The flight was a nightmare. It was my first time flying and I'd eaten a vast quantity of hash before leaving. Jonah had sweetly made me some buns for my leaving present. A penchant for cake coupled with ignorance of the amount he'd put in meant I'd eaten about five of them by the time he came back in with a cup of tea.
''Five?!" he exclaimed after I'd told him, his olive skin sallowed before me.
"What's wrong with five? I was hungry and you seemed to be taking ages." I said in defence of over eaters everywhere.
"Well," he shrugged, "it's just that you're gonna be trippin', that's all".
My mother came to see me off at Manchester airport and gripped by maternal emotionality had decided that she would pay for my insurance in case of death. She took a photograph of me just before Customs in case it proved to be my last trip. Safe in the knowledge that if it was she'd have the body flown back, she waved me on, shouting "Try and get a seat near the tail", as was her 'how to avert an aviation disaster' tip.
I spent the entire time on board in a cold sweat, battling with a belief that I'd got compressed aerosols in my luggage and was about to bring the plane down. It seemed that the air hostess had singled me out and she kept asking me if I was OK. It made me even more paranoid, as if it was obvious how unOK I was. Why couldn't she ask someone else, surely there were more people than me having a hard time, surely not everyone was coping. I looked around frantic to spot a non coper, but everyone looked like they were doing just fine. There they were, settled in, laughing at the movie or reading quietly. I was gripping the chair arms, my eyes tellingly wide and my face in a rictus smile, any time anybody even looked vaguely in my direction. The words "How much longer?" became my mantra as I asked it probably about every twenty minutes in real time, but in stoned time the journey had gone into some Plutonic sub timezone.
We finally arrived at Athens. It was 4am.
The buses weren't due to depart for Patras for another two hours, so I sat in the deserted coffee bar by the station. Deserted that was apart from a pervert who came to sit opposite me, playing footsie and throwing money onto pornographic pictures placed in front of my coffee cup. "Heh" he growled, kicking my foot and scattering some filthy crumpled notes onto a centrespread. He tapped his fingers on the page and nodded his head towards it, in international gesture language for "You do this, I give you this, yes!" It didn't matter that I shook my head in tired disbelief and increasing anger. For Christ's sake I'd only just started to get my mind back and now this! Yet he continued to sit there, turning the pages, pointing at lewd pictures and kicking my foot. The kicking of the foot was one of the most annoying aspects. He could sit there if he wanted, I had enough in the resurrection of my own mind to keep me occupied, but every time he took another swerve at my shoe I was reminded of his existence and had to contend with him. It was my introduction to Greece, a land where the young men vie to be Kamaki. Where testosterone rules and the motto is Fuck it Kill it Eat it.
Several beaver shots in I saw that there were two young Greek guys walking over with their drinks. "Oh god, they've got a bloody syndicate going" I thought, but they saw the pervert off and then asked me in very polite English if they might sit with me to deter a return. We chatted about this and that and everything seemed rather pleasant, I began to settle. Then they suddenly suggested that we all went for a car ride to see their cousin. I explained that my bus was leaving shortly but they became quite insistent. The insistence became psychopathic and now I had two sex pests and not even a waiter or another customer in sight. Remembering one of my mum's top tips for getting out of trouble when abroad I elected to go to the toilet.
I didn't really have a plan. I soon realised that there is a limit to how long one can stay in a public lavatory. I rather hoped that when I came out they would have gone. They hadn't.
A difficult and rather frantic row ensued with gesticulating arms and mutual shouts of abuse but I managed to remain un-molested and on seeing a trolley attendant I made good my escape and ran out of the foyer making my way to the bus station.
I was on my way.
I had, it seemed by a miracle, managed to not only locate my bus but purchase a ticket and board it. The bus station seemed a slow marauding animal of coffee drinkers and heavy smokers. Children clinging onto their mothers' skirts, receiving either slaps or pats. It seemed fairly difficult to work out who actually had a job there and who didn't. Unless the person was stood behind a counter, they were indistinguishable amongst the human traffic. It was only really on seeing a man launch himself into the driver's seat of a bus that one could make the link of employment. Or in the case of a woman, if she had a bucket and mop it was a fair assumption that she had some fiscal association which had a chance of going hand in hand with knowledge of bus routes and timetables. It also meant that the threat of further molestation was relieved temporarily.
So in the birthing heat of the day I set off to Patras. Port of employment, my integration epicentre into the Greek life. I was going to blink contendedly in the sunlight whilst going about my chambermaid duties. For I, young spirited thing that I was, had managed to secure a job in a large hotel for a moderate wage and a room. Little matter that I hadn't even seen a photograph of the place, for what proof does an intrepid traveller need of their destination, is it not the journey that feeds the soul.
It was late afternoon, the bus had wound its way around just about every village, town and city available to the route and I had lost count of the grandmas swathed in black, running children, mangy dogs, perspiring road workers, building sites, fruit groves and the pounding heat. I had never been that hot, never before felt so naturally overheated, sure the scene at the Hacienda could burn with music, substances and death zombie cocktails but on this bus the rays intensified through the window and I passed the hours in a heat induced sloth alternating with nervous excitement and agitation.
It was late afternoon when I finally arrived at my destination. I found my way to the hotel and stood looking up at it from the pavement opposite. You know those feeling that you have when you arrive somewhere for the first time and have a good feeling, feel an immediate sense of rightness - well I didn't possess anything like that. Patras seemed dirty, built up, polluted and this hotel was a cement and brick monstrosity looming up into the retreating light. As all addicts will identify, when something doesn't feel quite right it's helpful to have a cigarette and buy yourself some time. Those minutes spent inhaling blue smoke bring about a reprieve to the task ahead, and so I sat on my rucksack, smoking and looking and wondering as to what I had done.
Eventually, after a period of self negotiation and some roll ups later, I pulled myself together and strolled over to the entrance of the hotel. The doors opened and I walked through and up to the reception desk. A dark haired Greek girl was working there, dressed in a blue skirt suit she was remarkably reminiscent of an air hostess and I began to have flashbacks of the plane journey. She looked up from her forms and I asked to see the manager, showing the written job offer from the hotel. Performing another international gesture; the chin outward nod - meaning 'Yes I acknowledge you, now wait'. I waited.
Carpets have often made me feel sick and this one was no exception. I waited in the lobby, my brain wrestling with identification processes; were we in a plane or in a hotel, was she an air hostess or a receptionist. I looked about me, but saw only the day to day running of a hotel. The open doors ahead through which lay the dining room. A waiter dressed in black trousers and white shirt delivering items on a silver tray held at shoulder height. A cleaner with fat ankles and a big plastic flower in her hair, walking at an incredibly slow pace, chewing gum and looking menacing. And what did I look like to them. For here I was, a nineteen year old Irish Mancunian drop out, fresh from a stoned trip with my rumpled rucksack and unsettled eyes. Here I was, with just £40 in my pocket and all my money on an idea in my head.
