Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dreams: a sultry shop assistant and a Jewish school


A few nights back I dreamt of seeing a desirable shop assistant. She was tallish and had dark blonde hair tied back. She could have made a lot more of herself. She wore a blue top and tight jeans. I was very turned on by her. She smiled bashfully and then become wordlessly flirtatious. I could tell something was going to happen. She was pale skinned and wore no makeup. She reminded me of someone on my journalism course. I awok with a boner.


Then a few nights ago I saw something about the kindertransport.

Then I dreamt that I HAD A Job at that Jewish school I APPlied to years ago. IT WAS THe first day of term. There were boys only. They all wore dark uniforms. I was disorientated – people were moving around so much. I had to go off to another school which was part of the same campus. I WAS in a car going down hill. I got out and into the new school. I realised I should look at my timetable. I discovered I was in the wrong place and very late. I FELT VERY Apprehenive. It was noisy. I WAS bewildered. I knew about the timetable and has stupidly not check it earlir – on to a thir campus

THIS anxiety reflects my fears about all these wanderings and the joib hunt. 

A dream of a child coming into the room.


A few nights ago I was in a small oil town. I slept alone in the flat. I awoke about 7 am but went back to sleep. I awoke and was sure I heard someone talking to me. But no one was there. I now see what Richard Dawkins says when he wrote about being able to imagine voices – the hearing of them is almost physical. I could have sworn I saw a pink blob on the door – meant to be the child’s hand on the door as we was coming into the bedroom. Of course he was not coming in since he spent the night half a mile away. I had been dreaming of black suitcases since I am about to leave.

In recent nights I have been speaking out loud angrily.

A dream of packing up loot.


I dreamt of being back in Boratistan. I was in a hotel. I had many black suitcases – a bit like the one that I own in real life. I was stuffing things into them hurriedly. I was eager to get away with all the things I had pinched. I was worried that i would not make it.

I have fantasised about going back to that country and nicking lots of stuff and taking it with me so I can get compensation for all the bastards stole from me.

Peru: travel writing


It was more than a decade ago that I set off to Peru. I left my sister’s  house in a western district of London and went to Heathrow Aiport. I went to the terminal that serves South America and other distant continents. I cannot recall which one that is. I was flying on Iberia – the national airline of Spain. I got to the terminal and then it struck me: I was flying to Lima via Madrid. I needed to be in the terminal for Europe. I hastened to the right terminal and made  it. It was an inauspicious start to an enormous journey. Me entry point to South America was Lima and my exit  point was Rio de Janeiro. Over the next five weeks I passed through Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. I have never been to Latin America before.

The one thing my brother in law knew about Lima was that it was the home of Paddington Bear.

The Hispanics take appearance exceedingly seriously. That is why on telenovelas everyone is so good looking. From toddlers to coffin dodgers – looks count. They may be totally bereft of acting ability but their thespians are all visually alluring. The formula for that genre of soap opera is a love scene, a fight scene and a scene of hysterics. Never fails. True to form on Iberia the staff all took immense pride in their appearance – even if some of them were overweight or had bad bone structure. Their clothes were immaculate and not a follicle was misplaced.

There was a brief layover in Madrid Barajas Airport. I wanted to withdraw money but there was no such place where I was. I asked a cleaner – he did not speak English. It was time to try to resurrect my GCSE Spanish. I had been practising with my gap toothed Spanish colleague Elena in the preceding months. ”Hay un lugar donde puedo retirar dineiro?” Only later did Iearn the word for cashpoint – cajero automatico. He said no. I asked the police if I could go out to do so but was refused.

On the flight to Lima I sat beside an elfin French girl. I was 23 and she was a little younger. Her name was Clotilde. She had short mid brown hair – spiky and boyish. She was desirable but could have made herself more so. I had first addressed her in Spanish – later we spoke French. It transpired that we both spoke German so we spoke a little in that language. She worked in a nursery and was visiting a friend of hers in Lima. I told her I was attracted to her and asked for her contact details. She gave me her email address. I later wrote to her but she never replied. She was smiley but maybe disliked my asking and felt she could not decline. Though I treasured the German I was also a sexual opportunist.

I was dozy and slept for much of the journey over the Atlantic. At one point a conceited looking steward in a red jacket asked me what I wanted to eat. ”Nadie”, I shook my head. His expression registered only mild surprise. I later realised I had committed an error. I had meant to say ”nada” meaning ”nothing”. I had answered the question, ”What do you want to eat?” with ”nobody.”

I read Lawrence Rees on the British Empire.

Evening came and we landed in Lima. There were longish queues but passport formalities were brief. Out through customs. The faded blue uniforms of the customs officers were topped off with baseball caps. I amused me to see the abbreviation SS on their shoulders. The words Servicios Seguridades explained it. In Spain ”servicios” means ”lavatories”. Spanish like English is a language that divides – especially on the two sides of the Atlantic.

I went out and ran the gauntlet of overly helpful cabbies. I fingered my guidebook. Those following me outside. Eventually I went with a guy whom I had earlier rejected. He was a short and brown-skinned Peruvian. He had thick glasses and seemed harmless. This is often a factor in choosing a cabbie. If it came to it is this someone I could physically best? We haggled over a price. He told me his name was ”John”! He pronounced it ”Hon” – not Juan. He showed me his licence and sure enough it was the Anglophone version of the name spelt J–O-H-N.

We drove through the not so busy streets of Lima. He pointed out this sand pyramids as some ancient Inca site. We went to the Miraflores area. Around and around. He could not find the place. We passed the Belgian embassy which I took to be a good sign. At least we came to the hotel and I checked in without difficulty and paid him however many soles. Sol means sun in Spanish and the currency of Peru is called the sol. The Incas used to worship the sun.

The room was small and basic. It was well heated. I slept like the dead. I awoke and amused myself over a copy of Hardcore. Autumn was in it as was gangbang champion Claire Brown – complete with the dates of her children’s births tattooed on her slender arms. I had run the risk of taking that obscenity in with me – unsure if it was legal in Peru. I never put it to the proof.

Next day I dressed in shorts. It was August. Idiotically I had not cogitated. In the Southern Hemisphere August is the equivalent of February for the Northern Hemisphere. It is winter. I was the only one in short trousers. Peruvians never wear shorts even in hot weather – only trunks and even then strictly only at the beach.

It was misty and chilly. I had only two pairs of trousers with me. In time I bought more.

I called the girl from a payphone. They existed back then. A recorded voice came on in Castilian. Luckily I knew that marcar meant dial. I spoke to her and she was very happy to converse with me.

The place was rather dirty. I saw the main chain of supermarkets was E Wong. There is a large Chinese and Japanese community. They are often big in business and the professions. The president was Alberto Fujimori.

I walked around a lot. I saw the graffiti – Bush Hijo de perra. Bush son of a bitch. The idiom works in Spanish. The S of Bush was written as a dollar sign.

