Bernd Morsbach: My year in Wales, September 1969- August 1970

Bernd Morsbach was the German Assistant at the school in 1969-70. By a strange coincidence, I actually recall him living in Beaufort, with Mr and Mrs Williams. I was only 9 at the time, so too young to be a grammar school pupil, but I recall Mr Williams bringing Bernd along to help him and all the neighbours clear snow from the lane that ran behind the house where I lived, and linked the back of his property to Llangynidr Road. I recall Mr Williams joking with us all, "Bernd will be writing home to his mother, saying, Mr WIlliams has got me working like a slave!"
Bernd has put together a personal memoire, primarily for his family, but has kindly offered that relevant chapters be used on this website. 
Vielen Dank für Ihre Freundlichkeit in teilen Sie Ihre Erinnerungen mit uns, Bernd.


After my A-Levels in the autumn of 1966 I had originally wanted to become a civil engineer specialising in bridge construction. Looking back it was extremely wise to do the six months of work experience required by the Technical University of Aachen before taking up my studies which – as a result - I never did. The atmosphere on a German building site was so horrible that I reconsidered my options and remembered that I had always liked English at school and now fancied becoming a Grammar School teacher instead.

I chose Cologne University for the simple fact that I could live at home and could easily commute by train which made my studies considerably cheaper than if I had rented a room near the university. So one year late, at the tender age of 21, when young Britons have usually finished their B.A. degrees, I started reading English and Geography, the latter because of lack of any better choice.

It turned out that although Cologne University had about 20000 students in 1967 already, the English Department was nevertheless very well organized, much on the lines of a British university. For that reason, it had a dreadful reputation in the Arts faculty in 1968, the year of the students’ revolts, as being run “like a school”, not giving freshers a lot of “academic freedom”. Up to your intermediate exams students had to follow a strict syllabus of courses, seminars, lectures etc. Worst of all, and this gave students of other departments the shivers, you had a comprehensive “reading list” and you had to sit this wretched intermediate exam after 2 years which you could only fail once, or you were out. In 1967, this was quite unheard of at other departments or unis where you could study happily ever after and, in theory, did not have to pass any exams before attempting your Ph.D.

The best thing about the English Department was the large number of British lecturers it employed (about 15) mainly for improving the students’ language skills but also providing classes in civilization, essay writing, pronunciation and so on. English had been my best subject at school but now it improved in leaps and bounds because of good tuition in smallish groups by German standards and, not to forget, the hard work I put in because I felt happy from the start. The large numbers of “native speakers” also made a vast difference to the atmosphere within the department as I was to realize much later when I changed to French and German from Geography from year 3.

Despite my progress in English at an advanced level I felt I wanted to spend a longer period of time in Britain, partly because it was high time to leave home and partly because I could not imagine how you could teach the language and literature of a country that you only knew from books. Britain, at that time, was not a member of EU but had rather churlishly founded the EFTA with countries like Austria and Norway in competition. Getting a work permit as a young man was extremely difficult for that reason and going as an “au pair” constituted only an option for girls. Cologne University unfortunately did not have any twinnings with any British university like the French Department had with Clermont-Ferrand. But there was the possibility of the “educational exchanges” better known as “Assistant Teacher” jobs for one year.

You had to apply to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in Düsseldorf about a year in advance supported by letters of recommendation from your lecturers. As there were always more applications for the total of about 120 jobs going, the interview in the ministry was of crucial importance. Luckily, I found an ex-assistant in the English Department who gave me tips on the interviewer, a typical high-ranking German civil servant, and his surprising questions, mainly on German and Eastern European history. His pet topic seemed to be questions on the three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. You HAD to know their capitals to pass his test! Funnily enough, I later heard the other side of this obsession from the Head of the German Department in the Grammar School. The grey civil servant had stated in his assessment of an assistant that “this young man has nothing whatsoever to give to young British pupils”. For the Head of German he had turned out to be one of the nicest and most successful assistants they had ever had. So at their school they never bothered looking at the comments from the Ministry from then on.

I did “pass high” though, as they say in Wales, but there was another pitfall that I had not envisaged. As part of the conditions of the applications process you had to promise to abide by two things: you had to stay in Britain for a whole year in order not to leave the school without an assistant at any time; and you could make three suggestions as to what region of the country you wanted to go to. BUT you had to accept any posting they were offering you wherever it might be. As I had spent six weeks in London with my mother’s friend Helga Robinson in the summer of 1967 I had put down three Home Counties on my list of proposals: Sussex, Berkshire and Surrey, all in “striking distance” of London where I fancied going to on weekend trips.

The other grey man who decided my fate by choosing the region and the school, this time sitting in the Ministry of Education in Britain, must have concluded that I obviously needed a little lesson in geography. When the long-awaited letter from Britain arrived some time in mid-July 1969 it started:

“Dear Sir,

I have been asked by the Director of Education … to offer you the post of German Assistant at this school for the session 1969-70 beginning on Wednesday September 3rd and ending July 14th 1970.

Yours faithfully,

R.C. Smith, Headmaster

“This school”, of course, referred to the logo and the motto at the top of the letter and it read The Grammar School, Ebbw Vale.

I was quite puzzled because I thought that with the word “Ebbw” there surely must have been a spelling mistake, and there was no further hint as to where exactly in Britain this place with the wrong spelling might be. It looked more like Poland to me than England.

So off I went to one of the many British lecturers, a ginger-haired young man from England who was lecturing on “The Anatomy of Britain”.

“Well,” he said, “I’m not quite sure exactly where it is but I think it must be in the Valleys of South Wales, and the word “Ebbw” is obviously a Welsh word in the proper name of the town. But I can give you one piece of advice,” he added. “You need wheels because public transport in that region is not of the highest standard.”

My parents, I must admit, were very generous to me financially. They helped me buy a second-hand Mini 850 which was then very popular with young people in the “Swinging Sixties”. As it had a “straight through” exhaust it made a hell of a noise and most people took it for a Cooper. Many years later, Geraldine managed to find an exact replica of this little “passion wagon” for my 50th birthday and it is sitting behind me in my study on the bookshelf. The Mini, I believed, would be a good choice because it was a British made car for which repairs would be easy and cheap in Britain.

