‘The Meadow Boys Club’
Christmas Jaunt to Austria 1968
Bari (Mick) Logan
The following account stems from a collection of 57 35mm colour slides and scant pencil notes that I came across whilst sorting through some old boxes in my office and prompted me to put something in print for posterity.
Due to complete my 5-year Trade Apprenticeship in Telecommunications at the end of July 1968 and determined, thereafter, to totally alter course with my career and find the sort of work that I really wanted to pursue, ideally a preparator in a natural history museum; I decided to take a 4/5 week break between August/September and embark on an 8 man expedition to North Africa.
The Expedition ‘Sahro ‘68’ had been long in planning by Alan (Big Al) Harrison and was to be an overland trip in an ex 1-ton army wagon to the Northern regions of the Sahara Desert in Morocco and Algeria.
But, I begin to digress and the above is really a tale to recount on paper, in full, with photographs, another time.
The point is, that on my return from the Sahara expedition in September, and greatly to my disappointed, I could not find full-time museum work anywhere in the UK, so penniless, I found myself back in the telecommunications business adding new equipment to extensions in large G.P.O. exchanges for the Plessey (Ericssons) Communications company of Beeston, Nottingham.
However, after only a couple of months, I drew lucky one Sunday evening at the Nottingham Co-oP Folk Club, which I frequented, when during the intermission, I got into conversation with one of the committee members, Bill Sarjeant (Professor William A. S. Sarjeant) who was a distinguished academic geologist at the University of Nottingham.
He asked me what I did for a living and I told him about my current employment and the dilemma I was in desperately wanting to find natural history museum work.
He then informed me that the geology department at the university, which had been established many years previous, had just moved into brand new state-of-the-art premises and were looking to recruit some key staff and amongst them, a paleo-preparation technician (fossil preparator/model maker).
He then said that the appointment was due to be filled in February 1969 and if I was interested in applying for the post that he would be only to delighted to act as a referee for me.
Well, I could not believe my luck and jumped at the opportunity because this could be the ‘rung-on-the-ladder’ that I had been looking for in order to get into museum work. I applied for the post, using ‘Bill’ as my main reference, had an interview mid-December, got the job and duly started on February 3rd 1969, ending employment with Plessey at the end of January.
With this dramatic change of employment due in the new year, I decided that I needed to take a short break and thought that I could do something during the forthcoming two-week Christmas/new year period. But What?
About two-weeks before Christmas I called into Black’s Outdoor Shop, Shakespeare Street, Nottingham to buy some new caving/climbing equipment and got into conversation with Dick Bell the manager of the shops climbing section and leader of meadow boys climbing club.
He told me that the he had organised a 10-day camping trip by minibus to the ‘Stubai’ Alps, Austria over the forthcoming Christmas period, a trip the club had done before, to do some walking and hopefully stand on a mountain top. He then went on to say that as one of the club members had pulled out, there was a place going if I was interested.
The club would provide minibus transport, tents, cooking equipment, food and overall cost would be cheap, all I needed to provide was warm personal gear, all of which I had. He was a sharp salesman and ‘painted-a-good-picture’.
So, I enlisted for the proposed ten-man trip there and then and settled up the cost which I seem to think was around the £35 mark ‘all in’.
The Journey Down to Austria – Days 1-3 [Friday – Saturday – Sunday]
It was one mid Friday afternoon that I took the No.47 Green Trolley Bus from Commercial Square, St Ann’s Well Road, Nottingham, to make the relatively short trip across the city centre and down to the heart of the meadows district, then after alighting, it was just a short walk to the club’s building for the meet-up.
I seem to recall, that in total only 8 turned up for the trip, Dick Bell the leader and a young (the only) driver who, although not a climber, was somehow affiliated to the main meadows club, a young novice member and the rest hardened experienced rock climbers, some with mountaineering experience, so overall a group of good team players.
Introductions were made, but most I knew already, kit quickly packed into the ageing blue/grey minibus and we were on our way east towards Suffolk in order to catch a late-night ferry from Harwich across to the Hook-of-Holland near the Hague.
Along the way to the ferry, Dick decided that as we could have a substantial meal on the boat, there was little point making a stop during the short drive across Holland to Germany and especially as this would alleviate the need to for us to change our UK ‘Pounds’ into Dutch ‘Guilders’.
Remember, this was 1968 and the ‘Euro’ common currency was not phased into Europe until 1999; as a consequence, we would need for our trip both ‘Marks’ for Germany and ‘Schillings’ for Austria, although Dick assured us, from past experience on similar trips, that we would only need German money because that would certainly be accepted in the area of Austria we would be going to.
We journeyed on through Luxembourg and by late Saturday evening, rather travel weary and hungry, arrived in the German town of Hockenheim, famous for its motor racing circuit.
Money and ‘Booze’ to be Won on a Saturday Night
We parked up in a bay on the main street and the driver promptly announced that he was far too tired to continue any further and therefore intended to sleep in the minibus and make an early start in the morning.
