Beer, Wine and Cider 6: Black Forest High Street

Thusday 22nd August

I started my day with a swim in the hotel pool, followed by an expedition to the local supermarket to sort lunch, dinner and the next day's breakfast.

We headed to the old town in the centre of Strasbourg, just to take a look, finding the old houses and cathedral pretty but not worth stopping for.

It turns out it can be tricky to leave the centre of Strasbourg once you're in it, but eventually we exited the one-way system and found ourselves heading back across the Rhine to Germany.

Our objective was the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, a scenic driving route high up, as the name suggests, in the Black Forest.

It's just thirty miles long, but gorgeous: straights and curves flickering in and out of pine forests, with panoramic views over the mountains.

We stopped at the Mummelsee, a deep lake nestled in the woods. It's a popular tourist destination, with a hotel, souvenir shops and pedalo hire, and we ate our sandwiches at a picnic table before setting off around the lake.

Luckily, Howard had perused the route in advance and advised me to take my swimming-costume. Nobody else was in the water, except in a pedalo, and we looked for a sign to find out whether it was allowed, finding one that warned the water could be deceptively cold and you swam at your own risk. Obviously whoever wrote it had never been to Brighton.

I waded in, watched with interest from the bank by other tourists.

"Ist kalt? Ist kalt," one observed as I found a steep bit and was forcibly immersed.

It was lovely, of course. I swam up and down within a safe distance of the bank, filling my senses with the surroundings so I'd remember it afterwards.

Once I'd dried off and bought a couple of postcards, we continued until the route's end in picturesque Freudenstadt. Here Howard had a slice of Black Forest gâteau that was mostly cream and I had a ridiculous ice cream with pineapple wedges and an actual leaf stuck in it.

I had time for another swim in the hotel pool before our dinner of bread and cheese.

Miles: 163.9

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Beer, Wine and Cider 5: Tintin In Wine Country

Wednesday 21st August

I'm not saying I engineered this entire trip so I could go to a Tintin exhibition at the Château de Malbrouck, but...I totally did.

We had a lot of miles to cover, but we found time for lunch in the market square, and a look at the waterfall, in Saarburg.

Mid-afternoon found us in the middle of nowhere, staring perplexedly at the sat nav, but it recalculated and sent us into a town, up a hill and into the castle grounds.

The exhibition, celebrating Hergé's life and his influence by, and on, twentieth century art, was spread out across a number of rooms, halls and towers in the castle, making it a voyage of discovery. Tintin flags flew from the parapet, and a moon rocket had landed in the grounds. The final stop on the tour was Tintin's flat, where you could sit in his chair next to a (sadly empty) dog basket.

I've seen a number of Tintin exhibitions in my time, but I always learn, and see, something new. And because the Fondation Hergé curates everything connected with the name very carefully, you'll always see high quality exhibits and correct fonts.

By the time I'd seen it all, bought the exhibition guide and had a mirabelle ice cream, it was getting late. We wandered between France and Germany, in a confusing borderland where the town names were very German but written on French signs.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in Strasbourg the reception was closed for the night. Nobody answered the phone, and we were eyeing up the Ibis over the road when I received a series of helpful texts telling me how to get in and retrieve my room key. Even the welcoming cockroach on Howard's bedside table didn't dampen our joy.

Miles: 240.2

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Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Beer, Wine and Cider 4: Avgeek Heaven and Green Hell

Tuesday 20th August

I was eager to visit the Fliegausstellung Peter Junior at Hermeskeil, as it boasted one of my favourite aircraft (the Saab Viggen) plus the opportunity to eat lunch on board Concorde.

Luckily, there were some fantastic roads between us and our destination. We wound down into the Mosel valley, past green vineyards sloping down to the river, and crossed the Rhine, waving at cruise ships.

The museum surpassed my highest expectations, featuring not just one but four of my favourites: a Viggen, Antonov AN-2, Junkers Ju-52 and Fokker Dr1. There were four halls and a large outside area, all packed, and plenty of interesting Soviet stuff I hadn't seen before, including a Kamov Ka-26 'Hoodlum' and a Mil Mi-8 'Hip'.

Halfway round we had our Concorde lunch break, consuming käsebrot and coffee at an altitude of zero feet.

A lot of people got postcards from the gift shop.

Back at the guest house, we rested for an hour before setting off to do something rather special and scary.

The Nordschleife, the Nürburgring's 'Green Hell', is one of the world's most famous and dangerous race tracks. Today most of the professional action has moved to the Grand Prix circuit, but for a price you can ride or drive pretty much anything around the historic track. It's a notorious free-for-all, with bikes and cars of all kinds, piloted by people of wildly varying ability, sharing the road.