Then the manager arrived.
He was a short, balding, squat man in a dark blue suit and with a discreet amount of gold jewellery adorning him. He made his way assertively over the horrendous carpet to greet me, holding out his hand and smiling. "Argh! Good, good, so you have made it. I am Andreas Androulakis, the hotel manager. Welcome, welcome" The settled feelings that his twice affirmed salutations promoted were incredibly short lived, for as he reached for my hand in greeting, he performed the 'pervy bus driver's manoeuvre'. This technique involves the man 'scratching' the inside palm of the female and is a conduit for the sexual message that he wishes to convey. I had only ever received it before as a schoolgirl getting change on the school bus sometimes and off the odd little old sweaty palmed shopkeeper, and now here, thousands of miles from the north of England, the same gesture! Incredible.
"Do you like a sweet?" He pushed an orange looking boiled sweet out towards me and raised an eyebrow.
My mind was doing somersaults, but I kept an outward calm and replied "No, thanks. I don't like sweets."
"Argh but all girls like sweets, no?" He raised his other eyebrow. "OK. I show you your room."
He summoned a young porter, who looked ridiculously like a barrel monkey, but then my mind was looking for escape channels. The barrel monkey came over, his striped shirt tucked into his high waisted blue trousers and his youthfully podgy face with sproutings of hair.
Together we took the lift.
My room was off a landing several floors up, the early evening light came in to the corridor through a large window. It seemed that this was not the domain of the plastic flower cleaning lady, as the dirt on the glass played hazy tricks with the fading sun. The carpet too was far less precarious in its hue and texture, shabby and trampled, it told its own story. Mr Androulakis stooped, almost as a jailer, to open the door, before entering the room. The porter shambled in after him and I followed, already knowing that this was now only a countdown to runaway time. "Play the game" I said to myself.
"Well, here you are, yes? Your room." Observed Mr Androulakis.
"Oh, yeh, cheers. It's great". I lied, and we all knew it.
How many other 'chambermaids' had looked around this 3ft by 8ft area, taken in the hospital like bed and the small cabinet. Perhaps they had placed their bibles there, with shaking hands and clutching at rosaries, making some midnight prayer to the god of hotel ratings to up them to a notable five star.
"Well," gestured Mr Androulakis "I will leave you to unpack and you see me later, yes?"
A small reprieve I thought. Then I noted that he still had the room key in his hand. "Erm, Mr Androulakis?"
"Yes?" His teeth flickered a canine glint.
"Oh, erm, the key?"
"Argh, yes. The key. I will keep the key and I lock the door at night from the outside, yes? For safety." He started to mime the nightly ritual of the door locking, his shoulders hunched, his hands intent on my imprisonment.
"But.." my words drifted off, for he had gone. Along the shadowing corridor and down into the facade of the hotel.
The porter however was still stood, my rucksack on his shoulder. I wanted to laugh and cry. What an absolutely ridiculous situation. A pervy hotel manager, a job and a room that was impossible to keep in the face of unwelcome nightly visits and here, this monkey boy looking like he could be hitching along a freeway with my bag.
"Don't worry. He do this to every new girl. He won't come every night." Monkey boy gave a conciliatory smile. "'Ere, your bag."
I looked at him, looked into his deep brown eyes. What was he doing here? Had he been left by parents struggling to pay their debt to Mr Androulakis, who had imposed ridiculous interest rates in a sardonic and corrupt swipe at humankind. Had this sweet but somehow impaired boy been a prisoner in this Patras hell hole, watching Mr Androulakis and his merry Marquis de Sadean dance? Maybe we could run away together, take our chances out there, snuggle up like fairytale brother and sister under plastic sheeting in some moonlit orange grove.
The door clicked. Monkey boy had gone. I was left to myself.
I whizzed out of the glass doors of the hotel, shielded in my cloak of invisibility and with dark glasses on for good measure. I had a hold on a few facts; that I couldn't stay for even one night, that I therefore didn't have a job and that it was nearing nightfall and I'd better find somewhere else fast. It was unhelpful to my mental stability to focus on the fact that I had only £40, spoke no Greek and had no idea of the town I was in at all. I decided to base my next steps on those I believed a sensible and cautious person would take; I would find the YHA.
The streets of Patras were darkening, with dying light and a seedy undertow coming in on the night wave. There were very few women on the street. Those that were were hurrying home laden with shopping, faces covered with scarves and most certainly didn't have time to engage in incomprehensible dialogue with a non Greek speaking girl. That left the men, who when approached just smiled and tried to get me to sit down, have a drink, forget my worries.
The script was something like;
"Excuse me, kali spera, where is the Youth Hostel please?"
"Argh! You English?"
"Yes. Do you know where the Youth Hostel is?"
"Argh, English! Where? London?"
"No, erm, Manchester, but do you know where the Youth hostel is?"
"Argh, Manchester! Manchester United yes! Bobby Charlton! You drink with me, yes?"
"Oh, erm, thank you but I have to find the Youth Hostel. Is it near?"
"We drink yes, and after I take you, no problem. Come, we go for sitting."
This script continued for the next several hours. The places it occurred in changed; the street, shops, cafes, and sometimes I was just greeted with smiles, or groups of people would gather, listen and then argue amongst themselves in Greek. At times I seemed to come nearer to the haven of my quest and someone would say, "Yes. It is up 'ere, walking yes..and after this..er..cafe and you see. Big house." So I would be revived and walk with returned hope, feeling that all was within reach, only to get past the said cafe and see nothing. Just more road, more harbour, more shops - and..cars.
The cars started kerb crawling after I'd been out for about an hour or so. They tracked my walk using their metal as a shield, their predatorial minds ticking over as to how long it was worth following for. The car would come parallel to me, the window would come down and then there would be the hissing. I tried to ignore them but sometimes I was simply too incensed. As one would leave, speeding up for his exit, another would automatically take his place. They seemed to speak in English too, no doubt they had measured up that I had to be non Greek being a girl alone at night. "Psst...psst, heh, heh you. Girl, heh girl, you. Psst, you come with me, eh, for drink, eh?" So it went on, accompanied with god only knows what - I chose not to look, but it was obvious from their urgency and their in-car fumblings that something was going on involving their trousers.
I had been searching for the Youth Hostel for more than three hours. I went in yet another shop and was yet again met only with clucks and shaking heads. My anxiety got the better of me, I burst out crying, ran out of the shop and back onto the stalked streets. I walked quickly with a worried heart back towards the hotel, perhaps it was better to take my chances there for the night than to be open to a series of perverts on the outside.
A cry rang through the night, through my tears and troubles, "Miss, miss, stop, please." I turned and saw a young girl. "Miss, why you cry? What is problem?"
Her name was Clery, she was nineteen, spoke pretty good English and was like an angel in the darkness. She listened as I told her of the hotel manager, the hopeless search for the Youth Hostel, the kerb crawlers. And she offered tissues for my tears, and a warm hand on mine to comfort me and finally when I had finished my tale she offered me her home. There was to be no debate, we would go at once to collect my bags from the hotel and then to her home, where I would live with her and her family and together they would help me.
Clery and I went un-noticed up to my room, we got my rucksack and headed downstairs to leave Mr Androulakis's domain. Our escape was almost done as we approached the glass doors, but then there he was, flying at us over the carpet, "Heh! Where you go? Wait. Wait."
His hand gripped my shoulder, Clery began to shout at him in Greek, but I knew she was accusing him of pervert crimes. They argued fiercely and at the same time she was urging me in her sweet voice "Go Linda, get out, quick." Mr Androulakis tried one more time to head us off, but Clary pushed past his squat form hurling her final insults, almost spitting at his bald head.
Then we were free, Patras was ours.
Clery was an undoubted sweetheart and her family warm and welcoming. It was an oasis, an anchor in the storm, but it soon led to its own peculiar set of issues.
"My mother wants to know why you are in Greece" translated Clery on one sunny afternoon sat in the family's upstairs flat. Mama Clery sat sewing and asking questions of me through her daughter. She simply couldn't understand what on earth a girl her daughter's age was doing careering around the Mediterranean. "What do your mother and father say?" she asked. How could I get it across without it sounding like a terrible state of affairs that I had only met my father once and then in a bizarre circumstance and that my mother had long since abandoned trying to put reins on my behaviour. How could I express that in England it was quite usual for girls to leave home, to be without parental approval, to wander around the world with no money and no particular destination. Clery's parents believed me to be a poor, destitute girl who was in need of a good home. Maybe I was. I was certainly thankful to them for having rescued me from the perverts of Patras and given me a safe space from which to plot my next move.
Clery's family lived in a modest first floor flat. There was Clery and her two brothers, Mum, Dad and Grandma. There was a constant simmering pan of food, and also what seemed a constant stream of visitors to view the destitute house guest. It was like being softly interviewed each day as Clery would translate the questions of each caller and they would smile at me as I answered. The middle aged women would ask about my family and then about my family, normally concluding with a question about..my family and then they would insist that I ate, watch me eat and ask Clery to ask me if I was enjoying what I was eating. There would normally be interjections amongst these proceedings as to 'She says you 'ave no wedding ring, do you not 'ave husband?' and 'She says you have beautiful eyes'. So the days continued in a haze of food, questions and sleep in Clery's youngest brother's bed, whilst he was ousted to the living room floor.
One day we all piled in the family car and went to see the paternal grandmother who lived about thirty minutes away with her husband. We were welcomed with light sighs and embraces and ushered into the dining room. It was a big occasion with about twenty members of the family present of all ages, from babes in arms to Grandad sat in his chair smoking. The usual questions ensued times twenty with Clery and I exchanging smiles and both emitting the now stock answers. Then dinner was served from steaming pots, amidst minor arguments over who was chief server and what must have been the fifty year war to get Grandpa to sit at the table instead of enjoying his smoke and solitude.
Then Grandma noticed that I wasn't eating any meat. Questions were frantically asked, Clery tried to convey the principle of vegetarianism but this was so much an alien idea that Grandma didn't seem able to hold on to it for even a second. She came around the table to me, pushing her maternal form past the other sitters. Standing over me, her black eyes on fire with grandmotherly love, she started to bring a spoon of meat over to my plate. I tried to protest, Clery attempted to stop the assault, all to no avail. In desperation I began to mime eating and being sick. Grandma stopped, she looked confused, I continued my drama pointing to the meat, mimicking the swallowing of it and then acting as if I was going to throw the whole lot up. I went on and on repeating the actions so as to get my point across. I didn't notice that Grandma had sat back down, that all the family were silent watching me with gasps and that the only sound was Grandad laughing his remaining teeth out of his head.
"I think my Grandmother was upset", ventured Clery in the car home, "but don't worry we don't like her food too much anyhow."
At the end of the first week there was a family dinner one evening at Clery's home and one of her male cousins attended. He was in his late thirties and seemed an inoffensive quiet type of man. Dinner was pleasant and there weren't too many of the usual questions, when he had left Clery's mother gestured for us to sit with her whilst the elder brother made the evening coffee.
"She wants to know what you think of Vasilis", said Clery.
"Oh, well, he seemed nice" I answered.
"He is very good person, very good man, he is nearly finishing build his house".
"Oh, lovely" I responded vaguely having never found the extent of a person's chattels very interesting.
"My mother says if your family agree he can marry you maybe next month. You must phone them tomorrow and ask."
The coffee arrived and the mother passed me a cup steaming with her visions of marital bliss. She smiled at me, her head tilted on one side, now I was going to be a permanent fixture of the family.
"My mother says you can start work in the shop for some money to help you until you are married."
"The shop?" It seemed that I was unable to grasp the gravity of the wedding situation and was just amazed that I didn't know that they owned a shop.
"Yes. It is just a little shop, selling small things, earrings, watches. I take you there tomorrow. Now come, let us drink this coffee."
I felt bad about it but after nearing my second week with Clery's family I decided to leave the marriage proposal along with the household. They had been so kind to me but I knew I had to get on. Family life was never my strong point, and so pushing a letter through the door to thank them in abundance, I left.
Clery had pointed out the YHA a few days earlier and so I took myself over there, intending to book in for a few days. I was onto my last drachmas and knew I had to sort things out, but I was actually waiting for some madcap Mancunian friends to arrive in town and each new day meant a chance that I would be able to hook up with them and together we could burn out of there.
Ash and Steve had shared a house with me in Levenshulme, Manchester. When I had announced that I was leaving for Greece, Steve enterprising as he was, had promptly gone out and stolen a van to take us all there. He said he hadn't actually intended to take it, he was coming back from the chippie and seeing an unlocked self drive hire van with keys in the ignition he just couldn't turn down the opportunity.
My mum must have sniffed illegality and it had been on her insistence that I had taken the plane, which she paid for so as to stop my protestations.
So I had arranged that Ash and Steve would meet me at the hotel. Of course with things going awry with Mr Androulakis I knew I wasn't going to be able to meet them there so I had put dozens of posters near the hotel and by the shops telling them that I was at the YHA. Aware of my own difficulties in finding the hostel I was a little apprehensive to say the least that they would find me. In the worst case scenario they may have been stopped at Customs and therefore not have even left Old Blighty, then there would be a myriad of dodgy situations calling out to them on their trip overland to Greece.
As it was I didn't find them for another four months.
Corfu - Land of Opportunities
Things were getting serious. I was down to the equivalent of £10 and had one night left paid for at the hostel. I'd asked the management of the YHA if I could do some work around the place and sleep up on the roof for free but they weren't having any of it, this resulted in a bit of an argument, with me casting mighty dispersions on the purpose of the organisation as a whole. The management were therefore now not kindly disposed towards me and the situation was rather tense.