I took a minibus into the city centre. I stepped on and saw a man as white as myself. I instantly knew he was not Peruvian. I spoke to him in Spanish. He initially denied being a foreigner. Then he relented – he was German, here teaching German in the army academy. He considered himself a Peruvian now and squeezed the hand of his brown skinned girlfriend. She smiled with deep sincerity from behind her glasses. I noticed there were black Peruvians too.

The Plaza de Armas was the focal point as all over the Hispanic World. The city centre was clean and the buildings were beige and handsome. It was very carefully preserved. I went to the presidential palace. I filmed the soldiers stomping around. Soldiers in parade dress wore uniforms from about 1800 – as in around the time Peru became independent. Stylised army uniforms mostly date from that era. The band played El Condor Pasa – reworked by Simon and Garfunkel for the song I would rather be a hammer than a nail. An officer in a green uniform held his sword aloft from the top of the stairs – a door into the palace was open.

The area behind the palace was not far off shanty town. It was just beyond a dirty little canal.

I had a guided tour of the cathedral. I chose to have this in English. My middle aged and crow foot face guide was personable. She pointed out to me images of the blessed virgin with a mountain coming out of her skirt. There had been a mountain goddess in Inca mythology. When Christians came to Peru they superimposed their Mariolatry onto this mountain deity – literally. It was telling as to the syncretism of religions. On a side street near this Christian prayer house I saw a procession of people dressed in old style Inca costume processing along the street – keeping the tradition alive. Their culture has not entirely gone to rags.

I went to the Larco Mar shopping centre. It was like something in the United States. I looked out over the Pacific Ocean. The waves roared in. It was far too wild to swim. The climate was horrid – foggy and cold,

In a cafe I flirted with a plump waitress. I suggested meeting that evening. She said she was busy but the next night would be good. She gave me her number but by the night after I had left the city. Never to return – probably.

I discussed things with a travel agent in the hotel. The manageress had been keen for me to meet this chap. Hermano Mayor was on the telly – Big Brother. We had a good natured chin wag about that before getting down to brass tacks. He got me to talk him through all I wanted to do in Latin America. He could arrange it all and quoted me a price. I asked just for the bus ticket to Quito. He nodded and looked down – disappointed. He went and bought me the ticket. I later discovered the mark up was only 100%. Serves me right for not getting it myself.

A friend of the manageress was the cabbie who took me to the bus station. He had been in the navy and had had an eye operation lately. I chatted happily to him. I was going around with a pocket Spanish dictionary in my pocket.

I got to the bus station and boarded my bus in good time. It was a rickety rackety vehicle – a colour so pale and stained that I cannot remember which one it was. It would be 24 hours to Cuzco. I could not contemplate such a journey now. I did not have much money and wished to preserve my funds. i could not consider flying to soon on my trip. I conversed amicably with the Peruvians. One of them stuck in my mind – being unusually tall for his nationality and attired in denim overalls. He was headed to Abancay. We passed through the desert south of Lima. I have seen the Arabian desert but this was drier. I could not believe that the Peruvian desert was nothing but sand – not a tree and not a blade of grass, just beside the sea too.

We watched American films with subtitles. They should be good at English for that reason but they are not.  They showed each move twice. One was a police investigation thing – a private detective was hired. She was a decent looking blonde and a statuesque brunette wanted the private detective to tempt her husband. The detective had sex with the husband and brunette was dischuffed. There was also Norbit starring Eddie Murphy. I thought these Peruvians cannot spell Norbert. I later learnt that the character really is called Norbit.

The vehicle followed the serpentine road as it twisted from the plains into the foothills and from the foothills into the chilly mountains. There were switchbacks and the land tumbled away sharply to one side – down hundreds of metres. If the driver took his eyes off the tarmaced road for a split second that could be enough to send us plunging over preciptous edge of the cliff to be dashed to death among the rocks far below. I decided to try to avoid such journeys before. I have never  liked mountains. Coming from an isle it is predictable that I like the seaside.

I slept. I read more. We stopped at some cafes and I walked. My arse cheeks ached. At long last we pulled into Quito. I walked gingerly. It is at a very high altitude and as my book warned me one gets tired walking 100 metres. I found a place a little up hill from the Plaza de Armas. It was affordable but pleasant. There were books to take – left by other guests. One was entitled Spaans – meaning Spanish in Dutch. The lack of hot water was a grave problem especially considering that it is fornicating cold in Quito.

This is the Gringo capital of the continent.

In a bar around the corner I saw a group of Irish people in their 20s. There was a chap there who looked very like Paddy – my chum from Saintfield. But these people had Dublin accents – it was not him.

I ambled around the Plaza de Armas. Outside there was a cathedral mentioning something being donated by El Caudillo de la Ultimat Cruzada de la Hispanidad contra el Bolshevismo – Franco. It was from the 1950s.

I purchased a pair of garish trousers in inimitable Andean style. They were cotton. I had few pairs of trews and it was bitingly cold in the mountains. I saw some graffiti saying viva Irak and denouncing the United States. The US military had just assisted the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord liberate that country from the hideous tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Viva Irak indeed. It was only through American muscle that this was possible.

Beyond the main square the town was shambolic. In the distance I could see the serrated edges of the Andes. The towered formidably.

I bought a railway ticket to Macchu Picchu and an admission ticket to the historic site. This cost over $100 – in that place and at that time this was a price that was more than handsome: downright ugly it seemed to me. But this is the tourist magnet of the continent. There is no tourist who comes to Peru who can avoid visiting this attraction. Therefore the Peruvian authorities can more or less charge what they like. However high the price – tourists will pay it.

I awoke the next day at about 5 am for a ice cold shower. I wrapped up warm and toddled out over the unlit and unsteadily paved streets. I made my way to the railway station. A short and distinctly camp middle aged Peruvian was there in his blue railway uniform. He spoke goodish English, ”Oooo – it is cold.” I boarded the train. I noticed a fairly old Indian couple. By Indians I am not using an outdated word for autochthonous Peruvians. I mean people from India. They were the only Indians whom I saw in that country. It was a sign of the growing wealth of India they Indians should come to far to go on hols. It being an indecently early hour to rise I soon returned to my slumbers.

The train passed some shanty towns that were shocking in their abjectness. This was the Peru that tourists are not supposed to see.



The train went this way and then reversed and went that way. It sort of zig zagged to go up the mountain. The angle was too severe for the iron horse to go straight up. We came to a narrow ravine and the railway went up one edge of that. I saw a footpath and saw many white tourists in shorts and T shirts – bandanas around their heads and hefty rucksacks on their backs. I recalled my colleague Trudy who had done this – walked the Inca Trail. A muddy brown river splashed by between rounded rocks.

After about three hours we arrived at our destination. As we detrained I spoke to one of the desirable young train attendants. She was surprisingly tall for a Peruvian. Her jet black hair was scraped back. I cannot remember what her exchange was about but she called me ”sir” – we spoke English of course. Her female colleague chided her drolly as though she had been flirting with me. My interlocutor said, ”es mi pasajero” – defending herself. I thought how gratifying it would be to bed her. But I was cognizant of the menace of disease. I did nothing about it. I was due to leave town very soon.

