Our parliamentarians have been kind enough to give you a 3 year demonstration of their lack of wisdom, lack of intelligence, lack of honesty and contempt for democracy. Are you really going to vote for any solitary one of them of any party who is currently sitting in the House of Fools? If you do, you deserve them and I wish you the Best of British – for the little while they will allow “British” to exist.
Saturday, 7 September 2019
Thursday, 29 August 2019
Tuesday, 20 August 2019
Triremes of Claudius go speeding out of Gaul,
charged with taming Albion, enigmatic queen,
then civilise and modernise
with unity and roads,
to leave a lasting legacy where Rome has been.
Bold privateers of Devon, harnessing the wind.
Buccaneers with cutlasses plunder Spanish pelf
then bequeath the world a language,
democracy and law,
bonding scattered people in a vast Commonwealth.
Bureaucrats of Brussels, inept scions of Rome,
with bloated pay and pension cosseting a life
of bumbledom and jargon
in quangos that cascade
unedifying orders, sowing seeds of strife.
Thursday, 15 August 2019
On the whole Brexiteers are logical thinkers led by nincompoops who couldn’t negotiate their way out of a one man tent.
Remainers are the opposite. Their leaders are hard-headed logical thinkers who see the EU as a place where they can enhance Their political and business careers no matter what the cost is to their Gullible Followers, the country, and generations to come who will be tied into a totally undemocratic hide-bound empire that will finally disappear up its own bureaucratic backside.
Sunday, 11 August 2019
Monday, 5 August 2019
Two enterprising lads in Saltash have opened a cafe selling Mexican food. They’ve called the cafe Foreign Muck. Now the angry brigade are on parade screaming, “racist!” and “call the police!” More proof that we are now a joyless puritanical society and anyone who tries to snap us out of it is doomed.
Friday, 2 August 2019
Friday, 7 June 2019
Friday, 11 January 2019
May and Hammond sling their hooks – good. Can we now rebuild the navy and defence forces?
Re Carbon Fooprints
Have Green MEPs refused to join the carbon footprint caused by moving the Euro-mob to Strasbourg and back every month?
On Climate Change...
During a period of global warming around 2000 years ago, the Romans expanded their empire to the north of Europe.
During a period of global warming around 1000 years later, the Vikings explored the Arctic seas, discovered America and established farms in Greenland.
Now, another 1000 years on, during a further period of global warming, a crowd of CND look-alikes want to close our country down.
Patience My Little Eco Warrior...
Climate Change started 5 billion years ago. It is forecast to end in a further 5 billion.
Patience my little Eco Warrior - patience
Old Juncker... (To the tune Widecombe Fair)
Old Juncker, Old Juncker, lend me your deaf ear,
we’re a big market with fish in our sea,
can trade with the wide world without you my dear
wi’ no Blairites or Bercows, Nicky Morgans,
Vince Cables, Heseltineys, Anna Soubrys,
disdainful Ken Clarks - sod ‘em all,
disdainful Ken Clarks - sod ‘em all.
Thursday, 10 January 2019
Jonny on Sunday
“I hate Sunday.
There’s nothing on Sunday, unless you’ve got money. And they’ve stopped my spends.
I woke early this morning and set up the drums all round my bed. They’re not really drums, just boxes and tins, and Granny’s old jar that rings when you hit it.
I must practice, you see. I’m starting this group when I leave school... Heavy Metal... or something like that.
I was drumming real good when Granny burst in. “Stop it!” she yelled. “Stop all that noise!”
I hate my Granny. She’s always complaining about me and my noise. I’ll be glad when she’s moved to that old-folks’ home that Dad shouts about when she’s gone off to bed.
She knocked the jar off the stool when she opened the door. It fell on the floor and smashed into bits. She burst into tears and fell on her knees to pick up the pieces. She’s a big baby sometimes.
Then she rabbited on about crystals and things. But there were no crystals there – just a broken old jar.
She shouted for Mam and kept blaming me. But it wasn’t my fault. She broke it herself when she opened the door.
I tried to explain but she only got worse. So I grabbed for my clothes and ran down the stairs.
I got my football and went out for some training. I use the old shed because it makes a good noise. The harder you kick, the louder the bang. You can spot all your best shots. I might turn professional when I leave school.
Dad charged from the house in his vest and pyjamas. “I’ll kill you,” he yelled. “Yer all flamin’ noise.”
He’s ugly, my Dad. He looks worse in the mornings. Mam says it’s the beer. His hair hangs down over his face and his eyes are all red. He’d look like a monster if he had any teeth.
He tried to hit me and missed. His hand caught the wall and started to bleed, so he danced up and down, howling and cursing.
I was glad. I hate my Dad. He shouts too much and spoils all my fun.
Then next door’s barred cat jumped over the wall into their garden. It looks like a tiger. So I climbed over myself and started to stalk it, on my hands and knees through all the flowerbeds. I might be a trapper when I leave school.
When it went in the coal shed I set up an ambush. I hid in the sheets on the whirly bird clothesline with a handful of mud. Then, when it came out, I let fly – splat! Right on its head.
Then fat Mrs Bailey came waggling out, shrieking and skipping and flapping her arms like a panicky old hen trying to fly.
“Oh, my sheets!” she screeched. “Oh, my flowers! Oh, my cat!”
I kept saying, “Shush, you’ll bring out my Mam.” But she just wouldn’t listen.
Mam came out then and they both got me cornered. They dragged me into the house and kicked me up the stairs. Mam clouted my head and yelled, “Get in that bath!” She knows that’s the worst thing that can happen to me.
I hate my Mam. She sides with others and keeps on about bathing and washing and things.
I ran the water and splashed it around so they would think I was in it. I got this tray that they use for the soap, and set it afloat. It made a good boat. I stood a plastic bottle on top of the tray and it was just like a mast. Then I got my sister’s clean knickers from over the towel rail and rigged them up as a sail.
I like sailing boats. I might be a sailor when I leave school.
Then my sister came in, bleating as usual, about the wet on the floor. She ran to my boat and snatched off its sail and shouted and thumped me and called me bad names.
I hate my sister. She’s always like that. She stands for hours in front of the mirror, squeezing her zits. That’s why she can’t get a boy with a motorbike – because she’s got zits. She reckons Roger’s a boyfriend. But he hasn’t got a motorbike, only a car.
I gave her a kick, hard, on the shin. She shouted for help and screamed when it bled.
Dad and Granny ran out of their bedrooms. They all tried to punch me, Granny and Dad and my sister. But I gave them the slip and dashed down the stairs.
Mam went to grab me, but I pushed her aside and ran out of the door.
I ran to the woods. I like the woods. There’s a swamp with water and mud and all that kind of thing. Billy was there, making a damn.
Billy’s dead lucky. He gets loads of money. That’s so he’ll be good when his Mam and Dad go down to the pub. And he gets pounds from his brother, so he won’t grass about the pills and cannabis and that.
I helped him with the damn. It’s good practice really. I’ll build a big damn when I leave school, then let the water run out and drown all our family. After that I’ll move into Billy’s and get lots of money.
I slipped and fell in. I was wet through and cold and covered in mud. So I ran home and sneaked in through the back door and crept upstairs to the bedroom to change.
That’s where I am now.
Mam’s running upstairs. She’s screaming again, about the mud in the kitchen and over the stairs. The rest of the family are running up with her, Dad and Granny and spotty daft sister.
I hate Sunday.
Sunday, 6 January 2019
They’re at it again, attacking cigarettes. They’ve already banned them in most places. It just isn’t fair.
Our Fred smoked 90 a day for 15 years and they never did him any harm. He was killed by a bus while having a coughing fit in the middle of High Street. Nobody has said we should ban buses.
Warming on Sea
Friday, 4 January 2019
Thursday, 27 December 2018
Thursday, 20 December 2018
If Corbyn thinks May’s a stupid woman he’s entitled to say so. After all the Europeans think she’s a stupid woman, why else would they offer her a backstop that no-one in their right mind could accept? The fact that she accepted it proves that all the rest are right.
Thursday, 13 December 2018
Tuesday, 11 December 2018
Saturday, 8 December 2018
Friday, 7 December 2018
If Ireland, or any other fragment of the nasty little Franco/Germanic EU empire, threatens us with deprivation after a hard Brexit, why can’t we point our what our retaliation might do to them. Well done Priti Patel and shame on Theresa May.
Wednesday, 5 December 2018
The Dutch have refused to let a guy alter his birth certificate and make himself 20 years younger. He wants to alter his age from 69 to 49 because he feels 49. Yet if he woke up and decided he was a woman he could slip into a pair of knickers and bra and say “Call me Madam.” And they would. Even a school-kid can play silly buggers with its gender. Stick to the logic. Let everybody be anything they want.
Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Sunday, 2 December 2018
Interesting difference between a Brexiteer and Remainer... One thinks the UK could cope on its own-two-feet, trading with the world. The other thinks it needs to stay in a Franco German Empire, safe in a cocoon of protectionist bureaucracy. It’s noticeable that the latter were almost all born in captivity and hope the former will soon drop off the perch and leave them in peace. Unfortunate for both, is the probability that the Empire will soon be destroyed by a tsunami of violent nationalism brought on by a reaction against its dictatorial leaders.
Friday, 30 November 2018
Theresa May’s backstop is just that – a dollop of crap. The Brits aren’t going to erect a hard border in Northern Ireland. The Irish daren’t. And if the EU try, there’ll be a revolution. Epsom Salts for the comedienne in Number Ten.
Monday, 26 November 2018
Friday, 23 November 2018
If we walk away from the EU and keep our fishing grounds, neither Spain nor anyone else can do sod-all about it.
If we walk away from the EU and keep our fishing grounds, neither Spain nor anyone else can do sod-all about it.
Is it true?
Thursday, 22 November 2018
No subject nation can escape from an expanding empire without a bitter fight. What would have happened if Belgium had held a referendum and voted to leave Hitler’s Reich? Exactly! In the end the European Empire will make the UK tug its forelock, bow its head and get back in the harness.
Sunday, 18 November 2018
Friday, 16 November 2018
Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Macron wants a European army. The EU is trying to force the UK to REMAIN. France and Germany dodge paying full NATO dues. (Only the UK Greece Poland & Estonia pay in full.) So who would end up paying for this game of soldiers? Yeah... you’ve got it. Get out!
Friday, 2 November 2018
Yippee! Police chief has an inspiration. “Let’s now say rape and killing people is worse than killing a transvestite’s fantasy.” Where the hell do they find these people? First lesson of policing should’ve always been, “Rapists are rats and Burglars are bastards!”
Sunday, 28 October 2018
Today’s youth are baffling. They march for socialism and rant hysterically about the evils of imperialism. Yet they want to remain in the expansionist EU – a power hungry undemocratic empire, hell-bent on suppressing the will of the proletariat
Thursday, 18 October 2018
Wednesday, 17 October 2018
Tuesday, 25 September 2018
Thursday, 20 September 2018
Sunday, 12 August 2018
My energy company told me there was a better tariff for me than the one I was on. So, as you do, I decided to change. When I phoned them they offered me three different tariffs, all better than the one I was on. “Take your pick,” they said.
The catch with the first, and cheapest, on offer was that I had to have a smart meter fitted. Oh aye? I rejected that because a smart meter can make moving to a new supplier very difficult. The company is the smart one here, not the meter. Get the meter and they’ve got you over a barrel of crude.
The next best thing on offer came with an even more sinister catch – you had to have an Amazon account. Yep, you heard right, an Amazon account. So, not content with wrecking the high-street, the big tax dodging internet giant is onto our energy supplies too. “Where’s that going?” one asks.
Third, and perhaps the weirdest offer of all, was a tariff that saved me £300 a year. But, wait for it... my energy company couldn’t put me on to this tariff. To go on to this cash saving phenomena I had to hang up, then phone U-switch and ask them to put me on to it. Yep that’s right, to switch from one tariff to another within the same company I had to get in touch with a price-comparison site and ask them to do it. Crazy?
Well, of course, it’s crazy from my point of view. But there are obviously all kinds of money making scams going on behind the scenes. Amazon is in on the deal and U-switch doesn’t employ staff and function for fun.
So along with all these energy price hikes taking place we, the customers, are financing a lot more fun and games than is wholesome. And winter is a-coming.
Thursday, 9 August 2018
Tuesday, 7 August 2018
Theresa May (and anyone else) is wrong to say that Boris gave/caused offence with his remarks about the burka. He didn’t verbally attack anyone or anything. He aired his opinion about a garment. It’s called FREE SPEECH. Some people TAKE offence at free speech. Some take offence at anything and everything. Which corner are you in?
Tuesday, 31 July 2018
An EXTRA two and a half million cars on our roads in the last five years. Immigration still nudging 300,000 (EXTRA people) per year. Using fingers and toes only – where do the EXTRA drivers come from? #UKIP #Brexit #EU #UK #DailyMail #Guardian #LabourParty #Liberals #Conservative #UK #DailyMail #Guardian
Monday, 23 July 2018
In Syria we took Jihadi John out with a drone. No problem. We have squads of armed police who take people out whenever deemed necessary. No problem. All these events are necessarily circumstantial. “Mad dog? Take it out.” No Problem. But now the UK wants to help two gentlemen get a fair trial in America and we get all the usual suspects jumping up and down and crying “Foul!” Drones and police squads don’t take no mind, if you’re gentle, if you’re kind… but American justice?
Monday, 2 July 2018
Tuesday, 12 June 2018
There’s quite a kerfuffle about the 629 migrants rescued by the French ship Aquarius. According to the BBC they were picked up off the coast of Libya. Now Italy and Malta, who have accepted more than their fair share of migrants in the past, are being given a lot of stick for not wanting the latest bunch.
So what’s it all about? The migrants were picked up close to Libya. It’s the duty of the rescue boat to return them to a safe haven. Libya was the obvious place to take them. They must have been safe there. How else could they walk across the country, bargain with the ferry-masters and board their boats if they weren’t reasonably safe?
Strikes me someone’s playing politics here.
Saturday, 9 June 2018
The country is riddled with Anti Free Speech Fascists who have developed tactics – amounting to verbal violence – to silence and control anyone who disagrees with them. They yell racist, sexist, homophobe or some similar noun/adjective whenever they hear an opposing point of view... and, for them and their ilk, this spells the end of the argument. Their opponents are now dismissed as the lowest of the low and not worthy of further attention.
This attack on personal expression has inevitably gone further than just dumbing speech. It has spread to become an assault on our very culture. Activities that have been regarded as normal for years, maybe centuries, now offend the AFSF brigade. For example Morris dancers have been attacked for blacking their faces, Maypole revellers hounded from their venues, a butcher condemned for hanging dead game in his shop and a market vendor banned from shouting his wares, all as the result of a solitary complaint by some gormless offendee. The list is endless... to the point where devout Christians daren’t openly quote passages from the Bible.
Even English humour has been kicked into touch. Many comedians will no longer gig at universities. The old, innocent but Mickey taking gags, that we laughed at in the school playground could now land you in the dock. I dread to think what would happen to someone who came up with a Christian, Muslim and Jew joke, but the setting has endless hilarious possibilities.
Free speech? Long gone!
Oh... and for God’s sake don’t mention the Empire
The first Brexit was in 1559 when Elizabeth 1st took the country out of what was, virtually, the EU with the Pope as president. After that England led the UK to become the greatest and most powerful country on earth. And history always...
Wednesday, 23 May 2018
We live in one of the wettest parts of Europe. Every year, for a lengthy period, we wonder if the rain will ever stop. The water companies lose a third of the supply in leaks – and make a profit. Every three years the government happily brings in an extra million people from overseas. They all drink H2O and flush the toilet – I presume. Now the powers that be are telling long time residents that they use too much of the stuff and will have to be sorted out. Pull the other one.
Monday, 21 May 2018
They’re still banging on about smoking ruining your health. Some people want to ban it. “Load of rubbish,” I say. My uncle Fred smoked 60 a day for more than thirty years and it never did him any harm. He was killed by a bus while have a coughing fit in the middle of High Street. No one has said we should ban buses.
Common Sense Kelly
Sunday, 20 May 2018
It’s Getting Lonely Out Here
The drama Innocent that was on ITV last week was stereotypical. The good cop was an honest intelligent black woman. The bad cop was a dishonest thick white man. It happens all the time on TV. In my very limited experience this does not reflect real life – or am I the last modest honest intelligent white guy left on earth #InnocentITV
Monday, 16 April 2018
Sunday, 15 April 2018
The noun “God” is the name of a theory used by philosophers and theists to explain the creation and point of the Universe. The God theory more or less equates to the Theory of Everything sought by physicists. The Theory of Everything does not exist at the moment and will not exist until it is discovered, tested and proved. Therefore God will not exist as an all powerful “being” until he/she/it manifests in a provable form.
