Monday, August 24, 2009

Homeward Bound

Homeward bound

I wish I was

Homeward bound

Home, where my thought's escaping

Home, where my music's playing

Home, where my love lies waiting

Silently for me

(Homeward Bound - Simon and Garfunkel)

"Sittin' on a railway station, got a ticket for my destination, Hmmm"

Some nuff nuff got all maudlin and sneaked S&G's homage to The Road onto the coach tape player. Sure we were on the road but it was nothing like S&G's melancholic ramblings. Tuneful and well-harmonised ramblings they may have been but a long haul ride between Munich and London twas not the time to play it. I dove into my daypack and pulled out a tape of "London Calling" and asked Mr Courier to put it on post haste. I also handed him a fresh cold beer which the driver eyed off with a menacing glint. The Greenhorn Courier obliged and I went back down to Bad Boys Corner for another round of Post-Munich Trauma Therapy. For some reason the first cold beer had sparked a few of us up. I surveyed the strung out passengers, just as Joe Strummer's melodic tones drifted softly through the air (sort of like how an anvil drifts slowly onto Wylie Coyotes' head). Some passsengers were trying to sleep, others nodded along to headphones, one group played cards and there was us up the back ensuring that the beer supplies remained chilled, ready to pop. I really can't remember the names of the people who were clustered around the portable ice chest, swapping Oktoberfest tales. I had a chuckle when they recounted one episode when their bicycles (solely for use by Contiki passengers around the campsite) had been moved one night and one had damaged spokes. Apparently they'd been appropriated by a couple of drunk larrikins (so they'd been told by a group of Kiwis in Campervans) and used in bicycle races. I recalled the night Gary and I had perpetrated this act but I wasn't letting on so I chuckled some more and put in,

"I heard that they were singing Queen's bicycle song. Must have been poofs."

Mr Argument leaned in and said,

"Wouldn't fucken surprise me mate. Those bikes went all right though. Took one for a spin meself the other night. Came across a bunch of Kiwis doing a haka of Baa Baa Black Sheep. Funny cunts they were. How come we never saw yez at the camp?"

I decided that a modicum of truth would go okay with this mob so I gave them the basics about losing my passport then cadging a lift back to London, but not about being one of the guys who hijacked their bikes.

"So yez were with Autotours eh? Bit like Top Deck aren't they? Like hitting the piss don't they?" this was put to me while Mr Argument finished off his second beer and reached for a third. Not bad for twenty minutes into a long haul, and he still looked thirsty.

"I reckon its much of a muchness. I tangled with some Deckers once before and they were keen on the piss. Don't know much about Autotours except for this Oktoberfest thing, but that's always going to attract pissheads. I went with them because they were dirt cheap."

I pulled out my smokes and lit one. As I replaced my lighter I felt one of the shower tokens in my pocket, so I pulled it out.

"What did you guys make of this?" I flashed the GAS side at them. One of the girls answered,

"Probably the worst taste ever. We went to Dachau and couldn't help but think of the GAS tokens while we were there." a number of others voiced their agreement. I told them how I'd tossed one of the tokens at the wall in disgust. No-one said much for a quiet moment or two but then I noticed The Clash had morphed into Jackson Browne's live version of "Stay". I really couldn't be bothered with getting into a music war so I let it ride.

Mr Argument however had other ideas, and with an exclaimed "Fuck this shit!" he lurched up and crabbed his way to the front. I saw him gesticulate and heard a bit of profanity before a mollified Mr Argument returned to the fold with a big grin on his face.

"Fucken tops eh? He's gonna put on the Oils!"

It wasn't before Jackson Browne had sung,

"Now the promoter don't mind
And the union don't mind

If we take a little time
And we leave it all behind and sing

One more song...",

then flipped into Midnight Oil's intrumental, "Wedding Cake Island" followed by "Back on the Borderline" and "Power and the Passion". When Mental as Anything chimed in with "Too Many Times" I propped my pillow against the bus window, hoisted my white flag and surrendered to the forces of alcohol sleep. I was still in Germany and before I drifted off I looked out the window, only to see Colonel Hogan, one arm draped around Hilda, the other giving me a cocky salute as we dieselled past in a cloud of teutonic smoke.

I woke during the next toilet stop. It was a much needed stop given the four cans of beer I'd downed before crashing out. Once again there were queues for the pissoirs so I ducked out the back, found some forest and let loose. Bliss. I hauled myself back to the coach and chatted with the driver. He had trained with Ian, the bloke who drove us around on the Scandi-Russia invasion. He'd also driven a few of those same trips himself and made good cash on the black market. Seeing as drivers were paid less than couriers which was basically beer money plus a bonus, the black market scams were popular amongst these camping tour crews. In the Seventies it was jeans and currency, in the Eighties mainly currency though the market for western clothes was still good. I ws last to get aboard, relishing the freedom of outside. Soon it was back into the bus window/tv screen mantra until I was able to get some more shuteye.

We had another stop a couple of hours later and when I stumbled out of the coach I could feel the effects of the past week. I could barely lift my legs, the hangover gorillas were queueing up, buying tickets and starting to get their pre-match excitement ramped up while the lack of proper food meant my internal bits got together to organise a class suit against yours truly. I found a vacant toilet cubicle and waited for the exodus. Once that happened the internal pains started packing up for the night and hunger decided to fill their place. We'd stopped at a large service centre so I went in and perused the available foodstuffs. I found a bread roll which contained a reasonable proportion of vegetable matter, some juice and a jar of vitamin tabs. I devoured the roll and washed down six of the vitamin tabs down with a few gulps of the ojay. Right, that's my health sorted, now for some more sleep. The next time I got off the coach was to wave goodbye to it and thank the driver for letting me on board. We trooped onto the ferry, found some comfy chairs and went back to Nod land. It was hazy, broken sleep, the sort which makes your mouth feel as if a bricklayer has been practicing building toilet blocks inside and your brain feeling cheated. Brain starts threatening stuff like telling the truth to girls, or pretending to have tourettes during job interviews if it doesn't get a break soon. Well Mr Brain, here's something for you. Beer. The bar was mainly populated by half-cut desperados such as myself, a few other Oktoberfesters and an old English couple sipping on G&T's. I ordered a pint, downed that and got another. Then I asked Brain how did it feel now? Gonna start with that tourettes bullshit or should I take care of a few more of your cells? Nothing to say? Thought so. Never pull that shit again or I'll have Mr Rum sort you out. After a couple of settlers I went to the TV lounge and watched a vid of "You Only Live Twice".

At Dover there was a Contiki coach waiting for us. I finished off a last smoke as people trooped aboard. The courier, Geoff, came up for a chat.

"You thought about becoming a courier? I reckon you could handle it. You seem to get on well with the punters and apparently know a bit about Europe."

I shook my head, "No mate, its not my go. Sure, it'd be good bussing around Europe for free but there's a lot of constraints. I'm not sure the money's all that good either except for the black market scams, but that can lead to trouble. Ivan once asked me the same thing but I thought he was just being polite." Geoff didn't take this lying down and went on,

"Look, you get a bit of cash, backhanders from the regular places we visit and rarely have to pay for a drink. Then there's the girls. They'll eat out of your hand."

I was still not digging the concept,

"I like the bit about the girls and the free drinks but really, I don't think I'd end up being much good. Eventually I'd crack and tell everyone to get fucked. Thanks for the vote of confidence though. I will keep it in mind over the next couple of weeks."

"Well, if you do they'll be doing some more training runs before the cold really sets in. There's also the site rep jobs but they get stuck in the same place for a month. If you do go for anything angle for a courier job." I thanked him again and climbed aboard. I thought about what he'd said. It would mean tossing in my job, but that was neither here nor there. Public sector jobs were always a doddle to grab. I'd also need to get a proper passport and working visa. That was easy enough, just paperwork. Then what about the job itself? Constant checking of passenger manifests, doing sightseeing commentary, making sure everyone had the right visas depending on which country they're from, trying to ease tensions between the yobbos and the shrinking violets, getting everyone organised each morning for 6.30 breakfasts, organising rosters for cocooking, cleaning, coach packing etc and the chores go on. Basically tweleve hour days then hosting the nights out. The benefits were good however; girls, free booze, get to nap on the coach during the boring bits, don't have to share accommodation, kickbacks and a chance to make good dosh on the Russia trips. The European summer was usually great weather, not that baking heat and cloying humidity we get in Oz. Th ebeer isn't bad and there's great variety in cuisine. Could also learn a bit on the job. Hmmm. Not really likely but don't reject it completely.

The bus seemed to croak a bit as it took off but it managed to cranky us to the Plaza Hotel, the home of Contikis in London. I dragged my pack off, looked at the prices for The Plaza and decided the overs would be best off spent on drinks. Anyway, I'd already pre-booked a bed at DerroDowns. A bit of a walk from the Plaza over to Paddington. My pack felt heavy, my head felt heavy and my feet seemed to be trapped in sucking mud. The latter would be okay in Queensland because there'd be a good chance of nabbing a dirty great big mud crab for dinner ,but this was London. Then I spied a couple from the Contiki bus wandering over, backs and hands full of luggage. They asked me if I knew anywhere cheap to bed down for the night. Should I or shouldn't I steer them to Derry Downs? Could be a cruel move, sort of like tipping them to go and see Madam Tusseauds Great Waste of Anything You Can Think Of Wax Dummy Stand. But then, three in a taxi would make it a cheap ride for myself.

