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?"
"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."
"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,
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!