Saturday, 14 April 2018
Monday, 9 April 2018
Before deciding which Indian restaurant to go to the other day I looked up the reviews on the internet. What I found exciting about the first place on the list was the number of people who said the food was amazing and the service awesome. Based on these reports I persuaded my wife to come along for the experience, but all we got for our money was a curry served by a chap who may, or may not, have come from the sub-continent. Don’t get me wrong, the food was excellent and the service fast and sure. Maybe I’ve had a more exciting life than your average poppadom because, for the food to “amaze” me I’d expect a man in a turban to pop his head out of the Vindaloo bowl. And “awesome” service? Well, I’d settle for the grub floating out of the kitchen on a magic carpet – even if it was all done by mirrors... Derren Brown!
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Friday, 23 March 2018
Tuesday, 13 March 2018
Traditionally, up in the northland, those of a MacDonald extraction take a dim view of those of a Campbell extraction. That traces back to a bit of skulduggery in the sinister shadows of Glencoe before radio officers were invented. For a time, in Wick Radio, (a marine radio station), we had one of each. Far from being enemies these guys were the best of buddies. It so happened that the MacDonald wanted to go to sea on cable ships but, being a sickly lad, he feared the medical examination. For some reason he had a special dread of the urine test. As mates do, the Campbell Jimmy Riddled in the specimen tube for him. In the fullness of time the MacD passed the medical and sailed away: So young MacDonald went to sea on a bottle of Campbell pee.
Thursday, 1 March 2018
This chilly weather reminds me of a day last century when winter was winter and men were men. I was on duty in Wick Radio, a marine radio station which maintained two distress watches and handled essential traffic. Some of us trudged from outlying hamlets through a blinding blizzard and drifts to be there for the shift. One of the lads made it from the airport, a mile and a half away, but his next door neighbour failed to turn up. That was worrying – “is he OK?” we wondered. Eventually, the chap who made it from the airport volunteered to go back and check on his mate’s wellbeing. A couple of hours later he was back – alone. “What’s happened?” we wondered, “where is he?”
“He says he’s snowed in,” was the answer
Monday, 26 February 2018
Just heard that Radio Officer Sandy McIvor has died. He was in his 90s so it had to be. Sandy and I go back a long way. In the 1950s I was posted to Wick Radio/GKR in Caithness. At that time my dad worked in the Inspectorate of Fighting Vehicles in Manchester. One of his workmates was a guy called Ron Deardon. In conversation dad told Ron that his son, me, had been sent to Wick Radio. To which Ron replied, “My mate, Sandy McIvor, used to work there, ask your son if he knows him. And, of course, I did. He was my workmate.
This revealed a fascinating story. Sandy and Ron were radio officers in the M N during the war. At one stage they both ended up aboard separate ships in the same convoy. They were both torpedoed and ended up in their own ship’s lifeboat. Then they were both rescued by the same Canadian warship that had gone hunting for survivors, taken to Canada where they became friends, then shipped back to Blighty in the same vessel.
They both went back to sea but stayed in touch. Shortly after the war Sandy spent one of his leaves at Ron’s house in Manchester. There he met a German girl called Rose who came over to England as a student and lodged in the house next door to Ron. They fell in love. Then, with much opposition from Rose’s father, they married. Ron was the best man at their wedding. Then Ron came ashore and ended up working alongside my dad. A decade later, 600 miles of the north, I ended up working alongside Sandy who had also come ashore.
This story says a lot about human nature. Straight away after the war, Rose, from Munich, came to Manchester to study. Sandy and Ron, survivors of the Battle of the Atlantic accepted her without question. Rose told her father, “accept this Brit or lose me.” Sandy married her, Ron was best man. Sandy and Rose went to her father’s house every year on holiday.
Thursday, 8 February 2018
Monday, 5 February 2018
Friday, 26 January 2018
Let’s take a moment to think about the Presidents Club Kerfuffle. If a crime was committed on the night it would have, or should have, been reported to the police. The police would then set the ball in motion to press charges. So far we have heard nothing about charges so we can presume there was no crime. If there is no crime there is no victim of crime. So that’s any real worry out of the way.
We can thus boil the problem down to offenders and offended. The offended were scantily dressed women who voluntarily mixed with the offenders, men who were drinking heavily.
Scantily dressed women tend to attract men’s attention. The women in question may not be aware of this, but it’s a fact. Some drunken men tend to be boorish, unintentionally I’m sure – it’s the drink wot does it.
So the moral is that scantily dressed women attract boorish men or, through the looking glass, boorish men are attracted to scantily dressed women. So, ladies, that brings me nicely to this week’s tip – don’t go scantily dressed among drunken men.
In this case the real victims are countless children who would have benefitted from future events of this kind if it wasn’t for the hysterics.
Thursday, 11 January 2018
Mother Theresa’s Plastic Pledge seems like a good idea. But we’ve seen her good ideas before. May the force be with her.
Tuesday, 9 January 2018
Ha Noi March 2007
Motorbikes, thick as porridge
I emerge from Arrivals into the concourse of Ha Noi Airport with $400 in my bum-bag. But the local buttons are dongs, 31,000 to the £1, so I need a Bureau de Change. There isn’t one. There’s an INFORMATION sign over there but no one behind the counter.
That smart young bloke in a brown suit, walking across the concourse, seems to have recognised me. At least, he’s suddenly started waving in my direction and shouting ‘hello’ in English. What’s this about?
I look round to check who he’s aiming at but there’s no one behind me. He must be shouting at me then. Does he think he knows me? Maybe he’s from Cardiff. He looks a bit like one of the waiters from the Happy Gathering. ‘Blimey,’ he’s coming over. He wants to shake hands! Who’s making the mistake? Me, or him?
‘I get taxi,’ he says.
That’s handy. ‘But I’ve got to change some money first,’ I tell him. ‘I need dongs.’
‘Come,’ he says, striding towards the exit.
‘No!’ I shout, ‘money! dongs!’ I keep upping the volume. Maybe he’s deaf. ‘I’ve only got American Dollars,’ I tell him when he looks round.
‘Dollah OK,’ he assures me. ‘Dollah velly good.’ Now he’s gargling into his mobile.
It all fits. That Chinese bloke on the plane told me they like dollars out here.
‘Wait,’ the Happy Gatherer tells me when we arrive outside.
Now a taxi swings into the kerb and Gatherer tells me to get in the back while he feeds my case and rucksack into the yawning boot. OK so far. But now he’s climbing into the front passenger seat. That’s different. ‘Where go?’ he asks.
‘I’m going to the Heritage Hotel,’ I tell him. ‘Where are you going?’
‘I go home,’ he tells me. ‘I give help. You pay taxi. I get ride.’
So we’re going to divert to the Happy Gathering. The guy’s a chancer, nothing for nothing. ‘How much?’ I ask warily.
He inclines his head and looks thoughtful. ‘Eight dollah,’ he decides.
I spot a sign; HANOI 21 Km. And they’re going to charge me five-quid? ‘OK, we’ll settle for that,’ I tell him. ‘A hundred-and-twenty-eight-thousand dong...’
Now we’re at a road toll. ‘You pay,’ the Gatherer tells me.
When I offer the driver a one dollar-note his expression turns from confusion to anger. He waves it aside and gives me a mouthful of verbal scrambled egg. ‘He want dong,’ says the Gatherer.
‘I haven’t got dong,’ I tell him impatiently. ‘You said he’d take dollars.’
The two men sit yodelling at each other for a couple of minutes then, ‘OK,’ says the Gatherer, ‘driver pay now. Then we go bank. You get dong. Then pay driver.’
We push on along a dual carriageway amid the din of motorbikes. Traffic pollution hangs like sediment in the humid air. I wonder if these guys pack any unpleasant surprises?
We’re entering Hanoi now. I relax a bit. But when the bank turns out to be an ATM, I tense again. I’ll be in trouble with the wife. She comes from Scotland. She objects to paying interest to holes in walls.
I get out of the taxi and approach the machine. This is scary. All the numbers have strings of zeros after them. The ones towards the bottom are in millions. When I punch in 128,000 the machine gets violently sick and spews notes over me. I gather them up and head back to the taxi.
I offer money to the driver. He goes unstable and starts screaming at the Gatherer who waves the notes aside. ‘This small money,’ says the Gatherer. ‘Driver want big money.’
‘Looks big enough to me,’ I tell him, ‘all those noughts.’
‘Cents,’ he tells me.
‘You’d better come and explain,’ I say, jerking my head towards the machine. I’m beginning to feel uneasy. Come to think of it, I’ve never been at ease since I met this guy.
I pay them enough to stop the driver’s palpitations and trigger my own. I’m not used to dealing in big numbers. And what’s the interest on a string of zeros? Maybe I’ve just broke the bank.
Ho Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton
It’s the next morning and I’m in a taxi heading for the 5 star, £58, luxury of the Melia Hotel. After I booked the Heritage I saw a report on the internet that it was the worst hotel in South East Asia. So I switched my second night to the Melia. In the event, the £28 Heritage was value for money; clean and spacious. But it’s in the grot of the suburbs so I’m going along with the change. The Melia’s Central.