A couple of weeks before I was due to start my first real job in Wales, all the Assistant Teachers were called to attend a week’s preparatory seminar in Frankfurt. It was extremely good fun as there was an atmosphere of expectancy and excitement around the place about our adventure of spending a year abroad. Naturally, many of the things we were told were about our legal and our social status. If I remember correctly, the most important message was: In Britain, at your school, you might still feel like students, you might feel much closer emotionally to the sixth form pupils than your colleagues, but do not forget that you are, in fact, members of staff and have to behave accordingly. There really seemed potential for conflict in this issue, which would be proved correct later.

Frankfurt was interesting for me as well, because Oma Lisa’s (my grandmother on my mother’s side) roots were in Offenbach, the next big town up the River Main just some 10 or 15 km away. She had always been raving about the lovely “Äbbelwoi” (Scrumpy) in one of the open-air “Äbbelwoi-Schenke”. I found the atmosphere of these pubs quite conducive although it was raining a lot. The famous “Äbbelwoi”, however, was obviously an acquired taste for the local people like my grandmother. The taste had nothing of the sweetness of the French “cidre” that I had been so keen to savour. On the contrary, it was sharp, sour and rough. I do not know whether I told Oma Lisa about my disappointment before I left for Wales, and of course, by the end of January 1970 she had died.

The beauty of travelling to South Wales by car was that I could take with me whatever I wanted. So I not only took a lot of clothes and books but also my transistor radio, cine camera and Grundig open-reel tape recorder.

The trip at that time would take between 16 and 18 hours as many of today’s motorways had not been finished and you had to take busy A-roads full of lorry traffic instead. I believe I set off in the afternoon to take an overnight ferry from Ostend to Dover, and my friend Christopher accompanied me in his car until the motorway where I turned off towards Aachen and then on to Belgium. I remember clearly feeling quite lonely and also quite apprehensive at that very moment.


I presume, but I am not sure, that I stayed the night in Clapton, in the East End of London, with Helga and Peter Robinson to break my journey in London. There was no motorway between Reading and Bath then, so I had to use the old A4, and I suppose I must have stopped somewhere near Marlborough to have a snack. The only thing I can remember quite clearly is leaving the M4 at the Risca roundabout. There I saw a traffic sign for Ebbw Vale telling me that my final destination was only about 30 miles away. I looked at my mileage counter and followed the road up the valley. The further I progressed the higher the slag heaps seemed to grow that were lining the narrow valley. The weather on that afternoon conspired with the dismal surroundings: it was drizzling slightly and the light was fading although it was only about five o'clock. I thought I had entered a moonscape!

The next culture shock in South Wales happened about two miles south of Ebbw Vale. A look at the counter told me that I had covered about 50km and I stopped to ask two men whether I had reached Ebbw Vale as I had not noticed any more road signs since Risca. They seemed to have understood my question but I could not understand a word they were saying in reply. I just gathered that this was not Ebbw Vale, or to be more precise, Beaufort, the little village north of it, where I was heading. The men, if you should be in any doubt, were definitely speaking English and not Welsh but a sort I had never encountered at school or university.

By corresponding with my predecessor Helga, a student at Marburg, and Mrs Griffiths, the Head of the German Department, I had learnt that the German Assistant traditionally took up lodgings at the home of Mr and Mrs Jack Williams of Sunny Bank, Station Bridge, Beaufort. The address sounded very promising and there was no reason why I should not accept this offer. So this was the place I was heading for.

It was not unreasonable, you will have to admit, that I kept looking out for a railway station once I had found my way up to Beaufort Hill. But I could neither see a station, nor a railway line, nor a bridge. Later on, I learned some lovely jokes about asking the way in Wales, and if I had known them then I might have guessed: Station Bridge was “where the railway station used to be” but that had been demolished some 5 or 6 years earlier. As a result I first ended up at a lovely bungalow owned by a nice elderly lady. Her little dog was even friendlier than her because it jumped up on me and started rogering my leg making me feel quite uncomfortable. It also drew me to conclusions about her that were quite unfounded because I did not know much about the sexual habits of some dogs then.

Finally, I found Sunny Bank, just below the old lady’s bungalow, opposite the Beaufort Ballroom. There were about 20 steep steps leading to a pale-green, semi-detached house with a rockery garden at the front and a large vegetable garden at the side and back.

Margaret Williams was a short lady on the plump side with a kind round face and blue eyes usually laughing through thick glasses. Her husband Jack was much taller but slightly bent over with a bit of a paunch. Looking at him you quickly noticed something odd about his eyes and later on I learned that he had lost one eye in childhood which had been replaced with a glass eye.

Very often the best of friendships start with a bit of a row, and this was exactly the case with me and Jack Williams. You must remember that I had started my studies at Cologne in 1967 so I became a product of the famous 1968 rebellious student movement. Not that I had ever actively taken part in sit-ins, demonstrations or squatting but I shared their general view that many of the cobwebs of Adenauer’s stuffy German political and social system had to be blown away. My landlord, on the other hand, had been a long-serving professional soldier spending much of his time in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine ending his career as a Sgt. Major. I do not recall how or why, on my very first day at Sunny Bank, we came to talk about the Bundeswehr. It could have had to do with a previous male assistant, but Jack Williams was quite taken aback when I let him know that I was totally against any military service in Germany due to recent historic events. I tried to assure him several times that my mistrust against the military did not extend to the British Army he had served in but was simply based on the bad experience that Germany had had with its military leadership in two World Wars in the 20th century. Nevertheless a bit of a sour atmosphere remained between us for a while before he got to know me better.

My room on the first floor was quite big and comfortable by British standards, with a lovely bay window overlooking the Ebbw Valley towards the west. Of course, it also had the storms from the west pounding against the window panes during the winter and early spring but that did not bother me very much. The Williamses could even boast of a modern central heating system so that it felt always nice and warm in my room.

They also had another lodger, Brian Evans, occupying the smaller room next to mine. He was one of the almost 10 000 employees who, in 1969, still worked for the British Steel plant at Ebbw Vale often still referred to by locals as “Richard Thomas’s”. I had just turned 23 in the summer of that year and Brian could not have been much older than 26. But as he was so serious and so staid in his ways he seemed to me to belong to another generation.

Mrs Williams provided me with full board and lodge for a sum which I remember to be about £14 a month. This seemed to me a very reasonable sum indeed because – as I soon found out at the end of the month – I was going to be paid the lowest teaching salary of roughly £55 net. For some strange reason the salary was paid in the form of a cheque drawn on the Cooperative Bank so that I had to go there in the centre of town to have it cashed. The Williamses also made sure that I quickly opened an account at Lloyds Bank where their friend David worked. At that time this did not consist of a current account but of a savings book with which you had to go to a Lloyds branch whenever you wanted to withdraw money.