I was sharing a room with two Irish girls who were emphatic that I should pack my bag and take the overnight ferry to Corfu; a one way ticket costing moreorless what I had left. I had reservations, for I was hoping that Ash and Steve may suddenly manifest and I wasn't over keen on the sound of Corfu. Sun, sea and sex; a haven for idiots.
"Ay, but the idiots have got money, so they have."
True. Too true. Things were desperate.
I packed my bag.
I boarded the boat about 10pm. I tried to keep a low profile down at the dock, it seemed inhabited by every kerb crawler resident in Patras. The port side was busy with freight arriving, people still working in the balmy darkness and the other Corfu destined passengers who all seemed to have everything that they needed for a pleasant trip.
I was looking at a sad pocketful of drachmas and a night on deck under my coat. Or so I thought.
The boat set sail with a great crowd of dockside people waving up enthusiastically at the ferry passengers and vice versa, in my state of mind I had to wonder if all the waving was in relief that they were leaving. I looked around for the best place to put myself; it was to be a long night, a ten hour journey over antiquated seas.
There was a group of Germans near to me looking over the railings, they were all in high spirits and completely prepared; with blankets around their shoulders and night-time picnics taking place. A young woman began to offer me some of her snacks. This was very kind but they happened to be dried foodstuffs such as apricots and figs; not my kind of deal. Anyhow we got talking and she asked which cabin I was in and who I was travelling with. She was shocked when I told her I'd be on deck for the night, alone. Within minutes I had been adopted for a second time in ten days and she insisted that I shared her cabin as there was an unclaimed bed.
She took me to the cabin and I put my bag in there and decided to go and have me some fun. I got changed, put some lipstick on and set out to see what this ferry had to offer.
The first place I went to was the bar. I haven't a clue as to what my strategy was; I don't believe I had a clearly formed one but I remember being gripped by a determination to get something to drink if it killed me.
The area was pretty deserted and the staff consisted of one young Greek barman who was busy cleaning glasses and checking me out. I knew I had enough for one drink so I went over and ordered a whiskey, sitting at the bar as I did so. He poured me a decent measure and we began to chat. He asked where I was from, what I was doing;
"You are alone? No husband?"
That kind of thing.
I got the devil in me and suddenly I came out with; "I bet I can drink more than you".
That was it! Game on! A girl drink more than a man! Never!
Rising to the challenge in a puffed up machismo state he pulled down a large bottle of whiskey from the top shelf and started to fill two glasses. Then another two, then another two; and so it went on.
Now at this time in my life I actually hated the taste of whiskey but I wanted to be drunk; I also had enough presence of mind and canniness to not throw all the drink down my neck as fast as he was. Then suddenly a figure loomed in the doorway to the bar and a torrent of Greek was hurled..it was the bar manager, who on seeing the spectacle in front of him was incensed beyond belief.
The barman got it bad. The bar manager apologised to me, for he believed that the barman had been trying to lead me astray, the barman had to pay for everything and as the row continued I collected the remaining whiskies and tottered off in search of a new playground.
One nil to me.
Ferries are nothing more really than shopping malls on the sea, I had no cash to flash so I wandered around until I saw...the eating area. Again by some miracle I was about to receive the bounty of a stranger. As I entered the room a large seemingly out of control American sporting an extremely loud Hawaiian shirt was shouting, "Who wants a pizza? C'mon for Christ sake who wants a fuckin' pizza?"
The other diners were turned away from him, in the way that people do when they hope that by keeping a low profile the nutter will move on. This guy was going nowhere, in fact he was very much a feature of the room, a very large feature.
"Jesus Christ! There must be someone here that just wants to have a bit of fun! C'mon!"
"I do." I ventured
Well what the hell. I was hungry, I was drunk, I thought I might as well team up with the other clear drinker around there and get some dinner out of it.
So I sat with the big guy and ate to my heart's content. He wasn't all bad, and the pizza was great and needs must when on an apple, a wing and a prayer.
After my successful evening's entertainment I walked contentedly back to my comfortable cabin, basking in the feeling that for one night only I was to sleep soundly like all those prepared tourists in the adjoining rooms. Yes, for one night I was a tourist, and tomorrow was Corfu.
I arrived. Blinking in the first openings of sunlight as I stepped off the boat.
The Irish girls had given me the name of a place to head for on the island and so I set about looking for the bus to take me there. There were the usual hotel and nightclub touts hanging about, eagerly giving out flyers for places such as 'The Pink Palace' or 'Tropicana'. I wandered around the main square, picking up some provisions and took a quick stroll in the gardens by the sea to get acquainted with the body of my new host. Looking out on to the old streets near to the park I noted the ice cream parlours and cafes and the slow unwinding of morning and felt a certain surprise at the feeling of good nature in this place. It was hard to equate the stories of tourism with the everyday scenes taking place.
Getting to Kontaki wasn't too much trouble and I decided to look for work straight away - needs must. Luck was quick to come that day and in the fourth cafe I was offered a job as waitress and washer upper to start the next morning. The place was run by two English women who seemed pleased to be able to contribute to my welfare and gave me a cup of tea and some food before I left to locate the youth hostel.
This youth hostel posed no difficulties and the manager was an easy going man who said I could stay there on a promise and pay with my first wages when I got them.
So! The Irish girls had been right. In my first few hours on this island I had a job and somewhere to live. Things were looking good.
The Prime Minister's Yacht
I was invited out to the local bar that night by some of the girls in my room. Again the hospitality of others moved me; OK it was only a couple of beers, but it still denoted a kindness. I was in good spirits and chatting away when I met a young Australian woman called Gabby. She was a dive instructor and had lived on the island on and off for some time. She told me that there was a big yacht just in belonging to the Dutch Prime Minister and that they were looking for a cleaner to prepare it for his imminent attendance. I felt a bit torn; for the yacht job sounded a bit more interesting than the cafe and Gabby thought the pay would be good, but the ladies from the cafe had been so kind and it seemed so lucky to have got that job with them so quickly. I elected to visit the yacht in the morning before I went to the cafe.
I never did step over the threshold of the cafe again. Suffice to say I was offered the yacht job and ever after when I would attempt to visit the kind English ladies I was never able to find the place again. Perhaps they had never existed and I had imagined their tea and smiles; the dreamings of a thirsty traveller.
The yacht however did exist quite manifestly. Manned by a crew of three; captain, skipper and cook. Three Dutchmen with a pretty healthy expense budget and a fondness for good food, wine and long siestas.
The Singing Captain
The Captain loved me. The Cook was very kind and the Skipper..he was fine but a little indifferent. Anyhow it was the Captain that paid my wages and since in his eyes I could do no wrong things were tiptop.