This is a pukka taxi, with a meter. The trouble is, there are three sets of figures on it... all going up at different speeds. The lowest figure is in thousands. I think the top one is in billions. It’s a long journey and the motorbikes are as thick as porridge. The driver doesn’t speak any English, only scrambled egg. I offer him 100K – £3. He looks delighted. So that’s his tip as well.
I watch a hotel porter whisking my case and rucksack away. Viet Nam is a Communist country. It’s overstaffed. The whole country specialises in inefficiency. The upper-class hotels have a bellhop in every plant pot.
An angel in a long white dress and hat that looks like a halo hands me a piece of paper with a number written on it. It’s not her phone number. It’s too short. Pity. I check-in but I’m too early. My room’s not ready. They’ll have my luggage in there at noon. ‘What’s the number?’ they ask.
‘You said the room’s not ready, so I don’t know the number.’
‘No – your luggage number? The lady in white gave it to you.’
‘Did she? I dunno. I’ve lost it.’
‘OK sir. We fix.’ Five star service, caters for idiots.
I collect a map from Reception and head outside for a walk. I like walking. I’m a walking person. But in Viet Nam, no one walks. Everyone goes everywhere by motorbike. There are eight million people in Sai Gon, that’s Ho Chi Min City, and six million have motorbikes. That’s a lorra bikes in one city. Ha Noi looks to be the same. And all those bikes seem to be on the road all the time. It’s like nobody goes anywhere in particular. Just get up in the morning, cock a leg over a bike and meander round the maze, honking your horn till bedtime.
I consult the map. There are two targets within walking distance, Ha Noi Prison Museum, that’s the Hanoi Hilton where the Vietnamese kept shot-down American pilots, and the Catholic Cathedral.
Outside, on the pavement, reality dawns. A road separates each block from the next. And the roads are no-go areas, rivers of motorbikes with a 20 knot current, every bike doing its own thing. They’re not in lanes. They’re all going in different directions on the same patch, half men, half women, honking their horns in fruitless mating calls. It’s like an ant run out here, high speed dodgems.
It gets worse. The overspill is on the pavement. They come up from behind and whiz past me. The secret of staying alive is to keep walking in a straight line. If you deviate, or stop suddenly, you scramble the equation. Everyone out there respects everyone else’s space – when they can guess where it is. The same rules apply crossing the road. Step off the kerb, close your eyes and keep going straight, repeating the mantra to yourself... ‘My Space. My Space. My Space.’ If you stop to cough you’ll have six-million bikes on top of you.
I’m a target now. A swelling convoy of trishaws keeps pace with me, yelling for me to leap aboard for a ‘ten dollah’ tour with a commentary in scrambled egg. Motorbike-taxis, one after the other, swerve in front of me, heading me off, urging me to squat on the pillion for a ‘ten dollah’ roller coaster whirl of engine-revving bliss. When I pause to consult the map, chancers step out of nowhere, applying for the job of personal guide. It’s like nobody understands the concept of somebody walking, or the joys of orienteering among flowing streams of horn-blasting traffic in the polluted air of a sweltering city.
What these guys don’t know is that I’m not a tourist. Not a real one. I’m on a beeline from Cardiff to Saigon, on a mission to find my way to the Cu Chi tunnels without the aid of a travel agent or guide. It’s a budget trip. The plane fare subsidised by Air Miles, and hotels and train tickets booked on the internet. I’m the only human involved. I was getting lethargic back there in Cardiff. I needed some action. So I set myself a challenge.
Outside the cathedral, a pretty girl in a palm hat tries to sell me bananas from one of the bowls that hang from either end of the pole she balances on her shoulder. When I turn her down she offers to pose for a photo. ‘OK,’ I take a shot and slip her 20K. Further down the line an old beggar-woman sticks out a bony arm for a handout. I’ve been along this route before, many times. If I give 50 pence to every beggar who pops out of the pavement, a few hundred of the world’s poorest will have their only chip butty of the year. The down-side is that I’ll be out of beer-tokens before lunchtime.
So here’s the dilemma. Did I give that girl 20K because she’s pretty, then go and turn the old woman down because she ain’t? Hmm? I know... I hold up 20K and my camera. The same offer’s on the table for the crone as for the girl. She turns it down with a gesture of contempt. I pocket the money and walk away. Maybe that’s why she’s a beggar. She won’t do something for something. Or have I got that wrong too?
Through the window – could it be a knotweed plantation?
Another day, another task, board the train for a 32 hour trip to Sai Gon. Trouble is, I didn’t sleep last night. A king-size bed in a 5 star hotel and I couldn’t sleep ‘cos I had Nasi Goreng for supper. It’s the best I’ve ever had, but it was big. Egg and rice are clogging my guts.
It’s raining today, muggy as hell. I’m sat in the station in a gathering crowd, waiting for boarding time. My ticket’s in my bum-bag. I’ll be in coach 10, compartment 1, berth 1. The tickets were waiting at the Heritage when I arrived. All done by mirrors, couldn’t be simpler. It’s a piece of cake. I’ve no problems.
The crowd are all Asians except for me and two European couples. I guess the couples are Frogs. The hotels are full of ’em. I suppose it’s natural. This was a French colony once. I seem to be the only Brit left in the world.
That tall thin railway worker went over to both European couples as they came into the station and showed them to empty seats. He seems to make a point of looking after Europeans. After a tip no doubt. Everyone here’s looking for the main-chance. He’s heading for me now.
It’s getting near boarding time. The ticket inspector’s opened the door that leads to the trains. We get to board an hour before take-off. The thin guy’s confronting me now. He’s making gestures. I dunno what he wants. It’s all in scrambled egg. Uh... he wants to see my ticket. Now he wants me to follow him. He’s got my case and we’re jumping the queue. He’s heading for coach ten. So he’s got it right. Now he wants my ticket. Maybe he wants to see my compartment and berth-numbers, or to show it to the guard or something. Better give him a tip. I’ve got two 10K notes here... 30p each. I’ll try him with one. If he looks unhappy I’ll give him both.
We’re in the compartment now, four bunks. There’s nowhere for the cases. It’ll be a tight squeeze if someone gets in with their shopping. The guy suddenly spins round and sticks his hand in my face. ‘Ten dollah!’ he snarls. He’s gotta be joking. ‘No way,’ I tell him, ‘ten thousand dong.’
‘Ten dollah!’ he yells. He thinks he’s Dick Turpin but he’s just a wanker. ‘Ten dollah?’ That must be the first line in the Vietnamese–English Dictionary. ‘Twenny dong,’ I tell him, shoving two notes in his hand. ‘Ten dollah! Ten dollah!’ he screams. We’re struggling now, me trying to ram 20K into his hand and him pushing it away, a strange situation. Suddenly he strides past me. When I turn... he’s gone.
‘Jesus.’ I sit down. That took my breath away...
‘I think this is my bed...’ Startled by the falsetto voice, I look up. And there’s Emo Philips, the American comedian, reincarnated as a tall gangling Chinaman, complete with a medieval bobbed haircut, hovering above me, arms and legs all over the shop. We go outside and check the compartment number. Emo’s right, it’s 24. I’m supposed to be in 1. Turpin dumped me on the wrong bed then demanded money. People aren’t the same anymore.
I hump my stuff to the right bed. The berths are filling up. There’s a Vietnamese bloke in the bed above me and a middle aged woman in the one opposite. They’ve both got luggage so there’s not much room. Now a girl in her 20s arrives with a total of 7 cases and bags. We’re overcrowded, big time. But, on the bright side, the return journey is only Two-million-two-hundred-thousand-dongs – £78. For that, I get to Saigon and back, and beds for two nights. So I’m saving something like £300 on air, hotel and food bills. And I get to see Viet Nam from top to bottom.
Nightmare! The last time I saw my train ticket was in Turpin’s hand. He never gave it back. He broke off in the middle of the struggle and strode away. I’ve got problems...
Yaah! God...! Emo’s at the door, standing there like a four-legged daddy-longlegs. This guy’s surreal. He wants a chat. That’s the last thing I need. I just want to sit and worry. My head’s in a whirl. I don’t know whether I’m coming of going. Emo wants me to polish-up his English. He thinks I should go to China and teach it. He says I don’t need to learn Chinese. They all learn English anyway. They just need to polish the pronunciation. But teaching Emo is a fulltime job in itself. His voice keeps changing register in mid-sentence, jumping from baritone to falsetto and back in rapid succession. His arms and legs are the same. He scratches his left cheek with his right hand by putting his right arm round the back of his neck. Then he does the same with the other hand. He’s come from Shanghai to Viet Nam, job hunting. He can’t speak a word of Vietnamese. And, if he could, what would he do? We have two drivers on this train. They earn £30 a week each. It’s a 32 hour journey. And they have to buy their own food. Emo, sunshine – go home!