But before that I had to fulfil a contractual obligation that was demanded from me in the papers I had received from Darlington. As a foreigner who was due to work in Britain for about a year I had to present myself to the Police Station to obtain an “Alien Card”, a sort of an ID for foreign workers. I knew that Britons, as free citizens, were quite proud of not having to carry any ID on them and I must admit that I really resented the fact that I had to carry that document wherever I went, but most of all I resented its name.

3  Starting School

“The Grammar School“, or as many people in Ebbw Vale still referred to it in 1969, the “County School”, constituted a remnant of the past in more ways than one. Politically, South Wales was, and still is, staunchly Labour dominated and some of the neighbouring towns like Tredegar had already embraced the new educational concept of the left, the “comprehensive school” system which abolished the old tri-partite school system still found in Germany today. Part of the school buildings were Victorian, another part must have been built in the late fifties of the 20th century. I presume that the number of pupils attending the Grammar School would have been relatively low at about 650 but I am not certain.

I do not quite remember either in what order I met the most important members of staff and, of course, my French assistant colleague Claude Billange from Toulouse. I presume on our first day we were presented to the headmaster Mr R C Smith, a man with a bald shiny scalp and round rimmed spectacles who always wore his black gown in school. His main subject was history, and he treated us two assistants formally but friendly. We were soon to learn, however, that the relationship between him and some members of his teaching staff was “strained” to put it mildly. A number of the male teachers treated him with open contempt and called him “Arsie” because of his unfortunate two initials, some were even openly hostile and called him names when they saw his black gown fluttering past the open door to the male staff room next to his office.

Yes, you have read correctly: there was the “male” staff room in the old Main Building, and the “female” staff room at a safe distance in a different building. Naturally, I was used to segregation between male and female in the toilet department but this arrangement seemed a bit antiquated to say the least. The first thing that struck me about the “masters’” staff room was the degree of untidiness – not to say mess. The centre-piece of the room which measured about 8 by 4 metres formed a large old table completely covered with old papers, books, and exercise books. When I say “covered” I really mean piled high. It reminded me a bit of Miss Havisham’s room in Dickens’s Great Expectations, the only thing that was missing were the cobwebs but the thick layer of years of dust seemed impressive enough. Naturally, I was curious to know to whom all these different, important looking documents belonged but felt too green in my job to ask someone straight out. Time told me that nobody of the present staff felt in the least bit interested or responsible so that I concluded they must have been left by those long gone, maybe even deceased. The seats, rickety old chairs, were arranged all along the walls. They were usually only taken up during the two longer breaks as the staff room could not easily be used for preparing lessons or correcting papers in that state.

Mrs Morfydd Griffiths, the Head of the German department, presented me with my timetable in the mistresses’ staff room on my first day at school. I was to teach about 14 lessons of “conversational German” to pupils between Forms 5 and the Upper Sixth, in other words I was expected to encourage these pupils to speak as much German as possible. The two Form 5 groups were larger because there was a choice at EVGS between Welsh and German at the age of 13 as the second foreign language up to O-Level and to my surprise the majority of pupils chose German. The “classes” at Lower and Upper Sixth level were utter luxury by German teaching standards because they all consisted of “one to one” tuition which had to take place, however, in the most exotic locations like the Stock Room, a Dressing Room of the gym etc. for lack of classroom space.

As Mrs Griffiths was directly responsible for me and my work she suggested a weekly meeting when I could report on the progress of my pupils or discuss any problems. These meetings in the mistresses’ staff room, for me on “enemy territory” so to speak, did not last very long as the ladies felt their privacy was invaded unreasonably by the presence of a young man. I swear I did not crack any macho jokes or make any unseemly approaches to any of the female staff members as most of them could have been my mother. This problem led to a very nice arrangement, however, by which I was to be invited one evening a week to the home of Mrs Griffiths and her husband Huw, who – by the way – also happened be the Head of Geography at EVGS. This way I got to eat a very nice dinner cooked by my boss and also got to know her husband better during the regular visits to the nearby County Hotel bar.

Morfydd Griffiths spoke excellent German with a very charming slight Austrian accent because she had lived in Vienna for some time teaching English for Berlitz. She had made friends then with her female boss whom she admired tremendously and was still in contact with her regularly. Of course, she liked Germany and the German language but she very much preferred Austria as a country. As I learnt later, both she and her husband were from Welsh speaking communities but like so many Welsh native speakers at the time considered their language unimportant or even inferior so that they did not pass it on to the next generation.

The first ever German conversation lesson I taught turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax because the young 16-year-old girl told me immediately that this was to be our first and last lesson as her parents were moving away and she could no longer attend EVGS. So all I had time for in the 35-minute period was to chat about her plans and hopes for her new home and school, and then to say good-bye already.

I think there were four other Lower Sixth pupils of whom I remember Paul Ubaldi quite distinctly as he was both extremely gifted in languages and very, very laid back, too. He had an Italian background, of course, and was bilingual but he also spoke fluent French. The rest were three girls all of whom were very friendly and interested in German and a joy to teach.

The Upper Sixth class consisted of only three pupils, all of them girls: there was Liz Williams, and there were the “Twins”, Francine and Nadine Griffiths who – like Paul – were also bilingual due to their mother Yvonne being French. Yvonne ran the well-known fashion shop together with her husband in the centre of Ebbw Vale.

My work schedule really suited me as it was basically a bit more than half a post, starting at half past nine in the morning because I did not have to attend assembly at nine o’clock. “Assembly” was something totally new to me as a mixture of a short service followed by important school announcements usually given by the Headmaster. Mrs Griffiths arranged my time-table in such a way that I was even free one day a week which was very convenient because it gave me time to do things and explore the region.

I soon learnt that the school as a whole was organized into “Houses”, I think 4 or 5 of them, whose names escape me, and that Prefects from the top class saw to matters of everyday school discipline like the correct school uniform or arriving late for school. These concepts, too, were completely new, or even alien, to me as a German. Surely, with these responsibilities a Prefect had to be on the side of the “enemy”, the teaching staff, and not on the side of the pupils where he or she belonged?! However, I soon got used to these new ideas and appreciated them.

