I wish I was
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!