Hamburg:  the Town Hall and War Memorial


Day 7 - Berlin to Munster
As usual, I got to the Hauptbahnhof far too early for my train so I sat outside in the sunshine drinking coffee and watching a large flock of German sparrows hopping around people’s hurrying feet, hoping for scraps.  They were uncommonly bold.  A lass near me fed them crumbs of croissant from her hand and invited me to do the same.

Needless to say, the sparrows gave me an embarrassingly wide margin.  Perhaps, she said, they don’t speak English.  A likely story. 

She had another explanation, though.  I was bearded and she’d noticed that the sparrows didn’t like men with beards.  And I suddenly noticed how prevalent beards were there.  At least half the men were sporting one.  And quite a few blokes - even younger ones - had sculpted moustaches, too. 

I told her that I agreed with her.  If I was a sparrow, I wouldn’t touch me with someone else’s bargepole, either.


Two changes of train to get to Munster, both going without a hitch.  The journey was through the former East Germany, but after over 20 years of liberation, it didn’t look noticeably different from the rest of Germany now.

The station at Uelzen is so grotesque that you can buy postcards of it.  They call it ‘Hundred Waters Station’ - though God alone knows why, and he is unlikely to tell us any time soon.  It’s been done out as a cheap, cut-and-paste Gaudi style building - all curves, cavernous alcoves, incongruous towerlets and coloured tiles.

It looks truly dreadful; bad, but not so bad that it’s good.  And everyone using it, myself included, looked utterly lost and bewildered.


Lüneburg Heath is a vast, open heathland in central northern Germany famous firstly for being a nature reserve of international importance, and secondly for being the place where General Montgomery signed the armistice that ended WW2 in Europe.

At its heart lies the quiet little town of Munster.  Well, it’s not THAT quiet.  It’s virtually surrounded by German Army barracks and weapons testing installations - which makes it very noisy indeed.

Nevertheless, this - and the personal, family reasons for my visit - did not blind me to its many charms.  It has a lovely High Street - known as The City - which is bordered on one side by a fine park, complete with large boating lake.  There is much public sculpture of an agreeably un-abstract kind, including the smashing Goose Fountain (above), a group of prancing water-horses and a flock of Heath sheep, frozen in metal with their shepherd and his dog (below).

It was sunny and warm and I spent my day in Munster slowly.  When I left it the following day, it seemed to share my sense of ease and peace, which is all I had wanted it to do.


Days 8 and 9 - Hamburg
When thousands of people from northern Germany in general, and Hamburg in particular, emigrated to the USA in the 19th century, they naturally took their working-class, peasant food with them.  Which is why America imported the hamburger.

Locally, it’s still perceived as a cheap and rather unwholesome snack - a meatball in bread.  The English language, though, has had great fun with ‘hamburger’.

Because it sounds as if it’s made with ham, the word ‘beefburger‘ was invented.  This in turn has led to cheeseburgers, baconburgers, chickenburgers.... And ultimately, of course, to the wholly illogical ‘burger’.

And all because the poor, huddled masses of Hamburg left for the USA 150 years ago.   


I made it my business - naturally - to find a real Hamburg hamburger as soon as I got here.  But I was distracted by the city itself.

Its enormous, and extraordinarily busy, central station deposits you in what is obviously a thriving and prosperous place.  Like Berlin and Munster, Hamburg was strafed and bombarded to fragments at the end of WW2 and, like them, has had to rebuild and re-invent itself.  As in Berlin, this process is ongoing.

Not all of its post-war development is pleasing to the senses (as it were) - but Coventry this aint.

To be honest, you’d have to be a philistine of T Dan Smith proportions to make any noticeable dent on Hamburg’s situation; its centre is graced by two large lakes, a Town Hall of Mancunian magnificence and a long, busy and lively stretch of riverside which is now home to media centres, museums, art galleries and theatres.

Also along this stretch of revitalised quayside is the old warehouse which now contains the world’s largest model railway....


Day 10
As I write, it’s a sunny, though cold, late afternoon in Hamburg.  Vernal birdsong is gracing the small hotel garden outside my room and the oncoming twilight is casting tree-shadows that dance and dapple the light through my window.

Not that I care.  It could be raining rottweilers as far as I am concerned.  And this is because I have just had one of those life-enhancingly unforgettable experiences about which, I have no doubt, I will dream for many nights to come.

Miniaturland - the above-mentioned, world-record breaking model railway.