After hearing this, Dick announced that we would find somewhere close by to eat, a bar for a couple of drinks and then a place to ‘Bivvy’ for a couple of hours.
On strolling down the main street for only a short distance we came across a cheap eatery offering a typical range of hearty German ‘fayre’ and in consensus we opted for bowls of broth with raw egg ‘floater’ and platters of bread and sliced meats.
Following that, we carried on further down the street to a corner bar which, on entering, had two distinct rooms. A front bar area, full of couples, with tall stools around the perimeter placed beneath a high shelf for drinks; then to one side of the bar, via a doorway, a much larger room with a neatly set-out series of large tables with benches either side, each unit sufficient to accommodate six people at a sitting. On viewing these, I found it rather odd that both the tables and benches were bolted to the floor and thus immoveable, but the reason for that later became obvious.
At two of the benches sat a group of German men, mixed in age, who greeted us very politely when we entered and a couple of them who spoke English straightway got into conversation with Dick and the driver.
We sat down on adjoining tables and the bar man came and took orders for beers (half steins) all round which he quickly brought and provided, ‘gratis’, bowls of salty ‘Pretzels’.
A little later on the Germans removed all their drinks from one of the tables and placed them on another nearby, the barman was summoned by them and he came into the room and placed a wooden bowl at one end of the cleared table and four dark brown thick leather ‘thongs’ which were about 6 inches in length and fashioned into a distinct ‘figure-of-eight’.
Two of the Germans from their group stepped forward and took up a middle seat on a bench and faced each other, then each placed an amount of money into the bowl. A standing member then placed a leather ‘thong’ in the centre of the table between them and with outstretched right forearms, the seated men placed their first and second fingers into the nearest loop of the leather ‘thong.’ Then as they gently brought tension to bare and centred it on the table-top, one of the standing Germans loudly shouted ‘Hup’ and they immediately and frantically began to pull in opposing directions with all their might… and this seated ‘To-and-Fro’ struggle went on for some time, until one of them managed to pull the other out of his seat and virtually across the table top.
The win was immediately acknowledged by much loud applause, whistling, floor stamping and shouting from the standing German observers. The winner remained seated and another from the crowd took the losers place and after placing more money in the wooden bowl they entered into battle and so on…and so on, as the evening progressed, and eventually the overall winning team took the ‘Rich Pickings’ from the bowl.
It now became obvious why the tables and benches had been fixed to the floor and the room laid out as it was, purely for this German drinking game which I was told later was a very popular thing to do on a normal night out with the lads.
There was a lull in the proceedings and Dick Bell noticing this approached the English-speaking Germans and asked if four of our group could have a go against four members from their group for an overall wager? The answer came back, yes!
Dick made his team selection and to my utter astonishment, I was to go first followed by the three most experienced climbers amongst us; He then confided that he fully expected us to win because, he firmly believed, we had three very advantageous secret weapons in our favour:-
(i) We all had exceptional upper body strength developed through climbing.
(ii) We were tough and always ‘up-for-a-fight’.
(iii) The Germans were totally ‘pissed’.
As far as the Germans were concerned, who were all of good heavy stature, we must have appeared as just a bunch of ‘weedy’ English youths ready to be taught a harsh ‘thonging’ lesson.
But how wrong they were, and how right Dick Bell’s canny judgement was, because we won every ‘finger-fight’ with little effort and ended up with a winning ‘kitty’ of about £40-£50 in ‘Marks’.
The Germans took it all very well, complimented us on the ‘white-wash’ win, then graciously ordered a round of beer and ‘schnapps’ on them. The evening eventually ended late and a lot of tipsy revellers rolled out of the warm bar and into the freezing street.
We grabbed our sleeping bags from the minibus and settled down for a few hours’ sleep, in a series of nearby bus shelters, which was only possible because of the amount of alcohol we had all consumed and comfortable wooden bench seats to lay on.
Austria – The ‘Europa’ Bridge – Innsbruck
It was a very early Sunday morning departure from Hockenheim, solicited by the local police who unceremoniously ordered us out of the bus shelters, checked our passports then watched, with much relief I think, as we drove off down the road in the direction of Karlsruhe.
We made a brief stop along the way for refreshments and then bi-passed Stuttgart and Augsburg finally crossing the border from Germany into Austria as the temperature dropped dramatically, skies darkened and it began to snow very heavily.
Driving became difficult, the heater was only adequate for the windscreen not the cabin, windscreen wipers were not very effective, a wing mirror dropped off and the vehicle had summer tyres fitted which I doubt had little tread, thus progress even along the motorways became rather slow.
Dick did solve the heating problem though, by setting-up a large squat calor- gas bottle surmounted with an upright open fire-grill in the space between the facing bench seats at the rear of the minibus. This comforting facility he utilised further as we journeyed along, when he produced a large sliced white loaf of bread from his rucksack and began to toast slices using an ice axe as a fork, he even provided a pot of jam, strawberry I think, much appreciated by the passengers.
