Having told you all about my journey to Baden Baden yesterday, you may expect me to use today’s blog post to tell you what I did when I was here…but on the whole I cant! I was in the city to appear on a TV programme, but until it is aired I cant tell you anything about it, so the main excitement of the stay is something that I must leave undescribed for a few months. So here is the redacted version of my Thursday:
It was a beautiful morning and the Baden-Baden birdlife was in lusty voice outside my window as I woke. I made myself a coffee from the Nespresso machine. Unfortunately there was no guide as to what the various differently-coloured pods contained, and my knowledge of the Nespresso brand is not strong enough, so I took pot luck as to whether I was getting off to a caffeinated or non-caffeinated start. Whichever it was, it tasted good.
Breakfast was served in the first floor restaurant and was one of those glorious European buffets to which the British label ‘Continental Breakfast’ does no justice: cold meats, cheeses, salmon, breads in all shapes and hues, multiple mueslis, yoghurts, juices, pastries, preserves, a delicious looking honeycomb and lots more had me salivating.
As I perused the fare on offer a gentleman sat at a nearby table flashed me a smile of recognition and I smiled back without having any knowledge of who he was. I sat at my table and thoroughly relished the feast, returning for a couple of mini croissants upon which I spread the honey, before pushing my plate away and sitting back to finish my coffee. The sense of relaxation compared to 24 hours before was glorious.
I couldn’t relax for too long however for I had an appointment in one of the hotel suites with a Covid test which all participants in the TV show had to take before being allowed to travel to the studios. I presented myself at 9.30 and having been swabbed very briefly up one nostril I departed again with an assurance that if I didn’t hear anything it would be OK, and if I did, well then it wouldn’t. I am one of those lucky people who has yet to catch Covid in any form and I sincerely hoped that today would not be the day that the second red line appeared.
I returned to my room and changed into the tourist’s uniform of shorts and t shirt, ready for a morning walk. I had a little administrative work to do before I could explore, so I sat on my little balcony overlooking a courtyard and placed my laptop on my lap and started tapping away. After a few minutes the next door balcony door opened and the gentleman who had smiled in such a friendly way at breakfast appeared, still smiling. ‘I would like to introduce myself, I am Andreas and am interpreting for you today’ As I speak no German other than ‘guten tag’, ‘danke’ and ‘ein bier bitte’, and the show was for the German market Andreas would be in my ear throughout the recording, feeding me the questions and relating my answers to the studio.
My next commitment was in an hour and a half’s time, so having finished my work and my chat, I left the hotel and followed my nose. Liz and I had visited Baden-Baden together some years before so the streets around the centre were familiar: it is an affluent town with expensive shops (I had commentated the night before of some of the architecture being similar to that in Monaco and I saw nothing to disabuse me of that). There are fountains and churches and of course the huge spa to which wealthy Europeans flocked and to which now wealthy Russians (so Andreas told me later) flock. From the town centre I found myself in a park with paths winding up hills, I climbed some wooden steps which took me ever higher, and I eventually found myself on a terrace with amazing views across the town and to the hills beyond.
The air was clear and fresh, and little by little the travails of the previous day drifted into the sky and away. By now it was time to return to the hotel and the navigation was easy – head downhill.
My next official duty was to meet the presenter of the programme, just to run through what was going to happen, and Andreas joined me so that we could practise the interpretation technique. Julia, the host, spoke to me in German (even though her English is superb), and Andreas sat at my side keeping up a constant dialogue in my ear, so that by the time she finished a question there was not a huge gap whilst he translated. The biggest thing I had to achieve was to maintain an interested eye contact with her, as if I were hanging on her every word, rather than gazing off into the distance as I concentrated on the words coming to me.
The prep meeting soon finished and it was time for lunch. There were a few other guests for the TV show staying in the hotel and we had a jolly time getting to know each other. One of the others asked Andreas about the interpretation industry and whether voice recognition algorithms were taking over, and the reply made so much sense, that I wonder at my never having realised the fact before: Andreas pointed out that whilst technology was making his work more scarce, a computer can never take a speaker’s words and make a decision as to their meaning and context, and then use suitable words to translate them. In other words, it can’t interpret as a human can. To me the word ‘interpreter’ has just been another way of saying ‘translator’ but it means so much more.
After lunch it was time to take a short drive to the TV studios for a technical walk through. On my notes it was mentioned that if I had any clothes that needed attention I could take them with me, so I put the trousers, shirt and jacket that I was planning to wear for the recording onto a hanger and set off to the TV studio. It never fails to amaze me how many people are involved in making a show, from runners, to floor managers, to directors. to cameramen, and countless others whose jobs are unknown but who obviously have a vital role in creating a successful programme.
We ran through what I was to do and Andreas disappeared into his soundproofed booth from where he would talk to me via a tiny earpiece. The floor manager held a brief conversation with me in German to check that the system was working well and sure enough I could hear the words clearly. When we had finished out brief rehearsal Andreas mentioned that he was going to walk back to the hotel, rather than take the minibus, and I said that it would be nice to join him. As we walked Andreas told me that he had been watching lots of YouTube clips of my shows as preparation for the day, which is why he had recognised me so quickly at breakfast.
Back at the hotel I took the opportunity of a rest, so watched a film on my laptop before drifting into a nap. I woke in time to shower and freshen up once more before meeting up with Andreas once more and taking the minibus back to the studio for the actual recording. When we arrived I was shown to a dressing room where my clothes hung beautifully pressed. I changed and then was called to hair and make up, where liberal amounts of foundation were applied to dull the glare from the studio lights. Even my hair and beard were gently primped.
I returned to my dressing room until I was fetched and was taken into the studio where I was to record an episode of……..
And there the story is paused! Until it has screened in Germany I can say nothing more, but I will talk all about the actual programme in a later blog post.
When the filming was finished I was taken back to the hotel where there was a dinner laid on for everyone who had been involved in the day’s events, which was fun. As the evening came to a close I said goodbye and thanks to Andreas whose professionalism and expertise had made the day so much easier than it could have been, and then I returned to my room, for I had quite an early start the next morning.
My car to Frankfurt was due to meet me at 8.15, so I just had time to get to the restaurant and raid the buffet table again before I had to finish packing and get to the lobby. The day was fine and it was nice to watch the scenery flash by (my journey to Baden-Baden had of course been in darkness), and about half way to Frankfurt I saw a sign to Hockenheim, which is where the German Grand Prix used to be held. It is also the track where one of the greatest drivers of all time, Jim Clark, crashed fatally in 1968. As we sped by at 100 mph I looked over towards the dense forests which claimed him. And as we drove on another motorsport story came to me, for I realised that we were on the Autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt and it was on this very road that the great Mercedes and Auto Union teams of the 1930s made attempts on speed records – battling each other for supremacy and at the same time showing the technological might of the Third Reich to the watching world. It was here, in January 1938, That the young racing star Bernd Rosemeyer set out to try and set a new record in his silver streamlined Auto Union, but a gust of wind unsettled the car at around 280 miles per hour and the resulting crash took his life also. I had never realised that these two seminal and tragic events in the history of the sport I love so much had occurred so close to each other.
Fortunately our drive was perfectly smooth and safe, and in no time I was at Frankfurt airport where, I am glad to report, there were no delays. My flight home left on time and I enjoyed absolutely clear views as we flew over Bonn, Eindhoven, the Dutch coast and then back to England arriving over Clacton pier. It was a strange thought that as we skirted London to the North, the Queen’s 70th Jubilee celebrations were taking place in the city, and soon in that very same sky a huge flypast of 70 aircraft would be forming up to make their way over the Mall and Buckingham Palace where, hopefully, the Queen would be on the balcony watching.
Appropriately we made our final approach right over Windsor Castle and soon after touched down at Heathrow.
Another chapter of my adventures had come to an end