Bratislava Palaver

I’ve never been a huge fan of horror films.

It all stems from when I saw a pirated copy of the film Piranha through the crack of the living room door as a six year old. As a direct result of my illicit viewing, I wouldn’t go swimming for a year and made my sister use the bath water before me for fear of being eaten alive.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and an invitation to a weekend in Slovakia landed on my lap, immediately after I had read an article in Empire magazine about the graphic nature of the soon to be released gore-fest ‘Hostel’ – set coincidentally in contemporary Bratislava. I really wanted to sample one of the jewels of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but I didn’t want to live in abject fear of having my dodgy Achilles operated on with a rusty hacksaw or have a routine eye test performed with a blowtorch. I slept disjointedly on the offer and reluctantly agreed the next day.

After an atypically raucous and alcohol fuelled early flight, we dumped our bags at our concrete monolith of a hotel and headed in to the city centre. Only a few weeks before, the England football team had played Slovakia for the first time since the Velvet Divorce of 1993 and the city was still reverberating from the invasion of the boorish English underclass. The disdain for anything remotely related to Blighty was very palpable and we were already attracting some very dismissive looks from the locals. This weekend now needed to be a very successful public relations exercise if we were going to make in out the other side with our dignity in tact.

As with any trip to a continental city steeped in history and architectural beauty, a group of discerning young male travellers will naturally gravitate towards the same central point of local interest – the mock Irish pub. As we entered the bar it was very evident that a lot of effort had been made to create the aesthetic of being in a little corner of Ireland. The whole place was awash with the colours of the trídhathach, Gaelic football shirts covered every wall and you couldn’t move for oversized novelty green hats that stank of stale alcohol. It was very early on a Friday afternoon when we ordered that first round and had only a small spattering of clientele spread thinly across the establishment for company. We found a long table that we could all fit around, had the obligatory tray of Guinness delivered to us by a waitress that already knew she was in for a rough time and began the process of getting rapidly drunk.

After a couple of hours of the descent in to inebriation, things had started to get a little out of control. Our guarded waitress had already been mocked for dropping a glass, which was followed by the mandatory chorus of “Yaaaaaaaaaay!!” and patience with our collective was wearing decidedly thin. Just then, from my vantage point at the head of the table, I witnessed three extremely well built men enter the bar – decked head to toe in designer clothing and wearing sunglasses on a day that could best be described as distinctly overcast. They cut an intimidating presence amongst the backdrop of shamrocks and cartoon leprechauns – a point instantly amplified as I noticed every other customer leave the bar without finishing their drinks. I sat in paralysis as this set of obviously resourceful men took up residence on the table next to us, despite having the pick of the now vacuous pub to choose from. I struggled to even to utter a word of polite warning to my now overzealous group, as the sound of a second broken glass pierced the atmosphere. But this time the immediate company was exponentially more dangerous…

Tentatively, I was watching their every move out of the corner of my eye whilst desperately trying to quell the drunken euphoria that was emitting from our table. The three gentlemen were engaged deep in conversation, sipping tea from porcelain cups engulfed by the shear magnitude of their shovel sized hands. And then it happened – the moment that led me almost to squeal in sheer terror and drop a third glass that afternoon. In an show of very succinct disdain for our behaviour, the human colossus nearest to me gently lifted up his Armani jumper just enough to allow me to see the gun he had holstered in to his belt, before gently putting it back down again without breaking eye contact with his equally as imposing colleague. He knew I was watching them.

“We, we have to leave” I spluttered. “Guns. They have guns” It took a good few minutes for me to compose myself and to get the full attention of the group before my terrified ramblings were suitably interpreted. We all got up in unison and left an extremely generous tip for the waitress we had terrorised. It was now our turn to leave our drinks without finishing them. Retrospectively, this turned out to be a very good move as the following day we befriended a group of Belgian men that made an annual pilgrimage to Bratislava who gave us some very useful, if slightly tardy travel advice. The Irish Pub we had made an immediate beeline for was run by the Slovakian mafia and only recently a reveller had been shot dead in there for the innocuous act of spilling someone’s drink. We had literally dodged a bullet that afternoon and the rest of our trip needed to be decidedly more low key. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case as the lessons we had learnt the previous evening went unheeded as soon as our blood/alcohol ratio returned to an unhealthy level.