The train’s well underway now. It’s getting dark and there’s the mother of all storms outside. The rain is like hosepipes, lightning exploding in rapid succession. It’s like the B42’s are back with the napalm and we’re the target. Now I realise, my coat’s gone missing. I go down the train to see if I left it in Emo’s place, but I didn’t. That bastard, Turpin, must have grabbed it.
The guard arrives, demanding my ticket. I tell him the tale of Dick Turpin but he only savvies scrambled egg. He goes away and comes back with two helpers. These trains pull a full coach-load of spare guards and comic-singers. There’s no-end of reinforcements. The men gargle and jabber among themselves then bring their boss. This guy’s the bad-cop... like the Jap guard on the River Kwai. ‘No ticket,’ he raps in English. ‘Off train! Next stop!’ No messing. I like that in a man.
I repeat the tale of Turpin. ‘Off train! Next stop!’ he orders. I look at the window, black dark, rivers of rain, lightning flashing! The thought of leaving the train on a night like this, lumbered with luggage and nowhere to go, no bed... no ticket... no nothing... in a land full of scrambled egg... is... well... not good.
In desperation I fumble in my rucksack and produce a piece of paper with the phone number of Tony Kheim, the guy on the internet who delivered my train tickets to the Heritage. I always carry backup. ‘Phone this man on your mobile,’ I tell them. They do. He confirms that I did buy a ticket. It takes the heat out of the situation. But... I can’t stay on the train without a ticket.
‘OK. I’ll buy another one,’ I tell them. I fumble in my bum-bag and scrape 500,000 dong together. The boss waves it away. ‘I want... million!’ he demands. ‘But I haven’t got a million,’ I tell him. ‘Off train! Next stop!’ he barks, in his best concentration-camp English. ‘What about this?’ I offer my credit card. ‘Pah!’ he pushes it away. ‘Its Tesco’s Platinum,’ I tell him. He’s unimpressed. ‘American dollar?’ I ask. His eyes light up. ‘Now you’re talking,’ his eyebrows tell me. ‘A hundred and twenty,’ he says, after a calculation.
‘That’s nearly the return fare. I’ve already paid for this bed,’ I tell him.
They jabber among themselves. ‘OK,’ says the boss, at last, ‘downgrade to couchette, 80 dollah.’ They know I’m no dodger and they’ve softened a bit. ‘No,’ I tell them, ‘I need a bed. I’ll pay the 120.’ They jabber again. ‘OK OK,’ the boss weakens. ‘Eighty dollah. Keep bed,’ he tells me.
There’s no buffet. A woman comes round with a trolley, doling out food to keep us alive, foul soup, chopsticks, a ton of boiled rice, dollop of soggy pickled-cabbage, fatty pork. It’s worse than nothing at all. Vietnamese music blares full-blast from a speaker in the corridor. It’s hot and stuffy. I lie on my bed, sweating and gasping for air. I can’t sleep. I prowl the corridor in my socks. All the windows are locked. I look for a toilet. It’s a squat. I come out with feet stinking of piss.
This is it. I’m stuck here till 9 o’clock tomorrow night. That’s 24 hours away. Time stretches before me like a waterless desert. There’s nothing to do, no one to speak to. Even Emo would be a blessing. But he’s on his bed, lifeless, like everyone else... corpses in a mobile morgue.
For no reason I pull the screwed-up dong notes from my back pocket and iron them out. ‘I don’t believe it!’ There, in the middle of the ball... is my bloody ticket. It’s tattered and torn, but it’s real. It must have come from Turpin’s paw in the scuffle.
In the end coach I pin a guard down and tell him the story. He hasn’t a clue what I’m saying but summons an ever increasing number of assistants. At last I’m talking to the guy from the Kwai, through an interpreter who speaks perfect English. It takes a long time and a lot of jabbering. ‘You see,’ says the interpreter, at last. ‘We have already paid 80 dollah to the government.’
I frown and scratch my head. We’re on a moving train.
‘So,’ he goes on, ‘if we give you 80 dollah, we lose a lot of money.’
‘So what are you saying?’ I ask.
‘We want you to be very happy,’ he tells me.
‘So do I,’ I tell him.
‘So, if we give you 40 dollah, we lose 40 dollah and you lose 40 dollah. Will that make you very happy?’
‘I’ll be 40 dollars happier,’ I say.
‘No... very happy?’
‘No... very happy?’
This is Vietnamese for don’t rock the boat. ‘OK. Very happy,’ I concede.
Kwai puts his hand in his back pocket, pulls out my wad of $80, miraculously retrieved from the government, and deals me 40. So that’s me... very happy!
The girl with the pile of cases leaves the train at noon the next day. And there’s my coat, under the last one. I find an open window, and air, then a European toilet – and people who speak English. I’m back on course. A little wiser, a little poorer.
Through the window
I’m in the middle of the crowd leaving Saigon station. It’s dark and I’m looking for a taxi. A weasel-faced wanker in a peaked cap and denim jacket is pulling at my arm. ‘Taxi, ten dollah,’ he chants. ‘Taxi, ten dollah.’ How does he know its ten dollars? He doesn’t know where I’m going.
There’s a taxi rank at the end of the approach – a long line of smart, white, four-wheel drives, filling up and pulling away. These are the boys I want. I head straight for them, humping a rucksack, pulling a case and fighting off the Weasel. I flag a taxi. The driver ignores me. I try another and another and another... They all ignore me. It’s like I’m invisible.
Maybe the Weasel’s got the first claim on me. OK. I can sort that. ‘Get lost!’ I roar at the top of my voice and give him a push. His face fills with hate but he slinks away with his tail between his legs. The taxi-men still ignore me. I don’t get it. Even if they can’t see me they must see my case. Ah... Maybe they are out in sympathy with the weasel.
There’s another guy at me now, in a grey uniform with an official number on it. He’s got more manners than the Weasel. He wants me to go with him. He must be a taxi driver. I follow him across the approach.
‘Oh no...’ he’s loading my case onto trishaw. I don’t believe it. I’ve landed with Gunga Din. It’s not even a decent trishaw, like the posh ladies go promenading in. This is ancient, a single-seater, moth-eaten and battered. I don’t want to know it. But I’ve no option. The taxis have rejected me. ‘Rex Hotel,’ I tell him.
‘’Otel,’ he echoes.
‘No,’ I tell him, ‘not any hotel, the Rex Hotel.’ He’s another chancer.
‘OK,’ he says. ‘Red ’otel.’
‘Aahh, gerronwithit,’ I tell him. ‘Rex Hotel, fifty-thousand. No Rex, no money.’
We start off. It’s uphill. Gunga’s got a load on. He’s struggling a bit. I’ve got my feet on my case with my knees in the air and my rucksack under my chin. He’s edging into the traffic. There’s no order on the road. Just swirling eddies of motorbikes, honking horns, claiming their space. But he copes. He’s been doing this all his life – with the same trishaw by the look of things. When traffic lights go green, bikes zoom away on all sides. Gunga stands on the peddles, struggling to get momentum up the slope. The journey goes on and on. I sense he’s flagging.
‘’Otel!’ he shouts hopefully as we approach a dingy Vietnamese doss.
‘Rex,’ I tell him.
He tries it on again and again with every ‘’otel’ we pass. He hasn’t a clue what we’re looking for. I’m running out of patience. I’m tired, two nights without a proper sleep. I need a shower and a change of clothes. I’ve got Vietnamese piss on my socks. I bang the side of the trishaw. ‘Let me off,’ I yell. ‘I’ll find a taxi.’
‘No. No.’ he pleads. ‘Red ’otel. OK. OK.’
He shouts to people on the sidewalk. They shout back, pointing uphill. We’re going the wrong way up a one-way street now, in the dark without lights, against a solid wall of motorbikes. It’s like the M25 is coming at me.
He’s behind, standing on the peddles. I’m his shield. He sees my problem. He gets off the bike, comes round the front, and starts pulling me, like a horse and cart. He chickens out and makes for the sidewalk. Now he’s peddling along the pavement. I’ll settle for that.
We come to a corner. ‘There!’ he shouts triumphantly. ‘Rex ’otel!’