Throughout the journey, there and back, one of the senior ‘boys’ seated up-front with the driver, acted as the navigator using a combination of old fold-out maps of Europe and a fold-over ‘Route Finder,’ obtained some years earlier for one of Dick’s previous excursions, from the RAC or AA, so all well out-of-date.
But so far, all went well, until that is, we arrived at a large new junction configuration and missed a right turn up the ‘Stubaital’ to ‘Meiders’ and just proceeded on down the motorway in the direction of the ‘Brenner Pass’ and Italy.
The error was soon realised but we had no choice but to continue until we came to a junction where we could make a U-Turn and when we did, it actually proved worthwhile, because we arrived adjacent to the ‘Europa’ bridge and had the opportunity of parking-up, in a viewing platform, enabling us to take a close look at this magnificent modern structure.
The ‘Europa’ Bridge
The bridge opened in 1964 and at the time was the tallest in Europe, standing an impressive height of 190 metres (623 feet) with a total span of 777 metres (2,549 feet) crossing the Wipp valley, above the river ‘Sill’. It has a single central span of 198 metres (650 feet) and is a most awesome piece of engineering, well worth a visit to see.
Turning back on the motorway, we soon arrived at the main junction and made the correct turn up the ‘Stubaital’ towards ‘Meiders’. But now, on only a rather narrow, winding dual road, uphill and in heavy snowfall, we just crawled carefully along, eventually arriving at our destination, a small bar/restaurant situated on the main street. It was beginning to get dark and prospects didn’t look that good.
Main street Meiders
Dick and two of the old ‘boys’ got out and went into the restaurant reappearing shortly afterwards accompanied by the owner and his elderly son. The rest of the group, joined them and they directed us to the rear of the building and showed us the proposed ‘Biergarten’ camping area, which was covered in about 2-3 feet of fresh soft snow, and the rear entrance to the main building where we could use, the heated, toilet and wash facilities.
As it was getting dark, snow still falling and we had no means of illuminating the area for snow-shovelling and pitching tents on firm ground, Dick made the decision to head into Innsbruck for the night and return around early afternoon the following day, as according to the restaurant owner the weather was predicted to be good then.
All agreed and off we set down the valley to Innsbruck and Dick’s choice for a possible nights’ stay, the Y.M.C.A.
As our trusty navigators did not possess a map of Innsbruck, we just followed the signs for the centre and on approach Dick ordered an urgent halt at a police station, went in and returned clutching a map and directions for the Y.M.C.A. which by shear chance was only ½ mile or so directly down the road.
Y.M.C.A. – Innsbruck
On arrival at the Y.M.C.A., which was a large multi-storey building with an underground carpark, Dick collected our passports and told us to follow him into the reception area with our rucksacks and this we did.
Dick up-fronted and addressed the receptionist, who turned-out to be the manager, saying loudly, “Mr. Bell’s eight-man party from the Meadow Boy’s Club Nottingham, England, we’ve already booked here for tonight and Thursday 26th”, as he placed our passports on the counter along with his Nottingham Y.M.C.A. membership card.
“Just a moment Sir, I’ll check my records”, replied the manager who spoke perfect English and after turning a few pages of the diary log on his desk, added, “Sorry Sir, I cannot find your booking, doesn’t appear to be one under your name”.
“Well”, Dick said, “I definitely posted the booking to you weeks ago from England”, he then produced the map and written address that the police had given to him less than an hour earlier and added, “This is the correct address that I sent the letter and booking to, isn’t it?”.
The manger looked at it and said, “Yes, perfectly correct, must be held up in the Christmas post for some reason”, he then went on to explain that the bedded dormitories in the hostel were all full over the Christmas period until the morning of the 27th, but for a reduced fee he could let us bed down on floor-matts for the night tonight in the storeroom next to the gymnasium.
A full dinner could not be provided, but soup, bread, cheese and sliced meats would be available as well as the usual continental breakfast in the morning. Staying on the 27th (Boxing Day) would not be a problem as beds would definitely be available then, but probably in different dormitories if we didn’t mind?
Dick accepted his kind offer, thanked him, signed a few forms and settled the bill for both nights stay and with that done, we were shown up to the second floor and our room for the night which turned out to be opposite excellent toilet/wash and showers facilities, it could not have been better.
We had a hearty supper, game of football in the gymnasium with a group of other guests at the hostel, showered and then bedded down with our sleeping bags on the matts for a good nights’ sleep in warmth. Which was pure luxury for the ‘Meadow Boys’ in contrast to the usual draughty, unheated, hard wood floored, stone barn club HQ in Baslow that they were far more used to on their weekends in Derbyshire.
‘Hafelekarspitze’ – Innsbruck – Day 4 [Monday]
After an early breakfast, we all assembled at the minibus for what we thought would be a journey to ‘Meiders’ to set-up camp, because the weather, as predicted, was looking very good with blue skies and broken small white clouds but still bitterly cold.