I had come to the not so fair town of Aguas Calientes. This means hot water. There are hot springs there. Some tourists come there to bathe their aged and aching bones in the naturally hot water there. There was a clutch of hotels there for those who wished to indulge themselves in the hot springs. The very steep mountains were carpeted in thick vegetation – the green varying from olive to leprechaun green. I decided to have a bit or ten at a nearby tourist restaurant. It seemed that everything in this dingy place was made of plastic – including the food. After a little nourishment I walked down the dirt road along which minibuses whizzed every minute. I went to a pick up point. I got on a clean beige minibus and was taken up the mountain. The mountains seemed to form a wall. The road came in from the south but no road ran north. The sideroad we were raking zig zagged up the very sharp gradient of the mountain to Macchu Picchhu itself. After ten minutes the minibus purred to a halt and an assortment of Occidentals were disgorged.

I went to the gates of Macchu Picchu. A knot of brown skinned Peruvians stood their lightsomely. I presented my ticket. I was offered a guide but declined. I would just read the signs. I wished to go around on my own at my chosen pace and in an order that I was to decided. The gates were at a narrow point in the plateau that formed Macchu Picchu. This was an ancient Inca city believed to have been abandoned in the 16th century as the Spaniards came near. It was forgotten for centuries. I believe some indigenous Peruvian legend attested to it. An American academic – Hiram somebody – rediscovered it in about 1910.

At the gate there were some grey stone little buildings. A mountain tapered up to the left. Once in the gate the town was laid out before me. There were dozens of grey buildings – none of them with a roof on. I pottered around the buildings. There were no signs saying wht was what. Guides shephereded their mostly American charges about and elucidated the supposed function of each building. I walked to the left and left again – a trail led away and let me see the next valley. The valley fell away very steeply and the path became dangerously narrow – barely clinging to the side of the mountain.

I had a goo stroll around. I spoke to a 40 something clean cut Australian. He was a cheerful type in specs and was keen to ask questions about my video camera. I liked this place – it was very remote though. I must have spent less than an hour. I am sorry to say it was a bit of a let down. Soon I took a minibus down the mountain and headed to the station for the three hour train trip back to Cuzco.

I spent what little remained of the day walking a few central streets and recuperating. I bought a railway ticket to Punto. Next morning I was off.



I boarded a train that was rather worn. My coach seemed to be full of females only – suits me! I commented to the male ticket inspector ”Es solamente por mujeres?” But he correct me and pointed out a couple of men at the far end.

I spoke to a tall, pale woman. She turned out to be Finnish. We conversed in English but a tiny bit in German. She spoke French and Swedish too! Her light brown hair was blatantly dyed. There was a mournful and pensive aspect to her angular face. She was slimmish for one well beyond menopause. She told me about Finland. I often used to ask about compulsory military service in those days. Her son had been called up. He refused to do military service or indeed civi c service. For this he was sent to prison. I alluded to this being a ‘crime’ – I did so deliberately. On mature reflection that was a needlessly provocative and cruel thing to say. She did not take offence – or so it seemed. It was a treat to speak English since Spanish required mental endeavour.

Our train clattered over the Altiplano – the plateau that is made up of southern Peru and northern Bolivia. The landscape was a cafe au lait colour. There was a little scree at the foot of each mountain. The official bush broke the arid monotony of the higgledy piggledy topography.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere to give us the chance to see a market. I had not the least intention of purchasing any of the lama wool tawdry trinkets being hawked by the indigenous Peruvians. The salespeople were mostly got up in folk dress. A few mangy lamas stood about imperiously. It made me call to mind a limerick:

I don’t know much about Peru but I do know

A woman is fine, a boy is divine but a lama is numero uno.

I was glad for the chance to perambulate up and down the length of the train since my haunches were stiff from sitting.

Toward evening we descended into the lakeside town of Puno. The land was still dry. The station’s white walls were liberally stained with all sorts of colours. What can have done that? The town was litter strewn and raffish. I found my way to a hotel picked for its price from the guidebook. It was much better than you might expect.

I wandered the mostly unpaved streets. It was mostly low rise – few buildings stood above two storyes. The whole place gently slipped down towards Lake Titicaca. Yes, children in Geography love that one especially when enunciated for comedic effect: Titty – Kaka. Despite the rundown state of the place it began to grow on me. I sat at a streetside restaurant and ordered comida tipica from the brown skinned and smiley teenage waitress. I asked for water and she inquired, ”Quieres un chicito?”. I stiffened – what was the imprecation here? She had asked, ”Do you want a little boy?” Most certainly not! To be offered a rent boy by a seemingly winsome waitress made me question the shine I had taken to this parlous place. She explained to me that ”un chicito” although literally rendered as ”a little boy” means a small portion of whatever it is. Yes, I did want a small bottle of water as it happened.

Typical food consisted of chips and some red processed meat with mayonnaise. I hope it was not hamster. People in this region are known to have a festival where they dress up their hamsters and guinea pigs – lovable beasts as rodents go – in miniature human clothes. They then kill then and eat them. There is something amiss with that.

Next morn I descended from my commodious bedchamber to partake of breakfast. The only other person in the room was a girl in her late 20s. She had pale flesh and dark blonde hair tied back in a demure bun. She wore glasses. She was slender and her pert rack was easily discernible through her beige top. A broad grin sat on her fellatio-inviting lips. I engaged her in conversation in my best Castilian. Even in Spanish her German accent was as blatant as a punch in the face. We switched to German. I told her how in Spanish I occasionally said ‘und’ instead of ‘y’ because I had spent a couple of weeks in Germany of late. She was doing a PhD about the History of the Altiplano.

I headed down to the lake. Dusty concrete jetties lead to boats. There was the odd fisherman lifting the catch out of his orange nets. It was a sunny though a blustery day.

I bought a ticket for a cruise. An elderly, bespectacled , dark complexioned, craggy faced Peruvian gave the talk – first in Spanish and then in English. I appreciated this – I could practice Spanish and then check I had got it right. He was patently of the native race. I spoke to a hefty British tourist. This guy was several years my senior and knew no Spanish. He was on hols in Peru only – not doing a big tour.

Within minutes out small craft filled with a dozen tourists had glided to a reed island. The people of the lake build these from matting reeds together. The women of this community tend to be very obese. It was odd stepping onto the island and feeling it wobbling underneath me. They also buily houses of the same material. These reed islands were of course not islands  because they were floating. Think of them as giant rafts. We entered a one room reed school and met a few small children. Their drawings were for sale. All pre arranged of course. i did not make a purchase. We had a brief go on a narrow wooden hand built canoe. All this was at once educational and gratifying. The slim but stooped guide told us how most of the people of the reeds developed rheumatism and arthritis from living so close to water.


Back to the shore. I walked around this dun and grey town. I walked into the main church – or was it even a cathedral? I saw the image of the crucified Christ.