Every morning on my arrival at work I was greeted by smiles and hellos, then after about half an hour of the cleaning duties down below deck the Captain would appear with two crates of drink. One a supply of fruit juice and the other would be beer. "Ah Linda!" He would exclaim. "Drink as you like and we will see you at dinner."
Being young and easily swayed I would try to drink the soft option but end up on the alcohol and by noon was usually quite pickled. My cleaning methods became rather erratic; I would put dust and rubbish into my pockets, spill cleaning fluids and once broke a framed photograph hanging on the wall which the Cook informed me later was the Prime Minister's favourite; a treasured family photo. "But not to worry about it Linda, I am sure he will never know."
Sometimes I was so hot and drunk that I had to have little lie downs in the master bedroom or upon the posh sofas. My pan and brush abandoned on the floor.
Then each dinnertime the Captain would sing up on deck for my company; he was forever calling me Ava Maria and singing parts of opera to me. The crew would then more often than not take me out for lovely dinners in expensive restaurants or at times the Cook would rustle something up. But it seemed the Cook tired of cooking and so we would normally all go out.
The dinners would go on for hours and we would then return to the boat for a supposed continuation of work. I would attempt to perhaps 'shine the brass' on deck which was a hopeless task; I have no stamina in these matters even when sober. I would generally end up lying on the wooden decking with the Captain's booming laugh looming over me. "Oh dear Linda, go home for today. I think you need to rest."
Then he would pay me for all the hours that I had been away from the hostel. I say it like that for the hours did not represent work. He paid me for the time I was drinking, the time I was eating, the time I was incapable. And never, ever, did any of those people act improperly towards me. It was as if I was just amusing for them; their daft English girl that made their own days a bit more fun.
But the glory days were soon to come to their end.
The Priestesses of Ancient Corinth
It had been Vasilis' birthday and in Greece, or so Vasilis said, it meant he had to buy everyone else a drink. Sounded a bit unfair but we took the tradition on and got pissed out of our minds on Ouzo paid for by his hard working birthday boy hands. The bar we were in was on a rooftop in Ancient Corinth; the whole village only amounted to about a ¼ of a mile and consisted of four bars, the ruins of the temple of Ancient Corinth and a few buildings. The one dusty street culminated in the remains of the ampitheatre opposite the car park where we lived in our stately home of a Ford Transit van.
I left the bar at some unknown time presumably to get to the van and sleep but being very drunk I stumbled and fell in the gutter. A mangy dog was passing by and decided to relieve itself. The stream of piss began to amble warm and golden towards me. I was unable to move and it kind of had the makings of a low moment as I watched the rivulet head my way. But then I turned my head and saw the most miraculous thing; across the road it was day and the temples had come to life. Ritually dressed priestesses were making libations; smoke was drifting upwards from the offerings being burnt and people seeking divine intervention were approaching the steps of the temple and kneeling. A huge gong resounded between the pillars as devotees processed. The sun beat down and the green of the cypress trees was a cool respite against the glare.
The amazement I felt had given me strength and I walked across the road to watch the spectacle close up. Eventually after some time it started to fade but I was fired up and weaved my way back to the other side to climb up to see my friend Alex who lorded it over us, living on a rooftop; or rather the penthouse suite as we called it. To us, living in the car park, this rooftop with corrugated iron sheeting and pile of bricks was swish. Just before Alex's roof there was a smaller sloping roof and fired by my visions and drink I began to dance my way across it. Back and forth, reciting, babbling, singing praises and devotions to the priestesses. Some of the villagers gathered on the pavement, then more, and I was exclaiming the wonder of what I had seen. Eventually Alex, aware of the health and safety aspects to my rooftop dance on that sloped setting 15 ft up, climbed up and got me to the side. On the pretence that we would continue the exclamations higher up on 'his floor'.
That night I slept up there like Alex with my head on a brick and my body upon a grid of metal, but the warmth of the night kissed my dreams and the priestesses' laughter was a melody divine.
Thailand was going to be the big break from drugs. A month in paradise to do some executive R&R and get my head together before going to Sydney and MEETING DAD FOR ONLY 2nd TIME IN MY LIFE. I had been living in Holland for about a year and a daily diet of speed, ecstasy and insane grass had addled my mind to the point where I couldn't even buy a plane ticket. In fact I couldn't even go over the doorway of a travel agency. The attention span needed to go into a travel agency and go through a list of questions & answers on times, dates and ticket prices was beyond me. I was good for about 2 minutes max and would then have to walk out. The travel agents; all Dutch women in power suits, were intimidating. Their orange foundation, blonde hair and piercing blue eyes made me feel as if I was under the stamp of a Nazi Avon team. I tried agencies in Leiden, Hillegom, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag; all to no avail. I could not hold down the necessary communication exchange. I made a call to a friend in England "I've got to get out of this place but I can't do it. Come and save me."
So. Me ole spar from Manchester Clare arrived to take control.
Me, Clare and me bessy Dutch mate Wanda boarded the Air Romania flight for the first leg of the journey to Thailand. Being scared of flying I had bought along a litre of tequila; just to help settle things down. Flying with Air Romania didn't inspire confidence. The plane was old and most of the passengers; including ourselves, didn't have seat belts. The air stewardesses were huge, hefty women with mad blue eyeshadow and scary faces. They didn't bother to do an emergency procedure demonstration and there were no drinks or in-flight meals. They just sat us down, looked gruffly at us and then disappeared behind the curtain. In a way I fancied that their technique was refreshingly honest; I mean in-flight meals are crap, no-one survives crashes anyway; so why bother pretending and what use is a seat belt when your whole seat gets ripped out and plunged into Death's ever awaiting hands?
We arrived at Bucharest airport pissed out of our minds.
The airport seemed less of an airport and more of a big, wooden shed. It was patrolled by army personnel carrying large automatic weapons and looking rather gruff; but this was the start of our holiday and we weren't going to be put off by daft men in khaki.
We headed for the bar.
We were a little unsure as to whether we had located the bar or not; I mean, yes it was a bar, but only about 2 metres in length and with only one optic. Vodka. The one barman was very amiable; in fact downright happy and he poured us generous measures and, on our insistence, turned his tiny transistor up to the max. We could never have been called 'shy or demure girls' and we were soon dancing upon one of the airport/shed tables. I'm ashamed to say that tequila used to make me feel decidedly self important and give me delusions of grandeur and I began to feel abusive towards the other people from our plane that were waiting as we were for the connecting flight to Thailand. "You fuckin' bunch of stiffs! C'mon, have a laugh, dance!" I implored; gesticulating madly towards the barman's radio as if it were some sonic boom sound system. The barman was still smiling and waved back which only egged me on to shout further abusive comments. This sort of 'out of control disco' went on for a while and then luckily for us all the plane was ready for boarding. Me and my two friends seemed to get frisked for some time by a man sporting something like a missile launcher and then horror upon horror's head we had to queue with all the passengers that we had just previously laid vile comments upon. I was getting a monster hangover and remorse piled upon me, pushing me downwards to the floor. As I tried to keep standing I tapped person after person on the shoulder "Sorry about that" I ventured. "We were just having a laugh." Yes; the great Mancunian get out clause; 'We were just having a laugh'. Anyhow, we got on the plane. Destination Bangkok.
