Returning again to my old stomping ground with tail firmly between my legs, I begin to explain my reasons for leaving Military training while packing another fun filled order of fruit with my old chums in Edinburgh. I couldn’t sign away four years of my life. Not for anything. Not for anyone.
Training was fun. An experience, but my heart was never really in it. I waste no time at all in making phone calls that will get me the hell out of Scotland and back on the road again. With plans set in motion for yet another overseas adventure I was riding high upon a cheerful note that day I came across it.
. . .
It Mooed like an elephant -when you push the button on the end-, looked awesome and had to be mine. At just £1.50 it felt almost rude not to.
Making up for last year’s Halloween party where I was the only person without costume, I buy what will surely be the most daring, show-stopping costume of all. They won’t forget about this for a while, but first I need a trial run.
The day before Halloween and I’m working in a fruit factory packing boxes to be delivered to schools. I wait until everyone’s enjoying their dinner, blissfully unaware of my intentions as I stroll out to use the microwave wearing nothing but an elephant thong which barely fits me. My manager and his wife sit shaking their heads at me almost in disbelief, but not completely surprised. They’ve known me long enough to expect this sort of behaviour.
Not everyone’s here I notice and I dart outside to startle the smokers with some cartwheels and grotesque shaking of my trunk not noticing the CCTV cameras covering every inch of the compound.
I’m not sacked and an absence of Police makes me assume that my costumes gained the right response however the question still remains “What will the pub think”?
On a cold November night at The Newbridge Inn I enter the main bar finding that only one friend and the bar staff have costumes. The rest have bottled it. I change in the toilet as I would rather avoid being added to any registers for the time being, put my woolly hat on and make my entrance.
As I walk through, taking my usual seat at the bar with the main door directly behind me, I’m met with silence as jaws hit the floor and eyes boggle. “What the fuck”? Seems to be the question on everyone’s mind as I casually order my pint almost forgetting I’m naked.
Taking up the microphone, I sing songs from Britney Spears and Nellie the Elephant like a true wild man. Skipping later on at one point with a length of rope my friends brought as part of his robber costume I trip, rolling backwards exposing all for the unfortunate onlookers letting my hairy ass take place in their nightmares forever.
As the night draws to a close I decide to take this show on the road and make my way towards the local bowling club where the neighbourhood watch hang out. Stopping at the window’ I shoogle my trunk at a group enjoying their meal then tangled in a fence while performing unsuccessful acrobatics, I’m freed only by the smokers who stand outside.
About a week later thinking I’m in the clear I enter the living-room of my house only to find my Mum watching my performance on You-Tube. I do promise never to do it again. But.. You know the score.
Back from our first weekend out of camp we’re called to line and ordered to down two litre bottles of water in two minutes or else it’s refilled and started again. It’s a lot harder than it sounds as a soldier either side of me heaves sending spray across both my legs.
Marched into a large hall we’re left to stew and squirm for two hours while they slowly invite us in one by one and check our piss for traces of drugs and after a third hour my dick feels as if it’s going to burst. I’m going to piss my pants and I have to go now!
I race towards the toilet and thunder out two litres of piss that seems to blast out all at once. It feels great and I don’t think to save a single drop. Entering the hall I freeze at the sight of only three people remaining in the queue.
Darting back in I slam on the tap and drink like a fish before the sound of a voice hits me like a brick “Corporal says you’ve to stop drinking from the tap. You’re up now”.
Nerves are frayed as I walk in dripping of sweat and pick up my tube. I have no piss left, disobeyed a direct order not to go to the toilet and they’re already suspicious of me as they know my drug history.
*Note to one’s- self. When asked what drugs you’ve tried in the past by your Platoon Sergeant, just lie.
My hand shakes as I’m escorted to the bathroom by a Corporal whose sole mission is to make this as awkward as Hell. I can’t pee around others at the best of times but this is unbearable.
I really don’t need and this time I have an audience commanding it from me. Eventually I dribble just enough to reach the required level but the teasing and taunts about my results would keep them amused for weeks before finally trying to convince me I’d failed the test. Yeah, good one lads. I’m a good boy now. Maybe not as forthcoming with my integrity anymore but it’s all good!