"Funny you should mention it but I'm just about to head off to my digs now. There'll be a few spare beds for sure. Looks like you have a bit of luggage there, we're best off sharing a cab."

I did explain the nature of the beast and they were okay with it having just enduredd a week in the Oktoberfest's mud, guts and beer. We arrived and I tried to wrangle a finder's fee from Maria but she played her best Portugese forward defensive shot and booked the couple in. I retreated to my room, the coveted one with the shower which I immediately used much to the chagrine of my two room mates. I don't sing but I'm not the prettiest vision post-shower. After a couple of slugs of duty free it was time to exercise the snoring muscles.

The next morning I had a raging need for a full English breakfast so I went and visited Mr Fry Up down the road. Then it was time to pick up mail from the Walkabout Club. I sat inside, had a coffee and read through the news. I grabbed some aerogrammes and post cards and wrote replies, including a report on the Passport Caper and went and sent my missives on their way. Then it was laundromat time. On the way there I picked up a few papers and a People style mag to while away the time. Laundromats are dead boring even if you are reading "Man Bites Dog stories and checking out the pics of Readers' Wives.

After that I needed a proper meal so I found a restaurant and pigged out on chicken in a white wine sauce, a huge serving of vegetables and some sort of chocolate stodge pudding. Blew my food budget for a few days but it was necessary. Hmmm, what to do next. Here I was feeling quite chipper and in need of diversion so I started walking up to Paddington to check out where the next trains were going. Nothing like a couple of hours in the country to pass the time. On the way I was diverted back to reality by a Canaussie. Gary. He had Rocky in tow plus t'young Yaapie lassie who had just divested herself of some Kiwi sciver who she'd nabbed after divesting herself of Therbs. That'd be me. How do I handle this? Fire off a shot was th ebest option,

"So ya big Yaapie trollop, what are you doing here? Thought you were taking off to Root A Roa or whatever the fuck his name is."

Gary and Rocky sidled away slightly but didn't interfere. They had expectant looks on their faces. Janie came on a starboard tack for gun crew number one to get a shot in,

"I just did that to mess with your mind. I decided I needed fresh meat after picking on your bones you stupid drunk." Fair enough but I had to fire the second barrell,

"You realise that Kiwi bloke had just finished treatment for a couple of nasties. Heard him talking about it in the pissoir." She nodded, taking this in before finishing off,

"He told me about that. Said he got it from some stupid Australian's passport he'd stolen."

Rocky stepped in and said,

"Fuck this shit. We're off to the Wanker to meet up with Lex. Coming?"

How could I refuse such an invitation to commence my last couple of weeks in London in this fine company? Off we headed, Rocky and Gary in front while T'young Yaapie Lass and I followed, eyeing each other off and trying to figure out how we were going to deal with each other again. My thinking was mainly about beer and whether the Wankabout would have and vids of footy games from Oz. That'd be tops I thought. See a couple of games, have a few beers and rock into the night. Let's hit it, boys!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Munich - Dachau

I felt a rumble in my lower abdomen, a warning of nasty things to come. Or come out to be more precise. It wasn't going to be via the throat either. I kept on walking up the road and saw a group of blocks of flats. I walked past the first as it had enclosed parking. The second was a better option. The parking was unsecured and open to the public. I headed to the building core hoping like fuck that there was a toilet. Eureka, two of them. I made it just in time and when I was finished put up a biological hazard warning sign. To get to this point I'd hung around the Oktoberfest site for several hours, bemoaning the loss of my passort and wondering what had happened to the Yaapie lass. At the same time I was immensely enjoying the party atmosphere and the large glasses of beer brought around by the bierfraus. Somehow I lost the crew I'd gone with and by pumpkin time I was messy enough to decide to leave. I'd exited the festival site and gone wandering, looking for the buses heading back to the campsite. That's how I happened to be walking along this road somewhere in Munich a wasted, lost mess.

I went into wasted lost mess recovery mode which meant heading back to the festival site. As I did I saw a trio of other messes and enquired on their health on such a fine evening. They were busted-arse messed up drunks, like myself. They did however let me know that the last buses had left so it was time to look for alternatives. My immediate response was to hail the next taxi I saw.

"Its the only way. Shouldn't be too much split amongst four. Come on." I was a genius. Ended up costing about DM20. This meant the price of a couple of beers each. I put a gold medal around my neck as I gave the Turkish driver the destination. He said,

"Any mess, fifty mark." Fair enough, so I nodded my assent. I looked at the others and they didn't seem to hail from anywhere near the vicinity of Incontinentia or Spewsville, just Stupidtown.

Back at the campsite I made my way to my tent and was about to lurch onto my nest when I noticed a form on my bed. Two forms actually and they were moving. In unison. The dirty fuckers! Literally. The male who I didn't recognise was being ridden by a young lady who I also didn't recognise.

His feral voice broke the noise of passion,

"Geez mate. You don't wanna go slops do ya?" This didn't seem to impress either the young lady or myself.

"Nup. See ya." Then I walked away and discovered that yes, I had fucked up and gone to the wrong tent. I found mine, went in and passed out.

The following morning was attended by the results of a severe visitation of the hangover gorillas during the night. I steeled myself for the coming tribulations, went and showered, shaved, scraped my tongue of its fur and then joined in the bacon and egg breakfast scramble. It was a lifesaver. I then spied Gary talking to Lex and went over, nodding g'day to both of them.

"So Lex, what's the guff on passport replacement. Mine did a runner last night."

"So Gary was saying, you fucking drop kick. How much money did they get?"

I explained how I'd separated my valuables and he nodded,

"That's good. Now there's usually a shuttle into town in the morning around 11.00 o'clock and it can drop you near the Pommy consulate. They act as agents for the Aussie embassy in Bonn. You'll need a police report first though. So get dropped off near the police station. Get the report, get half a dozen passport photos from one of those machines and then go and visit the Poms. Hopefully the passport will get to the Poms before we leave. If not you'll be stuck here until its ready. You could go to Bonn if you want. Day there, hang around a day to get the passport, a day back."

"Fuck that. I'll get the Poms to do the leg work." I had a plan for the day. But first I needed to find out what happened to the Yaapie lass.

"Gary, where's that Seth Efriken chick?"

Gary smiled, shook his head and replied,

"Haven't seen her this morning. She must have found a decent fella at last." Bastard!

Oh well, all's fair in lust and beer I s'pose. Just have to do some more spadework elsewhere. Didn't really feel like it at the time so I went for a wander up to the main office and supermarket block and bought some smokes. As I was walking out I heard a very loud voice exclaim to the world,


I turned around and saw Dog. He was a bloke from Queensland who had been on the same Invasion of Scandinavia, USSR and Poland with me a few months earlier. One of the sayings we'd fashioned was "USELESS!" said very loudly when someone fucked up in grand style. The best example of this was when Jacko (she'd been named Jacko by some Melbourne blokes because they thought she looked like the Aussie Rules player, Mark "Jacko" Jackson, oi!). In mid border crossing between Poland and East Germany she'd not returned to the bus from a toilet break. We spotted her two lanes away trying to get the attention of the border guards. Stupid bint. Ian, the driver had opened the doors and yelled out "Over here you stupid tart!". She sauntered back very slowly and when she got back on board the whole bus erupted with a well earned USELESS! I would have felt sorry for her but she was as daft as a brush; silly as a wet hen. Dog's real name was Andrew and he was usually accompanied by Bear (his mate, Ian). But not this time. I went up and shook Dog's hand. We were both sporting huge grins at this unexpected meeting. One of our episodes in Berlin was when Dog and I evaded the group and went to Berlin Zoo to see the polar bear they'd captured during some blitzkrieg event in Greenland. We'd seen the big furry thing (and the polar bear) and Dog had snapped a bloody good photo of a couple of brown bears deep in the throws of passion. It was a classic. Bear was amused when he saw the pic a couple of weeks later.

Dog was at Oktoberfest for a couple of days only being in the midst of another trip around Europe. I explained my sad situation of having to go and front the Polizei then the British consulate. He reckoned it sounded like too much hard work. He'd prefer to go and sample the delights at the Oktoberfest site, so off he went. It was around two months previously when he first pulled the "USELESS" stunt on me. I was outside the hostel in Dingle (Ireland, County Cork) checking with the hostel manager about available beds and was having no luck when I heard the same call of "USELESS" launched from the adjacent campground. Yep, Dog, Bear Bev and Kris came bounding up. Bev was nice Canadian girl who'd been to Russia with us and Kris was a spunking girl from Melbourne. Kris was to Dog, "sex on a stick" and Dog's current prey. She hadn't wilted at that stage and didn't seem likely to, unfortunately for Dog. Bev however was very pleased to see me. I never worked it out but apparently she fancied me during that Russia trip. Stupid Therbs, opportunities lost! Regrets? Yeah, I had one right there. The next time I heard the same "USELESS" shout was the following year at the SCG during a Swans (Aussie Rules) game. I was walking from the bar near the Bill O'Reilly stand down to the concourse when Dog did it again, out of nowhere and otherwise totally unannounced. Funny sort of bloke. The Swans beat Brisbane that day much to Dog's chagrine and my delight.
(Enough of the USELESS and Dog anecdotes, okay Therbs? You're in Munich, at the campground waiting to get the shuttle into the cop shop in town.) ( Okay boss.)

The bus took a group of us in. We'd all lost our passports but one couple had actually been mugged. That was serious. We settled into the polizei bureau, they heard what we said, gave most of us carbon-papered, multi-lingual forms to fill in and took the mugged couple into a room to get details. I completed my form, took it to Schultz who duly witnessed it, stamped it and gave me three copies. Thanks Schultz, I'll get Lebeau to bake you a strudel. Then it was off to the nearest photobooth for a strip of passport pics. That done, I headed off to the Consulate de Pom.
I went in, they gave me a form for a replacement Aussie passport and had a whinge about the Australian embassy no longer posting agents at the British Consulate in Munich during Oktoberfest. They got the Oz mob on the blower from Bonn and handed me the phone. I explained what had happened and they said it would take four days to get a temporary replacement. That was cutting it very close to the departure of the Autotours crew for London. Could be tricky. I had the Brit consulate bod witness my application form and went and bought the Kraut version of an Express Post envelope, guaranteed next day delivery. I posted the fucker and then headed off to the Festival site. It was pretty much the same routine as the first day so I'll skip the details. Just suffice it to say there was a lot of clashing of glasses, "Cheers boys!" toasts and the "Aussie - Kiwi" chant. This time I made it back to camp on the bus with the rest of our crew. Slept pretty well that night considering I was alone. What ever did happen to the Yaapie lass?

In the morning we were very pensive as well as being hungover. Once we'd cleaned up, had breakfast and got on the bus we were really thinking hard about our destination. Dachau. I'd previously been to Matthausen camp and had some idea of what to expect but when you walk in to the barracks, see the narrow wooden planks which slept three adults and the sparse, utilatarian design to everything, the feeling is one of despair. Walking into the shower blocks I fingered the GAS shower token in my pocket. It was one fucked up feeling. I don't see ghosts but I felt thousands of them crying tales of true evil. We checked out everything, trying to numb down the feeling but that was impossible when the strands of hopeless fate caught themselves up with the cord of murderous, institutional slaughter. We exited Dachau a very sombre group of people, speechless, wandering in our minds looking for some sort of perspective. We knew why it had happened but couldn't see it happening. It was disbelief writ large but contradicted by what we'd just walked out of. There were some mutterings of "Fucking Nazis", "Wish they could have been nuked." and the like. I couldn't say anything. I pulled out a shower token and threw it at the building. It clanked against the wall and rolled a short way before coming to a stop. I left it there, hoping the fucking thing would rot.

The mood on the bus going back was still subdued but Lex had a couple of more places for us to visit. The Deutsches Museum and the Olympic site. Remember Munich? Oh yeah, the first major hit by nutjob terrorists in Europe since WWII. Lex took us through the site, the Museum and past the BMW building. There was a lot to ponder as we headed to the Oktoberfest site again. After a while in the beer tents we all loosened up, talked about how fucked the Nazis were, the looniness of the terrorists and the merits of a big stick. We drank, we "cheersed", we ate pork knuckles and eventually headed back to the campsite. I needed to find out where Janie was, so Gary and I started a search. We made it to the Contiki camp where we spotted two bicycles. A minute later we were tooling around the campground singing Queens' bicycle song. We dismounted at the bar, grabbed a couple of cans of beer and jumped aboard our trusty conveyances for another couple of laps, waving our beers in the air, saying "Yip yip yip yahoo!" and then cracking on with the Queen impersonation. Somehow we only attracted a minor level of attention, mainly from a bunch of Kiwis ranged around a group of busted-arse campervans. We had to pull up and say hello. They were doing the roochacha song.
"Roochacha roochacha roocha cha cha (repeated)
I'm singing in the rain
Singing in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I'm hap hap happy again.
Okay boys, Feet together
(Response) - Feet together
Legs together
(response) - Legs together
"Roochacha roochacha roocha cha cha"
and so on and so forth.

One of them even offered me a slug of Jack Daniels, being impressed with my drink riding ability and our custody of Contiki bicycles. Gary was a bit confused at first but soon cottoned on. It was pisspots doing pisspot stuff, can't be that hard to figure out for a Canaussie.
We did return the bikes to Contiki and as we made our way back to the Autotours battleground Gary told me he reckoned Janie had found a fella. I think I already knew that didn't I? Yeah, I reckon I did. He was just rubbing it in. Bastard. I went to sleep still pissed off at the Nazis and the whackjobs but there was too much booze in my system for me not to fall asleep (read plummet like a giant anvil in a roadrunner cartoon). In the background I heard Bill Murray mutter something about getting his old job back, moving back into his apartment and making up with his girlfriend, just before he and Harold Ramis got collared by a couple of spunking MP's.

The next two days were pretty much replays of the first couple except that I did manage to find Janie. She'd shacked up with some Kiwi bloke for the duration. Foolish girl. In the afternoon I rang up the Pommy consulate, checking on my passport. Not there, should be in tomorrow. Great, the bus back to London coincided with this timing. It was going to be a close rui thing so I briefed Lex. He said they'd hold up for an hour but that was it. Timing was everything with the ferries and the pick up coach waiting at Dover. After breakfast the next morning I packed up my gear and headed into town, straight to the Brit consulate. My passport hadn't arrived in the morning post. Have to wait for the afternoon mail drop. 4.00 pm. Autours would be on their way by then. I wouldn't be with them. Fuck, here we go. Time for Plan B. Without a rail pass that was going to be a killer. This was before cheap airfares in Europe, except for pre-planned charter jobs. Hitch hike? That could well be the answer. Wouldn't be too bad, Take two or three days maybe but I'd make it. I went back to the campground and briefed the Autotours site rep and Lex. They were sorry they couldn't wait but that's how it goes. I then spotted someone doing stuff to a Contiki coach across the way. I turned to Lex,
"Whaddaya reckon? Looks like he's prepping for a night departure. No passengers about yet."
Lex nodded enthusiastically,
"Yeah, find out when he's leaving. If he's got a spare seat don't go above twenty quid. That's more than enough for the bugger."
I moseyed on over and did some spade work. Yep, he was taking off at 7.00 p.m. Yep, he had a spare seat. Twenty pounds cash was fine. Be here by 6.30 and you can pay then.
I spent the rest of the afternoon perched on an esky (ice chest, chilly bin) having a few settlers to get the fuel needle closer to sleep range for the night bus trip. The Autotours mob packed up and milled around the bus. They were leaving me behind but didn't seem that concerned. Most of them looked well fried and in need of a week's rest. I waved them off as they headed back to London, Therbsless. A little while later I cabbed it into the Brit consulate, grabbed my replacement passport and headed back to the campsite. I was hanging outside the bar drowning my sorrows when the Contiki driver came up,
"Could be a bit of a problem mate. The courier's some new bloke who's gotten a bit narky about the passenger manifest. Maybe you want to have a word with him yourself."
So I did. Went straight up to him and told him what was happening. Then I mentioned the names of the guys who'd taken me through Russia (Ivan and Ian). Turns out Ivan had run this guy's training trip and passed him. So there I was looking at this greenhorn straight out of the academy, busted arse that I was, unshaven, hungover and not feeling like engaging in diplomacy. He ummed, ahhed, looked at his manifest, looked at the driver, looked at me and looked at his clipboard again. This was getting ridic, I had to say something,
"Listen, Geoff is it? I know how much Contiki values customer assessment and how that affects bonuses for you guys at the end of a trip. You maybe get an extra fifty quid or something, that right? Well I'll guarantee you get excellent plusses up and down the board from this group of passengers. What do you reckon?"
He thought about it, nodded, and said,
"Yeah, why not. Back here at 6.30." He walked away.
"What a fucking knob!" Was my response to the driver's bemused look. I handed him twenty pounds and said I'd be back at 6.30. I then went and split a couple of beers with the Autotours site reps, explaining what had gone on. They found it quite amusing. One asked me how I was going to guarantee the high ranking.
"I'm not. Fuck it, once I get to Oosetende or wherever,I'm happy. I'll make my own way if needs be after that. But the driver seems a good bloke. I might just get the passenegers to hand me the forms and then bodgy them up a bit." This wouldn't take much. They'd all be messes by leaving time and open to any authoritative directions. Could be a laugh.
At 6.30 I bade farewell to the Auotours crew and said hello to my new best friends, Contiki. The bus was half full. We collected the other half of the complement at the Oktoberfest site. As we motored away from Munich I well knew I wouldn't be back for quite a while, if ever. Thanks Munchen, it was fun but you needn't have nicked my passport. I took my assessment form wrangling seriously. I grabbed them off the greenhorn courier and took them back to my seat.
The bloke next to me was confused.
"Just a bit of insurance paperwork." was my explanation. I went through them, marking ticks in the right boxes, but not one hundred per cent. Needed to be a bit realistic. I went up and down the bus getting people to sign them and then handed them back to the courier. He got on the mike
"Okay guys, thanks for completing the evaluations so quickly, Contiki really appreciates it. Sit back, relax, we have a long haul coming up. Next break will be in a couple of hours."
A voice piped up from Bad Boys Corner at the back of the bus,
"That was a shonk! Redraw!" I sauntered up the back and explained to Mr Argument that it was standard procedure and please shut the fuck up. I pulled a beer out of the esky in the aisle and handed it to him. He grabbed it, ripped off the ring pull and took a large mouthful, exclaiming,
"Ahhh. Never thought I could down anotheree but this is great. Aren't you having one yourself?" Dead easy. Distract them with shiny things or beer.
"Okay, may as well." I grabbed one, sat down, lit a smoke, raised my beer and started up a can clanging round of "cheers". It was a tad noisy and I looked up the front, seeing the driver grinning in the rear vision mirror. The long haul back had begun.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oktoberfest - Part Two

