Tales from the Frontier - No. 5

I only go out for getting me a fresh appetite for being alone. – Lord Byron

One thing may be said of a weekend on the border – it is bustling. Several outlet centres have their home here and the out-of-town hordes pour in to pick up cheap jeans, shoes, handbags and other vital necessities. Many shoppers must have families with more members than the Labour Party. They buy by the gross. (That’s 144 for our young readers who haven’t encountered a peck, pole or perch nor a rod, chain or acre).

Once or twice in life I have added a second pair of socks or underwear to my purchases. It saves having to go out shopping next year, but never have I cleared a complete shelf of 34 inch waist, 32 inch inside leg stonewashed jeans as I saw one family quartermaster doing. I was only in the shop because it is a short cut avoiding the crowds queuing out the door for a fatty, tatty, double shot, soya mix crappy latte. (I think that’s what I heard someone calling out). Not that anyone was paying attention since they were huddled over their phones comparing what their pal further up the queue was going to order.

Crowds here are always a pain to negotiate. When I was a kid in the UK there were occasional gatherings of half a dozen shoppers who had saved enough money to make it worth while going into C&A or Marks and Sparks. If there was the smallest possibility of pedestrian collision a long exchange of ‘sorry’, ‘pardon me’, ‘after you’ and so forth ensued. Here, you get a short sharp Swiss elbow, an ice hockey style body-check, or several bruises round the knee area as they swing their overloaded carrier bags to clear the way. Only the Austrians can compare with the Swiss for lack of manners. (What do you mean, I shouldn’t generalise? Whose blog is this anyway?)

Large crowds ensure excellent business for the retailers but wide benefits also extend to the local council in the form of parking fine receipts.

Most traffic signs nowadays, especially in the EU, can be understood by one and all. And of course they may be ignored with equal ease. A huge new multi-storey car park has been built recently but that is pricey and widely avoided. Visitors seem unaware that nearby roads lie in controlled (and patrolled) parking zones. Some Saturdays it feels like I’m back on a packed parade ground during my military service, although the uniforms are less smart and the phalanx of traffic wardens are a lot snappier with their machines than we were with our SLRs.

There was a time when no-parking areas were clearly designated by multiple yellow lines, large coloured signs, and threats of hanging, drawing and quartering for the motorist who dared violate the regulations. That is clearly counter-productive since the new intention is not to prevent illegal parking but collect massive contributions for local government coffers.

French visitors and particularly the Swiss find this annoying. Actually the Swiss have no legitimate complaints because for a parking fine of a few dozen euros they could leave their gigantic SUVs in a side-road and hire them out by the hour to the local hookers. The majority of the wagons are roomier than most hotel suites in the neighbourhood. French drivers are less fortunate. Chances are if you intend to dally romantically in a Citroën deux chevaux then at least one limb will be poking out a window flap. A rumour abounded that the amatory spirit of the French ran to including a 2CV position in their version of the Karma Sutra and also in the vehicle’s operating manual. I cannot confirm this since no one I know is daft enough to own a French car when they can get a BMW/Merc/VW with more leg room.

Crowds at the weekend are not helped by us having a local minor league football team. ‘Minor’ is probably flattering since they are currently in the fourteenth level of German football and are having trouble hanging on to that honour. Their attendances are in treble figures since there’s nothing else to do in Germany on winter Sundays. You can go to church or hang around the football ground drinking lager, singing and barracking the opposition supporters for having a Smurf as a team mascot. One team did have a goat mascot. Our lot celebrated an unexpected victory over them by having an impromptu barbecue. Whether the two facts are related is not known.

So, if you enjoy being bustled by aggressive shoppers, hustled by uniformed flunkies, accosted by young ladies trying to lure you into the back of a camper van, or appreciate being screamed at by banner and scarf carrying football hooligans then our border town is right up your double-parked street.

Personally I follow Lord Byron’s advice and only take a trip out on the weekends to remind me I shouldn’t.