At the end of September I had my first pay cheque for my work from Fay, the secretary, who came round to every teacher to hand him or her a brown envelope. It contained a cheque drawn on the Cooperative Bank and my payslip. Again, by today’s standards where everybody possesses a current account this was as archaic a system as I had known it from labouring on a building site in Germany in 1967. A colleague had to explain where the Co-op Bank was hidden away in a little back street in the centre of Ebbw Vale. I had to go there to cash it.

The £55 net pay that I received may sound very, very little by today’s 2012 standards but I had hardly any deductions as I did not have to pay any taxes under the educational exchange rules and my parents had agreed to pay the insurance and tax for my Mini in Germany. There was always enough money to go out for a drink or venture on the odd shopping trip to Cardiff, and later, trips to North Wales and Scotland were no problem either as long as they were kept “low budget” by staying in cheap accommodation like youth hostels.

Dress Code

Soon Claude Billange, my French assistant colleague, and I settled down into a sort of teaching routine. As we both were still students we did not wear the black gowns that some of the staff wore but our normal everyday clothes which, in my case, usually consisted of cords with a polo-neck sweater, and, in Claude’s case, of a jacket and open-neck shirt. We also felt much closer emotionally to the Sixth Form pupils than to some of the older staff who seemed quite staid and stuffy, just as had been predicted in the preparatory seminar in Frankfurt.

During the lunch-break many pupils had their lunch in the school canteen. I do not recall what motivated Claude and me to have lunch with the children and the Headmaster, perhaps the fact that the very dishy secretary sold the tickets at a cheap price? Anyway, we found out quick enough that we had made a terrible mistake in more than one respect: apart from us no other staff member - not one – had dinner with the Headmaster in the canteen so that Claude and I had the pleasure of his undivided attention during the break. The pupils, on their part, created a fiendish noise during their lunch because, after all, this was their break and they were allowed to shout and be merry. But the worst part was the quality of the food. It was just awful: meat I did not like, “Smash” as potatoes on many occasions and so on. I am not even sure whether this concoction was prepared on the spot in the canteen’s kitchen or whether it came from another canteen because quite often the food was only lukewarm to top it all.

It was probably during one of these wretched school dinners that Mr R C Smith asked us quite innocently whether we had any objections to wearing a jacket and collar and tie during our time at school. What could we say? We had to agree joyfully, of course, and the thought really had not crossed our mind that we were not dressed appropriately for our job. As I said, as students we felt closer to the pupils in many ways than to the older staff but we had to walk a tight-rope not to take sides too obviously. Mrs Griffiths, I think, thought the idea of collar and tie was ludicrous but could not do much about it either. Claude, at least, had a jacket. I had to kit myself out completely: two new jackets, shirts and especially ties.

Soon after our polite admonishment we went down to Cardiff to do some clothes shopping. Cardiff in those days was a lovely town, fairly quiet and peaceful but with all the right shops. You could even park free of charge in front of the Museum, imagine that! Well, I came home with two outrageous shirts, the one with a pink flowery pattern with a matching tie and two jackets, a green one and a double-breasted dark blue one.

Naturally, in this Carnaby Street fashion I looked more outrageous than I had done before in a polo-neck sweater, and perhaps the Headmaster even wished he had never talked to us about a dress code. But strictly speaking we were now following it to the letter: jacket, collar and tie. Looking back it must have seemed quite a provocation to Mr R C Smith. In addition, I was also letting my hair grow longer like many of the youngsters in the late sixties. When I returned home to Leichlingen for Christmas my mother claimed that she had not recognized me from afar at Düsseldorf Airport but I think that was a bit of an exaggeration.

Some time in the spring of 1970 the question of the acceptable length of male hair was raising its ugly head in a new form again: both Claude and I received an invitation to a conference in Newport of all assistant teachers in South Wales. It turned out that the main point on the agenda was the dismissal of a German assistant teacher because he had openly supported Form Six pupils in their protests against the “hair rules” at their school. He now expected the support of his fellow assistant teachers to get him reinstated. If we had known that his unprofessional behaviour was the main topic of the conference we would probably not have bothered to drive all the way down to Newport. As I pointed out earlier, siding openly with the pupils against the Headmaster of the school was not only a disloyal type of behaviour of someone who after all was a member of staff but also pretty foolish. I told my ex-colleague so in the meeting and after that Claude and I left. I do not know what became of the matter but I doubt very much whether he was ever reinstated.

5  Social Life

In 1969 foreigners in South Wales were still very exotic creatures and, the other way around, many of my pupils had not been abroad at all. But there was a tremendous curiosity on the part of the pupils to widen their horizons. Luckily, I had brought some slides which I had taken shortly before leaving for Ebbw Vale so that I could give them an impression of my home town Leichlingen. The reaction I had from one boy I can clearly remember:

“Sir,” he said, “it looks all so lovely. Why did you come to this dump?”

I am sure that I mumbled something diplomatic but the industrial South Wales really did not look its best in 1969, and Ebbw Vale, of course, proved no exception. There were only a couple of towns even worse, like Merthyr Tydfil, which I avoided like the plague and only drove through or past on the way to the Gower Coast or the Brecon Beacons.

What soon became obvious to me, however, was how welcoming and hospitable and nosy (!) everyone in Ebbw Vale behaved towards me and Claude. If we had wanted to, we could have accepted a private invitation to somebody’s house or flat several times a week, and this quite apart from the regular invitations we received from our respective Head of Departments, Mrs Griffiths and Mr Jenkins to their homes.

The Level”, a pub in a side street off Market Street in Ebbw Vale was the “in place” where you had to go as a youngster at the time. As the name implied, you had to go down to the basement like you descended into a coal-mine.

So that is where we went many an evening, Claude and I. Of course, the most popular drink for men was the “pint” of bitter or of lager, served only at the bar and filled to the top so that the proud purchaser had to drink off a bit before being able to negotiate his way back carefully to the table somewhere at the back of the room. “Real men” always drank beer out of a thick glass with a handle, and they always drank whole pints of Welsh beer which was supposed to be not only better in quality than English beer but also stronger. Only “sissies” would let themselves down by ordering “half a pint”. Later I learnt a joke about the strength of Welsh beer which went like this: “English beer is ok if you like lemonade!”.

