Showing posts with label true stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label true stories. Show all posts

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I was late for work

It was a beautiful summer morning as usual, well this is Greece and if there is one thing reliable in this country, it's the weather. Come to think of it, it IS the one and only thing. I awoke strangely refreshed. I say strangely because I had got to bed around four the previous night but this was a comparatively early night. It must have been mid-July and I had been partying since May, burning the candle at both ends was too benign an idiom for it. I was burning a Molotov at both ends and that nothing had exploded yet was outrageous fortune.


late for workI took a cold shower to rinse off the night and headed down through the village to work. Work was the nice restaurant where I waited tables for Fat Yianni, the classiest place in town. Although my work ethic was thoroughly Anglican, my play ethic was even more dedicated. I slept no more than two hours a night and lived the other twenty two like tomorrow was just a vicious rumour. Of course, I would get forty winks on the beach in the afternoon but most of those winks were to just about anything in a bikini.
Twitshot
I sauntered through the village well aware of the fact that I would be ten or fifteen minutes late but me and Fat Yianni had an understanding, he knew I was awesome and I knew he wasn't paying me what I deserved. He had confessed one drunken night that he had never seen anyone extract tips or sell ‘specials’ like me. I had no fears about my job yet I executed my obligations with diligence and aplomb.
Hangover was a pretty standard state but I had the constitution of Keith Richards and when it was showtime, I performed.
Nearing the village centre, I passed the first taverna and the owner was standing outside watching the world go by and swinging his worry-beads. I smiled and waved a kalimera. He grimaced and swung his hand in a chopping motion, this meant that you were in trouble, the cutting motion was a certain part of one’s anatomy that were for the chop. Christ! I was quarter of an hour late, tops!
I passed the souvenir shop and offered a warm morning greeting, she swung her head and tutted. When the same thing happened at the next taverna, I realised that Fat Yianni was in a foul mood and I would be getting it for some reason when I got in. I could handle the old bastard and our rows were legendary in the village but he would not do without me and he knew that I knew that as well as he.
When I arrived, maybe twenty minutes late, the restaurant was empty and I made quick work of readying it for brunch service. The girls were busy in the kitchen and I did my best to jolly them up. I'm a great believer in investing in a convivial work atmosphere. If you work in a miserable place, maybe you are the reason for it. I worked in a wonderful environment. The girls were reluctant to talk to me and no amount of horseplay would loosen them up.
Fat Yianni arrived in a tempest and I resolved to give him space to get his first frappe coffee with Bailys instead of milk down him before I engaged him. He planted himself behind the bar and followed me with his black gaze. His fat head was swinging, punctuated by swear words. I had already played out the game in my head. He would start griping, I would placate him until I reposted vehemently enough to provoke a full-on altercation, storm out and join some friends who had said they were going water-skiing. Whereupon I would return for evening service sell all the specials and leftovers and harvest a wad of tips then go down to the strip where I would party myself spastic and all would be forgotten.
“Where you yesterday, koufala?”
Game on. I ignored him.
“Malaka! Where you yesterday?”
“I was on the strip, mostly Bubbles bar. You?”
“I am here, doing yourself work, hamoura!”
“You couldn't do my work if your life depended on it, you muppet! I do the business, you collect the money!” I was readying myself for water-skiing.
“We banged your door. We shout you. You no answer!”
“Yianni, what are you on? Go back to your frappe, I got work to do!”
“WHERE YOU WERE, STUPID ENGLISH! WE GO YOUR HOUSE… MANY TIMES”
“Listen, you stupider Greek, I was here until that table of Greeks left at, what was it, 12.30? Then I went down Bubbles. And, now I'm here!” The villagers were right, he was worse than usual. I may have to forgo my evening tips to win out this time. He was like Mussolini on his period!
His big moon face cracked a smile. “David. What day it is?”
“Listen Yianni, I'm off!”
“DAVID. WHAT DAY IT IS?”
“You fuckin' muppet! It’s Tue—”
I snatched the rip-a-day calender to shove in his fat face. It read Wednesday 18th July…


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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I went hitch-hiking II

Hitch-hiking
Anyone who thinks buses are an unreliable form of transport should try thumbing their way through the mountains between the port of Patras and just about anywhere. It was getting late and the sun was sipping cocoa. Many hitchers stay in one place where they are most likely to get a lift, often with a cardboard sign. I like to walk, while I'm heading in the right direction, I'm making progress. Even if I'm in the wrong place, I 'spose that speaks volumes about me but maybe I'm, just stupid and impatient.