Howard and I had visited in 2007, but both our bikes broke down on the way. I went round on my dad's pillion, which was a special experience I will always treasure. Now it was time to do it under my own steam.

There's a long list of regulations outside the ticket office, warning that you'll need to show a driving licence and proof of insurance, but all they really want to see is the colour of your credit card. We paid up and were presented with our tickets. Easy as that.

We drank some water and had a snack, and were just psyching ourselves up to put our helmets on and do it when the track closed to clear away an accident. It's open for 2 hours on weekday summer evenings, and it's entirely possible that you won't get a chance to go on.

But we did. The track reopened, after an anxious wait. We presented our tickets at the barrier and were let loose on twelve miles of racetrack.

We stuck to the righthand side so faster vehicles could overtake us. I thought I'd be frightened by the whizzing sports cars, but they all overtook safely. The smell of hot brake dust hung in the air as we negotiated the straights and corners, deep in concentration. I had no idea how much time had passed when we entered the final straight and slowed for the exit.

Thrilled and triumphant, we headed to the Fan Shop to buy our hard-won stickers for bragging rights. Five minutes later, the track closed again.

Safely back in Kliding, I wound down by watching two Tornadoes, visible only by their navigation lights, performing touch and go landings in the dark distance.

Miles: 165.7

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Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Beer, Wine and Cider 3: Coffee and Fighter Jets

Monday 19th August

I woke to a sunny morning that promised to turn out hot, and went outside to find the hotel proprietor deadheading the geraniums.

Our next stop, in Germany, wasn't too far, so we looked for something to do along the way.

This turned out to be a visit to the Mardasson Memorial, dedicated to the American soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. It's shaped like a star and set in pretty woodland, the Bois de la Paix, with beautiful views from the top. The engraved text makes it clear how grateful Belgium is to those who fought so fiercely for a country not their own.

Over the border, we went through Trier so we could experience the Roman Bridge, the oldest bridge in Germany and the oldest bridge north of the Alps still in use for vehicle traffic. We also found some cheap petrol and a LIDL, where we stocked up on supplies as the next few nights would be self-catering.

Our guest house was tucked away in the village of Kliding, in the Mosel. The owner welcomed us in German and showed us around. (The next day she would compliment me on my German, which pleased me even though she initially thought we were Belgian.)

She offered to make us coffee, and we accepted gratefully. I discovered that I had accidentally booked us a place five miles from Büchel Air Base, which meant that every few minutes I had to drop whatever I was doing and run out to look at passing Tornadoes.

Miles: 180.7

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Beer, Wine and Cider 2: At the Sign of the Little Wolf

Sunday 18th August

A leisurely start, in which we wandered into Bruges for a breakfast of Nutella waffles and coffee. As the carillon played Bohemian Rhapsody, we climbed into a canal boat for a low-level tour of the city.

The guide did a very good job of pointing out the sights in English, French and German. At one point I thought he was showing us some 'typical 17th-century gay bars', but to my disappointment Howard corrected me to 'gables'.

The previous evening, I'd spotted a cavernous souvenir shop promising a 'Tintin Chapel' on the 2nd floor, so I went in to pay my respects and purchase a couple of postcards. Then it was time to load up the bikes and head off.

We paid a quick visit to the outskirts of Brussels so Howard could see the Atomium, then left the motorways for smaller country roads. At one point we trundled across a level crossing, then over a bridge into a town so picturesque I felt quite spoilt. In the early evening, we arrived at our destination: Bovigny, in the district of Gouvy.

On a day trip to Brussels with @wardy a couple of years ago, we spotted and admired a tin sign advertising Lupulus beer. (Lupulus is the Latin name for hops, but also means 'little wolf'; cf 'homunculus'.) Quixotically, I added the brewery to the To Visit list. This trip, it made sense to stay in a nearby hotel on our way east.

It turned out to be an excellent pick. Our hotel, chosen because it was within walking distance of the brewery, was charming, with a friendly proprietor, geraniums in the window-boxes, and two soft-looking deer in a grassy enclosure. There was even a bath, and I took grateful advantage of it, since the later stages of the journey had been a little cold and wet.

The timing of our trip didn't make a brewery tour feasible, but we walked to the Lupulus brasserie, where I had an outstanding meal of salmon in a sauce made with their Blonde beer, and a sorbet made from their fruit beer. This came with a Lupulus-branded cocktail umbrella, which I pocketed, along with a beermat or two.

The bill was a little high, but then we did buy a T-shirt each.

