We stood in the centre of a wide clearing in a eucalyptus forest and I held Isvarinka in my arms and hugged her. Everything we did we did to excess. When we hugged we hugged hard and long, as if the world was going to end, and when we kissed we kissed hard and long, as if our lives depended on it. We kissed for so long that our mouths started to ache, we came up for air and gulped at the freely available oxygen like fish raiding the surface of a lake. We wanted to have sex but everything about it seemed awkward and clumsy, we knew the theory but weren’t sure how to put the theory into practice. I was nineteen and Isvarinka, Varinka to her friends, was just seventeen. We were childhood sweethearts. I was now at university and she was doing her final year of school, she looked up to me as an old and wise person who knew about the world, she was very much mistaken but I didn’t disabuse her.
Varinka’s father was a problem, he was a big old Serbian bear, he had migrated to Australia in his youth, made some money growing vegetables to feed the local population who were too lazy to grow vegetables to feed themselves, and then sold his market garden to housing developers. Houses were more lucrative than food. He had found a beautiful blonde Australian woman, married her, built a big house on a hill and they had promptly produced a daughter, Isvarinka.
I had accompanied Varinka to a Serbian folk dance, she was a member of the local Serbian dance group, and I was now walking her home. Varinka was of medium height, her hair was thick and blonde, just like her mother’s, and her eyes were turquoise blue, she had rosy red cheeks and she looked stunningly pretty in a Grimms’ Fairy Tale sort of a way. She was wearing Serbian costume, it was a black skirt, white blouse, an ornate waistcoat in rusty browns and reds, dressy black boots with a low heel and a colourful scarf over her head. She looked very European and very beautiful.
We reached Varinka’s home and I said how the moon would look lovely through the gum trees in a park nearby, so we wandered into the glade of eucalypts. The moon, an orange ball of fire, rose over the hills and we stood hugging and kissing and watching it make its entrance, it did look lovely but that wasn’t the reason I had induced Varinka into the eucalyptus glade. I wasn’t very good at lovey dovey small talk, what nineteen year old sex crazed boy is?
‘You do love me?’ said Varinka.
I said nothing.
‘Kiss me,’ said Varinka.
I didn’t move.
‘I love you,’ she said.
I pulled her closer to me and my right hand stroked her leg, stroking her leg was one thing I had learnt to do. When I stroked her leg she kissed me more passionately. My body started to ache, especially the part designed for the reproduction of the species.
‘I love you so much it hurts,’ she said.
My hand was still rubbing her leg then I moved it up and under her dress. I rubbed her leg higher and higher and she kissed me harder and harder.
‘I would love to be with you forever,’ she said.
My hand gently moved past her hosiery and found its way to her lingerie.
‘I love you Axel,’ she said.
My hand reached the top of her intimate apparel and slowly slid down.
‘What’s your favourite food?’ she said.
I had made contact with an area of her body that was new to me but I had spent many nights dreaming about it. My hand slid down exploring deeper, I was like an archaeologist discovering new and exciting worlds.
‘I like all sorts, cakes and sweets the most,’ she said.
I got adventurous. I slowly pushed her clothing downwards, my heart beat like a jack hammer, my body ached, my testosterone pounded away inside my brain.
‘My favourite cake is custard tarts,’ she said.
My fingers explored to greater depths and she took a deep breath and sighed.
‘They do a nice custard tart at the local bakery,’ she said.
I lowered her to the ground.
‘Sometimes I have custard tarts with thick cream.’
I loosened my trousers and they fell to the floor.
‘Sometimes I sprinkle icing sugar on top.’
I pulled my underwear off, I was kissing her and lying on top of her and I was beginning to have a pretty good idea how everything should fit together. I kissed her on the mouth, on the cheeks, on the neck, my heart pounded so much I thought it would explode. I felt I was about to have a heart attack, my whole body felt as if it would shatter into a thousand pieces.
‘Do you like me Axel?’
‘I love you,’ I said.
I approached her forbidden land.
‘We could have a custard tart later.’
I made contact, I hadn’t quite entered the gate to the sacred city but I was waiting at the entrance ready to make the first and all important thrust when a voice like a lion roared from down the street.
‘What do you two people think you are doing?’
‘Dad!’ said Varinka.
She pushed me away and jumped to her feet rearranging her clothes. Luckily it was dark and the old bear hadn’t seen most of what was happening. I grabbed my trousers and yanked them on again, not bothering with my underwear, I had no idea where it was anyway. Her Dad ran up the street and tried to punch me in the face, I ducked.
‘Do you know what time it is?’
‘What is that on your neck?’
‘What have you been doing young lady?’
‘You…’ he pointed at me, ‘you can go home now and never darken my doorstep again.’
‘Don’t speak to Axel like that.’
‘Come sniffing around here after my daughter like she was a bitch on heat.’
‘Don’t you say anything, go into the house and go up to bed. This is a disgrace, I know what you two have been doing and I won’t allow it, I won’t allow it do you hear me?’
‘You…’ he pointed to me again, ‘you can go home and I never want to see you again.’
‘We love each other Dad.’
‘Love! What do you know about love?’
‘We know that we love each other.’
‘You know nothing.’
‘You…’ there was that finger pointing at me again, ‘don’t you come sniffing around my daughter ever again.
‘I…’ I said.
I couldn’t say that we had done nothing because we had, or at least we were about to.
‘I knew you were bad the moment Isvarinka brought you home, I should have stopped it then, I blame myself.’
‘Mr Bogojevic…’ I said.
‘Shut your mouth, you are not to make contact with my Isvarinka ever again, not by phone, not by letter, not by nothing.’
I wanted to say, Please don’t talk to Varinka like that Mr Bogojevic, but, to be honest, I was too scared, too overawed.
He went to hit me, I moved back and almost fell over.
‘Dad!’ screamed Varinka
‘You are not to come here ever again do you hear me, do you hear me?’
‘Don’t you speak to me, don’t you dare.’
‘You will go away and never to come back again, I never want to see you ever again and Isvarinka doesn’t want to see you ever again.’
‘Varinka?’ I said.
‘Don’t speak to her.’
‘You’d better go, I’ll see you tomorrow,’ said Varinka.
‘You will not!’ shouted the old bear.
‘Go, you heard what she said, go,’ said the old bear.
‘I’ll ring you tomorrow,’ I said.
‘No you will not, you will not ring her, if you do I will kill you.’
‘I would kill you now if Isvarinka wasn’t here, do you hear me?’
‘Go please, it’s only making things worse,’ said Varinka.
‘Get inside the house and go to bed.’
‘Go or I will kill you!’ shouted the old bear.
‘If he hurts you Varinka, if he hurts you…’
He moved to hit me again, I tried to dodge but this time he was too quick for me and I was splattered over the road.
‘Dad!’ screamed Varinka.
‘Inside,’ shouted the old bear.
He moved to kick me but I scurried away.
‘I’ll be back,’ I shouted.
‘I will be waiting,’ the old bear shouted back.
It was the early hours of the morning when I eventually got home. Mum, she is a good old sort really, was waiting up. Should I describe our house, it would explain a lot about Mum. The house was built in the Adelaide Hills and Mum found it one day when she and Dad, Dad is history, he fell in love and ran off with another woman years ago, anyway, Mum and Dad were driving in the Adelaide Hills and they spotted this Swiss chalet lookalike for sale, it was a bit quirky to say the least, the roof was designed to shed snow, with forty degree summer heatwaves we don’t get much snow in Adelaide. It has balconies with tulips cut into the timber railings, the roof overhangs the building and has sculptured wooden beams sticking out under the eaves, the windows have wooden shutters, also with tulips cut into them, it’s roofed with terracotta tiles, the outside walls are a creamy white and the woodwork, and there’s plenty of woodwork on show, is an orangey mission brown. So you get the idea, a chocolate box Swiss skiing lodge. Mum saw the house and had to have it.
The problem with the Swiss theme was that it started and ended with the overall design of the building, inside the house was crammed full of heavy, ornate, oversized, old fashioned, burnt chocolate, lavishly lacquered, mock teak furniture from Indonesia, it’s a bit of a weird combination but there you go, Mum loves it. The dining room chairs are ornate carved wooden mock teak affairs with large gargoyle flowers on the upholstery, besides being uncomfortable they are big and ungainly and oppressive, as is all the furniture. In my bedroom, which is crammed with Indonesian mock teak, I even have an ornate girl’s dressing table with a large mirror set in an intricately carved wooden frame. I used to sing to myself, Got to get out of this place if it’s the last thing I ever do. I complained about the girl’s vanity thing but Mum said, It suits the room.
There is one other strange thing about Mum, she has great swaths of curly shoulder length hair which is sometimes jet black, sometimes blonde and occasionally has shockingly bright red streaks running through it. She is also a fastidious eater who has weird ideas about food. But that’s enough about mum.
I slammed the door to vent my anger at having tried to race off Varinka and failed.
‘Coffee?’ she said.
‘Yeah, be good.’
‘You look like something the dog dragged in, you’ll have to smarten yourself up if you want to be a solicitor.’
I haven’t mentioned this bit yet but I am a student in the law school at the University of Adelaide. I did so well at my exams in my last year at school that I was offered a place in law. I had second thoughts about entering law but Mum, who wants me to make something of myself, encouraged me, by encouraged I mean that she practically demanded I accept the offer. I turned up at the first lecture all enthused and came out of it totally burnt out. I never read a book about law and never went to any more lectures but I felt instinctively that I could still pass my exams. I failed miserably, I hadn’t told Mum about that.
‘I was out with Varinka,’ I said.
‘You’re too young to be going out with girls, there’s plenty of time for that sort of thing when you graduate.’
‘I like her.’
‘She’ll distract you from your studies.’
‘Mum I can’t just study all the time!’
‘You have to apply yourself and then when you graduate top of the class you can have your pick of some nice girls with a bit of class.’
‘I don’t want my pick of some girls with a bit of class.’
‘Well what do Varinka’s parents say about the two of you courting.’
‘We are not courting and the old bear caught us kissing.’
‘He wouldn’t have been well pleased.’
‘The shit hit the fan.’
‘Don’t talk like that, you’re in law school.’
‘He was yelling and screaming.’
‘As was his perfect right.’
‘We were only having a bit of fun.’
‘Well I can’t say I’m not glad, you’re at university, you’ve got your studies, I don’t really think Varinka is in our class.’
‘Everyone in Australia is equal, I don’t believe in class.’
‘It doesn’t really matter what you believe or don’t believe, if you want to get on in this world you need a good education, you need to mix with good people and you need to marry the right sort of girl. You’ll find that it’s one thing believing in this or believing in that when you’re young but when you grow up its knowing the right people and having the right qualifications that matters.’
‘Well I don’t want any part of your snobby society or your snobby friends. That Mrs Crabtree with her bridge parties, she’s just a stuck up old busy body.’
‘You can talk like that when you’re young but…’
‘I’m not young.’
‘When you get older.’
‘I’m never going to get old like your lot.’
‘We all think like that but the facts are…’
‘Let’s drop it, I don’t want to argue about it.’
‘More coffee?’ said Mum.
She passed me a cup of lukewarm coffee.
‘How’s your law course coming along? I never had your opportunities when I was young, it was finish school and get out and get a job, you should thank your lucky stars.’
‘I’m fed up with uni,’ I said in a sudden outburst.
‘Axel for goodness sake, this is the best chance you’re ever going to get, you don’t know you were born.’
‘It’s so superficial, it’s all out of books, I want to learn about the real world, I want to travel.’
‘And what does Varinka say about that?’
‘She could come with me, we’d travel together and see the world.’
‘I don’t think her father would appreciate your suggestion.’
‘Probably not but we could go together anyway, she’ll be old enough to tell the old bear to get lost soon.’
‘You’re selling yourself short because of a silly infatuation.’
‘It’s not silly and it’s not an infatuation.’
‘Her father wouldn’t let her go.’
‘Well we could elope, get married somewhere cool, on the beach or up on a mountain.’
‘I’ve never heard such silly ideas. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and Varinka, well she’s the only girl you’ve ever been out with, there are plenty of other girls, lots more fish in the sea.’
‘I don’t want a fish I want Varinka.’
‘Then you had better stay here study, succeed, get a good job and then you can court her properly.’
‘We’ve been through all that and anyway I want to see the world.’
‘What would you do for money?’
‘Rob a bank.’
‘Talk sense Axel.’
‘I could work.’
‘You work? You’ve never done a day’s work in your life.’
‘Exactly, I need to learn about life, I can’t do that here, I feel trapped, I want to drop out of uni and go, I want to experience the University of Life.’
‘You do talk a lot of rubbish sometimes.’
‘It’s what I want to do.’
‘Australia’s the best country in the world, everyone says so, why do you want to leave?’
‘I feel stifled here, I can’t breathe.’
‘Breathe, you can’t breathe? You’ve got everything you want, I provide everything for you, you want for nothing.’
‘That’s just it, I want to get out there and do things for myself.’
‘Look you old silly,’ said Mum in one of her conciliatory tones, ‘if you’re really serious about this girl then charging off into the never never isn’t going to win her is it? Don’t be so irrational, go to bed, sleep on it and in the morning you’ll see reason.’
‘You don’t want me to go do you?’
‘You’re all I’ve got. Your father…you’re my whole life Axel.’
‘Mum I’ll always…’
‘Don’t expect there to be a bed for you here when you get back. You’re turning out to be just like your father.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘I’m going to bed, sleep on it and think about what I said.’
The next day I got up after not really sleeping on it but thinking about it for most of the night. In the post I received a letter from Varinka,
I have no feelings for you. I am sorry that I led you on. I have never loved you. Any friendship we had is finished. Please do not try to contact me again. I do not need a reply to this letter thank you.
Mum had never travelled but she gave me a lot of advice on what to take with me and she spent quite a bit of money kitting me out. I was the proud owner of a brand new rucksack and a smaller, actually only slightly smaller, day pack. I was now ready to become a backpacker but not just any old backpacker, my backpack was better than the usual as Mum wanted to make sure that it would set me apart as a backpacker with class and style. I went along with this image of me as a middle class suburbanite backpacker as I didn’t want to hurt mum’s feelings but the truth is I was an unemployed bum, just like all the rest of the backpackers, and after a week on the road my backpack would be dirty and shop soiled just like everybody else’s.
In first went the towels, Mum had selected two very fleecy bath towels for me, I put them in and the pack was half full already. Mum told me they should be packed down tighter so I pushed harder and made more room. Mum then gave me a hand towel, again a lovely fleecy thing, about the size of a bath towel, next was a very expensive sleeping bag made from the best eiderdown, luckily that did pack down really well but then came the tent, it was a brilliant tent, had two rooms, a second roof, a window and a porch, it was a mansion of a tent, it packed away well but now my backpack was full.
‘I don’t need all this.’ I said.
‘Of course you do.’
‘The tent fills up the backpack.’
‘You’ve got your day pack yet and you have to take the tent, it has a good sized window, a separate room for storing your things, two zipped entrances, air ducts, a detachable ground sheet, an inbuilt padded insulated floor…’
‘You sound like a real estate agent selling a house,’ I said.
‘If you are determined to camp you want to have the best tent in the camp site, you want to have tone and this one has connections for a small stove, air conditioning and the internet.’
‘It’s just a bit heavy, I’m trying to get away from things.’
‘Nonsense, you can get everything you need to fit in your pack nowadays.’
‘I think I’ll sit this one out,’ I said.
She passed me three pairs of trousers, one for best, one for casual and one for rough I pushed them down into my day pack.
‘It’s like the black hole of Calcutta,’ I said.
‘You’ll be grateful for all this,’ she said.
‘But I’ve got to carry it all.’
‘It will pack down, we want you looking your best, after all we don’t want you looking like those dirty smelly backpackers.’
‘I’m going to be a dirty smelly backpacker.’
‘Yes dear,’ she said.
Six polo shirts and two dress shirts followed, quite a handful of underwear, a new pair of socks for everyday of the week and a spare pair for Sundays.
‘Plenty of underwear here,’ I said.
I held up about two dozen pairs of underdaks.
‘You won’t be able to get to a laundromat every day,’ she said.
‘I only need three pairs, I can wash a pair every night.’
‘Don’t be silly, you don’t want to wash underwear, you never want to wash anything, you can pay someone to do it for you.’
‘If you think so.’
Mum now handed me two bars of soap, a new dispenser of shampoo with a spare dispenser of shampoo, hair conditioner, razors, dental floss, a packet of six toothbrushes, a compass, various maps including the London underground, the way up Mt Everest, a holiday maker’s map of a place called South End on Sea, a walking tour map of Hadrian’s Wall, a map of Oxford, Cambridge and Stratford on Avon, New York, Tokyo and the Falkland Islands. I said nothing I just kept packing. Next came Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, at the presentation of that giant tome I baulked.
‘I’ve never been able to read this book,’ I said.
‘It will keep you occupied.’
‘I’ve never got past the first page.’
‘It’ll keep your mind off all the fast women.’
‘It’s the slow women I’m on the lookout for.’
‘Keep your mind off the slow women then.’
‘Truth is I’m off women.’
‘Why don’t you change your mind and stay?’ Mum said as a casual aside.
‘No, I can’t…if I stay here studying law… all I can say is I’ll get suicidal.’
‘You could get therapy.’
‘I don’t want therapy just a bit of room to move and a bit of fresh air.’
‘You’re all I’ve got.’
‘You have to let me go sometime.’
‘I know, I know, cut the apron strings but…I love you Axel.’
‘Please Mum, don’t get soppy.’
Mum pulled a face but then handed me two pairs of designer shorts, a Ralph Lauren jacket, a raincoat and a fold up umbrella, I pushed them into my day pack which was by this time full to overflowing, I said nothing. A packet of tea bags and five cans of baked beans went in but when I was handed a can of sauerkraut I put my foot down.
‘No sauerkraut,’ I said.
‘You’ll need it,’ said Mum.
Mum has this weird idea that your diet can consist of pretty much anything if you regularly eat sauerkraut. She thinks it’s a wonder food.
I was now just gathering things with no idea of where to put them. I took hold of a large tube of condensed milk, a plate, a bowl, a mug and a small ex-army cooker that uses small squares of fuel that you light with a match.
‘That’s to make tea while you’re waiting for trains at railway stations,’ she said.
She handed me a pack of about one thousand matches, a cigarette lighter, I don’t smoke, a set of cutlery knife fork and spoon that all fold up together, a Swiss army knife, a guide book to London, one to Moscow and another to New York, a power point adapter, a money belt, a special pillow for aeroplanes, emergency rations in the form of powdered egg, dried spinach and beef jerky along with muesli for breakfast and powdered milk. I stopped packing! I had most of this stuff in my hands and Mum still had a torch, a bottle opener and a can opener. I dumped the lot on the sofa.
‘This is ridiculous, both packs are full, I’m going to look like a real idiot,’ I said.
‘You need all this, what if…’
‘I’m not interested in stuff,’ I said.
I gathered up the straps on my backpack, it took a lot of pushing and shoving, then I wedged the thing up on a chair and crouched down and crawled into the straps. Mum helped me put the day pack on my front and I slowly straightened my knees, stood up, balanced very precariously for less than a minute and then fell over backwards.
‘We forgot your shoes,’ said Mum.
She rushed from the room and began piling up footwear.
When I recovered my dignity I crawled out of the thing, stood up, opened the straps of the backpack, lifted it, turned it upside down and tipped everything out. I did the same to the day pack and then I repacked only the day pack with the few important things I would need.
‘Why are you taking sardines?’
‘I like sardines, they are my emergency rations.’
‘Well okay but don’t forget this.’
She handed me a can of sauerkraut, I smiled, took it and put it on the heap of stuff on the sofa. I phoned for a taxi and we stood out in the driveway waiting as tears ran down mum’s cheeks.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘It’s alright, I’ve got a piece of grit in my eye that’s all,’ Mum said. ‘What shall I do with your stuff that’s left?’
‘Give it to the op shop.’
The taxi arrived and Mum tried to kiss me but I ducked and picked up my pack. I know she would have liked me to say I love you Mum but the taxi driver was watching us.
‘I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for.’
‘I just hope to find out what it is I’m trying to find out.’
More tears filled mum’s eyes, the taxi driver turned and winked at me and then whisked me away to the bus station. The last thing Mum did was hand me a packet which was full of money and folded around a can of sauerkraut. I felt liberated and adventurous, today is the beginning of the rest of my life, I thought.
I travelled up the red centre of Australia to Darwin where I boarded a plane that my ticket told me was going to Thailand, well actually Bangkok, the capital of the said country. The plane took off and landed, as most planes do, and I found myself in a big plush airport, so far so good. I had to catch a bus into Bangkok and search around for an hotel, that’s when things started to go belly up, but first I sent a postcard to Varinka and told her I would send a letter when I had more time to write and that I loved her more and more every day.
Bangkok is a dirty and dangerous city, most cities probably are but Bangkok seemed to have a premium on dirt and danger. From the airport I went into the centre by bus, the bus looked pretty inoffensive and the people on the bus looked like normal inoffensive commuters going about their daily business but I was protective of my pack all the same, it was slung over my shoulder and held close but that didn’t stop it being slashed by a pick pocket wielding a razor blade. I was lucky, I had taken anything of value out of the pack before it was slashed open. It happened in broad daylight as I stood on a crowded bus, the pack was under my arm when it was cut, the bandit was so gentle with his blade that I didn’t even know it was happening.
After my pack had been slashed I spotted the offender and was going to shout and make a fuss and get him arrested but I was a stranger in a strange land so I thought better of it, instead I got off the bus and hailed an auto rickshaw to take me to my hotel, the auto rickshaw driver turned around, smiled and showed me a photo album of naked girls.
‘You want?’ he said.
I gasped, this sort of thing never happened to me in Adelaide.
‘No thanks,’ I said.
I got to the hotel, climbed out of the back of the rickshaw and stood for a few moments to get my balance, it had been a ride like no other and had felt more like charging around on the big dipper at a fun park than a taxi ride. I had been bounced around like a mad march hare and I was glad to get out of the thing alive. I checked in, got a key to a room several floors up and walked over to the lift. I got in the lift, as you do, and the attendant pulled out a photograph album of naked girls.
‘You want,’ he said.
I didn’t gasp quite so much.
‘No thanks,’ I said.
The hotel was an old multi storey job built years before to supply rest and relaxation, R&R, for American soldiers, GI’s, in the Vietnam war. It gave them a break from killing people. No maintenance had been carried out since the GI’s had left and the place was falling apart. I pushed the door open and the handle came off in my hand, the bathroom had blue plastic taps and shower fittings, I turned on the shower and the tap came off in my hand, I tried to fix it as water poured out and I got drenched, what the hell my clothes needed washing anyway.
After my introduction to the girls of Bangkok, by postcard album, I was a little apprehensive and if any girls approached me I assumed that they were hookers and kept well clear. There followed a serious conversation with myself where I decided not to be such an idiot and that I shouldn’t tar every Thai girl with the same brush, so to speak. There was a royal wedding that day, I’m a republican and everywhere I went it was royal wedding this and royal wedding that, so I went off to look at wats. What’s a wat you may ask. A wat is a tall roundish squat Buddhist temple rather like an inverted ice cream cone. I walked along a long, wide and very much deserted road, to the side was the royal palace where the wedding was happening, the police had the traffic blocked off and for once in Bangkok I was away from the teeming crowds of humanity and the street was deserted.
Deserted that is apart from one girl, she came up to me.
‘Excuse please, I am trying to watch the wedding and I don’t know where to go and they pushed me away,’ she said.
She put her hand on my arm.
‘No thanks,’ I said.
I pushed her hand away.
‘I come from the country and I come to Bangkok to see the wedding and I see nothing,’ she said.
‘Sorry,’ I said.
I kicked myself for thinking the worst of her, she did have too much lipstick on but that wasn’t a hanging offence and she looked like a nice girl.
‘You want see wedding?’ she said.
‘No I’m going to see a wat,’ I said.
‘You want to see wat? I know good wat, I take you,’ she said.
She flagged down a taxi and spoke to the driver in Thai then she pulled me in and we were off.
‘I take you to wat, I know good wat,’ she said.
I sat in the taxi going through the outer suburbs of Bangkok with no idea where I was. We entered a rather ordinary courtyard of a block of flats and stopped. The building was concrete and painted a pale dirty yellowy cream, with no architectural merit as they say, and what’s more there wasn’t a wat for miles. The girl got out of the taxi and pulled me out after her and took me to a room which opened onto the courtyard, she opened the door and pushed me in. The room was of even less architectural merit, it was painted the same dirty yellowy cream and the furniture was big heavy and nondescript. She pulled me onto a bed, lost her skirt and then started kissing me. She had a kiss like an old grizzly bear, not that I have actually kissed any grizzly bears, but her tongue was dry and big and felt like old sandpaper. I certainly wasn’t feeling anything, not passion, not even lust, and my male equipment did a runner.
But what can I say? We men are our own worst enemies, instead of getting up and leaving I stayed. She ripped off my clothes and did the same with the rest of hers, she didn’t seem over interested in sex just kissing with that great big tongue of hers.
‘You want bath?’ she said.
She jumped up and began running a bath in the attached ensuite.
Things seemed to be out of my control. She took me into the ensuite and pushed me into the bath, the water wasn’t particularly hot, more lukewarm, and it’s not much of a turn on to be inundated in a lukewarm bath. To be totally truthful I didn’t want to be there and I wasn’t sure exactly how I had managed to get into that situation. I was naked in a lukewarm bath in an architecturally uninspiring concrete block with a naked woman who was equally uninspiring. The bath, the naked bodies, the soap she was messing about with, I wanted none of it. Then my brain, at long last, geared up into action and I had a brain wave, as they say. The door to the ensuite was closed, my passport, money, traveller’s cheques and airline ticket were in the other room. I immediately reacted. I jumped up splashing lukewarm water everywhere, she tried to hold me down, she was strong but I was determined.
‘What is it, what is it?’ she shouted.
‘Robbers, you think robbers?’ she yelled.
I rushed for the door, she tried to hold me back.
‘You think robbers?’
I broke free and opened the door just as someone made a mad dash out of the room.
I had acted in the nick of time. My money lay scattered on the floor along with my credit cards, passport and airline ticket. I gathered up my clothes and my valuables. The woman followed me into the room still shouting.
‘Robbers, you think robbers?’
She blocked my exit so I pushed past her.
‘I want money!’
I took five dollars, threw it on the floor and walked out stark naked holding my possessions to cover my dignity.
From Bangkok I flew to India, to Mumbai, but the intense poverty in Mumbai depressed me and that’s all I want to say about that, so I left. I took an epic journey from Mumbai to Madras by train and from Madras to Mysore by bus. Bus journeys in India are interesting to say the least. The bus rattled and shook and bounced for hour after hour, we came close to colliding with cows, cars, people, rickshaws, bicycles, haystacks, holy men lying on the road, fish and rice drying, and God knows what else, the roads aren’t just used as a transport link but as a vital part of local infrastructure. I don’t think the old bus had any suspension, I tried sitting in the back and bounced like a yoyo, the only semi stable place was near the front but that was pretty scary watching the whole world emerge right in front of my eyes. No sleep was to be had on that trip.
I got a job! I wrote and told Varinka. I got a job in an Indian movie called Mard, it means strongman. I was to be an Englishman sitting in a crowd watching an Indian being tortured, a bit gruesome, horses were attached to his arms and legs and then encouraged to tear him apart, only he was so strong that he was able to rein them in. The movie was set in the British Raj and the Indian strongman was a freedom fighter that the British had captured. The film was shot in a palace just outside Mysore, I wore a black suit and had sideburns and a moustache, the sun bore down mercilessly and I got quite hot, actually I got very hot. The story was about a tonga wallah, a taxi driver, the strongman who the British torture, and his mother who is run over by a car driven by the viceroy’s daughter. The tonga wallah falls in love with the said viceroy’s daughter and she saves his life when he is being tortured to death. Good story hey?
For most of the day we sat around doing nothing in the pouring sun and it got hotter and hotter. The organisation structure was utter chaos. The first day the actors, which included me, arrived at 7.30am for an early shoot, at 11.30 as nothing had happened we all dispersed, then we were rounded up again, I had my whiskers reglued, and we all sat on the palace balcony in the boiling sunshine once more. Everyone was ready to be filmed, the hours dragged by and then suddenly the shoot was postponed. The local Indian population was very curious and flocked to see what was going on. Crowd control was being taken care of by the local police, they ignored the hordes of onlookers who knocked down the fences erected to keep them out, they didn’t do it on purpose, it was just the pressure of hundreds and thousands of eager onlookers that toppled the fences. The police marched up and down parading themselves in strict time, ignoring the crowds and then suddenly the word was given and they attacked wielding batons and slashing and smashing at the onlookers, it was mayhem.
I sat in the palace grounds having my whiskers reglued when I was overrun by the mob and then battered by a charging policeman. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in an Indian hospital. The hospital was basic but clean and a nice doctor wrapped bandages around my head.
I found myself in paradise. I fled Mysore and the movie industry and escaped to Kovalum beach on the south west tip of India where, as I said, it was paradise. The sun was beautiful after the blistering heat of Mysore, the sea was beautiful, the beach was beautiful. Palm trees, fishing boats made of logs with wonderful Arabic looking sails, wonderful Indian curries and all the local fruit, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, papaya, jack fruit, pineapples and yam rods, all was bliss. I had a room right on the beach with my own bathroom, the view was magic, a bit different from the overcrowded frenetic Indian cities and their masses of impoverished people. But the locals here worked really hard. Stones for the road and railway were smashed up by hand using an army of old and young women sitting beside the road. I wandered through groves of pineapples, coconuts, bananas and marijuana plants and watched women relaying baskets of silt from the river mouth, up the mountainside, carried on their heads. I was in paradise but the poor old locals weren’t and I didn’t like it so when my head didn’t hurt so bad I upped and left travelling north.
I decided on a week in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, before returning to India. It was full of European tourists with their pockets lined with gold but the local people were poor, poorer even than in India. In India the staple diet was rice with a bit of curry to garnish it, in Nepal the local diet consisted of rice with the slightest ghost of a curry to garnish it. As I wandered around Kathmandu I was offered good ganga and brown sugar by five year old children, somehow this didn’t seem the place for me either so I left there too. On the bus I wrote three postcards one from Kovalum Beach, it showed the beach at sunset, one from the Taj Mahal, it showed the Taj at sunset, and one from Kathmandu and, you guessed it, Kathmandu had a sunset. I posted them all to Varinka. It’s hard to be in love when thousands of miles split you apart but I was doing my best. Hopefully she was too.
I took a bus to the Indian border, the road was very mountainous and very rough and it took all day to get there. As we slowed to go around bends on the mountain road a funny thing kept happening, the bus would gear down and the ticket collector jumped out of the bus and threw rocks at it. I couldn’t understand what was going on, we went around many sharp corners as we speed downhill and the ticket collector did the same each time. Then I cottoned on, the bus had no brakes and the ticket collector was throwing rocks under the wheels to help slow us down!
In spite of the bus’s complete absence of brakes I got to the border alive. On the bus was an English guy, me, myself and I, and an American girl. Going through borders can be tricky. We got through the Nepalese border check okay and then came to the Indian border check. There were two Indian officials at the border, one tall and thin one short and fat, we showed them our passports and suddenly there was a problem:
‘We are very sorry,’ said the thin Indian.
‘We cannot let you cross into India as you have no visa,’ said the fat Indian.
‘We don’t need a visa,’ said the American girl.
‘We are very sorry, before no need for visa,’ said the thin Indian.
‘Visa necessary now,’ said the fat Indian.
‘No, you have got it wrong, I entered India from England and I didn’t need a visa,’ said the English boy, his name was Kit.
‘And I didn’t need a visa to get into India,’ said the American girl.
‘And you don’t need a visa to get into India if you are Australian,’ I said.
‘So very sorry,’ said the thin Indian.
‘The law it is changed because of the terrorists, you need a visa,’ said the fat Indian.
‘Well you’ve got your English wrong, we’re not terrorists, we are tourists,’ said the American girl.
‘So very sorry.’
‘We do not need a visa,’ she insisted.
‘So very sorry.’
‘You must go back to Kathmandu and apply for visa.’
‘You’ve gotta be kidding, it would take a full day on the bus there and then a full day on a bus back,’ said the American girl.
‘So very sorry how can we help you?’
‘This is so much crap,’ she said.
‘They have to let us through,’ said Kit in bewilderment, ‘I’ve got a plane to catch to Turkey.’
‘You must first have visa,’ said the fat Indian.
‘So very sorry how can we help you?’
‘You can’t stop us going through,’ said the American girl.
‘This is not my fault,’ said the thin Indian.
‘Then cut the crap and let us through!’
‘You must have visa,’ said the fat Indian.
‘So very sorry, how can we help you?’ said the thin Indian.
‘What exactly do you mean?’ I said to the thin Indian.
I was having a light bulb moment.
‘So very sorry, we want to help you, how can we help?’
‘You want money?’ I said.
‘You have American money, the bus back to Kathmandu costs much money, we can help you,’ said the fat Indian.
‘Hey guys,’ I said to Kit and the American girl, ‘come over here.’
I led them to a corner of the room.
‘What’s all this crap?’ said the American girl.
‘Have you got any American dollars? They want us to bribe them to let us through.’
‘Crap, I’m not giving them my money,’ said the American girl.
‘I’ve only got Indian money,’ said Kit.
‘How much have you got?’ I said, ‘and how much can you spare?’
‘Just give me what you can spare.’
‘I’m not giving those guys any of my money,’ said the American girl.
‘If we don’t give them money they won’t let us through then we have to travel all the way back to Kathmandu, stay in a hotel, get a visa and travel all the way back here.’
‘This is crap.’
‘We need money, Kit’s not rich but he’s put something in the pot.’
‘Well I’m not putting one red cent into any pot to bribe those corrupt bastards,’ said the American girl.
I turned to the Indians.
‘We have a few American dollars.’
‘I am very sorry.’
‘Ten dollars American for me and ten dollars American for the Englishman,’ I said.
‘Sorry, excuse me,’ said Kit in a panic, ‘but I haven’t got that much.’
‘Don’t worry I’ll make up the difference.’
‘That’s awfully good of you, thanks.’
‘So very sorry but the girl must pay.’
‘She won’t pay.’
‘Cut the crap and let us through!’ she screamed.
‘This is not my fault,’ said the thin Indian.
‘Indian money, I will give you Indian money to let the girl through,’ I said.
‘You will not,’ said the girl.
‘So very sorry but must be American dollars.’
‘Thirty dollars American and absolutely no more ,’ I said.
‘So very sorry, if you give me thirty dollars American I can be of great assistance for you.’
‘Moment,’ I said.
I went outside, removed from a secret location about my person thirty dollars American and returned to the room.
‘Thirty dollars,’ I said holding up the money.
‘Very sorry, very sorry,’ said the thin Indian.
The fat Indian made a grab for the money, I evaded him.
‘Stamp in the passport, then you get the money,’ I said.
‘Very sorry, very sorry, stamp yes.’
With great sighs of relief we walked through the border.
‘Thanks so much for helping me out,’ said Kit. He turned to the American girl, ‘You should at least thank Axel for getting us through.’
‘The hell I will, those guys are thieves.’
‘And if Axel hadn’t paid you would still be there arguing with them.’
‘That’s fine by me.’
‘You selfish, self-centred little bitch,’ said Kit.
‘It’s okay,’ I said to him. ‘Call me old fashioned but I wouldn’t have left our American cousin there, I couldn’t have left a girl alone in that situation, even one with an ego the size of Sydney Harbour.’
‘You chauvinistic bastard, I can take care of myself.’
‘I’m sure you can,’ I said. ‘What’s your name anyway?’
‘Who wants to know?’
‘You come from Texas?’
‘No, I come from Vermont.’
‘But your name’s Texas?’
‘Kiss my ass didn’t I just say that?’
‘Well how de do Texas.’
‘Cut the crap will you.’
‘How did you get to be called Texas?’
‘Long story, ask me something new.’
‘We’ve got all day.’
‘Okay, my dad’s from Texas, we moved to Vermont when I was a baby, satisfied?’
‘That’s not a long story.’
‘It’s all the information you’re gonna get out of me buddy.’
From the border station we three not so Musketeers walked into the local town, there were no buses leaving that day so we had a curry in a local chai shop. It wasn’t much, a pile of rice, a boiled egg and a small portion of curried lentils on the side, still we were hungry and it filled a gap.
‘Hardly gourmet cuisine,’ said Texas.
‘It’s all the locals can afford and all I can afford come to think of it,’ said Kit.
‘Well at least we won’t go to bed hungry,’ I said.
‘I don’t like that you bribed those border guards,’ said Texas.
‘You’re very welcome to go all the way back to Kathmandu if your conscience is a problem,’ I said.
‘I hate corruption.’
‘Report them to the American embassy.’
‘If you pander to the corrupt you’re no better than they are.’
‘Let’s just drop it,’ I said, ‘I want to find an hotel.’
‘I hate the way you people say an hotel.’
‘I am so sorry,’ I said sarcastically.
‘Come on, come on you two, let’s go and find somewhere to rest our weary bones,’ said Kit.
We wandered down the road, it was a dirt track, a muddy dirt track and a bunch of mangy dogs followed us.
‘I wish we had some food for them,’ said Texas. ‘Oh I think I have something in my pack.’
She knelt down to get out a few morsels of food she had been carrying.
‘Don’t go near them they may have rabies,’ I said.
‘Get a life,’ she said.
I ignored that comment. It was starting to rain so we quickly walked over to a two storey wooden building, it was a basic, very basic hotel.
‘We would like three beds in a dormitory room,’ I said.
‘No dormitory only twin room and single.’
‘Kit, how about we share the twin room, go fifty fifty?’ I said.
‘That would be great.’
‘The hell it would, the single room is almost as expensive as the twin which leaves me to pay more because I’m a woman.’
Three guesses who made that statement.
‘Them’s the breaks,’ I said.
‘I’ll share the twin.’
‘Look, why don’t we book the single room and the twin and split the cost exactly three ways?’ said Kit.
‘No way,’ said Texas, ‘that would leave me to top up the cost of him being in the single.’
She pointed her finger accusingly at me.
‘I’m in the single am I?’
‘Well I’m not sharing a room with you.’
‘Fine, I’ll go in the single and I’ll pay the full amount,’ I said. ‘I was only trying to make things simple for you.’
‘Is that okay with you Kit?’
‘Being alone with a beautiful woman?
‘And you can take that grin off your face,’ said Texas now pointing her finger at Kit.
‘Sorry,’ said Kit.
‘You don’t let the moths out of your wallet,’ I said to Texas.
‘I have to watch my finances.’
‘So do I.’
‘You’ve got money I saw those American greenbacks.’
‘Well I’m not so flush now, I just paid for you to get through the border.’
‘Your choice buddy.’
‘I am so grateful for your gratitude,’ I said.
‘You irritate me, do you know that?’
‘Well, I don’t love you either.’
‘You bribed that border guard to let me through and now you’re playing hurt and nobble because I don’t thank you,’ said Texas. ‘It’s your money and you spent it, leave me alone to do what I like with mine.’
‘Go for it.’
‘If there was another hotel I wouldn’t dream of staying in the same one as you.’
‘Would you prefer it if I slept outside in the rain,’ I said.
‘Yes actually I would.’
‘I might find a dog I could bribe to let me sleep in his kennel.’
‘You’d do that, you’re crap do you know, you would turn a dog out of his kennel into the rain so that you, Mr Noble, could stay dry.’
‘Come on you two, stop the World War Three act, let’s go and have a shower and then go for a walk before it gets too dark,’ said Kit.
We went for a walk, there was nothing to see but we found a bar. Kit insisted on having a drink and Texas was even interested in a bourbon and coke if someone else was buying. So I bought her one, or two, or three. We all got slightly pissed and made our way back to the hotel singing The Yellow Rose of Texas. My room was pretty basic, a window that didn’t open, a wooden chair that wobbled, a metal framed bed that squeaked and a thin and lumpy mattress. I found my sheet and sleeping bag, made up the bed and slipped inside it. My head hit the pillow and I fell asleep, it had been a long day.
It seemed like no time at all when I suddenly woke up, I thought I had heard my door open.
‘What?’ I said.
A warm body pushed in beside me.
‘And I guess I owe you.’
‘You guess you owe me?’
‘Is this some kinda strange way you Australians talk?’
‘No, I’m just wondering why you are here.’
‘Do you want me to go?’
‘No, no stay.’
‘Hug me,’ she said.
I hugged her.
‘I thought you didn’t like me?’ I said.
I put my face next to hers and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
She kissed me on the lips.
‘Is this the moment where we confess our love for each other?’ I said.
‘We both know that’s not true.’
‘…am I doing here?’
‘Reimbursing you for monies spent.’
‘Is that true?’
‘No, you’re a kinda cute kid.’
‘I am not a kid.’
‘So you do like me then?’
‘Don’t let it go to your head, it’s big enough already.’
‘Don’t be sorry, it’s the only thing you’ve got going for you.’
‘A big head.’
‘Can I kiss you?’
‘If you have to ask don’t bother.’
I kissed her. We started caressing each other and rolling around on the thin lumpy bed and eventually I was in a position to…well make contact. At that very moment she yawned, she yawned one of those great big yawns that make everybody sleepy and her head rolled onto the pillow. She was asleep.
‘Are you asleep?’ I said.
It would be a shame to miss a great opportunity if she was only dozing.
‘Huh?’ she said in a groggy voice.
Her head hit the pillow again and she slept.
I woke up in the morning, it was still dark, I looked at Texas but couldn’t see anything, I didn’t switch on the light I didn’t want to wake her. Slowly, very slowly, the dim light of dawn started to replace the despotism of night. I lay there for what seemed like hours looking into her face. In sleep she looked very gentle, her buffy brown hair was straight and it framed her face like a well-chosen picture frame. She had delicate pink lips and her head seemed longer and rounder than when she was awake. I know that longer and rounder are a contradiction but there you are. Her cheeks were a soft pink, her skin slightly tanned and fresh looking, her eyes, her eyes were closed, but her eyelids sparkled with a delicate blood pink tone. As I studied her she looked elegant and tall, she wasn’t a tall person so there is another contradiction for you. All in all she looked lovely, a joy to behold, I’d never known the joy of waking up next to a woman and it was pretty amazing. She sort of rocked her head from side to side and opened her mouth slightly, her dazzling white teeth against her pink lips looked beautiful, she smiled that beautiful smile of the innocent, or the asleep, which amounts to about the same thing.
‘What are you looking at?’ she said in a startled voice.
‘You,’ I said smiling.
‘Well you can wipe that grin off your face and get the hell out of my bed,’ she said
She sat up exposing a beautiful pair of ripe and tasty looking breasts, she pulled the sheet up with a jerk.
‘Actually this is my bed, you slipped into it in the middle of the night.’
‘You got me drunk.’
‘You got you drunk, I just supplied the cash.’
‘Now I know why you were trying to be so good to me, you just wanted to get me between the sheets.’
‘I didn’t force you to come into my room.’
‘You obviously didn’t send me away either. What happened?’
‘You fell asleep.’
‘As if that would stop you.’
‘Well actually it did.’
‘You Australians are weird. You’d better not tell anybody.’
‘Who am I going to tell and what would I tell them anyway?’
‘I don’t even like you,’ she said.
‘Mutual hatred can be the basis of a very happy relationship,’ I said.
‘I’m outta here.’
‘I thought we could get to know each other better,’ I said.
‘Well that was sort of the idea.’
‘Oh crap, where are my clothes?’
She got out of bed dragging the bed clothes with her, found her T-shirt, awkwardly put it on and threw the bed clothes back at me.
‘You men!’ she said. ‘I never, do you hear me, never want to see you again.’
She walked out.
We spent the evening in a tea shop drinking Turkish tea at 5¢ a glass, then we walked back to our hotel. Turkey was full of rough working men’s hotels called otels and we were staying in one of them, it was a bit of a dive but we had a small but clean room for just $1 a day and there was a toilet, it was a squat. The brilliant thing about the otels was that you met the local people. We had a long talk to one of the Turkish workers who was staying there, he had worked in Germany, and could speak the language, so we chatted away in bad English/German and not much better Turkish/German, it made for slow conversations. The Turks were very friendly and it was a cheap country to visit, a loaf of bread cost almost nothing, chocolate on the other hand was expensive and of very poor quality. We were very tired because the night before we had taken the bus from Istanbul to Izmir, it took twelve hours and we hardly slept a wink. That evening we walked up a street that led up the hill, Izmir is built on a hillside, and we found a factory where they were making the traditional Turkish sweet rings or doughnuts, a fried sweet dough covered in syrup. We sat on a wall to watch the reflection of the sun set over the sea and the workers from the doughnut factory handed us broken pieces of the doughnutty things to eat, it was heaven. Well, it was heaven at first, but by the time we left we didn’t want to see another sweet doughnut for a long time. Kit said he thought he was going to be sick. Surprise, surprise, after Texas left, Kit and I found we got on quite well together, in spite of his born with a silver spoon in his mouth toffee nosed accent. He was fun to be around and so when he asked me to join him on his trip to Turkey I decided to postpone my other plans, whatever they were.
From Izmir we bussed down to Ephesus, an old Roman town, which was one of the main reasons Kit had gone to Turkey. We stayed in a pension and walked all over the Roman ruins. The next day we climbed up an old crusader castle in Ayana even though it was very stormy and rainyfied with lots of thunder and lightning. We got drenched and were messing about and joking until an old church nearby was struck by lightning, that was pretty scary but we continued to climb up the old crusader castle anyway deciding we couldn’t get any wetter if we tried. We climbed up a stone stairway, hanging onto an iron railing so that we didn’t fall over in the wet and slippery conditions, when the iron railing was struck by lightning. The lightning sizzled through the railing as I hung onto it and I could have sworn it hit right next to me. Kit was behind me.
‘My God, you were struck by lightning, I saw the lightning hit you, are you okay?’ he said.
‘I’ll live,’ I said.
After that we both thought better of climbing further up the castle, it was just a bit dangerous, so we raced back to our pension through the pouring rain and drenching puddles, had hot showers and got into some dry clothes.
Dry clothes proved to be a problem. We were both travelling light and hadn’t done any washing since leaving India. Kit managed to find a fairly decent T-shirt and shorts, actually it was a Great Britain rowing team outfit, apparently he’d tried out for the team, the T-shirt was a stylised Union Jack and the tight blue shorts left nothing to the imagination. All I could find was a sarong I had picked up in Thailand. We went to the local Tavern anyway for something to eat and a beer and chatted to the locals again in bad German. A Turkish man came in dressed in traditional Turkish dress, he wore those very baggy black trousers, a lot like bloomers, a sort of black waistcoat, white shirt, old fashioned hat, a fez I think it was, and ankle boots with a heel, he looked a real traditional Turkish peasant. Most Turkish men we met wore jeans and checked shirts or, if they were well to do, suits, so the old Turk looked quite eccentric. The eccentrically dressed Turk came up to us and introduced himself.
‘Mustafa,’ he said pointing to his chest
‘Kit,’ said Kit pointing to his chest.
I did the same but I didn’t say Kit I said Axel.
Mustafa and I seemed to hit it off, we chatted away using German as the go between language, it didn’t really matter that we each had very little idea what the other was saying. After an hour or so I think I had learnt that Mustafa was a warehouse watchman and he was enthusiastic for the two of us to go and see his warehouse which at that point in time was full of tomatoes, or was it cucumbers?
To get in the warehouse we had to climb up a rickety old ladder made from the long thin branches of a tree. For me, in a sarong, it was particularly difficult. Kit went up first and then had to help haul me in. When we got inside Mustafa made us chairs out of old crates, gave us tomatoes to eat and poured us a large drink of raki, the local fire water. Mustafa poured me an extra large helping, we were proving to be great friends and he encouraged me to drink up, then he poured me a second drink, he told me we were friends and a party atmosphere descended on the warehouse with Mustafa putting his hand on my shoulder and singing a traditional Turkish song. Kit started making weird faces at me and I made, I don’t understand what you are trying to say, faces back at him.
‘I say Axel, this man is not all he appears to be,’ said Kit.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, keep your back against the wall.’
‘This is a Muslim country Muslims don’t allow that do they?’
‘Whether they do or not I think he fancies a bit of a kiss and a cuddle.’
‘Be careful, old Mustafa is looking longingly at your sarong and he will have it off if you aren’t careful.’
‘Nah!’ I said, ‘the old Turk’s not gay.’
‘Have it your own way,’
‘You pommy bastards are all homophobic, even if he is homosexual there’s nothing wrong with that, live and let live I say.’
‘Well I’m leaving.’
‘This is Turkey, that sort of thing doesn’t happen here.’
‘That sort of thing happens everywhere. Are you coming?’
‘On your head be it.’
Kit went over to the ladder and climbed out of the warehouse leaving me and my sarong to our own devices. Mustafa said something to me in German, smiled, poured me another drink and encouraged me to keep drinking, I smiled back at him. I was embarrassed by what Kit had said, what a paranoid homophobic. I wasn’t ready for what happened next. Mustafa put his hand on my back, swung me around and kissed me hard on the lips. It was horrible. He was old, unshaven, had bad teeth, bad breath and he was a man. I pushed him away, we both lost our balance and I ended up on the floor with Mustafa on top of me. I managed to get my mouth free of his but his hand began wandering up inside my sarong and he took a firm grip on my manly equipment. I gasped, summoned all my energy and with one supreme effort pushed him away.
I slid down the old rickety ladder with Mustafa not far behind me. I emerged from the warehouse hanging onto my sarong and made a run for it. Mustafa ran awkwardly after me in his traditional heeled Turkish boots, it was the heel of one of the boots that saved me, he tripped awkwardly and one of the heels broke. After that it was easy, I gathered my flowing sarong around me and ran. The Turk limped after me for a while but then gave up the chase.
Scandinavia wasn’t on my agenda either but when you are a foot loose and fancy free traveller you can end up anywhere, especially if you have met a tall, blonde, blue eyed beauty named Astrid. Kit and I had parted company in Turkey, he had to get back to England for some uni induction thing or other, but we had agreed to meet up again if we could. I had decided to head for Greece and had met Astrid in the old city of Mycenae. I had stayed in Mycenae for quite a time while exploring the old city, the Lion Gate and the honeycomb tomb. I stayed in a backpackers lodge and went down to the breakfast room one morning, after having a cold shower, the solar hot water system didn’t work, and a tall blonde girl was eating hard Greek bread, cherry jam and drinking coffee for breakfast.
‘Where are you coming from?’ she asked me.
‘I will one day be going to Australia.’
‘I do not understand.’
‘Which country are you from?’
‘I am from Sweden. Where do you travel?’
‘I’m going to Sparta to visit the old Byzantine city of Mystras,’ I said, ‘it’s described as a city without cars.’
‘It is sounding very nice, it would be a good thing to go to visit Mystras. Do you think that I can make a visit to Mystras with you?’ she said.
‘Sure, no worries.’
‘It is good to have someone, a man, to travel with here in Greece, then the Greek men they will not trouble me so much.’
‘That suits me fine, I’d be happy to have you along,’ I said.
Astrid and I travelled to Sparta, we camped out in tents and walked all over the old city of Mystras together, then we went back to Athens as she had a plane to catch. We stayed in the Athens youth hostel, in separate dorms, but as it was hot, even into the night, we slept on the roof. Just before I fell asleep Astrid came over and lay down beside me. She wiggled her body next to mine, she felt really good soft and voluptuous and I was thinking how much better she was to be around than an old Turk with bad breath. The evening could have ended perfectly if we hadn’t been so public, there were about fifty other backpackers out sleeping on the roof in the heat.
‘I was wanting to sleep with no man on my tour,’ she said
‘Is that right?’ I said.
‘But you make it hard for me, you are so, you have atmosphere.’
She pulled me to her and kissed me.
‘You make visit to Sweden?’
‘I didn’t plan to.’
‘Yes, I will make visit to Sweden.’
So there I was on midsummer’s eve in Stockholm and it was snowing. I went to Astrid’s parents’ apartment and rang the bell. A huge monstrosity of a door, especially built to keep the cold out, slowly swung open and there was Astrid, she grabbed my hand and dragged me through the door, along a corridor and into a very high ceilinged bedroom. The room was almost completely filled by a giant bed. Astrid pushed me onto the bed and started to take my clothes off. I was hoping for a couple of things. One, that she had changed her mind about sleeping with me, that part looked fairly positive, and Two, that her parents weren’t home. I was naked, Astrid was naked and we were cavorting on her giant, beautifully sprung bed when who should walk in but a giant of a long haired bearded Viking. I could visualise him with a horned helmet and a double headed axe, I gasped and pulled the sheets over me. I think I’m fairly tall for a bloke but he was taller, much taller.
‘Axel this is Nils. Nils this is Axel,’ said Astrid.
Nils blundered towards me and I dived for cover.
‘I am pleased to make your acquaintance,’ said Nils.
He had a deep bass voice and he tried to shake my hand but I took evasive action. If he wasn’t a Viking then he was a half man half beast of a Troll.
So there I was naked and Astrid was naked and we were in the same room with her Troll like boyfriend. I covered up my nakedness as best I could but I felt exposed. Nils moved towards me again and I jumped over to the other side of the bed. The doorbell rang, Astrid threw something over her nakedness, almost, and went to answer it.
‘I would like you to meet with Freja and Maja,’ she said, ‘my best friends in all the world.’
Two tall blonde blue eyed girls appeared.
‘Hello,’ I said.
They didn’t seem at all surprised that two of the people in the room were very, very lightly dressed.
‘This is Axel,’ said Astrid, ‘the Australian that I met in Greece.’
‘Halla,’ they said in chorus.
‘Jag pratar valdigt lite svenska,’ I said.
It was the only Swedish I knew and I had been practising all the way over in the plane, I think it meant: I don’t talk much Swedish.
‘They can speak English,’ said Astrid.
‘I am pleased to meet with you,’ said Freja.
‘You are from Australia?’ said Maja.
‘Yes Australia,’ I said.
‘Then he is mine.’
‘Nej, I want this one.’
‘Nej nej,’ said Freja.
Maja tried to grab hold of me.
‘He is mine.’
They pushed and shoved each other and weren’t looking too happy, I began to laugh quietly, this was like some kind of comedy farce but they seemed to be getting a bit serious.
‘Ladies,’ I said.
‘Nej,’ said Maja.
She grabbed my arm.
Freja said something in Swedish and pushed her away, Astrid stood between them and suddenly there was an all-out fight.
‘Hey girls, you don’t have to fight over me,’ I said.
No one was listening.
The confrontation wasn’t too physical, mostly it was verbal, Freja and Maja tore strips off each other in Swedish whilst Astrid tried to be the United Nations peace keeping force. Nils and I looked at each other and lifted our eyes in mutual consternation, I grabbed my clothes and we left them to it. We went around to his place and drank schnapps and talked about the pop group Abba, then we drank some more schnapps and talked about Bjorn Borg the Swedish tennis champion, then we drank even more Schnapps and talked about August Strindberg the famous Swedish playwright. I woke up the next day with a brilliant hangover. Nils piled his kitchen table full of food, in true Scandinavian fashion, and we ate one enormous breakfast. He wanted to know if I was going back to see Astrid but I thought that might not be a crash hot idea so I told him I had decided to go to England.
When I was a boy the British Tourism Commission ran a series of adverts on Australian television and in the adverts they sang an old song, Where Did You Get That Hat?
Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one just the same as that!
Where’er I go, they shout hello! Where did you get that hat?
The film showed photographs of London, the big red double decker buses, the famous black taxis, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, but mostly it featured hats. The hats were amazing. There was the busby of the Grenadier Guards, the British Bobbies’ policeman’s helmet, I think there were Chelsea Pensioners, the old soldiers with their funny hats, people boating on the Thames with straw boaters, ladies at Ascot horse races with weird and wonderful creations, pearly kings with cloth caps covered in sequins and lots more. It was because of that advert that I had always wanted to go to London and eventually, when I finally got there, I wandered around looking at hats.
I bought Mum an ice cream from a Mr Whippy van, they were all around London and you paid twice as much for an ice cream from Mr Whippy in London than anywhere else in England. Your typical ice cream from Mr Whippy consisted of a double cone of soft serve ice cream with a flourish of two flakes, flaky chocolate bars, sticking out of the ice cream, this was called a double ninety nine and was considered a special treat by the very young and the very old. We were somewhere near Buckingham Palace, where the Queen of England hangs out, and where they have a parade with red coated men in bearskin hats marching up and down in perfect time with each other, having nothing better to do, come rain or shine, snow blizzard or heat wave. This was where I purchased mum’s ninety nine which she sedately ate as if she was attending a high brow dinner party. Mum was in London as part of a whirlwind tour of Europe, fifteen countries in six days, or something like that, she had one free day away from the tour company and insisted on meeting up with me because it was my birthday.
My job of the moment was in a brand new posh London hotel, I was a breakfast waiter, and the place was massively overstaffed and under guested. Apparently management wanted to make an impression, as they were new to the market, so the food was lavish enough to feed a small refugee camp. There was heaps of it, it took half a day to get it out and place it around the breakfast room with style and flair. Much of the food didn’t meet with my approval, not the sort of thing I ate, there was always a great ham decorating one particular table and it was our job, the waiters, to carve off slices for any guest who wanted some, but it looked too pink and raw. There were bowls of oysters and others of prawns, there were acres of water melon, all sliced and ready to throw away at the end of breakfast, most of the food got thrown away at the end of breakfast. There was always too much and always out in the air, conspicuous consumption I think it’s called. I hated it. We waiters spent most of the morning fighting each other to reach the one or two customers who bothered to turn up for breakfast, it all seemed so futile and I was thoroughly sick of it. I was planning to track north and maybe get a job in a traditional English pub after I’d seen mum.
We had afternoon tea together at a posh hotel, the Dorchester, I booked the first possible time, which was 2pm, previous to that we met up outside Buckingham Palace and I bought Mum the double ninety nine. I didn’t have one as I was both too old and too young to be seen eating that sort of thing. We walked through Green Park and cut across to Hyde Park to get to the Dorchester. Mum was wearing a beautiful creamish cashmere jumper thing and looked her usual well dressed, snappy self, not bad for an old girl, even so I hung back slightly, I didn’t want people to think we were an item, it was embarrassing walking across London with an old lady in tow.
I’d chosen the Dorchester because no young people could afford it and so I wouldn’t be seen by anyone who knew me. Mum dragged her feet on the way, she was looking at all the sights whilst constantly trying to hug me, to my complete embarrassment, but eventually we got there.
The Dorchester was beautifully decorated in a typical English Laura Ashley over the top way. The room had so much decoration and each decoration was so minutely decorated that it made your eyes ache. The wallpaper was a patina of roses and a plethora of other flowers repeated ad infinitum until the mind boggled and wanted to explode. The tablecloths and curtains were much the same. We had English Afternoon Tea in a beautiful, but highly decorated Waterford teapot with matching china cups, saucers and tea plates. There were tidgy salmon and cucumber sandwiches, all with the crusts cut off, and a line-up of sweet sugary confectionaries, butterfly cakes, tiny chocolate éclairs, vanilla slices and cream puffs. Mum’s eyes lit up. I stuck to the tidgy sandwiches but mum, having advised me that she had already today eaten sauerkraut, made a pig of herself, in the nicest possible way, with the confectionary. Coming up for air at one stage she looked at me.
‘This must be costing you a fortune,’ she said, ‘are you sure you can afford it?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
Mum had wanted to pay but I insisted, it was her money anyway. Every now and again an envelope full of money would find me on my travels. I told her to stop sending cash in the post but she said it was quite safe as no one expects money to be sent through regular mail anymore so they no longer look for it.
‘I need to know how you are,’ she said. ‘You don’t write very often and I don’t think you are eating properly. What did you have for dinner last night?’
She was very properly drinking little sips of her Darjeeling tea and cutting her cakes into tiny pieces before devouring them, I had forgotten what a prim and proper eater and drinker Mum was.
‘I’m fine,’ I said, ‘and I had sardines on toast.’
‘Again? Axel you have to eat properly. So what have you been doing? Have you been to the National Gallery and St Pauls Cathedral?’
‘I didn’t want to travel to go on tours of cathedrals and museums.’
‘Oh but the culture, you must see a Shakespeare play and go to the opera.’
‘I’m not interested in Shakespeare, or the opera, but I did go to a nightclub in Soho with a few friends.’
‘You can’t be enjoying yourself, you need to stretch your mind.’
‘I’m having the time of my life thanks very much,’ I said.
‘You’ve changed, I don’t know you anymore. I suppose you’re growing up.’
‘Mum, I’m 20, I am grown up.’
‘Well actually that’s not grown up but it doesn’t change anything.’
‘What do you mean, doesn’t change anything?’
‘I’ve come to take you home.’
‘You’ve had your little spree, spread your wings, and sown your wild oats by all accounts.’
‘Actually I’ve kept my wild oats pretty much to myself.’
‘Samantha told me when I was having my hair done, that Rayleen told her, that you told Jolene’s boyfriend that you had a Swedish girlfriend.’
‘Hardly a girlfriend, I did meet a Swedish girl.’
‘So it’s true.’
‘What Jolene’s boyfriend said.’
‘Whether it is or not, it’s none of your business.’
‘I pay for your…’
‘I’m not going back.’
‘You’re my son, you’re all I’ve got, I thought if I just let you a have little rope…’
‘I would hang myself?’
‘You were right earlier when you said I’ve changed.’
‘In some things you’ll never change, I know you. You like things too much, you like being better than everybody else, you like to know exactly where you are and what you’re doing, you’re a control freak.’
‘I never was and I’m certainly not now.’
‘A leopard can’t change his spots.’
‘This leopard can and I have.’
‘Once a home boy, always a home boy.’
‘The mould’s broken Mum, I’ve passed the point of no return.’
‘If I scratch the surface the same old Axel would still be there.’
‘No he wouldn’t, before I was being what people wanted me to be, now I’m me.’
‘Axel I need you.’
‘I’ve got to experience life.’
‘Please come back to Australia with me.’
‘These cakes are scrumptious.’
Mum does that, she tries to throw you off balance when she’s not getting her own way.
‘I’m not going.’
‘Yes you are. Can I have some more tea please.’
‘No I’m not and yes, pass me your cup.’
‘You can’t live here it’s too cold.’
‘I’m not spending the rest of my life here and anyway I have a very good sleeping bag, made from eiderdown.’
‘I know, I bought it.’
‘You always throw your money in my face.’
‘Are you going to eat that chocolate éclair?’
‘No have it.’
‘Have the vanilla slice too.’
‘Where are your things? We could drop by and pick them up then you could join me for the rest of my tour.’
‘Will you get it into your head, I’m not going back.’
‘I wonder if I could ask for just one more Florentine?’
‘Mum I have to do this,’ I said.
‘I just thought…’ said Mum.
Then an awful thing happened. In front of everyone in the tea room Mum burst into tears. I wished the ground would open up and swallow me, it didn’t. I had to sit there and wait for her to finish. We didn’t say much after that, I paid the bill, tipped the waiter, got a taxi and paid mum’s fare back to her hotel. Mum hung out of the taxi window and called me over. When I got close she reached inside her bag, took out a parcel and handed it to me.
‘Happy birthday,’ she said.
It was an envelope filled with money wrapped around a can of sauerkraut.
I sat in an old English pub in Leister Square London, Leister Square being the place where you buy cheap theatre tickets. I’d bought a ticket to a play about washer women, it was due to start in about an hour so I’d slipped into the pub and ordered a pint of the local brew to pass the time. It was an olde worlde pub with big ornate windows, leather seated snugs to make yourself comfortable in whilst you sat and drank your beer, and a big oak bar with those old, typically English, hand operated pumps that bring the beer up from the cellar. I sipped my beer, a pint of bitter, the flavour was full on and, of course, bitter and after a while a small round and crusty pork pie arrived, it was sitting on a small round white plate with a few shreds of lettuce as a garnish.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
The waitress/barmaid was cute and she smiled at me sweetly.
‘Enjoy it love,’ she said.
English women, I had discovered, call almost everyone love. At first I had been flattered, thinking that some of them fancied me but over time I realised it applied to everyone, even the short, fat, ugly guys. I loved English food. The pub had a fantastic food counter with all sorts of interesting offerings sitting behind a glass case, everything looked tempting. The pastry case of my pork pie was solid and greasy, the pork was seasoned with herbs, and the end result was delicious. I took another sip of bitter, the bitter was called Old Goose, and it was excellent for washing down all that food. I looked out of the window, I was sitting in a window seat, and out on the street I saw a familiar face. I had a moment of panic when I thought seriously about making a mad dash for the gents and locking myself in but it was too late the familiar face entered the pub and walked over to where I was sitting.
‘Is this table free?’ the face asked me, referring to a table next to mine which was covered in dirty beer and wine glasses.
‘Yes it is, but you can keep me company if you like,’ I said.
‘Hello Texas. What are you doing here?’
‘I should ask you the same question.’
‘I’m killing a bit of time before I go and see a play.’
‘Me too, I dropped in for a glass of lemonade but have you seen the prices?’
‘My play’s about washer women.’
‘We were destined to meet,’ I said.
‘I’m not sure about that. I don’t believe in fate, there’s usually a logical answer to most things.’
‘Well now you’re here we could go together. I’ll go and get you that lemonade or would you like a gin and tonic or something with a bit of oomph?’
‘If you’re buying, a bourbon and coke will do very nicely thank you.’
‘I forgot you don’t like to spend your own money,’ I said.
‘Don’t worry, this time it won’t cost you so much, I have no intention of letting you get me drunk again.’
I went over to the bar and ordered another pint of bitter and a bourbon and coke.
‘Be with you in a jiffy love,’ said the same waitress/barmaid as before. ‘How was the pork pie?’
‘Smashing, let me know if you want anything else love.’
I took the drinks over to the table.
‘How long are you in London for?’ I said.
‘Just for today. I’ve been in England three months, just touring around, tomorrow I’m flying to Berlin.’
‘Berlin’s good, I had some adventures there.’
‘Not bribing border guards I hope.’
‘Ha ha, there is no border in Berlin anymore, no guards left.’
‘I’m sure you could find someone to bribe.’
‘If it wasn’t for me you’d still be standing there arguing with the Indians.’
‘At least I have principles.’
‘Your principals were fairly flexible once I’d come up with the money.’
‘It’s okay, I know you let me pay because you fancy me.’
‘Look we need to be heading off to the play, tell you what, I’ll buy you an ice cream afterwards.’
‘One of those ninety nines I’ve seen everyone eating with the flaky chocolate bars? They’re expensive.’
‘You can have one of those if you want.’
‘I hope you’re not trying to get into my pants.’
‘Would I do that?’
‘Well you may just be in luck fella. One bourbon and coke won’t get you anywhere but an ice cream with a flaky thing, now that’s a real turn on.’
‘I’ll buy you two.’
‘Now you’re getting perverted.’
‘Sounds good to me.’
The play was okay, neither here nor there in the long scheme of things, but I have to admit I had other things on my mind. I bought Texas an ice cream and then we went back to my hotel room. It was a bare uninviting room with a big old bed, an armchair, a worn out Persian carpet and sun bleached floral curtains, but neither of us were too interested in the décor. I began to take off her clothes and, not to be outdone by a mere male, she began to take off mine which made for an interesting way of getting undressed. When we were eventually naked I pulled her over to the bed.
‘Not so fast buster, you’ll need one of these.’
She handed me a small plastic packet.
‘A condom? Aren’t you on the pill?’
‘Sure I am but not only do I not want to get pregnant, I don’t want to catch anything either.’
‘I haven’t got anything.’
‘That’s what they all say buddy, use it or I’m gone.’
‘You didn’t want me to use one in India.’
‘I was drunk in India.’
‘I can order more bourbon and coke.’
‘Cut the crap and put it on.’
This wasn’t the mar de amor I was hoping for. We had practised with condoms at school, putting them on cucumbers, or occasionally zucchini, but I’d never really paid much attention, me and my friends had been more interested in laughing at the girls and trying to make them embarrassed. God I wish I’d taken notes. My craving for what was about to happen crumbled.
‘Doesn’t he love me anymore?’ said Texas.
‘I’ll get it on,’ I said.
‘It’s not looking that way.’
‘He’ll come good.’
‘If he was a flag I’d say someone died.’
‘I’ll get there,’ I said.
I tried to roll the condom over my dysfunctional member, as I rolled it on it just as quickly rolled off again.
‘You need to take lessons in sausage making.’
I started to get the hang of it but I was working under pressure, I pulled the condom hard and my thumb went straight through it.
‘You’re not supposed to pull it so hard.’
I gave up and sat on the bed. Texas looked at me, smiled and began to get dressed. She came over to the bed and kissed me.
‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ she said. ‘I’ve got a plane to catch.’
‘Can I have your address in New York?’ I said.
‘It’s not the Big Apple, it’s Vermont, and I don’t think so. Fate doesn’t want this to happen.’
‘You don’t believe in fate.’
‘The thread of human destiny is against us. Have a nice life.’
She walked out on me once again but this time without slamming the door. I got up, got dressed, found a tin of sardines and a bread roll and made myself a sandwich.
I caught a train from London’s Waterloo station to Ramsgate on the Kentish coast. Ramsgate is a nice old place there are penny arcades on the beach and white cliffs, like those at Dover, and in a bungalow above the cliffs lived Kit’s mum. I hadn’t seen Kit since our Turkish fandango so I was happy to catch up with him. His Mum was pleased to meet any friend of Kit’s and to celebrate my arrival she cooked us corned beef and boiled potatoes with carrots and a white sauce. Our meal was accompanied by a cup of tea and supermarket bread spread with margarine. Afterwards we had canned three fruits, peaches apricots and pears, all chopped into small cubes and served with canned condensed milk. Surprisingly it tasted good.
After dinner we sat down, with more strong tea thick with milk and sugar, on old fashioned armchairs with lace antimacassars to protect the fabric. In the corner stood a standard lamp with a heavy fabric shade giving off a muted light.
‘What am I going to do with Kit?’ said his mother to me.
‘What do you mean Mrs Neatson?’ I said.
‘Call me Flo love.’
‘She wants me to find a girl, get married and settle down,’ said Kit.
‘He’s at the university in Oxford you know.’
‘I know, I’m impressed,’ I said.
‘It’s very good and I’m that proud of him but when will he settle down?’
‘Mother Axel doesn’t need to know this.’
‘He’s quite an adventurer too, tramps all over the place, India and Turkey he went to in his holidays.’
‘Axel’s been all over Asia.’
‘Well I never.’
‘I’m too young to settle down,’ said Kit.
‘He’s twenty one come next January, how old are you Axel?’
‘Twenty one,’ I said, ‘that is I’m twenty but in my twenty first year.’
‘I despair of young people today,’ said Flo.
‘There’s plenty of time to meet someone,’ said Kit.
‘Nice girls don’t sit around waiting.’
‘Time’s on my side mother.’
‘Don’t you believe it, time is never on your side, you mark my words it’s running out fast, I want to see you happily married, I want to hear the patter of little feet, I want grandchildren.’
‘All in good time mother.’
‘He thinks he can just fob me off but I know what he’s up to.’
‘And what is that exactly?’ said Kit.
His mother seemed oblivious to the fact that she was embarrassing the hell out of Kit and also getting him pretty angry.
‘Going out with loose women,’ she said.
Later that night Kit and I walked down to the port and watched the cross channel ferry leave for France. As we walked along I looked at the rooftops of Ramsgate, all different and all interesting, like a van Gogh painting I had seen somewhere. The terraced houses with their yellowy cream bricks looked comfortable and happy and the bright lights of the town, the beach front and the harbour all glistened in the sea. It shone, reflected and dazzled merrily.
‘Don’t worry about your mum,’ I said, ‘my mum’s just the same, an interfering old busy body.’
‘I don’t worry,’ said Kit.
‘Yes you do.’
‘Yes I do.’
‘Is something wrong?’ I said.
‘To tell the truth old chap I’m a tad confused, I…you won’t repeat any of this to mother will you?’
‘Cross your heart and hope to die in a cellar full of rats.’
‘I’m serious,’ said Kit.
‘Okay cross my heart and the cellar full of rats stuff.’
The waves crashed out on the beach, the seaside lights glistened in the night sky and kit looked worried.
‘Do you want to know this?’
‘Not if you don’t want to tell me.’
‘Would you like to go to the pub for a drink?’
‘Before we go…’
‘I have to tell someone.’
‘Would you prefer me to tell you?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘I could call you a bloody poofter but I won’t.’
‘You don’t mind.’
‘What’s it to do with me?’
‘Well…it’s just…you just seem to be taking this awfully well.’
‘I’m not gay, if that’s what you’re thinking, in fact I’m doing my very best to be a raving heterosexual, but as long as you don’t try to seduce me then it’s none of my business who you want to go to bed with.’
‘That’s very egalitarian of you old chap.’
‘I don’t know what that means but I’ll take it as a compliment.’
‘I think a great deal of you, you know that don’t you?’ said Kit.
‘Oh oh,’ I said.
‘No not like that, as a friend. We shall always be friends shan’t we?’
‘We can always be good mates but the friendship will wear a bit thin if we don’t get to this pub and have a pint of your warm English cat’s piss.
The next day Kit walked down with me to the port to see me off.
‘It’s been so good to see you again, the time in India and Turkey, it was some of the best times in my life.’
‘We did have some fun. What about old Mustafa, you didn’t secretly fancy him?’
‘He was a dirty old man, I do have my standards.’
‘He was an old dag.’ I said.
‘Send a postcard now and then,’ said Kit. ‘Keep in touch, please.’
‘I’ll do that.’
‘What’s your aim in life Axel, what is it all about for you.’
‘I’ve got a girl back home in Australia and when she’s old enough and can escape her old man’s clutches I’m going to go home and marry her.’
‘Mother said you would have a girl back home.’
‘How come your Mum talks like a cockney and you talk as if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth?’
‘I’m attending Oxford old chap, one has to play one’s part but I can speak just like mother if the need arises.’
‘You’re full of surprises.’ I said. ‘Oh well. I guess this is goodbye.’
‘Cor yeah tar, nice to meet you mister…ta-ta old chap,’ said Kit with a smile.
We shook hands and I walked onto the cross channel ferry.
I made my way to the back of the boat and watched the white cliffs of Ramsgate disappear. I thought about nothing, nothing apart from life death and the universe, and a girl called Varinka. I wrote her a postcard, it was a picture of the ferry and I told her I still loved her and that I was on my way to Israel.
I wasn’t sure where the time on the ferry went but it flew by, sometimes it does that, and before I knew it the day had gone, it was evening, and the cross Channel ferry docked. I disembarked and tried to sort out my bearings, I had to get to Paris. I walked from the port to the station and booked a train, I took the earliest available which meant I couldn’t go direct but that was fine I just wanted to sit in a comfortable seat and get some sleep. The train was empty when I boarded but it soon stopped at a station and filled up with military personnel. They pushed their way on board and filled up every seat and then squeezed extra bums onto seats, the whole train was jammed full of soldiers. I was supposed to get off at Reims to change for Paris but I got off either too soon or too late, it was the advent of all the soldiers that had confused me. I stood like an idiot on the platform, it was the wrong station, I was in Lille and the next train to Paris wasn’t going to turn up until 4.30am the next morning, it was now 10pm.
There was nothing I could do about the mix up so I walked to the waiting room preparing my mind for a six and a half hour wait for the next train. In the waiting room were three French teenagers, a dark haired pimply boy, a brunette who had her arms around him and a blonde with lots of soft curves, curls and a childish but enchanting face. I smiled at them.
‘Hi there,’ I said.
I sat down and the three miscreants came over, sat next to me and started talking. They spoke French and my French was about as good as my German but from what I could gather they had missed their train and were planning to wait in the waiting room until morning. They were interested in discovering all about me and eventually were able to establish that my name was Axel, I came from Australia, was going to Paris and had stuffed up my connection. It took a long time to work all that out but time was something we had plenty of.
The blonde girl sat close to me, her name was Sophia. She put her arms around me and gave me a hug but then the railway attendant arrived, threw us out and locked up the waiting room. The boy shrugged his shoulders, the brunette said something that sounded rude and Sophie took my hand and led us all out on to the street. There was a corner café over the road so we all piled in and easily found a table, the three of them pooled their money and ordered one cup of coffee, the waitress wasn’t impressed. I had no French money, I had been planning to get more in Paris, so I pulled five American dollars out from my reserve, the same reserve that I used to bribe my way out of strange countries. I showed it to the waitress.
‘American dollars,’ I said.
I held up four fingers.
‘Quatre café,’ I said.
My three musketeers all cheered. It was good coffee but no matter how slowly we drank eventually the café closed and we were out on the street once again. The boy and the brunette hugged and Sofia and I put our arms around each other.
Time moved on very, very, very slowly. We sat in the station on the floor, the floor was very dirty but that didn’t matter, we laughed and made little bits of fun, pinching each other, tickling each other and teaching each other our own language and before we knew it my train to Paris pulled in to the station. I walked over to the train with the gang in tow, the boy shook my hand.
‘Bon voyage,’ he said.
The brunette kissed me on both cheeks and said something that I didn’t understand and Sophie kissed me like I’d never been kissed before, her eyes filled with tears.
‘Je t’aime,’ she said.
I had to tear myself away from her and board the train. I sat in my carriage and outside my three lifelong friends pulled faces through the window and squashed their noses up against the glass. I took down the window and kissed Sophie once again.
‘I love you,’ she said.
The last I saw of them they were still waving and jumping up and down on the platform, I waved back looking at Sophie, her face was smothered in tears.
‘Marry me?’ I shouted on impulse.
‘Oui,’ she shouted back.
Then they disappeared from view.
I was in Paris, after finally catching my train, and I had no further troubles. I got off at the Gare du Nord and walked to the Latin Quarter where I found a room with a garret window and a wonderful view of rooftops, the view reminded me of yet another painting by van Gogh, so far so good. I wanted to walk to the cathedral at Notre-Dame to look at the stained glass windows but it seemed about half a million other people had the same idea. Instead I strolled along the banks of the Seine, stopping at all the street vendors, they were selling books and postcards. I gazed at the books and I gazed at the postcards, there was one of a maid in a nineteenth century house wearing nothing but her maids hat and apron, another was of a school master with a strap punishing a rather adult looking school girl who wore a very brief school uniform, but I won’t go into that, there were also lots of the Eifel Tower. There were night shots and day shots, the Eiffel Tower in rain and in sunshine and pretty much everything in between, I bought the one that looked the most romantic to send to Varinka. As I walked along a police convey charged by, sirens wailing, what a noise they made, and then I came to the queue for the Eiffel Tower, it reminded me of starving refugees queueing for a bowl of rice, so I dropped into a riverside café where a waiter pounced. I ordered café au lait and un croissant. The coffee came quickly closely followed by the croissant and I relaxed, I’d done my dash of being a tourist in Paris.
‘Parlez-vous francais?’ said a girl at my rear.
I looked around
‘You speak French very well,’ she said.
Texas was sitting at a table right behind me.
‘That’s the only French I know,’ I said, ‘café au lait and un croissant.’
‘It’s all you need.’
‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I said. ‘You can’t say there’s no such thing as fate now. What are the chances of us meeting here like this?’