Now, as I neither liked English nor Welsh beer, or German beer for that matter, I had a bit of a “drinking problem” to start with. Before I came to Britain I had virtually been a teetotaller because I had been tipsy on sparkling wine at the tender age of about 5 or 6 on a New Year’s Eve when I had secretly finished off the left-overs in the glasses of the adults at the family party. After that I had not really touched any alcohol at all. Two fashionable drinks at the time seemed to be the solution: vodka or gin mixed with either lime or orange cordial. Y In a way, it was the forerunner of the alcopop of the nineties, only stronger.

The Level also served as a meeting point for newly-made friends and simarlarly for getting to know new ones. In contrast to Germany, pubs in Britain were places for social get-togethers irrespective of sex. As a result, there were about as many girls present as there were boys so that it proved to be the ideal place to get to know members of the other sex. Due to his good looks Claude did not take long to meet and get friendly with a pretty blond hairdresser from Hilltop who worked in Tredegar at a hairdressing salon called Luca di Roma, a fact which would turn out to be a very important detail for my later life.

There followed invitations to her parents’ house because, for a start, they wanted to know what her daughter’s new boyfriend was like. Her father, like the majority of the male population, was employed in the “RTB’s” which had become part of the nationalized British Steel Company only two years earlier, in 1967. The Ebbw Vale Works still employed as many as 9000 people in a town of about 30.000 inhabitants.

Claude’s landlady, Mrs Eva Mott, lived in Lilian Grove. She had been widowed fairly early in life because her husband had passed away after a long illness. She had to work part-time to increase her small pension and traditionally lodged the French Assistant teachers to improve her living standard a bit. Like everybody she was very hospitable despite her difficult circumstances. Often when I visited Claude in her house I would share a cup of tea and have some of her home-made sponge cake in the afternoons.

Claude had brought his guitar with him to Wales and he introduced me and his pupils to the songs of George Moustaki whose music I still love to this day. We used to sit around the open fire-place, getting red on the side facing the flames, listening to Claude strumming the guitar and singing “Joseph” or “Il est trop tard”. Life was so simple but equally just so wonderful!

Apart from the cinema and The Level there did not seem too much entertainment for young people in Ebbw Vale. The only alternative would have been to go to the “clubs” in Cardiff or Newport some 30 miles away. So understandably some enterprising Sixth Formers took the initiative to organize their very own entertainment in the Beaufort Ballroom, just across the road from my digs. Every week quite a well-known group or artist would make their way up to Beaufort to perform in front of a small crowd of enthusiasts largely consisting of Grammar School pupils and their friends. As there were two opposing camps, the folk music supporters and the heavy metal fans, the programme alternated each week between these two different music styles. I remember groups like “Mott the Hoople” and “Jethro Tull” blowing the minds of the rock fans. In a small town like Ebbw Vale!

On my part, I preferred to see folk singers like Ralph McTell on a folk night. He had just had his big success with the wonderful song “Streets of London” on his album “Spiral Staircase”. His appearance turned out to be a bit of a disaster for him because a number of heavy metal fans had obviously come on the wrong evening and found folk very boring. As a result they misbehaved badly and Ralph McTell threatened to leave the stage several times so that the organizers had to step in to calm things down and persuade him to continue. I wonder if he still remembers his gig in Ebbw Vale? I suppose not, he will have erased the unpleasant experience from his memory as quickly as possible.

As I mentioned earlier, I had brought my Grundig open-reel tape recorder to Britain but I did not have a record player, neither did the Williamses or Mrs Mott. Although Mrs Griffiths kindly let me play the odd vinyl LP during my visits in her home it was clear that this was not their kind of music. So the “kids” were quite glad when we came along to play our newly purchased records and we, in turn, were glad we had somewhere we could actually listen to them in the company of those who fully appreciated folk or pop music. These evenings, when we did not go out to pubs, but listened to the latest contemporary folk music in the homes of some of our sixth formers constituted some of the best times we had in Wales, and I look back on these moments with nostalgia because such small pleasures seemed enough to make us contented or even happy.

6  My trusted Mini

You will recollect that I had bought a second hand Mini 850 with the help of my parents shortly before I left for South Wales. It was about 2 ½ years old at the time and extreme fun to drive because of its excellent road holding due to the front wheel drive. Minis, in the late sixties, were very popular, not only in Britain, but also with young drivers in Germany. The other consideration for me, however, had been easy access to local garages and the cost of repairs in Britain during my year in South Wales.

The Austin Mini 850, made in 1966, was very, very basic. The first gear, for example, was not synchronized and you had to double-declutch when changing down from second to first gear. From the inside, the front doors opened by a string that ran from one side of the door to the other with a bigger piece of rubber in the middle that you were supposed to use as a grip. The windows in the front could not be wound down but they slid open just a small fraction from the front towards the back. On the other hand, you had quite a lot of storing space in the door compartment and the same beside the back seats, too. The tiny boot at the back also held the small petrol tank. The revolutionary design that made the Mini so special could be found under the bonnet in the front: it was a simple four-stroke petrol engine positioned sideways to save space, and of course, the power of that engine went straight onto the little front wheels to give it its excellent front traction. Driving along winding country roads proved to be a joy because the road holding was superb without modern ESP and all of today’s electronics. My Mini had the classic racing green colour scheme with a white roof. Many people believed it to be a Cooper because the previous owner had installed a straight-through exhaust which gave the little car the raucous sound of a Ferrari.

Now, you would be forgiven to think that a Mini, being produced in the UK, would be ideally suited to any British climate. As I was soon to find out this proved to be a fatal error. Soon, as the autumn weather in Ebbw Vale turned foggy, damp or drizzly - which it did frequently from the middle of October on -, my Mini refused to start in the mornings. There seemed only one remedy to that awkward unreliability: I had to park on a slope every time, facing downhill, so that I could jumpstart the engine by letting the car run downhill and then eventually engaging the clutch so that the engine would come to life coughing and spluttering. It was actually a good job that Wales was so hilly! There was indeed no shortage of slopes to choose from in the Valleys which reminds me of that lovely “if only” joke characterizing the Welsh trying to stand up towards the English: “If only”, the joke goes, “Wales was flat it would be as large as England!”

It took me at least a number of weeks until a fellow Mini driver informed me that my trouble with starting the engine in damp conditions was quite common.

“There’s dampness creeping into the spark plugs, see, or the distributor!”

“And what can I do?”, I asked foolishly.

“Well, you seal it, like, with a sealing spray. That should fix it for some months, butt!”

So off I went to a local garage to buy some of this wonder spray, still a bit doubtful whether this would really solve my problem. I sprayed the four spark plugs on the engine and their four cables together with the distributor thoroughly several times which left a shiny varnish on everything.