Miles: 175.4

(Wolf: model's own. Her name is Ingrid Bergwolf.)

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Cat Air

Beer, Wine and Cider 1: In Bruges

Saturday 17th August

When a friend kindly invited us to a summer party at her mum's house in France, Howard and I accepted with delight and immediately started planning a road trip. Our journey would take us through Belgium, into Germany's Mosel Valley, and back out into cider country.

We took the Dover to Dunkirk ferry and made our way to the first stop, Bruges, via a supermarket to buy sausage rolls (all they had left) for a late lunch.

The centre of Bruges is car-free and the surrounding streets are narrow, cobbled, and mostly one-way. When I asked our AirBnB host about motorcycle parking, he said we'd have to use the public car park ten minutes' walk away. We parked outside the AirBnB and climbed the steep stairs with our luggage before riding off in search of parking.

When we found the car park, it didn't allow motorcycles. We asked a moped rider delivering pizza, but he didn't know the parking rules either. After going round the one-way system a couple of times we found the only official motorcycle bay we saw in the whole of Bruges, outside the chip museum. (I suspect we could have parked anywhere and got away with it, to be honest.)

We'd booked a small room at the top of a house, but the location couldn't have been better: right beside one of the canals, a few minutes' walk from the city centre. By coincidence, it was also close to a supervised swimming area with decking and lifeguards.

It was a cool evening with a threat of rain, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance like this. I got changed and swam up and down a short stretch of bright green water, watched with interest by my fellow-tourists.

Once I'd dried and showered, we headed into Bruges. Although the city was crowded, it felt very quiet and relaxed, perhaps because there were few cars. We had beers outside a bar, watching horse-drawn carriages trot past and listening to the bells of the clock tower, then repaired to a restaurant recommended by the AirBnB host for the best shrimp croquettes I have ever had (and I consider myself an expert in these matters).

Miles: 144.1



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Mini Max

Cary Grant Fest, Part 2

The BFI's Cary Grant season continues apace, and I have been taking full advantage of it.

Holiday, seen on Monday with my mum's cousin, reunites the Philadelphia Story team of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and director George Cukor.

It's another light, frothy romcom, in which Cary Grant has been silly enough to fall for the wrong wealthy sister. The question is never if he will end up with Katharine Hepburn, but how it will be achieved with everyone's integrity intact.

The experience was made even more enjoyable by the knowledge, gained at last week's talk, that Grant spent time as a circus performer, which explains the great scene where he sneaks away from the posh New Year's Eve party to do some acrobatics with Hepburn (not a euphemism) in the playroom (also not a euphemism).

On Wednesday it was time for the 4K restoration, whatever that is, of Notorious, 'the greatest sexpionage movie of them all', seen, appropriately enough, with my friend who reviews crime fiction for the Telegraph.

Grant plays Devlin, a police officer who persuades Ingrid Bergman's daughter-of-a-war-criminal to infiltrate a gang of Nazis in Rio by seducing one of their members, while being sad that she agrees to do it because that must mean she's a slapper. (Double standards; you can bet Devlin sleeps with anyone he needs to in the course of his duties.)

This is a Hitchcock film, and it shows in the lighting, the composition, and the incredibly slow suspense (watch agog as it takes several minutes for a wine bottle to work its way to the edge of a shelf and fall off). We both failed to spot Hitchcock's cameo, but I looked him up this morning and he was 'Man Drinking Champagne At Party'.

It's difficult to hate Claude Rains as the bad guy, because you can't not think of him as Bogie's French policeman pal from Casablanca. Leopoldine Konstantin, playing his mother, was a wonderfully funny and evil supporting character. We checked afterwards and she was, er, three years older than Rains.

My friend was held up on a bus and arrived late, and the film moved to a different screen with unallocated seating, meaning we didn't end up sitting together (it was a sellout house). We found each other afterwards and dissected the movie over flat whites, because we'd been watching Rains and Konstantin drug Ingrid Bergman's coffee and it put us in the mood.

Cross stitch

Cary Grant Fest, Part 1

When the BFI sent me a flash sale membership offer back in January, I took it up partly because I go there a lot anyway (I seldom visit the South Bank without popping in to use their loos, so I feel I owe them), but also because I knew they were running a Cary Grant season in August and September and I would be buying a fair number of tickets, and getting £1 off each one.

On Sunday I went to see The Philadelphia Story with my friend Matt. I wasn't sure what to expect, but callmemadam promised me I'd like it and she wasn't wrong. It's fairly standard romantic comedy fare of the period, with a divorced couple coming back into contact on the eve of one partner's wedding to someone else, but with Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart, backed up by Ruth Hussey and a supporting cast of fun eccentrics (especially lascivious old Uncle Willie and precocious brat Dinah) it's a joyous thing. You may not root for Grant's character at first, given that we first see him slugging his soon-to-be-ex-wife because she's broken his golf club, but you root for him from the 'Two Years Later' caption onwards.

