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Gently Poking Fun At A German’s Name

24 Apr

You know how some things are funny because they’re not meant to be, and that if they had intended to be funny then they actually wouldn’t be? Like some time a couple of years ago I was sat at home watching athletics on the telly when this distance runner’s face came up on the screen, and underneath his face was written his name, and at the exact same time that I looked down to read it, the commentator said it out loud, as if my subconscious had the exact same voice as whoever it was that was commentating that day, and as I simultaneously read and heard the two words I realised that it was the greatest name belonging to anyone on the planet. Gaylord Silly. It’s fucking genius, isn’t it? Course it is! Gaylord Silly. Gaylord. Silly. Do you reckon he ever introduces himself in the style of 007? The name’s Silly, Gaylord Silly. The name is silly. But it isn’t meant to be. I truly believe it was an honest mistake on the part of Gaylord’s parents. The Sillys. Or maybe they pluralise their name to the Sillies. No, that would make no sense. But anyway, before I lose my trail of thought, I am stoned by the way, if that name Gaylord Silly had been made up by someone trying to be funny, it wouldn’t actually be that funny. Like if I said ‘Oi John, quick, come up with a funny name for a bloke on the spot,’ and he blurted out ‘Gaylord Silly,’ it wouldn’t be as funny would it? Actually whatever way you look at it, it’s always going to be a funny name. But if me and John had had that conversation a year ago, the one where I told him to come up with a funny name on the spot and he said Gaylord Silly, if we had had that conversation a year ago, I am almost certain that I wouldn’t remember it now. The name would have popped up, made me laugh, and then gone away to die somewhere. Because it would have been made up with the intention of being funny. Which would make it not as funny. Whereas Gaylord Silly’s name is not meant to be funny. So it is. In case you were wondering, me and John didn’t have that conversation about funny names a year ago. There is no John. I am rambling. Big time. I may have lost a couple of readers along the way there. Which means that I am now only left with the one.

The reason for that pointless introductory paragraph was that a couple of days ago I encountered my own Gaylord Silly. In a metaphorical sort of way. And it made me laugh enough that earlier this morning I had to go out walking for two hours just to find it again, this time with a borrowed camera in my pocket, as I am one of those weird people who don’t own a camera-phone, nor a camera, nor a phone. Which is annoying when you come across something that you either want to photograph or tell someone about. But I would say the positives of not owning a phone outweigh the negatives. I digress. Yea anyway, my metaphorical Gaylord Silly. I was out in the Spanish countryside, but could see the blue sea over the hills, which meant that I had wandered closer to the coast than usual, which also meant that I was in an area home to British, Dutch and German retirees, and before anyone accuses me of showing favouritism to any of those countries, you will notice I listed them alphabetically, and I came across this house, and as I passed it I couldn’t help but notice that the name of the occupants was engraved into a plaque by their gate. My initial reaction was to think ‘Oh look, a novelty name plaque, and not an overly funny one at that. What was the point in buying that? I bet the bloke who lives here is a riiiiiiiiiight laugh. I was being sarcastic there, that was what all the iiiiiiiiiiis were meant to convey. Basically I wasn’t impressed with this attempt at humour, and was convinced that it was the work of a dull Englishman, the kind who calls himself the office joker and who owns a mobile disco. I was just about to walk on, when I noticed that although the male’s name was an attempt at comedy, the woman’s name underneath wasn’t. At least, it didn’t strike me as such. The woman’s name was Uta Fischer. That would only be funny if an uta was something you could go fishing for. And even then it wouldn’t be very funny. It wouldn’t be funny at all. When I read the name Uta Fischer I didn’t think comedy attempt, I thought German. It was just a standard German name. And then it clicked that Uta Fischer’s companion’s name was almost definitely also just a Standard German name, and not a crap attempt at being funny. Which now made it fucking funny. In fact, my first reaction was to blurt out ‘Good grief, that’s his real name!’

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Things To Do In Ruse (Bulgaria) When You’re Dead

13 Sep

Don’t ask me why the title of this piece is what it is. It was literally the first (and only) thing that came to my mind.

By the way, Part One of this story can be read by clicking HERE

We followed the road away from the border crossing for a couple of minutes until we came to the place where lorry drivers parked their vehicles on the dust and disappeared for food and drink; unregistered taxi drivers touted for extortionate business; prostitutes paced up and down, freezing in their open shoes; and a little bureau de change exchanged money at a less than fair rate. Despite this, I exchanged £10 for some local currency and we drank hot fruit tea as we stood in the side of the road, shivering, with outstretched thumbs. The local men masquerading as taxi drivers seemed intent on testing my patience, with one approaching us every two minutes, saying, “Where from?” followed by, “Taxi? Taxi? Sofia? Varna? Very cheap.”

“How many times? We don’t want a taxi!”

Along with these persistent car owners, there were also scruffy young lads whose sole purpose in being there seemed to be to bum cigarettes and to check out how easy the pickings were for a bit of theft. They would approach us, ask me for a fag, then stare at our bags intently as I handed them a smoke. Once they realised that we were aware, though, they soon moved on. The taxi drivers were a different story. They were beginning to piss me off. The colder it got, the more frustrating it became standing in the road, being ignored by the driver of every vehicle that passed. After an hour and a half of standing in the same spot, we accepted that we probably weren’t going to have any luck. We were so cold that it hurt to breathe. We squeezed each other tight and jumped around on the spot to get the blood flowing, and then we picked up our bags and began walking along the side of the road, away from the border and towards what we hoped was the city centre. After about ten minutes of walking in pitch darkness along the muddy verge, we reached a petrol station and I went inside and asked the peroxide blonde working behind the counter to call me a taxi.