It’s unbelievable.  It seriously redefines its own name:  model railway.  Oh no - this is truly a whole world in miniature. 

It’s not just trains.  It’s cars and buses and trams and lorries.  It’s whole towns and cities, farms and villages.  There’s an open-air rock concert (above), an agricultural show, a village wedding.  There are motorways with moving traffic.  There are roadworks and traffic jams.  There are factories and quarries and mines.  Castles, ski-resorts and funfairs.  There are mountains and rivers and fields.

And, as of this year, there’s an airport too.  Aircraft take off, land and taxi. 

The entire display teems with movement, action and detail that takes your breath away.  Drivers arguing after a collision, a couple making love in the long grass, a football crowd yelling and flashing their cameras when a goal is scored.  Fire engines rushing to a burning building.

There’s night and day, dawn and dusk - these two pictures are of the same scene.

I was there almost all day and took 105 photographs and videos.  It is truly a work of art.

But a more detailed description will have to wait.  I’m exhausted, to be honest.  And I’m hungry.  This is my last night in this surprising city which, in just two short days, has made an impression on me I am extremely unlikely to forget.

I’m going out for a hamburger....   


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
A 'beer-bike':  all the lads are pedalling like fury.
I saw quite a few of these and they always made bystanders laugh out loud, me included


OK I admit it.  It was a bloody silly idea to even think about writing any kind of blog while I was on holiday; there’s just too much going on.  There are new vistas and opportunities around every corner, especially when I have a world-class city like Berlin to explore for the very first time.  All I’ve ended up wanting to do is to be out en vadrouille (as our French friends say) taking advantage of the fantastic good fortune that’s enabled me to be here...

It’s only been a few days since my last, skimpy - and wholly uninformative - posting but it seems like weeks have passed.  Once again, I’ve been scribbling like a demented ouija board and am now trying to decipher the things what I have wrote.

So, for the second time on my German Journey, here’s an insipid flavour of thoughts and things and stuff.....

Day 3 - Amsterdam to Berlin...
A train arrived while I was waiting in Centraal Station; the graffito on it - very neat and artistic - read ‘I am Number One - so you’ll just have to try harder’.  Wondered about this for ages.

Change of trains at Hilversum.  So now, I’ve been to the place that used to be on everyone’s radio dial in the days of valves and fine-tuning.  Will this be the high-point of the holiday?  (No).

SE Netherlands countryside much less flat - and not a windmill in sight.  Very ‘clipped’ and neat - and exhaustively farmed.  There can’t be much wildlife out there... Villages look very pretty though...

Couple in the corner seat - well-turned out, in their forties - start ‘making out’ in a strangely passionate and uninhibited way, thus embarrassing my English sensibilities.  I don’t know which way to look.  (Well, I do really.)  Eventually they go into the toilet together.  As far as I know, they were still there four hours later...

Berlin.... First impressions - dire!  Spanking new Hauptbahnhof (Main Station) but surrounded by squalid building sites as far as the eye can see.  It’s like I’ve travelled six hours to arrive in Middlesbrough.  I almost start to cry.

Manage to navigate the Metro (the U-bahn) to my hotel and things pick up at once.  Very nice part of the city - wide boulevards, lots and lots of street cafes, everybody out and about on a warm Friday evening.  I like it here.

Day 4 - Berlin...
Sunny morning in the city’s biggest street-market - the Winterfeldtmarkt.  Great fun - not likely to visit a market as vibrant or as thrilling for a long time.  Makes Grainger Market look like a toy shop.
Saturday morning street-life - Berlin style

As in other great cities, there are some sites you just have to see when you’re here.  The Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Wall.  They were today’s menu.
Potsdamerplatz: the Purple Pipe follows the line of the Wall

It’s very moving and ‘emotional’, all of it.  The scraps of Wall and the story they tell, the wonderful feeling of freedom when it was torn down.  You can see why Berlin is such a ‘liberated’ and free-thinking city.
The Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag

Brandenburg Gate is as impressive as its photographs - and the Reichstag next door, too.  Lots of tourists.  (Japanese people seem to want to photograph everything - kerbstones, patches of grass, dog-walkers; Americans don’t even look through the viewfinder; Brits compose a photo meticulously, to wrist-slitting point.)
 The Holocaust Memorial
There are over 2,700 concrete blocks, all of different sizes...

Holocaust Memorial.  Lots and lots of thoughts here, as is the intention.  Unexpectedly weird design, but it works.  En vadrouille amongst the concrete blocks, you get lost - physically and emotionally.  Very, very sombre.  And humiliating.