Twitshot

  A car passed and lit its indicators and my heart did a little dance. I ran to the waiting car just for it to speed off. Ha fucking ha.
I was starting to climb into the mountains, into the worst possible place to get a lift when Pasquale eased his huge truck into the side of the road. I knew he was called Pasquale because he said the word with a tombstone smile several times. The truck wore Italian plates and Pasquale spoke neither English nor Greek, I remembered a few words of Italian but they were of no use. I patted my chest and said David. Pasquale was carrying steel rods. I don’t know where and I didn't know that they wouldn't get there, not then. All I knew was that I had a lift.
Pasquale was working the gears hard but I was surprised at how nimble the huge vehicle was climbing the up into the wooded mountain.
Behind him was a cupboard full of snacks. He offered me some crisps and fizzy pop. Inflight meal. I was blessed.
So, we were winding through the narrow pass. I watched the sheer drops from my window, reassuring myself that Pasquale, a professional driver knew exactly what he was doing.
His hand had moved from the gearstick as the road levelled and was now working his shrivelled knob which he had stealthily slipped from his trousers. Fuck! It was dark outside, god knows how far from anywhere. I made the concerted decision to ignore it and hope it went back where it belonged.
“Wanky, wanky!” So, Pasquale had been a little coy about his mastery of English. But what he didn't understand was that when one is being ignored, one should stop playing with one’s cock to avoid any unnecessary faux pas or transgressions of etiquette.
Being British, I was well schooled in how to politely diffuse such situations. “Put it away.” I said in an even tone.
“Wanky, wanky!” Pasquale was Italian and never had the privilege of an education in the country whose main export is manners and civility. Plus, he was the driver and I was the passenger in the middle of the mountains where the headlights were doing their best to penetrate the blackness.
I galvanised my tone and repeated, “Put it away!”
The cock was now back safely behind his fly and I clenched praying for the next town to arrive.
I watched the tyres skim the edge of the road sprinkling stones down the sheer face.
Now, while London cabbies have famously enlarged hippocampi, the same cannot be said for Italian lorry drivers and it wasn't long before he had forgotten my request. Pasquale’s cock was out again.
“Wanky, wanky?”
Now, I failed to mention that while British to the core, I was raised in Essex, where a subculture of English restraint exists. I sung my fist across the cab and it landed square in his right eye.
“PUT YOUR FUCKING COCK AWAY!” Shit! I would drive this thing if I had to. My fist was now a grip on his collar and I had twisted to bring my right into play if circumstances demanded.
His cock disappeared in a nervous shuffle. I hoped it got stuck in his fly!
Now, the atmosphere in the cab was a little terse with Pasquale’s romantic advances rebuked. We've all faced rejection from time to time and it’s no fun.
I watched the edge of the road swing back and forth, the tyres kicking more stones over. He was clearly impatient to get me home, his expectations of a kiss at the door and a nightcap dashed.
A sweeping left leaned the cab over so that the tyres were momentarily out of sight. I caught my breath. The next right brought them back into view. I watched the cliff edge drop to an abyss then replaced by the door of the truck as the cab swung from side to side. I could clearly make out the letters of the livery. Then the wheels disappeared again.
They did not reappear.
The wheels had gone under and stayed under. The side of the mountain was coming but it was taking its time. Salt and vinegar crisps, Fanta, dust and moans filled the cab as we slid down. Down into the forest.
We hit the trees hard and the windscreen cracked.
It took a moment to confirm that I was still alive but I was. Pasquale was moaning his own name. He hadn't fallen on me, maybe his seatbelt, I wasn't wearing mine. I couldn't tell you.
My kitbag was between my legs but the footwell had compressed so I had to remove my shoe to retrieve my foot. I put my shoes back on and braced myself against my seat and kicked out the windscreen. It fell and I heard it tumble down into the trees. I pulled myself out and stood on the side pillar of the truck’s windscreen. The cab had snagged on some trees, pines I think but the trailer was hanging.
Pasquale reached out a hand. “Pasquale urrrgh!” The same hand that had been teasing his cock. The same cock that had got me in this situation in the first place. I braced against the window frame and threw a front-kick into his head.
I grabbed my kitbag and started to scramble up the steep slope. I could make out a car and two figures at the road.
“YOU OK?”
My right ankle was getting heavy and blood was coming from a deep cut on my right forearm but all things considered, I was good.
“Yeah. I'm fine!”
When I got to the top I found I had more blood over my left cheek but it wiped off easily, it was only Pasquale’s.
The police turned up followed by an ambulance. An officer took me aside and asked me what had happened.
Now my Greek was not great but I knew the word for masturbation, don’t ask me how. Trouble is that it gets used for everything in this country. I explained that the driver was, well, pulling his pud and this may have explained his lack of due care and attention but that translates as he was fucking about. I tried to rephrase with added gestures. The officer nodded in false comprehension, “Yeah, he’s a wanker!” I finally gave up.
Pasquale was sitting in the ambulance, chianti pouring from his head. I was ushered to join him. Pasquale freaked, waving his arms about. His black eye and busted nose were indirectly related to the accident but related nonetheless. I went in the squad car.
I was taken to the hospital first where my examination consisted of being asked to pull down my trousers and left in an empty room for half an hour. The doctor returned, asked me if I was OK and told me to hoist them back up. The irony of ending my evening with my trousers round my ankles despite my efforts was not lost on me, oh well.
The police were waiting outside. They took me for coffee down at the station and asked me to tell my story, tell my story! How were they to know? About two hours, four cups of coffee, a packet of the officers fags and a couple of ouzos later (I drank, the officers being on duty) they had written a vastly abridged version in Greek and asked me to sign it.
So now it’s about midnight and they want me out of town nearly as much as Pasquale. They take me down to the bus stop but the bus had left some ten minutes earlier. The officer waves wildly and we jump back in the car. He hits the road hard and we speed down the windy roads at a cracking pace. But, being professional drivers, I trusted in his experience…
         