For the first time I thought about how gruesome it was to have this battered and bleeding cadaver as the focal point for our spiritual meditations. The Latin Americans really go to town on the gore factor. I found it very distasteful – the vivid tones of the blood and bruises against the palour of a fresh carcass.

I thumbed through my guidebook. there was a crucifix up on the hill but people sometimes got robbed up there at dusk. Give that a miss. There seemed to be nowt else to do. I went and bought a bus ticket. I hastened back to my hotel. I grabbed my stuff. I went to reception – rucksack on my back. I would not be staying a second night after all – would it be possible to have that refunded? The teenage boy on the desk hesitated and looked down before slowly and softly saying ”No.” Shite – and onions.

Off to the bus station. I waited on the uncomfy plastic chairs. I tried to doze off. Every so oftena  man would shout, ”Arequipa, arequipa, arequipa – diez y media!” This was announcing the 10.30 bus to Arequipa.



At last the bus to Tacna came along. I boarded and soon fell akip. We traveled through the night.

Not long after dawn we pulled into the utterly forgettable fly blow border town of Tacna. I resolved to get shot of this place sharpish. I did not leave the bus station. I fell into conversation with some Peruvians who were going over the border. We agreed to share a cab to the Chilean town of Arica.

The taxi was one of those American cars that is very long. It was ancient by automobile standards. The red carpet inside the car was matted with stains. There was a middle aged Peruvian woman who was slim and desirable. She told me she was ”soltera y trista” – only half jocularly. It being morning my hormones were high and I thought of giving her one despite her wrinkles. I told them I was from Ireland and they asked about the skirts were wore. ”Yo nunca   trajer in una falda – jamas, jamas , jamas” They all laughed heartily. They always mix us up with the Scots. I got asked about Corazon Valiente – Braveheart. It was such a hit in Latin America. It reminds them of their history I suppose.

We got to the border. A Peruvian copper searched my knapsack and found a porn mag. ”Playboy?” he inquired smiling naughtily. In fact it was nothing so cultured – Two Blue hardcore. He told me it was not allowed in oh so religious Chile. I gave it to him. I later found that such material is freely availble in Chile.

On into Chile. I should have propositioned that middle aged woman. What can it have hurt?

I soon checked in to a low grade hotel and bagged some Zssss


The Czech Republic: travel writing.


It was that sublime summer than the girl and I boarded a train in Vienna and headed to Prague. In Vienna station (cannot remember if it was Ostbanhof or Sudbanhof) but what I do recall was a skinny couple inquired if I was Slovak. That was not why we decided to get out of town.

The train’s paintwork was faded and had a patina of dust in it. The words painted on the wagons were in German and Czech. The exoticism of the Slavonic words appealed to me. The interior of train were decrepit in Central European way. It was definitely not Teutonic.

The Austrian countryside is picture perfect. The meads and woods are ineffably pretty. Even the Alps do not have scree around the foot of the mountain.

I spent five happy hours in the presence of the serene. Well, she was serene at that time.

At the border the Czech border police stamped my passport. It was before the Czech Republic joined the European Union.

We passed the run down but not dreadful suburbs of Prague. It was a bright afternoon. There was a little bustle in the main station. I now think of Prague as being almost plush. Back then Prague was still short of a few repairs but somehow in an attractive way. It is like Bucharest’s rich cousin. We had chosen a hostel out of guidebook. The girl navigated our way on the tram. The tram was also a museum piece. The rattling, rusting tram brought us along streets filled with buildings that were almost a century old. They were not in a good state but they were handsome still. Prague is a melange of greys, beiges and dank greens. I do not mean dark – no, dank. Soon we were on a street with the buildings a few storeys high. The Belle Époque buildings were gracefully decaying. Around a corner and into a side street. There stood a very tall wooden door with many dents in it. I pushed it – it was even heavier than it looked. Up a flight of stone steps and onto an ill-lit landing. In through a creaking door on the first floor till in a tiny reception area we checked in. This is more or less a standard experience for those checking into hostels in Central Europe.

Our dorm consisted of four single bed. We were the only ones in it – or the moment.The room was long and narrow. A vomitus yellow tone defined the walls. The blankets had that 1970s dark brown and beige tartan effect. It is singularly repulsive. For all this I felt that I was in a demi-paradise. No town with her in it could be less than brilliant.

There was little time to waste. We lay down on the bed nearest the door. The girl has her head only inches from the door. A quick and hearty session followed. There was no sense in taking too long as someone could open that door at any moment. Patently, that was part of the thrill. Oh to have a leggy, lusty, buxom blonde not much out of her teens! Oh Luck! How I have scorned you. Yes, this is a prolonged elegy to that relationship.

We were attired in shorts and T-shirts. I used to sport an orange shorts and orange T-shirt combo in those days. The sort of ensemble that screams hetero. The legend adorned on my top was kangaroo poo – which was what I looked like. I imagine munching thorn bushes in the Gibson Desert the faeces of those giant mice comes out that colour.

We went into the city centre for a good look around. The Old Town was delightful. Mediaeval buildings filled every street. The place was marvellously well-preserved. Thank you Chamberlain! This man is not lauded enough. His appeasement policy preserved this aesthetic gem for future centuries. The cobblestone was perfectly tesselated. In stark contrast to much of the rest of the city this place was in good nick.We had a tourist map and found our way without much trouble. We went to Wenceslas Square. I remembered reading about it in relation to the 1968 invasion by the Red Army and how Jan Palach had immolated himself there.

Outside a church I read a sign about how some reformists in the Roman Catholic Church were booted out in the early 1920s for demanding reasonable changes. I saw where Jan Huss was put to death hundreds of years ago.

Hundreds of tourists walked about snapping photos. There were gaggles of Japanese.

On the map I saw adverts for many massage parlours and brothels. I remembered my chum Jeff had been sent there by his law firm. He was horny and the joke was that he would come back from Prague with AIDS or worse. Being with the girl I was not able to indulge. I have thought of going back. Unfortunately the economy in Czechia has picked up and now the girls there are not so vulnerable to exploitation.

We dined on a mediaeval square. It was scrumptious and I was entirely satisfied. Life was going splendidly. I felt that I had a golden future assured to me. In fact it was a golden shower. At the end of a filling meal we stood up. We had paid the bill by the way. An elderly American couple and came to take our table. The map was there. ”You can have that” I said. ”No”, said the girl, ”sorry we need that.”

We held hands so much. She yearned for me – and she had me. We walked down by the River Vltava. I remembered Mr Philips teaching us music. I recalled the music about this.river.

The hills rose sharply on the far side of the water. The river burbled underneath a centuries old stone bridge. We crossed it slowly – it was decidedly crowded. I heard a short old bearded man playing a squeaky violin and singing a folk song. It was discordant and plaintive. His language was bizarre and barbaric. It was not Czech. To me this music was like nothing I had ever heard. His song summed up the mystery and foreignness of Central Europe. It was a moment that will always live in my memory.