“Strange request, but okay – You’re a taxi!” she said.

No she didn’t. Continue reading

How to Pull Off a Bribe the English Way, and a Stroll on Friendship Bridge

5 Sep

Every burp brought with it a harsh reminder of the previous night’s festivities, in the form of a tiny but potent shot of stomach acid mixed with Ţuică, Romania’s version of the generic homemade plum schnapps produced in old men’s sheds all over Eastern Europe and regurgitated by every westerner to visit the home of anyone living on the eastern side of what we once knew as the Iron Curtain. I could smell on my breath the subtle odour of burning intestines. A throbbing pain in the back of my head brought to my mind the vivid image of a drip, drip, dripping tap. I was in bad nick as I followed Adriana up the stairs from the underground platform of Eroii Revoluţiei metro station in Bucharest, emerging into the late-winter sunshine and crisp cold air of this early afternoon. Despite the shape my body was in, I couldn’t have asked for better external conditions for beginning a 460-mile non-stop hitchhiking mission from Romania’s capital to the mystical meeting point of East and West, Turkey’s Istanbul. The distance was almost identical to that which lay between my home town of Brighton down on England’s south coast and Glasgow up in Scotland, but culturally the journey seemed like much more massive an undertaking; like crossing a much bigger divide. Turkey, in my mind at least, was a totally different land to the safe and orderly European one which I would be leaving behind.

I fumbled around in my pocket and pulled out in one swoop half a packet of chewing gum, some bluey-purple fluff, two loose cigarette filters and 10 Romanian Lei (just short of £2), my very last bit of Romanian currency. The money brought happiness in the shape of a donut, a meat filled pasty and a slice of cold pizza, bought from a round-faced and plump old lady with a moustache and a broad smile offset by gaps.

“How you remain such a skinny bitch is one of the great mysteries of mankind,” Adriana commented. “I put on weight just watching you eat the amount of shit that you do.”

Since meeting five years earlier, when she had put me – a wet behind the ears couch surfer backpacking his way around Europe for the first time – up in her flat above a Bucharest cigarette shop, Adriana and I had been most things to each other at one time or another – best friend, travel buddy, counsellor, lover, advisor, confidant, antagonist, educator, to name but a few – but for the past couple of years we had been strictly mates. We shared a special bond; an ease; a complete comfort with one another. We also fought worse than any two siblings ever did. Each of us could annoy the other without effort. Infuriate, even. We saw each other once or twice a year for two to three weeks at a time, and we spoke regularly online. We had completed small bouts of travel together in the past, our last trip taking us around Bosnia and Serbia, but nothing close to the epic goal we had set ourselves this time around: A 3000-mile hitchhiking jaunt around the Black Sea, beginning and ending in Bucharest, focusing predominantly on Turkey, but also taking in Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Moldova. Both of us were in no denial that the biggest challenge would not be logistical; it would be remaining friends throughout such an intense period of time spent in each other’s pockets. Whatever happened, this would be our last chance to spend some quality time together for the foreseeable future, as Adriana, who had just completed her master’s degree in architecture, would be moving to China once our trip was completed, to pursue her career. This would be our final jaunt; our goodbye.

The 3000-mile path we planned to tread

The 3000-mile path we planned to tread

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Crossing into the Unknown – Georgia to Armenia

6 Jul

After waking with hangovers in the Georgian village of Idumala, Adriana and I ate a quick breakfast of Khachapuri (traditional Georgian cheese bread) with the men of the village, downed a couple of shots of cognac, and then wandered down to the main road shortly after midday, to begin our 85-mile hitchhiking mission to Gyumri, across the border in Armenia. The lush, bright green valleys stretched out below us on all sides; watched over by the equally green mountains, reaching high into the clouds for as far as the eye could see; our route guided by the calm and serene Mtkvari River on our right side; as local peasants passed us on horse-drawn carts.

This early April morning in Idumala, Georgia, was probably the most beautiful of the journey

This early April morning in Idumala, Georgia, was probably the most beautiful of the journey

We managed to hitch a ride with a couple of manual labourers in a small van to within about 30 miles of the Armenian border, where we were dropped off at the side of the road and waved goodbye. We carried on, on foot.

Adriana leads the way. Onward towards Armenia.

Adriana leads the way. Onward towards Armenia

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Bosnia – She’ll Humble You.

18 Feb

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.

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The Start Of An Unconventional Love Affair [Zagreb].

18 Feb

It was a midweek afternoon in November and I was being battered by the elements. When I’d left the flat the sky had been slightly grey, but the air had been dry, and so I hadn’t thought to take a coat with me. But now, as the heavens opened above me, I wasn’t as bothered by it as I might have been. In fact, even as the water mixed with the gel in my hair – Aaah, gel. Remember how it used to be standard to wear gel? This was 2003, after all – and ran down my face in streams, meeting on top of my eyeballs to create an uncomfortable stinging sensation, I remained still and focused on the spectacle that was taking place before me. My face was pushed up against the wall; it was the only way I could get a proper view of the action, peering through the gap between the bricks and the metal gate. Every now and then a car would stop at the red traffic light behind me, while its passengers eyed me curiously, speculating amongst themselves about what I was up to and why it was important enough to keep me out in such torrential rain and gale force winds.

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