And there it is. ‘Closed!’ Boarded up. Dead as a Christmas turkey. I booked it on the internet. I’ve been suckered again. Gunga Din sees the problem. He thinks I’ll blame him. He shouts frantically to a guy sitting on the steps. The guy shouts back and points. We move on, round another corner. And there it is. A blaze of lights. The Rex Hotel. The boarded bit was the back entrance.
A coach has pulled-up outside, disgorging middle class, middle aged Frenchies. Gunga pulls alongside and dismounts. Then he misjudges and the trishaw crashes onto its side, shooting me nosediving among the crowd, rucksack and all. The Frenchies pause and gaze disdainfully down. ‘Another idiot Rosbeef.’
Gunga hops around on one leg crying ‘sorry sir, sorry sir.’ He can see 50K evaporating. He might be a chancer. But he’s hurt himself. And he’s no wanker. He’s worked bloody hard. We agreed on fifty. I give him a hundred. ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,’ I tell him.
In the cool of the rooftop bar, the inevitable Philippino musicians murder Western pop music on the corner stage. A couple of aging French couples dance to the racket, clapping enthusiastically after every number. One middle aged bloke, a Chirac look-a-like, is swaying and clapping and tapping the table like a star-struck kid.
The service is crap. I go to the bar to get more drink. The local hooker sidles up, ‘you’re new,’ she tells me.
‘Not the usual description,’ I say.
She says she runs a massage parlour on the floor below. ‘Do you need a rub down?’ she asks.
‘Or rub-up?’ I wonder.
‘I manipulate,’ she says.
‘I bet you do,’ I tell her. She’s attractive, in a pale skinned 4-star well-groomed kind of way. But I prefer the girls outside, pale gold skin and almond eyes, sitting astride their motorbikes in skin-tight jeans, shiny black hair tumbling over their shoulders. They’re like dainty dolls. And they walk like dolls, little awkward steps. It’s like their mothers wind them up every morning, stick ’em on high-heel stilts, then turn them loose to stagger about till they find a bike to cock a leg over. These girls are wild flowers. Once they master the walking problem they’ll take over the world. The hooker’s a houseplant.
I tell her, ‘no, I just need beer.’ She looks disappointed. ‘I’m married,’ I say. ‘You’re against the rules.’
The next night she arrives at my table. ‘Can I sit with you?’ she wonders.
‘I’ve told you,’ I tell her. ‘I’m married.’
‘Just for a chat,’ she says.
‘Naah. You’d better not,’ I say. She looks crestfallen and goes back to her table. I bite my tongue. It’s 30-odd pence a pint in here. A double whisky’s a pound. For less than two quid she could tell me tales to make my toes curl.
I’ve booked the trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels for the second day. That’s what this journey’s all about. But I’ve got my doubts. If I end up with a coach load of Frenchies it’ll be a nightmare. And the hotel’s full of ’em.
In the morning I go to the foyer and wait for the call. The place is awash with Yanks and Frenchies. It doesn’t bode good. Then this girl comes up and says, ‘Mr Gregory?’ I say, ‘yes.’ And she says, ‘follow me.’ Suits me. She a wild flower in tight jeans.
She takes me to a chauffeur driven car and opens a rear door. ‘Am I the only one?’ I say when we’re underway. ‘No,’ she tells me, ‘there are two of us.’ It’s getting better.
We do the tunnels and the war museum. She’s the best courier I’ve ever come across. She walks with her arm round my waist and keeps feeling my muscles and saying ‘wow.’
She takes me to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. ‘I don’t eat with clients,’ she tells me. ‘But you’re nice and happy. I want to eat with you.’ She’s probably winding me up for a tip. But I can stand that. Especially after the meal, when she starts kneading both our stomachs to see which one is the fullest.
At the end of the day I follow her up the hotel steps to the foyer. At the top she turns, puts her arms round me and presses her cheek to mine. Maybe she wants a bigger tip. But it makes an old man happy.
In the bar that evening, the hooker’s back. ‘Can I come to your room tonight?’ she wants know.
‘I keep telling you; I’m married,’ I say.
‘For you, I do it for love,’ she tells me.
‘Aww shucks,’ I cover my eyes with my hand. It’s very nice of her. We hardly know each other. ‘I’ve still got this marriage problem,’ I tell her.
She plants a kiss on my lips. And then she’s gone.
Mission accomplished. I’ve done the tunnels. I’m dreading tomorrow’s train trip. But hey, I’m homeward bound.
The fun’s over for this trip...
Charlie aka Viet Cong…. Now you see… Now you don’t
Enter Antonio ...
I’m on the train now. A colony of Frenchies are swarming into the coach. This is worrying. I don’t want them in here... But I needn’t worry. In walks Miss Saigon. She looks about 19 but she turns out to be 27. She looks a dream as she clambers up and down onto the bunk above me. A woman in her 30’s is in the bottom bunk across the way. She’s nice and friendly, wants to share her water but I’ve got my own.
I wander into the corridor. The French have got the windows open. Brilliant. It’ll be great to have some fresh air in the place. But now the chief guard has come along with a key. He’s pushing the French out of the way and locking the windows. He’s a bit of a Hitler, this guy.
Five hours later the train stops and the French swarm away. The woman in the bottom bunk has closed the compartment door and we all sprawl on our beds gasping for air.
Suddenly the door’s flung open and a bloke in a khaki shirt and shorts barges in with a massive canvas bag which he dumps between the bunks. I don’t believe it... He’s wearing a blue crash helmet. ‘I’m Antonio... from der Nederlands,’ he roars in a foghorn voice, snatching off the helmet and throwing it on the vacant bunk. He points to the bag. ‘You’ll have to lift dis on der bed for me,’ he orders Hitler, who is standing behind him. ‘I have a heart condition.’
Hitler bristles. He doesn’t lift. He shoves Frenchies about and locks windows. I get off the bunk. ’I’ll give you a hand,’ I tell them. Three of us heave it up and shove it on the bunk.
Antonio pulls up a shirt sleeve, bends his arm and tenses the muscle, ‘I vos a Marine Commando,’ he tells Hitler. Now he leans over the bottom bunk and shakes the woman. ‘I’m Antonio, from der Nederlands,’ he shouts. ‘Who are you?’ She looks bemused and mutters something in scrambled egg. Antonio does the same with the girl above, and gets the same response.
‘Ratatatat!’ He suddenly crouches between the bunks, firing a heavy machine gun, full blast. ‘Bang! Boom!’ He roars, lobbing hand grenades onto the bunks. ‘I vos a Marine Commando,’ he tells the girls, who are now sitting lotus fashion on the lower bunk staring at him, wide eyed. ‘I vos in Curacao.’
He’s 65 with a shock of grey hair and grey moustache. And he’s been on a 2 month cycling tour in the Meikong Delta. ‘You’ll have to talk up,’ he tells me, ‘I’m deaf.’
‘It’s all those bloody hand grenades,’ I tell him.
‘I lost my hearing aid in the der crash,’ he tells me.’ He was in a collision with a motorbike and lost his front wheel. ‘Mudder and daughter,’ he suddenly roars, looking at the women. It’s not very tactful. But it’s very Antonio. ‘Bridget Bardot,’ he roars, suddenly realising how beautiful Miss Saigon looks. He dives into the canvas bag and produces a camera. ‘You are der sex kitten,’ he tells her. ‘I take your picture.’ She’s posing for him now, combing her hair and preening herself. He’s got something going for him.
Swish! A sandal skims my nose in a karate kick. ‘I vos a Marine Commando,’ he tells me. ‘Ratatatat! Boom! Bang!’ He’s off again. This guy did 2 years National Service in the 60’s and, by the sound of things, he’s lived off it ever since. But he’s no more a soldier than I am.
He’s at his pills now. ‘Von for my heart,’ he announces. ‘Von for my blood pressure. And von for Diabetes... Bang!’ he lobs a hand grenade into the corridor.
I look at the women. ‘Mad as a typhoon,’ I tell them. They nod enthusiastically. They don’t know the language. But they guess what I’m saying.
‘Dare vos dis Russian vife in the Meikong,’ he tells us. ‘Antonio, she tells me. I love you. I love you very much. You must come to me in Russia... And I vill go,’ he assures us. ‘And I vill give her much umpety-umpety.’
The women leave the train at 0700. Antonio produces pictures of his wife and daughter, two attractive women. There’s a postcard from his daughter too. ‘Come back healthy,’ she tells him. ‘And tell us lots of stories.’ He’ll definitely tell her stories.
At 0800 he decides to go a walk down the train. I hear him telling a Vietnamese guy about ‘giving umpety-umpety to a vife on the Venice Express.’ The guy hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.