The majority of the next evening had actually passed without incident. We had gone to a nightclub where the music being played and the outfits on show created a very Eighties ambience, without doing so ironically. The most redeeming feature of this club after yesterday’s drama were the signs at the entrance declaring “No Firearms Allowed”. And for the reveller that was packing heat that still wanted to dance the night away to Nik Kershaw, there was a cloakroom full of safety deposit boxes purposefully designed to house your weapon. Peace of mind for this particular traveller who was already on edge.

As we left the club, one of my friends somehow managed to upset a couple of locals who were also leaving and a very heated discussion ensued between them in their native tongues. These two men were obviously not as dangerous as the protagonists from the previous day, judged solely on their appearance. They were probably of similar age to us, but looked like living relics from the Communist era. Their hair was mulleted, full moustaches adorned their upper lips and they wore matching woollen jumpers that looked extremely itchy and had geometric patterns repeatedly knitted in to them. After a few minutes of exchanging mutually incomprehensibly insults one of them suddenly started speaking English.

“Do you like girls?” one shouted. I wasn’t entirely sure of the reason for this impromptu sexuality audit, but we decided to complete it regardless.

“Yes – we do.” was our reply.

“Then you come with us”. They turned their backs, started walking out of the club and beckoned my friend and I into a Lada that was parked immediately outside. For reasons still unbeknown to me, we got in the back of the motorised antiquity and headed out of the city centre and in to the suburbs. Following behind us was a taxi containing a few more of our group as we had the presence of mind of arranging back-up if this moment of stupidity went south. After about five minutes, we all pulled up on a dimly lit street and got out of the car. In the distance, I could make out a set of neon lights and immediately made the assumption we were heading for another type of bar – the kind that involve women bereft of clothing and all the money in your wallet disappearing. I irresponsibly discarded the empty bottle of European lager I had been drinking in the back of the Lada into the nearest front garden. It was at that point, I realised why we had parked so far away from that bar in the distance – that wasn’t our intended destination.

Instead, the bottle of lager I had dumped with contempt had rolled across the lawn and now rested at the feet of another gargantuan human specimen – what did they put in the water around here?! I quickly got on my hands and knees, picked up the bottle and grovelled spinelessly at the foot of this man mountain.

“All of you in. Quick” he ordered. Without hesitation or fear for reprisal, I did exactly as he said and we all entered this suburban Bratislavan house. Suddenly the plot line of the film Hostel started to resonate and take on a very familiar feel…

Despite the very insipid appearance of the house from the outside, the interior told a completely different story. For we were now stood in the foyer of a fully functional den of inequity, a house of ill-repute – a brothel. The downstairs had been completely opened out to contain a bar and lounge area for small talk and discussions about business transactions to take place between consumer and purveyor of illicit wares. Our two Communist tour guides made an immediate move towards their prostitute of choice and left us to it. The immovable object that had greeted us in the garden now stood by the only means of escape and ushered us with nothing other than a forceful glare towards the bar.

Behind the bar was a very attractive woman who spoke extremely good English and formally introduced herself as the owner of this business enterprise. She asked us all what we would like to drink – I think I must be the only person that’s visited a knocking shop and asked to see the wine list. She then very cordially asked if I would like a tour of her emporium. With a glass of Shiraz in my hand, I was then led room by room around the sex playground she had built from scratch. You could tangibly feel the pride she felt for each of the modifications she had made in each room to cater for the more deviant in society. There were contraptions and devices in some of those rooms that I did not possess the awareness of how they would logistically deliver pleasure to the recipient.

Purposefully, she had kept the jewel in her sex crown to the very last. I followed her down a spiral staircase in to the basement where she had perfectly replicated a medieval dungeon in exquisite detail. I was astute enough to know that the majority of apparatus down here were explicitly to derive the opposite of pleasure. Some very impressive metal workmanship had gone in to assembling the array racks, cages, chains and clamps that adorned her pain chamber.

“Do you like what you see?” She asked inquisitively.

“Oh yes. You have built up a very impressive portfolio of devices” I nervously faltered.

Back above the subterranean terror cell, things were getting a little strained. The majority of the prostitutes were now absolutely hammered and were aggressively chasing new business opportunities amongst my friends by tearing at their clothes. The hulk of mass guarding the door had now locked us in and was demanding that we no longer wasted his time or that of his employee headcount. I had the very sincere impression that he was probably part of the business alliance that we had met in the Irish pub the night before. After a very quick reality check, I told my fiends to empty their wallets and we put together a very generous severance package to release us from this tenure – ensuring just enough money to get a now extremely urgent taxi out of there.