Later I saw a man of about thirty wearing a T shirt with the words. ”Tciofaidh Ar La.” This means in Irish, ”our day will come.” It is a slogan of the IRA. This man’s T shirt was expressing support for a terrorist organisation that caused so much oppression and misery in Ireland and beyond. I was more despondent than irate at this wanker. I told the girl about it. She was deeply sympathetic and tried to cheer me up – she lamented that was I feeling dolorous about my country. We crossed back across another bridge. The stone quays had huge metal rings on them for tying up boats. There was little river traffic. It was an ideal evening/

It was one of the most blithe evenings in my life.

Later back in the dormitory we met the two staying there. These boys were aged about 25. They were Canadians. One was a medical student and another had been a management consultant. He had thrown in his job to bum around Europe. A sound decision it was. The medical guy was shorter, thickset, he had glasses and plenty of stubble. The travel bum was tall, athletic and worryingly handsome. But the girl has eyes only for me.

tHE CHAPS went out. We lay on the bed and the girl only snuggled next to me. She was like a limpet. I did not appreciate how fortunate I was. One of the lads came back in after a few minutes and blurted out ”hi guys”. We did not reply. Poor  bloke – he did not know what to do. To fail to acknowledge us would be rude and could be taken as him not wanting us to stop what we seemed to be about to do. But we did not respond so it made him feel he was interrupting.

I was tired but the girl wanted us to go to the bar next door. We went to the noisy bar for one drink.

Next morning there was breakfast in the upstairs dining room. It was a brown roll, coffee and conserves. Strictly – that was it. We spoke the Canucks and they told us about this system of paying to ride in private cars around Canada – it was all underground. I distinctly recall the embryo doctor said ”underground.”

More exploring was in the offing. Over the river. Up the steep hill past a gorgeous rose garden. I am sure I have seen a porn flick shot there. Into the majesty of St Vitus Cathedral. This was the scene of the defenestration of Prague. One was in 1618 and the other was in 1948. The first started the Thirty Years War and the second bumped off a democratic politician. We mozzied around Praha Hrad – Prague Castle. Not many years before Vaclav Havel had been here as president. I was to learn much about Czech history at the time. The Crown Jewels of Bohemia and Moravia were kept here.

Down another walled walkway thronged with tourists. It gave us a terrific vista over the green heart of the city. The roofs are reddish-pink. There are so many stone towers with gargoyles and all artfully carved. Some things in Prague are plain but nothing is ugly. Those Czechs drink so much beer but are never fat.

On the street I bumped into Paul Boateng. This socialistic parliamentarian was then the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I greeted him eagerly. He put on a very broad and very false grin, ”enjoying your holiday?”  – it was as good as a hand off. He had a beturbaned person behind him – no doubt another Labour Party man.

That evening we went to a show in the black theatre that the girl wanted to attend. I say black theatre because the stage was dark and there were puppets and so on being wielded by black clad figures. They played a military tune that I found enchanting. I had become obsessed with the House of Hohenzollern. In many documentaries about Wilhelm II this tune was played. It was played during this show too. I later realised it was Preussens Gloria – Prussia’s Glory.

On our last morning we went and looked around a synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter. Some hardcore Jewish youths were there. These wheezy boys wore those round hats and had sidelocks flailing. So morally good – dressing like that.

We hastened to the main station. Then the girl revealed that she had fiddled with the watch. In fact we were there half an hour earlier than she said. She feared me making us late. She chuckled at her subterfuge. It bothered me only a jot.

Onto the train for five hours till Furth in Wald – ford in forest. That was where we had to change in Germany.

The hills of Bohemia were thickly wooded and very steep. It was like Hansel and Gretel country. I can see why people called somewhere near here Saxon Switzerland.


Four years later I lodged in Prague Airport hotel on my way to and from Kiev.  It was commodious and very white. Not even too costly.

I have never been to Czechia apart from that but really wish to.

An upsetting dream


A 12 year old boy was about to be hanged. I did not know what he had done. He wore a white cotton shirt and was beaming with pride. That made it all the more disturbing. He was of mixed parentage – black white. It was a sunny day and a small crowd gather in a circle to watch the event.

I turned away and left before the crucial moment. This child was in fact a 14 year old I saw in 2008 – half Barbadian and half Swedish. I had been thinking of his mother – a real milf – that other day. I also saw some images of three men about to be hanged in Kuwait.

The ambience of the others in my revery was not sombre. There were other parts to the dream but I remember them not.

Slovenia: travel writing.


The girl and I boarded a train in Vienna and headed for Ljubljana. Neither of us had ever been to Slovenia. It was a not so far away country of which we knew little. It was all part of what was my summer of love. The most splendid summer of my life. On this particular jaunt we visited Germany, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and back into Germany.

It was a radiant day when we pulled into the railway station. A lightsome step onto the platform. There were quite a few people milling around. My memory of that day is very cheerful. There were about ten platforms. It was not a  big station: but then this was not a big country. Slovenia has only one and a half million souls. I had only ever met two Slovenians before – in the foreigners’ sleeping area of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. But that is another tale.

The station building was pale but bright. Inside marble floors and automatic doors declared that this place mattered to Slovenia – not a rich country by European standards. The girl had a broad smile on her unlined face. We stepped into a tourist information office. Slender and short haired Slovenian young women answered our questions in impeccable English. I soon noticed they ended all exchanges with ”ciao, ciao.” Within minutes we stepped out – map in hand and a place to stay booked. The streets were dead flat – no cambre on them. So it did not rain much. The pavement was only an inch above the road – a marked difference to the British Isles. The city looked largely flat but in the far distance the snow capped Julian Alps announced themselves. That is why there is a snowy peak on the Slovenian flag. Slovenia and Slovakia are often mixed up. The names are similar. The flags are identical but for the snowy summit on the Slovenian one and the white cross on the Slovakian one. So Slovaks are meant to be religious then. There is only 200 miles of Austria to separate these two Slavic states.

The girl in her short and airy dress and I walked down a few streets and soon enough found our hostel. We had our own room. It was very reasonably priced. We forked over the tollars. Yet, Slovenian currency was called ‘tollars’ in those days. The symbol for this was SIT – standing for Slovenian, not sure what the I was for and then Tollars. We baptised the bed, so to speak. Those were the days. Why did I mistreat you! Not the bed, mind.

Back onto the streets of Ljubljana – pronounced Loo blee ya na. It is spotless and the buildings – they are hard to describe. They are not new and not old. They are not gorgeous but neither are they visually displeasing. They are not bland either. Most things were pallid in tone but not tediously or depressingly so. The city is rather small and very easy to navigate. Soon we were at the foot of the only hill that we saw in the city. Up the very steep cobble stone road we trod. An electric vehicle purred past carrying three generations of tourists. Tall and thick trunked trees had their deep green leaves cast a very welcome shade across us. For a boy of my age I was carrying more than a bit. Being a beer monster did not help matters. The road curled around the pacchiderm grey crenallations of this ancient castle. A few tollars were handed over at the ticket booth and into a small courtyard we stepped. The tourists were practically all Europeans. There was a Irish family and their young teenage son boasted an unmissable Dublin accent. His shirt also proclaimed a sporting allegiance to that city.

