“Man, some people have got some weird penises,” Rosie tells me matter-of-factly, turning to me with a grin. Fortunately I am fully clothed and this isn’t an observation being made with reference to my own reproductive organ. It’s 9:30 on a Saturday morning, the sun is beaming brightly in the sky, the temperature is already up in the mid 20′s and, less than five metres to our left, at eye level as we sit on the pebbles, is a middle aged man’s genitalia. This Saturday morning is pretty far from standard. I find myself asking the question – How did we end up in such a predicament?
After a hard night spent hammering the chemicals in a club, different people crave different things as the all round glow of contentment wears off and leaves you feeling a bit lost and confused. Your body is weak, you have used up every bit of energy you harboured, and really you need some kind of nutrients. Personally, I am a chocolate milkshake man, but each to their own.
It is shortly before 6am on the same Saturday morning and the two of us have decided to call it a night and have left the darkness of the club and spilled out onto the beach. Neither of us are in any huge rush to go home and sleep, although Rosie is getting to that state of mind a lot quicker than I am. I know well enough from experience that I won’t be sleeping for at least another 15 or 16 hours, maybe more. I am more than happy for there to be any excuse to put off the inevitable. I don’t want to go home yet, not least of all because of the hour long walk it will take me in this physical state.
This story is taken from my book, Gatecrashing Europe, which you can buy from Valley Press by following the link on the right hand side of your screen. My mission for the day was to make it from Warsaw in Poland to Vilnius in Lithuania. I had a train ticket, but not a single penny of cash in my pocket. Things weren’t to go as smoothly as hoped. It was March, 2008.
Saturday came and I was up and out of the flat shortly before 6:30am, despite sitting up until after 4 drinking vodka shots with my hosts. Feeling groggy, I encountered no problems reaching the main train station by tram. The streets of Warsaw were already bustling with people making their way to work, school, university or the park bench for a day of analysing the world over a bottle of vodka. Inside the station, rough alcoholics were escorted off of the premises by police after being caught attempting to steal from the small convenience stores dotted around the complex. The mist of breath lingered in the freezing air. My train pulled away from the platform dead on7:20 and, feeling confident clutching my ticket, I took one of the last empty seats on board, in a small compartment filled with a mix of young and old. If the timetable I’d picked up at Warsaw’s station was correct – and I had no reason to doubt that it was – then I would be sat in this same seat for the next seven hours, before having to change at the small Polish town of Sestokai, close to the Lithuanian border. From there, it would be a simple ride on toVilnius. The day was going to be a smooth one; I could feel it.
Saturday 5th September 2009 was a day of firsts for me. My first England game; my first visit to the new Wembley – my only visit to the famous old Wembley had been as part of a school trip; and most significantly of all, the first time I’d ever given my full support and loyalty to a team playing against England. Yes, you read that correctly, I wanted the team that was supposedly representing my home country to lose. And I wanted it passionately.
Now, before I get labelled a traitor or threat to national security and have to chuck a few meagre belongings – some tinned fish, a toothbrush, a tent and a couple of books – into a duffle bag and flee before MI5 come knocking on my door in their most exciting day out since the British Aerospace security guard got caught trying to flog secrets to the Ruskies, I feel I should explain myself a bit.
Conscious of the fact that I hadn’t had any sleep for a number of days, I found myself walking tiredly down an unrecognisable high street in the middle of the afternoon, feeling aches and pains in my shoulders, arms and chest and desperate to get some rest. I didn’t know where I had been, but I knew where I was going – to bed.
Suddenly, my uneventful walk led me straight into a mass demonstration, in which hundreds of protesters had occupied a large shop and were now being roughly ejected by police, who had seemingly been granted the powers to use whatever force necessary. People were being beaten with batons but continued to fight. The whole scene was mayhem. Outside the shop, a line of riot police were in place to stop hundreds, if not thousands, more protesters on the outside attempting to get into the building to help the occupiers already inside.
I walked through the crowd with my head down, not interested in the slightest at the punches and kicks that we were being exchanged between the protesters and the police, flying past my face and body. I didn’t belong in this scene. My character was exactly like that of Richard Ashcroft in the Verve’s video for Bitter Sweet Symphony.
One night in February 2011 I did something that I never imagined myself doing. Ever. I stayed up until 4am watching the Super Bowl. And not only did I watch it, but after a little while found myself glued to the screen, cheering for one of the teams. I certainly had not been expecting this. In fact, when my uncle had said, “I’m going to stay up late watching the American football,” my reply had been, “Are you joking?”
One September’s day way back in 2005 I agreed to accompany my then 50-something year old father-in-law-to-be, Danilo, on a drive down from Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana, where I was living at the time, to northern Bosnia. Danilo was interested in purchasing some land down there and wanted to go and check out a few potential spots before committing to anything.
I had been there once before with him and although I hadn’t had a great time, I had returned to Slovenia with a few bargain pairs of jeans and trainers, plus a few boxes of cheap cigarettes, which were always good for making a few tolars (Slovenia’s currency at the time) from people that I played football with.
Not one to say no to a travelling experience, I jumped at the opportunity to return.