Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Unheeded warnings of a costly kind

Part 1 March 1989,

I'd been living on a kibbutz in Israel for 4 months when I first met Roly.

The kibbutz, for anybody that does not know, is a collective community, usually based around agriculture. In short, a commune, where all the money made gets shared equally between the kibbuttzniks (people who live on the kibbutz). The way, it works, or should I say used to work, is that the kibbutz would ask for volunteers from all over the world to come and work there for peanuts (approx £20 a month). So, what would we gain from all this? Well, the answer to this is, a bloody good time, in the prime of our lives (I was 19), surrounded by like minded young folk, who had no responsibilities apart from cleaning up after partying and having protected sex. I must admit here, that whilst I was a legend on the party scene, during my 5 months on Kvutzat Schiller, I drew a sexual duck (for non cricket fans - this does not mean that I drew a picture of a duck in suspenders and crotchless panties - it means I did not get lucky). Despite, being forewarned of the many sexual diseases that I would return with and how many notches I would scribe on my bedpost, my efforts to prevent the former whilst increase the latter by purchase of a mega box of condoms before my departure from England, went unrewarded. In fact I only took the plastic wrapper of the mega box of condoms so that at first glance I did not look like such a loser.

Roly, who was of Swiss descent, was identifiable by a rather large lump in the middle of his forehead and his extremely well defined calf muscles. I assumed that the large calves came from hiking around the Swiss mountains, whereas I knew that the large lump in the middle of his forehead was acquired by drunkenly walking into an orange tree, 2 years earlier. A few days before Roly came to the kibbutz, Danny one of the fellow kibbutz volunteers and all round dick head, had warned us of his arrival. He told us that we would hear Roly's arrival before we actually saw it and that the first thing that we would notice would be his lump. No mention here of his well defined calves (maybe that's a personal thing). The only other information other we managed to glean from Danny, was that Roly's use of the English language was limited to one sentence. Danny, may have been a dick head but his knowledge of Roly was extremely accurate.

"I am Swiss cunt, I am Swiss cunt, I am Swiss cunt", is the mantra I hear as I hang from my orange tree. It's round about 8 am and as usual I am already behind on my orange picking quota of ten large crates, as I day dream from the confines of my tree. My day dream broken, I look down, and from a height of about 10 ft I notice a rather large lump protruding from beneath a mop of hair. "Ah ah", Roly has arrived, I think to myself, as I descend the wooden ladder. "Hi, I'm Andy", I say and offer him my hand". Roly, looks me in the eye with a big smile and says "I am Swiss cunt".

Over the next month, I attempt to have a few conversations with Roly but as you can imagine, this is almost impossible with somebody of such limited English vocabulary.

"So, when were you here before Roly"? - "I am Swiss cunt".

"How long did you stay"? "I am Swiss cunt".

"I hear that you have a masters degree in applied linguistics"? "I am Swiss cunt".

However, one day, there's a breakthrough. I walk from my room to the grassy patch where the volunteers hang out, and there before me, is Roly seemingly engaged in dialogue - and not a "I am Swiss cunt", to be heard. Granted, the dialogue is not the queen's English, but he's telling a story and people are laughing. Danny, stands amongst the gathering crowd and helps Roly with his tale. He's obviously heard it many time before, but he still joins in with the raucous laughter as the tale unfolds. The tale goes as follows.

Roly, had made a trip to London a few years earlier to see the sights. On day one, he met a guy in the street, who he had befriended and decided to go for a drink with. The guy obviously realised at an early stage that he was not dealing with Einstein and had pounced upon this vulnerability. Roly had been guided to a little sleaze shop in the Soho (sex area of London- to those who are unfamiliar), where he had purchased a round of beers for himself and his new friend. Roly and his new friend, sat for a while before the bar maid came over and demanded the cash for the drinks. He then got out his wallet and fumbled for the money. At which point, the bar maid got angry and demanded £320 quid from Roly, who turned to his new mate for help. No surprises in guessing what happened next. His new mate also turned on Roly and threatened to give him a kicking if he did not produce the cash. Poor Roly, insinuated that he did not have the cash on him, but this held no ground with his two aggressors who took him by force to his hotel room. They took the cash and left, whilst Roly's holiday came to an impromptu end. The next day he departed for Switzerland broken and broke.

At the time, I remember being shocked by the tale, whilst wondering about the validity of such an event. However, myself and all the other bystanders, love the story and laughed like demented hyenas. Two years seem to have softened the blow for Roly, who chortles along, his laughter only punctuated by his shouts of "I am Swiss cunt".