After almost five weeks of sleeping on the floor because I didn’t want to ruin my perfectly made bed we’re given certain privileges, taken from us at every opportunity, that include comfy duvets (pink horses supplied by our Corporal) plus posters and photos from home in the hope of distracting the Sergeant during room inspections.
My photos from Turkey and evening chat on-line to the missus -Did I forget to mention I married in Turkey? Not a real wedding, just showing us how it’s done there. We’ve been chatting a lot recently and now I wouldn’t mind going back to Turkey- makes me start to think seriously about what I’m getting myself in for. In the army I can’t just drop everything and do what I want. I need to think about this. I need more time.
I kind of have the feeling my minds been made up for me now anyway as I have the reputation of being a drug fiend that will surely follow me to battalion no matter how well I do in PT (Physical training). That and the fact I have a complete mental block when it comes to rifle training!
I had my section in stitches during one class where just as we were being told “never pull this leaver right out of your rifle..” BOOM!
The sound of my rifle dismantling itself and shooting across the room in bits after I pull that leaver right out. “RITCHIE YA WEE PRICK”! Would soon become an all too common phrase from an increasingly aggravated corporal losing the rag at a man losing the will to live.
Speaking of losing the will to live. I remember one instance while we all stood waiting to enter a class. A soldier walking by informs us that he’d just came from a lecture about depression and suicide and had this one helpful little thought for us:
“Why kill yourself? Why not wait until you’re on the firing range, slap on a full magazine of thirty rounds and take out half your platoon? You’ll be famous!”The high ranking officer walking by did not look best pleased with that but you really can’t beat the army for good banter, fun and games!
Three months into my training and during my two week window of time where I have to decide to stay for four years or pack it in, I throw in the towel and leave behind some great friends and memories not to be soon forgotten.
It wasn’t easy to leave training. Charrington hid my letter of resignation and together with some other mates almost talked me out of it. Once my mind was made up I had to go to a Sargent Major (I think that’s what he was) and explain why I wanted out. He threw me out of his office four times for making the wrong entrance. At one point while marching towards him, I spun on my heels in an effort to throw my salute and kneed the table sending his pens and paper work almost to the ground.
This was the scariest man I have ever met in my life. On one of our first days he introduced himself with “I am the reason your Mother said don’t talk to strangers. I am Stranger Danger”! This is the man who will kick us into touch if we’re out of line.
He was a nice guy though. He told me not to leave. The report he had about me was that I was doing well. My run time plus general fitness was good although my weapon skills and saluting needed work. I was told there are no jobs out there. I’d regret leaving and they’d see me back within six months.
But my mind was made. I felt like an idiot for leaving but I don’t think my heart was ever really in it. I learned a lot, had a lot of laughs and met some crazy cats. If truth be told then I only really joined because I had to get a girl out of my head. Stupid reason I know but I think it worked!
Thirty three grand it costs to put a man through training. Thirty three grand and worth every penny. The food is great.
So back to civy street I go. But lets not get too comfortable now as it’s looking like that time. Time to see the world. Again.
Into my first month of training with Scots five of The Royal Regiment Of Scotland and we’re getting beasted (disciplined) again for a few days in the Yorkshire hills of England.
My section composes of eleven guys and our Corporals going nuts. Camp can’t be made until we get the hand signals right under the cover of darkness, but my glasses have steamed up and I can’t see for shit.
We’re in staggered formation which means there’s between five and ten meters between each of us. The man in front gives a signal and we pass it one by one down the line. I make up my own signals much to the annoyance of Corporal Pew. Yeah, I can admit that now IT WAS ME!
We’re made to run around a massive track every time we get it wrong while wearing our full gear including rifle, ammo webbing, two litre water bottles, backpack, fucking horrible boots and a giant helmet that makes me look like a magical mushroom from Super Mario World.
“Last five go again”. We’re told, but he makes us all go regardless. Still we push and shove aiming never to be the last five.
Sometime after midnight we crawl back to the forest our platoon, made from around fifty men, call home for the night. I’m as-well walking with my eyes shut it’s so dark. Ever saw the films Blair Witch Project or Dog Soldiers?!
My friend and I go on stag (lookout) first while the rest build their two man shelters made up from a poncho tied to four trees about two feet of the ground with just enough room to crawl into. Our stag position was built during the day, but now we’re seriously lost trying to find it. My ass is going to have a size ten, steel toed boot up it if my Corporal finds out about this. We give up and just lie on the ground deciding that this is the new lookout point for the night.
