I was on my way between Cologne and London with the boat train. I had offered an inebriated Yugoslavia Tsimahian to accompany her onto London. On the boat I offered my assistance to a girl (not inebriated) on her way back to the British Museum from Kabul. Our luggage was now 5 pink cases, a hay rake, 2 butter churns (one content rancid), one still unopened 15 litre flagon of red wine and one two thirds empty, a spinning wheel and a sea chest of dubious and semi-unknown content. We were now heading for the train to London.
Act 4. Scene 1
Well we finally arrived at Dover. No mishaps for this stage of the trip, we got all our luggage off the boat okay, Jo was glad to leave and made the effort to walk down the gangplank under her own steam. Being now a professional in trolley acquisition we were off in no time. Same mode as before:
Me pushing, Jo riding.
Diana at this point informed me that she had to deal with the customs concerning some complicated paper work or other. I didn’t understand exactly what she was going on about, but she said that it would be advisable if she would run off ahead as it may take time and we would meet up again at the train.
I would have agreed to anything at this time, I was just glad to have reached terra firma. I nodded, she was off and the pushing resumed. Jo was at last in a good mood. She was singing to herself while finishing off the last of the fire water found to her joy in one of her bottomless handbags. As I was not up on Inuit languages and their customs it sounded like either an Inuit lullaby or a fully-fledged war dance for senior members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
With this thought there rang a bell off in the distance….
Now what was that?
Something in the last few minutes rang that bell..
was it ‘war’? no...
‘fire water’? ... no ...
‘customs’? ... that bell rang again, closer at hand and with now a frantic overtone...
Customs! Oh h**l!
We had to go through Customs with a capital C!
And not only that, this was Britain!
British Customs: renowned worldwide for their ways of making you tear your luggage apart in front of the other terror stricken victims in the queue and make you smile all the time as you do it.
British Customs: who brought out the best seller ‘101 excuses for having you walk through the metal detector in bare feet’ [Ed: 4th. edition.]
British Customs: with their subtle ways of getting you to tell them where the secret compartments in your luggage are (which you didn’t even know you had) and without any use of narcotics and sharp needles.
Narcotics! The bell was now deafening and doing overtime..
The whole thing came up and swamped me, I had had a nagging feeling since the second butter churn appeared on the scene, but I could not put a finger on it. Until then I saw Jo’s 'alcoholic presents' as not a problem, we had drank almost half of the wine anyway and rancid butter doesn’t usually ferment, gooey and smelly - yes, noteworthy to customs - no.
But now Diana was on the scene …
But that was the point, d*m it, she wasn’t there! She was off and away. Was this a set up? No, no way, I threw that scenario out straight away. I admit that we were possibly naïve and hadn’t thought this through, but that was all.
Here I was, on me Todd, (in a worst case scenario, I didn’t see Jo being a reliable witness, more rather in the way) pushing the following:
• 1 rucksack
• 1 singing Jo
• 5 pink cases of various sizes
• 2 flagons of Yugoslavian homemade red wine (one flagon almost empty)
• 2 butter churns (one presumed to be filled with rancid butter)
• 1 spinning wheel (with wool in different stages of spun-ness)
• 1 five tined hay rake (could this be classified as a weapon?)
• 1 sea chest
And that was it – the sea chest.
A chest which didn’t belong to me, but a girl who I just happened to meet on the boat and whose address and family name I did not know!
A chest with large padlocks to which I hadn’t the keys!!
A chest which contains… which contains..
Hell! I don’t know what it contains!!!
Diana said something about medicine, remedies, ok, but shamans also used trance inducing drugs! It was dawning on me that Diana may well have not realised what she had carted half way around the world. There could be anything in there, from magic mushrooms, Lophophora williamsii Peyote and the rest of its crazy family or at least the Central Asian equivalent and there was the chance of a ‘touch of the hard stuff’ as well, and I wasn’t thinking of liquids either!
This wasn’t amusing anymore.
I held the panic button pressed
until the level reached max.
What was I to do? That was it. I couldn’t do much other than push and hope for the best. My only thought was a repeat performance of Oostende. I pulled up the hood of my anorak, head went down, whispered to Jo to stop singing, look straight ahead and put on her “Bodicia look”, if it worked in Belgium it might work here.
Her singing changed to humming. As I couldn’t see her I hoped the rest of my commands were being acted upon. The gods were either taking bets, or occupied elsewhere, for we sailed through once again minus any mishaps. Following this the only other highlight at this stage, was having to leave Jo on her own to get through the passport control, which in her state she mastered with bravo.
Act 4. Scene 2
Well here was the train, we were through! Oh, was I relieved. The last leg should be a breeze.
Diana was not insight but that was not a problem at the moment. It was a long train and she was probably settled down somewhere up front. No matter I would look for her once we got going. I sat Jo down in an empty compartment, placed the wine within easy reach and piled everything else in the next door baggage carriage.
Even though there was no water in sight, on my return Jo had got into the swing of things and there was lots of swigging and singing going on. By the look of it we would be jettisoning at least one flagon before Victoria station. As not to be left out of things I helped to redistribute her liquid luggage as we slowly moved off direction London.
Time was ticking on and I started to wonder were Diana was, I had expected her to make the first move in looking for us. We had the bulk of the luggage and she had only her rucksack when she sprinted off at the boat. After sitting around all day, I wanted to stretch my legs. As we were at the end of the train I thought I would make for the engine end.
For the second time that day I commanded Jo not to move and started my journey - direction front - keeping a look out for Diana on the way.
Well I reached the first carriage with no real problems apart from one – no Diana! I was tired, the wine had gone to my head, but my short time memory was rather good, so I was pretty certain that I would have recognised her in my fly pass. But no, there was no sign of Diana.