Now, you could say that this was a warning. But as you are to find out, a warning that falls on deaf ears.

Part 2 September 1990

My mate Chris and I have decided to go on a road trip to East Anglia. A mate of Chris's is working at a holiday camp down there and says that we can stay for free. I have been back from Israel now for around a year and I am itching for a little adventure. On our return from the holiday camp we see sign posts for London and we spontaneously decide to head for the bright lights. The decision goes something like this.

Me: "Shall we head to London", I half jokingly mutter.

Chris: (who was never known for his financial fortitude) "I've spent all my money", he replies.

Me: "Really, I thought I saw a bundle in your wallet! Come on let's go to a strip show".

Strip show, it appears are the magic words to a 20 year olds libido, and override any tight arsed behaviour that the subject may have previously displayed. As quickly as you can say "hormonal imbalance", I have changed the direction of the car and we are heading for the big smoke. Two country bumpkins with the street cred of a Christmas jumper, heading for certain gloom. In retrospect, our naivety of city life was so evident,that we may as well have been driving a tractor.

Rather surprisingly, once we are in Central London, we find Soho with great ease. However, we are not so diligent in our attempts to find a cheap car park (or maybe there just are none). Our libido's eventually get the better of us and we park the car in the nearest available spot, before taking a ticket from the machine. Epic FAIL number 1 or number 2 if you include the decision to go to London in the first place.

Like kids in a sweet shop we are instantly attracted to the area. A proliferation of sex shops, peep shows, street whores and strip venues, combined with bright lights and lots of noise, is enough to make our adrenalin levels soar. Taking this into consideration, in combination with the fact that we are wetter behind the ears than passengers on the Costa Concordia, it is no great surprise that we immediately enter the first establishment that we are touted into. A neon sign above the door alerting us the fact that it's a strip show.

Before, the rather attractive, middle aged, female Cockney tout has time to finish the following sentence. "Alwight boys", you want to see some naked girls", we are descending numerous staircases into the dragons lair. Our juvenile excitement absorbing any fear that we should be feeling right now, the smiles on our countenances wider than the widest Cockney wide boy. Our eyes transfixed on the wiggle of the touts tight buttocks, as she lures us down the staircases. I turn to Chris and scrunch up my face in a "Whooaahhh" kind of way. He responds with his own facial contortions. We are about to enter into a new dimension.

At the bottom of the staircases we pass through a straggly curtain, into a dimly lit and absurdly small room. The bar, which occupies one whole wall of the room, has no bar tender as we approach, but this soon changes with the metamorphic transformation of our tout into a bar maid.

"What'cha drinking boys"?, she asks us with neither pleasantness nor vitriol.
"Erm, have you got lager", I nervously reply?
"Course", she responds "Carlsberg, alwight for is it lads"?.

We both reply with an affirmative nod of the head before we are told to take a seat. It must be stated here that given the compactness of the room, our choice of seats does not overwhelm us. In fact, had we not been the only customers in the club (since 1972), we may have been left with no other option than to stand. It's either the small leather booth to the left of the bar, or the small leather booth to the right of the bar. We opt for the right, the booth nearest the door as it arbitrarily occurs - not that our naivety even recognises this fact at the time.

Our bar maid/tout walks over to the booth carrying two pints of Carlsberg, which she deposits with little care on our small table.

"Will, you be requiring any company"? she inquires, as she prises us apart so that she can sit in the middle of us.

"Erm, what time does the show start"?, I ask. Although, by this point I am wondering where the show is actually going to take place. This is like none of the strip joints that I had ever seen in 1970s detective shows. There's barely room to move in this darkened dungeon, never mind swing a boa and a pair of knickers.

She ignores my line of questioning and once again asks us if we will be requiring any company. Only this time there is an air of irritation to her voice which instantly fills me with fear. Chris, it seems is not feeling the bad vibes and asks.

"How much"?

"Not much luv", she replies in a condescending tone.

"No, I'm ok thanks", he responds whilst his hand subconsciously moves to his back pocket to protect his wallet.

"Well then boys, you'd better pay up", she informs us, with venom in her voice.

And that's it. It's taken a while for the penny to drop but it finally does. It's like I've just put my penny in the fruit machine (gambling machine to the none English), pulled the lever and watched as the wheels spin. Before the metaphoric wheels have even come to rest, I have foreseen 3 images of Roly's face, complete with big lump, displayed in my minds eye. Above face number one is the number 3, face number 2 is the number 2 and finally face number 3, the number O. The figure, £320, then explodes to be replaced by the words "I am Swiss cunt".