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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I went hitch-hiking

the hitcher
I think Rutger Hauer put the final nail in the coffin for hitch-hiking in the English speaking world. Anyone who saw The Hitcher would think more than twice about picking up any stranger from the roadside and most of us were already reluctant to stick out a thumb on the highway. In Greece in the 90s it was still fairly common practice. Young men on leave from their national service would wear uniform to garner sympathy. I would regularly village hop by thumb. So, when someone suggested hitching the six-hundred kilometres down to Zakynthos to see my grandparents, it struck me as a perfectly reasonable idea.
Twitshot
I loaded a kitbag, which was actually my kick-bag with the stuffing taken out and hit the highway south. A friend from the village gave me my first leg and dropped me at the toll gates out of the Thessaloniki. It was midsummer and the Greek sun takes no prisoners. My thumb was exhausted and I was nearly at the point of jumping the first bus back when a rickety Zestava pulled over. He was a middle-aged guy in a similar condition to his car but he was going my way and could take me some two-hundred kilometres down the line. Result!
My Greek at that time was pretty rudimentary at the time and he spoke with an impenetrable accent so conversation did not flow. What I did gather was that he was a policeman heading down to arrest a pretty heinous criminal. Dialogue soon dried up after him asking me to repeat everything twice and me trying to guess what he was saying through the clatter of the old car and his accent. I got the impression that he wasn’t the most amiable companion in any language so I decided instead to settle in for the remaining hour and a half trying not to nark him too much. The car was too small for any more friction.
The sun was high and piercing the windscreen so I opened the window. Clunk! It wound down a few inches then fell into the door. So much for not narking him. He was leaning across me trying to pull it back up, swerving across the lanes and snorting like a bull when he finally gave up. His destination would take me nearly half of my way and as it was a fairly big city, it would be a good place to get another lift.
My sunglasses were not enough to stop my retinas burning so I reached for the sunshade and flipped it down. A bunch of papers took flight like a flock of seagull through a jet engine and shot straight out of the window. Screeetch! My driver hit the brakes so hard I hit the windscreen. I barely had a chance to ask if they were important when he leapt from the car. He was dancing around in the breeze trying to grab the airborne pages. I watched as the slipstream from a passing truck flung them over a hedge into a field. He had stopped dancing for the paper and was now just dancing mad. His impenetrable accent was now simple expletives and they were aimed at me, my mother and my whole nation. He wanted to hurt me. Fortunately I stood a whole head taller than him and broad enough to deter any physical attack. But, he really wanted to hurt me.
In his ranting he told me what the papers were and I went back to make a more concerted effort to retrieve them. He went back to the car and drove off then stopped. I thought he had reconsidered his impetuousness, leaving me stranded on the side of the highway. He opened the passenger door so I ran toward it. My kitbag fell out onto the verge and he spun dust in my face allowing the acceleration to close the door.
Now flying across the neighbouring fields was the arrest warrant for a very heinous criminal.