Bangkok had been dirty, hot and noisy; not a good recipe when one is trying to detox. Paranoia seemed to roll with the sweat and tempers were as high as the sun. I had to be seriously together and get my visa sorted for Australia. Careering back and forth in tuk-tuks to the Embassy as each day they insisted on another piece of evidence that I was a bona-fide citizen. Not. However, I had to look like I was and giving them my dad's details in Sydney seemed to tip it; little did they know that I wouldn't even be able to pick him out of a crowd.
Anyhow, once I had the visa in the bag and we'd bought our plane tickets for Australia to leave a month later, I was offski; Kho Pangang was the island of choice. Thirteen hours on a packed, rickety bus; falling in and out of delerium, sipping Mekong poached from good looking boys sitting ahead of us and pleasuring myself at the thought of their hot Adonis energy as the velvet night crept in and we ramshackled southwards towards the sea.
Clare and I were sharing a pretty, cool, beach hut and Wanda was shacked up with a boyfriend that had met up with her there. The huts were owned by a cafe just behind and we soon became friends with a young Thai guy, Ton, who worked there. Ton looked like a south sea pirate with coiled hair, talismans and tattoos. He would be the cause of some worry to me as I found myself entranced by his beauty and yet he was merely sixteen years old. So, Ton's beauty would have to rest with another and my fate with him was merely to smoke vast quantities of dope. Yes, this was the break from drugs. By the end of the first week, Ton had introduced us to every heavyweight dope fiend on the island and each morning Clare and I would troop into the jungle, following Ton as if he was our little puppy. He would lead us each day to a new clearing, far in to the dense undergrowth where there would be a circle of bandanaed Thai guys sat around a huge bong. It was amazing really that Clare and I came to no harm; other than what our lungs and remaining brain cells went through. After however long we would wake up, dribbling at some place on a dusty road back towards the beach. This occurred each time. We could never remember leaving the bong den or walking out of the jungle. One day I said to Clare, "Clare, have you actually seen the dope they're putting in that bong?" "Why?" she asked. "Well, it kinda looks a bit weird, like really powdery and light brown and have you noticed we lose consciousness for hours?" Between what was left of our minds we sort of realised that we were perhaps partaking in something a bit stronger than dope - Ton just laughed when I asked him if it was opium and said "Miss Linda, why are you worried?". I couldn't really answer.
After about three weeks Clare and I realised that we hadn't been anywhere. Everyday on the way to the bong den we would pass the other westerners with their itineraries. Not only did they have itineraries but they had maps and scuba diving trips arranged and trips to the waterfall sorted; some of them were even visiting neighbouring islands. It made me feel a bit of a loser; "Clare", I said one late afternoon, "Don't you think we should try and go somewhere, do something?" "Yeh" she said through a load of dribble and we both fell asleep. Ton said that he'd take us to Kho Tao, the next island along, which at the time was practically uninhabited but it never happened. But there was a lot to be said for hanging out with the guys and praising the big boom shanka with them; they were naturally spiritualised people and at night when we saw any of them they would tell us stories about the constellations and draw us the stars upon the sand. If anyone spoke about the encroaching west, their free disposition would become hesitant and they would speak of their fear of a life ever changed by service to the money god.
Full Moon Animation
It was a our last day in Kho Phangang and on the next we would take the small power boat off the island, board a bus for the 13 hour trip back to Bangkok then take an Air Italia flight to Sydney. Once in Sydney I would take a train to the suburb of Guildford and meet the father that I had only seen once when I was 18 and he had visited me in Manchester, for half an hour, as part of his round the world holiday. I was now 24. So I had a hell of a journey ahead of me; in more ways than one.
The island was in full swing preparing for a full moon party. These parties have since become infamous but in '91 Kho Phangang was still relatively undeveloped and the parties would bring in a few hundred people not the thousands that now crowd the beaches.
Clare and I had spent the day smoking chillums with the beautiful Ton, who had even lovingly crafted me a small mixing bowl as a leaving present. The bong den was temporarily closed down as there had been a police offensive to curb drug taking and the boys thought it best to keep a low profile. In fact, a few days before, a tourist had been busted for what we heard was a small amount of dope and he was in a cell trying to rustle up some money to get out of jail. It seemed unfair that this guy had been done over for a little smoke on his balcony when we'd been caning it for about a month; but we were hardly going to offer ourselves to the sacrifice just to show solidarity to the cause.
We went out to eat early evening and as we were lying down on the cushions after our meal a young guy came over and started talking about the holy grail of acid trips; The Blue Lotus. The Blue Lotus came in four parts; each making up the picture of the flower. He'd just been in India where he'd bought it and he wanted to take it along with three other Blue Lotus devotees that night. I wasn't immediately convinced; I'd had some pretty crazed trips in my time and wasn't sure if I could take twelve hours of insane, dark, hallucinations. Then he mentioned Dr Eric. "You bought this off Dr Eric?", I asked. "Yeh man, Dr Eric you can trust." It was true. Dr Eric was a legend. I'd first heard about him in Amsterdam; everyone was raving about this guy who could make trips that only seemed to tap into the good parts of your head. The stories grew to phenomenal proportions, Dr Eric was like some lysergic god who could deliver you to whatever fantasy you wanted. He could prescribe to your specification.
We opened our mouths and received communion.
Sometime later I was a cartoon heroine. Wearing a dress made of platinum and power boots that allowed me to speed hover above the sands at a cosmic rate. I had telepathic communication with everyone and I flew like lightening up and down the beach. Someone shouted to look at the fish and as I turned and hovered huge rainbow fish leapt out of the warm pink and blue sea. The night was magnificent with an omnipotent moon kissing each and every one of us iridescently. I could feel only love and happiness. There was only beauty. Clare however was having quite a different experience. She couldn't make it over to the main part of the beach, for the party of the beautiful people, due to a wide river of dark, blood that ran between us. She was desperate and could be heard uttering whimpers and babbled sentences about the thick, red liquid that threatened to take her. She wasn't responding to my telepathic messages of platinum power love and I couldn't stay still long enough in my hover boots to establish a rescue mission. She stayed on the 'other side' all night. I however found myself, sometime later, dancing in full goddess fashion and delighting in the ecstatic happiness of my fellow party goers. There was a young guy in front of me who seemed as golden and light as a mythical cupid. Our auras were mixing with pure divinity when some of the other beautiful people gathered to lead him away. I learnt the next day that in 'reality' he was a naked weirdo who'd stumbled into the gathering, was bleeding from a head wound and seemed intent on molesting women.