Cullinan goes to wake up the next in line while I wait keeping our makeshift position secure. I assume he will take the next soldier to where I am, but after about an hour of waiting I begin to realise it’s not happening.
Eventually I make my way back not knowing if I’m going the wrong way or if I’m about to walk through my Sergeant’s tent. Luckily I do neither and make it back to a whispered chorus of “Where the fuck have you been”? I crawl into bed removing my satchel, helmet, rifle and body armour only to be woken up less than ten minutes later for another turn to keep watch.
With one eye resting against the sights of my rifle I drifted off. Maybe only for a few seconds but I startle awake when another of our Corporals kneels at my side and quietly asks how it’s going. He didn’t notice. How fucking lucky do I feel? Especially after seeing what happens to people who get caught napping on stag. Thirty minutes later and I’m back in bed again.
The air fills with the clatter of machine gun fire and I answer the call of “Stand to”, by flipping open my sleeping bag, rolling over onto my chest, pulling on my body armour, helmet, rifle and slapping on a full magazine of thirty rounds. I heard of one guy from a previous platoon who woke everyone by firing a shot by mistake while keeping it in his sleeping bag –as we all have to do- but thank fuck that wasn’t me! I fire at anything that moves. Our Corporals are attacking us and we have to give em what for.
Side by side next to my friend I soon realise I chose the wrong side of the shelter as I’m sprayed in the face by red hot casings ejected from the rifle Cullinan fires. I’m sure my sleeping bags on fire and a bullet casing has landed right between my bum cheeks causing me tremendous pain that I can do nothing about, but continue shooting at my Corporal.
In the morning we have one hour to have everything ready. This includes cleaning our rifles, washing off camouflage, shaving, eating, cleaning impossibly burnt pans, polishing boots, packing away everything and re-applying cammo plus numerous other tedious tasks. During this time my Sergeant roars in an alarming, familiar tone “RITCHIE”! I grab my helmet and start to run while adjusting my rifle to avoid the same punishment dealt to those who neglect parts of their kit. An hour of Leopard crawl is something to avoid if possible.
I arrive on front of a crowd of Corporals, my Sergeant and Lieutenant. I’m in shit for sure. They must know I got lost last-night and now they’re gonna rape me and bury my corpse deep in the forest I think to myself.
“Tell us a story.” Suddenly they look cheerful and relaxed. My arse is still going like a rabbit’s nose. I’m known for being the one with the jokes and funny stories, so I tell them a few, can’t recall which ones but, we have a bit of banter then they let me go.
Eventually I trod back to my Section. They’re all ready to go and I’ve done nothing. Standing in line we wait to be inspected one by one. Every time we’ve not done something perfectly we get made to run with rifles and helmets around an area the size of a football pitch and you HAVE to beat the man on front of you. I do well when I’m sent to run, but every-time I get back I’m sent back out for something else I’ve done wrong.
In my head I can’t stop saying the words “This is fucking shit, this is fucking shit”, while running on blisters the size of eggs with that horrible SA80 assault rifle banging around while the strap tears at my shoulder.
We’re offered a lift back to camp. We know we’ll get in shit if we accept so we keep quiet and get on with the long, gruelling run ahead. God I wanted that lift so bad. We all struggle to make it back to the barracks in one piece, my blisters tore off near the start and I’m now running on naked flesh grinding on the insides of these boots, but everyones in the same boat and we pull through encouraging, dragging and pushing each-other until home and dry. Thank fuck that’s over.
Dragging my cold, wet feet through the large puddle Edinburgh had become, I draw my jacket collar to my chin and hunch forward hurrying towards the bus shelter. It’s my day off work and my mood reflects the sky, cold and miserable.
While contemplating my place in the world I raise my head just in time to watch the bus fly by and as my eyes fix upon a the green illuminated sign above the building across from me reading Army Careers I shout “Fuck it” and step inside the warm reception room.
I’d always wondered how my physical fitness compared to that of trained soldiers and needing a break from being me I arrange an Interview beginning the process of singing up to The Royal Regiment Of Scotland.