Dick however had other ideas, for the morning at least, and proposed a short drive across Innsbruck to a funicular railway, which would take us up to a station, then change and make two short cable car trips finally arriving just short of the summit of Hafelkarspitze’ at a point from where we could then walk to the summit on prepared paths to a height of 2,334 meters (7,657 feet).
A trip, that the manager of the Y.M.C.A. had alerted Dick to and given him a reduced-price party pass, so, with very enthusiastic agreement from all, we set off without hesitation. It was a short drive across Innsbruck to the funicular railway station. Dick got the tickets and we boarded the train along with lots of well-equipped skiers of all ages.
The train departed and it wasn’t long before we arrived on the ‘Hungerburg Plateau’ where we alighted and crossed to the, first, cable car Gondola which took us up to a large building at ‘Seegrube’ that housed a restaurant. From here, another quick change to the second, smaller, cable car Cabin which lifted us up to the ‘Hafelekarspitze’ station and on the way-up, the views below of Innsbruck and adjacent valleys, and views across and above to snow covered mountains were stunning.
Innsbruck from the Hafelekar cable car
Stepping out of the terminal building onto the blinding snow glare, your breath was instantly taken away by the combination of the altitude thin air and freezing cold temperature, skiers were everywhere to be seen, pitching off and making their rapid descent down the mountainside on various well prepared pistes to the valley far below.
To one side was the path up to the very summit and off we went, at a pace, in keen competition to see who could get there first, and it wasn’t long before we were all standing at the very peak, in fact, we were the only people there.
All unanimously agreed, that the trip up was well worth it, because for 360 degrees, all that one could see was snow covered peaks stretching into the distant mountain scape of Austria, Italy and possibly Germany and Switzerland.
Summit of Hafelekar
Some of the ‘Boys’ on summit of Hafelekar
Adjacent peaks from summit of Hafelekar
Dick Bell on summit of Hafelekar
The bitter cold wind whipping-up over the crest of the mountain, from the valley deep below, was just about bearable despite all the layers of warm clothing that we were wearing. This made my thoughts go back to the slide talks that I had attended at the meadow boys club given by the likes of Doug Scott and Don Whillans on their experiences in the Alps, Himalayas and South America but in far, far, worse weather conditions than this and yet they still managed to achieve some of the greatest mountaineering conquests.
A few photos were taken for the clubs’ album, then we beat a hasty retreat down the mountain, via the cable cars and train, to the minibus and finally set off to ‘Mieders’ where on arrival, early afternoon, we were greeted once again by the restaurant owner who provided us with a variety of shovels and snow-pushers.
Camping – Days 4-6 [Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday]
Fortunately, the snow covering the ‘Biergarten’ was still soft so clearance down to grass did not prove difficult, but booting the metal pegs into frozen ground, to a sufficient depth, was and had to be done with great care in order to avoid ‘bending’ them out of use.
Dick Bell and ‘Boys’ setting up camp in the Biergarten
Ray and Brian (Meadow Boys) setting up camp in the Biergarten
I had brought along my own very trusty ‘Blacks’ mountain tent and Dick provided some very sturdy ‘Blacks’ all-weather tents, all two-man and it wasn’t long, with a joint team effort, before these were all erected.
Single, inflatable rubber ‘LiLo’ beds, which were heavy and bulky when deflated but very popular with campers at the time, were installed in the tents. Then thick army type blankets, issued by Dick, were placed on top and these provided a bit of a welcome insulation barrier between sleeping bag, air bed and frozen ground beneath the tents groundsheet and I certainly could not have done without mine.
The Biergarten campsite
The Biergarten campsite
Dick and two of the ‘boys’ set-up a large free standing calor gas ring-burner and then produced a large tall aluminium pan into which was tipped various cans of potatoes, vegetables, meat, gravy powder, salt and pepper to make a healthy hot stew for dinner.
The stew, was unwittingly flavoured further, with rather a lot of oil from an ice axe, which being the tallest thing that could be found to reach the bottom of the pan, was used to stir the contents from time-to-time as it slowly came to the boil, a task that we all took in turns to do.
It was growing dark and lighting did prove a bit of a problem because we had only a couple of small ‘Camping-Gaz’ lamps for the cooking area, mainly we relied on small individual battery torches which had to be used sparingly to make batteries last as long as possible. After stew and bread, which was very good I recall, we all turned in for an early night just as it began to snow.
Xmas Eve – Day-5 [Tuesday]
There had been a substantial, foot or so, fall of snow during the night, it was a bitterly cold morning with grey skies and it took a lot of effort to get out of the comfort of a warm sleeping bag put on a pair of freezing leather boots and leave the tent, but needs must, especially those of a toilet nature.
A hot drink was brewed on the stove, followed by soup for breakfast, which was warming and welcome after clearing snow from on and around the tents.