That I am human, too - like the people who did these truly awful things...

I’m glad I was alone there today.  Who knows what to say or think?  Who do we condemn?  And for how long?

No language on Earth has the words for all this...

A memorial to the gay victims of Nazism; this one is on the wall of the local Metro station, where many gay people were 'beaten up and left to die'...

The Cathedral and River Spree

Day 5 - Berlin...
By metro and tram to ‘the Humboldt Box’ in the cultural quarter of the city.  Lovely cup of coffee on the roof with views over the Cathedral and Museum Island, and up towards the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column.  Stunning - and very ‘metropolitan’.
A segway tour of the city about to set off

Inside, the model of the pre-war city shows how almost all of it was destroyed by bombs.  It was once as grand as Paris or Rome.

Met Hans-Georg, a ‘helper’ in the Box.  87, with many memories of the War and after.  A lovely man; gentle, kind and thoughtful.  (His English was as bad as my German - so we spoke in French for over an hour.  As he said - how the world has changed!)

Evening meal very late at Eckstein, a Berlin institution.  Got chatting to the Incredible Dr Pfeier, who used to be a Professor of Linguistics; he had overheard my atrocious German accent.  Wonderful, and slightly tipsy, conversation about the comparative characteristics of our two languages.  Doesn't sound like much fun - but it was!

Will try to remember all the stuff he said about our lack of a negative interrogative...
The Metro map - Berlin style!
Whenever I visit a new place, I make time to jump on a bus or tram just to see where it goes.  So caught a number 29 to Hermannsplatz, deep inside the former East Berlin.

Very different here.  Lots of fairly obvious poverty, vagrancy, jerry-built flats.  I was in Middlesbrough again.

There’s tension, too.  The East is being ‘gentrified’ and ‘owner-occupied’ by rich people from the former West Berlin.  There are anti-West slogans - Nein Verein, No To Unity - everywhere.  But I was glad I made the journey....


I’ll be really sad to leave this amazing city tomorrow.  But I have other places to go and other things to do...

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
The Herengracht


It would simply be daft to sit down each evening of my Journey and write a travelogue-style warts-and-all account of the day’s doings.  It would take far too long - and I have other stuff to do.  After all, I’m still on the Journey itself!

But, all along the way, I’m doing what I did on my Grand Tour; I’m scribbling feverish notes in my ‘reporter’s notebook’ about the things that happen to me - the places I go, the people I meet and the thoughts that all this excitement precipitate.

And, in the blogpostings I manage to complete as I go, I’ll share my notes with you so that you have at least some idea of what’s going on!

So far, everything seems to have gone according to plan, touch wood.  My flight left Newcastle on time and arrived here in Amsterdam a little early.  I even remembered not just to buy my train ticket from the airport into the city but also the return ticket I will need in less than two weeks’ time, worse luck.  When you do multi-legged trips like this, you get used to thinking like that.

Anyway, here are some of the Notes I’ve jotted down so far....


FIRST DAY - Newcastle to Amsterdam
Chatted to lovely old man on bus about his Army service - Vienna after the war.  He was interested in my trip to Germany.  Gave me his address for a postcard!
Both got grumpy about a young tart who didn’t tell her toddler to give up his seat, even though the bus was full to standing.

Metro announcements still want to make me heave.

Beautiful take-off.  View of airport then river then countryside.  Up through thick cloud into sunshine.  (Note:  New flyers in the seat in front.  Awed!)

A tram squeezes through the morning traffic on Leidsestraat

Amsterdam....seems like years since I was here.  Good to be amongst the sights, sounds again.  Canals and trams - perfection.
A tobaaconist's shop on Leidsestraat; in the lower window, there's Lord of the Rings pipe, 
as smoked by Gandalf himelf

Hotel near the Singel.  Small, neat, clean.  Steepest steps in the world - 3 floors up to the smallest hotel room in the world.  Tried to swing a cat - couldn’t.  (Note:  The hotel cat is very very very fat.)

Amsterdam’s dangerous cyclists.

Lovely moochy evening.  Falafel, coffee, pastries, wandering around, brown cafes (De Pijper).  Busy on the streets but cold.

The all-year Christmas shop on the Flower Market

Tried some Dutch on a handsome barman.  Might as well have been Welsh.

(Note:  the Dutch language - however do they manage to learn it?)

Knackered.  Didn’t get to bed till 1.

