1975. I was an immature 17 year-old grammar school boy on a German exchange trip to Koblenz.
Abba’s SOS invaded my hangover, as did Detlef’s older. wiser and smug brother. He’d predicted I would get horribly drunk exploring the local Rhein & Moselle vineyards. He was right.
Thanks to youthful mental absorption and maverick teacher Mr Clapham, I found German surprisingly easy to learn. Its structure and logic made sense. Mr Clapham’s recipe – repetition with a dash of fear and a large pinch of inspiration – was a perfect mixture.
My teenage adventure continued after saying Auf Wiedersehen to Detlef, his gloating brother and Abba. I jumped on a fast train heading south, hoping it would pass through Avignon where I would meet up with my family for a holiday on the French Riviera. C’est la vie, eh?
The Italian phrase È pericoloso sporgersi plastered all over the train has stuck indelibly in my mind all these years, much more than its German or French equivalents.
Ne pas se pencher au dehors.
It is dangerous to lean out.
Somehow the intoxicating Italian words flow more romantically, the syllables merging together like two lovers in a Napolitan doorway.
Fast forward and it’s sadly clear my sponge-like language ability has withered on the ageing vine. I’m trying to learn Italian but it’s not easy. Too many distractions. Not enough motivation. No Mr Clapham.
Perhaps I need to go on an Italian exchange trip, drink loads of Chianti and listen to some Europop?