Dick Bell clearing early morning snow
Dick Bell clearing early morning snow
Dick said that he had arranged an early evening meal in the restaurant for today and something for tomorrow lunchtime, despite it being officially closed for the Christmas two-day break; and to occupy ourselves today, we would take the minibus further up the ‘Stubaital’ to the neighbouring village of ‘Telfes’ about 4 miles away and do a bit of exploring.
‘Telfes’ is a typical Austrian picturesque village with lots of mural painted buildings, but for climbers and mountaineers, it is far more famous for its’ blacksmiths’ iron forges which have been there for many years and where the renowned ‘Stubai’ brand of pitons, karabiners, ice axes and hammers were originally made and I understand still are today (2021), but in modern facilities on the outskirts of the village.
Original Stubai Forge Telfes
The Builders House Telfes
We returned to the campsite in time for a ‘spruce-up’ and then into the restaurant where the owner his wife and eldest son greeted us and laid on a very nice meal of potatoes, smoked pork steaks and vegetables followed by a special Austrian Christmas cake served with a glass of warm ‘mulled’ wine.
During our meal something special happened, the son came and sat down at a table to the left of the bar and began to play, very skilfully, a ‘Zither’ with a medley of tunes, including a firm favourite which most of us knew well, the theme from the film ‘The Third Man’ and this brought much appreciation and applause.
The owner told us, that after dinner, the family would be going to church in the village for the traditional Christmas Eve service and that we would all be very welcome to join them if we would like to, and that certainly seemed a good idea at the time because as some of the ‘boys’ pointed out, it would be another heated building to spend a few hours in before bed.
It was snowing lightly and dark when we set off for the church, which was situated at the far end of the main street and partially illuminated along the way by flaming torches mounted on wooden posts which gave the appearance of very large candles.
To one side of the church was a large wooden chalet style house and on the upstairs front balcony stood a brass band, the members of which were all dressed in traditional alpine costume with green ‘Loden’ jackets and plumed felt hats, they looked splendid and were playing ‘Silent Night’, which was very apt and gave much sense to the occasion.
The church, although big, was packed and we had to stand at the very back, the restaurant owner and family had seats at the front, we were welcomed by an official and given Order of Service sheets written in Austrian/German, as were all the carols, but as Dick quickly pointed out, the village congregation can sing in their own language and our little ‘Medders’ choir can all ‘Humm’ along in English.
The large heavy wooden entrance doors to the church were closed and the service began. After about twenty minutes of standing there, one thing became very startlingly obvious, the church was not heated as we had all thought, in fact it was freezing cold which, from the tiled floor, began to uncomfortably penetrate the very soles of our boots, like frozen driven-nails.
According to Dicks’ observations, the only thing that was giving off a decent amount of heat in the place was the light bulbs, lit Christmas candles and the incense burner at the front. But, despite this, we all very graciously stuck it out to the end and I found the actual service an enjoyable experience. However, we were all glad to eventually get back to the tents and into our down sleeping bags to warm-up.
Xmas Day – Day 6 [Wednesday]
Today proved to be the most uneventful day of the entire trip. We woke to find that over 1 foot of snow had fallen in the night, so immediate clearing was necessary, then a hot brew and soup time.
As the roads appeared pretty bad, not yet cleared and gritted, our driver thought best not to take the minibus anywhere, so we just went for a stroll around the village environs and said our cheerful happy Christmas’s to all the villagers that we met on the way who seemed to enjoy our presence in their midst.
Some of the 'Boys' enjoying a walk around Meider
At lunchtime, as scheduled, we went into the restaurant and had a light meal of eggs, bacon and German style sausages with bread, afterwards another walk to the other end of the village, just to kill time and through exercise keep warm.
Evening dinner was another dose of Dicks’ stew which he declared would be our final one on the trip, as he tipped the last well-dented tin of corned beef into the pot, during which time, he confessed that he had been collecting the damaged, and considered out-of-date, tins for some weeks prior to our trip from his friendly corner-shop keeper down the ‘Medders’ close to where he lived. Adding, “Nothing wrong with it at all, all you’ve just got to make sure of is that it’s all boiled for a good long time before eating it”.
‘Nuff’ said about that, I thought, but have to admit that it was palatable and didn’t cause problems with ones’ internal plumbing system later on. Afterwards we went into the bar of the restaurant and had a few drinks before retiring to the tents for our final nights camping in the wintery ‘Biergarten’.
Boxing Day – Day 7 [Thursday]
Thankfully, there was no snow in the night, but the morning grey skies looked threatening. Up early to a light breakfast in the restaurant then taking down the tents, tidying-up the area and packing the minibus.
We then met up with the restaurant owner and his wife to settle the bill and thank them for all their kind hospitality which we all appreciated very much. Just before leaving, he asked us to accompany him to his garage/store where he said we might find something of interest. He revealed a bit of an Aladinn’s Cave of presumably items, that over the years, had been left by customers in and around his establishment and were never claimed.