‘Oh sweet, simple boy, fate is nowhere to be seen. I was underwhelmed by your exhibition of manly prowess in London so I thought I would take a diversion to Paris and we could give it another try, you can’t do worse, or can you?’
‘I am not a boy and it was your fault, you made me nervous.’
‘Were you nervous in India too?’
‘No, you fell asleep.’
‘Good point, we don’t have much luck do we.’
‘How did you know I would be here?’
‘You said you were coming to Paris today.’
‘Wouldn’t that be like looking for a grain of sand in the Australian outback.’
‘What do all tourists do in Paris? Three things, they go to Notre Dame, to the art gallery…’
‘…and they go to the Eiffel Tower. I figured if I sat here all day, across from the Eiffel Tower, you would wander by and join that queue over there that never seems to get any smaller.’
‘Good thinking 99.’
‘Elementary my dear Watson.’
‘I thought you didn’t like me?’
‘I don’t, you’re the sort of person I love to hate but how can I hate you if you’re not around?’
‘I reckon you fancy me.’
‘You should be so lucky, I just had nothing better to do today.’
‘Well maybe I’ve got something better to do, I might prefer standing in a queue all day so that I can go and see some rusty old structure rather than frolicking around with you.’
‘You’re a man, of course you’ll jump at the chance of having sex.’
‘Maybe yes, maybe no. What if I don’t find you particularly alluring, you’re not actually my type.’
‘Men don’t have types, they like women.’
‘Not if they’re gay.’
‘Oh crap, you’re not gay?’
‘No, I just haven’t been able to prove it to you yet.’
‘Okay, let’s cut the pleasantries, you eat your croissant, buy me an ice cream, and then let’s go to your room and check out the Eiffel Tower.’
‘Why the ice cream?’
‘I like ice cream and besides, that seems to be the only chat up line you’ve got.’
The ice cream was good, as ice creams go, nothing special but sweet and creamy. It came in a minute cone and there wasn’t much of it but as foreplay it worked its magic. We raced to my hotel and literally ran upstairs, I fumbled with the key, dropped it and then couldn’t get it into the keyhole, Texas grabbed it and managed to get the door open. It was like one of those sex scenes from a movie where the kissing is intermingled with making a dash for the bed but at the same time ripping each other’s clothes off. I threw Texas onto the bed and had no trouble whatsoever with making a good first impression.
‘Wow the Eiffel Tower looks great today,’ she said.
‘And you didn’t have to get into a queue to see it,’ I said.
‘Don’t forget our little plastic friend.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m prepared.’
I had been practising and not only on cucumbers. There was no way I was going to stuff up the action again. She looked wonderful lying there, she wasn’t self conscious, she looked so…so…wonderfully, amazingly, brilliantly fantastic. I had a whole naked woman right in front of me, waiting for me, I thought I would burst, and unfortunately I did.
‘Hey fella, this was supposed to include the two of us.’
I wanted to die.
‘Oh God I’m sorry, I just couldn’t stop myself, you look so good and it just happened.’
‘You know, the way you go about this anyone would think you’d never done it before.’
The moment had gone. I sat down on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands, I was so embarrassed.
‘C’mon kid, it’s not the end of the world.’
‘Stop calling me kid!’
I jumped up, went in to the bathroom, slammed the door and got in the shower. I stayed under the water long enough to empty the Seine and expected Texas to be long gone when I finally emerged but she was still there, dressed and sitting on the bed.
‘I thought you’d be gone.’
‘Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re a cute kid…I know…you’re not a kid. I hung around so you could give me something of yours as a memento of your ill-fated attempt to be Casanova.’
‘Are you trying to be funny?’
‘No, I actually like you.’
‘Like is that all?’
‘Give me a break.’
‘I don’t want it to end like this.’
‘I hate to rain on your parade but we don’t have anything to end.’
She got off the bed and I scribbled a note.
‘Take this,’ I said.
‘What is it?’
‘Mum’s address in Australia and here take this too.’
‘It’s a Paddington Bear keyring. Mum gave it to me years ago, I always keep it with me, it’s…well…it’s a little bit of me.’
‘We could try to work this out.’
‘You don’t believe in fate.’
‘I’m beginning to think I do. Don’t you have a girl back in Australia?’
‘Go back to her.’
A song was going around and around inside my head. I couldn’t stop singing it. Flying can have that effect.
When I wake up, when I wake up,
Well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you.
I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door.
I was flying back home to Australia. I had spent the rest of the winter in Greece picking oranges and for all that time I had thought about Varinka. I had sent her postcards from everywhere I had been, London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Mycenae and anywhere and everywhere in between and when the weather warmed I had decided to take Texas’s advice and fly home and marry Varinka. I had hitched back to England from Greece, Mum would have sent me the airfare but I wanted to stand on my own two feet. When I had reached England I hitched up to London, exchanged all the money I had earnt in Greece for English pounds and bought an airline ticket in a bucket shop. I was now broke. I slept rough, underneath the arches on my last night. Taking a leaf out of the professional rough sleepers’ book I made an insulation layer under me with cardboard boxes and then spread my sleeping bag over me and used newspaper to supplement that but it was cold, hard and uncomfortable. I didn’t sleep much and even though it was a cold grey drizzly dawn, it was the day for my return flight to Australia and I could feel myself smiling.
I was travelling light. The day before I had spent what seemed like most of the day in a laundromat near Waterloo Station and I gave nearly all of my now clean clothes to the lady in the laundromat for her son, I figured I wouldn’t need clothes for an English winter back home in Australia. I had packed up my cardboard boxes and given them to a very grateful girl, she looked so cold I gave her my sleeping bag too and then I took the tube to Heathrow airport. Station by station it, the tube, began to fill up and get slower and slower, at the outset I had more than two hours to get to Heathrow but by the time the tube pulled in I had just one minute to get on the plane. I raced to the check-in and then on to the boarding lounge, luckily they were waiting for me, they weren’t happy about it but they were waiting.
I woke up. I didn’t know which bits of me I could feel less, my toes, my fingers or the bottom of my spine. I now remembered why most of my travels had been by boat or train. I hate flying. I looked out of the window, if I have to fly I want a window seat, I want to see what’s out there, we were flying over the most amazing desert full of tiny oases. It was dark inside the plane, almost pitch, and it was brilliant light outside and as I was alternately looking out and looking in I was completely blinded. Somebody brought me a coffee. We flew over cloud and I could see the moon in spite of the brilliant light and there was a beautiful blue light up there in the stratosphere or wherever it was we were. I wondered what was for breakfast. The plane moved on, as they do, if they don’t they fall out of the sky at a great rate of knots, below us were some incredibly fluffy clouds thousands of feet down, they looked like waves and waves of vanilla Italian ice cream but I couldn’t think what so much ice cream would be doing in the desert. I wasn’t happy with the way the engine vibrated as we flew and I did not like the way it shook when we landed. The wing, I was sure, was going to fall off, goodbye world.
We landed, I was in Australia, I was still alive! No one was there to greet me because I hadn’t told anyone I was coming back. The first thing I did was hail a taxi and shoot straight round to Varinka’s house. It was just as I remembered, a big splendid mansion in the foothills, Jane Austen could have lived there, a regency dream palace with all the symmetry that Georgian architecture is famous for. The down side was an avenue of Venus de Milos running along the driveway. Venus has lost at least one arm and is half naked, or half-dressed, whichever way you like to put it, with a jar of olive oil poised above her shoulder. One Venus de Milo is fine, 18 of them is a bit rich. There was a clump of silver birch to one side and then the house in red brick with stone around the doors and windows, it looked quite impressive.
I got out of the taxi at the gate, dumped my stuff, jumped the fence and ran up the drive. I was out of breath when I got to the grand doorway with its big Tasmanian oak door big enough to drive a tank through. The door had a big old fashioned door knocker, I knocked the door knocker and the noise resonated through the house. I could hear a voice, it was a very faint voice, obviously a long way away but I knew it was Varinka and my heart began to pound away in my chest. My bladder felt very full, I started to sweat and breathe quickly. I stood on one foot and then the other, I did a complete 360° turn twice and found myself rubbing my hands together and then brushing my hair with my hands. I could hear footsteps and my heart stopped pounding, it seemed to stop altogether. I sucked my lips, I had decided that when the door opened I would go down on one knee and burst out with a proposal of marriage. I had been practising over and over on the plane.
‘Marry me. I’ve been thinking about you every day I’ve been away and some nights I couldn’t sleep for thinking about you. When things were bad the thought of you helped get me through and when things were good the thought of you helped double my enjoyment. Please marry me, I’ll look after you forever, I’ll see that no harm ever comes to you and that your smallest desire is fulfilled. I would give my life to ensure your safety, no one and nothing will hurt you while ever I’m breathing. I love the colour of your eyes, the colour of your hair, I love the warm feel of your skin, your smile, your sense of humour, there is nothing about you I don’t love. We are soul mates and I cannot exist without you.’ I was word perfect, I was ready, the door slowly opened, my brain stopped and I held my breath.
Standing in front of me was a moderately pretty, shortish girl, her blonde hair was a mess, her lycra sweatshirt had food, or paint, or something, spilt on it, she looked hard and angular.
‘Axel?’ she said looking surprised.
I smiled and tried to sound enthusiastic, I couldn’t think of anything else to say, it was going to take a while to recover from my initial shock.
‘Wow, you look different,’ she said. ‘I hardly recognise you. I thought you were overseas.’
‘I was, I just got back.’
‘What are you doing here?’
I’d never noticed that little whine in her voice before.
‘I…wanted to see you.’
‘Wow, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.’
‘Didn’t you get my letters and postcards? I sent them from everywhere I went.’
‘Oh yes, yes I did, they were really great and I cut off all the stamps for my album.’
And the corners of her mouth curled downwards like a petulant child who always wants her own way.
‘Can I come in?’
‘I’m home by myself, I don’t think Dad would like it.’
‘Look…I had something I wanted to say…’
‘I’ve got news for you too.’
‘Oh yes, what’s that?’
‘I’m engaged to Dobrasin. Did you ever meet him? Look at my ring. He was in the class above mine at school. He’s going to university and wants to be an accountant. He already owns a house and has a really neat red sports car with a soft top, he takes me down to Victor Harbor all the time in it and he and Dad are always talking about stocks and shares, Dad really likes him and I think he’s cool. What was it you were saying?’
I was in Vermont, that’s in New England which is in the US of A. Australia hadn’t been what I’d expected. I had travelled, seen the world, and I’d changed but all my friends in Australia were just the same, I didn’t fit in anymore. Their lives had stopped being my life, it was weird. Varinka was engaged to a would be accountant, I’d thought about her every day on my travels and I’d been in a desperate hurry to get back to see her, but when she was there in front of me and I spoke to her, instead of being upset by the end of our affair, if that’s what you could possibly call it, I was happy.
After the shemozzle with Varinka I went home to see mum. I had decided to stay with her for a while until I could sort out what I wanted to do. The day after I moved back in to my old room, still dominated by the girlie dressing table, a large parcel arrived from America. I tore it open and inside was Paddington Bear. It must have cost an arm and a leg to post. There was a note, If you are ever in Vermont drop by. I wasn’t likely to be in Vermont any time soon, but why not? My stomach lurched, my head whirled. What the hell was I doing sitting in mum’s kitchen, eating yet more sauerkraut, when I could be in Vermont? I borrowed the money for the airfare from mum, made a couple of phone calls, caught a plane to LA, crossing the Pacific Ocean, and then crossed the American continent arriving late at night in Boston. There I hailed a taxi, found a room for the night and ate fresh, delicious muffins for breakfast. A train took me north, it was an Amtrak, and before I boarded I ate an enormous club sandwich at the railway station, it was scrumptious. I got off the train at my destination and there she was waiting for me. Texas stood by one of those big old American pickup trucks wearing enough clothes to fight a snow storm, which was a good idea as it was snowing, and when she saw me she ran and flung herself at me. I felt pretty good when she did that, I brushed my fingers across her cheek, it felt smooth and warm and lovely. I kissed her.
‘I’m an idiot,’ I said, ‘a great big stupid idiot. I think I’ve loved you from the moment I bribed the border guards to let you into India.’
‘That’s nice,’ she said.
I woke up, the first light was coming in through the window and a pair of pretty eyes were looking into mine.
‘Hello brown eyes,’ I said.
‘You have beautiful eyes.’
‘Can’t you think of a more original line than that?’
‘The words popped into my head and I just wanted to say them.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m just naturally sarcastic.’
‘That’s okay, but your eyes are lovely, as are all the other bits.’
‘Now you’re going over the top.’
‘Don’t you feel the same? Some of the things you were saying last night…’
‘Yes I think I’m lovely.’
‘No, I meant…’
‘I know what you meant and yes, you’re lovely.’
‘I’m not fishing for compliments, I just want to know if you like me or not.’
‘Of course I do but one night of unrestrained sex does not make for a relationship. I think we might have to accept that we made a terrible mistake, you got me drunk and took advantage of me.’
‘Or was it I who got you drunk and took advantage of you?’
‘Alcohol never passed our lips.’
‘So we don’t even have that excuse.’
‘Do we need an excuse?’
‘I think we need to step back a little,’ she said, ‘after all I hate you, you hate me but we always seem to jump into bed together.’
‘I don’t hate you.’
‘Just because we had sex you don’t have to play the gentleman and marry me, that’s all a little old fashioned don’t you think?’
‘I wasn’t planning on marrying you, just having breakfast with you.’