We flew back the next morning, slightly fortuitous to have escaped a weekend in Slovakia without casualties. Despite my dodgy Achilles still being intact and the majority of my faculties maintaining to be in relative working order, I couldn’t help but think that we’d been extremely lucky not to have been involved in a story-line straight out of a horror movie.

I still haven’t watched Hostel Part 2 or 3 for fear of a retrospective relapse. Any good?

The Thin Poo Line

As with any young male, one of the most enjoyable of all the rites of passage that besiege the path to adulthood before the concept of Council Tax and Stamp Duty takes over is that first “Lads Holiday”. A fortnight of inaugural hedonism that grows from a seed planted over a Friday night beer in January. It is then nurtured through months of siphoning every morsel of disposable income into a central fund governed by the most sensible friend. And finally yields in that first sip of continental lager around 6am in the Departure Lounge at Luton Airport

But I didn’t need to go on this ceremonial journey with the rest of my brethren. For I was in love. During the time my friends were excitedly planning their Summer sojourn decked in Ben Sherman shirts and Quicksilver shorts, I had been busy alienating myself from those I knew by spending every conceivable moment with my first real girlfriend. Their palpable excitement about hiring mopeds, jet-skis and foam parties was completely lost on me as I spent weekends in tea rooms and garden centres. That was until I got dumped.

To be fair, she had me pretty sussed from the very start. I had always been a little nervous around the fairer sex and it obviously showed.

“You remind me of that Irish actor off the telly.” Who could she mean after only knowing me for one date?

I started listing the cream of the quintessentially handsome Irish A-Listers. “Colin Farrell? Liam Neeson? Pierce Brosnan?

“No. You know the one I mean – Father Ted’s little dopey vicar mate”

So that was that.  In a time before mobile phones, I suffered the indignity of being dumped via Royal Mail as she didn’t have the heart to do it in to my doleful, puppy eyes. I had the further humiliation of having to walk a round trip of four miles to the Post Office and pay a postage fine as she failed to put a stamp on the letter. If it ever needed quantifying, the cost of a broken heart is £2.57.

With my tail firmly between my legs, I hobbled wounded back to the sanctuary of my circle of friends, obviously hiding the open emotive injuries suffered in break up. All the times I had rejected their invitations to meet up for a drink were instantaneously forgotten and after just a few trips to the pub the opportunity to join them all in Crete was presented in solidarity my way.

And on that morning at 6am at a bar in Luton Airport’s Departure Lounge as the collective chatted excitedly about the exploits that were only a matter of hours away, my mind started drifting to the possibility of meeting that special someone that could take away this pain…

Any romantic aspirations I had about that special liaison on our Lads’ Holiday were quickly dispelled. It was very apparent that we were staying in an unscrupulous war-zone where the possession of a moral compass was not standard issue kit. This fact was immediately underlined as I bore witness at close quarters to a man squat down, defecate into his throwing hand and launch a brown grenade indiscriminately in to the air and land amongst a small gathering of revellers. At least he had the presence of mind to shout out “INCOMING!!” as the freshly baked missile pierced the beautiful Hellenic sunset. Oh, how I wished I was back in Homebase.

Unfortunately, the least academically decorated of all my friends found this turd hurling exercise hilarious and immediately made a beeline for the perpetrator, congratulating him on his exemplary work – without shaking hands. And at that moment of mutual acknowledgement, any chances of me meeting someone new dispersed as quickly as the crowd watching the trajectory of that faecal Exocet. Our collective groups of friends amalgamated, and we forcibly descended into chaos.

As part of this new-found alliance, there had been a Gentleman’s agreement made the previous night to meet at a specific bar the next evening, which everyone unfortunately adhered to. Formal introductions were made, and the apparent leader of this unruly mob was the self-titled “Firestarter”. Not only was this an immediate reference to The Prodigy song that that he belted out with fearsome intent in every karaoke bar, but I truly believed this man could count pyromania as a favourite hobby.

The noise in the bar was now at a deafening crescendo; a raucous and macho outpouring of bravado. I tried to engage with the one in their group I assumed was the least dangerous in an attempt to join the dynamic. More accurately, I was extremely fearful of the consequences of not fitting in. I was given the sage advice by my new associate to never leave my drink unattended whilst in their presence. Before I could ask why, out of the corner of my eye I could see one of their group in deep conversation with a friend of mine, skilfully untether himself from his shorts and urinate down my friend’s leg without breaking eye contact. Never before had I felt such sheer wonderment and deep abject fear simultaneously.

For the next few days, this theme followed. Our two groups were now deeply entwined together – each holistically dependent on the other for differing reasons. They needed a willing audience to bear witness and laud at their incalculable levels of debauchery. We, on the other hand, were now so fearful on the ramifications of splitting from this union that we were readily amenable patsies for their insufferable high jinx. But this friendship did have a shelf life.  They were leaving tomorrow…

That final night had passed without [relative] incident for a few hours and despite the usual levels of extreme chauvinism and distinct lack of social graces, it was a comparatively low key affair. Only a few more hours of  insufferable masculine arrogance and my chances of meeting someone on holiday would surely improve tenfold! Then I overheard the rules of a game being negotiated between the two lead protagonists of our groups and my blood ran instantly cold.

“You get your best four drinkers; I’ll pick my best four drinkers. We go to the bar next door and order that gallon bucket of cocktail. The losing team has to drink the bucket again but filled with the winning team’s piss”

Before I could register my disdain at this proposal, my friend who had gleefully watched that poo sail through the night’s sky a few days previous readily agreed to the terms of the competition and thus an unbreakable verbal contract was formed. What had happened to my life? A few weeks previous I had been happily shopping for hanging baskets. I was now faced with the prospect of drinking a receptacle of undiluted stranger urea. I had to do interject and do something fast.

Discreetly, I disappeared from the hubbub created by the prospect of the ensuing competition and made a clandestine visit to the bar next-door. On arrival, I explained to the unwitting barmaid that two groups of people would be shortly visiting her bar and would be ordering two of the gallon buckets of cocktail. For an additional 20 Euro tip, I asked that the bucket I was to be drinking contain a healthier proportion of ice and that we were given straws with a larger diameter girth than the other group. I may not have possessed the brag and pomposity of the collective, but I did have an A Level in Applied Maths and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

As we all entered the bar, I got the knowing tell from the barmaid. Everything was in place. A large crowd had assembled to watch this horrific debacle unfold. It was now a straight fight between male overconfidence and science. From the first whistle you could tell that this wasn’t the first challenge the opposition had faced of this nature. They fully knew the consequences of losing and that wasn’t an option. To the impartial spectator, it was very obvious that they were seasoned professionals and aesthetically they seemed to be miles ahead of us. That was until we struck ice. Very quickly the amount we had left to drink was dwindling; the fear in their eyes was increasingly tangible. And then followed the very real sounds of victory – our straws were taking in slurps of air as they struggled to finish what liquid remained. We had won. Science and reason were victorious. What ensued was a very discernible inquest between them as to who was responsible for their defeat – all I knew is that I wasn’t drinking piss tonight.

As honourable victors, we didn’t make them consume the equivalent of eight pints of our urine. We had standards. We simply kept that in our back pocket in case we were forced in to another situation we didn’t want to be in for the remaining few hours of their time with us.

A few months later, one of their group made contact with us to see if we wanted to attend a leaving party as the least dangerous one I had identified with from the group was emigrating. Despite the obvious trepidation of meeting these guys again, there was a distinct curiosity to see if their animalistic behaviour was more refined in a different social context. The address we were given was no more than an hour away, so a car-load of us decided to make an exploratory pilgrimage to rural Leicestershire.

After the SATNAV had digested the postcode we had been given and taken us to the intended destination, we sat in the car in quiet disbelief. Either this was the most ironic leaving party destination ever, or my faith in the moral fabric of society was under severe interrogation. We were parked directly outside of the social club of Leicester Constabulary. The urine drinking, poo launching, bigoted underclass we had been forced to befriend were the physical embodiment of the barrier between law and disorder!

Well, everyone needs a holiday…

Love in a Black Sack

The final leaves of autumn hang from decimated trees

The daybreak mist is lifting; there’s a stiff, refreshing breeze

I hope I’ve timed this dog walk right to try and catch the eye

Of that pretty lady jogger who each morning dances by

But there’s just one thing that’s stopping me and it’s not that I’m too shy

I’ve got a hot steaming dog poo in this bag

I have lay in bed imagining that first time that we speak

Rehearsed my lines a thousand times; refined my opening technique

We’d talk about how beautiful it is this time of year

She’d be standing close, all lycra clad – my inhibitions disappear

But there’s just one part I can’t escape that brings me abject fear

That I’d have a freshly baked dog turd in a bag

There she is! I see her – bounding gleefully this way

I screw my courage to the sticking point and practice what to say

She’s stopped to tie her shoelace – I won’t get a better chance

To strike a conversation and start our blossoming romance

But my dread comes to fruition – my most fearful circumstance

Must lose this dirty dog excrement in a bag!

The moment I have dreamt of’s here – not sure what to do

She will be passing by in seconds and I am holding canine poo

I scan my immediacy in panic looking superficially

For somewhere apt to hide this chap and do it drastically

There’s only one thing for it – I’ll launch it in the nearest tree

There goes that filthy dog nugget in a bag

It’s five years since we first locked eyes – I always will value

That decision to sling that dog shit up a sparsely covered Yew

So the next time you’re out walking and you spot a dangling sack

Hanging from a leafless branch; a dirty secret shroud in black

It might have been the start of love as I look fondly back

At that beautiful steaming dog poo in a bag

Pushing All The Wrong Buttons

“This Virgin West Coast train will soon arrive at Platform 4”

I grab my personal effects and head straight for the door

Now, what I’ve naively forgotten in my haste to leave the train

Is that I’m first to that green button – and the pressure is insane!

In several minutes time I will become a nervous wreck

As a legion of commuters start breathing down my neck

They’ll all be scrutinising to see if I delay

To get that train door open and shave a second off their day

But I’ve a second chance; my suffering denied

The platform we’re approaching maybe on the other side

In an act of desperation I push my face against the glass

Hoping to see rails instead of concrete rumbling past

But my reprieve is short-lived; this ordeal will come true

As the edge of platform 4 eases slowly in to view

The pressure is unbearable. A huge collective stare

“Why is he not pressing it? Their subconscious thoughts declare

In order to appease the crowd and defuse this madding scene

I start tapping at the button despite the fact it’s not turned green

And I can’t stop now, they’re watching. Soulless city worker eyes

“Open now you bastard!” my internal monologue replies

“Ding” – at last! The light comes on after what has seemed an age

One last furious tapping rep will release me from this cage

The noise of door mechanics is like music to my ears

The groans of agitation pass; my anguish disappears

I alight the train in deep relief and exhale a calming sigh

As London’s finest clamber past to offices nearby

I head towards the turnstiles reflecting on my fate

The next time I disembark a train I will procrastinate

An Extra 10 Minutes on the Toilet

The working week has finished and I’m shattered to the core

My head is full of spreadsheets that I’m trying to ignore

At home’s a boy that’ll hound me as soon as that key turns in the door

Know what? I’ll grab an extra 10 minutes in the toilet

The interrogation starts before my coat is on the hook

“Daddy where’s my lightsabre; have you seen my Star Wars book?”

“I drew a picture of E.T. – you must come have a look!”

Thank God for that extra 10 minutes in the toilet

“Do aardvarks dream? Can penguins fly? Wanna hear me count it twos?”

“I’m think they do, I ‘m not sure they can. Can I at least take off my shoes?!”

The questions are coming thick and fast; need my porcelain refuge

Too soon for my extra 10 minutes in the toilet?

The Lego’s out; it’s everywhere  – it’s messing up my head!

“I’ll be Luke – you be Vader . You can’t be Hans – he’s dead”

Is it wrong of me to be counting down ‘til this boy is up in bed?

I crave those extra 10 minutes in the toilet

The game finishes abruptly before the Rebels can advance

“Daddy watch me bottle-flip; have you seen this Fortnite dance?”

The toilets free, I’ve done my bit – I need to take this chance!

Al last!! My extra 10 minutes in the toilet

The seat comes down, my phone comes out. I scroll my Twitter feed

Sky Sports News and Facebook; there ain’t nothing I won’t read

Whilst I sit in quiet solitude and pretend I’ve more than weed

Thank God for these extra 10 minutes in the toilet

Have I been in here too long? I ask myself. Not sure what to do…

If I stay in here much longer I might give away a clue

There’s only one thing for it; I’ll feign a bout of gastric flu

And grab another 10 minutes in the toilet

The Tale of The Loose Canary

Every pub-dwelling male drinker worth his salt has a ‘go to’story.

It is the story that is pulled out when the alcohol consumption of the collective is at its most euphoric; the cornerstone anecdote to any lager-swilling raconteur’s portfolio. It has been retold so many times that each embellishment of the story-line blurs the distinction between fact and fiction further.  Every recount will indubitably have the audience captivated; enraptured by every word reciprocated for the umpteenth time. My ‘go to’ story has always been The Tale of The Loose Canary.

Don’t be fooled by the vanilla description of the title.There is a canary in the narrative but it only serves to masquerade the truehorror that unfolded that fateful evening; a sequence of events so improbablethat it makes the odds of human existence at 4 trillion to one look like a safebet.

It had all started so innocently. The grand re-opening ofMilton Keynes’ seminal nightspot had drawn a small spattering of desperate nightclubgoers to The Empire disco. The refurbish dance-floor appeared vacuous as ahandful of middle-aged women bobbed rhythmically to new romantic classics. Ihad been asked to attend this landmark social function by a friend and acollection of his football associates who were atypically loud, raucous anddistinctly unchivalrous to the opposite sex. This was going to be a long night– and prophetically I was proved right.

Adopting my standardised pose of leaning rigidly against a post on the periphery of the dance-floor, I was alerted by one my new found acquaintances that I may caught the attention of a woman across the other side of the room.

“Ere, that bird fancies you!” I was reliably informed. Imade my first mistake that evening by inquiring as to who he was referring to.

“That one in the red. The one that looks like a horse”Unfortunately he was right on both counts. “I’ll go get ‘er for you”.

My body automatically tensed defensively in preparation forthe awkward conversation that would inevitably follow. We were pushed togetherunceremoniously by our match-making intermediary in the expectation thatfireworks would soon follow. Shortly after exhausting my full repertoire ofsmall talk, another woman appeared out of the ether.

“Hi, can I have a quick word with you?” She pulled me to oneside. “Just to let you know that my friend is married with two kids. You don’twant to go with her”

Thank God!! I had been presented with a way out of thispredicament without the need to pretend to go to the toilet and never comeback. My saviour then changed the course of my night and thus my keystoneanecdote was born “You’ll want to come with me”

In an act of spontaneous hedonism never to be repeated Iagreed to the proposal. We discreetly left the club without arousing anysuspicion and jumped in a waiting Hackney cab. A short conversation followedand it was soon established that we were going to her house. She also informedme that she had no money for the taxi and desperately needed a packet ofmenthol cigarettes. Before I could respond chivalrously and offer to pick upany financial impediment incurred by our act of decadence,

 I was offered a veryparticular sexual favour for the purchase of the minty cancer sticks. I can’t rememberif I agreed to the terms of the transaction before or after I realised thisentire conversation was being picked up the microphone in the back of the cab.I could never use Skyline Taxis again.

Once back at her house and with a packet of green BerkleySuperkings firmly clasped in her hand, I was ushered quickly in to the livingroom and pushed back on to the sofa. This whole evening had a very unrealfeeling to it and I wasn’t going to start craving reality just yet. After a fewminutes of what can only be described as ‘pawing’, something caught my eyehanging pride of place centrally on the adjacent wall. From its outline I couldsee that it was either a plaque or a coat of arms and I fortuitously let myintrigue take over my base animal instincts on the sofa. As I cautiouslyapproached the wall, the form began to look distinctly familiar. Throughsquinted eyes I could just make out the motto embossed at its base. InstinctivelyI froze in horror and my defence mechanisms whirred in to action for the secondtime that evening.

Who Dares Win

“You’re married!?! You’re married to someone in the SAS?!” Isquealed.

“Try not to raise your voice too loud or you’ll wake up thekids” was her informative retort. They’ve got kids?! What had I got myself into?

I began surveying my immediate surroundings and stopped deadon the picture resting pride of place on the sideboard. The photo was of a verytall, strong and no doubt resourceful man clad in black uniform and nursingwhat appeared to be a very particular brand of assault rifle.

“It’s ok. He’s away a lot of the year and I have my needs”.

Before I could utter another word of disbelief there was avery loud knock at the door. Surely it couldn’t be my new military eliteadversary? He’d at least have a key or swing through the living room window ona rope in full fatigues.

“It’s my mate!! Quick, go and hide in the room at the top ofthe stairs!” I was ordered. I could make out the shape of my equine featuredfriend from earlier in the evening through the smoked glass in the front door.I stealthily made my way up the stairs and slowly opened a bedroom door.Suddenly a night light was turned on and two innocent little faces sleepilytried to work out who had woken them from their slumber. Before I could thinkof how to formally introduce myself to these weary cherubs, their Mum returnedwith some frightful news.

“She’s locked herself out so I have told her she can crashhere tonight. She’s going to sleep on the sofa” I was trapped in this surrealpantomime until at least the morning. Reluctantly and still wearing every lastpiece of clothing I had worn that night I got in to bed with Mrs Elite Forcesand her two bewildered children, adopting the foetal position and facing thewall.

After an extremely disjointed night’s sleep, I awoke at thebreak of daylight to some extremely loud snoring. There, asleep on the flooradjacent to the bed, was a Great Dane that had somehow proved very elusive thenight before despite being the size of a small horse. I sat up in bed to furtherassess the chaos that was unravelling in front of me. As a final act ofdisregard for order and normality, a yellow canary appeared flying skittishlyaround the bedroom freely before landing gracefully on the frame of the bed. Myinaugural act of hedonistic behaviour had led me to a suburban family bedroom,surrounding by a menagerie and had me asking far-reaching questions about mysanity. This nightmare took one final turn for the worse.

I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs; each onegetting louder as they neared the bedroom door. The sound of my heart poundingwas drowning out the snoring emitting from the comatose giant. I had to takeevasive action or Shergar would find out that I had left the nightclub with herbest friend. Considering every last inch of the bedroom was now consumed by amultitude of different species, the only option I could see was to hidecowardly behind the bedroom door.

As the door swung upon I took a deep breath to make myselfas slender as possible. I needed had bothered. The door was immediately closedto ensure that the feral canary was contained to just the one room and I wasreunited with the woman I had absconded from approximately ten hours ago.

“Oh, hi!” I inanely babbled.

“What the hell are you doing here??” was the instantaneousand sharp response.

My makeshift family went downstairs and I was left to facethe music alone. I manufactured some unbelievable story that was as unrealisticas the events that had just unfolded in front of me the night before. Regardless,my long faced friend decided to take full advantage of this opportunity aloneand tried to kiss me. This madness needed to stop and I had to escape thisirrationality. I went downstairs and proclaimed that I had to leave. For somereason unbeknown to me I made the excuse that I had arranged an impromptuSunday morning driving lesson, despite the fact that I was obviously at least threetimes over the limit.

Whilst I was waiting for my [non-Skyline] taxi to arrive Iwas formally introduced to the rest of the family.

“Kids, this is Uncle Marky and he will be taking us to theBeefeater soon. There’s an indoor play area there” The children exhaled anaudible sign of genuine excitement. “Yay!!”

My taxi took what felt like an eternity to arrive. As itpulled away from the house, I looked back through the rear window at the threebedroom terrace that had provided the backdrop to my adversity, in sheerdisbelief as to the events that had transpired that night. My perception ofreality was being severely interrogated.

What I did know for certain is was that there was nevergoing to be that visit to a mid-priced steak restaurant with adjoining softplay area and I was never going to see recompense for that packet of twentygreen Berkley Superkings. But what I did now possess was a timeless story thatwould forever be my ‘go to’ tale.

The Room-mate From Hull

The transition from Secondary school to University can be atraumatic experience. Especially when all your applications have been rejectedand you are scouring the ‘Clearing’ pages of Ceefax daily, frantically tryingto find somewhere/anywhere desperate to make up their numbers.

I did have an unconditional acceptance letter from theUniversity of Exeter, but it turned out to be a meticulously concocted April Fool’sjoke by a group of close ‘friends’. I eventually worked out it was fraudulentafter noticing that I had to meet in the “Adam Chapman Memorial Building” namedsuccinctly after the school bully who tormented me on a frequent basis – butnot before I had done a celebratory jig around the living room.

I eventually found a further educational establishment thatwanted [needed] me [my money]. The success criteria for acceptance were thatyou needed to have a pulse and have intermittent access to an HB pencil. I wasoff to the hedonistic heights of Hull.

Due to the late nature of my application, findingaccommodation proved extremely difficult. A local letting agent finally foundme a place in a block of flats – a six bedroom apartment that was built tohouse seven students. I was aged 18, heading to a city where the entire malepopulous sported a wispy moustache and now I was going to have to share a roomwith a complete stranger. That stranger’s name was ‘Johnjo’.