There was summer and winter clothing on racks, Ski’s, boots, gloves, hats, sunglasses, bags, and about six wooden boxes with all sorts of things including some climbing and mountaineering gear, old crampons etc., sledges and walking sticks. Nothing was priced and the owner just asked for reasonable offers.
We rummaged through the boxes and Dick pulled out a handful of linked ‘Stubai’ screw-gate karabiners and a load of pitons on a rope loop, which he offered 20 marks for and got the lot for the club. I found an old well-used ‘Stubai’ piton hammer (which I still have), and paid 5 marks for and considered it a real bargain as well as a nice practical Austrian souvenir to take back to England.
Dick also bought a couple of very nice quality zip-up ski-type jackets for knock-down prices and most of the other ‘Boys’ also bought items, mainly gloves and hats.
The Piton Hammer bought second-hand in 1968 from the Aladinn’s cave, now over 53 years old, useable and still all original condition including the leather hand-strap.
The Famous ‘Stubai’ Forge stamp
‘Austria’ stamp on opposing side
The owner seemed delighted with his impromptu profitable rumage sale and with that we climbed into the minibus and set off back to Innsbruck and the Y.M.C.A. for our final nights’ stay in Austria.
The journey down however was not without incident because whilst negotiating a particular steep sharp bend, a ‘Frenchman’ coming-up on the other side of the road, in a Citroen CV, slew across sideways, on the icy conditions, and scrapped the length of the minibus removing the front passenger door-handle as he went. We stopped and both the drivers, plus Dick, got out and there was much hand waving and shouting before calm was restored and an exchange of paperwork took place, thankfully no-one was injured and we got on the move again towards Innsbruck.
It was mid-afternoon when we reached the Y.M.C.A., put the minibus into the underground car park where it was thoroughly inspected and the battered front door made good as best possible, main damage was the paintwork down the side which looked much worse than it really was. We then unpacked the tents and these were hung in a large caged area to dry overnight along with some other personal items.
Dick and the driver went into the reception area, to check the party in, and carried with them the army blankets that we had used for camping and it transpired that these had been on loan from the Y.M.C.A. manager who thought that we might make good use of them in the cold outdoor conditions.
We were then told which allocated dormitory and bed we would be occupying for the night and made off to quickly unpack our kit then re-convene for a final trip into Innsbruck for a bit of last-minute shopping and an evening meal, which for some reason, we had not booked at the Y.M.C.A. as thought.
In view of this oversight, the manager gave Dick information for a place that he thought we might find interesting to visit in the evening for a couple of hours and whilst there also get some food, an outdoor ice-rink.
First, we drove to the outskirts of the old town and split up for the quick shopping excursion as planned, then met again later at a pre-determined time each carrying bags of their ‘Goodies’.
Traditional bone hand-carved Edelweiss badge and metal Edelweiss badge bought on shopping trip to Old Town, Innsbruck in 1968
I think it was about 6:00 in the evening when we arrived at the Ice Rink and went straight to the restaurant and had fresh made ‘Pizzas’ with bottles of coke and warm donuts, which seemed a real treat. Dick left the table and room for a short while and returned with a handful of disc tokens and locker keys which he handed out to us, one of each.
“We are all going skating for an hour”, he said, adding, “who can skate?”
Well, the response was a total blank and with shaking of heads it was clear that not one of us had any skating ability whatsoever. “Then”, Dick said, “you will just have to learn or make it up as you go along”, and with that we made off for the skate issue counter and locker room.
The outdoor illuminated rink was Olympic sized and there were a lot of people on the ice all conforming to the strict rule of circulating in one direction only to avoid nasty collisions. There were speed skaters with long-bladed skates ‘whizzing’ past with ease around the perimeter, ice dancers ‘pirouetting’ in the middle, elderly couples elegantly gliding along arm in arm and young lads pursuing one another at speed in some sort of game of ‘tag’.
Then out stepped our group onto the ice, stumbling and falling about like a load of drunks who had just left the pub on a good Saturday night out which conjured up graphic visions of past experiences in Baslow and Castleton.
However, after much effort, we finally began to find our feet and with very gentle pushes with one foot and other pointing forward, we did manage to propel ourselves ahead, so at least progress was being made, more so when one could hold on to a companion for steadiness and the more companions, the better that stability proved. Thus, adopting this novel technique, we ended up in one big slow moving ‘Huddle’, with legs and arms going in all directions at times when one of the ‘mob’ momentarily lost their balance and yelled out obscenely for help.
It was in one of these mega ‘melees’ that I was pulled down onto the ice by a couple of fallers and as a result ended up with a split-lip and left swollen eye causing a necessary hasty retreat to the safety of the main building and a cold compress (woolly hat under a tap).
Majority of the group however doggedly continued on until they had completed a whole circuit of the rink before they joined me and more importantly before their one-hour skate hire ran out and got charged more. Wet, dishevelled and well bruised from our ‘Olympic’ skating experience, we returned late evening to the Y.M.C.A. where the manager who was still on duty, greeted us with, “I see you all had a very interesting time on our famous ice rink, thought you would!”.