It went much faster that I could have imagined and before I knew it I was going to camps and laying down run times, strength tests and urine samples that would eventually see me precede towards a stretch at Catterick’s training barracks.
Having already made an impression in pre-training demolishing an obstacle course that had obviously been too well camouflaged for me (I ran over the top of a netted crawl obstacle and fucked it up), getting lost during my timed run and turning up with a long beard and mow hawk hairstyle, I earn the nicknames Mad Monk and Lieutenant Dan before making plans to visit friends in Italy and Germany for one last big blow out.
Losing a whole week of holiday due to an Icelandic volcano spewing ash all over Europe, I land in Bari with the flu and ears that won’t pop for the next few days. So far so good eh!
I’m shown some spectacular places in the South of Italy including Matera (Passion of the Christ) before making my own way North through Rome where I finally step inside the Colosseum , Florence where my train smashes on the brakes due to a drunk falling on the tracks (British tourist) and Venice where I book into a one star hotel. After two days lost in the land of gondoliers I say adios to Italy and guten Tag to Germany.
Arriving in Munich I buy a ticket for a later train to Hamburg and set out in search of an Internet cafe at six am. It doesn’t open until nine and while I wait in the rain I’m treated to a pair of drunk German nutters staggering out of a hotel, throwing out a series of salutes while shouting “Sieg heil, sieg heil” then beating the crap out of a lamp-post. Welcome to Germany I quietly muse to myself.
In Hamburg my friend takes me for a kebab where we reminisce about our time in Turkey and I tell her news from Italy and how our friend Lucia is getting on. I tear into a tough part of cheese drenched kebab only to hear Wiebkes cry of “No Andy, that’s the napkin”!
Returning from her house one evening I pass through the infamous Reeperbahn for the first time and find myself at the mercy of one pretty yet forceful prostitute outside the steps of the equally infamous Reeperbahn Police Station.
Explaining that I’m only having a look around she responds with “You would have a better look with empty balls”. Something about the German accent does it for me. I don’t know what but, I laugh a little when I’m asked “You come with me and make some sex”? No doesn’t seem to be in this girl’s vocabulary and my hands only freed after I promise I’m on my way home to get more money.
A Kiwi friend I’ve made here shares his first time experience of Reeperbahn with me and tells of how he was asked by a club owner if he’d like a glass of champagne. After taking a sip the owner explains that it’s going to cost 300 euros since it’s by the bottle. If he doesn’t pay up the police will be called! FUCK THAT!
Still lying in my room that’s shared with seven other people, I wake in the morning to the sound of my own voice shouting “You think that’s funny? You can go and fuck yourself”! I scan the room and find one old German lady sneaking a nervous look in my direction -the same woman who freaked out when she saw my novelty pen in the shape of a syringe. Shit, I’m not a great fan of shared accommodation and this is exactly why. Finding me every other morning with covers around my ankles, arm draped over a pillow and one hand planted over my groin threatening the world in my sleep, would lead me to believe that my room-mates aren’t so fond of sharing with me either.
Three weeks of holiday come to an end all too quickly and I start preparing myself for life in the army after now gaining a beer gut from antics in Germany. I lose the beard. I shave my head. I board a train for Darlington.
Controlling the ball with the greatest of ease, Dancing down the wing while taking on an entire team before releasing her deadly strike from point blank range straight into the balls of the on-coming defender. I land unsteadily on my feet unable to take another step and listen to the echo of my flattened testicals reverberate around the room. I’m sure I can feel blood as the waves of pain increase, yet to my credit I remain on the pitch with about as much use to my team as Steven Hawkins in a dance off.
I’ve worked alongside these people every day for the past eight months as well as these weekend games of football, but less than half an hour ago my shocking memory plus general lack of caring for names has been discovered and on being asked to choose the teams I simply point my finger saying “You, you, you and you”.
One by one, as I tip toe around now terrified of the ball, I watch each of my friends get smashed in one way or another. Concussion from a ball in the face, a twisted ankle and a fractured elbow adding to one set of crushed nads. We eventually stagger towards our local bar like zombies from a film.