Many hours later, long after the dawn had risen magnificently in her sublime colours, I began to feel an energy of speech heating in my throat . I hadn't spoken for about twelve hours and the idea of speaking again was a little frightening. My vocal chords created murmers and sounds but I held back from full words and instead looked at people pleadingly. The auras were leaving, my telepathic powers were declined and my platinum dress had gone to the LSD dress agency until its next booking.
On my way back to the hut I met Leila. Leila was a free spirited, hot blooded Israeli girl who embraced her non attachment to the grind by random thrustings and twirlings as she walked. Looking out from under her dark tousled hair she would fix her liquid brown eyes upon a person and run over to them, squashing her breasts against their body and telling them to give themselves to her. It was early morning but it made no difference to Leila, she loved me. Loved me with a passion that could not be contained. She ran over to me, "Linda", she breathlessly intoned, "I want to paint you! I want to paint your breasts, your face, I want to paint butterflies upon you and blue. Blue." I tried to make a sound which could be interpreted as "I appreciate your love Leila but I've got to pack and leave the island and meet my dad in Sydney and I'm still coming down from this explosive trip so I think I best just get back to the hut." Leila didn't get it and she skipped and twirled ahead of me, intoning chants and begging me to let myself be painted.
We reached the hut.
Clare, who seemed full functioning, scowled at Leila and re-introduced me to the notion of time, "Linda, get yer fuckin' shit together. We've gotta leave in about an hour."
I started trying to pack.
I say 'trying' because it was, very trying. In fact it was an ordeal. I had no idea whatsoever of how to put things into my bag. I mean I had literally lost it to the point that I couldn't actually physically put things from my hands into the bag. I was stood there with crumpled clothes in my hands repeating over and over again, "But how..how do you pack a bag?". I just couldn't get it together. I could pick things up, bring them to the bag but then would freeze at the point of putting them in to the bag's recesses. The inside of the bag represented some strange world that I couldn't conceive of, or project myself into. Clare couldn't look at me and was also quietly annoyed about having spent a long night of terror alone by the blood waters, so she screamed leaving times to me, told Leila to vacate and went for a walk.
I remained in the beach hut, repeating my mantra over and over, "How do you do it? How?".
Alan, the veteran, Californian hippie stopped by with his Super 8. "Wow, Linda. You've really lost it", he observed as I posed my infinite question to him. "What time are you leaving the island, man. Like, you've really gotta sort things out." "Alan!", I shouted, "Stop fuckin' filming me and help me pack this fuckin' bag!". But Alan was intent on making a film that he said he'd show every would-be drug taker that came to the island ever after. Clare came back and just got all my things, stuffed them into the rucksack, shoved it onto my back and pushed me out of the door. Thank god I had friends like Clare.
The Daddy Tapes
So, here we were, in the land of opportunity (as long as you were white). On the pungent tarmac at Sydney airport, needing water to remedy toxic sweat. I thought I hadn't done so bad this time with $100 in my pocket even if I had no return ticket but Clare was freaking out; which I found odd as she had more money than me; “I'm a Taurean!” she screamed, “I have to have stability!” I just wanted to head to the nearest bar and find a bed along the way. I knew from experience that we'd get sorted and anyhow now wasn't the time to worry; we still had money. “Ring your dad! I'm not leaving this terminal. Phone him.” OK I had had it in mind to meet him, but I figured that could happen any time, I wanted to explore Sydney first, have some adventures. I'd left home at 16, I didn't 'do' families, my family didn't 'do' me. I frankly found Clare's proposal that we stay with my dad an absolutely hideous and nerve wrecking idea; “I've met this person once” I tried to explain to her, “for half an hour!” but Clare would not budge, she had her squat beastly feet very firmly planted on this matter.
I was scared of making that call; I'd only spoken to my dad a few times on the phone; twice in fact. The first time when I was about five and found his number in my mum's address book while she was out with the police looking for me; it's a long story... the second time I was on mushrooms trying to play Monopoly and the phone rang at my boyfriend's flat; he left it to the ansa machine and we all tranced out listening to my dad leave a message from the Holiday Inn in Manchester; announcing his arrival in Manchester as part of his world tour. My tripped out friends empathised so profusely they persuaded me to speak to him, the group of them staggering to the phone like love zombies. I took the call but had to do it with a sock over the receiver (don't ask me why... the mushrooms dictated) Dave taped the whole conversation and years later put it to a drum n bass track; snippets of me saying “I'm speaking to you through a sock. Can you say that again?”
Anyhow here was Clare, my friend that had got me out of Holland, I owed her bigtime, so I pretended I was a character in a film and found a payphone.
“Eh! You're in Sydney then?” my Dad was upbeat and breezy, a sharp contrast to my neurosis. How strange that, that he had no trace of disturbance. The rest of the phone call happened almost as if through a chloroform haze then next thing I knew we were on a train heading to a suburb. Clare was in her element, getting excited about hanging her clothes up and having a shower, I was trying to work out how the hell I'd recognise Dad at the station.
Disembarking at Guildford I decided to wait until everyone else had left the platform and then, it became visually obvious, the two people left were my father and his wife.
The Road to Uluru
My errant boyfriend and I were travelling in virtual poverty across Australia in a lilac VW combie; managing to get petrol via vouchers from St Vinny's and sporadic earnings from hairwraps and getting people to pay for lifts.
We were on our way to Uluru; that vast red dreaming, otherwise known as Ayers Rock and we had two stiffs along for the ride that had paid to get up to Darwin. David the misinformed surfer; had a board taking up the entire back section and would under no account listen to us telling him that he wouldn't be able to surf up in Darwin due to the saltwater crocs. Jenny came with a huge suitcase filled with what looked like beanie dolls and mementos of home.
We were 80 miles from our destination when the whole clutch system gave out. Less of a bang; more of a snap, chug, whine, stop.
Nick and I had about 10 dollars to our name; the rest of the money was in the tank and on a promise of future income from various scams and jobs enroute. We’d spent David and Jenny’s money as soon as we’d got it; and now, 360 miles from a mechanic we were well and truly stuck.
I wanted to walk out bush, David was moaning about his schedule getting messed up, Nick was shouting at David and Jenny was snivelling into a crisp, cotton hankie. Then in a surreal and unexpected twist a Woolworth’s truck stopped; in the middle of a dusty road on a desert track; good, old, dependable Woolworths.
The driver asked the problem and within minutes was engineering the amazing feat of getting the combie into the back of the truck. Another passing driver offered David and Jenny a lift to Alice Springs and we arranged to meet up with them later at a backpackers whre they could wave their visa cards around and get as many hot showers as they wished. Me and Nick got in with the truckie. The ride however was far from fairytale; this salt of the earth truck driver was a through and through redneck who delighted in telling us about the truckie’s favourite pastime when in the outback; killing aboriginals. He said that he and his friends would keep scores as to how many ‘abbos’ they managed to run over; it was horrific beyond belief. Eventually we got to Alice and he left us on what he termed as the wrong side of the tracks; where the dried out Todd River flowed with plastic and beer cans and the pioneer hopes of the Great Ghan Railway had ended, when the floods came; predicted by the indigenous people and ignored by the settlers.