With that, we went to our dormitories, showered and turned in for a well- earned good nights’ sleep on warm cosy beds, and me, nursing a black eye.
Innsbruck to Wurzburg Germany - Day 8 [Friday]
It was a very early and busy start to the day with a quick continental breakfast then repacking the tents and kit into the minibus before saying our goodbyes and many thanks to the Y.M.C.A. manager who had been most kind and helpful in making our two-night stay there most pleasurable.
On leaving the outskirts of Innsbruck, Dick agreed, with the driver, a north route back through Germany which would be on major motorways and the target for mid-afternoon was to reach the town of Wurzburg where he said he had arranged for us to stay overnight in an orphanage.
Don Bosco Orphanage – Wurzburg
During the long journey up to Wurzburg, Dick told us that the club had stayed at the orphanage overnight before during previous Christmas trips to Austria.
This was done through a contact he made when, one day out on one of the gritstone edges in Derbyshire, he met some German priests who were out walking and got into conversation with them, apparently, they came from Wurzburg but were staying for a while in a religious retreat near Matlock on a study break. Dick mentioned the club Christmas trips to Austria and asked if Wurzburg would be an interesting place to visit.
They said it was, and added, why not call in on the way through to Austria and stay the night, because there would be plenty of room as all the children would be away having been fostered out for the festive period.
Dick, ever the opportunist, exchanged address details and that is how the club contact with Don Bosco’s came about.
We arrived there, as scheduled, in the afternoon after a very uncomfortable journey in a cold vehicle, the gas which fuelled Dick’s fire ran out early on and the damaged front door leaked cold-air like a sieve, so it was good to get out and into, hopefully, somewhere warm. The orphanage was an enormous austere looking building with two tall towers and an impressive large wooden double door entrance gate.
Dick rang the bell and a priest in a black cassock came out and greeted us and said that they had been anticipating our arrival, he then took us into the inner quadrangle and up to a first-floor dormitory of a side building where we would be staying for the night and had a dedicated modern washroom facility.
We began to unpack our sleeping bags and whilst doing this a few more priests arrived one of which was Dick’s original contact, they chatted and he gave Dick a large key to the front gate and then said that we could find an evening meal close by just down the hill towards centre of town. Lights out would be at 10:30 prompt and in the morning, they would provide a simple light breakfast before we departed, which should be no later than 8:30. There was no charge for staying the night but donations would be gratefully appreciated, and with that final message they left.
Before we set off for the town and dinner, Dick went around and made a collection for the mornings’ donation to ensure that he had the money in hand just in case we spent all of our marks on the last night out in Germany.
At the end of the dormitory, situated on the outside wall, presumably facing the town below, was a large clock which struck the hour and took some getting used to and it was striking ‘6’ just as we set off for town. It was raining quite heavily when we began to walk down the hill and as a consequence, instead of searching any further, we decided to just head into the first bar that we came across which was serving food and we didn’t have to look for long.
After sitting down at tables, Dick proposed a ‘Kitty’ for food and drinks and when that ran out we would go back to the orphanage, but well before 10:00, this done, he then went to the bar and ordered beers and plates of house food, at a bulk purchase rate, which turned out to be ‘sauerkraut’ potatoes, smoked pork, German style sausage and hunks of fresh bread. The ‘sauerkraut’ (pickled cabbage) was certainly different, but everyone being very hungry nothing was left and as Dick, rightly or wrongly, said, “Eat up, It’ll make Germans of you!”.
After a few beers the money ran out and so did we, into the rain and back to our beds at about 9:30, so well before the curfew time set by the priest.
After ablutions, we lay on our beds and talked, then just as the oversize gong on the large clock began to strike ‘10’ Dick, for some reason, decided that he was going to theatrically entertain us and suddenly appeared from nowhere in the middle of the floor of the dormitory, between the two rows of beds.
His hair combed forward over his face, wearing only a long black ‘t’ shirt (over his pants), a cushion stuffed up his back, bare-footed and with his pure white spindlelegs on show, he certainly captivated our attention to the full. He then adopted a stooped posture and began swinging his arms to-and-fro whilst grunting and mumbling in an incoherent fashion mimicking ‘Quasimodo,’ the fabled Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“Esmeralda, Esmeralda”, he cried, as he balletically gyrated about the floor, then with great agility he suddenly rose into the air and proceeded to bounce from bed to bed, terrifying the occupant therein and causing near hysteria amongst the masses.
With one final enormous leap he landed back onto the floor, in front of, and with his hunchback to, the entrance door just as it opened and in stepped one of the priests who did not seem at all phased by the strange apparition before him.
“Ah”, said the priest, “I see you must be telling them Victor Hugo’s story of that poor sole the hunchback man, please continue, I would like to listen”.