SECOND DAY - Amsterdam
Wonderful breakfast on the street.  Apple pastries to die for.  Best coffee EVER.
(Note:  lovely shop people on the trip so far.  They like it if you try to speak Dutch; my first time.)

At the Flower Market

Lots of (obviously) expats around.  Americans.  Brits.  A Geordie couple.  Am I more talkative to people because I’m alone?

Tram trip.  Number 4.  Destination was like Team Valley.  Then Flower Market - always a treat.  Flower-sellers still as bolshy as ever.


(Note:  Men holding hands - obvious couples; nobody bats an eyelid or even seems to notice.  Mmmmmm Amsterdam!)


So there you have it.

There’s loads more, some of which I can’t even read.

I hope these photos whet your appetite for the book I’ll almost certainly never write about this journey.

Tomorrow I launch myself into unfamiliar territory.  I’ll be travelling by train to Berlin, which is (I suppose) where the ‘German’ Journey really starts....

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* St Cuthbert’s Day
* Robinson’s German Journey
Start here…

Tomorrow - Tuesday 20 March - is St Cuthbert’s Day and it is now a long-standing tradition for truckshunters to spare a moment during the day to remember the patron saint of north-east England.

His gentle spirituality has been mentioned and praised many, many times and, in his affection and care for the birds and other animals that surrounded him on Lindisfarne and Inner Farne, he has often been called the English St Francis of Assissi.

The Venerable Bede wrote a biography of St Cuthbert.  Here are two extracts from it.

'He was affable and pleasant in his character; and when he was relating to the fathers the acts of their predecessors, as an incentive to piety, he would introduce also, in the meekest way, the spiritual benefits which the love of God had conferred upon himself.

And this he took care to do in a covert manner, as if it had happened to another person...'

'So devout and zealous was he in his desire after heavenly things, that, whilst officiating in the solemnity of the mass, he never could come to the conclusion thereof without a plentiful shedding of tears.

But whilst he duly discharged the mysteries of our Lord’s passion, he would, in himself, illustrate that in which he was officiating; in contrition of heart he would sacrifice himself to the Lord; and whilst he exhorted the standers-by to lift up their hearts and to give thanks unto the Lord, his own heart was lifted up rather than his voice, and it was the spirit which groaned within him rather than the note of singing.

In his zeal for righteousness he was fervid to correct sinners, he was gentle in the spirit of mildness to forgive the penitent, so that he would often shed tears over those who confessed their sins, pitying their weaknesses, and would himself point out by his own righteous example what course the sinner should pursue.

He used vestments of the ordinary description, neither noticeable for their too great neatness, nor yet too slovenly…'

I hope you find a kind and gentle way to mark his special day.

The day after St Cuthbert’s Day is the vernal equinox - the first day of Spring.  It is an appropriate day, I think, for me to set out once again on another journey of discovery and exploration, of the sort my Grand Tour two years ago gave me a taste and a hankering for.

My journey then - through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France - was an astonishing experience and, like all great journeys should, it taught me things about myself I didn’t know and laid before me sights and sounds I had not expected.

This time I will be making my restless way across the Netherlands and northern Germany. 

I will begin this second - and less ambitious - Grand Tour in Amsterdam, a city I already know and love and from whose company I have been parted for far too long.
Two days later, I will board the train to Berlin.

I have heard and read many wonderful reports about Berlin; it’s been on my shortlist of ‘places to visit before I die’ for some years now, and at last I am able to fulfill my dream of wandering its streets, visiting its museums and galleries, looking out for its historical landmarks - both good and bad - and meeting at least some of its people.
After four days in Berlin, I will be visiting, and spending one night in, the small town of Munster.  My father spent part of his army career there when I was very young and for many reasons - mostly concerned with my Mam’s death last year - my pilgrimage to the site of his barracks will not be a happy one.
But next day I will once again be travelling - this time to Hamburg.  I’m hoping for three days of uplifting and exciting discovery there, in a city which was forced to rebuild and re-invent itself after the Second World War.  The highlight of my time in Hamburg will be a visit to what is by far the largest model railway in the world!

Two more nights in my beloved Amsterdam will bring my German Journey to a close.

Unless I fall in love with Amsterdam all over again and - this time - decide to ‘drop anchor’ there for good.  You never know…

I’ll be taking my laptop Mac with me on my journey so - wifi permitting - will be able to post short update blogs as I go. 

Expect the first one later this week…..