After that I almost waited longingly for bad, damp weather to see the result: The sealing had indeed worked a miracle. Never again did I have any problems starting the car in drizzly or foggy conditions! Naturally, being a German perfectionist, I did ask myself whether Austin, the makers of the Mini, could not have foreseen this problem and avoided it with a better design.

My “local garage” became the Beaufort Hill Garage some two kilometres up the hill towards Brynmawr on the recommendation of Mr Williams, I believe. After a couple of visits for a service or a light bulb exchange I became to be known there as “the German boy”. The place was extremely small and looked more like a junk yard but mostly they did a good job.

The distance between my digs and EVGS was only a bit more than 2km and I could have easily walked it in about 20 minutes but the car saved me from doing this many a time in adverse weather conditions. I also could sleep a bit longer in the mornings and have a leisurely breakfast which suited me fine. In those days having a car was still something special and I could even find a space in the small staff car park on the school premises.

The main advantage, however, lay in the mobility I gained in being able to explore the area. Mr Williams warned me strongly about the dangers of the brand-new A-road the “Heads of the Valleys” which road planners in their wisdom had built as a three lane highway with the middle lane as a free for all from both directions, like on French or Belgian national roads. The result was indeed devastating because it caused many fatal accidents in the beginning before new markings were introduced to alternate the overtaking opportunities.

On its northern side Ebbw Vale borders on the Brecon Beacons National Park, an area of bleak but outstanding beauty. From Beaufort this meant only a five minute car ride on the Llangynidr Road over the “Moors”. Suddenly, you found yourself transported from the industrial wasteland of slag heaps and air pollution in Ebbw Vale to a breath-taking landscape of heather and green rolling hills divided by wide valleys. When you reach the edge of Llangynidr Moor looking northwards you will get the most spectacular view on a clear day over Llangorse Lake which you can see like a silver mirror at the foot of the mountain range of Mid-Wales.

Huw Griffiths had told me during one of our regular visits to the County Hotel bar one evening that a “drink & drive” law had been introduced in Britain only about 18 months before my arrival and that the trade of the country pubs had been reduced severely. His favourite pub before, he said, had been The Red Lion across the Moor in Llangynidr so that had to be worth a visit for myself too. “Chicken in the basket” used to be all the rage as a pub meal at that time, served indeed, as the name implies rough and ready in a small, flat basket together with chips. We thought it very posh and very sophisticated like “haute cuisine”! But it was something new and good, cheap fun at any rate.

7  Sports

Sports played a major part in school activities at EVGS like at most schools in the rest of Britain. Keith Nancarrow, the sports teacher, was clearly the boys' hero because he was very committed and an accomplished sportsman himself. He told me that his unusual name, which sounded foreign to me, actually came from Cornwall where his family had their roots.

“Sports” in South Wales usually meant cricket in the summer and rugby for the rest of the year. Football, or “soccer” as it was often called, only played a minor role then. For “Real Men” playing soccer, like drinking half pints, was another activity for “sissies”. As I did not know much about either game, rugby or cricket, and found the latter absolutely boring - like watching paint dry - my enthusiasm for “sports” at the school was muted. Claude, in contrast to me, had the advantage that he came from Toulouse, a town with a long tradition of fielding a top team in the French rugby league.

My reputation as a sportsman must have been finally shot when I outed myself as a volleyball enthusiast and admitted to having played for my school team for several years. My male colleagues emitted audible gasps of disbelief or drew faces, and from a few blunter teachers shouts of sheer outrage could be heard.

“What?”, someone asked, “Volleyball? I’ve never heard anything like it for young men in their prime! That’s a girls’ game, nothing for boys! No physical contact, no skill, no effort!”

I tried to argue but, as you can probably imagine, totally in vain. I received a vital hint, though, that there existed a volleyball team at EVGS, the girls’ team, naturally! Foolishly, I asked whether I could attend a training session one day. My wish was granted by the sports teacher albeit a bit hesitantly. What I saw, I must admit, brought tears to my eyes and I could partially understand my male colleagues’ low opinion on volleyball after taking part in a training session: The equipment and the rules according to which the girls played turned out to be “unusual” to say the least.

The net that usually divides the playing field and the teams consisted of a simple cord tied onto the two sides of the hall. This would not have constituted a major problem - perhaps just increased the arguments whether a ball had passed above or below the net – but instead of a height of about 2.20 metres for women it hung limply at a height of roughly 1.60m. The worst thing, however, proved to be the “volleyball” itself. What should, indeed, have been a fairly light leather ball was a smallish, heavy rubber gym ball that nobody could possibly have handled according to the official volleyball rules. I felt really sorry for the girls who had to play under these conditions and I felt sorry for the reputation of my beloved sport. For some weeks I toyed with the idea of buying the team a proper volleyball from my own money but when I priced them in a sports shop in Cardiff at £7 I dropped the idea. Apart from that I felt my help would not really be appreciated and rather be seen as typically German interference or even worse, arrogance.

In November or December 1969 it became clear that sports, and rugby in particular, could also have serious political dimensions. South Africa’s Springbok team were touring Britain against a background of growing opposition against the apartheid regime in their country. All the players in the Springbok national team had to be white just like the spectators, too, when they played in front of a home crowd. Opinions amongst Britons whether the invitation by the national Rugby Board had been a wise decision were divided but the feelings of the overall majority of the older pupils at EVGS seemed crystal clear against hosting the tournament. Now all of this would have been fairly irrelevant if Ebbw Vale Rugby Club had not offered their pitch as one of the tour venues. Debates were raging everywhere including the members of the male staff room at EVGS. One side argued

“Sports is sports, and has nothing at all to do with politics!”

while the other side replied

“The white Springbok national team are the representatives of an evil and repressive regime that should be shunned in every respect possible.”

I remember that Claude and I decided not to go and watch the match against a rugby selection from Monmouthshire for a number of reasons: the tickets must have been quite pricy, I suppose, the weather at that time would likely to have been miserable, and lastly, of course, we saw police and demonstrators on opposing sides all around the stadium. For two foreigners in public employment and proud possessors of alien cards it seemed advisable to stay out of trouble.

My finest sporting hour came in the summer of 1970 when, in their wisdom, the male staff decided to nominate their two foreign youngsters for their traditional cricket match against a fit and extremely keen side of pupils. The reasons for this probably lay in the fact that many of the staff were getting on in age and did not see the need for proving their cricket prowess once again.

Naturally, Claude and I needed a “bit of coaching” from Keith Nancarrow, both as far as the rules and the playing skills were concerned. The practical side took place “in the nets” of the sports field that lay just across the road from EVGS. Poor Keith had to prepare us for all three roles as cricketers: the bowling, the batting and the fielding. In the changing rooms we were given the batsman's outfit which impressed me no end! The funniest part was not the g pads to protect your shins or the ungainly gloves or the strange willow bat but “the box” which you were strongly advised to wear under your white cricket trousers. In today’s official cricket jargon, which I had to look up on the internet, “the box” is termed “the abdo(minal) guard” and is designed to protect your testicles so that your procreational aspirations as a young man might not be endangered unnecessarily. I fully understood the sense of this precaution when I then was handed an innocent looking red cricket ball. The damn thing was stone hard! And this was going to be thrown at me at great speed? Not a very comfortable thought.

Claude and I had good fun and learnt a lot during our practice session in the nets. Keith’s main teaching aim consisted of making it clear to these two continental greenhorns that “bowling” a cricket ball did not mean “throwing” it but required a sophisticated flailing action with your stretched-out arm, enough of a contortion performed at high speed to wrench anybody’s shoulder out of its socket. But in the nets Keith could not initiate us into the secrets of perfect “fielding”. So on the day of the match, when thankfully the sun shone all day long, we tended to wander around the cricket field a bit aimlessly waiting for some action and had to be positioned from time to time by shouts from experienced cricketers on our team.

The real crunch came, however, when we were put to the test as batsmen in front of our wicket. Suddenly, the distance between the opposition bowler and the batsman shrunk tremendously just to be extended dramatically when he went fifty yards back to have a ginormous run at you. After the first ball whistled past me without me even getting a look at it one of the boys, I think it was Paul Ubaldi, told the bowler to have pity on the poor German Assistant and slow things down a bit. Although I wished my bat had been three times as wide as it really was I managed to hit the odd ball but thankfully was soon caught out. I doubt very much whether I scored a run but I really cannot remember.

In the end, the pupils won the match deservedly, which probably happened regularly, due to the average age of the staff and the inexperience of some foreign youngsters on their side. During the speeches and the handing over of the winner’s cup I got a brief mention as having shown signs of “one of the finest fast bowlers EVGS had ever fielded” but I took this with a pinch of salt.

8  Welsh Identity and Rising Nationalism

The Springbok’s tour at the end of 1969 had shown how politics and sports could clash but I also learned quickly that sports and nationalism could be perfect bed fellows in Wales. With way under three million inhabitants Wales was quite a small “country” but as far as rugby was concerned it was a giant,  then! I was a witness to the beginning of the golden era when Welsh rugby could boast of a brilliant team with names like Gareth Edwards, Barry John or Phil Bennet who gave their Christian names to a whole generation of Welsh baby boys. The Welsh did not seem to mind if their national team had a bad day and lost against Australia or New Zealand but, my God, not against the English team! The Welsh fans did not forgive such slip-ups. Victory against the English meant a triumph over the century-old oppressor, the historic arch-enemy!

I must admit, I felt quite puzzled at first because here I lived in Monmouthshire, a county neither completely Welsh nor fully English either: only about 5% to 10% of the population in Ebbw Vale were able to speak Welsh at all. EVGS therefore offered the subject “Welsh” in two versions: one for “native speakers”, a class that could not have been over full, and the other “Welsh as a foreign language” for the majority of pupils whose mother tongue was English. What I only realized some time later was that the strong interest in the difficult German language was due to the fact that - for their second modern language - the pupils were offered a choice between Welsh or German. Many chose German for pragmatic reasons and sadly, simultaneously, opted against acquiring part of their ancient cultural heritage.

As a German Assistant whose main reason for having come to Britain consisted in improving his spoken English I must admit I felt very little interest in the Welsh language or Welsh culture for that matter. With hindsight I regret this tremendously because I could easily have joined a “Welsh as a foreign language” class at EVGS because I had the time but it never occurred to me at the beginning of my year in Wales that I would be going back there regularly. Later, it also seemed strange to me, too, that the few native Welsh speakers I knew, like Morfydd and Huw Griffiths for example, never encouraged me either. I am not even sure whether they encouraged their young son to speak Welsh at home. I do not think so.

However, despite the generally negative attitude of the people of Ebbw Vale towards the Welsh language they would nevertheless insist on their identity of being definitively Welsh and not English. As my favourite Anglo-Welsh poet Dylan Thomas put it: "One: I am a Welshman; two: I am a drunkard; three: I am a lover of the human race, especially of women."

If today I was being asked what to me, as a foreigner from the Continent, “Welshness” meant in 1969 I would answer, on the positive side: tremendous friendliness, warmth, hospitality and generosity, but, sadly on the down side: at times also nosiness, a lack of confidence and openness.

Many Welsh people still seemed to suffer from a sort of a siege mentality towards the English where every little triumph led to great joy (like beating the “Saeson” in rugby) or where any action by the English was questioned for their scheming motives. Take the example of the first Severn motorway crossing, for example, which had been opened in 1967, only two years before my arrival. People told me, half jokingly, half seriously, that typically enough the English had built the toll booths on the English side and they would also take all the income. 

Others swore that there had been a tremendous increase in crime in South Wales since it had been made easier for the English criminals from Bristol or Bath to raid their peaceful land at night. There existed another urban myth, most probably created by the politicians of the day. It promised the toll bridge users that the toll would be abolished as soon as the construction had paid for itself. Well, 45 years and an additional new bridge later, the toll is still levied and at £5.50 but only “in the western direction”. How nice and thoughtful.

During my studies I realised that part of the greatness of outstanding writers lies in their ability to pick up current social or political trends and project them into a vision of what society or the world will look like in the future. Unfortunately, I did not have that ability to interpret the significance of the first signs of a growing Welsh nationalism, especially amongst many of the young and educated people. But the signs had been there mainly in the form of “direct action” on the part of members of the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg) which had been established in 1963. Protesters would spray paint over road signs because they were not bilingual, demand official documents in Welsh, and in more extreme actions, would blow up radio masts that transmitted broadcasts in English only. The nastiest actions were reserved for the growing number of holiday cottages owned by English “immigrants” in North and West Wales. Dubbed “self-igniting cottages” they were regularly torched in the hope that the owners would eventually move back East, or across the Bristol Channel.

