One of my friends on here mentioned on a blog a few days ago that my mate Paul must be a really good friend. Well, we've known each other for nearly fifty years so I suppose he's right.

About seven years ago I was feeling pretty down so Paul and I went out for a few lunchtime drinks. Filled with the euphoria of Guinness we reckoned it'd be a good idea to have a bit of a holiday. A few days away would do us both the world of good. A quick look at the local airports' website showed there were cheap return flights to Cologne. Brilliant. Neither of us knew anything about the place so that was bound to make it fun. That was our reasoning anyway. A couple of 'phone calls to Cologne and we'd found a hotel and directions of how to get there.

I rang my friend in Bavaria that night to tell her of our proposal and she fell about laughing. I asked her what was so funny. Between trying to catch her breath she spluttered "Don't you know Cologne's the gay capital of Germany?".


Paul and I gets off the train just as dusk was falling (the airport's about twenty minutes outside of town). Since I'd left the directions of how to get to the hotel at home on my desk we promptly got lost. I'd also left their 'phone number of the hotel at home too so we couldn't even ring them. Two hours of wandering through the gloom asking directions and we finally found the place. Paul wasn't too impressed with Cologne yet.....Believe me, I could tell.

Up we trundle to the desk, introduce ourselves to the blonde chick at reception and get our room key. Up in the creaky old lift and we find our room. Inside there's only one bed and it's a double bed. Without a word Paul and I go back down and I explain that we don't want a double bed. We want single beds. We get another door key and try again.

This time there's two beds but they're only inches apart. This is almost as bad. Imagine your hand flopping out of bed in the night and you touch another man. Or waking up with a bristly male face just a foot or so away. We tried to push the beds apart but they were remarkably difficult to move. Ah, they were screwed to the wall. We pushed them back and shoved the screws where they were supposed to be.

Back downstairs again. I tried to explain to blondie that we wanted single beds, preferably some distance apart. In fact a low wall between them wouldn't go amiss. By now she's getting flustered. Also, hungry Pauls' looking increasingly belligerent. She's having difficulty with my rather strong bavarian accent and I'm finding her rapid north german hard to follow. She calls some dark haired chick from the back room to translate.

"Look" I tells her "We're not (waves my arms about since I don't know the german word for gay). We just want separate beds.". I grab Pauls' left wrist and wave his arm in the air. "See, married.". I point to his wedding ring.

"Oh, you're married." she says "How wonderful for both of you."

I had difficulty catching my breath and probably made owl eyes at her. "We're not married to each other. What's the matter with you you docile bint?.........Merde.".

Apparently that was the magic word as she spoke french Between us Paul and I got the idea across to her. We get another key. This one's on the top floor and it's 'no smoking'. By then we didn't care. We just wanted to dump our bags and go out. Three beds. No matter, we're only being charged for two.

Then there's a few days of what passes for a holiday with Paul and myself. Shopping and exploring during the day. Paul got lots of chocolate for his mum and I wandered the clothes shops picking up bits and bobs for my girls. We explored and took photographs. Sent postcards.

Nightimes we'd hit the beerkellers. Usually just one drink in each and then we'd go on to the next one. Polystyrene cups of hot mulled wine in hand we explored the alstadt (old town. All narrow cobbled streets and the wonderful smell of german food). Girls in dirndls bringing the drinks and food. There were oompah bands. And none of that 'no smoking' nonsense. Ears ringing we'd wander off to another place until even german watering holes were closing.

I don't sleep much at night so I'd usually be up an hour or so before Paul. I'd developed the habit of going downstairs and Mike, the night caretaker, would make me a coffee and I'd stand in the courtyard outside and look at the stars. The overhead railway was only a few hundred yards away but I find the sounds of trains to be soothing.

It was our last morning though and I wanted to make a good impression by not banging up and down in the rattly old lift. We'd never opened the curtains while we'd been there so I thought I'd take a look outside. There might be a balcony. There might be a swimming pool and deckchairs for all we knew. I poked behind the curtains and slid the window open.

No balcony but there was a ledge a little under two feet wide. It had a black metal railing a few inches high too. Good enough. I slid the window open and climbed out. Stepped to the left side so I could lean on the wall and lit up. After a few minutes there's a voice from behind the curtains.

Paul......."Watcha doin'?"

Bernie...."Stepped out for a smoke."

Paul......."Oh. Thought you were going to jump or something."

Pauls' head sticks out and he gazes gloomily at the ground some hundred and more feet below. "I feel like a ciggy myself." he says "May as well join you." He climbs out and shuffles in the opposite direction. Lights up.

It's nice up there with the stars just fading in the sky. Lots of fresh air. We could hear the sound of peoples' footsteps in the street below and discovered that if we held onto the edge of the window hole for balance we could lean out and look down at them.

Second ciggy and it was time to go back inside. Dawn was breaking and we didn't want somebody from the flats opposite to look out and see a pair of potential jumpers staring back at them. It's pretty difficult to turn 'round on a narrow ledge like that, especially with a buffeting wind. You need to let go of the wall completely and sort of shuffle around on the spot. That gets the heart pumping alright..........:)

We managed it though. Packed our bags and, after a pretty good breakfast, hit the road for the airport.

A friend in need's a friend indeed.

That's the hotel we stayed at in the picture at the top. If you look closely you can see the ledge we were standing on. Top floor.