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Friday, 8 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I got run over

Off to the beach, Yay! This is Greece, so nothing odd there except that we were in the grip of capital controls. Mr. Schauble and his Eurogroup were rapping naughty Mr. Varoufakis’ knuckles by shutting down our banks. My adopted home was in a state of panic. The cash machines would allow only €40 to be withdrawn each day and everybody wanted their money out. There was a slow but persistent run on the banks and queueing at the ATM had begun to dominate everybody’s day. So we went to splash in the sea and top up our tans.

Twitshot
It was a bright and pleasant morning, bollocks it was! Greek summer had kicked in and we felt like spicy KFC wings. People often say that I must have gotten used to the heat but I ask you this, do chickens get used to roasting? We loaded the car with inflatable toys and umbrellas like a bargain bucket for kids and headed for the coast.
We dived and splashed and drank frappe until finally, we were baked and ready to head home for austerity pie. On route we passed through a busy high street so I decided to stop and empty my accounts some more. I had four accounts at different banks and flip-flopped around the various machines, waiting in line to add to the trot on the banks. Eventually, I had taken my daily allowance from each of the machines and as I was wearing beach shorts, I had the cash and cards in my hand and a fog in my head, how much longer could we stand living in this teenager’s bedroom of a country? Surely we could earn enough back in my native Britain to not have to go through this and still be able to visit her beaches frequently enough. And, what about the kids, shouldn’t we take them somewhere where they would have a future. I swung my head checking the traffic, my cards and cash gripped firmly in my fist. I stepped off the curb. I heard the screech of brakes. The cracking of plastic and glass. I saw a car pass me. The horror in the passenger’s eyes. I spun. The tyres stopped squealing. I was sat on my arse in the middle of the road with one flip-flop. My wife ran across the road her mouth making wide vowels. I told her to take the cash and cards still firmly in my grasp. Yes, I really am that tight!
The passenger ran over in a sea of apologies, the driver still clinging to the wheel probably fearing the next few years in a Greek jail. He asked if I was alright and I told him to pull me to my feet. I limped to the other side of the street and started pacing. The driver joined us and by the look on his face he had already imagined dropping the soap. My foot was heavy but in no great pain, the pain in my left arm that had been holding the cash was seeping through the adrenaline. My wife checked me over for damage. Nothing apart from my elbow and foot. The car had gone over my right foot, my elbow had struck the windscreen, breaking it, my body had shattered the door mirror. My mind was racing over every frame of the scene. I continued pacing, ignoring the pleas to sit down. My foot was getting heavier, I didn’t want it to seize.
We exchanged contact details with the driver and he promised to take care of any expenses, a promise he held. Then we went home, my wife asking me over and over if I wanted to go to the hospital.
Later she and my mate convinced me to go. Say what you like about Greek hospitals but they keep the sick off the streets. I had Vangelis’ Midnight Express theme ringing in my ears. Vangelis is Greek, I wondered if he’d visited many hospitals.
The doctors were more concerned about me reporting the incident. I told them the car was Italian and I was British, no contest really. Fortunately, I had no breaks just a swollen foot. Same foot, incidentally as in the truck accident. My football career was over before it had even started. But, hey, I only have two so I guess it would always be 50/50.
As I left the hospital, I bumped into my youngest’s godmother. She was on crutches, she had broken her fibula tripping up a curb.
I prefer not to think about what could have happened. What did happen was that I got hit by a car and came off better. What did happen was that I was reminded of the tightrope we walk, one slip and the planet will hit you hard. Down will come up and bitch slap you out of existence.
But this was not my time.


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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY