WHO SAYS THE GERMANS don't have a sense of humour? Clearly Luigi Colani did when he designed the trophy for the European Beard and Moustache Championships. Imagine one of these on the mantelpiece when the Pope comes to tea. In fact, I am probably more likely to have the Pope round to tea than win a moustache competition actually, but I am getting ahead of myself already.
At 10am on Friday morning there was a banging on the door, accompanied by a mustached fool bellowing through the letterbox. Rodders (for it was he) was right on time, and having made sure I had a valid passport this time, we drove to Twickenham where we met up with Ted and bussed it to terminal five. We had just missed the bus we were intending to catch and took another (free) bus from Hatton Cross to T5, rather than the three quid tube, so we were slightly behind schedule and Guy Heathcote, The Despicable Parsons and Keri were there waiting for us when we arrived. The first thing I noticed was that Keri was on crutches. I am quite observant sometimes. Apparently she had had a mole removed from her foot. We walked (and hopped) through check in, immigration and customs, with plenty of time for a beer before boarding the plane, where Rodders had been upgraded. He completely missed out on the sparkling conversation on the flight over, but I suspect the gallon of free Champagne was some consolation.
We were met at the airport by a German whose name I never did catch, but we managed to work out the hotel was only five minutes from the airport, and he was going to ferry us there in two trips. Ted, Guy and I went in the first shuttle and were soon added to by John and Kate, Leo, the American member we first met in Seattle, and Dave Hill. Rodders, The Despicable Parsons and Hopalong Kezza arrived in the second shuttle at about the same time as Paul Lewis and Sarah Booker. Bo and Dan were there from Sweden, Jörg from Höffen and (and I was certainly not expecting this) Bruce "Whiskers" Roe. Apparently Whiskers had planned to arrive in secret with Greg, but unfortunately Greg had contracted smallpox or rickets or some such, and couldn't make it, which was a great shame. None the less it was an excellent turnout from The Handlebar Club, even without including those of mixed allegiances. A swift half in the bar and we were expected in a restaurant by seven. Jörg drove Hopalong Kezza and probably a few others but the bulk of us took the S-Bahn. Paul and Sarah, having arrived by train, had, in a remarkable (by my standards) display of organization and forward planning, worked out how to get there.
I started off with a carafe of red wine, having the previous weekend been on a wine-tasting course. I soon got bored with getting all "Oz Clarke" and "Jilly Goulden" and joined the riff-raff glugging the excellent German beer. I believe there were supposed to be some other events in the hall next to the restaurant but either they never happened or we were too drunk to notice. In fact things went downhill even faster when we returned to the hotel bar with Jon and Kate forcing everyone to quaff umpteen Sambucas along with the beer.
Next day was the competition proper. This took a fair old while as it always does, and possibly in part due to the previous night's excesses, The Handlebar Club gathered an impressive haul of last places. I myself blemished my unblemished record of last places with a spectacular second to last, I will have to try harder next time.
We were not allowed to smoke in the bar but were in some of the rooms, so I opened "Andy’s Bar" in Room 406 of the Holiday Inn, stocked with the prize beer and some Dutch "Scotch" that Dan had been given (presumably by Joss who was the only Dutchman there that I recall). Time was called at "Andy’s Bar" some time after two, because the windows didn't open, the air-con could not keep up, it was getting so smoky that you could not see your hand in front of your face, and some of the non- smokers were choking to death (wimps)
We did not have to fly out till about 4pm, so although I had been there before (when we went to Schömberg), a bunch of us went back to the Mercedes Museum. This time, however, Lewis Hamilton had just won the Formula One Drivers' Championship and had been at the museum the previous day, leaving his car there with the keys in.
We returned to the hotel to pick up our bags (as well as The Despicable Parsons and Hopalong Kezza). We had, surprisingly, not drunk all the prize beer and the metal kegs were too heavy to take on the plane, so we gave what was left to the Höffen and Hesel Clubs and got back on the plane. Ohh, I have just remembered something important. At the airport we ran into a couple of Brits that had competed in the musketeer beard class. (I had only been introduced to them the previous day but The DP remembers them from Brighton) called Frazer and Andy. It has always somewhat upset me that there is no beard club in England and I feel a bit sorry for the beardies as, although they are obviously more than welcome to join The Handlebar Club as friends, they have not what I would call the "spiritual home" that those of us with clean shaven chins have, and have no banner under which to compete in competitions and suchlike. Whilst neither of the musketeers were prepared to go it alone, they seem to also be of the opinion that a beard club would be a good thing, and these two would be a positive pair of assets to any such if anyone was toying with the idea of starting one. I would imagine that The Despicable Parsons or our illustrious bearded Webmaster, David Dade, would be able to put you in touch. That's about it really. We made it home in one piece, the plane didn't crash even once, and a good time was had by all. My thanks to the Belle Moustache Club for organising the event and I hope that Hopalong and Greg make speedy recoveries.