Like Roly, some years before. We've been had. Our pants have been well and truly pulled down and our arses spanked.

Chris, remains oblivious to the fraudulent events that are unravelling around us. Blissfully unaware of the financial quagmire that we have just stepped into.

The bar maid/tout strides off, hastily writes out the bill and returns to the table. She then thrusts the paper at us. I make no attempt to take it from her, so Chris (for the first time in our lives) grabs it. By now, I am almost excited at the prospect of seeing him look at it. Oh what glee to see a tight fisted friend examine an over inflated bill. My eyes are firmly focused on his facial expression as he unravels the paper and stares in initial disbelief. But wait, he's thought of something and his grimace softens. I am given little time to muse over his change of expression, before he enlightens me with the following classic sentence, which will stick with me for the rest of my life.

"You appear to have put your decimal point in the wrong place", he naively interjects. At which point, I almost burst out laughing and have to grab my sides to prevent from doing so.

"Don't be so fucking cheeky, now pay the fucking money", she screeches.

My curiosity is now well and truly aroused, prompting me to lean over and examine the bill. With the figure of £320 quid firmly etched in my mind, I am pleasantly surpised to see that we are only being charged £78.40 for our two pints of Carlsberg. The irony, if ever we needed more irony, of it is, we haven't even sipped the froth off probably the most expensive lager in the world.

Chris is still trying to argue that she must mean 7.84, causing our fraudsters behaviour to become even more beligerent. His realisation that she does actually mean 78.40 is comfirmed with an expression of pain.

I know full well that my wallet holds but 20 quid and I offer this to Chris. "You're going to have to make up the rest", I tell him. He opens up his own wallet and takes out a further 30 quid. Our offer of 50 quid is met with irrational disdain. I mean 50quid, and we've not even taken a sip. Once again she screeches "Give me the fucking money".

I decide that enough is enough, leaving the 50 quid on the table, I tell Chris "Come on, we're out of here". Despite his pain at leaving his money on the table, he follows me, as I push past the woman and head for the stairs. This is when she hits some kind of emergency switch which alerts an extremely large doorman of our escape plan. From the bottom of the second staircase, I look up, see the bright lights of the street and think that I am home free. A few steps later, I look up and see that the whole staicase is blocked by a mountain of a man whose frame blocks out every trace of street light. It's like a human solar eclipse. Afore him, is a rather mean looking dog which he has on a tight leash. Why a man of such stature would need such a beast is beyond me. But I am assuming that he is in no mood for a debate on this issue.

"And where the fuck do you think that you are going lads"?, he growls.

I timidly inform him that we have no money, hoping that he has a soft spot for my pathetic whimperings. It turns out that this is not the case.

"Ok, you have 2 choices. You either give us the money, right fucking now or I escort you to the cash point where you give me the money".

Faced with an Hobson's choice of epic proportions we go for the latter of the two options. He escorts up the remaining stairs and we re-emerge into a busy Soho street. Where, for the first time today, our lucks appears to change. A police man is walking past, at exactly the right moment.

"Excuse me, help", I beggingly plea.

The police man looks at me with disinterest.

"We've just paid £78.40 for two beers and were hoping you could help us", I say without pausing for breath.

The police man says "Well, what do you want me to do about it"? Before he exits into the crowd. "Great", I think. If the police are not even prepared to help us, we're goosed.

Suddenly, in a bizarre twist of fate, the doorman turns 180 degrees in his demands and tells us to leave.

"Go on, fuck off, get out of here before I change my mind", he barks at us, before adding "And don't ever come back".

Chris and I head off into the Soho crowd, as quickly as the police man before us. My brain is trying to assimilate what has just occurred within the space of the past 30 minutes. But all that is running through my mind, are the words "And don't ever come back". I know door men are not really known for their brain capacity, and we may look like country bumpkins, but I mean, come on why would we ever go back to a bar that's just tried to charge us £78.40 for the froth of 2 beers? It's not every day when you think you've got lucky by only paying 50 quid for 2 pints of Carlsberg.

Our return to the car park is met by equally bad news. We have been charged 20 quid for our brief stay there.

The country bumpkins trip to London is complete, only another 30 quid's worth of petrol back to Lancashire and we're back to safe ground.

I don't see Chris for another 4 months after our return home, and as for London, it's another 5 years before I dare to return.

1 comment:

bingbing said...

That's what is known as a ripping yarn!

Hope you're collecting these, Andy. They'd make for a great book.