We would be there for some weeks, camped in our broken down vehicle, receiving threatening visits from racist thugs who said they’d heard we were ‘abbo lovers’ but alternated with beautiful visits from the people on the reservation; one of them a lovely man named Peter who would come and sit with us late into the night, telling us the most soulful, Dreamtime stories.
David and Jenny became the bane of our lives as they came almost daily wanting their money’s worth of food rations that they said they’d paid for; even though we were getting our provisions laid on down at the soup kitchen; in line with the other ostracised folk from the encampment.
We eventually sorted out money and the combi was fixed but not until we’d endured yet another weird and wacky aspect of that interior lunacy.
The Car Crash
Rod thought it'd be a good idea to get some people along for the ride and save money on our petrol costs. He'd been practising a trick at gas stations whereby he put the petrol in the tank to say $20 then took the nozzle out and repeated this again to the same amount. Apparently the till only registered one of the transactions and so we'd had two for the price of one since Victoria. His uncle, who owned a gas station in Perth, had complained about the scam in a phone call and Rod, enterprising as he was, had tried it out. However, every dog has its day and after a few weeks it wasn't working any more. We were approaching the northern territories and had about 8,000 k to go so Rod could reach Perth in a few months time and get his plane back to the Netherlands. I had no deadlines, only lifelines, songlines.
So, Rod put cards up in some hostels and after just a few days he announced that we had two contenders for the journey; an English rose called Emily and an American, Felstein.
Emily seriously wore a bonnet for the whole time she was with us. It was a proper bonnet that tied under her chin. She had a sort of picnic basket too, that she guarded staunchly; pursing her lips at the hundreds of impolite flies. She hadn't known Felstein before the trip and they didn't seem to click. Felstein was OK but had this thing about eating Phillidelphia cheese and crackers which he refused point blank to eat in the van and would only partake at given rest stops. "Guys, I kinda need a rest stop. Is anyone wanting a rest stop? I'd really like to eat my Philly right now. Could we get a stop?" They also both wanted showers on a daily basis and shops, so they could continue believing in an idea of civilisation. They were what you might say 'high maintenance'.
Rod and I had considered ourselves the ride of the century. I mean, we had a stock of grass and beer, played Lou Reed and The Doors and we loved to take it easy and stop when we saw something wild; like a lightening storm across the desert or a breath-taking sunset or just to sit on that jewelled red earth, in the singing darkness and let the ancestral hum come up through your body and whisper ancient stories. We didn't give a shit about showers or rest stops; in fact rest stop wasn't in our vocabulary. Neither did we care about what products we could buy if we stopped by a milk store. OK, we liked finger ices; but only for depraved sexual reasons.
Getting back in the van after one of Felstein's Philly Fits, Rod said he wanted to take a nap in the back. He wanted me to drive for a bit. He said all this out of earshot from the other two as he knew my reaction; "But Rod, I can't drive." He turned to Emily and Felstein and told them we were just going on a quick run for 10 minutes to build my confidence in driving the van as I'd not driven for a while. So we got in the van, me in the driving seat, and he began the master lesson. "Just keep your foot steady on that pedal, look, look Linda, look at the dial here. Keep it at about 70. You'll be fine. OK. Just straight. See, there's nothing to it." And then he handed me a joint, told me to stop the car, and we took advantage of being away from the stiffs as we called them.
Not too long later, we returned. Emily came up front with me, clutching her basket and Felstein shared the back with Rod, who'd gone straight to post coital sleep.
It was going fine for quite some time. Emily got a bit worried about me trying to change the tape over and she said the volume was a bit anxious making. "But it's Jim, Emily." No. Emily was not a Jim fan. I don't know what turned her on. Mr Rochester probably. At one point I noted that I seemed to be fine keeping straight on the right but on the left I was going towards the verge every now and then. I started with an out of balance brain hemisphere theory but I could see Emily was getting uptight. I began, "I'm not saying I think I have got a problem, I'm just musing on it. I mean the main thing is that I don't drive.." She retorted, "Haven't driven for a while, you mean?" "No", I said,"don't drive. I've never driven before." Emily sank into her chair a little and went a paler shade of alba. "Well, I do hope you'll be OK with the left turn that's coming up?" she said. Left turn? I thought wildly. Rod hadn't said anything about making turns; left or right. He had definitely instructed me to go straight. Going straight was no problem, but a turn. "Well as long as you tell me when it's coming up", I said. "Why do I have to tell you, won't you see the sign?" she asked me in a voice that rose by the vowel. "Erm, no. I can't really see anything. I don't have any glasses, I lost them. So, if you could just tell me. Thanks." Then suddenly Emily began shouting, "Turn, turn Linda. Here! Now!" She panicked me and she was so insistent that I just turned the wheel. I didn't think about how fast one was supposed to go around a corner. I'd never driven a car around a corner in my life. Or driven a car. Or watched what speed other people did it at. Sensible people with driving licences and normal lives. So I turned the wheel at a 90º angle and at about 100 k an hour.
We shot across the road, in front of the path of a roadtrain coming the other way and hurtled into the scrub. I went into slalom driver mode and dodged all the trees that were in our path in a way that could have got me into the Grand Prix. Then an 8 ft termite mound loomed ahead. My foot had got jammed onto the accelerator by a stupid wooden ashtray Rod had made that had slid off the deck. We hit the termite mound and the car flew for a glorious few seconds then it crashed onto the earth and went into its second race forwards. I could see a sandbank coming up and made a decision to crash headlong into it rather than continuing for god knows how long with my foot jammed on the pedal. The van embedded itself, it had stopped. We sat, dazed, for a moment. The sound of steam hissing outwardly from the engine. The scene was soon punctuated by Rod sitting up in the back and saying in a sleepy voice, "Did we just crash?".
We got out unscathed. It was a miracle really. Not even one scratch. Emily still had her bonnet on, Felstein was holding on tight to his Philadelphia. I stood blinking in the sunlight and began to shake. Then Rod came around and before he looked at me he inspected the van. His van. His mashed up, smashed up, good for nothing van. Oh god I thought, this is it, he's gonna go balistic on me, he might even hit me, I've just written off his transport and we're marooned in the outback with two stiffs that hold us, me, personally responsible for their predicament which is entirely reasonable as I just nearly killed everyone. And we owed them money. Rod walked slowly towards me, I closed my eyes, waiting. His strong arms locked around me and he started to laugh like a maniac. My god I thought, he's gone mad, next he'll get violent for sure. But he didn't. He just laughed and laughed and then I laughed and we kissed madly and I knew then, that this, was love.