As the sun beat down from a pastel blue heaven I was glad to find refuge in the cool of an old chapel. Scores of coats of arms adorned the wall behind the altar. From the battlements on the highest tower we savoured the prospects of the city laid out before us like a carpet. We could see for many miles and the Julian Alps came into sharper relief. For a pint sized country Slovenia has a lot of geograpical diversity – coast, mountains, open plains and forest. As a country it is an afterthought. It was the smallest republic of Yugoslavia until 1990. Earlier it had been an adjunct of Austria. When I was in Slovenia I found out that Napoleon had briefly conquered it and made it an outpost of France. The French language and French ideas remained influential here for a long time to come.

There was an alluring parliament building in the main square. This was the tiniest main square I have ever seen. An ornate bridge spanned a gushing river that was so narrow I could have leapt it. I am no athlete. We bought fresh fruit, bread and cheese from the market there and munched it on the street.

That evening we found at internet cafe. The internet usage was free – but you had to buy a drink while you waited to use the lone computer. A Sudanese man was on. I am not sure how I am sure that he was from the Sudan. Did his passport sit on the table beside him and give him away or was it something he was looking up that made me conjecture?

Next day it was time to head on from this dwarvish capital. On on! On to the sea.



I think we got there by train. It was Koper D’Istria. The second part of the name means ”of Istria”. Istria is a promontory that juts into the Adriatic Sea. Istria is written as Histria by some – that is a silent H. This peninsula has been disputed between Italy and Slovenia for some time. Neither Italy nor Slovenia existed for centuries but Italian states and the states that controlled Slovenia (Austria most of the time) fought over this land.

Slovenia has a very short littoral – about 10 miles.

The girl and I asked some amicable Slovenians about hotels. A Slovenian suggested we go to a travel agency called Corn Pass. ”Corn Pass?” I said, baffled. ”Yes, Corn Pass”, replied the Slovenian man. I was mystified as why the place was called corn pass. He said it one more time – COOM-pas. Ah – compass! That made sense as a name for a travel agency.

went to a travel agency to inquire about a place to stay. We had not booked anywhere in advance of course. The town was relaxed and not hopping. We spoke to the travel agents for a while. One of them was a man in his 40s. He was tall and very muscular. He spoke English with a Yugoslav accent. Yes, Yugoslavia disappeared before I got there but I cannot tell a Sloven accent from a Croat one from a Serb one. He was into football and told us he was off to another country for a match soon. I forget which one. Of all the countries in Eastern Europe – Sorry ! – Central Europe, I find that Slovenia has the most competent speakers of English.

We found our hotel – on the edge of the city by the main road. It was white and boring. Into the bedroom –  bouncy bouncy. I miss those days dearly.

We had time to wend our way into town. There was a long concrete path a few metres in from the beach and a long stretch of gritty sand. Gentle hills rose up on either side of the town. We splashed into the brine. In a rather crowded area we sat down. I was able to persuade the girl to take her bikini top off. She was hesitant but did it with a smile. If you cannot get them out at that age then you never can. Aged 23 is not so young as to be timid but not so old that people are put off. Only a handful of other girls were treating everyone. Look at me boys – in here  with a gorgeous free spirited girl. Envy and weep!

Later the girl phoned her mum back in Germany from a payphone. Those were the times before mobile roaming. She spoke with enthusiasm to ”Mutti”. Mutti was an empty-headed, moody, do-nothing. She was rather lacking in motherly love. But somehow the girl spoke to her female parent in an infantile way. She lamented that we were staying somewhere undesirable. ”Es ist nicht treu!” I protested. That meant ”That is not faithful” – I had intended to say ”Es ist nicht war” – ”that is not true.” The girl told her mum of my error and called it ‘suess’ – cute. I had only met her five months before and was an autodidact at German. I have never had a German lesson in my life.

Each day began with heading to breakfast and stuffing myself with as many rolls as I could. I then waddled back into the bedroom. The blonde would lie on the other bed – legs akimbo, no knickers on. Her bald mound was there beckoning me. Despite being bloated I would manage to get hard and do stuff her.

The receptionist compensated for her obesity with a super-amplitude of makeup. She was not bad looking. On another occasion I would have given her one too.



We went to Portoroz – the port of roses. This small town is as winsome as its name. It is on a narrow peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The land tumbled roughly down to a stony shoreline. We walked down to the pebbled beach by a goat path. We lolled around on an almost deserted and narrow strand. On a bolder the words ”Frei Korper Kultur” were written. This is German for ”Free Body Culture”. This is nudism. One often sees merely FKK. It is written in German all over the coast of the erstwhile Yugoslavia. This is because naturism as a modern movement began in Germany in the late 19th century. Nudism is probably more popular in Germany than in any other nation.

There was an outstandingly fat woman some distance away, under a beige umbrella. The girl and I both stripped off. I stepped into the sea. It was hard to keep my balance on the slimy rocks – none of which had a flat surface. I managed to immerse my undercarriage. The sea was too shallow to swim properly. The girl came in – also as naked as nature intended. I got a semi and was minded to give her one in the sea. But the wavelets came in and threw me off balance. I could not stay upright. I decided against frightening the fish.

Later on the path up we spoke to an Italian. This man was several years older than us. He was self-assured, soft spoken and Italian. I gave him a burst of my few Italian phrases.


In the main square we waited for a bus. I stood behind my incredibly nubile girlfriend. This stirred a fire in my loins. Soon she felt me poking her from behind. She turned around to see her worst fears confirmed. It was early evening – still very much light. Plenty of tourists were wandering about. She was rather embarrassed and trotted away. We had dinner at a seaside restaurant. Despite being usually anti piscine I ate fish. That was how much I was getting into the spirit of things.

This is the sort of Mediterranean destination where crickets croak well into the warm evening. The place was always aromatic in a way that only the Mediterranean coast is.

One afternoon we took a bus into Italy. I was rather excited. I had not been there since 1986. The girl had taken a coach through Italy aged 18 all the way from north to south before catching a ferry to Greece.

Over the border and into Trieste.

After about three days in Slovenia we caught the train to Vienna and then another to Prague. On the way we met a Serb. He was tall and a few years older than us. He spoke excellent English. I asked him about the Serbian royal family. He said that his people had no time for the Karageorgevic family. He said that in the United Kingdom ”the royal family is a tradition right?” I did not address that point.

I have a photo of the girl from this train trip – looking sultry in the little black dress. An image I shall cherish till my dying day. Her sinful and coquettish smile as she reclines on her seat is irresistible. How I ballsed it all up!


Two years later – the relationship having just ended – I took  train from Croatia to Ljubljana. I lodged in a hostel in the centre.


Then a year after that I spent the night in Ljublana again on my way up from Croatia. Ljubljana is a nodal point when coming out of that crook in Southern Europe. It was Easter weekend an a load of Gypsies had made off with my rucksack in Serbia.