I slept through until fruhstuck time, waking up in a tent which had started to suffer from condensation on the inside. Well, I guess it was going out in sympathy with my liver. I got my clothes on and stumbled out of the tent and straight to the bathroom block. It was surprisingly relatively clean. A sign told me that to have a hot shower I'd need a token, available at the main shop. That's where I went and bought half a dozen of the things. I looked at them and blanched. Unfuckingbelievable! They had GAS written on them. I just shook my head and headed back to have a shower, trying to make sense of this freaky little pancake. Once I was dressed for the day I went over to the mess area of the Autotours encampment and happily found one of the Wankabout staffers overseeing a barbecue plate full of eggs and bacon. You little ripper, just what I needed. I helped myself to a large plateful, washed the plate and cutlery and started looking around for anyone I knew. I saw Lex looking serious and talking to another Autotours rep, and then I spotted Rocky stumbling into scene from stage washroom block. From stage tent left Gary appeared, looking surprisingly chipper. He grabbed some bread and made a sandwich of bacon and eggs, pouring an instant coffee and mumbling 'hi' at the same time. When he'd downed his sandwich I pulled out the shower tokens, 'GAS' side up.

"Mate, look what you need to use to get a hot shower. Check 'em out. And guess where we're going day after tomorrow on a day trip."

Gary's startled frown was accompanied by,

"You gotta be kidding me! That's fucked up, right there. And we're going to Dachau. Welcome to fucking Kraut Land!"

Rocky saw us cursing and frowning and came over. We explained it to him as I showed him the tokens,

"Fuck me dead. I didn't even notice. " He pulled out a couple of his own. He went on,

"Haven't seen these here before. They must have got in a supply of extras for Oktoberfest. Silly fucken drongos should have checked 'em out. I'd better warn the team in case there's any folk of The Faith with us." Rocky wandered over to Lex and pointed out the tokens. Lex nodded, shook his head and walked over to grab some breakfast. While he was polishing off his bacon and eggs we sipped on coffee. In between mouthfuls he explained,

"We're taking this up with the camp site manager. We noticed it last night and have warned the Top Deck and Contiki crews. Not a lot we can do really. You get these tokens elsewhere in Europe. I'd say Fallkirken must have thought they didn't have enough tokens so instead of upping the frequency of emptying the token boxes they got in a new supply. Lazy dickheads. Listen, we take off for the festival site in half an hour so make sure you're here then."

Sounded to me like an order to piss off so I went for a wander around the campground. We were located about half way in, flanked by the Contiki encampment and a phalanx of campervans plastered with signs such as;

"Pisspots On Tour"
"Kiwi Invasion"
"Moscow Mules"
"Perth to Paris" etc

Further along there were some more normal looking installations; neatly erected tents, outdoor furniture, clean and sober folk with children, happily eating bread rolls and jam. Surely they must have been warned about us. What chance would they have, really, at 2.00 a.m. with a full battalion of pissed 'Festers coming back to the campground demanding more booze? I shook my head and made a silent prayer for these poor souls. I made my way back to the head of the campground where I saw the heavy cavalry. There must have been at least thirty Top Deck buses all lined up in a row. That meant at least 450 hardened drinkers, prepped and ready to rock, right there. This was going to be nice. I wandered into their zone and saw a lot of people looking as if they'd already gone through the alcohol mincer. I didn't recognise anyone so I walked away.

Back in the Autotours enclave I noticed Janie scarfing down some breakfast, preparing for battle.

I walked up,

"Sleep well? Betcha you didn't. Not without me."

"I had a great sleep, especially because you weren't there. It was peaceful."

Bang, shot me down at first opportunity. I put on my "little boy hurt" look replete with bottom lip quivering. Must have worked 'cos she came up and wrapped her arms around me.

The coach was idling away nearby and Lex was looking at some paperwork which he promptly pocketed, turned and called out,

"Right-i-o then folks. All aboard for the Oktoberfest Opening Ceremony. Don't be shy!"

We motored into the Oktoberfest site, pensive and watchful. Even though most of us had seen similar trouble before we were new to such a big battle. Its funny how the trip in to the Drop Zone affects people differently. A few guys were nervously lighting cigarettes, making forced jokes while others were fingering their lucky charms, symbols of hope, icons of their own survival. Others tapped to the rhythms piping through their earphones. There was one girl who feigned sleep, trying to don the appearance of a bored, seasoned and cynical veteran. In the background was the drone of the big diesel, pushing us on to our fate. Some people were repeating their mantras, locking into their psyches their paths to victory. One young fella in all of his naivety asked Rocky,

"So this is going to be pretty big eh? Lots of beers, lots of pissed people?" Rocky put on his best tour guide impersonation,

"Well it stems from a medieval harvest festival where they celebrated gathering in all the barley, from which they made the beer. You know that there's absolutely no chemicals in German beer? Its been that way for centuries. Its the law. Beer law."

The kid was impressed,

"Geez I hope it tastes good. I heard the stuff at the Oktoberfest is watered down!"

Rocky shook his head,

"That's bullshit. Listen, you won't last a day. If you get into trouble, look for Lex. He'll know what to do."

I was sitting next to Janie and pointed out the nervous youngster. Janie commented,

"They're recruiting them young. He must be barely twenty, if that." She shook her head.

"Takes its toll. We need the numbers." I replied.

I noticed that Gary was checking his hip flask. You can always tell a seasoned pro. It took all types to make up an Oktoberfest contingent. We passed the first casualties of the day. A Bedford van was pulled up in the service lane with a group of worried Kiwis set in a defensive cordon along its side, smoke emanating from the engine bay. They were waiting to be picked off and there was nothing we could do for them. I saluted them and then closed my eyes for a brief remembrance before steeling myself forward.

The coach slowed and I saw how the rest of the convoy was arrayed. Very precise, all in order. We exited row by row, each person taking up position, waiting for the word to advance.

Lex demanded attention,

"Okay. There's buses going back from about two, just be back here on the hour and wait. The opening ceremony is in ten minutes. After he zumpfahs head for the Hofbrauhaus tent. Its that big bastard over there. Okay, yez can fuck off now."

Such leadership. My hero. The HH tent ws my destination anyway. In a few hours time I'd hopefully meet up with Doug and the Namur crew.

We mingled in groups waiting for the Oktobefest Chief to do his thing. An oompah band played, and a fat guy got up on the stage, then another fat guy who was dressed like a mayor. The oompah band kicked in again then the mayoral guy started in on a speech. Something about cabbage soup for lunch from now on and would Colonel Hogan please return the official limousine.

Then he said a few more words and "zoompfah!" There was a loud bang, cheering and the rush to the tents. Our lot didn't run, just pushed through at a steady pace. When we got into the HH tent it was this cavernous, canvas hall arrayed with countless tables and bench seats. A division of hefty bierfraus awaited our assault. I noticed that in amongst the first wave there was a platoon of Top Deckers, happy that they secured prime seats. They were the Shock Troops of the Oktoberfest. Rocky headed to the back of the hall and we followed. When I saw him angling towards a table near an exit sign I figured his ploy.

An easy escape route if there's trouble and it gave handy egress to the toilets. We settled in and were soon attended by one of the bierfrau's. There were eight of us at the table and we weren't really ready to settle in for the long haul just yet. We wanted to check the place out. So we took it in turns to go for walks around the festival site, leaving enough at the table to defend our beachhead. After the first stein was finished the oompah band cranked up. They did a couple of old beer drinking songs and then an Oktoberfest standard, the "Birdie Dance". At the end of it this chant rose from the shock troops in the centre,





and was repeated a few times before the combatants sat down. I felt sorry for Gary and promised to help him in a "Canada" rebuttal next time around. Then I went for a wander.

The site was set up like any carnival type of site. In Australia every town and city has its show. They started off as displays of local produce at their best with games and carnival attractions thrown in. To me it seemed like the Easter Show back in Sydney, with the produce being beer, no farm animals, no Holden Precision Driving Team, no woodchopping but thousands of people celebrating one thing. Beer. Genius concept. I went back to the HH tent, found our table and sat down. It wasn't long before another stein was placed in front of me, trilling its song of life. That was followed by another and by this stage the tent was turning into a party. Early divisions and borders crumbled, the Birdie Song was played and the Aussie-Kiwi chant restaged, interrupted by a plaintiff "Canada", which drew a few laughs and a bow from Gary. As I circled around I checked the time. It was after midday, time to go hunting for Doug and the Namur crowd. I was thinking that they may have decided it wasn't worth it as I made my way up and down the rows of tables. I was almost back to my start point when I spotted Dave, Karen and Betty from Namur. I couldn't believe that a drunken arrangement made in haste to meet up at another drunken rendez-vous had actually worked. We hugged, laughed and shook our heads in wonderment. Dave was curious,

"How did you get here? And how the fuck did you remember the time and place? This is great!"