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting
* Birds
* Ineptocracy
* Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry
Continue at your own, not inconsiderable, risk…

Just for the sheer pleasure of it, I’ve plastered this posting with pictures of some of my favourite everyday common-or-garden birds.  I’ve had a lot of pleasure recently watching many of them come to my garden here in deepest urban Newcastle.

If you’re feeding the birds, you may well have seen and enjoyed them too.

From the top down, they are:  a chaffinch, a great tit, a blue tit, a blackbird, a dunnock (hedge-sparrow), a goldfinch, a greenfinch, a bullfinch, a house sparrow, a coal tit and a wren. 

Dave Shannon recently sent me an email which I am more than happy to pass on to you.  He says he has discovered a brand new word...

‘Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) n -
a system of government where those least capable of leading are elected by the least capable of producing; and where those least likely to sustain themselves or succeed are rewarded with goods and services paid for with the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.’

Finally, says Dave, a word to describe our current political situation.

And I’m inclined to agree with him.

Martin from Houghton-le-Spring has also emailed me recently, after a very long gap.  He says…

‘Ian….with your love of words and language, I’m amazed that you haven’t touched upon the subject of Tongue Twisters on your blog.  In fact, I don’t remember you mentioning them on the radio, either.  Maybe you just didn’t want to embarrass yourself by making a mess of them!

(I think Martin’s right.  I don’t think we were ever tempted into the tender trap of tongue-twisters on the Blue Bus programme and I’ve certainly not mentioned them before on this blog.  Martin goes on...) 

Anyway, here are some of my favourites.  If you put them on the blog, maybe your readers will come up with some more.’

What follows is a veritable cornucopia of mouth-fumbling challenges, many of which are verbal obscenities waiting to happen - depending on how good at tongue-twisters you are.  Try these for size…

Send toast to ten tense stout saints' ten tall tents.

Seth at Sainsbury's sells thick socks.

She sits in her slip and sips Schlitz
( - be very careful with that one)

She stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him hiccuping, and amicably welcoming him in.
(This is a version of a tongue-twister I actually do remember trying out on live radio: 
She stood at the door of Burgess's fish-sauce shop welcoming him in.
I think I managed it eventually - making a complete arse of myself in the process, though.)

Shep Schwab shopped at Scott's Schnapps shop;
One shot of Scott's Schnapps stopped Schwab's watch.

(Apparently, this one actually won a tongue-twister setting prize in 1979!)
To begin to toboggan,
First buy a toboggan
But don't buy too big a toboggan.
Too big a toboggan’s
Too big a toboggan
To buy to begin to toboggan.

I must have been in a particularly light-headed mood when I read Martin’e email because, by the time I’d got this far, I was roaring with laughter.

But it didn’t stop there.  Martin then warms to his subject and drifts off into very well-researched tongue-twister poetry, of whose existence I had previously been unaware.

There’s something eerily stirring about…
Amidst the mists and coldest frosts,
With stoutest wrists and loudest boasts,
He beats his fists against the posts
And still insists he sees the ghosts.

Martin says it was used by actors as a speech-clarity warm-up before they went on stage.  Here’s another, even more bizarre, example…

Give me the gift of a grip-top sock,
A clip drape shipshape tip top sock.
Not your spinslick slapstick slipshod stock,
But a plastic, elastic grip-top sock.
None of your fantastic slack swap slop
From a slap dash flash cash haberdash shop.
Not a knick knack knitlock knockneed knickerbocker sock
With a mock-shot blob-mottled trick-ticker top clock.
Not a supersheet seersucker rucksack sock,
Not a spot-speckled frog-freckled cheap sheik's sock
Off a hodge-podge moss-blotched scotch-botched block.
Nothing slipshod drip drop flip flop or glip glop
Tip me to a tip top grip top sock.

If you can manage to say that at normal speaking speed without stumbling, you deserve an award of some kind.

I’m delighted to say that Martin then mentions the well-known tongue-twister song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.  (I’ve loved G&S since I was a teenager and know this song off by heart!)

To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!
To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!
A dull, dark dock, a life-long lock,
A short, sharp shock, a big black block!
To sit in solemn silence in a pestilential prison,
And awaiting the sensation
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!

(This is where Gilbert invented the now well-worn phrase short, sharp shock.)

In a final flourish, Martin quotes in full a tongue-twister poem written by an anonymous group of computer-programming students.