Lithuania: travel writing.


It was several years ago when seated on a small bus I crossed the frontier from Latvia to Lithuania. It was the middle of the night. The vehicle was small and shiny red. I sat right at the back. I dozed and lay leaning to the right and then to the left. It was uncomfortable on my spine. The bus was very warm. I was glad to be coming to Lithuania because I was getting out of Eastern Europe – I had lost my debit card. I had not learnt my lesson from India three years earlier – to have a few cards.

It was the wee hours of a December morning when we pulled into Vilnius. I got out of the bus and it was painfully cold. I trudged across the snowy streets to a hotel. I asked the price. It was only 40 pounds. It was a four star hotel. I checked in and slept several hours. The place was quiet and squeaky clean.  40 nicker was a lot for me especially back then but the choice had been between staying in the cosiness or going out into the biting chill.

I awoke when it was light. I had a good breakfast and looked out across the grimy streets to a white coloured railway station. The building itself was visually pleasing but with lumpenproletariat standing around and detritus scattered generously across the the pot holed street the place was unprepossessing. I would have liked to have looked around but reasoned I could not risk it. I could not afford to miss the flight.

I got to the airport almost immediately. I had plenty of time. What I saw of the city was nothing to write home about. Vilnius Airport was functional and small. I checked in and flew to London Gatwick. On the flight I sat beside a Belarussian who spoke good English. He was middle aged, short with dark hair. This chubby man told me he had been in the Red Navy in the 1980s. It struck me as odd that he had been a sailor when he came from a landlocked country. Of course when he was a youth Belarus was a constituent country of the Soviet Union and was thus part of a megastate with a huge littoral. The gentleman had been a submariner. I asked him questions about visiting Belarus. It is still on my to do list.


A year and a quarter later I came to Vilnius again. I had again come from Riga by bus. An Irish diplomat had warned me never to travel by train in that region as they are much slower than buses.

It was Eastertide. In the hostel in Riga I had looked up places to stay in Vilnius on the internet and emailed some people offering a one night let of a flat. On the large and dirty bus that drove me across Lithuania I received a text and then a call. It was from some Russian-Lithuanians – of whom there are many. In the bus station I met Alex Junior as he called himself. He was aged about 20 and a natty dresser. This tidy youth spoke superb English with only a light accent. He drove me to the comfortable flat on the main street leading down to the old bridge. His father was Alex Senior – he told me. I forked over the 50 Euros and made myself comfortable as he disappeared. I had been travelling most of the day. I did little exploring. A large equestrian statute stood in front of the bridge over the narrow river far below.

The next day I had a walk around the old town. It was very congenial. Soon I had to hurry off to the station and get a train to Warsaw. I knew the coach would have been faster but could not face such a journey. I prefer three hours on a train to an hour on a coach.

A dream of loss.


I had a cheerful dream. It involved wandering around – something which is always associated with happiness in my mind. I had seen lions from a distance but they were not threatening and they did not sense that I was around. I had been thinking back to a National Geographic drama about an American family on holiday in South Africa when they were trapped in their broken down car by lions.  I was walking along a beach. It was sunny but dusk was coming on. There were large beige boulders by the beach. Then I saw several paintings on the rocks. Each painting was square in shape and multicoloured. Each painting was a two foot by two foot – roughly. They were flags – Australian, Spanish and others – along the paintings. The colours were vivid. I realised that Judith had painted them. I was remembering all her paintings the other day and the JOY she used to write – for her initials and the year. I then wept bitterly. I felt so low at having mistreated her and lost her. I yearn for her still – I search for her still.

Lativa: travel writing


Twas a December a decade in arrear when the Eurolines coach crossed into Latvia. There was a little inner yelp of glee to have crossed a border. I do not think the police who boarded the bus stamped my passport. It was night but from the street lights I could see the country was as flat as a pancake and covered in deciduous forest. The many tiny towns through which our vehicle passed were made up of low-rise buildings – many of them wooden.

It was late at night when we pulled into Riga bus station. The place was not large and nor was it busy at such an hour. I wrestled my well thumbed Lonely Planet guide to Eastern Europe out of my worn veteran rucksack. Then I navigated the strange streets of Latvia’s capital. I first withdrew a fistful of the local currency from the ATM. The money is called Lat – makes sense that. It is easy to mentally link to the country. I valued the fact that all those different countries had their own currency. I was to discover that the sub unit of this currency was called the centime. I knew there was a little French influence here.

Under the railway – across the busy road. In towards the old town. I did not have to ply the snow-covered streets for long. Just two streets behind the main road I came to the hostel. Up the stairs to the first floor reception. The staircase had a wan light and that Eastern European standard sickly yellow colour on the walls. At reception I was greeted by a girl who reminded me why so many had thought Latvia was well worth invading – and defending. She – like the other receptionists who did stints there – was a blonde stunner. She had none of the conceit that sometimes afflicts those who are young and desirable. She was open and welcoming. There were not many people about.

I checked in and found my room. There was a tall guy in the dorm – he had long thick black hair that tumbled down his shoulders and deep, serious voice. He had a broad nose with slightly upturned nostrils, red around the edges. Behind his thick glasses sat intense dark, brown eyes. He immediately struck me as searching, intelligent but not humourous. We soon established that he was Spanish – though he possibly knew that before I did. We conversed in Castilian. I do not recall his name so I shall christen him Xavier – a name I have only once had to call someone for real: that was because it was a French boy’s name  but that is another story. I found Xavier hard to figure out – he was dressed raffishly in a tie dye shirt and ripped jeans. We switched into English – a language he spoke easily. I soon found him amicable and unthreatening.

We agreed to go to a bar. I think it was his idea. We went a few streets away from the hostel. In a basement loud rap music blared but not so overwhelming as to forfend dialogue. I fell into a conversation with a blond Latvian boy who told me he was 18. He spoke terrific English. He wore blue jeans several sizes too big for him – a plain white T shirt, and enormous black jacket and a red bandana around his head. He told me he was dressed to look like 50 cent. I told him I had been to Moscow in 1994. He said with horror, ”I think you are thirty!” – to him 30 was almost 100.

After a few beers we toddled home. There I met Oscar – another Spaniard. The diminutive Oscar was already known to Xavier. Oscar hailed from Catalonia. I discussed Catalan identity. He had no fixed view on this as to whether they were Spaniards or not; whether they should seek independence or not. He put his hands up as if to say: I am just an ordinary guy: apolitical – I do not give it any thought. Shorty Oscar had pale skin and fair hair – unusual for someone from Spain. Being Catalan he was arguably not quite Spanish. We spoke Spanish a little. He told me he worked in Costa Natura in Andalucia. What was this? It was a nudist colony! He was an entertainer. I wondered if his willy wagged as he danced. He assured me there was nothing related to sex at the place. I then cancelled my booking. Which town was Costa Natura in? Estepona. Ah …. so that explains why my auntie Angie has bought a house there.