Rambo – our crazy friend/legend with a shattered elbow- is joined by his brother and wife and we soon take part in a heated game of Stars In Your Eyes –google it. Our game consists of each person exiting the bar after introducing what famous singer they will be, then making a dramatic entrance into a cloud of cigarette smoke (pre-smoking ban), perform a song and wait for the judge’s reaction. Our game’s cut short when Rambo takes a right hook from his spouse rendering him unconscious on the floor. No sympathy for a wounded soldier in this town. Not from these lady’s.
After getting my ass handed to me by the King (Elvis has won again), I retire home and sleep it off then wake the following day to an update of recent developments.
I was not witness to what transpired so I’m only going on what I heard. God I hope it’s true!.
On entering their house, Rambo and wife had continued their little tiff resulting in Rambo taking the time to shoot his wife twice with an air rifle – quite an accomplishment with an injured arm but alcohol can work wonders- before receiving a sharpened tattie (potato) peeler to the gut from his nearest and dearest. Both surviving their latest bust-up, they kiss and make up. As you do after shooting and stabbing one-another!
The best part of three days it took for me to walk properly after my football nut shot, but maybe it’s some blessing in disguise to prevent the spread of Newbridger’s from polluting the planet with mini me’s or maybe just mini Andys. Nature’s way of saying one’s enough.
On knowing more than a few ‘Characters’ from this neck of the woods I can only chuckle at the memories and thank fuck I’m single!
Eyes blink grudgingly open to face the dawn of a new year back in Scotland carrying with them strain brought on by one hangover from Hell. Seated upright and fully clothed I wonder if I’ve slept hours or minutes.
Memories of a party last-night threaten to invade my moment’s peace, but I refuse to contemplate problems I’ve caused or what consequence might lay ahead. I feel rough and for now that’s all I can handle.
Lifting my phone to check this ungodly hour and send best wishes to friends for the New Year I feel thrown with alarm that my mobile has somehow actually transformed over- night leaving me unable to unlock or do anything. Technology not being of particular interest to me and never a point of strength I find this a tad annoying to say the least as it’s only taken me the best part of seven fucking years to learn how to use this thing and now progress has saw fit for a complete change in what I want in a phone.
Franticly I fumble, curse and try my best not to launch it across the room. Why has this happened? I didn’t want my phone updated, I was more than happy with the way it was. It had become part of me and was all I ever needed or wanted in communication software.
Who decided I need some ultra-modern wank piece of shit phone? Some jumped up Google the world, arty farty plastic pish stain thin as paper, fragile as the idea my phone would stay the same as when I bought the fucking thing. Who are you to tell me when I need something different? Who are you to have the nerve to go ahead and make those changes without my consent? Who are you?
Really pissed with the world now I feel the phone crack in the grasp of my hand as frustration sets in. Deep breaths and with my last shred of patience I give one last try before I bite this thing in half only to have it snatched from me by one bleary eyed friend demanding his phone back. “Shit, this was your phone? I think someone’s broken it”!
Eventually my mobile would turn up..In my pocket unchanged, not transformed and ready for business as usual.
One week later..
My phone has died and I have to buy one ultra-modern, pish pot, arty farty plastic piece of..
“Did you remember your kilt?” I’m asked as I arrive in the small town of Kępno, one hundred kilometres North of Wrocław in Poland. “No” I answer sheepishly as it dawns on me that I’d promised I would.
I’m here for two months as a guest native speaker helping to teach English in a Primary school that my friends Dad is Headmaster of. We improvise and I’m soon introduced to about one hundred students and twenty staff wearing a tartan mini-skirt with long white socks looking like a hairy transvestite.
Ewa, the English teacher is my Sheppard and I follow her everywhere, the teachers are great and I’m attracted to all of them. Between each class and after school I’m fed to within bursting point. Polish food is great but my lack of exercise makes me really struggle to keep up my normally monstrous appetite.
Thrown into the deep end at one point, I’m left to cope alone with the youngest class aged between five and six for ten minutes. I split the class down the middle and play charades. I draw a picture and they have to tell me what it is in English, whoever guesses it right earns a point for their team and gets the chance to draw on the board.
Madness ensues with accusations of cheating and an all-out battle commences. Once things calm down I begin to draw a cartoon face on the board just for fun starting with a big, circular out-lines for eyes, followed by a large, looping nose between them. My face turns white when I realise I’ve just drawn a massive cock!