Here's an easy game to play
Here's an easy thing to say:

If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,

And the bus is interrupted as a very last resort
And the address of the memory makes your floppy disk abort
Then the socket packet pocket has an error to report!
If your cursor finds a menu item followed by a dash

And the double-clicking icon puts your window in the trash
And your data is corrupted 'cause the index doesn't hash
Then your situation's hopeless, and your system's gonna crash!

You can't say this? What a shame, sir!

We'll find you another game, sir.

If the label on the cable on the table at your house

Says the network is connected to the button on your mouse
But your packets want to tunnel on another protocol
That's repeatedly rejected by the printer down the hall
And your screen is all distorted by the side effects of gauss
So your icons in the window are as wavy as a souse
Then you may as well reboot and go out with a bang

'Cause as sure as I'm a poet, the sucker's gonna hang!
When the copy of your floppy's getting sloppy on the disk

And the microcode instructions cause unnecessary risk
Then you have to flash your memory and you'll want to ram your rom.
Quickly turn off the computer and be sure to tell your mom!

Isn’t that awesome!

By the time I got this far, I was shamelessly guffawing like a drain and waking the neighbours, one of whom was foolish enough to wonder aloud if foreign languages had tongue-twisters.

We agreed that they must have; and after thorough, wine-fuelled, research we offer, as our codicil to Martin’s splendid email, these pearls from across the sea…

From German…
Zehn zahme Ziegen zogen zehn Zentner Zucker zum Zoo
(Ten tame goats pulled ten zentner of sugar to the zoo) and
Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid
(Red cabbage stays red cabbage and a bridal dress stays a bridal dress)

From Turkish…
Şu yoğurdu sarımsaklasak da mı saklasak, sarımsaklamasak da mı saklasak?
(Should we add garlic in that yogurt and keep it then, or should we not add garlic and keep it?)

From Swedish (these are two of my favourites)…
Packa pappas kappsäck
(Pack your father's knapsack) and
Kvistfritt kvastskaft
(a knot-free broomstick)

And finally, from the language I’m grappling with at the moment - French - we found…
Tata, ta tarte tatin tenta Tonton; Tonton tâta ta tarte tatin, Tata
(Aunty, your apple tart tempts Uncle; Uncle has touched your apple tart, Aunty.)
Les chaussettes de l'archi-duchesse, sont-elles sèches ou archi-sèches?
(The socks of the duchess, are they dry or extra-dry?) and
Si six scies scient six cyprès, six cents six scies scient six cent six cyprès
(If six saws saw six Cypress trees, six hundred and six saws would saw six hundred and six Cypress trees.)
Just in case you are even remotely interested, that last one is pronounced: Si si si si si sipruh, si saw si si si si saw si sipruh.

A VERY big Thankyou to Martin for giving me such a light-hearted and laughter-filled evening.

Martin also suggested that we might have a tongue-twister competition at the next AGM.  So I’ll add it to the two other items we haven’t tried yet - planking (postings 304, 305) and dancing the tango (posting 345).

It should be quite an AGM…

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

I suppose it would be best to deal with the two facets of Argentina that would spring unstoppably to the mind of we plucky Brits at the mere mention of the country’s name:  the Falkland Islands and the World Cup.

The Falklands first, then...

To do this day I have never understood why anyone possessed of an IQ anywhere above that of a horseradish should wish to fight - let alone die - in order to maintain their authority over a few faraway, windswept and almost totally barren outcrops of rock.  But that’s exactly what we did in 1982.

Which means that, ever since, we’ve been able to bask in the sure and certain knowledge that the Union Flag still flies gloriously unimpeded above these worthless scraps of penguin-infested wilderness.  And that several hundred men and women on both sides gave their lives for the noble cause of belligerent vanity.

As for the 1986 World Cup...all I can remember about it is the incredibly sexy shorts that the players wore for the competition - especially the Argentine players, and especially Maradona.  I actually watched his ‘hand of God’ goal but was not looking at his hands, worse luck.

Interestingly - and as a direct result of this ‘avenging angel’ goal - a formal and official religion has developed in Argentina.  The ‘Maradonians’ - and there are over 40,000 of them - worship his whole body but reserve special veneration for his left foot.  I am half-inclined to join them, though not, it must be said, for purposes that my fellow-believers would find altogether acceptable.


Argentina is the second-largest country in South America, and the 8th largest in the world.

Here are some awesomely random facts about it of which you may be unaware, and which may surprise you.