Last night was a talk, Cary Grant: From Knockabout to Knockout, delivered by Dr Charlotte Crofts, Associate Professor of Filmmaking at UWE and organiser of the biennial Cary Comes Home film festival in Bristol.

The talk was a brief overview of his life and career, with particular focus on Bristol, where he was born, was entertained at the town's various cinemas, left with a travelling circus as a teen, and returned to yearly when he was living in the USA. He would get his hair cut, go to the optician's, and give the Bristol Evening Post one publicity photo if they promised to leave him alone for the rest of his visit (a device not unlike the plot of The Philadelphia Story).

I learned that this extremely good-looking young man was so self-conscious about the thickness of his neck that he did nightly exercises to try and reduce it. Whatever you think is wrong with your own body, maybe think on that.

Crofts touched on his ambiguous sexuality and how it's part of his appeal, concluding "We want to be Cary Grant, and we also want to be with him."

Nobody in the audience was prepared to deny that.
Cross stitch

The King Lives

Disney, for reasons best known to itself, has been busily remaking its 1990s animated features as live action/CGI movies. I haven't been particularly interested in any of these, but their latest offering is The Lion King, which I wanted to see because it looked so adorable.

I saw the original with my parents; even though I was 16 or 17 at the time, none of us was too old for Disney. Years later I saw the musical, which led me to discover the furry fandom and all the wonderful things and people that have come with that. So TLK is Kind Of A Thing for me.

I went with fairly low expectations, as initial reports suggested the tale had lost much of its soul and story in pursuit of technical excellence. Luckily, I loved it. It was like seeing a beloved play in a new translation: you knew what was coming but not how it was going to be done.

I thought going to an 8pm showing would mean no kids in the cinema, but there was a baby - who was very well-behaved, although it did decide to join in when Simba was practising his roar.

There were a few minor changes to the script and plot, which on the whole made it work better. The language had been brought up to date with lines like "You do you, Simba."

MUFASA came across as something of a weak leader, ignoring advice to kick Scar out of the Pridelands and repeatedly letting Shenzi off with a warning.

SCAR was genuinely creepy, evil and scary; in the animated version he’s a rather camp and comical sexy bastard (it's partly the way he's drawn, mostly Jeremy Irons's voice).

THE HYENAS, on the other hand, clearly just need somebody to give them a big cuddle.

TIMON AND PUMBAA were the pleasantest surprise. I was already a big meerkat fan in 1994, and I was disappointed that Timon's character design was so ugly. In this version he's cute as a button, Pumbaa has been toned down to be less annoying, and they're given a whole crew of misfit animal pals to hang around with. (I missed Pumbaa's "They call me MISTER Pig!" line though.)

Minus points:

  • I didn’t think the voice talent was as strong. It was good, but it wasn’t Rowan Atkinson/Whoopi Goldberg/Cheech Marin good. (I suspect it’s impossible to play Zazu without sounding as if you’re trying to be Rowan Atkinson.)

  • 'Be Prepared' felt a bit flat, with no goose-stepping hyenas.

Plus points:

  • Timon & Pumbaa & Timon & Pumbaa & Timon & Pumbaa.

  • The score was just amazing.

(...I might have liked it better than the original, but don’t tell anyone.)
Of Rassilon

The Living Podcasts

This year I've gone from being a podcast virgin to having three under my belt.

My latest appearance is on Betamax Video Club, dedicated to films of the 1980s. The host, Rich, is currently working his way through the '80s Bond films, and (for some reason) asked me if I'd like to do one of the Dalton ones. I agreed with indecent haste, requesting The Living Daylights as it's my favourite.

Rich offered to come and do the recording in my home (we'd met previously at a film screening and satisfied ourselves that we were both reasonably normal). I made him a cup of tea in my Living Daylights mug while he set up a couple of mikes on the dining-table.

We spent two happy hours discussing the film and related subjects, which Rich has now edited down into something more sensible and less rambly. He was very patient with my need to list
  1. every type of military aircraft that appears in the film and
  2. Timothy Dalton's most attractive physical features

Eyelashes; cheekbones; hands (since you ask).

If you enjoy Bond or just fancy finding out what my voice sounds like, give it a listen here or wherever you get your podcasts!

(Rich has promised me the 1986 Biggles movie too. Brace yourselves.)