We all looked on in stunned total silence and waited patiently for Dick’s response with eager anticipation of what he would come up with and we didn’t have to wait long. Dick, stood bolt upright, threw both arms into the air above his head and pointed to the ceiling, then brought them both down, stooping as he went, and pointed at the floor, whilst saying, “And he fell from the great bell in the tower down onto the floor of the church and that was the end of the hunchback”, he then did several bows to the audience and a final one to the priest.
This received a great round of applause from the group, the priest nodded his approval stepped outside the door and all the lights went out leaving poor Dick, stranded in his bizarre costume, plunged into total darkness.
Silence prevailed for a short time and then you could hear Dick creeping about trying to locate his bed, but not before there was a very loud ‘Crump’ as one of his feet violently connected with an iron bed leg thus stubbing all his toes; and in excruciating pain and much distress, caused him to crash to the floor and whilst so doing, very vociferously, let-out a flurry of unrepeatable expletives.
It was an absolutely hilarious and unmissable performance and it was with much amusement that we all eventually dozed off to sleep.
Wurzburg – Germany to The Hook of Holland – Day 9 [Saturday]
As we packed and tidied the dormitory early morning a priest arrived and escorted us down to a main dining hall where, on a long table, his fellow priests, some ten in number were sitting. They all stood and greeted us and invited us to join them, grace was said and we then breakfasted on bread, jam or honey, with warm milk.
After finishing eating Dick stood, gingerly, still in pain from kicking the bed, thanked them for their kind hospitality and presented them with our donation. Some of the priests accompanied us to the main gate, where our minibus was waiting, and there was much handshaking as we said our goodbyes to them, boarded and departed from Wurzburg in the direction of Frankfurt.
It was a long journey and the only notable event, I recall, was that after about one hour on the road the voluminous amount of ‘sauerkraut,’ that was consumed by the group at the previous nights’ dinner, began to take its revenge when everyone began involuntary passing large amounts of noxious gas at quite a rate turning the restricted atmosphere in the minibus into that of a fetid cattle-truck.
As a result, on at least three occasions we had to make urgent stops at roadside café facilities until, eventually, the cabbage problem was eradicated and as Dick so graphically put it, “Dumped in Kraut-Land where it belongs”.
We journeyed on bi-passing Frankfurt and Cologne, on through Holland and eventual reached the port at The Hook of Holland mid-evening where we waited a few hours before boarding the late-night ferry for Harwich.
The ferry sailed, the driver retired back to the minibus for a sleep and the remainder of us settled down in an empty lounge area close to the bar where there was a large illuminated Christmas tree and a display on holidaying in Holland, put on by the Dutch tourist board, in front of which was a table of artefacts including a large pair of hand painted wooden clogs.
After a few glasses of beer and feeling ‘dog-tired’ from the road journey we all dozed off and woke some hours later to the tannoy announcement telling us that we were about arrive at Harwich and should therefore return to our vehicles.
Harwich to Nottingham – Day 10 [Sunday]
We disembarked, went through both passport and customs control areas without problem, took to the road and started our final road trip to our home city of Nottingham. On the way, I asked Dick how his foot was, and he said it would be alright in time especially as now he had a special protector for it, then from the top of his shoulder bag he produced a large single hand-painted clog.
We arrived back at the Meadow Boys Club mid-afternoon and unloaded all the kit from the minibus into the building, Dick locked-up and we all said our goodbyes and I headed off down the street to catch a number 47 bus back to St. Ann’s.
On the way, the bus momentarily stopped in the city centre opposite a travel agents shop and in the window, pride of place, was a large sales sign advertising an ‘All Inclusive 14 Day Winter Break – Overland Coach Trip to Austria - £80 All Inclusive’; and I thought, if that all-inclusive trip, actually included some of the places that I had just stayed at, eaten in and visited ?, if so, What Fun!
In the evening I walked over to the Co-oP Folk Club on Heathcote Street, there were one or two members of the Nott’s Climbers there and round the pub during the break, one of them asked me where I had been over Christmas period, “to Austria”, I said, “with the ‘Medder Boys'”, to which he replied, “Bloody long way to go for a Black Eye”.
The wedding of one of the Meadow Boys Climbing Club members in Nottingham. The author, Bari (Mick) Logan 4th in on the left hand row.
Richard ‘Dick’ Bell died in August 2009 at the age of 74 years.
I am sure that there are many people who will remember him, as I do, for the friendly, likeable and very colourful character that he was.
And most importantly, for his many years of total dedication to the Meadow Boys Club not only in promoting the sport of Rock Climbing in Derbyshire but also for the numerous successful trips abroad that he organised which granted many inner-city teenagers the Golden Opportunity to gain an enjoyment for the great outdoors and exploring the World.
Bari (Mick) Logan,
5th January 2021
Bari (Mick) Logan age 71 years on the heights again in Austria,
September 2018, on Diedamskopf – 2,060 metres, above
Schoppernau, Breganzerwald, 53 years after the ‘Meadow Boys’ Jaunt’.