Johnjo is the walking embodiment that intelligence andcommon sense are inversely proportionate. My first impression of him couldn’thave been further from the truth. Prior to leaving for University, this politeand extremely well-spoken Yorkshire man had rung me at home and pleasantlyintroduced himself as my new room-mate. He had the presence of mind to inquireas to what I was taking with me so that between us we could equip our livingquarters for the next year with everything we would need without duplication. Ilater found out that his Mum had been whispering instructions verbatim in tohis ear throughout the entire duration of that call.

September arrived and the start of the academic year wasafoot. I arrived in Hull with all my worldly belongings dumped unceremoniouslyin to a large chequered laundry bag. Waiting eagerly for me at the top of thestairs at the entrance to the flat was Johnjo. Bounding on the spot like aspringer spaniel waiting for his master to throw a soggy tennis ball, heexcitedly thrust out his hand and uttered the immortal words “Hi, I’m John andI’m a little bit stupid.” Good God. That phoney offer from the University OfExeter suddenly seemed very appealing.

Now, I have to be extremely careful how far I tap in to theinfinite seam of Johnjo stories that ensued over the subsequent three years ofacademia for fear of starting an avalanche of idiocy.

Johnjo was an enigma. Due to his apparent detachment fromreality, his life skills at aged 18 were non-existent. For tea every night hewould cook a jacket potato in the microwave and then place it centrally in a seaof baked beans on a plate. It was a dish of such culinary aesthetic that it wasaffectionately referred to as ‘Potato Island’. He once accidentally knocked apot plant in to his bed and then subsequently slept in soil laden bed linen fora number of weeks. He rejected the romantic advances of a fellow studentclaiming that he had no clean pants for the morning and needed to do somelate-night hand-washing in the sink. The picture builds.

But one thing Johnjo had going for him in abundance was his passionfor the arts. Grade nine violin player and a keen amateur dramatist, he joinedthe orchestra and drama club on his immediate arrival at university. Johnjo wasvery keen to segregate his artistic pursuits from the rest of his student lifeand kept details of all his performances clandestinely to himself. That wasuntil I found a flyer in our shared room detailing the time and place of hisnext dramatic project. As a collective group of flat-mates, we were all on verygood terms so I thought it’d be nice if we attended this particular showtogether, as a surprise for Johnjo – and it certainly proved to be exactlythat.

The play was about a doomed warplane shot down during theWorld War Two and focused on the emotive dialogue between the pilot and thecontrol tower, both of whom knew that there was only going to one fatally sadending. I collected a programme from the foyer and flicked through briskly tosee which role Johnjo was playing. He was to play a General in the Air Forcepresent in the control tower. Strong, authoritative with a diligent sense ofprotocol and procedure, his character was written in to the play to convey asense of reason to balance the emotion unfolding over the airwaves. I usheredmy flat-mates eagerly in to the auditorium and we took our seats in the frontrow.

There before us were the entire cast, stood in theirunderwear and each with a potato sack over their heads. Neatly placed in frontof them were their costumes. All of the actors in turn removed the sack fromtheir heads, eyes firmly staring at the back of the room and thensystematically got dressed for the performance with military precision. All apartfrom one.

Johnjo took off his potato sack and instead of adhering tothe instruction to keep his eyes away from the audience he immediately caught aglimpse of a row of now familiar faces staring directly at him. The sense ofpanic was palpable. He picked up the pair of black, sharply pressed trousers infront of him and immediately put his left leg in to the hole for the right leg.After almost taking an immediate tumble, he steadied himself and managed tonavigate each leg in to the appropriate hole. It only got worse from there.

The army shirt laden with stripes and medals denoting rankwas buttoned up incorrectly where it was totally askew at the bottom and therewas a large hole exposing his belly button. A stage-hand had to be beckoned into the unfolding drama so that the cuff links could be administered after fourfailed attempts. From recollection, I believe Johnjo performed the entire playbarefoot as putting on the standard issue air force footwear would have broughtthe whole performance to its knees. The rest of the show passed mainly withoutfurther incident and we all gave him a celebratory [empathetic] slap on theback at the end.

From this point, Johnjo was a lot more careful aboutreleasing details of his extra-curricular activities. We found out a day toolate that he had played a gay Widow Twanky with Tourette’s in the drama clubChristmas pantomime. Despite this, Johnjo continued to provide a wealth ofcomic relief throughout our academic tenure in Hull, almost exclusively withouttrying – more than enough to keep this blog going for a little longer…