The Young Conservatives, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and me

What follows is our second extract from Dave’s work in progress, currently entitled From Solipsism to Socialism – Portrait of a Political Animal. It traces Dave’s personal, social and political development from the 1970s to the turn of the millennium, trying to discover what may lie behind the social and political ideas we choose to identify with. For Dave, there is a complexity of subjective factors underpinning our ideologies, and more often than not, they are in no way ‘political’…

The perfect antidote to an evening’s political entertainment at the Young Conservatives meeting was going home to my favourite television show of the moment, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – the story of a group of unemployed building workers who’d ‘got on their bikes’ to find work abroad. Dad was a fan of the show because it reminded him of his time in Germany, and because there was some swearing in it. When he picked Stephen and myself up from the meeting he was usually excited from having just watched it, and I was paranoid that he may not have recorded it.

“How was the ‘twits’ tonight?” Dad called my Young Conservative friends “the twits”.

“Yes, good. Did you remember to tape Auf Wiedersehen?”

“Of course I did, it is all set up for you when you get in.”

“Was it good?”

“Yes it was, Oz insulted the ‘erics’ and said ‘Bollocks man’.”

“Why was he insulting the ‘erics’? They’re not in Germany, they’re in Spain in this series.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right, but he still said ‘Bollocks man’. I love the Geordie accent, don’t you? We’re gannin’ doon the toon like. Why do they always say like? We had some Geordies in the army you know, canny lads like.”

And all the way home with Dad continually muttering to himself, “We’re gannin’ like, we’re gannin’ yem – that means ‘we’re going home’.” “They call women Pet, so it translates to ‘Goodbye love or dear’. “I still remember some German.”

“Yes we know.”

Stephen’s nose flared sarcastically.

As soon as we got in, Dad loaded up the video, whilst Mum made me a sandwich. “Why don’t you watch it as well Mum?”

“Oh, I don’t understand their accents so I wouldn’t be able to follow it.”

“Oh, it’s easy,” interjected Dad, “if they say ‘gannin’ yem’ that means going home, and they’re fond of saying ‘bollocks man’, or ‘bollicks man’ a lot. Yes, that’s it ‘bollicks’ not ‘bollocks’. We ‘ad a lot of ‘em in the army y’knaa, y’knaa.”

“Well I won’t enjoy it if I can’t understand them, and they spend all their time swearing. Anyway, I have the wiping up to do, bring your plate out when you’ve finished the sandwich.”

Oh I loved this show, from the opening credits right through to the theme song at the end. Three Geordies from Newcastle, Barry from Birmingham, Bomber from Bristol, Moxy from Liverpool, and Wayne from London, living together in a wooden hut on a building site in Dusseldorf, Germany. All victims of the recent economic changes, yet these men continued to eke out a human existence in straitened circumstances forming strong bonds of friendship and solidarity as they went along. None of them wanted to leave their homes and families, but had nonetheless followed Norman Tebbit’s advice, and not only ‘got on their bikes’, but caught the ferry too. As ‘boring’ Barry from Birmingham, the group’s ‘intellectual’, put it, “I think Thatcherism is a misguided policy. That’s why I joined the SDP.” But even Oz, a big rough Geordie who was more likely to use his fists than his brain, was still human enough to care for his friends when it was needed. He hated the Germans with a passion, and considered himself a supporter of Arthur Scargill. His constant anti-German jibes often got him into the kind of trouble that only one’s friends can get you out of. Most of the group wanted to get along with the ‘erics’, as they referred to the Germans, and make the best of a bad situation, even educate themselves in aspects of German culture. But Oz rejected all of this, preferring to spend most of his spare time drinking and being socially obnoxious. As fellow Geordie and group ‘leader’ Denis put it, with words to the effect of, “I‘ve seen men like you before Oz, working abroad for the first time, getting all patriotic for the country that couldn’t employ you in the first place.”

And this last sentiment struck me as self-evident: if there was ‘work out there if you want it’, as Dad so often insisted, and unemployment was caused by laziness, why were these people abroad in the first place? Dad never questioned their need to be there, it was obvious – there was no work in England. One time, I was watching an episode with Dad and ‘uncle’ Paul was there. Oz was complaining about why all foreigners don’t speak English and Denis rebuked him with, “You would have made a good imperialist Oz”, to which Paul gave a nodding chuckle, but I had not understood the joke. I was now at the stage where pride prevented me asking Paul what an ‘imperialist’ was. Later, I looked it up in a dictionary and Denis’s comment became clearer. It was another political type word I could throw into conversations along with the distinction between monarchy and republicanism, and fiscal and monetary policy.

In one episode, the lads decided to paint the interior walls of their hut to make it as homely as possible. The problem was that they couldn’t decide upon which colour they wanted, until SDP member Barry suggested they use a form of proportional representation – the single transferable vote – to decide. The joke was that after an extraordinary labour on Barry’s part, to organise the election as democratically as possible, the colour which ‘won’, pink, was nobody’s actually first choice (aside from Barry’s). Such comedy only reinforced in me that the First-Past-the-Post system that we had in the UK was the only way to ensure effective government. This said, I fully appreciated that the likes of the SDP were discriminated against in this regard.

From my warm bedroom in southern suburbia, I would lay fantasising about the wooden hut from Auf Wiedersehen Pet and how warm and snug it could be. In my version, they had an inside toilet and a full kitchen. In the second series they slept in the stately home they were doing up, before going to Spain. The conditions in the stately home were not fantastic, but it was an improvement upon the wooden hut. For me, these men were living exciting lives, rather than being victims of the free market.

A wanderlust, on my part, was taking a nascent form.

But Oz’s inexplicable Germanophobia continued to grate upon the other characters as well as myself. I couldn’t make any sense of it – after all, Germany had given him work, but all he could think about was the fact that they had lost the war. Besides this, Germany was just about the only foreign country which Dad liked, so I had had no real exposé to anti-German feeling (with the notable exception of my Nan who didn’t really like anyone). But Oz himself didn’t really know either, and on one occasion when he was pushed, all he could come up with, after a few seconds of refection was, “The bastards bombed me granny”.

I found out that my Young Conservative friend Kevin enjoyed Auf Wiedersehen Pet and spent more time discussing this than actual politics. He was fascinated by the character of ‘Bomber’, played by professional wrestler Pat Roach. “He’s six foot five and weighs around 19 stone,” I told him.

“Is that all he is?”

“I thought he’d be more than that, he’s so big!”

“He’s a really good wrestler too,” I proffered.

“I bet he never gets beaten”, returned Kevin.

“No he doesn’t.” I was just relieved I didn’t have to defend pro wrestling from another potential detractor. The premature death of Gary Holton, who played the cockney carpenter, Wayne, provided another talking point. Kevin was almost crying into his beer. “I can’t see them continuing without him,” he said wistfully shaking his head. I thought that it was good that Kevin and I had something to bond over. I had tried him with monetarism, but that hadn’t worked.

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