9  In the Steelworks and down the Mine

As I have mentioned before, Claude's girlfriend's father was one of the 9000 strong workforce of the steelworks. One day, he offered Claude and me a tour of the place where he worked as a crane driver, a highly skilled job because of the heavy loads and extreme dangers involved for the workers on the ground. The visit proved a real eye-opener how big, noisy, dirty, and dangerous “The Works” really were. We had a chance to see both the “hot mill” where scrap metal and iron ore were transformed into high grade steel and then later on rolled out into all sorts of different tin plate in the “cold mill”.

I felt very privileged indeed because back home in Germany I would never have had the chance of taking part in such an interesting industrial tour. Everything was on a gigantic scale: the buildings, the machinery, the cranes. You felt completely dwarfed and, as an outsider, also a bit intimidated by the size and the noise. We started the tour in the “cold mill”, where the cold steel was rolled out on long machines into ever thinner and ever longer sheets. At the very end of the production process these long sheets of thin metal were then rolled into “coils”, something like enormous toilet rolls for easy transport by train or by lorry.

The most impressive and scary part came last on our long tour. The “hot mill” possessed all the qualities of the antechamber to hell: The Bessemer process of “cooking” the steel created an almost intolerable heat for the few men working close to the furnace. All of them looked like extraterrestrials completely clad in protective aluminium gear with helmets like firemen. To have a better view, or perhaps also to get a bit of air from time to time, they would stand back and lift the visors in front of their sweaty faces. We were told that the workers who worked quite close to the open furnace were only able to do very short intervals of 20 to 30 minutes. Then they had to take a break and drink, drink and drink because they were losing so much liquid.

Its geographical position right at the head of the Ebbw Valley, crouched between the high hills on its eastern and western flank, had saved the steelworks many times from German bombing raids during WW2. On some of the hilltops around Ebbw Vale you could still see remains of anti-aircraft posts that would have opened fire on any attacker from the air. Now, however, Llanwern, on the Bristol Channel, proved a very competitive rival because the iron ore and coal needed for steel making could be transported by ship straight into the heart of this modern steel-producing plant. And the finished products, the steel slabs or coils could be loaded onto the ships for export to Europe or anywhere in the world in no time.

As early as 1970, British Steel announced a ten-year development plan which proposed the cessation of iron and steel making operations at the works only leaving the “cold mill” in operation. So the slow decline of steel production in Ebbw Vale that had already started inevitably gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s until “RTBs” was only a shadow of its former impressive size. “The Works” finally ceased production in July 2002.

Through the father of an A-Level student at EVGS, Claude and I later in the year had a chance to experience at first hand the working life of the second key industry in South Wales: coal mining. Mr Morgan one day took us to his workplace in the Marine Colliery at Cwm.

We were kitted out with all the gear that every miner had to carry: a tough helmet with a battery powered lamp at the front, waterproof jacket and trousers, sturdy boots, and the heavy battery for the lamp in the helmet. All in all it felt quite heavy only to be standing up in this outfit.

The level we went down to was about 1000 meters deep, a fact which naturally impressed us immensely, but Mr Morgan rightly pointed out that this was merely psychological and that in reality the difference between 10, 100 or 1000 metres did not matter very much: “underground” simply meant “under ground”. We huddled in the steel cage and the winding gear took us down at a tremendous speed. Sometimes, when we came past another, higher level than the one we were heading for, there were brief flashes of light.

A number of things surprised me during the next hour or so: when we got out of the cage it turned out to be a long, long way to the actual coalface which Mr Morgan wanted to show us. I believe we first of all went in a little electrical train, after that walked past conveyor belts. On this stretch it was pitch black dark apart from the little spots of light that the small lamps in our helmets emitted. I am not sure what I had expected: certainly not the lights of Blackpool down here but at least some sort of striplights on the way to the coal face. I found the atmosphere quite spooky, even frightening.

When we finally reached our destination, Mr Morgan showed us the huge hydraulic machines that dug the anthracite coal away from the rock in a technique called “longwall mining”. Everywhere there were chocks supporting the roof.

But the biggest surprise came last, further along where the coal seam had gone down to a thickness of only 60 or 70cm. At this coalface the miners had to work under extremely cramped condition, lying flat on their stomachs while operating their hydraulic drills to prize the coal out. Mr Morgan explained that this constituted the problem with mining the highly prized anthracite in South Wales: the geology was such that the seams very often were not thick enough to be exploited with the modern machinery we had seen earlier. A seam would suddenly stop, and then carry on ten metres lower, or stop completely. This, he said, made mining in the Marine Colliery very difficult and hard for the miners, and naturally unprofitable, too.

I must say that to this day I still feel very grateful to both our generous hosts because the insight during our visits really gave me the highest respect for the arduous and dangerous work that miners and steelworkers had to do, day in and day out. I also understood why a good education for their children, almost at any price, was so important for them in South Wales. The miners especially tried their best to spare their sons the lot they had to bear.

Their reaction to the closure of their mines must therefore have been ambivalent: they would lose skilled and well-paid jobs and have little chance to find alternative employment in their forties and fifties. But secretly they must have been glad that this awful choice of working underground was no longer available to the next generation.

In August, 1970, it was really time to say the last good-byes to the many friends I had made during my year: the Williams’s with whom I had stayed and who had looked after me so well; my “boss” at school, Mrs Griffiths, and her husband Huw, who had been wonderfully supportive both professionally and on a private level; there was also Mrs Mott, Claude’s landlady, who had always kept an open, welcoming house for me and had put up my mother for a couple of days when she visited at Easter. And last but not least, there was Geraldine. I do not remember the moment of farewell but I suspect it was tearful on both sides.

One rather scary thing happened on the terrible A-road from Brussels to Liège (there was no motorway between these two towns then). Still a bit tired from the night I stopped in front of red traffic lights in order to turn right. There was no other car in front of me or behind me. After I had turned right I realized there were cars coming towards me on “my” side of the road. I had done a right-hand turn “British style” and ended up on the left-hand side of the road. As fast as I could I pulled onto the gravel on the left and waited until the road was completely free to continue my route on the correct side of the road. This incident was something that had never happened to me the other way round in Britain. Probably because I had always been aware of being in a special situation, having to watch out on which side of the road I was driving.

Maybe, it was also a sign to show me of how long I had been away from home: twelve months or one year.

© evcgs former pupils 2013