V6 018 Silence can be deafening

Volume 6 part 018 Without Man-Friday

Kuoni came good yet again. “Two for one” ,no single supplement and now accepting air miles earned from a NatWest visa credit card secured three weeks in the Maldives inclusive of helicopter transfer from the Capital, Male to the remote Ari Atoll and all for £608 full board.

“All inclusive” hadn’t arrived in the islands at that time. Everything was imported. Alcohol was only allowed on exclusively resort islands with the outcome being that a can of Heineken costing one pound and a gin and tonic rather more than the cost of purchasing the neighbouring island. This was not just another long haul flight. It was a charter flight. It was a charter flight that refuelled in Abu Dhabi which boasted duty free at give-away prices.

The maltreatment inflicted by Thomas Cook in a fifteen hour flight would have seen an equivalent tin-pot dictatorship being hauled-up in front of the European court of Human rights. Thomas Cook had not signed-up to the international convention against torture. It’s never ceases to amaze how much masochism the average tourist will endure to experience an exotic holiday for a tenth of the price of a reasonably priced family saloon.

Mahe international airport… landside

Unlike Hong Kong and Rio which have oceans at one end of the runway, Male (capital of the Maldives) boasts water at both ends. Arse clenching is obligatory for those not so numb that they could actually feel their arse. Two hundred and forty two shaky, unkempt and largely unshaven passengers descended a rickety step ladder as bedraggled as if they had crossed Europe in a cattle car. Eight passengers were pulled from the single line of half humanity that extruded its way out of the Perspex staircase canopy offering absolutely no protection from the blinding early morning sun rise. These were the chosen few. The eight would avoid the ordeal of up to three hours of motor launch transfer to their selected resort island by being flown by personal helicopter to their island paradise.

The “chosen people”   would have, at the very least, a two hour head start at grabbing the best sun beds and commandeering the best tables. I would be showered and shaved and sipping from a tropical cocktail as we waived the sea-sick hoy-palloy ashore.

The good news was that they served complimentary chilled orange juice in the largely card-board Helicopter terminal. The bad news was that there was no helicopter. The boat had literally, already sailed. A terminally anti-social deep sea diver had apparently cut himself to shreds on coral attempting to avoid the amorous advances of a passing shark. Ours was the only helicopter available to execute a very inconvenient rescue mission. The offer to bunk up in a supply boat involving an extended detour around the islands fell on deaf ears. In compensation we got a tour of the capital. All four miles square of it! There was no need to wait for a tour-bus for a trek on perfectly flat landscape.. We saw the mosque but weren’t allowed inside. We saw the local brewery which produced fruit juice. We dined on coconut and mango. Coconut trees are a protected species in the Maldives yet we must have eaten at least a couple between the eight of us.

The good news was that the helicopter had found the diver. The bad news was that Helicopters aren’t allowed to fly in the dark. We had just under two hours of daylight to unload the dripping diver, clean up the residue of his bodily fluids, and get out to the Atoll with enough time for the Helicopter to return to base. Who cared if he got back! As soon as it landed the tourists stormed the ancient Russian rip-off of a Sikorsky search-and-rescue. The patient went out the port side as we mounted through the starboard. The bags could follow any time. We had already endured over two days in the same underwear and most could tell! The captain took little persuasion to stay out on the island for the night as our guest if it got too late for his return trip. In exchange he loaded the bags.

The sun was low on the horizon as we descended towards the jetty which served as a make-shift landing pad. A small heavily populated white-sand beach lay alongside.  Blinded by the setting sun, we managed to get within close range of the sun bathers before those who had taken up residence on the front row experienced the downdraft from a former military transport plane with the finesse of a trip in a twin tub washing machine. The flying sand scoured away what sun-burn they had managed in the two hours since disembarking from their motor launch. The boat-people had taken up pole position to gloat. Those that made it off the beach were chased by the very deck chairs they had vacated. Eight Hours late, but the “fliers” still might get the front row!

The rotor finally came to a safe stop. A charming Mauritian greeted us. We nodded politely having missed every word due to the temporary deafness brought about by sitting for twenty five minutes under a forty year old disintegrating aircraft engine straight out of a home spun, sweat shop in the Caucasus and totally devoid of sound insulation. There were no “Alberts”. Everyone had to fend for themselves. Half a dozen tee shirts and a few sun shorts take little unpacking. The brochure said leave everything at home for a stay in paradise where going casual was mandatory. For the first time, I had bravely travelled without my Burberry.

I was on the sea shore overlooking the blue lagoon and sipping the G&T by the time the sun finally set fire to a still but vast and empty ocean. It was magical. Slowly, the moon rose over my second G&T. As I looked up at its full shiny face It dawned on me that not only was it looking back at me but everywhere in the world where it was now dark friends and neighbours would also be looking up at the moon and in turn it would be smiling down on them. Like a great mirror in the sky it was uniting me with everyone I knew anywhere in the world.

a cocktail bar with a view

Gin and Tonic has the ability to bring out the philosopher in us all.

It took a further G&T for my second epiphany and the resounding realisation of being eaten alive. The sand flies were feasting on everything below the knee line. The brochure waxed lyrical about the romantic sun-sets. It said nothing about ravenous sand flies.

Turning towards the clearing in front of the main reception area I could see that the dining room was already almost full to capacity. Food was served by the sitting. There was only one sitting. Tables are invariably laid out in even numbers. A solo traveller requires at least one other “odd” person to make up pairs. The odder the better. Not unlike a cruise and school dinners, tables were allocated upon arrival. Where you sat the first night is where you sat for the rest of your stay. “Table sir? …convivially inquired the tiny Sri-Lankan host. “Table for one please!” was met with more than cursory condescension. The brochure said it was a “Robinson Crusoe Experience” where you could, and should, leave your wallet behind. Someone had failed to inform the maître-de. In the absence of a fat first night tip I got the last place on a table for eight right in the middle of an open sided thatched barn. There were no external walls. Why provide walls in a tropical paradise devoid of air conditioning? The romantic ambience was intensified by the exposed one-hundred-and-fifty watt tungsten bulbs industrially suspended above each table. The illumination was sufficient to see clearly what you were eating whilst simultaneously attracting protein supplements in the form clouds of flying bugs of all shapes and sizes. Looking up beyond the horizontal was not an option. Eye contact with fellow diners was inevitable. Only the eclipse created by the hovering fruit bats making light of the moths and mosquitos mitigated the prospect of irreparable snow blindness. Bats shit large and often.

A stroll to dinner

I was squeezed in between a man purporting to be something senior in the army and a newlywed woman who worked for the BBC. The army guy was about my age. He was accompanied by his rather handsome, raven haired, overly buxom wife celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary. The Woman from the BBC was enjoying her second honeymoon. She worked as a film extra and her over-ripe husband a camera man. The newly-weds had brought along her best-friend and maid-of-honour, for company which accounted for the odd number on the table. Opposite was a dental technician from Rotherham immediately adjacent to his much younger “friend” named Jason. The “friend” was a screaming-queen with far too much make-up covering more surface area than his scant clothing. A shrieking voice was no doubt a consequence of his shrink wrap denim “daisy duke” hot pants and the principle cause of shrill hysteria. The older one appeared quite normal except for his penchant for the boys. He lavished more attention on the waiters than he did on the food although understandable given that the whole menu originated from a can and was served up in equal dollops from an enormous Bain-Marie protected from the fruit bats by draped wire netting. The tinned stew and dumplings hardly complemented the climate. Given that the “May” deals were skirting the onset of the monsoon the outside temperature was exceptionally warm even after sun-down. Two tone blancmange, served up for pudding confirmed the menu had been robbed from some second rate Comprehensive School in somewhere like Slough. Coincidentally, the Chef came from Reading but argued that due to import logistics, a lack of refrigeration and the imagination of a spawning tree frog, he had little to work with. The opportunities afforded by an abundant ocean on all four sides appeared to have been missed! Fish was never on the menu although that implies there was a menu when meals comprised of the difference between what was put on the plate without choice or the same thing which had missed the plate and greedily carried away by a team of highly accomplished cock-roaches. Given that the army guy had been raised on army cooking, the soldier exhibited almost as much contempt for the food as he did for the couple from Rotherham when I thought he would be well acquainted with both.

A good start to three weeks on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

We’d been marooned for at least a week before it dawned on me that the Jason and his sugar daddy might be “Gay”. I simply thought the couple good fun and the former “bridesmaid” also game for a laugh. By night-two, the third wheel from the BBC three piece wedding party had gravitated to sit directly by my side. This left everyone, self-included, wondering whether the lone lady from the BBC was making a move on me or simply protecting the privacy of her twice married mate. This was a cosy arrangement with the exception that she brought along two additional friends. A pair of lesbians had not been happy seated on a perimeter table otherwise monopolised by a group of Mancunian pensioners. They decided to gate-crash the banter being broadcast from the centre table. The army guy now had two butch lesbians from Glasgow to add to his list of what constitutes a holiday from hell.

A swing to entertain but hardly sufficient to take Europeans

By now I’d stopped scratching the sand fly bites, having noticed that the colonel had made no attempt to shift his thigh the previous night every time my right arm lunged under the table to relieve the discomfort. We spent an entire meal with his hairy left leg welded by sweat to my hairy right leg. Neither of us protested which is as well given that the table now accommodated ten. His wife thought it was a bit of boys will be boys. Camaraderie was his big thing. I guess I was supposed to be watching his back! The three of us became good friends in the bar until slowly realigning their allegiance to the Mancunian octogenarians.

As the holiday progressed, the “scream-queen” became increasingly outrageous with his application of multi-layered make-up competing with the undressing for dinner. The older one was a quintessential “Straight”, clad each night in a range of newly pressed Bermuda shorts and complementary polo shirts. The more he pressurised his younger companion into joining “hetero-land” the more extreme and revealing the boy became culminating in a series of threadbare overstressed cut-offs he must have first worn at primary school and which disguised few of his questionable attributes.

My deluxe bungalow was detached ! in every other way a shack…

Unlike the public spaces, the bungalows enjoyed perimeter walls, albeit very thin perimeter walls. Privacy was in short supply. From domestic outbursts, through nocturnal acrobatics to the “dawn chorus” that preceded sunrise and symphonic toilet flushing, nothing went unnoticed. From the noise emanating from the adjacent bungalow, I was totally convinced for the whole of the first week that Ms Solo from the BBC had a thing for mangos. On one particular night outside my thatched cottage where I was gunning insect repellent around my bedroom door, I noticed a few native boys patiently loitering on the next terrace, some twenty or so meters away  lit only by the moonlight reflecting from the gently rippling ocean. She wasn’t greedy, selecting only one or two a night. The discussion at dinner the following evening was as candid as it was illuminating. It transpired that she didn’t like mangos. Slurping was all part of the performance. Ladies always swallow! The brigadier stared into his blancmange in disbelief.

How we laughed!

Lost in the moment, the dental technician from Rotherham confessed to sharing the same taste in native boys and hopefully would be joining her in a bit of synchronised “head” later that evening. He hadn’t noticed the silence that by now blanketed the entire dining room as the whole tour-group became engrossed in our revelations. What an ice breaker. Confessions became increasingly lewd as the night progressed.

What fun!

The jetty in the distance from where the flat bottom boats sailed the lagoon

We swam with sharks. Snorkelling at the edge of the lagoon became a daily ritual. A flat bottomed boat took us to the point where the turquoise water gave way to the midnight blue. The sea floor fell away beneath us as if hang-gliding off an Alpine cliff. At the very edge of the precipice the sea bed was teaming with life over a swaying carpet composed of a myriad of vibrant shimmering colours too varied to describe or imagine. When accompanied by sharks the advice was not to panic! “Simply take a gentle turn away and ideally submerge. Sharks only bite on the way up … not on the way down”.

This advice would have been more convincing had the mouth sporting a head full of razor-sharp teeth been on top of the shark as opposed to being on the underside thereby rendering this tip somewhat implausible. A small group of us determined that the only safeguard against a shark attack was, in fact to panic. Panic big-style, but only when in the company of one of the old “biddies” striking one off from their “Bucket list” and hope that she wasn’t a former Olympic gold medallist. The pensioners became very useful swimming companions, never once figuring out that far from the younger crowd showing them a good time, they were simply shark-bait decoys. Remember… when encountering a bear in the woods, it is your mate you need to be able to outrun and not necessarily the bear! On the only occasion I came to put theory into practise I collided with a fellow snorkeler veering slowly left in the precise trajectory in which I was turning right. I very nearly shit myself which in hindsight, may have proved a suitable deterrent. We both dived a short distance until the sharks passed above us before entering into a frenzied elbowing contest at the foot of the cat-ladder in our mutual eagerness to not be the last one to escape the water. The fat lady resembling a Brighton sea front post card was well put-out by my overt display of twentieth century chivalry, declining my attempt to assist her sun burnt husband to haul her clear of the surf … Essex people can be like that!

No laughs there then!

As discovered first hand by the diver who had hijacked my helicopter, coral is razor sharp. Don’t swim out to sea over a coral reef when the tide is ebbing. If you can’t swim back due to the water becoming too shallow, you sure as hell aren’t walking back! The diving coach had a gate. A “gate” is a valley in the coral allowing unrestricted passage out into the ocean irrespective of the level of the tidal flow. The instructor guided us through the gate into the open waters of the Indian Ocean where nothing lay between us and Madagascar. Way down below, an apparition resembled the fuselage of a submerged ‘747. The shiny grey, bubbling cylinder moved! Maybe it was a sub’? The hulk slowly surfaced. Our surprise subsided into a state of catatonic shock.

We were involuntarily swimming with a whale shark.

Not a shark at all, but a giant whale the diving instructor estimated to be twenty five meters in length. Having a mouth the size of a couple of industrial wheelie-bins offered little comfort from his assurance that they were not carnivores. She winked at us as she silently glided on her way. We all got the “T- Shirt”. In four years of diving in the Maldives it was the instructor’s first encounter with a whale shark. He was thrilled, but then again he did come from Denmark where stirring sugar into a coffee cup is considered living the wild life. I don’t take sugar in coffee.

I spent most days secreted well away from the bungalow area, and on the eastern side the island in a clearing opening to the sea and equipped with a hammock strung between two palm trees. Intermittently, columns of off duty servants dressed in off duty shorts and off-duty T-shirts would pass by in regimented lines each carrying coconut matting hold-all’s and with seemingly no place to go on the tiny atoll. Out of curiosity I followed one of the troupes to the southernmost tip of the island where to my surprise they took to the water like an evacuation of Dunkirk. Carrying their worldly goods on their heads they gradually disappeared below the waves until all that could be seen was a lump of coco matting balanced on a tiny black globe. Their glistening brown bodies gradually resurfaced a mile or so away to redress on the shores of the neighbouring island almost lost in the heat haze and to which I had previously been oblivious. The house-boys literally walked to work daily although only in the summer months when the sea was calm. They were unemployed during the rainy season when the island was closed to tourists and when the crossing would have needed a boat. Native women weren’t allowed any exposure to tourists. On the one occasion I hired a Kayak with the intention of paddling around the island and maybe visiting the neighbours I got as far as the start of the underwater causeway before being blown backwards to the starting point under the decking which was overlooked from the bar. I gave up the attempt at circumnavigation after re-emerging from the headland in reverse for the third try. Although proving too much of an embarrassment, my perseverance had managed to provide some much needed entertainment for the pensioners enjoying their mid-afternoon fruit cocktails and who by now and to offset the monotony had resorted to taking bets on my projected progress.