Half an hour later he’s back at me. ‘Meet the new girlfriend,’ he tells me. He pushes a Vietnamese wildflower towards me. He says she’s 23. But she looks younger, much younger. He says she has an apartment in Ha Noi and produces a condom. ‘I vill sleep vith her tonight and give her umpety-umpety,’ he tells me.
It’s only half-eight in the morning. He’s not had his breakfast yet. And he’s already picked up a scrubber.
I don’t know how he knows she has an apartment, or that he can sleep with her. She doesn’t speak a word of English. I think he tells her what he wants. And if she nods or smiles, it’s a done-deal.
She leaves him now and goes to a compartment further down the coach. There are two young blokes in there and she spends most of the day with them, behind a closed door.
‘I have to be careful,’ Antonio tells me, holding up the condom. ‘I had dis near miss vid a black vife in Africa. I think she had Aids. It vos new then. I had to tell my vife about der girl. Ve both had to have tests and medication.’
‘Christ. It’s a wonder she didn’t divorce you.’
‘Oh no, no. My vife understood. I vos just a young boy at the time. And I had been avay on business for a couple of veeks.’
‘Oh. That’s OK then. How old were you?’
‘Only 35; just a young boy.’
I nod my head. There’s no answer to that. But it explains his daughter’s postcard.
He wants to know what I think of his new girlfriend.
‘She’s not just an ordinary girl,’ I tell him. ‘Miss Saigon was an ordinary girl.’ I point to the top bunk. ‘She let you take photos. But that was all. Ordinary girls don’t take you back to their apartments for umpety.’
He gets another packet of pills from the big bag, takes one, then washes it down with bottled water.
‘What’s that one for?’ I wonder.
‘Diarrhoea,’ he tells me.
‘Have you been drinking the water?’
‘No. But ven I’m vith dis little vife tonight, I might be excited and get the shits.’
I nod wisely. There’s no answer to that one either.
The girl’s back at him now. Making pillow signs with her hands against her cheek. He throws me an, ‘I told you so,’ look, as she takes his hand and leads him away.
I stand corrected. Looks like he’s struck lucky.
But she takes him to the boys’ compartment, where he’s invited to buy satay and coffee all-round off the food trolley.
When he comes back he asks me again, ‘vot do you think of my girlfriend?’
‘She’s with two blokes,’ I tell him. ‘She could be a hooker, working the train. Ask the guards if they know her.’
He asks Hitler, but gets waved aside.
She’s back in our compartment now. Sitting on the lower bunk, cuddling Antonio. He falls for it big time. She suddenly stands up and leaves without giving a reason. Ten minutes later, one of her boyfriends comes and stands in the corridor, eyeing the Dutchman. There’s something sinister about him.
‘They could be setting you up for a honey trap,’ I warn Antonio. ‘Two men and a girl.’
‘Yah,’ Antonio gets the point. ‘I vill put my things in a safe in the station,’ he decides. ‘And take only $30 to her apartment. Nothing more. If dey pull a gun. Dat is all dey vill get – $30. But if dey have no gun, I vill destroy dem. Two fingers fly at my face. First, I take out deir eyes. Den I chop dem.’ Swish! Swish! His hands fly through the air in karate chops. ‘Den I finish dem.’ He leaps to his feet and goes kicking down the corridor, like a German soldier who’s lost control of his goosestep.
We’re getting near Ha Noi now. The girl’s back on the lower bunk, cuddling Antonio. ‘I love you,’ she tells him in English. ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’
He looks at me, wide eyed. ‘I told you,’ he says. ‘She loves me. She has told me dis herself. You heard her.’
‘Give me a kiss,’ he cries, taking hold of her shoulders and pulling her towards him.
‘Yeeeaaow,’ she squeals and struggles like an angry cat. ‘No kiss! No kiss!’ she screams.
She rises and goes to the door. ‘Goodbye,’ she calls over her shoulder, with a wide grin. Then she’s back with the two boys, who are waiting in the corridor.
‘Vot do you tink?’ he asks, hopefully.
‘She’s taking the piss,’ I say.
He nods his head. ‘Yah. You might be right,’ he concedes. ‘So I need a hotel in Ha Noi. Is dare room at your place?’
‘Dunno,’ I say. ‘I booked it on the internet.’
‘Have you got a double room?’ he wonders.
‘No way,’ I tell him. ‘I’m not sharing. I’m not playing second fiddle to a scrubber.’
On Ha Noi station I see Antonio being towed away by one of the wankers. ‘Dis man has a hotel,’ he shouts to me. ‘He vill give me a room for der night.’
‘I bet he will,’ I say, as I go looking for a chancer with a taxi.
The pictures below might interest the historians out there...
Now Some of Charlie’s Toys
Step on it...
and down you go to a bed of spikes.
This one rolls you down and pierces back and front
With this one you hang with your armpits impaled
There’s one that opens like a window
See Saw Marjory Daw. Then down to the spikes.
Then, for your convenience
This one folds like a chair – with spikes
Get out of this when you’re under fire.
Saturday, 16 December 2017
Adrift in 2017 AD
I stopped writing stuff for my blog 2 or 3 years ago because anyone with the slightest interest has either gone over the wall, heading into whatever they’ve lined up for themselves, or they’re no longer capable of making head nor tail of it. I’m writing this to try and make sense of the world as it affects me. Therapy, if you like. I know that some of the stuff I say winds people up. But they’d get wound up anyway so it doesn’t matter. Anyway, let’s wind them up first and get rid of them. Then I’ll get on with the monologue.
First, to make things crystal clear, as far as I’m concerned anyone can do what they want with their own bodies. They can cut off their nose if they like. Don’t ask me to say it looks beautiful, that’s all. And don’t force me to do it. That’s bullying. I can’t stand bullies. That said, I have pet hates, like computers and full time offendees... i.e. people who take offence when none was offered.
So, let’s go to my latest hate target - unisex toilets. For those of you who don’t get about much, this is a phenomenon foisted on the wider world by the recently arrived Alphabet People. The first time I came across this idea was in the Senedd Building in Cardiff Bay. Liz and I had parked the car in Penarth and strolled across the barrier to the bay. Once there we went for a coffee in the Senedd. Inside, as is my wont, I headed for the, “gents,” which I know of old. If you’re not familiar with the toilets in the Senedd, I must tell you that they’re tucked away in a remote corner of the cafe, hidden from view. But now, instead of the “gents,” I was confronted by a notice that said, “This is a Unisex toilet.” I pulled up dead. “What’s a unisex?” I wondered. “I know that a unicorn is a cross between a donkey and a rhinoceros. But that’s mythical. So what goes with a unisex? Do I qualify?” I ask myself. “What if I go marching in and get met by screams and abuse? What if I get turfed out? What do I tell Liz?” Like I say, I’m in a remote corner of the building – and I’m of a nervous disposition – completely out of my depth. I push the door timidly. “My God it’s locked. There’s... somebody in there!” I have visions of an arm shooting out and dragging me inside. I lose my nerve, turn tail and scurry back to the table. “I’ll go to the proper toilet on the barrier.” I tell myself.
Like all stories this has two sides. To start with, some of us need urinals – me for starters. Let me explain... We have two toilets in our house. And I realise now that long before Johnny-come-lately arrived with his fancy labels, these were unisex toilets. Liz and I, man and woman, tend to nip into whichever one we fancy – so long as it’s the one in the bathroom which is by far the cosiest. But... and it’s a big BUT, more years ago than I care to remember, Liz went one step further and emasculated me. She made me sit down to pee, under the pretext that I’m a rotten shot. Deprived of my manhood, I was, for a while, defeated and devastated. Say news leaked out to the boys in the pub, how would I explain? But, like the French during the war, I fought back and formed a secret underground movement that she still doesn’t know about to this day... Between you and me, whenever we go out I make an excuse and go into every “gent’s” toilet that we pass. If we go into a building that sports a “gents” I’m in there as we enter and again as we leave. Liz falls for this, as women do, and puts it down to the fact that my prostate is in tatters and beyond repair. Little does she know that I go in there to stand proudly in front of a urinal and show the male population, “See, I’m not a sissy. In spite of the rumours I’m a bloke who stands up to pee.”
On a different tack, we passed the first of the year’s milestones in March when Liz woke me up at 5 in the morning and said she couldn’t breathe. This was particularly worrying because she had a stroke 2 years ago. Mind you, I suppose she would still want to breathe even if she hadn’t had a stroke. So that was a 999 job, paramedics, and 3 days in hospital with her heart doing a magnificent 140 beats a minute. It turned out that one of her stroke medications was too high. Once they sorted that out she was back to normal. Two days later we spent a full day at the races at Ffoss Llass. Liz was just fine so we declared her fully recovered. I came away with a small profit – though none of my gee-gees went half the speed of Liz’s ticker.