Dave hoisted his stein and we all clashed glasses. Dave went on,

"But I haven't seen Doug. There were no messages at the hostels, including The Tent. I reckon he's not here."

Karen chipped in,

"Good to see you. We chucked in the hostel gig and are doing the train thang. Got any tips?"

"I came in with this Autotours crowd, a camping tour operation. I wasn't going to miss this one. In terms of advice, I'm fucked. Doug's got Let's Go Home so no dice there. All I can suggest is learn how to order beer in whatever country you're in and you'll be fine. Also. avoid the hostel in Namur. It's full of pisspots and wankers." I was always helpful.

We sat around talking about what we'd been doing. They laughed at the missing car keys episode in Wales, my teaming up with some Autotours drunks and were taken aback by the GAS tokens for the showers at the camping ground. They'd had enough of running the Namur hostel and were drifting around Europe and had the Oktoberfest stamped on their to do list. In between laughs the oompah band occasionally played the Birdie Song or whatever the fuck it is and then the Aussie! Kiwi! chant would start up. I did some spade work on Betty but drew a blank. She was heading off the next day chasing some Kiwi guy. I didn't even ask if his name was Shaun (sorry - gratuitous Kiwi sheep joke reference). The Namur crew left me to it as they wanted to check out the site. Their places at the table were quickly taken by some of the Autotours mob including Gary, Rocky and a Kiwi called Tim (I dunno if that's his name but it seemed to me that most Kiwi blokes I met were called Tim). At the table next to us there was an American guy who was a tour leader of a group of college types. After the next round of the Birdie Song (Chicken Dance?) and the Aussie-Kiwi chant he explained to his group that the Kiwis and Aussies hated each other and that they often came to blows. What? The? Fuck?! Sure, there was a certain amount of pisstake, one upmanship, sporting rivalry and jokes about each other but fist fights? We were too busy insulting each other for that nonsense. Tim leaned across the table, nodding his head towards the American guy,
"Ya here that? Apparently we're meant to punch on."
I nodded,
"I reckon the only one gonna get decked around here is that drop kick."

Tim got up with one of the other guys and staged a mock brawl for the benefit of the Americans but it only lasted a few seconds. They were too busy laughing to make it look real. Tim looked at the American and growled,

"You know what? Us Kiwis and Aussies do have a go at each other but what we really hate is wankers like you."

If Tim had been an Aussie I would have added,

but don't you ever say we're weak
or you'll learn all about our convict streak! (Dave Warner, "Convict Streak").

Tim sat back down to a smattering of golf course applause and attacked his stein. Good idea. We ignored the American table from then on. That stupid tour leader had fucked it for his crew. I felt like explaining it to them but couldn't really be arsed. Wasn't my job. I was in charge of, shit, I couldn't remember what I was in charge of, or the order of battle. Ah yes, it was sitting in front of me in a big stein.

The beer tent was still crowded when I got up to find the toilets. I did so, then noticed something. My pouch was missing. Fuckety-fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! How in the fuck had that happened. I raced back inside, checked the table and surrounds. Nothing. Fuck it! A quick interrogation of the others came up with no clues. It was gone. Now what was in it? My fucking passport, a copy of the YHA card and a letter from my sister. No money was missing, that was some relief. This sobered me up on the spot. I circulated amongst the crowd in that part of the tent, letting them know what to keep an eye out for. I then went looking for the polizei. Outside the tent was a Polizei sign but the post was manned by American M.P.'s. They looked like the blokes who used to drag Klinger back from one of his flights and dump him in front of a bemused Henry Blake. Except they looked all business. I went inside and found a school of pissed yobbos swimming against the current of evil and not having much luck. It was a zoo. I asked the corporal at the door about my best options. He said that if I didn't see the fucker who took it my best bet was to go to the cops in town the next day, get a report and get a new passport asap. Good advice. I could see the logic. Oh well, back to the beer. It was better than sitting in a prefab hut listening to a bunch of pissed people try and give descriptions of evildoers to MP's who couldn't understand drunkese that well. Particularly Aussie and Kiwi drunkese. A military radio set crackled in the background, broadcasting crap I couldn't understand. Nah, beer is a much better option. But then isn't that the case in most ciscumstances?

I settled back inside trying to figure out what had happened. Must have been when I got up to go to the dunnies. The crowd was bumping and it would have been easy to slice the pouch's band. Silly fucker I was. I had to laugh when I pulled my "muggers' wallet" from my back pocket. There it was, my brilliant piece of deception and it had all come to ten parts of sweet fuck all. Still, the fucker who took it was very, very slick. Then I had a genius idea. Put the word out that I was willing to buy an Australian passport for a large cash sum. Then punch the bejaysus out of whoever comes up to sell me one. I enthusiastically moved around the crowd between myself and the door, casually dropping a hint about paying cash. Then I stopped when a great big chunk of logic smacked me upside the head. You fucking idiot! All you've done now is put the word out that you have a big bundle of cash. That's gonna attract all sorts of people who are professional at divesting drunken sods like you of even small sums of cash. Most likely through the use of violence. Nice one Mr Sensible! I turned back to the table but one guy I'd talked to said,
"There's a guy over there offering Aussie passports for sale. That's him, just leaving."
I pushed my way through the crowd but was too late, even with a diving lunge at the end, the fucker was gone. I made it outside and went up and down the alleys but never spotted him. Probably bullshit anyway. Back to the beer and it was also about time I went and found Janie for some solace and comfort.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oktoberfest Part 1

Firstly - props to Dr Yobbo who said here that I was in Thebarton. Little did he know at the time of writing but Thebarton is how I got the monicker Therbs. The guys Jerry (Wally, Walter, Beaker, Big Fee, Bon Scott), Richard (Guru, Fee, Gordon, Fieldmarshall Ron Hatten-Brown, Gooey, Ronnie Macguire) and Chris (Jim, Big Fat Tot, Weemy, Critty, James Hooten-Pagnall) were the ones who gave me said appellation back in the Eighties. They couldn't really explain it except that amongst themselves one of them called me a barton. One of those ridiculous things no-one can ever give meaning to or explain. Another had herd of Thebarton, a suburb of Adelaide so it extended to that. Then it was just shortened to Therbs. I wouldn't have mentioned it because its stupidly complimicated but when I saw the Doc's line I had to acknowledge his perspifuckingcacity.

Now, back to the story.

There was something strange in the air. It smelt like one of those days when you think a storm's going to blow over the top of you and suck up all the detritus directly from the middle of your thinky bit. A clean out of all the stupid crap which piles up after a few months of ignoring it. Or was it? Nup, that was a tad over complimicated, it smelt more like one of Gary's rancid farts. He just grinned, turned to Lex and said,

"One and Oh, Leeex!".

We were finishing off a settling pint down in the Wanker bar having just been briefed by Lex on the timing of our invasion of Munich for the Oktoberfest. Lex was an Autotours courier who had led a bus load of drunks around Europe for six weeks, seeing the sites and generally giving Antipodeans a bad name. Gary was part of that group and had become friends with Lex, sharing as they did similar tastes in women, drinks and a recognition of the futility in taking the whole travel thing too seriously. The Aussie contingent of Lex's group had awarded Gary the monicker of Canaussie. I asked Lex about this and he explained,

"We basically thought that he'd make a good Australian. He shouts in turn, takes the piss out of wankers and is pretty useful with the ladies. He knows his way around a sports field and gives as good as he gets. So we reckoned he's a Canadian Australian, Canaussie." (Geez, this seems like "explain nickname day". That's it, no more.)

That all seemed fair enough to me as my dealings with the man pretty much supported the argument. He was handy enough with a pint or a hip flask, had bedded a couple of the babes and was an amusing sort of chap. There were six of us sitting around the table. Our bus would leave Paddington at 6.30 that afternoon and take us to Munich. There was another reason why we were having a quiet beer, it was my birthday. I'd hit the mid-Twenties (anything after twenty-one was mid-Twenties, anything over 27 was late-Twenties and anything over 29 was senility as far as I was concerned.) Appropriately we'd refreshed ourselves at a couple of pubs before hitting the London Walkabout Club for the pre-Oktoberfest briefing and ticket issue. With the formalities over the first order of business was Birthday Drinks. This was scary. We had six days of Oktoberfesting to look forward to and we were already launching oursleves. I must have looked pensive as Gary slapped me on the back, frowning,

"Watcha thinkin' about Big Guy? The folks back home?"

I smiled back,

"No, the road ahead. Its fucking scary. Although I must admit this birthday stuff is weird. It's my dad's birthday today as well."

"What a fucking messy present that was for him. Didja split a beer with him on Day One?"

I laughed,

"All they gave me was milk. I guess it was to line my stomach."

"Would have taken a tanker of milk to line that thing." As I said he was good at taking the piss.

"Fuck off Gary and get me a birthday beer." My standby riposte when struggling for comebacks.