The monsoon arrived on schedule and as expected to justify the cheap £608 price tag for a three week stay. By the end of the second week it was raining offering a welcome respite from the searing heat. By the end of the third week the deluge was unrelenting. Hailstones the size of tennis balls were no match for the indiscriminate coconuts they dislodged. Tropical scenery was reduced to flickering monotones filtered through rain-water streaming from the bamboo thatched roofs like a veil draped across the open facades to the public rooms of where desolate tourists gathered for mutual support at a pound per can of Heineken. To break the monotony the concierge commissioned a fishing boat to take any intrepid volunteers to a neighbouring island to have a snoop. Devoid of house-boys who hadn’t made the channel crossing for over a week we would probably kid-nap the odd half dozen and get the beds made as a bonus. The absence of a landing jetty upon arrival necessitated wading chest deep from the boat to the shore. No problem as we were already soaked and unlike the rain, the sea-water was relatively warm. I volunteered portering duties to the Bridesmaid and the two lesbians but drew the line at carrying the “African Queen” from Rotherham for fear of not knowing where to put my hands. The natives stayed out of sight other than a couple of the boys who worked behind the bar in our resort coming out to say hello without extending an invitation to take refuge in their hovel. There were no anticipated olde-worlde rip-off tourist attractions lying in wait to extort soggy dollars in exchange for overpriced tat destined for a box in the loft. We sailed home desolate and dejected taking refuge from the increasing sea swell under the slatted seats inside the open sided flatbed barge. The bridge playing pensioners took great delight in having “told us so”…

The remaining time oscillated between reading and Heineken. Only a select few joined us in the bar each day. The pensioners had polished off the gin and other than those from the high table at dinner, most of the in-mates weren’t prepared for the pound-a-can surcharge for a beer. It was quicker, and infinitely more convenient to divest yourselves of clothes for the twenty-meter dash to the “bog” than get shorts and tee shirts wet in the unrelenting downpour. The bar boys obliged with dry towels on the return dash. They also organised a disco restricted by local law and custom to daylight hours. The event was a great success being entertained by a dozen or so topless gardeners doing their improvisation of a Club 54 go-go jamboree. The dental technician had sought solace in my company being the only unattached white male on the island. We compared notes on which of the troupe was the cutest. For him this was validation and acceptance whilst for me, purely an aesthetic judgment to pass the time. A beer, even if it is Heineken helps to liberate the inhibitions. The brigadier became quite jealous of this unexpected bonding. His wife slept a lot. The screaming queen stayed home most days. A football match organised by the dental technician between staff and tourists was a literal wash-out. Four tourists, including the female BBC bombshell and the two Lesbians were thrashed by a posse of local boys who all looked the same and clearly had no rules governing substitution. I kept score picking up an animal bite on my right foot in the process. I had been home a week before the wound showed any signs of infection. I reneged on my promise to send the natives a set of football strip bearing the GTD company logo.

Transfer to the airport was better equipped than the one bringing us to the island… floor, seats, windows and half lucid staff for starters…

The helicopter gave me an extra three hours for a leisurely breakfast the morning we left for the airport. I waived then all good bye at sun rise as their launch sped off through choppy seas into the bright blue yonder. The weather was dry for our departure. Staff were using the unexpected break in the weather to stack the cane furniture into neat rows as a precursor to the seasonal close down. Little ships ferried out surplus domestics away from the island, swapping their digs for incoming maintenance workers. I said my goodbyes until next year with no intention of ever returning and to be reunited with the high table in an open air bar at the airport some forty minutes later.

The tour group boarded the plane already looking worse for wear with matted hair and flashes of pallid skin intermingled with sun scorched highlights. An early start, sea sickness, salt spray and compression of the spine had prepared them for a very bumpy flight. The “boat people” had managed to grab all the best seats by the time the chosen few hit the airport. I bought presents at the duty free in Abu Dhabi for the folks back home expecting them to smile politely at receiving the home dyed sarongs patterned by what can only be described as primary school potato printing or some piece of hand painted driftwood hacked into the shape of a mythological deity more frequently re-produced en-masse in a Shanghai sweat shop.

Some weeks after we returned home to Sheffield I met the dentist for drink in the Nursery Tavern on Eccelsall road. He was still with the drama queen but only just! We went back to my pent-house flat overlooking Endcliffe Park for coffee. If he’d have made a move, I was resigned not to resist. I quite liked the guy. He was well dressed and polite. Nothing happened but, as to be expected, I probably missed the signals. It was a further six years before I actually did anything about the “fatal” attraction but this time it wasn’t an attempt at a fling. The next time would be for keeps even though he wasn’t well dressed and has never been polite.

V6 017 Hardly Carnival

Volume 6 part 017 Live and let live

There were no deaths in ’92 with only family diversion being the September jaunt to Germany and the stop over at House Press with the Fiebich family. Bubble escaped to Italy for a short break by air in mid-summer while Walter preferred to stay home with the dogs.

£655.50 of fun for only five days….

In May ’92 I took my first trip westward and also first trip south of the equator. Rio was by Varig Airways and again, out of Heathrow. In those days smokers got a choice. Smoke and sit in the back or don’t smoke and sit in the front. I had chosen to sit in the rear assuming that the time would pass quicker when surrounded by a gaggle of degenerates. The captain smoked but needless to say sat right at the front. He was very accommodating. Before we hit the Isle of white he was out there with the peasantry handing out free cigarettes from a silver box the size of a Cadburys milk tray multi-pack. Half way to Dacca he took time out to take a duty free drink with us. His were doubles. Needless to say, I began to sweat a little when the captain switched on the “seat belt” sign and announced starting our descent into “SAO PAULO”!

Consoling myself that one South American city was probably as good as another I resigned myself to buying a relevant guide book at the airport. The Rio thing could wait for the following year although how I’d got my itinerary so wrong was anyone’s guess. After all where the hell was Sao Paulo? If I needed a visa we’d be stuffed and if it was Argentina it would be up the arse! This was almost the 10th anniversary of the Falklands war. The announcement that Sao Paulo was a forty five minute stop-over requiring all passengers in transit for Rio to remain seated caught me already in the overhead locker. I gingerly retook my seat hoping to have gone unnoticed.

I don’t recall meeting anyone worth remembering in Rio. Ranked the 3rd most dangerous place in the world in that year’s “Rough-guide” with Beirut, still in the middle of a civil war and “home” to Mr Wait and Mr McCarthy, coming 5th, Rio is not a place to be toyed with. Rio is the only place outside the “Cruise” bar in Gran Canaria where I kept money in my sock. The advice to never walk through road tunnels, day of night is totally superfluous once you have seen one. Only someone with a death wish or bit part in a Hollywood horror B-movie would venture within a half a kilometre of these hell holes on foot. The “never-walk-anywhere-after-dark” rule is worthy of note. Even a walk to the ensuite bathroom was not without its surprises. On one occasion I turned on the bathroom light to find the toilet overflowing with shredded pornography. The manager could not be made to understand that the high gloss multi-nippled print copy had not originated in my room. Intervention by the British tour rep the following day literally cleared up the whole mess including its place of origin in the room above. It transpired that not only did she speak fluent Portuguese but also moonlighted as a house-maid to help pay the mortgage. Her apartment overlooking Copacabana included its own car elevator to bring her Mexican “Beetle” all the way from the pavement to her front door on the 10th floor. Her boyfriend worked as a bouncer at “Heaven”. Judging from the chemically propelled clientele at this prestigious hang-out, I suspect the pair were handing out a little more than hospitality.

I had not heard Portuguese since Margaret up to the Easter of ’69. I could see her everywhere.

The people could be as stunning as the scenery with the men as beautiful as the women. The beach at Copacabana was as beautiful as Ipanema. In travelling solo, swimming was out of the question. Leaving anything unattended was impossible if you expected take home what you had brought with you. Falling asleep on the contents of a back-pack is also no guaranteed safeguard.

There are a number of classic tourist hot spots to visit but by day or night people-watching remained the top attraction. Favelas scar the near vertical mountain slopes in all directions. During the day the slums were cascading slag heaps of disenfranchised inhumanity. By Night they are a seamless carpet of stars linking the mesmerising sparkle of the moon-light on the bay to the infinity of the Milky Way. Slums kiss the cheeks of the rich with the flimsiest screens and the weakest mesh separating their two worlds.

A visit to the statue of Christ, arms akimbo above Rio is obligatory. They fail to tell you about the three hundred or so steps concluding a bus journey up the side of a mountain. The view towards the statue is more impressive than the view from the statue.  The escorted tour stopped off to give us a taster of a “jungle”, along with a million or so other tourists trampling the forest floor into a litter strewn slip and slide. By the time I got home to England the “back to nature” experience proved to be quite authentic. I attracted a bite from a creepy-crawly on the right shin that required antibiotics until the grub it had laid found its way back to the surface a few weeks later through a blob of Vaseline strategically placed to suffocate the little bugger. This was a first for the Royal Hallamshire Hospital who volunteered to keep the specimen except that it made its escape one evening during a visit to the 90’s equivalent of Cine-world. I’ve been off cinemas since.

There were no James Bond’s or Jaws on Sugar-loaf. I took photographs of tourists with their own cameras before lecturing theme on the stupidity of handing anything of any value to a perfect stranger. One particularly articulate young lady of Orientale origin pointed out in consummate English that not only she was confident that she could outsprint an English forty-something  but being marooned eighteen hundred feet on the top of a rock guaranteed no escape!  Having taken due cognisance of the guide book advice I was personally bereft of both my camera and video recorder.

Other than the night-time cable car ride over the sparkling favelas, the return trip to Sugar-loaf for a moonlight dinner turned out to be fairly pointless.  The reflection from the floor to ceiling glass walls on three sides of the restaurant offered a perfect self-portrait of a sad tourist dining alone. The two couples in the opposing corners of the restaurant were both celebrating wedding anniversaries.  The tangibly pitiful silence was deafened only by my profound discomfort. It put me in mind of doing the cable car ride to dinner in the dark with David on Vesuvius almost twenty years prior.

Some people never learn. Some people cannot be taught.

Outside “Heaven”, located on Copacabana beach, the street boys dressed as women to act as chaperones to get single men into the club. In an attempt to keep the venue “family” friendly men weren’t allowed into “Heaven” unless accompanied by a female. As “Girls”, the boys got in free. Once inside the ”boys” disappeared into the crowd to catch up with girlfriends although why they had not escorted each other in the first place alluded me other than most of the real girls were “on the game” and presumably needed their space. Clothes swapping appeared as popular as partner swapping.

Caligula, on Ipanema was as good as its name. The kids were altogether more upmarket than the “Heaven” crowd. They arrived in fleets of two seater sports cars with the passenger seat occupied by a body guard who doubled as valet parking, handbag and chauffeur home. There was no need for a VIP line. Only punters with invitations got passed the gorillas on the gate. The multi-tasking Kuoni rep also sourced invitations. Once inside why not push the boat out? A five course dinner was served on a balcony overlooking the main dance floor. I indulged in G&T’s, champagne and digestivos served in a fish bowl sized brandy glass. To my pleasant surprise, the bill came to $24 (US) including the complimentary car home. Like the majority of the rest of the crowd, who apparently spent most of the evening in the toilets I’m not into dancing so who knows if that’s where the management make their profits.  I met the tour-rep at check-out the next day. She winked when inquiring if I’d enjoyed “the lounge”. Presumably the “lounge” is where all the money’s made and what gives the club its name? The BBC drama based on “Caligula” didn’t come out for another decade. Thankfully it was Nero who married his horse otherwise god knows what amount of shit I would have been dining in?

I had obviously missed the “lounge”.

Nothing new there then!

Restaurants in Rio were mostly of the barbecue variety. Brazilian barbecues work on the principle of eat all you can, while you can. Waiters patrol the dining room carrying giant skewers impaling all kinds of meat. They persist on carving directly onto your plate once it is empty and when the accompanying plastic beer mat is green side up. Service desists immediately that the beer mat is turned red side up signalling the recipient had enjoyed their fill. Once flipped to “red” there’s no going back but by which time it is perfectly possible to have consumed enough meat to be the equivalent of a small horse. The secret is to eat very slowly. On the off chance that it is a restaurant with a menu, check out the portions before you order. For eight (US) dollars I was served with a full size, freshly roasted suckling pig complete with head and trotters, when I thought I was ordering a well-done pork chop. Every morning, housewives could be seen at the market stocking up with black plastic dustbin liners full of freshly butchered animals they would haul off home for the preparation of the family pre-siesta lunch. Blood regularly dripped along the pavements accumulating in small puddles at the many traffic light controlled pedestrian crossings where flies outnumbered the obediently waiting teaming masses by at least a thousand to one. Other than for the barrow loads of baked sweet potatoes and chips accompanying all manner of livestock, a vegetarian would starve to death in Rio in less than a week.

Trendy bars around trendy squares filled the couple of evenings not spent hunting the nightspots. The public places were patrolled by armed security guards and often, equally sinister camera crews. Documentaries abound. One film for a provincial German TV channel took ten reshoots of a guy leaving a cellar bar whilst trying to give a commentary on what he had witnessed below street level. Those in the line of fire became unwilling extras. With each re-take, my glass of beer was obligingly “half” replenished with the express order not to move. The ordeal lasted so long I endured two sets of hair brushes and cramp alternately in each leg without the opportunity for taking a wee. The beer was as free as the memory.

As confirmation of my assertion that a better class of degenerate travels in the smoking section of an aeroplane I returned home sitting next to a guy who boasted the title of Bishop of Calgary. During the eleven hours flight to London I failed to establish why the Bishop of Calgary was returning home to Canada via London and furthermore why a Bishop was visiting Rio in the first place.

By July of ’92 I made full partner in The George Trew Dunn Partnership. This new found status, bought by settling the cash purchase of equal shares with a newly acquired mortgage offered more job security than financial certainty. Planning for ’93 started early.

V6 016 Berlin and beyond

Volume 6 part 016 Start over, stop over and stay over

1990 was a threshold year. In 1990 I would be forty and officially passed it.

Life revolved around Derbyshire county Council, Lucy Doberman, the “Spot” Hackney road and ma and pa in Cromford. After sixteen years in the Local authority I took a career move by joining a private practice setting up a regional office in Sheffield. I was to become a commuter proper… Making a mark in a new career necessitated giving up on holidays that year. A few away-days, here and there and watching the dogs when the oldies went on their annual ritual to Italy was enough light relief. Walter’s heart attack in autumn ‘84 had slowed him down but he still drove. With the assistance of cousin Willie sharing the drive the trips to Italy with a full boot of bounty were still feasible. In December 1990 Walter suffered a stroke. He was home for Christmas but without his driver’s licence. Walter had always driven, He was a “driver”. He was officially old and he knew it! He had the papers, or the lack of papers, to prove it.

Cousin Willie died in January 1991 from a “cold”. The cure for the cold was a bucket or two of hot toddies mostly made up of ninety percent proof, Austrian farm rum. The family maintained that he wasn’t alcoholic, probably because he still managed to function on a day to day basis.

I was elected as funeral rep’. The “Desert storm”, Gulf war 1, was launched the Thursday night I hit Dover for the Midnight crossing to Zeebrugge. A single man aged “Forty” with a small Mercedes and heading for the German border could easily be mistaken for someone returning to their army base in Germany. The ship was full of them. An on board briefing recommended caution at traffic lights and sticking to minimum speed limits as a precaution against being ambushed by sympathizes jumping out of bushes in the dark. The IRA had become quite accomplished at shooting British Army Officers having received some practice in Zeebrugge. I didn’t need the threat of the IRA to cross Belgium at an average speed of a mile a minute! I was equally well practised. It was wet and dark. I made Aachen for sun rise. The Funeral was on a Friday. It was cold but dry. I had the car cleaned especially for the occasion before heading for Lillo’s house. She had agreed to accommodate me for the night. Leaving the cemetery, Lillo showed me Juppe’s tomb stone. At first sight I thought they had buried him standing up but it transpired that he was the first of the family to be cremated. Lillo was a protestant and effectively, converted Juppe upon his death. As if to compound the heresy she also had his name spelled the German way with two “n”s instead of the customary single “n” adopted by the rest of the “Riemans” family. She made a point of showing me the stone laid over his ashes as if to stress that no one from England had made any attempt to attend her husband’s funeral the previous year.  I cant imagine why none of us went to that particular funeral…

The “wake” was a formal affair in a pub-restaurant near to the cemetry. With the exception of Willie’s “wife’s” appearance to demand the keys to his new car the event was largely uneventful. It turned out that despite being estranged for well over a decade, Willy had not divorced his second “wife”. She had gone quietly on condition that she got his pension. Claiming the car was her act of vengeance against the family who had not seen fit to invite her to the funeral. I had not previously met the woman but instantly understood the sentiments of the family in describing her variously as a tramp and a whore! A little harsh maybe as she had put up with Willies bed wetting for a couple of years!

Ironically, Lillo filled me in on all the sordid details on the way to meet her “Boy-friend’s” family for “afternoon Tea” at his house in Monchau. The “Boy-friend” was an agile ninety-something who did gardening as a hobby to keep himself fit in his retirement. He had been introduced to Lillo by Aunt Sonia at one of her late afternoon dancing sessions at the long gone “Edelweiss” on Peter Strasse. Lillo bagged the prize even though Juppe’ was still “smoking“ in his box. In one swoop Lillo had bagged a dancing partner for nights out at the “Edelweiss”, gained a bed fellow and a gardener. Sonia could only compete with a window box.

It snowed in Monchau.