Oscar had been on a massive jaunt around Europe because Costa Natura was closed for the winter. He had been in Norway – all the way up to Circula Polar. I was jealous. We looked at a huge map of Europe on the wall as he explained his itinerary.

Next day I had a good wander around Riga. The streets near the hostel were plain but handsome – the walls were unadorned. The colours were varied and these edifices blatantly predated communist brutalist architecture. I visited the museum of the occupation. It was not far from where I was lodged. I had not realised how ghastly the Soviet occupation was. Hundreds of thousands of people were exiled and imprisoned for being class or their political beliefs. They were held in inhuman conditions and made to work as slaves. Several thousand people were killed. The utter cruelty of the communists was laid bare. The president of Latvia was disappeared. He was still alive in a Soviet prison after the Second World War. He managed to have a note smuggled out. After that there is no record of him – none that President Putin was willing to reveal even 60 years later. Surely the Russian authorities must know exactly what happened to such a high value prisoner. They must have calculated that it would be too shameful to admit. Latvia was intimidated into acceding to the USSR in 1940. This was patently a contract that was void for duress.

I was eager to stretch my legs as I had sat down too much the day before. I walked the length of the city – through the majestic old town with its soaring bell towers. I learnt that Richard Wagner had been in charge of the German Opera House here. There was a large German community in these Baltic cities into the 1940s.

I walked a couple of miles across the city. I walked all the way to a large bridge by a frozen river. Riga is on a river – just in from the sea. It is a port city.

I walked back towards the city centre. I saw an Anglican Church being rennovated. I remembered my cousin’s cousin who had been here in 1999 with his church. . He had met a girl there and was kindling a liaison with her. I do not believe that bog brush haired Christian ever wed the lass. I had a look around this not very impressive prayer house and I read their newsletter. Perhaps this was founded for English sailors. Good to get a bit of redemption in between rolling from bar to bordello. Latvia is a Catholic country so the presence of a Protestant Church surprised me. The Estonians are mostly Lutheran like their Finnish cousins.

Riga is more an 18th century city whereas the core of Tallinn has struck me as being mediaeval.

I walked around a small park. I saw the obelisk memorial from the Soviet era. It had been rededicated to the victims of communism. Two soldiers stood guard – rifles at the ready. These solemn warriors managed not to look bored. I saw a small memorial to several unarmed protestors shot dead by Soviet Ministry of the Interior Troops in 1989. Summary death being the standard punishment from those who disagreed with Kremlin policy. Communism really cares about the working class you see.

That evening I dined in the English Gentleman pub. I had seen the Latvian words for pull and push so much on doors that I knew these words. Pork was the staple meat. There was lashings of it and it was tasty too. They served it with sliced boiled potatoes.

Back to the hostel. The owner was a Latvian-Australian. His father had emigrated from Latvia to Oz. The man had known nothing of his father’s homeland until he was middle-aged and decided to visit. He  offered me a free go at bob sledding. I was tempted but managed to chicken out on the grounds that my travel insurance would not cover it. That was true. I rue not going.

I met a middle-aged Japanese photographer in the common room. He was on his travels and showed me his state of the art equipment. He was softly spoken and genial. He was very tall for one of his race.

There were three boys from Norfolk there. I spoke a lot to these undergraduates. They had randomly picked a destination. They sat around sucking on beers most of the time. They told me of their trip to Dolls. Dolls is one of the country’s top lap dancing establishments. They were reasonably impressed. They airily gave me the impression they were experts in rating lap dancers. I was minded to pay a visit to this nightspot.

Then I mozied over to the Jewish Museum. It was in an urban apartment block – a few storeys high. It was on the far side of the park. It was not quite enthralling. Elderly Jewish Latvians milled around the landings. They all wore drab clothes – jaded leather jackets, bland jumpers, dark trousers and workmanlike boots. None of them seemed in any way Jewish. So many Jews were murdered here and since Latvia became free again most of the young Jewish folk departed for Israel. They nattered eagerly but not merrily among themselves and eyed me with some trepidation.

Then I strode out across the park again – the bare branches scored the sky as winter had long since stripped the coniferous trees of their leaves. I went to the built area near my hostel – into a shopping centre. On a high floor I had a haircut. I reasoned that this would be a lot cheaper than in the British Isles. A camp youth performed my tonsure. He was a short and weedy pansy with good English. He told me he was an ”Orthodoxian”. That done I headed into the streets.

Almost all the ladies wore trousers on account of the frigid temperatures. A few were such fashion victims that they wore skirts despite it being well below zero. Even double tights cannot have cut out the cold much. At least they wore sturdy if sexy boots.

I was about to head to Dolls when I tried to get money from the ATM. I discovered I had lost my card. I searched high up and low down. I shall not take you through the frustration of it all. In the end I had to get my sister to send me money. I went to the Irish consul and the Irish embassy. In the embassy I met the third secretary. This likable and hefty man was not quite middle aged. I was not permitted to use the phone. He was keen to palm me off on the British embassy despite my having entered the country on an Irish passport.

I phoned Barclays’ innumerable times and was eager to throttle someone. Why were inebriated Russians answering the phones in Barclays’? Then I realised they were not Ruskie dypsomaniacs but they were Portuguese. An easy mistake. I am not suggesting that all Russians are alcoholics – only 99% are. I am saying that a Portuguese sounds like a Russian who is pissed.

It took a good 24 hours to sort this out. I wandered the streest trying not to spend money. I was glad I had kept cash on me. The receptionists were all blondes with ice blue eyes. I watched raunchy films – not quite porn – in the common room. Once a hot receptionist came in and exclaimed ”Shish kebab”. I had never heard that one before.

My sibling sent me cash.  I would have to cut short my holiday and fly home.

I went to the coach station. I saw the huge hangars for hot air balloons that had been built by the Germans in the First World War. The German Emperor has wanted to make this the domain of a German prince subservient to him. Some Latvians would have welcomed this. It would be more benign than Russian rule. In the end Latvia enjoyed a brief independence between the wars. I had seen these hangars in a documentary a couple of months earlier. The hangars now functioned as a market.

I got a midnight coach to Vilnius.


A year and a bit later I passed through Riga again. I had an unhappy memory due to my prior visit. I overnighted in the self-same hostelry. I then went to a strip bar nearby – not the storied Dolls as it did not open till later.

A slim black-haired Russian spoke to me. She was attired demurely. She assured me I would get to see the strip tease of my life. I was the only punter as the night was yet an infant. I sipped a mediocre beer. It was silent and the hostess slipped away. A couple of minutes later I was shocked from my thoughts by a blast of indescribable music. I was supposed to be dance music of some kind – not like house of eurodance or anything I knew. The Russian ran out dressed in a black body stocking. I was suddenly attacked by her body odour – I had not caught it before. She performed the lamest strip tease in creation. She asked me to take my shirt  off. I declined. She demanded. I complied. She wanted me to go further. At this point I put my foot down. The idea of a lap dancing bar is that the girl takes her clothes off and not the punter. It was about as erotic as an AIDS hospice.

Next day I caught a coach to Vilnius.