‘Is that as good as it gets?’
‘One minute you hate me and the next you want me to ask you to marry me.’
‘I like to have it both ways.’
‘You are a complex beast.’
‘Is that any way to endear a girl to you?’
‘I wasn’t trying to endear myself to you, just understand you.’
‘Don’t try, I’m fine at understanding me, no one else has to, you just stick to you because I can never figure out that thick head of yours.’
‘I love you too,’ I said sarcastically.
‘At least we both know where we stand,’ she said.
‘Mostly on each other’s toes.’
I stretched exposing my nakedness and was suddenly pushed out of bed.
‘What was that for?’ I said from the floor.
‘You were starting to look good so I figured it was the best way to resist temptation.’
‘Do you need to resist temptation?’
‘Well there are more things in life than sex you know.’
‘You didn’t think so for most of last night.’
‘You just want me for my body.’
‘Well anyway, I enjoyed it, I could really get to like you.’
‘Oh spare me the platitudes,’ she said.
‘Pity about your tongue though.’
‘What’s wrong with my tongue?’
‘It’s a viper’s tongue and what’s more it won’t shut up.’
She jumped up out of bed, she was naked and beautiful. She picked up a pillow, a rather solid affair, and hit me on the head with it. I grabbed her around the waist, she shrieked and hit me again with the pillow. We rolled around on the bed again but I won’t go into that, I don’t like intimate descriptions of sex, or what’s worse two intimate descriptions of sex, or what’s even worse three intimate descriptions of sex, or…
We lay on the bed exhausted.
‘You’re good at this,’ she said.
‘It is fairly amazing isn’t it?’
‘You must have been very busy since I last saw you.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Well it’s the truth. It’s embarrassing to say that I’m now in my twenties and you’re the only lover I’ve had. I saved myself for you.’
‘You did not.’
‘I did, mostly by misadventure, but it was misadventure with you.’
‘You’re a sweet kid…I know…I know…after what you just did I won’t call you a kid anymore.’
I kissed her.
‘So what about you?’
‘What about me?’
‘What’s your history?’
‘You should never ask a girl for her history, it makes for jealous relationships and anyway we girls like to have our secrets.’
‘I’ve just bared my soul, you are the only girl I have ever…’
‘Well for a first timer you sure knew what you were doing.’
‘I read the manual.’
‘And I’m a quick learner.’
‘You’re a liar.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘No, I suppose not, especially as we’ll never see each other again.’
‘Well you thought wrong. The last thing I need right now is a lover, good or bad. I don’t want anyone cramping my style.’
‘Why? Do you plan to have lots of men?’
‘I don’t know, it’s not something you plan, I just don’t want ties.’
‘Tell me about your first.’
‘No but I’ll tell you about the one who was almost the first and that’s it, no more. It was just a quickie in a field and mom turned up to put a stop to it. I was sixteen. Happy now?’
‘That’s what happened to me, only it wasn’t your Mum that turned up.’
‘You’re making that up.’
‘I never know what to say to you.’
‘Say nothing then you don’t have to hurt your brain.’
‘Your brain’s in overdrive, how to make someone feel like shit in three easy lessons.’
‘I’m sorry, okay? It’s just that invitation to breakfast, it makes things seem too permanent’
‘I know you don’t want commitment.’
‘Having breakfast together, well…it’s just…when you talk sometimes I can see my whole life worked out in front of me.’
‘Like being married?’
‘I’m not ready for the whole meringue bit,’ she said rolling over. ‘You can leave now.’
‘The room or the country?’
‘We’re like two opposites that attract and repel at the same time.’
‘Are you still here?’
‘Yes and guess what? I’m going to stay in spite of everything you say. You sent me Paddington, you don’t do that for someone you’re not interested in, or just to have sex.’
‘That was given to me by Grandpa.’
‘Then you must love me, you gave it to me.’
‘It was a moment of weakness.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Maybe I was drunk.’
‘You fancy me. You think I’m pretty good. Admit it you love me.’
‘I guess I must.’
‘So what do we do now?’
‘Carry on fighting for the rest of our lives?’
‘I’d rather spend the rest of my life arguing with you than anything else I can think of.’
‘I guess I’m the same but I don’t like to admit it.’
‘We don’t have to do the whole meringue thing. Texas, do you promise to argue with me for the rest of our lives till death do us part? And in between times have lots of fantastic sex.’
‘Now listen buster, just because…’
I took her in my arms and…
That’s all for now folks but you can read the next book in the series: The Curly Wurley Sex Machine: Johnathon Marvel had it all. The youngest billionaire in the world according to Time Magazine but Johnathon’s world collapses and his various business ventures go belly up. Jonathon does what any sane person would do in his situation, he makes a run for it.
I was born in London England in 1953, which makes me a baby boomer I think. On emerging into the big wide world I enjoyed life thoroughly. My two sisters and I played on the Woolwich ferry, forever crossing backwards and forwards over the Thames and then, when we got bored with that, we had races in the foot tunnel under the Thames. It’s amazing what can keep a small boy happy.
Dad ran a market stall in Woolwich’s Beresford Square selling anything and everything. He was a natural Cockney salesman with all the patter that goes with it but when he was told to give it up or die from the cold, we packed up shop and migrated to Australia. Australia was great fun for a small boy from London, with snakes and kangaroos in the paddocks, unlimited sunshine and other boys who talked about nothing but sex!
I went to school like most people do but I was dyslexic and did not do well at all. Then one day, when I was about 15, I taught myself to read and after that I read books, lots of books. I won a scholarship to the University of Adelaide and while I was at University I started writing and staging plays. I found I could write funny lines that made people laugh and I could write good dialogue.
In the late seventies and early eighties, I worked at anything and everything. I got lots and lots of jobs all at once. I worked as an all-night waiter, a painter, junk mail distributor, gardener, builder’s labourer and theatre technician to name a few. I gathered together a bundle of money and went walk about to North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Russia, China, India, Thailand, Scandinavia, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy… and the heady heights of the northern English industrial town of Leeds.
While on my travels I worked! I worked picking grapefruit in Israel, oranges in Greece, olives up the mountains in Crete, I was a head barman in a pub in Yorkshire, I worked in a youth hostel in the south of England, I worked all night in a soft drinks factory, I was a storeman for the department store Marks and Spencer, I was a waiter, a kitchen hand, a guinea-pig in a medical experiment and was even in a Bollywood movie in India.
It wasn’t all fun and frolics though, I came close to death’s door three times in England. I was catapulted off my touring bike by a truck in London, a caravan outside Salisbury and a Mini Minor in Stockport. During this time I also wrote my first book: A Foxtrot Through India. I met a girl named Sue from Yorkshire, Sue poor lass now edits my books. I brought Sue back to Australia and we bought one hundred acres in the country and spent a year building our own home from mud bricks, then we planted apple trees and started to make cider and ran a successful business making the best cider in the world, as one customer said.
In my youth I always enjoyed my old Dad’s tales of his adventures in the navy in WWII and of his childhood hop picking in Kent, I think I got my love of storytelling from my Dad. I wrote a book on cider in 2008 after being awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel around the world and drink and research cider. My book: Cider Drink It, Make It, Cook with It was published later that year and sold out. I followed the success of my cider book by writing a series of madcap comic extravaganzas: Bigfoot Littlefoot & West, published in 2012. I followed Bigfoot Littlefoot and West with the Jack Hamma action adventure series starting with Shakespeare on the Roof and In Bed with Jane Austen. 2015 saw me writing three romantic travel adventures in my Continental Drift series starting with Sex Sardines and Sauerkraut. Having got the travel adventures out of my system it was back to Jack Hamma with Hi Jack, Poirot Packs a Punch, Licenced to Thrill, Blind Man’s Buff and more on the way. I should mention here that I have plans to write a new zany comedy called Rempit Nethis but more on that later.
This is the bit where I now state that I am happily living the good life on our 5 acre property, on the beautiful island of Tasmania, spending my time walking, cycling, planting trees, growing vegetables and writing the odd book, very odd some people say.
I hope you enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them.
I’d love to hear from you:
Cheers Anthony E Thorogood
Jack Hamma, an SAS Special Forces Commando, is sent on a top secret mission to assassinate a terrorist leader who is bunkered down on an island in the Indian Ocean. The action has only just begun when Jack and his co-assassin are ambushed by right wing terrorists. Jack is the action hero par excellence but has he met his match in the form of the beautiful Kashmere?
Jack Hamma receives an emergency phone call to escort a seventeen year old girl home from school but the Russian mafia has other ideas.
Jack awakes to find himself incarcerated in a completely blacked out dungeon. Who imprisoned him? Can he get away?
Jack Hamma is at it again. This is a relentless and, dare I say it, humorous thriller where every move is a false start and every clue is a red herring.
Jack is in trouble, he is chained and cemented and thrown off the side of a boat – I was out cold until I hit the water. It was freezing and I immediately awoke. My senses had no time to figure out what was going on, I was in the sea, it was cold, I was heavy and sinking fast.
Jack is on Stags Head Moor in the north of England. The hunt is on and he is the hunted – The bullet was so close I could feel the air move as it whizzed past my head. A second bullet came even closer, if it was possible to get even closer without hitting me. Blood was running down my forehead and into my eyes, I had been hit.
Jack is in the Australian Bush, it’s pitch black, there’s a thunderstorm and an old tree crashes down, Jack takes shelter from the thunder, lightning and torrential rain and then he hears a scream.
Jack, Kashmere and the manic Manooka are climbing a sheer cliff, two thousand feet high. Kashmere is leading, she moves up the rock face, gets a new hold, Jack looks up and the rock face begins to crumble.
Texas is a feisty beauty from the USA Axel is a good looking novice from Australia. They meet at a border crossing in India, they are stranded, the border guards refuse to let them through. Axel saves the day but Texas isn’t ready to owe him anything not even a thank you. Will love sparkle or will it wilt and die? Not as much sex as I expected but plenty of sauerkraut!
Johnathon Marvel had it all. The youngest billionaire in the world according to Time Magazine but Johnathon’s world collapses and his various business ventures go belly up. Jonathon does what any sane person would do in his situation, he makes a run for it.
Ash didn’t have much of a childhood, his mother left before he was old enough to remember her and his father was a drunken bum, but Ash makes good. There is only one problem, he feels nothing for nobody. Ash takes off on an around the world marathon eventually hanging out with a couple of members of the Irish Republican Army only to fall head over heels in love…
Opposites in every way, Josh and Samantha are kindred spirits from vastly different worlds. Falling deeply and powerfully in love, their attraction to one another defies everything they believe in, they share a passion that is bound to erupt like a volcano and then, who knows?
In Alice Springs, Constable Elizabeth West of the Territory Police is being interviewed for a promotion, it is an interview like no other. There is a drive by shooting, a double suicide, a shot is fired as a boy tries to protect his mother, West is shot at by a gang of bikies, a woman goes missing and West is abducted by a ruthless killer.
Chief inspector Bigfoot wakes up in bed with a naked woman who just happens to be dead.
Detective Bigfoot and Sergeant Elizabeth West are stalked by a heavily armed gunman in the Australian Outback.
A young woman turns up dead on Sydney’s Bonga Bonga Beach. There are a string of murders in the Sydney Opera House…an utterly crazy comic whodunit.
Our famous trio are on exchange in London England but life isn’t all tourist buses and ice creams. A bank manager is shot dead and Police Sergeant West is stalked by a serial killer.
The precursor to the Death in the Australian Outback Series. Murder most foul comes to northern England and it is up to career woman Police Constable Elizabeth West to sort out the mess. Diabolical, haunting and a darn good read.
‘As a cyclist I found it entertaining, challenging and in parts, so funny. Very interesting.’
Written in conjunction with Sue Thorogood. The eating of sugar can cause obesity, cancer, diabetes and dementia, that’s the bad news, the good news is that you can create fabulous and tasty food without the little white crystals. Have a look at our cookbook it contains a brilliant collection of vegetarian recipes that even carnivores love to eat.
If you like cider and want to know about its history, how to cook with it and how to make it then this is the book for you. Includes a history of cider in Australia
A book of comic quips about girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, working, eating, drinking, sleeping, God, life, death and the universe.
Don’t forget I’d love to hear from you:
Cheers Anthony E Thorogood
Texas isn't the first girl in Axel's life. The story begins with an amusing scene of Axel attempting to seduce a Serbian girl called Isvarinka: 'We stood in the centre of a wide clearing in a eucalyptus forest and I held Isvarinka in my arms and hugged her. Everything we did we did to excess. When we hugged we hugged hard and long, as if the world was going to end, and when we kissed we kissed hard and long, as if our lives depended on it.' Just as things begin to get really interesting the Old Bear, Isvarinka's papa, breaks onto the page and there is one almighty kafuffle. Reviews: 'I enjoyed this episodic romp through Europe and other foreign places, as our hero takes a gap-year to find himself and his true love. Along the way he finds a lot of other quirky characters and manages to avoid permanent damage. AE Thorogood writes funny, snappy dialogue with enough pithy description to ensure we can clearly see where the action is taking place. Fast paced and short, almost a whistle-stop tour of the world.' 'A page turner. Inside the mind of a young naive man is not where I would normally like to be but he's so engaging, direct and witty that it's fun. You know he'll get into trouble but it's fascinating to find out exactly how and what happens next. Even though the hero's brain is in his trousers he has plenty left to work the narration engine and turns out to be not so naïve after all. And it's all quite polite.'