I spent the night in Lillo’s pine-lined guest bedroom which led off from the sauna suite. Having a Sauna as a vestibule to a bedroom is perhaps only a little more convenient than having a bedroom en-suite with a sauna. Juppe was a very benevolent host but apparently the pair of them knew how to “entertain”.

It was mid-day on Saturday as I passed through the decommissioned security post into the former West Berlin. On totally dry roads with temperatures well below freezing, the drive from Aachen had taken a little under five hours. The rest of the day was for sightseeing. Criss-crossing the route of the “wall” I took in everything worth seeing from the Brandenburg Gate to Check-point Charlie and mostly from inside the comfort of the car. There really wasn’t much to see in Berlin in those days. On the East side of the wall a right hand steering wheel caused some amusement but on the West side of the wall was seen as a security threat. The bombing in Iraq was well under way. On the “Unter den Linden” I actually got out of the car but at 20 degrees below soon gave that up as a bad idea. Having checked into a hotel on the Potsdammer Platz and with the car safely parked out of view at the top of a multi-storey garage I took refuge for the rest of the evening in an Irish bar located in the rear corner of an underground shopping area somewhere near the Ku’ dam.

It must have been a good night sleep. I awoke at dawn caked onto the pillow in a gallon or so of my own puke! First thought was an outbreak of the most horrendous acne. The second thought was how had I survived such a horrendous disembowelling and have slept through the whole thing. Not since the first trip to Italy had I been so ill. This time I put it down to a combination of the stress of “grief”, two days of breaking the European land speed record and forgetting to eat. Having piled the bed linen into the bath I checked out to beat a hasty retreat. Sunday was even colder than Saturday. The car wouldn’t start. The singular advantage of a stick shift is that they can be bounce started. Three floors down a spiral ramp in free fall and the engine sprang into life. One last spin to the Brandenburg gate confirmed that I was in no mood for tourism. Coffee and bacon cobs equalised the hangover. I left Belin under the extended shadow of the former guard posts on the iron curtain.

The streets in Hamlin were desolate. The river half frozen over. I took sanctuary in a very nice hotel just after sun-down which at that time of the year came very early but I really wasn’t in the mood for a moonlight drive. Seeking company in the bar was totally out of the question. I had intended to sneak out quietly before breakfast having settled my bill before taking an early night. The ramp up from the basement garage was guarded by a trellis gate that I had been assured opened remotely upon approach. I had not been assured that it opened to the wailing of reassuring sirens accompanied by alternating blue and orange rotating flashing lamps. The ricocheting reverberation in the narrow alleyway awoke the entire street causing little less consternation than when the pied piper was a lad! Living room lights were turning on the length of the residential side street like a star burst

By eleven on Monday morning, having fought through the rush hour around Essen and Dusseldorf I was back at the cemetery in Aachen to place flowers on Juppe’s head stone. It was the least I could do in recompense for missing his final “Burn” and Lillo playing her sympathy card. The early afternoon ferry got me home to Cromford for bed-time. I’d missed Friday and Monday from work but had been to a funeral on the Rhine and seen Berlin.

Setting up a new business takes time and commitment, particularly when you don’t really know what you are doing! Lengthy holidays were a thing of the past which gives the perfect excuse for sampling the places that you otherwise couldn’t afford to visit. On the anniversary of joining The GTD partnership I booked for Hong Kong. This was 1991. “Two for One’s” were now of little use but Kuoni’s “no-single-Supplement” offer for holidays in May proved equally attractive. A Five day special in Hong Kong, flying Heathrow to HK via Frankfurt on a “Cathay Pacific” 747 cost less than five hundred pounds.

Don’t go to Hong Kong in May. It’s cheap because it’s off season. It’s off season because its Typhoon time. The humidity competes with the rain and runs off the outside of buildings just as torrentially. Of the must-see’s, Mount Victoria is pretty much a wash-out when the cloud cover is at five hundred feet and thick enough to require a guide dogs to walk the short distance from the funicular to the coffee shop. Crossing the bay by Star lines shouldn’t be done when the air is “pink”. The rosy hue is pretty but means high pressure, which means the onset of a tropical storm which, in turn means that you are stranded on the mainland. Had it not been for the horizontal rain and requiring to anchor both arms around the first unoccupied lamp-post you can commandeer, the unscheduled stop-over would have offered tremendous photo opportunities.

A train service crossed the new territories to the Chinese border. Seen one rice field and you’ve seen them all. Contrary to popular opinion the Chinese did not travel with livestock. So inscrutable were the fellow passengers I thought it safer not to disembark at the end of the line for fear of being “Shanghaied” within the thronging masses flowing through the border post by accident, only to be forced into a life time of cultural correction behind the “Bamboo Curtain”.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Chinese restaurants were totally authentic. Unfortunately for someone having previously never seen, let alone experienced, chop-sticks this was a recipe for starvation. It certainly explained why the locals were all so small and for the large part so very slim. The room came with breakfast. Breakfast did not require chop-sticks. I didn’t believe the staff would notice the loss of the odd fork. In comparing notes with fellow tourists back at the airport it appeared that I was not the only hapless Brit who could neither use chop-sticks nor know the Chinese translation for “Fork”! Between us we carried off enough cutlery to make up a twelve piece wedding present.

Trips to “Dim Sum” street armed with a fork lessoned the likelihood of flicking the slimy steamed parcels into the plates on the adjoining tables, but proved far less affective against crispy Peking duck. I could get it into a pancake roll OK but bite down too vigorously and the contents launched themselves like the discharge from a Chinese mortar with the same self-control of the cream filling of a giant vanilla slice. The only solution was to steel a matching knife.

Local bars are simply, “Local Bars”. An outing to the twenty third floor of a mega housing project to help a complete stranger reclaim her clothes from a boy-friend who had evicted her, was the highlight of the week. Something like fifteen thousand people were supposedly inhabiting a concrete ant-hill euphemistically called a “mansion” but given the size of the individual apartments the tower block could have accommodated well over twice that number. Her empty wardrobe gave the ex-boyfriend spare space the equivalent of subletting a second bedroom. She scored twice on the way out to street level but shared half the low grade dope with a taxi driver for a free ride to some slum in “Kennedy point” where she had taken up rooms with a saxophonist. Not until spending an entire evening of a five night stay in Hong Kong in a grubby apartment block with a complete stranger I had met in a bar did it later occur to me that she could have called on the Saxophonist for help.  But it’s all part of life’s rich pattern and until we got to Kennedy point I didn’t know about the saxophonist. Was it stupid of me to think I made a pick-up and a pickup that was white?

Another good reason to miss out on travelling to Hong Kong in the typhoon season is that the Jet-foils don’t work in high winds. They don’t tell you this when they sell you jet-foil tickets. Jet-foil tickets to the former Portuguese colony of Macao get you a seat on a ferry. The jammed ferry ride takes three times as long as the thirty-five minutes by jet-foil yet for most passengers it was standing room only. Giving up my seat to a geriatric old dear, aged in her late hundreds was infinitely preferable to the Twenty minutes having an old ladies arse rubbed repeatedly in my face in complete synchronisation with the heavy sea swell. The waves can be extremely violent in the South China Sea during typhoon season!

A hired “Mini-Moke” offers little protection against tropical downpours. What doesn’t come in through the canvas lid, comes up through the floor. Mini-Mokes don’t float. Mini-Mokes also don’t look cool outside a casino. In less than three hours I’d done the whole of Macau including the 17th century Jesuit cathedral, some 18th century fortification, a nineteenth century gateway into China and a twentieth century “MacDonald’s” lookalike fast food dive. You can eat with your fingers in fast food outlets. There wasn’t much to see in the Casino. As added incentive to sit-in at the gaming tables the cigarette smoke hung from the ceiling to a little over a meter from the floor. Armed with $20 (US) in small denomination chips I took my place at the roulette wheel. Following instruction from the croupier that I had inadvertently taken his spot I settled into a niche between an unusually fat Chinese Man smoking a tightly wrapped dead rat and a young white man dressed in a boating blazer and crisp white shirt and who had witnessed, much to everyone’s amusement my faux pas with the initial seating arrangements. In a couple of hours, under the guidance of the newly acquired mentors I had amassed the princely sum of $26, consumed half a dozen free brandy and cokes and inhaled a life threatening volume of second hand smoke of dubious origin. Obligingly, sirens sound each time a ferry is due to leave for Hong Kong.

Macau was a foreign country still belonging at that time to the Portuguese. Similarly, whether or not you are a native, Hong Kong was a foreign country belonging to the Brits. The rush to disembark as the gang plank dropped onto the quayside back in Hong Kong rivalled the first day of the Harrods January sales. Having relinquished my rights to a seat I was in pole position for the stampede only to find my way blocked by an oriental midget dragging a full height Frigidaire fridge-freezer she had acquired duty-free on a one-day shopping spree. With the gang-plank blocked and the crush behind turning nasty I had no option but to lend a hand extracting a trolley wheel from the splintering gaps in the well-trodden board walk.  Clearing a space of less than two feet was enough to open up a deluge of rampaging repatriating migrants. My prize for chivalry was five-hundred and twenty-fifth place in the immigration queue. The boy in the boating-blazer was right behind me. We had enough time to get to know each other. He had quickly assessed that not only was I neither a gambler but also not a “local”. A local would never have risked being five-hundred and twenty-five in an immigration queue even if it meant leaving a four foot pensioner under a Frigidaire. His excuse for being Five-hundred and twenty-six was that it was his day off from the HSBC and wasn’t in a hurry. We could exchange life-stories over drinks later that night.

After a couple of hours alone on a bar stool in an Australian bar called “Aunt Sallies” it was clear, even to me that “something had come up” I had been stood-up.. Aunt Sallies was a real “men’s bar” with small groups of mostly white blokes of all ages. The “regulars” were friendly to the point of being pushy but I suppose that’s all part of the territory for expats trying to strike up new friendships in the colonies. Given the number of Australians there was fortuitously little talk of sport. I confided to more than one leery local that I was not a sports fan. Being “not” a sports fan of any kind strangely enhanced my otherwise limited appeal.

The hotel porter was a friendly lad. His expertise at small talk was a useful skill given the time it took to flag a cab. In the space of five minutes or so I discovered he was twenty three, living in exile from Brisbane and lived with a boyfriend he had met in “Aunt Sallies”. Aunt Sallies was not only the local hangout for “Australians” but after the Susanne Bar in Pattaya the most well-known gay bar in South East Asia. This explained why the cherubesque Chinese glass collector kept finding his way onto my knee when there were a multitude of other docking stations from where he could off load his tray. It didn’t explain why the boy in the boating-blazer chose this as the venue for our soirée. Did he set me up, or simply bottle out? I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my last night finding out something that on so many levels I didn’t need the answer. I went to dim-sum Street to eat steamed dumplings while watching cars being washed off Mount Victoria by floods that would have been flash floods had it not been raining for most of the week sufficient to warrant Noah being newly docked in the harbour.

I didn’t rain when I was on the train to the Chinese border, or on the tram to Kennedy point. It didn’t rain when I was on the top deck of the service bus careering around hair-pin bends and barely staying on the road heading south to some fishing village called Aberdeen. It didn’t actually rain while I was on the funicular or the Star lines ferry or for that matter the Ferry to Macau. It did, however rain every time I stepped outside. I had no choice but to do the return journey to Heathrow in something evening-smart as opposed to damp-casual. Most of my holiday wardrobe was ruined but packed very easily. In a Hong Kong high rise hotel the commuters age a lifetime waiting for the lift for breakfast. Heading down from my room on the 22nd floor, the doors opened on the 17th floor to an already half-full lift car. Undaunted, a “clutch” of tiny air-hostesses elbowed their way into the few remaining crevices. There was cabin crew in every orifice except for the last one who managed to replicate the demise of the dwarf with the Frigidaire. The wheel from a “carry-on” had fused seamlessly with the mechanics of the elevator. At the risk of once more being five hundred and something in a queue for a car waiting at ground level to take me to the airport there was no alternative but to use my colonial chivalry to go for a full frontal assault on the offending suit case. Stepping momentarily out of the lift, discarding a crew member from my left inner thigh I valiantly tore at the suitcase handle. With a single concerted tug it was free. As I flew backwards into the lift lobby the owner took re-possession of the carry-on from an airborne pass whilst simultaneously being caught in the reverse scrum by her colleagues. The doors slammed shut instantaneously leaving me marooned on the 17th Floor. My bag made three further circuits of the twenty-five floors of the “Causeway Plaza” before we were finally reunited by a valiant bell-hop and having checked out, were on our way to the airport. The other tourists in my Kuoni group were long gone. I hadn’t needed to share their car and could equally dispense with their sympathy for being at the back of the airport check-in queue.

At the airport I spotted a gap in the throng, swerved passed a man in a white, five start general’s fancy dress, costume finding myself at the head of a queue of one.  The check-in woman smiled so, so politely even though I couldn’t decipher a word that she was screeching across a desk twice her height. I smiled back equally politely with the odd nod as punctuation. Not until she handed over the boarding card could I discern recognition for rescuing her carry-on from being devoured by the jaws of a pair of lift doors on the “..evnteen…ss flo…ss morn…”. They all look so much the same and the encounter had literally been fleeting. The Idi Amin lookalike in the white suit translated the incoherent diatribe as being an apology for inadvertently dumping me on the seventeenth floor after gallantly releasing her spare underwear that morning and hoped I could accept her token of gratitude. 

Only two people were travelling in first class!

People in “first class” get escorted everywhere, even to the economy class departure gate to bid a fond farewell to the couple I had met in the hotel lobby the previous evening and with whom I was supposed to have been sharing the airport transfer. The mother was with a son about my age. She confided that he was a shy boy and could have done with meeting me earlier in the week to possibly “show him the sights”! Apparently he had made do with a local bar which must have been very lonely for him as he didn’t drink but, “giving his mother some space” stuck-it out until the early hours most nights. She had considered tagging along but didn’t like the sound of somewhere so pedestrian that it was called “Aunt Sallies”. I had denied all knowledge of the place or its reputation, before her “boy” made it back from the toilets. I said a final cheerio to the couple trekking through Frankfurt airport when being whisked past them, “in transit” in a sort of electric golf cart.

The other passenger in first class was a young woman who owned a jewellery shop in Congleton. How rich are people in Congleton if they can put a shop keeper in first class?

Apart from not travelling to Hong Kong in May I also learned that although they didn’t frighten me, I didn’t much like their type of gays but that Cathay Pacific finish off a first class dinner with the most exquisite first class port. Oma would have been proud.

V6 015 Tut, tut…

Volume 6 part 015 Betamax and Benz

Walter had a heart attack in September 1984 on his drive back from the September break in Italy. Selling the “Crown” might have been my liberation had it not been for the weight of a mortgage with which to build the new house on Hackney road. 1985 was all about the house and retiring the family. I managed a summer break to Italy while Bubble bribed cousin Jürgen to finish off the decorating in the last two bed rooms of the new house. This was a solo trip going via Aachen and Garmische both ways. I knew the route without a map and Germans don’t do speed limits. They make damn fine cars but a Merc couldn’t stand the strain of pacing an Alfa-Romeo when it’s only a two litre. The 190E needed a new timing chain by the time I got to Italy. The “marmita” was perfectly fine. I got sun stoke the first day on the beach as it was cloudy and windy and I had forgotten the lesson learned in Negombo. Enzo and his brother in law, Mario trotted off the Fano without me to make the booking for Sunday lunch to celebrate some national holiday in a fish restaurant overlooking the harbour for the whole family.  There are “hundreds” of them. There are also “hundreds” of national holidays in Italy.

With the exception of spraying Nadia with tomato source whilst trying to disrobe a snail it was all very nice and very typical. The tomato shrapnel went well with the black polka-dots that adorned her blouse. As to be expected, Nadia didn’t see the funny side but at least had a proper excuse to look miserable for the whole day. Uncle Mario’s attempt to fake falling into the marina brought on the only, if momentary, merriment of the afternoon. Teenagers do that!

Old time friend David and his wife of some eight years or so were on vacation on Lake Como. We met up and did Venice in a day. It was my first time in Venice. Joe’s suggestion that I take Nadia was rejected on the grounds that I’d been in Italy for over a week and she still had to say “Hello”. A little bit harsh I suppose. Teenagers do that!

Apart from a very fine lunch in a back alley somewhere between the Rialto and St Marks just before the eerily afternoon surcharge of the public sewers, Venice left me relatively cold. In the two succeeding visits, my opinion remains resolute. We met up outside Harry’s bar and walked to the Rialto and back in a day. We should, and could, have done a lot more. The place is too bustling, too expensive and too claustrophobic. I was carrying the giant Betamax portable video recorder and thirty five years on still have a promise to share the epic film with the happy couple. One day….

David had parked his hire car somewhere – somewhere and me somewhere else unpronounceable but both accessible only by river bus. We said our good-byes just before sun-set heading in opposing directions on the Grand Canal. Leaving the car park queuing behind hapless tourists can be quite frustrating as they counted out their lira by the 1000. Recognising the arm projecting from the car in front as belonging to David’s wife I naturally pipped the horn but to no avail. I tooted and then I hooted. The hire car sped away with spinning front wheel drive kicking up the car park crap all over my very new white Mercedes. Back home, David and Sue confessed to having feared that they had failed to pay a bribe somewhere between Lake Como and St Mark’s square and were now under “contract” by some mafia hit squad. Who would have thought that we had both parked in the same car park? (answer, anyone realising that there was only one car park and that the Grand Canal is open both ends…) By the time David had unscrambled the British registration plate through his rear view mirror he was out of the car-park and in the madness of a Venetian rush hour. If you could see how Venetians drive you can fully understand why they flooded the roads to keep the traffic out.

Same old same old!

1986 was a return to Italy. Joe was pregnant with her third child and I was still fairly broke and travelling in the year old B Reg, Merc but with a new house. I took maternity clothes and we did the sites and the beach. Nadia made a great baby sitter and only in her mid-teens had the chest to suckle a pair of pigs.

1987 was more of ’86 but by now Joe had a new baby and Nadia an ever expanding bust line filmed in “zoom” from the protection of my rented beach umbrella. There was coming and going that year. Walter and Sybille drove to Italy but Bubble flew back with Josephine having been discharged from hospital with suspect Gaul stone problems. Joe remained in England to celebrate Walter and Bubble’s 40th wedding anniversary. We did lunch on a hot Sunday at the very posh Hassop Hall. Joe’ removed her corset between the starter and main course.

’88 were cancelled due to lack of interest. I have absolutely no recollection of what happened in 1988.

’89 was a little more adventurous. I got on a plane again. The West Bank beckoned. The tour guide said to take precautions as you “will” get ill, not you “may” get ill irrespective that this was the first group of tourists to vacation at the all-new Luxor Hilton. Bar staff using tap water to fill up the ice trays was probably not such a good idea. I kept my gin and tonic neat. The River Cruisers tied up most evenings disgorging hoards of dehydrated degenerates anxious to get escape the confines of a sanitation barge reeking of poo, inside and out. The Irish were the most fun. One particular merry maker became so pissed he passed out in the public toilets. Failing to make any sense of the intermittent bouts of incoherent ramblings between episodes of violent vomiting the waiter called an ambulance before informing the tourist’s fellow shipmates. The staff were not trained to recognise unrestrained alcoholism on this scale. A group of us went to visit the body in the Luxor hospital. Contrary to the protestation of the Irishman, discharge was out of the question whilst still in a state of incomprehensible delirium. The surprise that I could decipher the bedside conversation convinced the medics that it was the man’s accent and not his mental health that had caused him to be admitted to secure accommodation for his own well-being. The Irishman picked up the tab for the rest of the day but on my condition that a trio of spinsters from County Cork played chaperone, promising to get him back to the river barge in the event of repeat performance of the previous night. We managed sunset over the West bank before two of the ladies were called upon for their portering services. I carried the third. Unfortunately they had failed to understand that the boats only dock for the night. When they disembarked that morning in search of their male companion the ship had sailed away without them. Not until forcibly ejected from a sister ship, the “Egyptian Queen” did it they realise their demise. 

I had attributed their absence of any sense of direction inside the ship to the mind numbing influence of “Jameson’s”. The occupant of cabin 43 didn’t see the funny side of a 16 stone stranger being dumped into her lower bunk. Gang planks aren’t compatible with “duty free” but only one of the ladies actually fell into the Nile! Fortunately she was at the shallow end by the time she stepped sideways and was only wet to the waist. We adjourned to the Hilton who accepted them without luggage for the three days until their boat would be making the return stop.

With the prospect of my holiday by the pool being hijacked I beat a temporary retreat to Cairo.

The flight from Luxor to Cairo is measured in minutes rather than hours. The crew dispensed with the niceties of cabin service of any kind. The gently swinging, half-open cock-pit door gave an unparalleled participation in take-off and landing. With the exception of “your life vest is under your seat” all of the safety instructions were in modulating Arabic through a malfunctioning tannoy system. Why I needed a life vest when crossing a few hundred miles of desert is anyone’s guess. A pot hole, two-thirds of the way down the runway launched the ageing plane skyward whilst simultaneously dislodging a number of overhead bins sending an explosion of carry-on bags into orbit around the cabin. Safety belts were optional. A gaggle of Nubians spent a good deal of the short flight queuing in the aisles, taking turns in the loo to swap traditional Arabic “black” for western Levis, stiletto heels and back combed hair which avoided much of the acrimony created by many of the seat numbers being duplicated on a variety of boarding cards. I had been allocated 32C along with two other passengers which was made even more confusing through there being only 29 rows. I took the first empty seat and pretended to be French in preference to perching in the rear galley for the forty five minute flight. Most passengers were jostling in the aisle cradling their hand luggage and jostling for pole position in the disembarkation line well before the plane actually hit the ground. The sprint for the terminal by the locals was matched only by the tourist sprint for the toilet as the highpoint of a day trip out of the desert.

A gang of girls from Birmingham, I had exchanged nods with in departures at Luxor offered me a lift into Cairo city centre in their tour bus. We made a welcome but unexpected stop-off at the Pyramid of Sakkara on the way. As pyramids go, Sakkara isn’t one of the “pointy” kind like Cheops. The Brummies’ were less than impressed and noisily shared their opinion, much to the displeasure of the Egyptian tour guide who professed to be some expert from the Cairo museum. The group made a bee-line for the stuffed camels and boxes of expired “best by” Dates. In no mood to pander to the tourists he drew the trip to a premature close counting his flock back onto the bus one by one.  …10…11…12…13 and like a sling shot the old Bedford bus was onto the tarmac and on its way to Cairo. “13” I thought! If there were only thirteen in his charge and I had hitched, what tuned out to be a free ride that would make me “14”. Before the penny dropped with the rest of the ladies that they were one short I thought it best to withdraw at the earliest opportunity. Being on the front seat with the guide gave the perfect opportunity to keep him distracted. Faking fascination for anything and everything not on the tourist trail, held his attention as far as a photo stop for the “Blue Mosque”. The Brummies’ were having trouble keeping count above “10”. They were certainly in no mood for a view of an “old church with spiky bits”. Mixing with a group of ex-pat Russians with cameras the size and look of a fair sized turnip was the perfect cover for me and my back-pack to slide sideways into an adjoining bazaar. The “Betamax” had stayed in Luxor.

Two hours, and several detours later I checked into the Ramada. A boy took the bag to the room. I was anxious to sample the souk before dark. The tea was good. The Hubble- bubble pipe was better and kept the flies away. The dominoes’ were congenial. It doesn’t take long to acquire a happy helper. For one Egyptian pound you could choose from a top up for the pipe, tea for the two of us or something not quite dead to eat. The smoke was extremely soothing. At sun set the happy helper saw me home to the Ramada. He would be back, bright and early to “do the sights”.

Reception returned my key along with my bag. As I had not been seen for over 24 hours they had apparently checked me out! How long can a game of dominoes last? The answers is “over twenty four hours” if the Hubble-Bubble is “best Lebanese” compliments of the Golan Heights! No wonder a pipe full cost an Egyptian pound (exchange rate of 4 to the pound sterling in those days). I slept well that night.

Outside the Cairo museum I met a “clutch” of the girls from Birmingham. They were disrespectfully sunbathing on the steps whilst the other eight or so in the group were “doing the mummies”. They were still in dispute with tour- guide for the reimbursement of the taxi fare incurred by the “13th” who had been left in Sakkara two days previous. I couldn’t offer much to the debate as not only had I usurped the place of number “13” but that 40 or so hours ago was a swirling planet away.  We continued the debate on their bus to the proper pyramids. As the guide was now totally “incommunicado” I figured that there was little chance he would be counting heads.

The pyramids were even more disappointing than the Cairo Museum. As the crew failed to understand the significance of the stepped Pyramid of Sakkara the guide ensured that they were deprived of direct contact with the “pointy” pyramids. The alternative to the bus to get up close and personal to a pile of old stones was a rip-off camel ride and no guarantee that the bus would be waiting when we returned. The girls were already a day’s drinking money down and chose not to chance it. The guide rounded off the day by giving me an unexpected bill! He threw in a return trip to Cairo airport for the midnight shuttle back to Luxor.

Flying stand-by may be cheap but it’s also risky. Had the girls not made such a fuss about being given seats split from each other I wouldn’t have got a place that night? As it was, they failed to heed warnings to calm down and speak English so I got 14D. They had the choice between accepting the four remaining seats or joining their mate who was without a boarding card in departures for the night. When something got lost in the translation from “Brummy” to English, an old man and his three Nubian wives snatched the 14A and B and 23A and B. When I next saw the ladies in the hotel bar the following afternoon they looked rougher than the former Irishman. As luck would have it I was in a hurry, and before they could tackle me onto the marble floor for taking one of their seats, I was on my way back to the airport for a prop’ flight heading south to Aswan.

Aswan is a delightful place.

Faced with a budget choice of a night at the “Old Cataract Hotel” or a round trip to Abu Simbol, I chose the hotel. The Cataract hotel is even more delightful than Aswan. So “Hercules Poirot” and just what every lad from Ripley needs to feed his ego. No “Brummies” here! The tour did the high dam and the low dam, the temple of Philae and the markets. Evening cocktails at the Cataract, overlooking the Nile were the best thing ever! The temple of Philae was a romantic place even for a solo traveller. The flight was horrendous. In part, I had chickened out of a further arial extension on to the temples of Abu Simbol figuring that the law of averages was by now working against me.

It was May and hot. May and hot means off-season. Mini-cruise offers abound to fill otherwise empty cabins on the longer itineraries. The thought of coming down with dysentery with only a louvered door between me and my dignity was not for me. After almost two weeks on the Nile I had yet to succumb to Nasser’s revenge. Spells between the comings and goings of the mini-cruises could be quiet at the hotel. I took to day trips.

With the rising sun still on the horizon, the temple of Karnack is magical, cool and empty. I tumbled over thousands of years of history scrutinising every detail and vista. Failing to find a toilet adjourning to the hotel was the sensible move. It was not yet 8.0am. A smattering of taxis, outnumbered by horse drawn carriages loitered in the car park taking shade amongst the sparse population of majestic palm trees swaying in the warm breeze wafting fresh across the western desert.

Bartering is a national pass-time.

For a two pound ride I offered a three pound fare. The driver’s counter offer of five pounds and a slow crawl onto the Corniche was rejected with a repeat offer of the three pounds and a promise that if he got me to the Hilton within two minutes I wouldn’t shit on his front seat. The bonnet of the battered, front wheel drive, seven seat Peugeot 504 reared skyward. Dust billowed from the wheel arches. More than half a mile away the sight of the rampaging radiator grille was sufficient for security to raise the barrier. The car door was open with my right leg on the pavement before the car stopped. By the time we made the entrance canopy the front doors were being held ajar by a couple of lackeys and the concierge had cleared the way through the lobby to the public toilets. I threw the three pounds at the driver and the video camera at the concierge. The sprint across the lobby barely raised an eye-brow. Distressed tourists in extreme discomfort were an all too common occurrence for the well-practised portering staff. In a single manoeuvre comprising use of elbows on the stall door, dropping shorts and underpants in unison whilst doing a one hundred and eighty degree pirouette and simultaneous squat the entire contents of a two days trip to Aswan and the previous days welcome “home “ buffet blasted the floor of the toilet bowl. The slightest miscalculation in the trajectory would have seen it hit the floor of the stall. Had the Irishman still have been in the cubicle it would have been on his lap. Had I missed the synchronised pirouette I would have pebble dashed anything in the line of fire within a range of over two hundred meters.

Fully emptied I regained my composure, my shorts and my camera. Two, two-litre bottles of water and a box of Imodium had thoughtfully preceded me to the room. I awoke refreshed at what I believed to be ten in the evening. Throwing open the shutters, to my surprise it was still day light. 

Another day lost.

I had slept for over twenty four hours without rising for a repeat performance either in or outside the bed.

We did the mausoleum to the Aga Khan. The bus trip went only as far as the Nile Ferry. From there it was an uphill walk in forty degrees of summer sun. The Carrera marble was pretty but not worth the hike when I’ve seen better in Italy.

When the natives aren’t on strike, the tombs of the Valley of the Kings are apparently worth seeing. Preferring something off the beaten track I accepted an offer from a local tout to go trekking. He could arrange the animals, the camping and the tombs. An overnight on the west bank “oonder zee starrzz” would be a mystical experience. His youngest would carry the camera.

The youngest had not seen the size of the “Camera”!

They were waiting for me at sun-up on the West bank a few yards from the bustling ferry quay. Being the only “European commuter“, I was easy to spot. We took tea in a mud brick shed he called home. Outside the animals would be waiting. Instead of the horse that I had envisaged I was presented with a donkey. I have short legs for my size, never-the-less the poor animal sagged so low that my feet scrapped the ground. We trotted off into a cane field. The boy ran alongside carrying the Betamax recorder connected to me by a multi-core cable the diameter of a babies arm carrying the signal from the five kilogram camera. Even without the tether, the sheer weight alone would have prevented to boy doing a runner. A Thellwell cartoon couldn’t have captured the moment more poignantly.

Having declined an offer to join an organised tour by air conditioned coach in favour of savouring the true native experience I was relieved that the sugar plantation provided the camouflage. We broke cover at the precise moment that the air-conditioned coach passed by on its way to see the last resting place of Tut! Had we been twenty seconds earlier we would have been twentieth century road kill. As it was, the only injury was to my severely dented ego. The tourists stared down as I stared back. Hardly a scene out of “Lawrence of Arabia” but left them totally dumbstruck.

It was quicker to walk. By late afternoon with the sun already behind a mountain, the party of five, me and the four Bedu’ were setting up camp in a location that was allegedly some miles west of the Nile. A faint glow assumed to be from the street lights of Luxor silhouetted the peaks but otherwise the sky was a black chasm sprinkled with stars. Sharing a sleeping bag with a hobo scorpion was not my idea of a good time romp in the Oasis. The boy was ordered to go fetch a camp bed whilst the rest barbecued kebabs with lumps of something suspiciously resembling a recently thawed Findus-foods off-cut.

It had been a long day and promised to be an even longer night with the boy having to retrace his steps for the best part of eight hours. Fifteen minutes later the bed arrived over the skyline of a low hill. I distinctly heard the sound of a Toyota diesel. By the time we had met half way in part greeting and part curiosity I could see Luxor laid out clearly before us, across the Nile and hardly a mile away. So much for the desert experience. We had been circling for most of the day within earshot of civilisation. I returned to the hotel for the night repeating the whole journey the following day in an air conditioned coach with a guide who spoke English and didn’t need tethering with an armour cored cable. He also provided toilet paper.

I thinks I enjoyed Egypt but avoid the nightly after dinner trips to the local market if you are carrying cash and incapable of bargaining. The day trip to Hurgarda was all about seeing desert and swimming in the Red Sea. Our destination was the Marriott hotel… in those days one of only two tourist spots on the red sea. How things have changed! We saw and pee’d in the desert and swam and pee’d in the red sea, got ripped off in a buffet bar and came home.

I don’t think I’ll do Egypt again.

V6 014 Sampling Local Culture

Volume 6 part 014 By ’84 I was ready to party.

Thailand was exotic but accessible. I had seen the “King and I”. The Reader’s Digest called it one of the last indigenous societies in the world. The country featured a distinctive language, culture and architecture. A land of smiles. The reader’s digest said nothing about Rest and recuperation for the US forces, “Pat Pong” or Pattaya.

Kuoni did Manchester to Bangkok via an unheard of back-water called Abu Dhabi notorious for the newly opened terminal building shaped like a mushroom under a dome. It was May and hot.  Who would have guessed that it would be Abu Dhabi that would provide the pension-plan 30 years on? The guy in the next seat was small enough to allow me to be comfortable but gripped the armrest of the ‘747 with a vengeance upon take-off and landing. It transpired that his name was David and he came from Blackburn. His first trip to Thailand had been cultural and with relatives on a three centre all-inclusive tour of the far East. This time he was simply out there for the whoring and heading straight for Thailand. I was travelling with the “portable Betamax” in a carry on case so large that it was stowed in first class. The rest of the baggage, like the owner, went cattle class

We were both with Kuoni and unsurprisingly after commandeering an airport car to replace the non-existent airport transfer discovered that we were billeted at the same hotel. By the time I joined him for drinks in the lobby he had already regaled the old-school ex-pats with the horror of the journey and his pathological fear of flying made bearable only by having a pilot in the adjacent seat. His newly acquired gang of dusty bar-flies scanned me with incredulity. Not until I showed them my pilot’s licence were they convinced of the efficacy of David’s assertion. Maybe I should have pushed the point that my “Pilots” licence was for a hang-glider and a student pilot at that!  It transpired that he had elected me as front runner for taking over the controls of the Qantas, 747 bound for Sydney, in the event of a mass food poisoning of the crew.

I hadn’t the heart to disillusion the poor thing….

The pep talk from the old “crusty’s” included reference to jet lag and the fifteen-hour flight, staying local for the first night, avoiding jumping into bed with the first tart to pick us up and not eating from the gutter carts.

We stayed local and survived the rest. From there-on-in David and I had each other for Dutch courage. We found wives in a bar with a “Boy George” theme on the Sukhumvit Road but traded them within the hour for younger models in a nightclub featuring wall-high video screens of Michael Jackson’s “thriller”. In hindsight this was a good move. The “Boy George” fans may not have been able to prove their authenticity. For twenty baht, the meal for four negotiated by one of the “tarts” was delicious. Plastic foot stools and a picnic table less than 60cm high straddling an open drain provided the romantic setting for my first meal in Siam. “Plastic” service was supplemented by a drinks run to the local “grace” bar between serving multiple courses of noodles and omelette derivatives. The proprietor of the wheel barrow was chef, waiter and “runner” all rolled into one. We introduced the girls to the old crusty’s over breakfast the next morning after less than two hours entertaining in bed. The “ladies” were allowed into the hotel only if they surrendered there ID papers although this was little deterrent from doing a runner as most of the street girls carried multiple documents. David adopted his bed mate for the entire week’s stay in Bangkok whilst mine took up with a pensioner sensing that her “hours” with me were severely numbered. We bumped into each other most mornings. She was happy with the air conditioning and her new target falling asleep before managing to arouse himself for any action. For a little over fifty pence she also did the daily laundry.

Evenings started relatively civilised with dinner in proper restaurants. By Midnight it would be a dive in Pat-Pong and invariably finishing up by the early hours in the original “Grace City” Bar, not to be confused with the “Grace” Bar, on the Sukhumvit Rd. My favourite dive in “Pat 2” was a beer bar where the staff wearing roller skates, whizzed around the bar delivering direct to the table. Unremarkably, both the boys and the girls were bollock naked. Apparently it was acceptable to have a play but I think the purpose of the staff dress code was to make sure the punters got the correct change.

The bar maid next door could put a ping pong into a pint glass from twenty yards. You soon learned to duck when she bent double on the bar for fear of losing on eye. She was equally dexterous with eggs although they got “laid” into unsuspecting pints as opposed to being fired at high velocity with the aid of a vaginal fart. An enormous Scott’s man on R&R from the oil-rigs in Saudi didn’t see the funny side of having an egg broken into his beer. His lunge at the bar-maid met with the retaliation of the full force of a volley of six balls dispensed in rapid fire and at close range as she hurdled over the bar. The party piece was unveiling a string from her lady parts laced with razor blades which when fully unravelled would extend around the entire perimeter of the bar.

How we laughed!

I got split from David in the ensuing brawl and made it back to the Sukhumvit alone. The “Grace city” night-club held, maybe, a couple of thousand punters. The bar was split right down the middle with “Falange” (Whites) on the left and “Allah’bs (Arabs) on the right. Men of colour gravitated between the two zones. The girls had very strict taste in men to compensate for their less than strict code of conduct. “Me-no-like-allabs-fuky-up-arse” was a common complaint. Suffering mild Dyslexia and to avoid the risk of mixing up my right with my left I regularly adjourned to the Grace “bar” for a quiet drink.

Unlike the “City,” the “Bar” was half full if it had a dozen customers. The other half of the bar was infested with call-girls on a ratio of two to each “butterfly” and an average age of what appeared to be approaching puberty. But the beer was cold and rarely was it necessary to queue for a seat at the bar. The girls played a mean game of dominoes keeping a safe distance if unprovoked. The reward for dragging a two-metre-tall Somalian into a “tut-tut” after he passed out on a bar stool was free drinks for the rest of the night. In less than a couple hours I was in a similar state to the Somalian who had apparently been there for two days. The manageress took me home. She drove a BMW. At three hundred percent import duty a BMW was as revered as Buddha. Her husband had reportedly died in a cross border confrontation which I gathered was not of the military kind.

Unlike the street-girls she wasn’t asked to surrender her ID at reception. Giving the car keys to valet parking was enough to vouch for her credentials. She bathed us both. I fell in love that night. It was a sporadic four-day affair. It was all over too quickly. There was no need to say good-bye. Neither of us was going there…

Checking out the local building technology.. when asked why the bricks were so small the answer came back… “becausethe women’s hands are so small” . The ladies didnt use a line or level but simply corrected the previous days alignmenet each day they proceded.

While in Bangkok, David and I had done the water markets, the temples, the bridge over the River Kwai, the Royal Palace and lots of Buddha’s. David thought elephants would make a change, all filmed on the seventeen kilo Betamax. We’d been up country and watched tribal dancers trying to remove each other’s ankles by skipping with bamboo poles and learned that you kept your mouth shut when taking a water taxi. The spray from passing motorised gondolas did not discriminate in which orifice it chose to enter.

I left for Pattaya with David early on the Saturday morning in a pre-arranged tour bus.

Night time in Pattaya was a collection of girly bars and “tranni’” shows. Day times should have been by the pool. I don’t recall eating in Pattaya except for a restaurant that played “Footloose” on table mounted juke boxes but there must have been many restaurants and food carts for the two weeks I stayed there.

Pattaya during the day was Tattoo parlours and clap clinics. I visted one with a guy from the hotel who had an unfortunate reaction to a street girl. The doctor was only too happy to show me around given my interest in hospitals… perhaps he should have asked his patinets first? By night this street was a blaze of lght bulbs and sun burn. Taking Cola is not an option as drinking non alcholo

Most mornings uncovered something snuggled in the bed sheet. The locals had a disarming way of accusing you of being a butterfly with no heart who would dump them tomorrow. This blackmailing-guilt-trip was supposed to keep your loyalty in some vain hope that the street girls would get a consecutive night in the same bed. For the most part the ploy worked. For four or five hundred Baht a night, that “don’t work with me”. Two hundred Baht had been the going rate until the wealthy Germans and Dutch arrived creating an inflationary scale of an Argentinian magnitude.

A team-building group from the Nat West bank exploded into communal hysteria at first sight of a snake. They hit the water for cover with all the grace of a synchronised evacuation of the titanic.

Who the fuck knew that snakes could swim? Scared by the commotion the snake joined the Nat West for a thrash-about in the pool. The bank instantly reacted like trident missiles launching themselves vertically in every direction followed in close pursuit by a decidedly shocked, albeit quick learning reptile left floundering in a daze in a pool-side plant-pot and wondering what all the fuss was about. One of the hotel “escorts” casually dropped her towel trapping the creature in its folds and ending its days in the garden snake pit.

I peered over the rim of my “Police” Polaroid’s from the sanctity of my sun lounger, totally unmoved.

David thought the British stiff upper lip was taking composure a “tad” too far, berating me unreservedly from his lofty position standing on his sun bed.

I remained resolutely catatonic.

It wasn’t until he got closer and discerned the word – “brandy” breathed through clenched teeth that he realised I was in a state of total paralysis. Even if the thing had come for a French kiss I couldn’t have moved! David administered the anti-dote in a large glass of iced Cola. He had treated similar symptoms during our visit to a snake farm on the way back from the River. Why anyone farms snakes was a mystery and although we sat on the top row of a modest concrete amphitheatre to watch a snake being tormented by an agitated yokel intent an inducing the shit out of a pack of unsuspecting pink tourists David had witnessed first-hand me clearing, a full 12 tiers in a single leap to escape the thing when it jumped out of the arena and made for the crowd. My Phobia is legendary.

I was on a “two for one”, which in my case equated to four weeks for the price of two. David left after two weeks.  David’s “moll” for the week organised an almost convincing tear jerking send-off but within minutes had hooked up with a new arrival fresh off the bus that took David back to Bangkok International Airport. Her best friend had become my personal companion on alternate nights. Her name was Noi. Being marginally older than the others in her work-crew she made it clear that she was ready for retirement which explained why I thought keeping a little distance, prudent.

Noi 1984 … check out the sun tan on “butterfly” Mike

Without David I was Home alone!

I let Noi stay for a while on a block booking after negotiating a two nights for one discount which included doing the laundry. She had many stories about the sixth fleet putting into town and could still vaguely remember the occupation by Americans some twenty years before. They used Pattaya as a forward bombing base during the Vietnam War. She recalled how the bombers would take off in tandem and then circle to form their flight until they were so dense they almost eclipsed the sun light. Had she been watching the same planes taking off that I had seen passing over-head so many years previous?

The hired jeep attracted friends. An Australian girl on a shopping trip from Perth with her grandmother became a day time companion for few days. Noi didn’t like the sun or elephants. David had pointed out that elephants can fart, and fart with alarming consequences. They do tricks in a circus ring where the unsuspecting tourists fight for the front row. I headed for the rear circle begrudgingly followed by the Australian. By the time we took our seats the animal was concluding a particularly boisterous pirouette on its hind legs. Its tail stuck out rigidly horizontal as if attempting to counter balance the enormous weight of its trunk. A slight quiver was followed by the ubiquitous fart. The crowd giggled until the follow-through showered the entire first three rows with liquid shite the colour of milk caramel. Stunned silence broken by the screeching laughter from those immune, and in the know, on the upper circle gave way to retching of biblical proportions. Fortunately, it was hot and threatening a monsoon. A high pressure hose did the trick as the disgruntled tourists passed by, one by one for a dousing. No worse than a tropical storm really and, given the humidity most were completely dry by the time they made it to the car park.

I called her Alice because I’m no good at names. Alice was well impressed at my foresight and paid for dinner that night. Noi came along to protect her investment at a safe distance. Later that evening Alice swapped me for a stag party from Sydney although I partially got my revenge by introducing the prospective best-man to a lady boy for whom Noi did make-up. The rugby player and the rent-boy hit it off fine, so something of a backfire.

The youngest of the stag-do crashed a motor bike the very same night and spent the rest his holiday in bed with his right leg in plaster. The boy was in his late teens and seemingly abandoned by his comrades. Noi and I arranged for a girly-rota and the room-charge for an unending supply of Singha beer. His father reappeared from a four-day sabbatical somewhere in a slum near the Arab quarter to reclaim his boy and with immense gratitude repatriated the invalid in a private ambulance back to Bangkok. It transpired that many tourist fell victim to motorbike crashes but not all were cocooned in plaster as an insurance scam by unscrupulous doctors earning slab on the side. This explained the lack of pain killers and follow-up visits when I had put the boy’s resilience down to being a thick-skinned colonial fresh from the outback.

I’d been at the Nippa Lodge Hotel so long by the average tourist standards that the staff began to take pity on me. Occasional invites to “meet the family” got me home cooked dinners in shanty shacks and birthday parties in jungle clearings. As soon as one course was over the host would simply stick their hand out, grab another passing chicken, chop off its head at the table and, as if by magic and within minutes, another fresh roast on rice… All I had to do was drive and smile. The driving came naturally.

For our last night together Noi and I dined by candle light to the inevitable sound of a single speaker juke box alternating between the themes to “foot loose” and “dirty dancing”.  Noi proposed only a couple of times that night. I pretended not to understand her broken English. She organised the going away fanfare of twenty or so tee-shirt waving hookers and rent boys competing for the most tear-in-one-episode award. The cheer leaders were a professional footballer who by night impersonated Dianna Ross in the drag show at the Susanne bar and his wife who was a hairdresser and owned a tattoo parlour. They had become particularly fond friends after I had righted their 1000cc Kawasaki which was pinning the two of them to the pavement when attempting to leave the bar for home one night after a particularly revealing performance. 

I met a guy who needed a lift to a local store… Hardly worthy of the trip but he got very sun-burned hanging onto the roll-over bar dressed only in a “T” shirt…

I suspect that some of the wives on the coach might have preferred that the girls had stayed in their shirts for the farewell whilst some of the husbands were clearly getting a rush from semi naked boys and girls alike. The kids, who were probably older than me but didn’t let it show, were all off back to the “strip” to trap another gang of freewheeling tourists before the bus hit the highway. All very sad really.

I was thirty four and still alone.

As for Thailand;- I vowed never to return.

V6 013 this and that

Volume 6 part 013 odds and sods

By August ‘81, I bought a new Black Audi 100 paid for by an interest free loan from the Derbyshire County council and a new house paid for by a Halifax mortgage. Rose was the first to take a ride in the Audi. She also moved into the new house as cover for her boyfriend to reduce his alimony payments. I don’t recall if she actually ever slept there. Meanwhile, her boyfriend topped us all by taking Concorde to Rio and spending a few days in Manaus where he bought her some dodgy un-mounted emeralds as a part of his guilt trip.

Syb had this notion of moving back home to Germany. The “Crown” was big business with three bars, Restaurant and ballroom keeping us going well past midnight most days. Ten letting bedrooms made for an early start. A bed and breakfast on the Rhine would keep them busy whilst allowing for a wind-down. Juppe and Lillo did the research and arranged the viewings.

This was was the end of January 1982.

Christmas to the Easter holidays was generally a quiet period at the Hotel and sufficiently laid back to let Walter cope by himself while Syb and I went house-hunting. January and February usually means snow in the Black Forest. Mercs don’t like snow. I equipped the new Audi with deep tread snow tyres for a whirlwind tour to take in a couple of viewings interspersed with a catch up from the relatives and the inevitable shopping. Bubbles house conversion at Cromford was complete. She had contracted a highly infectious fit-out bug.

The snow started properly East of Brussels. By Liege, the steep incline on the motorway leading up into the Ardennes was littered with slithering and sliding trucks, cars and buses across the full four uphill lanes. The Audi with its 2.2litre 5 cylinder engine sitting over front wheel driven snow tyres and a manual gear box took on the challenge without a hint of faltering. By the German border, the snow was lying comfortably to the depth of the front axle. Passport control recommended we seek shelter in the service station for the night to await a fleet of advancing snow ploughs. We decided to push on, slipping down the on-ramp onto an unblemished, pure white fluffy carpet blanketing the entire canyon of carriageway between opposing crash barriers. Large flakes fell silently but sufficiently persistently to fight with the wipers. We drifted off the motorway at the first junction and slid silently onto Trierer Strasse. There was no way of distinguishing cycle lanes from tram tracks or roadway. We approached Lillo’s house more by feel than vision. The gates to the private compound were open, the security lights blazing across a field of white. We gingerly approached the back of Juppe’s prized 280E taking care to stop short of his rear bumper and hopefully having missed the odd flower bed in the process.

We took coffee and the characteristic buffet of cold meats and farm bread. I slept in a spare bedroom finished on every surface in pitch pine identical to the adjacent sauna and shower room. There were no windows. I enjoyed the pine coffin on a few occasions in the next ten years.

The only serious contender for a B&B was located in a tiny town called Neustadt somewhere between Darmstadt and Heidelberg. “Somewhere” was being a generous description! I got lost on the way having taken the wrong autobahn of the three that head south from Cologne. We arrived for the viewing four hours late. Had the Audi not been equipped with snow tyres we wouldn’t have arrived at all. Although situated on the crest of a mountain, theoretically overlooking the Rhine valley, there was no outlook past the neighbouring houses except from the attic which made up the owners flat. Combined, the four letting rooms were larger than the owners flat. During the summer season a breakfast room served coffee and cake in the afternoons to passing hikers fit enough to make it down the valley side and then up again after a slab of famed phlaumen cuchen the terrace enjoyed a view of an apartment house. There was no guest parking which must have well endeared the establishment to the residents of the private housing on three sides of the B&B. The final nail were the 1.2m eaves heights of all the rooms in the top floor flat. There was not a single wall that would accommodate Bubble’s precious shiny cabinets or five door wardrobes.

The idea was barking!

After pleasantries and polite excuses we left to sample the delights of shopping in Darmstadt for oversized table cloths and matching doyleys before making our way home. The journey back to Aachen took a third of the time of the outward leg which goes to show that it helps to know where you are going.

Willie got to drive the Audi to Monchau on a play-day. Monchau was an old favourite but never before seen under a metre of snow. The Merc’ would never have made it!  Willies girlfriend, Berbel accompanied us. Juppie and Lillo stayed home. I don’t believe we invited them. There was a lot of snow early spring of ’82.

We spent enough time in Aachen to fall victim to a self-invitation from Uncle Karl. He had been to England a number of times but summer of ’82 would be the first time with an octogenarian tart in tow. Leni had moved in on Karl before auntie Finchen was cold. I agreed to do a re-run that summer of the 1974 trip when David and I had retrieved Karl with Finney in the Capri.

Butch was a real lady. A delicate sable, Alsatian with attitude. She somehow picked up Parvo Virus and bit me badly in retaliation for having pills poked down her throat. I woke up with a rigid right arm infected up to the elbow. The nurse didn’t panic until she discovered that the dog had died in the night. The dog was with the vet for a post-mortem. I was discharged with the arm strapped to my chest. Mobility was chemically assisted.

Andrew had worked for me before heading off to university. Depression had brought him home. God sent me a chauffeur! The absence of a driving licence was a minor drawback. I would steer and operate the clutch. Andrew would shift the gears.  The journey was fairly uneventful except for the incessant accompaniment to a Carly Simon tape from the back seat on the return leg. Leni was a devout catholic. She had been reciting the rosary.

I sold “Wirksworth” in late ’83. Inflation gave me the cash to buy a plot of land in Matlock. I moved back into the Cromford house which had been fully renovated and doubled in size by Syb as a retirement home. For a couple of years, holidays had been restricted to long weekends and away days. The Black Audi looked well in Paris. It had been that year I took Martin, Joe and Keith for the freebie on the Rue De Rampon.

Martin with a favoured Renualt 5

V6 -012 Return of the Raj

Volume 6 part 012 To the Colonies

1980 may have been an expensive holiday but nothing compared to the money I spent in ’81. A new car, a new house and a new horizon. Syb and Walter had done their Caribbean Cruise as a sequel to Hawaii in ’79 so it was my turn to go global.

Sri Lanca was the setting for a book by Arthur C Clarke, featuring a ground station for an elevator into space. The Island had a history and a name change but was increasingly appearing in tour brochures as a holiday destination for the discerning. I bought the half-board package deal through Thomas Cook Travel who sold trips by other companies in those days. Kuoni was the king of the exotic holiday and for off season travellers waived the single supplement for those travelling alone.

Sigaryha … base station for the elevator to to space

Three weeks based at the “Brown’s” Beach Hotel in Negombo gave ample opportunity for touring the island. British Airways provided the 747 jumbo for the Heathrow to Colombo leg of their daily service to Sydney. We did a stopover in Bahrain and my first taste of why air-conditioning is an imperative in the Middle East. Up to that point I’d manage to hold onto my very new Marks and Spencer dark blue velour sweater bought to contrast nicely with my very new beige chinos and matching suede desert boots. I recall being extremely disappointed thatthe international style wasn’t enough to get me a complimentary upgrade at check-in. The obligatory briefcase had also failed to impress.

The airport in Colombo was little more than a shack for arrivals and separated from transit and departures by nothing more than a luggage cart. We arrived at the hotel to a breakfast of mango, banana, more mango and the onset of a monsoon. I would have never thought it possible to get sunstroke under cloud the colour of graphite. At dinner, I was joined at my table on the terrace by a diminutive pensioner who introduced herself as the person who had followed me from Manchester! This was her first holiday in over thirty years. It transpired that she was the widow of a spend-thrift butcher from Rochdale who had owned a chain of shops. His untimely demise left her everything. She was determined to make up for lost time. Unsure of the ways of the world but being behind me at check-in she resolved to follow the blue velour! Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only “30”-something who shopped at an “exclusive” M&S outlet. The plane was full of us! Somewhere between Heathrow and Jakarta she lost me. I had lost her, along with the blue velour in Bahrain. By Colombo she had followed the wrong sweater into the transit lounge whilst I was heading for arrivals. Apparently Jakarta was a fab place!

Tide in and monsoon arriving but at least it was a beach view

Of the one hundred and seven rooms, only nine were occupied. May is monsoon. Monsoon means off-season.

I made friends with a lush tour-guide from Essex topped with a flock of bottle-black dyed curls and a ginner’ couple from Glasgow.

Dive bombing fruit bats and athletic rats regularly interrupted Barmy nights being entertained outside the staff beach house. Fading light and homemade vodka usually resolved the problem until we found one particular suicidal rodent blocking the only loo shared by the colony of hyper-inflated tour guides. The manager’s offer to shoot the animal with his antique sawn-off shot gun was not well received speculating that an explosion of ceramic shrapnel might not compliment a holiday look in which this seasons’ theme was set by blistering sun burn and matching polka-dot tee shirts. A bath-towel draped into the bog and a bottle of Bacardi later the saturated rat casually trotted past our table on the terrace on its way back to a tropical beach hideaway. It may have been the rum but I swear it winked it’s appreciation as it passed. We gently returned our recoiled feet back onto the bamboo matting. The tour-guide gave remarkable head in gratitude for the humane solution to her infestation. I think she also gave me flees… Either her, or the straw mattress.

Originating from the colonial era of pre-electrification the bedroom corridor was an open balcony. All rooms were now air conditioned providing a tempting leakage around the bedroom doors where bugs and small reptiles could take refuge in the cool. We soon learned to walk the corridor stamping our flip-flops to give fair warning to the lodgers that they would not be welcome to enter. The slapping sound sent them scattering like an exploding fire-work. The occasional cock-roach made it past the defences. Stepping onto a cock-roach when in bare feet is not a good idea. Stepping on a Sri Lankan cock-roach in flip flops is equally perilous. Armour clad beetles are as difficult to crack as a macadamia nut and could easily do a runner with a flip flop irrespective of whether it is still occupied, or not!.

Golden rule… Never use the lift.

The power outage was as regular as the bowel movements generated by a daily dose of pump-washed, mango-induced dysentery. Being trapped in a lift would not be a pretty sight, let alone sound or smell! By the end of the first week, the on-call doctor administering an antidote by injection on a bi-daily basis was as equally acquainted with my arse, as a pair of my favoured year-old Marlborough boxers. The doctor had been trained as a GP in Oxford where he poached his partner’s, six feet three-inch nursing assistant and equally as well-endowed as the tour guide. Inevitable gossip and tribal custom had caused them to wed but apparently, not seal their exclusivity.

The doctor proved more of a menace than the nubile nurse.

I managed to divert his attention to a blond boy from Surbiton tasked with delivering a petrol contract from BP to Air Lanca. The boy scammed us an invite to a British Embassy junket to celebrate some deal or other. It turned out that being well known to the ambassador’s family the “deal” was more about entertaining the boy than celebrating the oil! … and that’s all he did… went to Harrow and now hand delivered contracts around the globe in-between parties thrown by fellow members of the “in-crowd”. Nice work if you can get it!

The complementary Benson and Hedges were welcome accessories for both me and the flotilla of Sri-Lankan “wannabee” wives who followed my shirttails for the entire evening. It appeared that being seen with someone white and big and British was something of a status symbol. The ladies didn’t smoke, but thought it cool to be seen elevating a filter tip higher than the canapé trays.

On the way home, the Morris Minor 1000 taxi died a couple of times presenting us with the opportunity for a little festive, alcohol fuelled, nocturnal skinny dipping. The lack of a moon did little to disguise the boy’s ample attributes that went some way to explaining why he flew first class and could easily cope with the advances of an itinerant quack who professed an Oxford education. The revelation wasn’t lost on the pouncing tour guide who, coincidentally, left for London the next day, on the same BA flight as the boy. I was left in solitary!

Like the Fruit Bats, the “ginners” remained inside during day light. The sun didn’t agree with them. A stash of locally sourced ginger-nut biscuits and home-bought, imported Ty-Phoo added to their self-sufficiency. They rarely needed to lunch. Why anyone would bring their own supply of tea, five thousand miles, to an island whose principle cash crop was tea remains a mystery to this day. The irony of preferring “ginger-nuts” to the carry-on bag full of digestives wasn’t lost on me but the monologue that they had thought it too warm to risk bringing the chocolate variety to a hot country was a valuable fifteen minutes of life lost forever!

Each day it was just me and Albert. Albert was my houseboy with an undecipherable name. He had adopted the name Albert. At 11.30am precisely every morning Albert would cross the expansive beach to my solitary deck chair to serve me two mini burgers washed down by cough syrup professing to be Pinna-colada. Tooth picks buried deep within the buns ensured that both halves of the burgers resisted unwarranted attention from the shiny black dive-bombing crows and equally veracious tropical on shore winds. The treat was barely a mouth full but one quickly learned the necessity to nibble around the edge to expose the meat skewer in preference to attempting to devour the thing, whole.

The blue, lightly checked, Cliff Richard style, straight cut swimming trunks as witnessed in the Canaries and basking in Capri, were out for their 10th season. Elastic doesn’t last forever!

I stirred from my morning’s doze around the usual 11.30. It wasn’t Albert who awoke me but a decided draft around the nether regions. To my horror a pair of hairy balls had edged their way down my right thigh. They had surfaced to sample the rare sunshine. Albert was late. Beach combers and hawkers were common and often as rife as a biblical plague. To my relief, I detected no footprints in the sand between me and the sea.  The wriggling, associated with vital adjustment of all things pendulous must have been the signal to Albert. No sooner had the bollocks been retracted than Albert’s smiling shiny face was on my shoulder bringing up the cocktail from behind. He overstretched to the point of over- balancing. His wink inferred that he wasn’t actually late. He’d been earlier. He had been on time. Being confronted by an unexpected manifestation he had thought it diplomatic to beat a hasty retreat to avoid embarrassment all round.

We laughed in unison.

I apologised for the indiscretion.

He apologised for electing to preserve my dignity by raking over the footprints in the sand in front of me rather than waking me. He would have got away with it, had he not told me so! I had been so far adrift that even a local “stray” coming in for a point to point sniff, failed to bring me round. I assumed that he was talking about a dog but thought better than labouring the point.

Swollen ankles were symptomatic of the heat, local hooch, dysentery and dehydration. The doctor reassured me that it was a common affliction for old people on long haul holidays. At the age of thirty one I was officially “old”. I had hired a car. A thirty-year-old pink Chevrolet Impala with a “stick shift”, yet no clutch was supposedly the nearest they had to an “automatic”. Swollen ankles can’t cope with double declutching. At about four miles to the gallon it turned out to be good luck that the hire charge was based on mileage covered and not the length of the hire. In three weeks it moved just four miles on a single trip to the fish market and back. We had no need for fish but were there long enough for a stray bullock to drop a wet crap on the boot lid.

The Ginner’s surfaced with the bats at sun-down every day. Albert called them the “wampires”. I guess he didn’t have Dolby sound on his fourteen inch black and white that substituted for an English teacher. Some obnoxious twelve-year-old pushed his fully loaded plate onto the red “cardinal” polished terrace narrowly missing Albert’s black Paton slip-ons by the length of his protruding big toe nail. In well versed English, presumably for my benefit, the brat ordered the house boy to clean up the indigestible mess.

My immediate counter-order to maintain his position as my personal attendant sank the terrace into silence. Albert was Tamil. Albert was my Tamil. The brat was Sinhalese. The manager was from Bradford. The man from Bradford came down on the side of the politically “indiscrete” imperialist filling one of only seven occupied rooms. He couldn’t afford to lose me, let alone risk a mass exodus that would almost certainly include the two ginners, a butcher’s wife from Rochdale and the German “Mengele” family who purported to have moved to Negombo after the war but were enjoying a clan reunion. The boy from BA had already left.

The manager sent in a cleaning crew but the brat met with no reprimand from any quarter. Albert excused himself from the wrath of the customer’s gaze. After dinner I, “the imperialist”, speculated that the island was, indeed, heading for civil war.

By breakfast Albert had organised a taxi-share with the Scottish couple, packed the three of us overnight bags and a picnic for the road. I couldn’t see how this was Albert lying low. Maybe he would take some time off whilst I was on the grand tour. The ancient Morris Cowley had tappets as loud as the Chevrolet but unlike the Chevy’ the exhaust cloud wasn’t thick enough to render the rear view mirror totally superfluous. By dark we had made it to a mountain retreat near Anuradhapura. We were the only three quests booked into the splendid and very modern hotel that evening. Reception rooms shaped like concrete tents, open to the jungle gardens with no external walls offered views across the plains to Sigirya and beyond. The hotel was the week-end haunt of the ex-pat community, mostly diplomatic staff and also Sri Lankan government officials which explained it’s country club feel.

The dining room was laid for a table of three. Obsequious staff lined the perimeter of the hall nodding and semi-bowing as I glided towards the head of the table to which I was being directed.

Arriving at dinner ahead of the two scots the table centre piece was too inviting to be ignored. After a long, hot day on a dry and dusty road the fresh bean salads offered irresistible temptation. Thirty seconds of shall I, shan’t I and the right hand went in for the kill like a viper on steroids. If the locals ate with their hands so could I! A lush, verdant green, bean sparkling with evening dew slipped in between my sun burnt lips. No sooner had the taste buds commenced caressing the Asian delight than my head exploded in the flames of Beelzebub. Hell hath no fury like a green “Chilli” scorned. This was no mere green bean!

Almost before I clutched my throat in a remake of a Peter Ustinov version of an Agatha Christi, Poirot Death scene, but barely managing to screech the word “Beer” through my involuntarily clenching teeth a flock of houseboys descended on the table in unison having witnessed first-hand the bravery of a courageous “Brit” who apparently knew no fear and could bravely snack on fresh green chillies. At the point of passing out, and to my astonishment, Albert came to the rescue administering two fresh warm, bread rolls and a small pot of cold brown rice as an antidote. Two beers arrived in advance of the Scots who upon being seated, were casually warned against sampling any of the fresh green beans as they may be “Chillies”. Having had my larynx chemically peeled I was in no condition for dinner -time banter. Been there, done that and got the tea-shirt wasn’t the half of it, however the tee-shirt I was wearing remained inexplicably soaked for the rest of the evening.

Albert served us dinner. Thankfully, he had not been an apparition in my near death experience. He had gone ahead on the back of a pale blue, 50cc motorised bicycle as his interpretation of my advice to make himself scarce whilst I was away. He steered me well away from anything vaguely hot including, regrettably the flambé bananas soaked in finest French brandy.

Albert slept with the driver under a bush at the back of the dustbins. We clubbed together to get them a room. By subsequently declining the offer the pair got the benefit of the cash-rebate from reception and an upgrade to a bush next to the guard room. They used bits of the bush for toothbrushes. The irrigation sprinklers provided for bathing. I have no idea of what they did for a toilet!

I could walk and I could sit. The swollen ankles simply meant I couldn’t stand stationary. Albert swept a clear path through the local tourists in front of us, all the way up the mountain to the summit of Sigirya.

Contrary to science fiction, there was no “elevator into space”. Other than a view into infinity there was nothing. I descended the two-thousand or so feet of slippery steps carved into the rock face, in reverse. Most undignified…

Buddhists also appear to like living on hills. Everywhere was steps. Steps offer shade. Snakes like shade. Snoozing snakes get their revenge for being disturbed by tramping tourists by joining them in their flip flops. The Scotsman’s wife proved stronger than she looked. The shock of a slimy green thing kissing my left ankle whilst riding tandem on my right foot sent me ballistic. I could have cleared a five bar gate from a standing start but instead found myself in the arms of an eight stone, lightly framed housewife from somewhere just west of the Gorbels, and with my thighs firmly clamped around her Laura Ashley Clad pinched waistline. She was already red from the sun but now had to contend with being mounted in public. Considering I was easily twice her weight she maintained her balance with the consummate skill of a tight- rope walker. Her balance was matched by her stunned composure. With the assistance of Albert, her husband managed to peel me off before the pair of us plummeted the few hundred feet over a low parapet wall into the car park below. The driver witnessed the whole thing offering him a resolute lesson in where not to park. For me it was a lesson in the art of treading temple steps lightly.

We shared the last of the ginger-nuts.

Returning to Negombo on the scenic route, we stopped off in the old Capital of Kandy which had been set up by the Raj as a cool hill retreat and used by Mount-Batten as his forward command post, well away from the Japanese, during the war.

Kandy was all about botanical gardens and a sighting of a rare white python.

The lawns were a type of low lying weed which flattened itself to the ground as a reaction to being touched. The snake had been seen that morning but had disappeared into the undergrowth before it could be caught. Beaters were out on watch. On the edge of what must have been a Cricket pitch at one-time we could see the “weed” flattening in a wave flowing towards us of if being struck by a phantom tsunami. The beaters followed in close pursuit. Putting two and two together and making “snake”, I broke the 4-minute Paralympic mile back to the sanctuary of the Morris Cowley beating the Scottish pair by half a furlong and clearing two hibiscus bushes and a potted palm unassisted in the process. The wave had past the “wife” before she made the safety of the open pathway with no sign of being overtaken by any reptiles other than her husband who had already caught his breath in the safety of the flaking leather clad back seat. Albert was long gone.

We took tea in a tea plantation before following the flotsam from a tourist coach on a tour of the factory. Rickety, gyrating conveyors spilled as much ground-up tea-leaves onto the floor as they did into foil lined boxes. A trusty slave swept-up the droppings which, with a rusty old dust pan he diligently reunited with the tea leaf shavings remaining on the conveyor. Mixing tea with floor-dust wouldn’t have been so insanitary had we not previously visited an elephant farm that same morning. Elephants pee and shit an awful lot. Who visits an elephant farm with a change of shoes? I was almost glad we had taken tea before the tour. To my dismay, the only way out was either through the café or by running the gauntlet of a tribe of snake charmers lining the pathway back to the car park extorting the odd rupee to keep the writhing creatures within the confines of their homemade wicker baskets. I chose to risk a second helping of tea.

Batique is everywhere. I bought batique having been given the hard sell by a native who assured me that the best batique uses only the finest dyes. She, herself imported direct from Germany as the quality was far superior to the home-grown variety which, sort of, missed the point.

The fishing village was interesting, loud and colourful. We took note of which fish were laid out to dry on the beach where the wild cows strolled contentedly in the hot sun evacuating themselves at will, and those fish that were marinated in barrels that doubled as a Laundromat. Those identified would be off-menu.

A week at the hotel restricted to Sear Fish had finally seen off the doctor from his twice weekly house call.  Sear Fish resembled a small shark and tasted like a big tuna. To my relief, Sear Fish were neither bathed with the laundry nor marinated in cow shit. I had attributed the fish to my newly acquired immunity to dysentery until I saw the fresh catch being dragged through the local sewerage outlet on its way to market. No amount of hosing down could put it back on my menu. This discovery came on top of the knowledge that the copious quantities of tea were flavoured with elephant pee.

Top tip; – If you are enjoying something, don’t check how it’s made or where it comes from if you have more than three days to go before leaving for home!

Clad in the jacket from my unused 1977, white wedding suit with mother of pearl buttons I took a taxi from Heathrow to St Pancras. After an overnight flight I had shaved using the battery powered Braun Ma had bought me for Christmas. Creating the right impression is extremely important. The white jacket showed off the tan to full effect. “First class” meant your own compartment on trains in those days. A very obliging British rail porter stowed the suit cases commenting with equal envy on the bag tags and radiant tan. Asking whether I had been best man at a gypsy wedding or an extra in a remake of John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever was as unwelcome as it was not amusing. I guess I was still travelling with a “stick up my arse? I had to unload my own bags in Chesterfield.

Walter collected me from the Station in his ‘450 SEL… so up your’s creepy British rail guy!

V6 -011 Do it twice and then again

Volume 6 part 011 ’79 and doing it twice

By summer of ‘79 Granny did her stuff with the packing albeit with the strict limitation that if it wasn’t in the boot it wasn’t going. The Red VW roared like a hurricane. A very nice man from the AA checked the exhaust in Dover but couldn’t see a major problem. His suggestion that it would get me to Italy was a relief. The boat was at the point of departure. The sound within the confines of the cross channel, ferry car deck was ear splitting. On the open road, in excess of seventy miles an hour the noise was hardly detectable over the four speaker stereo. Fourteen hours after leaving Calais I was parking up in Pesaro. With the boot up and smoke dissipated the bags were unloaded to reveal that the carpet lining had been bonded to the bulkhead. It transpired that “the problem” was a hole on top of the exhaust not evident by an inspection from below. I knew a good “Marmita” shop from a previous trip in the Dyane 6! Concern for the damaged carpet was eclipsed by the engineer pointing out that the bulkhead was no closer to the heat-source than the petrol tank. Apparently crawling in a traffic jam might have proved terminal. Ignoring speed limits isn’t always inappropriate. Joe’s new bedding had gone up in smoke.

Italy was nothing new. All a bit of a bore really. After 10 days on the beach and eating too much homemade pasta, the two little girls packed their bags and piled into the back seat for their summer in England with Bubble and Walter. They were joined by their cousin Giuseppe, a precocious, streetwise 11-year-old who was getting behind with his English language lessons. The trip did little for his English however, Giuseppe became highly proficient in pool and fell in love with my dear Rose. Rose was occasionally back on the scene after Lindsey had decided we had no future together. Lindsey had been the follow-up to “Yanice” and for both of us something of a rebound affair. She dint last long enough to be invited on the ’79 trip.

We returned via Germany, doing the stretch from Pesaro to Aachen in a single day. We had a new “marmita”. We all piled into cousin Willy’s vast double king. Willie slept on the sofa. The seventy-five minute channel crossing took a little over three hours. Docking took a further three hours. The storm was so violent that the decks were as awash inside as they were on the onside. The previous year had coached me in the art of diversion. Half a bucket of ten pence pieces occupied the first couple of hours giving me the opportunity to assist a charming army wife travelling alone with 3 boys indulging in synchronised boffing. Giuseppe thought it was hilarious. The decks had been transformed by the rivers of vomit into a skating rink. Passengers were slipping onto their arses in every direction. The three of mine were bent double with laughter and proved so immune to both swell and sick that they even managed three trips to the self-service and two raids on the sweets in duty free without incident.

Giuseppe puked just south of Canterbury as testament to a shared addiction to “gummy-bears”. Not to be out done, Nadia pee’d herself and spent the rest of the journey “Commando”, elevated on a pile of sun oiled multi-coloured beach towels without the benefit of a seat belt. She became well acquainted with the rear footwall.

At some point during their stay and by some unreported tri-partite negotiation, Giuseppe acquired a “Yorkshire Terrier”. Walter and Syb planned a cruise for September. It fell to me to return the kids, and the dog, to Italy. This would be a whirl-wind week-end. David was well married. I had remained close to little Robert’s friends after Robert was jailed in Late ’77 for helping himself from the pub safe. Sparky was courting strong leaving his best friend “Trav” at something of a loose-end. Trav was a bit older than the rest of them, less giddy, quiet and relatively shy. It was for only four days so did he fancy a long week-end to Italy to keep me company?

(September 1979) We left Matlock at five, after work getting us to the M1 behind the Thursday rush Hour. Calais was now well connected to Europe’s motorway system. We passed Paris by breakfast and by mid-afternoon entered the Mont Blanc Tunnel. We took “tea” on the Adriatic.

Trav pretends to drive… after crossing the central resrvation just for the view of Chamonix

It took an hour or so to dump the kids, shit, shave and shower. By the time we got to the “3 Pigeons” the party was in full swing. We got to bed before sun rise but spent most of Saturday on the beach.  A barbeque at Scavollini’s farm before returning for a second night at the three pigeons rounded off Saturday in Italy. Snitzel, buckets of Liebfraumilch and a trip to the local bar with Cousin Willie finished off Sunday evening in Aachen. We had left Italy about six on the Sunday morning to avoid the mid-day heat.

A pint was waiting for us when we arrived back at the Crown in Matlock at six pm on the Monday. I was back at work on Tuesday. Trav took to his bed for the rest of the week, signed off by the family Doctor who diagnosed a bad case of physical and nervous exhaustion.

1980 and not the waether for cruising

Bored with the inevitable and increasingly obligatory “Italian holiday” ’80 was something of a respite as the kids would come, if at all, with Joe later in the year. May had become my month for holidays and Walter and Sybille hijacked September. The bars couldn’t be abandoned during the summer season

Given the prospect of losing her Tampax courier-service Syb worked her magic on Walter. Inevitably, the manipulation went so far as to leave Walter believing that it was his suggestion that I used his 450SEL for the annual crossing of the continent. Bubble had the boot packed before I could refuse the offer.

Dashing across Europe in a 1.6litre VW, relying on tank stops for rest and recreation meant a stop at least every four hours or so. The Mercedes wasn’t much different except that each stop was a further contribution to the national debt. Getting fun out of the beast was at a cost of somewhere between eleven and fourteen miles to the gallon. Cutting the top off Germany by trying a route through Luxembourg proved an equally costly decision. A traffic policemen appearing to impersonate a twelve-year-old boy scout and smaller than his side arm pointed out, in perfect English that “120” was the speed limit in kilometres and not Miles per hour. The lesson in international relations cost a two hundred Deutch Marks, on-the-spot cash fine. No-body used credit cards in those days. I had heard of Barclaycards but used an almost useless Diners Club Card for some inexplicable reason.

The short cut through Alsace to re-join the autobahn at Karlsruhe had not included snow in early May on my itinerary. The snow gave way to two weeks of equally unpredictable heavy rain. There was little cruising that year.

An inherent aptitude for backing the wrong horse was exemplified by our selection of camcorder. Given a choice between VHS and Betamax, we went for the Betamax. The camera rivalled the size of the industrial equivalents hauled by the BBC. The recorder was portable only if you had a boot the size of a Mercedes Limo’ or a tribe of subservient Sherpers in tow. For a bus trip of factory girls from Perugia size was everything. The car was something to behold. Extracting a cine camera, the size of an industrial washing machine from the boot confirmed their suspicions that this was someone very important. The moustache was a dead giveaway. After respectfully requesting Joe’s permission the entire complement of workers patiently queued by our lunch table to claim their autographed serviette delivered with an affectionate peck on both cheeks. Joe hadn’t the heart to disabuse the crowd with the truth that her brother, or who they thought to be her husband really wasn’t “Magnum PI”. I was thirty. I wasn’t “Magnum” but should have been. We filmed the tour bus as it left for home chanting their adoration for “Man’um PI” …..

I wore 501’s and a white tee shirt. The man in the Porsche stood no chance as I rocketed, westward out of Munich. I “didn’t” smoke! Just before Stuttgart I stopped in lay-by for a Marlborough reclining across the passenger side rear wing. The man in the Porsche got a full frontal of “Magnum” in his 501’s, white tee shirt, Camel Shoes, and Marlborough.

I had pulled in my pot belly. Fortunately, he hadn’t fallen behind by more than a couple of minutes.

We met up later near Heidelberg to exchange nods across the Esso Forecourt. Hardly a scene from “Girl on a Motorbike” but dead cool never the less! It would have been properly cool if the car had been a two door sports job instead of six meter, long wheelbase, luxury limousine, which for all intent and purposes was being abused by the chauffeur on his day off.

V6 -010 Lacking imagination

Volume 6 part 010 Rolling on

Rose dumped me for her boss with the Black Granada Ghia with the grey valour roof trim that spring of ‘76. I hooked up with Heather and took Robert to Italy that June for his sixteenth birthday under instruction from Bubble who needed to make a trans-continental delivery and paid.

Dave had work friends to whom I wasn’t party and was probably tired of playing tag to Italy. It was fun showing a new-comer the old routine. We did Europe overnight stopping only to refuel, pee and in an emergency on the slip road into Pesaro when the ashtray caught fire. The whole two weeks was a re-run of the times I had with Dave but not as equals. It was all very hard work as boys take some entertaining. The boredom was mitigated by a driving lesson where Robert put the Ford Capri under a Flatbed articulated truck and later almost wrote off the brother-in-law’s Vespa. The car stopped just short of the window screen hitting the trailer. The Vespa stopped just short of the next door neighbour’s garage door ending up with badly strained handlebars and right ankle.

We came back via Paris which was totally lost on the lad. Free spirits are very seductive. Unfortunately, free spirits are often a disguise for indifference to all and everything around them. True to form, Paris was a waste of time for Robert and a waste of effort for me. This wasn’t a sixteen-year-old’s problem; it was Roberts’s problem. His friends couldn’t get enough of the travelogue. “Sparky”, Robert’s best mate, saw Paris as a great adventure, spending the rest of the year unsuccessfully saving for a solo trip. He reaped his reward by riding shotgun in a VW Scirroco, a year the following spring. One of the “senior” bar flies at the Crown was having a fling with the daughter of the owner of the “Bellevue” on the Rue De Rampon just off the Place De La Republique. Keith organised a cheap rate for a mixed garret and asked us along to make up numbers. The move was relatively shrewd as he didn’t drive and got a free ride for a free room. “Sparky” got the subsidy of his life! Almost thirty years on and it is still his holiday of a lifetime. My reward was his insatiable smile, from the Eiffel tower, to being locked in a whore-house by a bouncer scamming twenty francs a beer on the Rue St Denise nothing was a drag, everything was a scream. A boy from a council estate can have an opinion on a Pompidou centre with the same delight as consuming his first garlic snail and glass of red wine. Of the latter, I don’t recall which found itself onto the pavement first.

Keith and I did Paris a few times between ’78 and ’82 but only on the last trip to the “Bellevue” did I repeat the invitation to a junior from the Tap room bar. By 82 I had progressed from a VW two-plus-two to a full length black Audi 100. Martin Crapper, although a few years younger had become something of a sole-mate and pool partner. The Rue St Denise had his eyes popping in a wider orbit than that experienced by Sparky, surpassed only by the Place Du Clichy and a mix-up with the New Zealand Rugby club. In the excitement I lost a money clip containing one hundred pounds to a pick-pocket.

I liked Martin, we weren’t close. Martin liked me, he liked to cling. A couple of days after we returned to England we met up at the Five-ways disco at Owler bar to compare notes and exchange photographs. Martin, ever ingratiating had seen another side to life. He thanked me. He had been liberated. I didn’t see him again for over ten years!

76 turned out to be a very busy year. Naples in spring, Pesaro in June, defending the County Council in a coroner’s court in July, two timing Heather after an unfortunate summer bank holiday in Blackpool and getting engaged to her former best friend Janice on New Year’s Eve. The gold Ford Capri had morphed into a silver VW and a black Harley Davidson motorbike.

’77 would be heaven. ’77 would be saving, house buying, honeymoons and living happily ever after. The wedding was set for August the 6th.

On the 7th June I left for Italy, courtesy of “Woody” at Matlock Green Garage and a new clutch. Silver VW on “Jubilee day” which had been declared a national holiday.  I let it be known that I would not be returning until after the wedding. The County Council offered no objection to the prolonged leave. David had married in May of ’77 and firmly off the agenda as travelling companion.

Street parties extending into the summer evening left the major routes deserted. I left in the early afternoon having closed the bar from the lunch time session. Within six hours of leaving home I was in Calais and heading for Paris. By teatime the following day I was claiming political asylum in Joe’s Via Barracca flat on the Adriatic.

It wasn’t much of a holiday. Ma had been on the war-drums warning Joe not to pry into the break-up with Janice. She lasted two days before demanding that I “dish the dirt” by which time Dear Janice had cancelled the reception and torn up the invitations. The six-horse carriage was ordered back to the “Red House” stables. It was safe to plan my repatriation.  I slept a lot that holiday. The return journey was considerably more up-beat being accompanied by Joe’s family of four, two months’ supply of kid’s clothes and a log effect coffee table.

The VW was not equipped with air-con or full sized back seat. Fortunately, my brother-in-law wasn’t equipped with full length legs. The kids were still babies.  Even accounting for cake stops every couple of hours we made it to Aachen in the early evening. Cousin Willie was hardly prepared for putting up five uninvited refugees, let alone feeding them. Amazing how bad my German can be when avoiding taking a hint. Ma and Pa returned Josephine and family back to Italy by car at the end of the summer season of ’77.

After the spring break to Paris with Keith Bagshaw and mates, the rest of ’78 was reserved for the inevitable “Italy” in a red Scirroco via Aachen and the Alps. Nothing new was planned but Carla would be coming back with me to spend the rest of the summer in England with Grandma and Grandpa at the “Crown”. I arrived at Joe’s flat before she had returned from work. The neighbour was expecting me and unlocked the door.