- Argentina has been one of the world’s leading producers of wine since the 16th century; there are over 1800 wineries there.
 - its highest mountain (and also the highest peak anywhere in the Americas) is Aconcagua, at a staggering 6,959m (22,841ft).
- its national language is Spanish; in fact, it’s the largest Spanish-speaking country on Earth (including, of course, Spain itself). It’s spoken with a very strong dialect, though, which is called Lumfardo and which many people think sounds more Italian than Spanish.  And they are right; between the two World Wars, there was mass immigration from the Naples area of Italy and it’s left its mark on Lumfardo.
- Argentina was one of the first countries to have radio broadcasting. The first relay was made on 27 August 1920, when only 20 people owned a radio receiver.
Hipolito Yrigoyen - the first Argentinian President elected by universal male suffrage.
I love this picture.
 - the world's first animated films were created and released in Argentina in 1917 by a man called Quirino Cristiani, thus beating Walt Disney’s earliest efforts into a cocked hat.
- the Teatro Colón, in Buenos Aires, is one of the most important and prestigious opera houses in the world.
- Argentina also has the highest rate of cinema-going in the world.
- although road traffic drives on the right, trains don’t.
- the southernmost town on Earth is in Argentina; it’s called Ushuaia.


A perhaps much better-known fact about Argentina is its conspicuous and prodigious production and consumption of beef.

It is the world’s third-largest producer of the stuff; and each Argentinian eats a humungous 70kgs of it every year - that’s the weight of a fully-grown teenager.  Unfortunately, this means that the beef tapeworm is still quite a problem there.  There isn’t room inside an Argentinian for it to grow to its optimum length of 20m; instead, it restricts itself to a more manageable 3m…

Reassuringly, the country manages to produce and export a lot of stuff apart from beef, including vast quantities of honey, sunflower seeds, soybeans, maize and wheat - its main export.


Where there are cows, there are cowboys…

In Argentina, they’re called gauchos, ‘comrades’ - one of an array of words used to describe this unique job, and its accompanying way of life, across the world.

In California, they are buckaroos; in Texas, cowpunches; in the French Camargue, they’re gardians, ‘guardians’; in Hungary, they’re gulyas, ‘herdsmen’ ( - this is where goulash comes from); they are huaso, ‘orphans’, in Chile; llanero, ‘plainsmen’, in Venezuela; paniolo, ‘Spaniards’, in Hawaii; stockmen in Australia and vaquero, ‘cowmen’, in Mexico.

So now you know.


In the mid-19th century, the Argentine government offered subsidies to Europeans who were prepared to up sticks and emigrate to its fertile but - at the time - unfarmed countryside.  Amongst the many who heard the call was a small group of Welsh people who, from 1865 onwards, settled parts of Patagonia (in the south).

This means that, incredibly, there now over 50,000 people of direct Welsh descent in Argentina, which thus has the highest number of native Welsh speakers outside Wales and the British Isles - although there are only about 5,000 of them.

When I was first told this, I simply didn’t believe it.  But it’s absolutely true.

(The Welsh for Argentina is Yr Ariannin.)


If seeking out the only colony of Welsh-speakers in the world isn’t a good enough reason to visit Argentina, here are two more…
Firstly...The mighty Iguazu Falls, on the border with Brazil, are one of the world’s most neglected natural wonders.  The Falls are actually a linear cascade of 275 separate drops that dwarf Niagara.
And secondly... The even more spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier - all 97 sq miles of it.  It’s said that, when a tower-block sized chunk of ice breaks off the end of the glacier, the crack can be heard 50 miles away.


Argentina can lay claim to be the sexiest nation on Earth, depending on your point of view.
There are, for example, more breast implants there per woman than anywhere else. Originally they would have been made of ivory, glass beads, ox cartilage, polythene chips, wool or epoxy resin - a mind-boggling list of ingredients.  These days they’re made of silicone.

The country’s actively liberal attitude to all things sexual is reflected in two more aspects of its life.

As I mentioned in posting 254, Argentina is the first South American country to completely liberalise its law on gay rights.  Gay people now have more rights there than they have here - including the right to marry.

Historically, though, Argentina’s sexiest gift to the world is the tango.

Even at this distance in time, it’s not difficult to see why Europe was taken by storm when the openly intimate and sexy Argentine tango arrived here in the early 1900s.  Berlin and London were obsessed with it - the 5-shilling ‘Tango Teas’ at the London Waldorf Hotel were ‘the place to be seen’.