He didn't need to. A couple of the crew had already been to the bar and came back with pints, sitting them in front of me. I'm not suspicious, just cautious, so I offered one of them to Gary. He declined the offer which set off the alcohol tsunami warning alarm. Having played the trick on others before I suspected multiple shots of vodka in each beer, designed purely for the purpose of turning me into a dribbling mess so all sorts of nonsense could be visited upon my person. I casually finished my unpolluted lager and took up one of the poisoned challices. I took a professional mouthful, trying to analyse the contents. What fucked the jokesters was the fact that everyone had gone quiet.

"You lot are a fucking hopeless bunch. That's not how you present spiked beers. You're meant to do it casually and pretend to ignore it until I finish them. This was like waiting for the Ode to finish in an RSL club. Okay, I'm tipping that there's a triple vodka in this one. I'll put a fiver on it. Any takers? No? Good. Cheers everyone!" I then picked up the pint and raised it. Others joined it and soon there was a clashing of glasses and a round of "Cheers!".

Gary leaned in and said,

"If you want to take it easy I'll have that other vodka beer. I may as well anyway, it will just go flat."

"Mate, its English lager. Its impossible for it to get any flatter, especially with vodka in it."

"Good point but the offer is on the table."

"So's that spiked lager. Its yours."

Gary grabbed it, tasted it and nodded.

"At least a double shot." A few of the crew moaned in disappointment but I was having none of it,

"You only have yourselves to blame. You should learn from this, young grasshoppers, particularly when it comes to planning Bucks Parties. Keep it casual and maintain a normal pitch throughout the scam . This one was too fucking obvious even for a dill like me to figure out. Anyway, cheers!"

I raised my glass again and there was another round of cheers-ing and glass bashing. Apparently that's all you had to do to deflect this crowd when it started to turn. Raise a glass and say "Cheers!". This was not going to be a complicated sortie at all. I'd had pet sea monkeys which required more sophisticated psychological manipulation than this lot. The party rolled on.

We schooled around the Paddington coach station in a messy, expectant throng. Not as expectant as the Maternity Ward of the nearby hospital but a tad edgy nonetheless. My birthday drinks had been a procession of pubs from Craven Terrace, up Praed Street to Paddington station. Somewhere along the way I'd jowled down a plate of "2 sausage, egg and chips" to soak up the alcohol. With me was Gary, Rocky (an Autotours driver), Janie (a pneumatic Yaapie from Cape Town) and a few others. Eventually the coaches rolled up and we got on board. My pack was stripped down to a change of jeans, extra shoes, a track suit, pair of shorts, a bundle of shirts, a jacket and a newly purchased fold up umbrella which I'd bought an hour beforehand because someone said it was pissing it down in Munich. I had two photocopied sets of my travel documents with me and had converted my reserve thousand bucks into a combination of Deutschmarks and pounds sterling. Half of this I'd put into travellers cheques.

My tactics for keeping cash, cheques and passport safe were to split them. In my pouch I had my passport and copies of my YHA membership card (Fruhstuck Express), plus a letter from one of my sisters. I kept the cash in a wallet in the front pocket of my jeans, travellers cheques in the dirty undies bag plus a spare "mugger's wallet" in my daypack. It had over twenty dollars in small demoninations spread across a few different currencies plus a faked up ID card, shopping receipts and a couple of business cards I'd found lying around the Wanker. The theory was that's what you hand over to the muggers. It had to have enough regular wallet junk in it to be convincing plus a believable amount of cash. If you had to give it up you were down the chute by thirty bucks but still alive and kicking. I also had another copy of my travel papers in my pack, along with a hundred quid emergency reserve stuffed into a stinking old pair of socks. Why the precautions? Oktoberfest was just one big honey pot for all sorts of nogoodniks (us) as well as thieves, blaggers, pickpockets, conmen and other jolly types who preyed on drunken dropkicks for a living. More of that later.

The bus took us to the ferry at Dover and once on board we made use of the duty free facilities. By this stage I was running out of birthday time and somehow had attracted the attentions of Janie, a blond Yaapie lass from Cape Town. She was a happy sort of girl, proportionately broad of hip, large of bust and lusty of laugh. Didn't mind a drink either which makes things easier for blokes like me. She felt it her duty to look after me on my birthday. Once again I looked up and praised the gods of alcohol and bullshit while making a silent obeisance to the Saint of Deluded Females. What almost screwed the pooch was "Annie". Some fucking idiot had put it on the video in the main lounge and unfortunately for me, t'young Yaapie lassie rather fancied watching such crap. I added up the odds. If I refused she'd probably give up on her mission of Therbs Care. Then I'd have to go back to Start after most likely collecting a slap in the face for being a daft bastard. Sure, the slap was physical contact but not of the type I was seeking. Fucking "Annie" of all things! A singy movie about some blood nut girl whose parents shuffle off the mortal coil because she's such a pain in the fucking arse and they couldn't face the though of her reaching adulthood. The fuckers should have just topped the annoying bintette and saved themselves and us from the unholy maudlin crap which followed. Or sumfin like dat anyway. Soooooo, what to do? Fuck it, I had to be up front. I wasn't going to sit through that crap even if it meant I missed out on a shag after the final credits rolled. There are limits.

"Ya know what darlin'? I'm not into this movie..."

She looked at me kind of sad. I was going to continue but;

But its always useful to have a second option. Or a saviour. Mine arrived in the form of Gary and Rocky.

"C'mon Nick, time for a final birthday beer. According to my beer clock its still your birthday in New York." Gary truly was at least half Australian.

"Whaddaya say Janie? Coming with us?" Rocky must have figured I was stuck somewhere between his namesake and a hard place as he turned, looked at the screen, looked at us and interrobanged, "You're not gonna watch that pile of crap are you?!"

That abruptly ended Janies dream of snuggling up to yours truly while watching a sop musical. I put my arms around her and told her to watch it if she wanted, but I'm sure I could provide other diversions after a quick settler in the bar.

I heard a garbled announcement emanating from the ship's tannoy. Something about incoming air raid, all hands to battle stations. Fucking Luftwaffe again, I bet. Happened every time I approached a European port in a vessel. At least the sub menace was gone. I blinked myself awake then scratched and adjusted what needed scratching and adjustment. I stood up, avoided hitting my head on a bunk above me, finding myself wearing my shorts and t-shirt from the bug out stash in my day pack.

"Arseholes!" I said it loud, then looked around. No-one else was in the cabin. Cabin? Ah yes, that's right. I'd managed to scam into a cabin by some sort of bullshit line to the Purser and dragged young Janie along for the ride. A nice, bouncy ride 'n all. I checked all my stuff, went and had a shower, got my proper duds on and then figured out where to go for my battle station.
Surely I'd be on one of the Bofors or something. Apparently not. It was still night time. I made my way to the lounge area which was devoid of anyone I recognised. They must have been on blimp watch so I joined a queue of invaders exiting the ship. Now what had Lex said about the RV once we stumbled off the ferry? Something about Customs, a bus and if anyone was late they'd be left behind. Okay dokey. I made my way around to where the luggage was being unloaded. Mine would be tagged to go with the Autotours lot and that would be handled by those who were paid to sort out that sort of shit. This would take a good half an hour. I went through Customs, explaining I was looking for the Autotours crew. The Customs guy passed me onto another guy who checked a list and told me they hadn't come through yet. I went back in and hung around where everyone was trooping off the boat. I was leisurely puffing on a Silk Cut whenI saw Lex appear then the rest of his pisshead group.

"Where youse been?" I enquired.

"Fucking waiting for you. What happened?"

"Someone slipped me a Mickey Finn a couple of hours ago and I woke up in a cabin, juiceless and clueless. You lot weren't in the lounge so I did a runner, thinking you'd already scarpered without me."

Lex nodded,

"Pretty much what I suspected. You didn't seem the sort to get lost too easily. We checked the bar and duty free shop then fucked off. We knew about the cabin. The Purser asked me about it this morning but I told him I had no idea what he was talking about. So we're not paying for your crap. The ferry company has to cover it. One tip, don't use this company for at least a year, you'll be on their black list."

"Cheers. Lead on, McDuff." I then waited for Gary and Janie to appear. Janie came up and put her arm around me,

"You okay?"

I needed a few hours more sleep, a quasi hangover rumbled in my head and it was raining.

"Fucking oath I'm okay. Off to a great start, had nookie, had a nap, had a shower and now I'm about to invade Germany again and drown in beer. What about you my young springbok?"

"I would have had a nap except for some hellish snoring. I'm looking forward to the next few days."

We cleared Customs and got on the bus. I headed straight up to Bad Boys Corner at the back, put a pillow against the inside of the bus and wedged my head against it. I then remembered a hip flask of Schnapps in my day pack, opened it up and took a long swig. I passed it around to the others who polished it off in short order. I drowsily woke up a couple of hours later with Gary tugging on my arm. He passed over another bottle of schnapps, advising,

"You need at least two shots of this every few hours to maintain a good sleep cycle. Drink up."

The boy was a genius.