Never answer the phone in someone else’s flat particularly when you don’t speak the language. I answered the phone with a deft version of “Pronto”. Unsurprisingly the reply was in Italian! But crap Italian… English Italian… “Scuzzy, parlo englese?” ….. I am the former Girlfriend of your brother-inlaw….”. It was the stress on the word “girl”, and not “friend” that gave the game away. “Hi Julia, I’m the boyfriend!” was my instance response. I had just arrived and not yet unpacked. Within twenty minutes we were sipping Cinzano Bianco in Pino’s beach bar. Julia had been rerouted by a tour company and dumped in Italy instead of a pre-planned, cancelled trip to Bulgaria. It was only respectful that she should call in on the one-time “in-laws” who-never-were. Always big on etiquette but not big enough to dump me gently four years previous.

We did a day trip to Florence. An overnight would have been just too compromising for the pair of us. A couple of afternoon outings and we had exhausted all the catching up. Fortunately, she was only on a single weeks’ vacation and “had commitments” all part of the package. She didn’t get to see the “3 pigeons” and the bottom of a bottle or two of Moscato. We had nothing much to say.

Carla was approaching six but familiar with me. Nadia was just out of nappies and hated everyone. Carla took no persuading to pack her rucksack and journey back with me all the way to the UK to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. Nadia was a lost cause and not worth the effort. The trip to Aachen would be a gentle two-day affair with an overnight somewhere in Austria. In the event of an incurable bout of homesickness I would have time to turn around and still make the Sunday lunchtime ferry from Calais to Dover. By the time we were due to leave Pesaro, Nadia was out of her cot and had squeezed herself into the back seat. Without doubt, we definitely would be back by dark!

The hotel in Austria was fine. A double bed and pull-out Z bed. The kids put me in the Z Bed. The whole journey was totally uneventful. The first tears came as we boarded the boat. I was doing a baby a favour carrying it up the steep stairs from car deck to the passenger level but, instead it balled its eyes out screaming something incomprehensible in Italian. All very embarrassing until Carla pointed out that the bulk-head was very low and that Nadia was head-butting a synchronised, succession of protruding fire sprinklers. Two pounds’ worth of ten pence coins for the gaming machines proved an instant cure. The child has never been the same since. Once banged on the head, always brain defective!

A group of servicemen’s wives travelling unescorted with broods of disobedient miscreants applauded my parental skills. The steward in charge of the gambling machines failed to share their opinion. At the risk of encouraging the kids to grease the floor with baby puke we took refuge in a fast food outlet. Almost 1300 miles without incident and the excitement caused by seeing Matlock on the horizon as we dropped down the hill into Tansley was just too much. Less than two miles from home and the projectile vomit hit me square on the back of my neck. Not a drop was intercepted by the integral headrest. Carla had survived a force five gale in the English Channel only to lose the lot within sight of grandma!

’79 was expected to be an almost straight repeat of the ’78. Sparky would not be accompanying us to Paris. His turn had been and gone. Joe’s kids would not be returning with me from Italy.  Girl friends were just that, friends. Fun friends but not worthy of a free holiday. This was my time.

Paris was “same old- same old” but now with time to sample restaurants and corner cafes at leisure. A new “Burberry” was just the thing for the Café de L’Opera on a sunny April Sunday. It had to be two sizes too large and tightly bound at the waist by a knotted belt. Not buttoned and not belted through the latch! I read it somewhere in a dentists waiting room, readers digest. I had a waist in those days and Bubble could afford the Burberry.

V6 009 Up-Up and away

Volume 6 part 009 – singing like a canary

Summer ended. I returned to Newcastle where the sea was always the colour of that stormy night in Pescara. There would be no holiday until finals were over. By summer of ’74 I would be 24. Convention dictated I got a job and after exhausting every crumb of my savings, employment as a city slicker became an imperative. “Yom Kippur” determined otherwise. The ’73 war had left us with yet another recession. I wasn’t going anywhere. The only option available for gainful employment was to take up the open invitation to re-join the Architects at Derbyshire County Council. With only one exception, everyone was happy. I was that one exception!

I stayed away from Matlock for that last Easter at University, preferring to revise in Newcastle. A “flash” Ford replaced the Maxi in May of ’74. I had finished my exams. University was at last over with the caption of completion of the course work and the final orals. My dissertation was fairly crap but the design work good enough to pull honours. Five years at University had done little for my command of the English language and less in developing the patience to read anything longer than the first four pages of the Sunday Times.

I came home to Matlock in July of ’74 with a clear month before it would be nine till five for the next thirty-five years at least. I toyed with the idea of rekindling an interest in Ethiopia. The civil unrest brought about by ever increasing civil rights abuses didn’t sit well. As it was, Haile Selassie only made it to September of ’74 before also “losing his head” and the country falling into total collapse. That door was firmly closed. I was doomed…

Syb invited Uncle Karl and Auntie Finchen to stay for the summer. I would collect them from Aachen and Walter and Syb would drop them off on route to Italy the following September.  Julia had long since left Derby. It fell to David to ride shot gun. It was to be a long week-end which is about as much as either of us could afford. With the motorway now extending from Brussels to well past the German border we arrived in Aachen in the early hours having left Matlock after tea-time the previous day. The two German hitch hikers we picked up in Ostend had expected to take the night to cross Belgium. As it was they found themselves dumped on a very wet pavement in a Southern Suburb of Aachen at around two in the morning. The Ford had performed splendidly even if the passengers were too shaken to hold a cigarette lighter steady in the torrential downpour. They had all on to untangle their legs sufficiently to take shelter in a tram stop. “Two plus two’s” aren’t notorious for bags of leg room.

Perched catatonic on their ruck sacks, shell-shocked from the fast ride leaving them unable to communicate verbally, I personally thought they could have been more grateful. IT put me in mind of the walk along the seafront in Dover awaiting a ferry. We were approached by a young lad begging 50p towards his boat fare back to France and without hesitation pulled a one pound coin from my pocket with the express instruction to take one of his mates with him…

One day in town scored a dented front wing from an incompetent foreigner who left a note written in highly grammatical gobble-de-gook purporting to apologise for crashing into us whilst parked in Aachen by the side of the Cathedral. One day in the countryside scored a date with a rampant sixteen-year-old who fancied a ride on something more dangerous than a ford two by two. The little darling shared the same genetic predisposition to free-world bonking as her degenerate parents and reportedly even more degenerate auntie whore-in-law. Juppe’ was at his caravan site with busty Bernie. Next door was Juppe’s wife with her geriatric boyfriend and potential daughter-in-law. Neither David nor I were equipped to be cradle snatches.

Karl and Finchen barely survived the homecoming but firmly sandwiched in the back of a two door Ford Capri MkII, they weren’t going anywhere. In those days we could do Dover to Derby in about four hours including the short-cut straight across London via Vauxhall Bridge and Marble Arch.

Within two days of arriving in Matlock Auntie “Fin’” had a bunion removed on the NHS spending the rest of the summer with her foot raised high on a foot stool. The flare-up in the swelling on her left foot was absolutely nothing to do with carpet burns sustained from the involuntary braking exerted in the rear foot well on the way from Dover.

Syb’s benevolence in scamming the free treatment cost her a slave for the summer. Karl made a great cellar man.

It only took to 75’ for David to tire of the Europhiles. In February we hit the Canaries. Two “cool kids” arrived in slacks, tank tops and matching moustaches.

I carried the briefcase of course!

As the first time on a plane together we had to be seen to be the part! And what a part! The peasants went to Gran Canaria, the families to Tenerife and we picked Lanzarote. Nobody who was anybody had even heard of Lanzarote let alone isolated it as a dream destination. The Island boasted two hotels and twelve palm trees. There was an awful lot of black ash labelled as sand. So obliging was the terrain that it wasn’t necessary to visit the beach to get a fair share.

Most of the beach, when it wasn’t under a fiat 600 was permanently airborne. Thirty years on, the beach where we part buried the hire car is a bustling resort. In those days the beach was the periphery of uninhabited desert reminiscent of a lunar landscape. It was my first skinny dip before using the beach towels as temporary road surfacing to get the hire car back onto one of the Island’s three paved roads. Maybe we should have tested the density of the volcanic ash before we left the road in the first place. It was difficult to determine whether the smell of burning sulphur was emanating from the bed rock beneath the sand or an Italian clutch. The more it revved the deeper the rear wheels sank. In the end we resorted to physically bouncing the car back onto terra-firma a foot at a time.

Taking shelter while skinny dipping and pondering how to escue the car… I should have had a hair cut first..

We took in all of the islands treasures which listed a derelict two room medieval castle embellished with used condoms, a sleek restaurant dug into a cliff side overlooking the opulent Upper East Side of the planet Mars equipped with neither kitchen or bar, and a camel ride. A “Benson and Hedges” flitter tip proved invaluable in getting the animal up to speed, which explained the menacing stare upon dismount. An acrimonious belch signalling “take cover” was followed almost instantaneously by a high speed ball of black intestinal mucus the size of a cabbage fired at us and the FIAT.  A 51 seater Mercedes luxury touring coach intercepted the sticky bile which smeared across the length of three windows much to the horror of six rows of gagging, recoiling pensioners who had innocently focussed their cameras on what they expected to be their photo of a lifetime. Instead, they would be travelling back to their cruise ship with the enduring memory stuck to the side of their bus of how far and how much an angry camel can spit.

The camel driver kept up my reputation for a good photograph – David Left, Mike right and camel centre

That night, the engine blew up after a moonlight sprint around the island just as we made it back into the capital, Arrecife. Juan Carlos had recently been proclaimed King creating all sorts of civil unrest. Explosions were common although car bombs had still to evolve into a coward’s weapon of mass destruction. Explosions in cars were usually confined to their tyres but having the boot lid very nearly embedded in a bus stop was a sure giveaway that something was amiss with the rear mounted engine. No one was hurt. The natives hadn’t come into contact with too many foreigners but lying prostrate in the road, even we thought to be a display of somewhat extreme reverence. They were on the floor until the smoke and shrapnel settled. 

We got a taxi home. The guy who came to collect his hire car wasn’t too pleased to hear it had blown up. “The tyre… she’sa blown up?” NO…. THE CARZ, SHE’S A- BLOWN UP’A…in perfect Spanish, but didn’t get us our deposit back.

Lazy days were spent around the pool on days when traditional Canary Island entertainment accompanied a complimentary Canary Islands buffet supplied mostly courtesy of “Iceland” or alternatively sun bathing sheltered inside shallow stone circles constructed on the black sandy beach. 

At The Hotel San Antonio, we’d emptied the wine cellar of our favourite tipple, within three days which may have gone some way to explaining the possibly over-heavy use of the clutch. It certainly explained the two and half square meter buffalo hide I bought as a rug in a bazar one evening after a binge on a particularly fine Rioja. The amber, gold symmetrical markings on the hide were particularly fetching. They didn’t fade enough to uncover the brush marks for the best part of twenty years by which time it was too late for a “sale or return” of what turned out to be the remnants of daisy the milking cow who, contrary to the gross exaggerations of the sales boy, had never once experienced the majestic mass migration of the herds of the Serengeti. I glided through customs with her rolled up under my arm. I wore the black suede flamenco dancer’s pillbox hat and carried the knock-off booze in my briefcase.

two of the original trees on the island

David had bought post cards. He suffered a strip search!

I waited loyally, land-side for the best part of an hour. Apparently no-body travels that light unless they have something to hide!

Being unsuccessful on the pull had little to do with the average age of the talent being around that of the state pension. The two eligible “Babes” were conspicuous by their absence from dinner after only the second night.  They were so committed to avoiding us that they were prepared to give up on the complimentary half board which included a complimentary glass of wine on Buffet nights.

We dressed for dinner! Maybe no surprise that we didn’t pull the only eligible pair who did a runner!

There were no terra-cotta urns, no dodgy balconies on Via Barracca, no Earthquakes with neighbours running inside to take shelter under door jambs, no Moscato and no petrol coupons. I quite missed Italy.

Fly drives are best taken when there isn’t a threat of a General strike at your destination. In the case of Italy, you get to off load your own baggage. On the plus side, the car gets brought to the plane to allow a hold-to-boot experience and no passport control. The car was a new model Fiat upgrade to impress those still sat on the plane awaiting the onward leg of the flight to Malta.

Lanzarote was a year behind us. For the trip of spring ‘76 we would get to see Southern Italy and by returning the car in Bologna got visit the nieces all in one go without the risk of camping on the way.

Naples airport has an exemplary way of scaring the shit out of tourists arriving by air. Come in at high altitude, miss the crater and take a steep dive onto a twelve-hundred-meter runway and you’re there!

At the best of times Naples is not renowned for its fragrance. At the worst of times and during a general strike initiated by the local communists, the mountains of bursting bin liners almost overshadowed the winter of discontent initiated by their British counterparts only five years previous. That one nearly cost me my degree. This one cost me about an hour’s diversion and an aroma you could cut with a chain saw.

We ate at the Europa restaurant overlooking the bay, later discovering that the “Europa” was allegedly the source of a recent cholera outbreak. The prawns were as delicious as the mussels. Twenty minutes into the appetiser and David was still alive so I guessed it was OK to join him in his trough.

With nowhere to park we headed out of town in search of digs for the week-long stay. We were well into the suburbs before we found a place with space for us and the car. Torre del Greco has a fabulous hotel, it was off season and a give-away. The room had a roof terrace with a full frontal of Vesuvius. I thought it better that David took the bed closest the window. The gated driveway gave some assurance that the free fiat upgrade would still have its wheels by breakfast.

We did the Amalfi coast and got as far as Paestum. We did Vesuvius and got as far as the crater. Blowing cigarette smoke into the hillside set off reactions all around the rim. A fact I couldn’t share back home as “I didn’t smoke”. Naples does the best pizza in the world. We found a tiny back street family run kitchen by accident one night after the opera having diverted up an alley to throw off a mass attack by a bunch of prostitutes dressed as transvestites. Or maybe transvestites dressed as prostitutes? Any-way, eye contact would have been bad enough but Dave would insist on laser piercing stares aimed at their somewhat ample, if irregular lady parts. One swipe of the hand bag should have been enough to send us running. It took a second glancing blow to David’s right temple to have us down the alley.

It was fortunate that On “Opera” night the “Polizia” turn a blind eye to using the one way streets the wrong way.

By the time pizza was over the streets were deserted. We retrieved the Fiat and headed for home. David drove, David was fairly pissed! We saw “Carmen” complete with gipsy wagons, camp fires and a gang of off-duty plumbers in the next box. The Royal box, to our left stored white ermine clad dignitaries dripping in diamonds and pearls.

Had I have known the effect of urine on the spines of a sea urchin I would have pee’d on David’s foot. We had crossed to Capri on the hydrofoil. February is still fairly cold unless sheltered from the Mediterranean winds. We both wore sheepskin coats yet a dip in the Med’ over the Blue lagoon still seam’t a good idea. When my spec’s slid off a rock into the blue yonder it was left to Dave to sacrifice himself. Without them I was virtually blind. Despite surfacing with bollocks the size of a peanut he managed to lose the glasses completely. A second dip brought up a handful of potentially highly contagious seaweed and a foot full of urchin spines.

Not always been fat then? in my favorite blue swin shorts…

In keeping with our reputation we must have looked a sorry sight!

Dave led me by the hand across the island whilst hobbling on his good foot simulating a poor impersonation of the hunch back of Notre Dame. Apparently we stopped for lunch in a characterful local restaurant. David read the menu and fed me whilst describing the décor. Back on the mainland I was reunited with a spare pair of glasses strategically left in the glove box of the Fiat, and enough sight to drive back to Torre del Greco although insufficient to pluck Dave’s feet. The spines worked their way out quite naturally over a month or so, when he would unexpectedly and uncontrollably leap into a home-spun, one legged, Austrian Gavotte.

We made much more convincing sight-seers than we had made holiday makers. We still dressed for dinner but now got away with it. Two twenty-something’s recreating a facsimile of “Death in Venice” went quite unnoticed in a chauvinist back-water where “peacocks” thought nothing of strolling hand in hand whilst the wife was back home gutting a pig. Those that weren’t strolling with their “camel” coats slung nonchalantly across their shoulders were pumping the rear suspension of one of several Fiat 500’s in a park overlooking the bay. Plastering the car windows with the sports pages from out of date copies of “La Figaro” was little disguise for highly pneumatic copulation. Closing the rag top sun roof may have helped.

We came back home via Pesaro, bought Joe new shoes, fed the family in Carpagne where it snowed, we snowballed and flew back from Bologna after returning the hire car. I bought Rose a necklace in Naples which I wore for dinner with David on Vesuvius and through customs. All rather “flower power” if some ten years too late. Rose might have thought better of me if I had taken her to Naples rather than Dave.

But Dave was my best friend.