It’s easily pastiched, of course, and has been, many times.  But if you’d like to take it seriously,  here is an almost pornographic description of it sent by a truckshunter…

‘The tango is danced in very close full upper body contact in a wide and strong frame, and features smooth horizontal movements that are very strong and determined. Dancers are very low, allowing long steps without any up and down movement. Forward steps land heel first, and in backward steps dancers push from the heel. In basic steps, the passing leg moves quickly to rest for a moment close to the grounded leg.’

Quite so.

I was also sent this much less suggestive step-diagram.  I hope it is helpful.

Perhaps we should try it at the next AGM.

There’s a lot more to the tango than po-faced clutching and posing, though.

Someone sent me this cutting, culled (I think) from a dance magazine.

‘’Queer tango’ is a new way to dance Argentine tango free from traditional heteronormative codes. Its proposal is to dance the tango without pre-established roles according to the gender of the dancers and to exchange the roles of leader and follower.

Therefore it is also called ‘open role’ or ‘same-sex’ tango. The queer tango movement permits not only access to tango for the gay community but also opens new possibilities for heterosexual dancers: women learn the lead, men learn the follow.’

(Isn’t ‘heteronormative’ a brilliant word?)

And here’s another paragraph from the same source which I found even more surprising.

'The tango spread from the dominant urban dance form to become hugely popular across  Finland.  The melancholy tone of the music reflects the themes of Finnish folk poetry; Finnish tango is almost always in a minor key.

Every year, the Finnish tango festival, Tangomarkkinat, draws over 100,000 tangophiles to the central Finnish town of Seinäjoki, which also hosts the Tango Museum.'

We still have a very long way to go in this Truckshunter Geography but I will be genuinely surprised to find another fact quite as wayward and as unexpected as that one.  Just imagine:  100,000 ‘tangophiles’ flock to a little town in Finland (of all places) to celebrate their obsession - and to visit the Tango Museum there.

The Tango Museum.  I have to go!

One final word about the tango before we let it strut off into a Buenos Aires dawn.

Research seems to show that dancing the tango helps in the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases and relieves depression and anxiety levels.  It really does make people feel sexier and more relaxed.  It also increases testosterone levels - which explains a lot.

As a result of all this, the First Tango-Therapy Congress was held in Buenos Aires in 2008 and there are now fortnightly tango therapy classes at the city’s main psychiatric hospital.


Another notable Argentine export - after a fashion - was Evita, the hideous musical based on the life of Eva Peron, the country’s post-war First Lady.  In a way, though, her story was even more interesting after she died in 1952.
 Evita (on the left)
The Army stole her embalmed body, which turned up 16 years later in Milan.  In 1971, it was exhumed and re-buried in Spain.  In 1974, it was dug up yet again and moved to the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires.  It now rests in the city’s Recoleta Cemetery, to where it was finally moved in 1976.


By now, you should have banked several reasons to visit Argentina.  But, in case your appetite isn’t sufficiently whetted…

How about going there to watch the world’s most important polo match - the Argentine Open?

Or even to watch a game or two of the country’s national sport - pato - which has been described as a cross between polo and basketball.  These days, it’s played with a 5-handled ball but originally it was a live duck sewn into a basket.
While you’re digesting that piece of surprisingly gruesome information, you might also like to digest a few Argentine food favourites.  Like empanadas (pastries stuffed with savoury fillings), alfajores (a very popular sweet), facturas (sweet pastries) - all washed down with maté - bitter tea, served in a decorative gourd with a metal straw and shared between friends.
A maté gourd

Argentina has proved to be one of the most fascinating and surprising countries we’ve visited so far.  And I haven’t even mentioned its unit of currency, its dialling code, its internet domain name, its National Anthem - or the infamous Argentine Vampire Duck.

I think perhaps, though, that we should end with the words of one of the country’s most unforgettably iconic figures.

This is the letter that Che Guevara wrote to his children in about 1965 - and only to be opened if he was killed.

'Your father has been a man who acted according to his beliefs and certainly has been faithful to his convictions.

Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard to be able to dominate the techniques that permit the domination of nature. Remember that the Revolution is what is important and that each of us, on our own, is worthless.

Above all, try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.

Until always, little children. I still hope to see you again. A really big kiss and a hug from Papa.’

He was killed in 1967.


A very big Thankyou to everyone who contributed to this stopover on our journey.

Your work has only just begun.  Our next port-of-call is to another extreme of nationhood:  Armenia.

Get cracking!


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com