Frantically I scrub trying to erase my blunder, but to no avail. Plain as day my two meter penis clings to the black-board waiting for Ewa to return and hit the roof. It’s still faintly there on her arrival, but I assume she hasn’t seen it as she still talks with me and I’ve not been run out of town.
I take regular beatings (friendly blows to the arm really) from a teacher called Gosia , she’s determined to teach me Polish and it’s the only way I’ll learn. We’re the same age, a good friend and she invites me to her house where I meet her family.
My beards four inches long and believing this to be the reason why I’ve been single for twenty six years I decide it’s time for the squirrel to leave my chin. I can’t do it myself so while I sit on the toilet seat Gosia and her husband give my hairy chin a seeing to with scissors and electric trimers . What have I done? I’m in turmoil! Forgetting my much-loved (by me) beard is not there anymore I try to wash it in the shower for the next four days and I look like shit.
The next day we’re late for school and I have no time to change the clothes I wore while working in her garden a little the day before and I haven’t finished shaving my mangled beard properly. Ewa screams in horror at the sight of this beardless Andy when I enter school making it all hit home.
On our way to Wrocław Zoo on a school trip that day, I’m treated to the Scottish song ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’ sung perfectly by a sweet little five year old girl, then most of the bus are sick due to a feeding frenzy at the local sweet shop. They quiz me constantly, bombarding me with questions about my favourite colour and food but that’s why I’m there really and I do my best but probably teach more Scottish slang than Queens English.
Kids really are crazy and so much fun but I just hope they don’t use my attempted artwork as inspiration for future doodles at home, “Look Mummy, look what our teacher showed us today”!
I enjoy my time there a lot, and a surprise visit to Czech Republic on a school trip to Prague is yet another icing to this adventure cake, but I have a new found admiration for teachers. I believe you’ll find the word ‘stress’ under teacher in a thesaurus, or you would if I ever wrote one!
I’d just finished unloading our second trailer of the day when I received the call.
“Hey Andy. I know this is short notice, but we’ve had someone drop out from a project in Portugal and thought you’d be interested.”
Hmm. Go on.
“Would you be able to get on a coach from Edinburgh to Manchester at nine o’clock tonight and fly to Lisbon at seven thirty tomorrow morning?”
Possibly being one of the most understanding bosses to work for, my supervisor knows I’m not about to let this opportunity pass – a jobs just a job after all- he wishes me luck and awaits my return.
Eating my dinner in the car while my Dad rally’s through the streets of Edinburgh we catch my bus just in time, I hop on board and sleep until Manchester.
Making no attempt to blend with the locals I stroll from Lisbon airport dressed to the nines in my purple kilt, sporran, knee high white socks, boots and Iron Maiden vest as if to say “Here’s your tourist. Come n’ get me!” Three hours I spend lost in Lisbon before finding the bus to Leirea -my home for the coming month- yet my mind still fails to completely take in the fact that I’m now on foreign soil. Springing to life from time to time I think to myself “Look where I am. How did this happen!?”
Introductions should always be made while in a kilt. After meeting the other volunteers in my hostel and with ice well broken I look to have a much needed wash. Before undressing I stretch an arm towards the shower twisting the handle just to gauge the temperature and withdraw my hand, still grasping the tap. Fuck, I’ve broken it! I jump in the shower, press the tap back on only to find it’s a push tap – not a twist- and I’m soaked head to foot by a jet of freezing water. I take off my wet kilt and finish my shower.
My project’s great. Cycling patrols through the countryside covering forest tracks around the coast, sellIing T-shirts at the beach and giving information to locals about preserving the area isn’t really work I reckon, more of a long holiday really. I borrow a bike from the organization and spend some weekends with my Polish friend exploring and getting lost. I tire of sitting around drinking in the evenings and seek out a swimming pool on the other side of town eventually getting my time down to a respectable sixty two lengths in one hour.
Before I know it my last night’s upon us and I’m reminded of a promise I’d made my first night here. “Before I leave I’ll dance naked in the city centre’s fountain.” Now being a man of my word -when it suits me- I leave my clothes in my room and armed with a towel around my waist we enter the city square.
Using my camera phone, a friend records the whole show. Thirty plus spectators gather to witness this nut dance around before taking my towel and retreating homeward.
After twenty minutes of banging on the door I sit on the curb and consider my situation. It’s two am, I have a bus to catch in four hours, my suitcase and passport lie in a hostel that’s locked me out and I’m on the street naked. I enter another volunteer’s house I’m glad to see has been left open, explain my situation then spend ten minutes running around a room trying to retrieve my towel that ‘Funny Man’ swiped from me.
Unable to escape the fact that I have to get into that room I march towards my hostel to try again. This time a familiar face appears from the next door down and I realize that all along I’ve been rattling the wrong door. I pack my bags and lie down for an hour. An hour and a half later I check my watch and jump with alarm to find my bus leaves in ten minutes! I run, just catching it and set sail for Scotland.. By plane.
With plans in motion to go for a holiday in the South of Poland with my friend and her family where I spend two weeks sleeping in a barn -which was really cool appart from that big fucking chicken every morning-. I confront my boss and explain I’m back for two days then off again. He’s OK about it, but refuses to give me a full-time contract again which I understand.
On meeting my friends Dad and two younger brothers in Poland I’m asked to hand over my phone while she searches for a particular video. “This is Andy..and this is Andy naked!”
. . .
I’d not be surprised if during my time Death himself had paid a little visit just to watch a young Andrew slip through his fingers while bouncing a fire extinguisher of rocks in a bid to blow it up. Or watch that same boy in his late teens on a snowboard fly like a bullet backwards and into a sign ironically promoting ‘Give blood’.
It would however, be my unscheduled flight head first from a small cliff of about fifteen meters during my time here in Poland that that would really make me appreciate my own mortality from now on -excluding when it comes to snakes and bulls, but more on that later. I missed the rocks by inches, landed on the side of my face, twisted a finger and felt physically sick afterwards with that impact. To this day my finger still feels a little funny on cold days and I’m not the greatest fan of heights anymore.
We spend half a month walking through the National parks surrounding Krakow, climb one of the highest of the Tatra mountains where we get a little too close to a bear with cubs on our way down then cycle to Slovakia a few days later. In keeping with this recent whirlwind of activity of late I find myself invited back to Poland for an experience of a much different sort.
A one month voluntary project in Turkey during Ramadan would be the perfect cure for my battered liver and bruised ego. Travelling there alone intending to meet a group of other volunteers I jinx myself immediately by asking the fatal question “How hard can it be”?
“Six hours my ass”. I say aloud after two days of being hopelessly lost in Turkey. The bus bounces along a dirt road somewhere South of Istanbul and my tattoos, mow-hawkish hairstyle and long beard have gained the full attention of everyone on board. I feel uneasy, saying hiya to the strangers eyeing me up not knowing that hiya is the Turkish word for testicle’s and that everything about my appearance spells scum in this part of the world.
I arrived late in Istanbul’s airport due to technical difficulties which led to me having to get a later plane – They couldn’t find the flight crew- and so begins my two day journey I’ve been told would only take six hours to Balikesir.
Explaining at the station where I was going, I’m given my ticket and climb aboard the wrong bus. After many hours we change bus and then another and I begin to wonder if I’m still in Turkey.
I’m here to take part in a voluntary project for one month building a wooden summer classroom in the garden of a school for mentally disabled children. It comes as a welcomed surprise as I was originally told I’d be giving lectures on road safety, but this seems a thousand times better and I’m definitely not complaining.
While our bus stops at a grubby little town I’m met by an old Gypsy woman complete with headscarf and tattered, loose fitting clothes. Taking my hand she talks to me then disappears back into the crowd. A young student standing beside explains that she was praying for my soul. ‘Do I look that bad’? I ask. She says nothing and continues to read her book.
My massive detour through the barren wastelands of Turkey allow me to see some awe-inspiring dumps and shit holes where towns seem to be made up of sticks, stones and mud, but I forget the cramp in my legs and hunger I feel as we reach the coast and I’m treated to breath taking views of sandy beaches and jagged mountainous valleys.
I remain on land as my bus boards a ferry perhaps going to Greece or somewhere else that’s not Turkey and after five minutes of waving wild gestures, hand-signals and pointing on my map a soldier finally puts me on the next bus heading for Balikesir free of charge.
Standing at the bus station with my suitcase looking as bad as I feel, I’m met by a man from the voluntary project. Are you the English guy? He asks me. I do well not to knock him out.
Often I would wake in the dead of night to the sight and sound of my Romanian room-mate laying siege to an army of mosquitoes using a flame thrower made up from a deodorant can and a lighter. Too tired to care I roll over and face the wall pulling the duvet over my head as shelter from the roaring fire almost engulfing our room.
My friend Gabby can’t wake up in the morning and I’m given permission to use any means necessary to drag his lazy ass out of bed to which I take much pleasure in doing so. Beating him black and blue with my fists, a body shot with a wooden chair, stamping on his chest with boots on, whipping and a cup of cold water are amongst my methods which differ every-day. I walk to work early and as the hours pass by we realize the lazy shits just went back to bed.
Our group gets split into smaller groups for work and my teams made up of Gabby, one French girl and three Italian girls. We build an impressive wooden summer classroom and look on in amazement as the mentally disabled from the school play around us beating the crap out of each-other and playing with our plugged in electric band saw.
The pet rabbits escape leading us to an almighty chase for half a day ending with the only one we catch having its neck broken by a child displaying his feelings..Of hate!
Travelling by train to the capital Ankara sitting playing cards with some of the Italian girls I find myself being bitten on the shoulder, stabbed -or drawn- in the armpit with a pencil and burped upon. As bad as that may sound, we still keep in touch to this day and I even went to live at her house for a week in Italy. By now Ive probably fallen for every one of these girls at some point and I don’t know if anyone else in the world has been around so many attractive women at one time.
We’re here for a seminar and during free time we explore the sights Ankara has to offer including one massive museum for a single Turkish hero. Pictures in the gallery celebrating the sinking of British ships during The Great War do the job of reminding me I’m in a very different part of the world.
Frida and I lost the others in what was one of the strangest castles I’ve ever been in. This castle’s home to really poor gypsies who follow us around begging for money and their kids will even throw stones at some tourists who don’t hand out. We enter a patch of grass fenced off, close to the wall and what seems like a very angry man confronts us. His son explains that this is their garden and that small hut their home. He’s not angry at all but lets us climb onto his roof and shimmy up onto the castle wall for what must be one of the best views of Ankara. Getting lost isn’t always a bad thing you see!
Feeling tired, I decide to have an early night eventually waking to the banging and ringing of my doorbell. Dragging myself up at four am I open the door. A collection of volunteers pour in and I soon realize Anna, one of our Scottish girls, seems a little off. She’s not the type to be this fucked but, I don’t think anything of it. After all it’s still the middle of the night as far as I’m concerned.
I’m told of how they had been in a club talking with a group of Turkish boys who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Eventually having to run away they found that the boys had caught a taxi and, still thinking they had a chance, were now waiting for them outside our hotel. Walking straight past the randy crowd, the girls told staff not to let these guys in then they made their way towards my room to fill me in on the night’s events.
Two hours later I open my door again. This time it’s Anna on her own standing before me holding a swollen wrist and still looking fucked. She explained to me how she had fallen while running and that her drink had been spiked. Now I see that familiar look in her eyes and wonder how I didn’t recognize it before. Getting drink spiked is a pretty shit thing to happen but, it could have been a lot worse than ecstasy. We find a pharmacy and get her patched up.
I remember some scary moustache man we were convinced was a gangster telling me in a club after I danced with some local girls that I could get shot for that! He told me he’d come around to our hotel to meet us and take us all out for beers at 9 o’clock the next day. Imagine my surprise at 9am when he shows up asking if we’re ready yet!
Once back in Balikesir, some of us find one of the few places that sell alcohol during Ramadan. We’re not in long before our basement bars flooded with officers carrying machine-guns and pistols. They talk to the manager, take photos of us then leave as sudden as they’d came. I still have no idea what that was about.
For our last three days we all head for Istanbul where I’m offered the chance to share a bed with two of the Italians in an effort to keep warm as the roof has sprung a leek in this dorm right above my bed. They are only joking around but I don’t really like reminding myself that I turned that one down. I don’t know my own mind sometimes.
A tear-full farewell brings it all to an end and once back in Scotland and sitting on my bed I’m struck by an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Where is everyone?
So back in Scotland and back to work but, not for long.