Still in March, on Mothering Sunday we clocked-up another milestone when our grandson’s jazz band was performing at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. All three younger branches of the family made the pilgrimage to see Mam. That’s three generations in each case. Family bonds are priceless.
Liz is into religion. And she’s always had a yen to go to Iona. So I set up a trip to the island in May. I did the booking on the internet, as you do. It was a bit traumatic at times, but nothing that a few injections of The Famous Grouse couldn’t cure. Have you noticed that all the hotels have clever little ploys for offering essential extras these days? The first one is, “Five pound cancellation cover.” That’s to insure against having a spat with the wife and calling the whole thing off. Next, they tell you that breakfast is an extra – a fifteen pound extra. In the old days you got a plateful of greasy bacon and a hard fried egg as part of the deal. Then, when you get there, they urge you to save the planet by never having your towels washed. I spend ages pacing up and down hotel rooms wrestling with my conscience. Then, guiltily, I tenderly lay this sodden rag on the bathroom floor as if it was a drowned cat I’d pulled from the toilet. When all seems quiet I sneak out of the room with my shirt pulled up around my head and scurry to the lift before the chambermaid identifies me and starts spreading gossip.
That said, I booked a hotel in Glasgow, followed by a hotel in Oban, ferry to Mull then B&B in Iona, and the same in reverse for the homeward journey. The whole trip was cemented together by a Flybe flight from Cardiff to Glasgow and a hire car when we got there. The reason any of this is worth mentioning is the fact that it leads me to another of my pet hates – big institutions that treat people like muck. Three weeks before the starting date, Flybe informed me that our flight was cancelled, no explanation given... not changed, altered, moved, shifted or any other such nicety, but cancelled. No flight that day – OK pal? Needless to say, Elizabeth and I have never been known to have a spat so I didn’t take hotel insurance against cancellation. I asked Flybe for compensation. “No chance,” came the reply, “if we give you more than 14 days notice it’s your problem. Full stop!” So, to shorten a long story, we got a flight for the next day and all the hotels etc juggled their bookings without charging us an extra penny. Thank you!
By the way, the B&B in Iona took us for £180 a night, which was more than twice the price of the hotels in Glasgow and Oban. As the island is one of the seats of British Christianity I couldn’t help thinking about Jesus doing his nut when he saw the money sharks on the steps of the temple. Fortunately we arrived on, and left Iona on exactly the days we had booked. Which was just as well, because the digs there stipulated that there were no cancellation safeguards – £180 per night, shit or bust.
To be fair, Iona is stunningly beautiful and historically unique. And from there we were able to take a trip to Fingal’s Cave, which is one of the planets wonders and more impressive than the Giant’s Causeway, nature at its most magnificent.
In June there was another impromptu clan gathering, this time springing from one of the same grandson’s orchestral concerts rather than jazz. This was followed by a three generation get together in an open air French restaurant in Mill Lane. These occasions are special and notch up precious memories. I will never stop counting my blessings.
In September Liz was off on a weekend course to Denman College in Oxfordshire. That’s a kind of bolt hole where WI members go to get away from their husbands. I don’t know what course she did but she seemed happy enough when she got back. And I lived unchallenged for a couple of days so it wasn’t all bad. Then Liz was off to Scotland again. This time it was with our daughter. They flew from Bristol to Inverness then hired a car, picked up Liz’s aunt in Wick and did a tour of the Northern Highlands.
That brings me to November and the last of my latest hates, tight car parks and sat-navs. Our eldest son is in the navy. He’s on a shore posting just now and volunteered to take part in the Armistice Parade on Plymouth Hoe on the 12th. That gave us an excuse for a short break. So I booked four days in a hotel that boasted a car park. When we got to the hotel I asked the receptionist if I could book a place in the car park. “You don’t need to book,” she tells me, “there’s plenty of room. Just drive in and pick your spot.” “Perfect,” I say, then go back to Liz who is sat in the car and whisk her round the block and in through the car park entrance.
My whole life is pockmarked by decisions I wish I hadn’t made. Going into that car-park was yet another. Talk about tight. I was on permanent hard lock on a desperately narrow track – this way, that way, this way... with Liz yelling, “You’re too close this side, that side... this side, that side.” Then I saw a space, a parking space. It was a clearly marked parking space. I’ve been going into car parks for years and I know a parking space when I see one. So does Liz. So we both agreed. “It’s a parking space. It’s marked out. Let’s go for it.” Easier said than done, “How do I get in,” I wondered. “Dunno,” said Liz. She can be very helpful. A manoeuvre of twenty-odd turns finally got us into the space with a car on either side – and just enough room for our wing mirrors. Now – my car is small, a Fiesta, they don’t come much smaller. “So how do we get out?” I wondered. “Dunno,” repeated Liz. After much deliberation, and irritability on my part, we came to the conclusion that there was no way out. And there never would be unless one of the other cars evaporated.
At this point I decided to continue the search. I was disappointed. Two cars further along we ran out of track. There was a barrier and the street beyond. We’d reached the exit. “Is that all there is?” said Elizabeth. “Can’t be,” I assured her, “we must have missed the ramp that goes to another level. Hang on, I’ll go look for it.” There was no ramp. But as luck would have it I came across a man who was about to leave. “I’ll keep this place for you,” he promised. “How do I get back to it,” I wondered. “Go out the exit and come back round again,” he told me. “Great,” I said, “won’t be a tick.”
I got back in the car and edged it towards the barrier. The barrier didn’t rise. I got out and examined the mechanism. “You seem to have to put a coin in,” I told Liz. That seemed strange, seeing we were guests. At that point I saw another man. “How do I get out?” I asked. “Put a token in,” he told me. “Where do we get tokens?” I asked. “Reception,” he said. “Nobody told me,” I said. “They don’t,” he said. This began to wind me up. I had a chap waiting for me to come back and claim his space. I had no way of getting out and I was blocking the exit. “I’ve got a spare token,” said the man, taking pity on me. “Use that.”
Then it was back in the car park. This time I’m already at the end of my tether before I start. It gets worse as I go along. After a series of this way, that way, too close episodes, I lose the will to live. Then I spot the guy who’s waiting for me and swing in to leave room for him to come out and pass me. Crunch! I hit a pillar and scrape both doors along it. As we leave the car-park we see a woman parked by the barrier. “How do I get out?” she wonders...
I’m a map person. I scorn sat-navs. I’ve been taken-in too many times by that patronising female in the satellite, “You have now reached your destination,” she tells me, after plonking me in the middle of a farm when I’d asked for a hotel. And I certainly don’t need help between Cardiff and Plymouth. Though I must admit sat-navs are useful when you’re in a strange city. And Liz never tires of pointing out that it’s often bailed me out when the routes in my out-of-date map-book have been craftily altered. Now, on the way home we decided to call in at Street and have a look at the Designer Outlet. Liz sets the sat-nav on her phone and it takes us to the door.The sat-nav is still on when we get back in the car. Like a fool, I say, “Leave it on and it’ll take us the shortest route to the motorway.” It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I sense something wrong as we leave Wells. At the roundabout the woman says, “Take the second exit.” “I’d’ve taken that one,” I say, nodding at the first exit. Then I clamp my mouth shut. I don’t want Liz reciting the number of times I’ve argued with the sat-nav and ended up whizzing in ever decreasing circles. But now we find ourselves sailing along a country road. It’s a road with no signposts, villages or anything that gives a clue as to where we are. We go for miles and miles with – nothing. “What time does it give our eta home?” I ask at last. “Seventeen thirty,” says Liz. “My God,” I say, “I reckoned we’d be home before sixteen hundred. Is the Post Code correct?” She checks, “Yes,” she assures me.” “What does it say the distance is?” I ask. “A hundred and forty miles,” says Liz. “Eh?! The whole distance from Plymouth to the house is only a hundred and sixty and I’ve been driving for three hours. Which way is it taking us?” “I can’t tell,” she says, it doesn’t show the whole route.”
At long, long last we come to a little round-about. Like a gift from God there’s a fingerpost that points among the fields and says W Super Mare 19 miles. “Sod the sat-nav,” I say, “that’s the road for me. It’s heading to a name I know. There’s a motorway at Weston. And all motorways lead to home.”
The road is winding and scattered with villages. Progress is slow. Then I get cramp in my hand. Liz offers to drive but I refuse to stop. I’m determined to see this through. The cramp gets so severe I’m driving with one hand while wincing, cursing and waving the other in the air.
In retrospect I think I’d been gripping the wheel too hard, imagining I was throttling the hotel receptionist and sat-nav woman.
So that’s the year that was.
Bye. Have a lovely Christmas and peaceful New Year.