy to be paid in beer. It’s actually working out at quite a nice hourly rate.
So it should be. Like I say, it’s a tough job. The contestants behave themselves as far as mobile phones are concerned but I must combat bribery at every turn. A beer here, a brandy there, a whisky for our Irish friend in exchange for any information I might be willing to divulge.
Our Irish friend? I’m not an Irishman of course. I’m a Scot and proud of it but I can forgive the confusion.
I’m wearing an Irish football shirt for one thing, and my attitude to bribery is dictated by a maxim penned by one of the Emerald Isle’s most famous sons. Oscar Wilde it was who stated that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.
It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether my lips are loosened or not: I know neither the questions nor the answers. That doesn’t stop the guests from trying of course. When bribery fails they turn to flattery: “Scotland? I love Scotland…”
And still they ply me with drink.
“He’s wearing an Irish football shirt! There must be some reason for that!”
At the half-time break, when we allow our hyperventilating guests to reacquaint themselves with their telephones and tobacco, Google report a surge in hits related to Dublin, Gaelic football and James Joyce.
It does not help of course: The Irish t-shirt is complete coincidence. Such is the will to win that my every gesture and expression is scrutinised. He must know something.
By round three both myself and the teams have relaxed to such an extent that we are clinking glasses and I am seeing double. Frank is becoming agitated and reminding me of the dangers of fraternisation, I am reminding Frank of the terms of my employment.
The last round of the evening is the eternal repechage of the ignorant, the music round.
It’s like every other pub quiz I have ever been to; the physicists and the botanists, the historians and the geologists; have all failed miserably. The teams’ last chance at glory lies with the hitherto silent figures in the band t-shirts.
I remind the contestants once more that I know nothing.
“Just play by the rules” I tell them. “Complete the missing line from the song. I can’t help you any more than that.”
Ding ding –track one.
“Sooome things in life are bad, they can really make you mad…”
Monty Python’s Always Look on The Bright Side of Life. The last number of The Life of Brian. Two hundred pairs of eyes turn to me.
“When you’re chewin’ on life’s gristle, don’t …(silence)
…and things will always turn out for the beeest”
He must know. Fight or flight kicks in…
At least I think that’s how the evening ended. My thinking’s a little bit muddled this morning having woken up with one sock on and the alarm clock in my hand. I could be wrong; things never really get nasty in German pubs.
“Don’t grumble, give a whistle” by the way. The missing line from the song. Of course I knew that. What self-respecting Brian doesn’t?
It’s very apt too. Hangovers aside, I really mustn’t grumble. Because I live in a country where a lone, slightly intoxicated British guy will attract nothing but interest and sympathy.
Nobody over here has ever accused me of “stealing their job”, nobody has ever suggested that there are too many of my sort or expressed the desire to “get their country back.” There’s a British shop in Dortmund but nobody has ever graffitied it with “Tommies go home” or any such nonsense.
People talk about Brexit. Some are offended that Britain should choose to do this, most see it as the direct successor to Monty Python and Mr Bean in the great tradition of British comedy. There are plenty of jokes, but never any nastiness.
Most Germans you will encounter are friendly, inquisitive and helpful towards foreigners; this is something I’ve always been very grateful for. Racism does exist in Germany but the form it takes is very different to in the UK.
Racism in Germany is generic. Either a person is a xenophobe or they are not. There is no grey area such as exists in Britain.
Many British adopt a two-tier approach to xenophobia. Most would agree that the colour of a person’s skin should not single them out for discrimination, but there is still a sizeable minority who believe that discrimination on the grounds of nationality is somehow fair game.
Very few people would ever use the n-word to describe black people or the p-word to describe Asians –but terms such as “Frog”, “Wop” or “Paddy” are somehow seen as less offensive and can still be heard if you listen hard enough.
Most British people have more sense than this of course, but this sense of otherness is engrained in a sizeable minority of the population and it is ripe for exploitation.
A fringe political party who shall remain nameless understands this very well. No party in Britain will poll well by saying that there are too many blacks or Asians –and yet at the same time, saying there are too many Poles or Romanians is regarded by many as honest pragmatism.
I’m writing this diary from the point of view of one of the 1.2 million Britons living in the EU but of course we are less than half of the equation. There are over 3 million EU nationals living in the UK –and I wouldn’t swap places with them for all the beer in Dortmund.
If I become a German citizen, it will cost me around a quarter of what it would cost to become a naturalised UK citizen. I am not the only person I know currently involved in the process of obtaining German nationality and can say quite confidently that not one of them has been told to leave the country because their application was refused, something which has seemingly been de rigeur in the UK during the last few months.
The system is being fixed, says Theresa. We’re on the case. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. In the meantime, she’s made an offer to EU nationals living in Britain which has not gone down well at all.
Why should it? She is telling them that, because of where they come from, they will have fewer rights and will have to pay for the privilege. They will become something less than equal in the eyes of the law and there’s nothing they can do about it because the “people of Britain” have willed it so.
I feel ashamed when I hear that people no longer feel welcome in the UK; not once have I ever had that feeling here. Most British people are not that callous but I fear that at the moment the nasty minority are winning.
Like I say, I wouldn’t swap places for all the beer in Dortmund.
The only consolation I can offer is that we Britons living in the EU also have our cross to bear. We are being represented by a government whose arrogance and incompetence embarrasses us on a daily basis.
This week sees the start of the negotiations, round two. Boris Johnson has already told the EU that they can “go whistle” if they expect Britain to meet its financial commitments after its departure.
This goes further than just being embarrassing. It’s also fighting talk where I come from.
Come over here and say that, Boris. You’ll be picking up your teeth with a broken arm.
Or else marching out the door in the wrestling hold on my choice.