The next time I woke, Janie was shaking my shoulder,

"Pit stop. All out." We shambled off the bus into a big service station. There were a couple of other buses and a bloody great queue up at the brascoes. I spied a couple of blokes clambering through a fence back to their cars. So I retraced their steps, unzipped and let loose. Ahhhhh. It was a relief but I felt really fucking fuzzy and that hangover was starting to get beyond its baby steps. Where the fuck were we? I checked out the shop. Germany. Better check for tank traps. I also checked out a vending machine. Becks Bier. A few deutschmarks down the chute later and I had a couple of travelling companions, nice and chilled, ready to offer their lives to save mine. I went back to the group and saw that Gary had found the same new best friends as myself. Beck was a life saver that night, unlike in the Nineties when it made a brief but pointless flash-in-the-pan blip on the music radar.

A question sometimes arises in situations where one is facing the beer tsunami of an Oktoberfest and is in the throes of recovery from birthday celebrations. That question is generally posed by boring farts such as myself but back then it never dawned on me to be temperate in my plans. Usually a few hours sleep would suffice, followed by the best artery-clogging gear one could find and if needs be, a chilled settler. I looked at my Becks, one of which was already half finished. In terms of alcoholic beverages I have always been a half-empty kind of guy when pondering the level of whatever drinking vessel I happen to be employing. My mood improves once the next drink is in my hands, fresh and full of frolic, ready to play. So it was that I finished Mr Half-empty Becks and opened up fresh Becks and boarded the bus. Lex did his statutory head count, checked his passenger manifest and counted again. Rocky didn't help, piping up with,

"Shit Lex, you're so fucking gone that whatever number you come up with you'll need to divide by two. "

Lex started again, ticked his sheet and gave the order to hit the autobahn. Somewhere about half way through my Becks, some idiot started singing that fucking annoyingly pointless piece of brain torture from Annie, "Tomorrow".

"I'll give you fucking tomowwow you fucking moron. Shut the fuck up!" It came from some guy up the front in a loud, aggressive and very direct voice. I led the applause. Vocalist Number One and Only shrunk into her seat, having discovered that cutesy pap wouldn't fly amongst a busload of pisshead bogans on their way to an Oktoberfest and already suffering hangovers. Thus endeth the first of several Oktoberfest lessons. I made a mental note to avoid Mr Surly From Front Of Bus. Sure, he'd voiced what a lot of us thought but at the Oktoberfest such direct and aggressive reactions could be a problem. Particularly as the local Munich police were augmented by no-fuss MP's from the good old USofA military machine. We rolled into the Falkirchen campsite in the wee hours. There were Autotours reps on site who managed our tent allocations ("go find yourself an unoccupied tent amongst that lot over there"), and breakfast times ("breakfast is on from 7.00 until we finish it. If you miss out go and nick something from the Contiki mob.") The campsite bar was closed so we limped to our tents. Did I mention it was raining? Fucking great innit? I didn't really notice it that much being too crapped out to bother. I did notice that Janie had decided not to accompany me. Oh yeah, that's right. She wanted to sleep. Welcome to the Oktoberfest!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

London - Yorkshire - Wales

Recap - back in London having said bye-bye to Doug. First night back there was a party in the dive I called home in London, Derry Downs.

I slept in after the party, until around 11.00. It was soooo good not having a deadline, nothing to do except catch up with Jerry (Wally) and Chris (Jim). I had a shower and packed my dirty clothes into a bag and took them to the local Laundromat, set them for a nice drink and went next door for a fry up. The English know how to do them well and it whipped my hangover back into its cage. After dropping off my clean clothes I headed to the Walkabout, or Wankabout as it had become christened. Back in the 1980's England still had these weird licencing laws which forced pubs to close for a few hours in the afternoon. I could never figure that one out. In one of the prime cities of the world, London, you'd get turfed out on the street just after you'd settled into a digestive ale. Primitive fuckers. These licencing laws however had certain exceptions, including some clubs. Luckily the Wankabout fell into the exempt category, hence its popularity with us travellin' dudes. It had a travellers' mail drop area sorted alphabetically, a travel help desk and an agent for one of the camping tour operators, Autotours. Downstairs was a bar with wall mounted TV's, a bar snack service, lounges, regular bar tables and stools plus a fair range of booze behind the bar. And the fucker didn't close in the afternoon. The downside was that it was mainly populated by Antipodean types, hardly making it a typical London watering hole. For the latter we used to head to places like the Moscow, the Pride of Paddington or out to Hammersmith to catch a gig.

I went into the bar and settled down to writing some postcards and aerogrammes for the folks back home with a fresh pint as inspiration. I finished the scribing and the pint at the same time and put the mail into the outgoing slot upstairs. When I got back down to the bar they had just put on a video, Apocalypse Now, so I settled in and watched it. Somewhere between Marty Sheen doing his Tom Sawyer best on the river and Dennis Hopper weirding it up I spotted Chris doing a reccy of the bar. "Fuck him" I thought, he'd missed the RV in Basel so he could wait until I finished my beer. He didn't look very carefully and went back upstairs. About ten minutes later both he and Jerry walked in, looked around and spotted me. We started in on our usual round of shit stirring before having a beer. I had to find out what had happened in Basel. It seems they got there a day after I'd scarpered off with Doug 'n Dave. They'd spent the past month or so tooling around Europe, pretty much as I had. Jerry had brought his flight back home forward by several weeks and was in his last week in England.

These two were brothers, born in Yorkshire and emigrating to Australia in their teens. Jerry and his other brother, Richard had led Deb and I around a brief tour of Yorkshire in our first weeks in England four months previously. Jerry and I had become friends through working together and I subsequently became friends with his brothers. We knew each other pretty well so were able to sort ourselves out reasonably quickly. We came to a plan where we'd hang in London until Jerry flew home and then Chris and I would go to their old home town, Micklefield and stay with their relatives for a couple of days. We then would hire a car and drive around Wales.

With our plans laid in we went back to Derry Downs and I went through some travel pamphlets for cheap Oktoberfest deals. The Autotours mob gave a five day return trip with breakfasts included and sleeping in tents for not much more than it cost staying at Derry Downs for a week. Looked like a winner to me but I'd wait for last minute cheapies before hooking in to anything.

The next two days were pretty much a blur of pubs and cheap cafes. For Jerry's last night we went to Dingwall's somewhere near Hammersmith and checked out a couple of bands. Ivan, the Contiki courier who'd led us through Scandinavia, the USSR, Poland and Germany came along with us, as did Alex. Alex was this spunky blond from Western Australia with whom all blokes fell in love. She was attractive and a really nice person. Ivan was the only one who had actually done the deed. We all had felt it was inappropriate that a bloke from Melbourne would land a nice girl from Perth. It was a most ridiculous state of affairs which we put down to the fact that chicks always dig the tour leaders, lead singers, centre forwards, chief accountants etc. Well, maybe not the chief accountants. The bands were rock with a hint of blues thrown in. Beer swilling originals with an occasional cover. During the second band's final set I was looking at an attractive blond girl who was quietly bopping away, minding her own business. I let them finish the song before pouncing on her. I introduced myself and asked her what she thought of the bands. It was difficult to understand her as she spoke broken English in the manner of my old mate, Colonel Klink. Her name was Garbi and she was in London for a week before heading back home to the Fatherland. Instinctively I checked what she was drinking (beer) and went and bought two each with the excuse being that the bar was crowded and this would save time. When I got back I asked her a bit about herself and she said she was a musician. Okay, that was fine. We chatted a bit more and grooved through another couple of songs. We finished our first beers and by then I was sure that I had done enough spade work to deflect any shenanigans from the rest of our crew. I'd even agreed to lugging her keyboards across Europe in the spirit of Aussie-German relations. I took her over to the crew and made introductions.

It was a happy group who got a last drink in while the final encore was played. The band had chosen The Jam's "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight", pretty much as a hint that it was time to leave. I negotiated for Garbi to come back to Derro Downs with us. The mini cab was crammed. Ivan had Alex perched on his lap whilst Garbi was nestled on mine. We couldn't give a stuff about the others. We dropped off Ivan and Alex at their nesting spot and ended up in the Downs in time to hit a couple of whiskies, baileys and whatever else was lying around from our various Duty Free stocks. Garbi and I eventually slinked off into the night to further the cause of international relations.

The bad bit was having to listen to a few tracks of Garbi's music. It was shocking synth-rock with a bit of screeching, some Germanic beat poet lines and not much rhythm or anything driving it at all. If she was going to hold me to lugging that set of keyboards across Europe I'd be ditching them in the Rhine at first opportunity to save the ears of Western Europe. In fact the European Society of Audiologists were already lining up a Perpetual Trophy in my honour if I'd do something to put a halt to her incredibly bad music. However the good bit was the night time activity. In the morning after we'd showered and tidied up we had a fry up breakfast in the local
grease merchant cafe. Garbi had decided that she wouldn't be trekking across Europe with her keyboards so I was safe. She had decided that she'd go back to her studies of Norse Mythology as Interpreted By Late Ming Dynasty Tea Leaf Dancers or whatever basket weaving nonsense it was she tried to sing about. I encouraged her to stick with writing essays and get a degree. Anything but music. I escorted her to Paddington Station and we bade our goodbyes. It was a wistful sort of experience, I wouldn't have minded backing up for seconds as long as the only music was orchestrated by myself.

Then it was time to escort Jerry to Heathrow and make sure he got the hell out of Europe. We drank expensive airport drinks and pushed him onto the plane. He'd brought his flight home forward and was eager to catch up with his mad girlfriend. Relatively mad anyway. Chris and I went back to Derry Downs, taking some of the tall cans of Carlsberg with us. We loaded our packs with enough gear for a week and set the rest of our crap in storage. The store room was a dogs' breakfast but somehow we always seemed to be able to retrieve what was rightfully ours.

In the morning we set off by bus to Micklefield. The bus station had its usual share of students, ratsackers, waifs and tarts. A Scottish version of the latter latched onto us and from the off was pitching for money. There was nothing further from our honest wishes than forking over hard earned to this bint. I blamed Chris. He was unfortunately good looking in a George Michael kind of way and attracted all sorts of examples of females to his orbit. While this was generally useful in terms of scooping up extras it also had its drawbacks including the appearance of struggling Scottish tarts. This one would have been better off working as a research assistant for Haggis Stuffers Inc than scouting for coin in a London bus station from hungover Aussie ratsackers. The one thing about long haul coach rides in England was that they made British Rail look good. We made it to Micklefield and went to Uncle Albert's place where Mrs Uncle Albert fed us quiche and chips. We sat around telling tales of our adventures and this was punctuated by their Yorkshire quips;

"Oooh, I see" or,

"So t'breakfast were nobbut bread and jam?" or,

"Eh, that Belgian t'wor a bit wick ye say?" or,

"Oh Chris, ye had to go down snicket in Berlin ter find our Jeremy".

It was priceless. During this Albert brought out a couple of 'visitors' beers and seemed to enjoy it immensely as we sat around having an ale and talked about cricket. I could see that having international guests was out of the ordinary for this old Yorkshire couple so we played our part in regaling them with our travel stories, as well as discussing the fortunes of our cricket teams.

Traditional English breakfasts in Yorkshire include bacon, eggs, black pudding and fried bread. with tea and toast. It was thus fed that we were driven down to the local cheap hire car yard by Albert with his best wishes for safe travels. We ended up with a small Ford sedan and as I was the most sensible I took the wheel. We headed for Wales which wasn't really all that far. English people seemed to think that a journey of a hundred and fifty miles was a major expedition as opposed to a simple day trip. Wales was interesting with its Celtic language variant and history of being put upon by England giving its natives a narrative for expressing their differences. They have a history of doing this through language, song and Rugby; the powerful cultural drivers of Wales. In Caernarvon we went and found a cheap Bed and Breakfast then went looking for pubs to find other cultural drivers.

After an ordinary dinner we settled into a pub for a few beers, catching a bit of local culture. The locals didn't seem very animated despite our efforts at engaging them, so we had a few games of pool while we drank our pints. Not an inspiring evening. I started wondering why the Poms ever bothered.

The Welsh version of breakfast was similar to an English one, including black pudding and fried bread. It was brilliantly artery-clogging but we tore in regardless. We took off down the west coast and ended up in St David's, a seaside village which Chris' family had visited on several holidays when he was a child. We walked around the sandy cove and he recounted the antics of his brothers. He even showed me where Richard has pegged him with a flat rock and opened a gash on his forehead. I laughed and reached down for a suitable rock and mimed a throw at his head. He picked up a rock but didn't mime. Missed by that much.

When we got back to the car I asked Chris for the keys,

"You've got them."

"No I haven't. I gave them to you when you went back to get your smokes from the car, before you went to the shop,"


So it went on. We retraced our steps up to the beach but I was sure we couldn't have lost them there, it would have been too obvious. Nevertheless we looked with no result. Fuck! To get a new set we'd have to go back to Micklefield somehow, and then return to St David's. Fuck that for a joke. Surely we could get it started by the Automobile Association and just drive it back non stop. Chris went to the shop to get the phone number. He returned with a giant shit-eating grin.

"The keys were in the shop." Chris waved them at me.

"You fucking moron." I snatched the keys, " Let's find somewhere to stay, then a pub." I gave Chris a fierce look, he responded;

"The shop owner suggested a caravan park a couple of miles down the road."

We checked it out and found it to be a cheap option. Good, more money for the pub.

The local pub patrons were amused to find a couple of Australians stroll in. It wasn't really the sort of destination you'd expect to find two eucalyptus sniffers. Once again we found ourselves answering all sorts of questions and as long as the lager flowed, we were only too happy to oblige.
Following this little jaunt the next few days were pretty much carbon copies. We'd land in a town, find a cheap dive or caravan, check out the local sights and settle into a cosy pub for the evening. The Welsh were good hosts and an amusing bunch, particularly with their daft language which had outlawed more than one vowel per sentence. But there was one last invasion plan I had yet to fulfil. Oktoberfest.

From Wales we headed back to Micklefield where once again we were treated to fine Yorkshire food 'n chips and a couple of Albert's visitors' beers. When Chris dropped me off for the bus back to London I handed him a 20 pound note with the advice to buy them 'something nice'. A double ticket to the theatre or some such and some flowers. Maybe take them out for a meal. Twenty quid was a reasonable sum back in the Eighties and he'd be able to get something half decent. I later found out he shouted them a slap up feed, bought some wine and flowers and wrote a thank-you note. Good lad. I reached London and headed back to Derry Downs. I ran into a Canadian guy (Gary) I'd had a few beers with previously and a couple of Aussies he'd toured with on an Autotours invasion. The tickets for the Oktoberfest were still going cheap so we headed to the Wanker and I bought one. The other guys already had theirs. The bus was due out at 6.30 p.m. the next day, so it was time to get in some practice (not that I really needed it). In any case the day after was my birthday and it promised to be a many-layered cake. That's how it turned out, with a couple of surprises thrown in.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bob Neil - Reprise

Hey folks, I'm putting this up again because Wimbledon is soon to be on us and Bob Neil always gets a banner, paged or some sort of mention during the tournament.  Someone mentioned him today and we marvelled at his resilience. I left in the bit about last year's cricket but it doesn't really matter.  So Ladeez 'n Gennulmenz, would you please once again,  welcome to the stage, Mr Bob Neil!!!  (cue loud applause).
Bob Neil commenced his sporting career back in 1974 with the Adelaide University Football Club. His legend has swept the world. From bull fights in Peru to Lords Cricket Ground there have been "Bob Neil" banners fluttering proudly, invoking the spirit of the archetypal Australian amateur sportsman who lives for his club.

Wimbledon - The white banner on the left edge, half way down says Bob Neil.

Bob Neil is not a legendary football genius but a man whose value is displayed in his club ethic. He is the bloke who cooks the barbecue at club social events, talking wisely on the prospects of new recruits, charming the ladies' auxillary committee and telling slightly bawdy jokes to the children, making them squeal with laughter. He is the one who makes a last minute dash to rescue the star forward from a broken down car fifteen minutes before kick-off. He is the first one to lend his guernsey to a new player or volunteer to run the boundary during the Firsts' match. He organises the raffles, fills in on committees and always can be relied on to bring the half time oranges. As a lower grade coach he displays the true meaning of the "club man".

The Bob Neil legend began in the mid 1980's after a "Bob Neil" chant gave the Adelaide Uni football team extra legs in the '86 grand final, leading them to victory. After that effort, Bob Neil graffiti began to emerge around Adelaide. Since then there have been Bob Neil banners displayed at sporting events around the world. He even featured on the Berlin Wall shortly before it was shouted down. Having grown from a purely Adelaidean in-joke, Bob Neil strides the world. Adelaide Uni have even named their grounds Bob Neil nos 1, 2, 3 and 4. You can buy Bob Neil memorabilia (stubby holders, caps etc.) and you can have him paged at your favourite sporting event. He was the subject of an Archibal Prize portrait back in 2002, even though he doesn't really qualify under the guidelines for Prize subjects. The prize was dodgily awarded instead to Cherry Hood for her portrait of the ivory tinkler, Simon Tedeschi. Who gives a stuff about a pianist living in Boston when Bob Neil strides the world's stage? Fucking art judges, that's who! They wouldn't know a goal post from a home run and deeply resent the role sport plays in Australian life. They'd prefer we sit around gloomy galleries peering at insensible dawbs of geometrical shapes or dead cow Instalment pieces. If it were up to Bob Neil he'd have that cow carcass roasting on a spit and a keg spiked, ready for the club's annual "Busted Arse Legends v Prima Donna Firsts" Day. Does a pianist know anything about the roasting time of a two year old steer? Did Tedders have his name daubed on the Berlin Wall? No, he's too fucking busy playing "Chopsticks" and teaching posh Bostonian kiddies how to left hand a walking blues bass line while banging out a melody with the right hand. It just ain't right. Hope he choked on his spoonful of fame.

I bring up the Bob Neil legend because Australia and England face off against each other later today in the Fourth Test of the Ashes series at Headingley in Leeds in what we hope will see a resurgent Australia grab the Pom by the throat, strangle him and then dance on the body. There will no doubt be a Bob Neil banner giving voice to the legend and if you're at the ground don't be surprised to hear "Dr Bob Neil, please report to the Member's Enclosure" resounding over the p.a. And when you do hear it, have a quiet chuckle at one of the best ever ongoing sports in-jokes. With legends such as these, it only ever matters to those in the know. You are now one of this select group.