In any case, I had lingered at each compartment or moved slowly between the seats long enough for Diana to have at least recognised me. Due to this lingering I was sometimes getting funny looks from the occupants which lead in some cases to a hastily retreat on my part. I couldn’t have missed her, there was hardly anybody on board the train anyway, which was a bit odd as the boat was packed..
That bell again..
Nothing for it, I made my way back in the direction of the wine depot. This time the funny looks turned to level annoyance as I lingered longer this time. On returning to our compartment, I was hoping to see Diana sitting there with an expression of ‘and where have you been all this time?’ on her face. But no, there was only Jo with a ‘Oh, it’s you again on her face’..
Ding… ding … ding….
Ok there was nothing for it.
I unpacked my panic button
and pressed it.
Now what was I to do? I had about an hour to think of a plan. Where to start ...
Ok, simplest answer would be to hand all Diana’s things over to lost property and make a run for it before awkward questions were asked. An alternative just leave it on the train. No, neither of these scenarios was on.
Ok. See if you can find an address or something on the chest. I remembered it was covered with stickers and labels, maybe I would find Diana’s home address. I went off and scrutinised the chest. The only address apart from a hotel in Kabul was a department deep in the heart of British Museum, where I expected she worked. That was no help at this time of night.
My mind started racing - there was no way I was going to convince a BM night watchmen that I just happen to have a chest full of possible homemade narcotics which was not packed in my presence, but in Afghanistan and belonged to Diana ‘somebody or other’ who I suspect, is or was, a member of the staff at this noble institution, or maybe she’s just a freelance worker and therefore you’ve never heard of her and when I come to think of it, you work nights and she would work in the day and therefore, even if she was a permanent staff member you probably would never have heard of her anyway, and no I’m not a hippy and that is not a butter churn bomb...
[Ed: Catches breath brings train of thought to obvious conclusion.]
I would suspect after hearing this, I would get a blank look with a forced smile, asked to wait the preverbal minute and the next thing I know there’s screeching of brakes, blue lights flashing all over the place and a Dixon of Dock Green type voice from behind me saying ..
‘ellow, ’ellow what ’ave we ‘ere then?
No that was not on. While [Ed:] consults the train time table, I will digress a little….
The only confrontation I had with the ‘Establishment’ was in my late teens, when I was interviewed by the police following a car accident with two fatalities. I was of the opinion that the car - as it drove passed, was going much too fast. I was walking home from the pub at the time. A week later at the same time there was a couple of plain-clothed officers hanging around interviewing “passerbyers” about the accident. I opened my mouth and put the proverbial foot in it.
I didn’t realise at the time that I would get dragged into a court case. It was a right farce; the police were trying to get the driver (who survived the crash) for reckless driving. They were clutching at straws and tried to use me as a witness, even though I hadn’t seen directly the crash. I had to go up to the Old Bailey and stand in the box and say my piece - embarrassing to say the least. It didn’t work - the defence found out I have a problem with my eyes and didn’t drive and so the opinion was I couldn’t judge the speed of the vehicle and therefore my ‘evidence’ was dismissed.
At least I had the opportunity to see the inside of the Old Bailey and stand in the dock. The only amusing part in all this was, my interviewers name was Pepper, he was a detective sergeant, and I had at long last just bought the album...
Act 4, Scene 3:
Good, where were we.. yes, back on the boat train.
Thinking about it, a night camping outside the gates of the BM was not where I saw myself either, especially with a possible fiasco with a BM ‘day’ watchmen.
Ok, there was nothing for it, Plan B. Just wait at Victoria station and see if she turns up. It was the only place we both knew the other would be at some point. I could wait all night if need be. Jo would have to be solo from then on. If she made it most of the way through Europe before I turned up, she can do the last leg to Alaska on her own.
So with this in mind, I put panic on hold and returned to our red wine powwow for the strengthening of Anglo-Inuit relations. Victoria was finally reached, as we rolled into the station I stuck my head out of the window and scanned the platform, I had an idea and it had started with that first bell on the train.
During my 'walk-about' I had the feeling that something was not quite right. Nobody was standing in the corridors or aisles and the compartments were mostly empty. It left me with the impression of a half-hearted attempt at a ghost train. The boat had been more like a troop carrier than a passenger ship. Where were they all? Ok, some were off in other directions, but this was the ‘boat train’ and therefore by default should have been full of people from the boat.
Now to put my theory to the test.
Yes! And there she was!
Standing there waving like mad with a relief on her face matching my own.
There were two boat trains!
The train stopped, we bundled off and Diana ran up and started babbling on about running up and down her train looking for us! It seems she had the same experience, only her train was packed. She had at least the idea to ask if there were two trains, so she was prepared.
Well what next. We were reunited only to see that it was time to go our separate ways. Diana was so pleased to see us again she spontaneously offered to put us up for the night at her parent’s house. Jo jumped at the chance, it was either that or looking for a hotel before her flight in the morning. I was also game and curious to see what was in the sea chest. The concert was the next day and I only needed to ring my friend to say I would see her in the morning at the rehearsals.
So we were off again!
This time the target was a taxi and Diana sat with Jo on the trolley and I pushed like mad. As I sweated out the last of the wine I wondered if Diana had an alternative motive than just thanks. I made a beeline to the head of the taxi rank, the driver sprang out with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. I showed him our luggage and the smile changed instantly into a grimace and a constant grumbling ensured for the whole trip until payment.
It was a bit of a squeeze but nothing was left for lost property.
At Diana’s house we got everything into the front room and finally chilled out. Diana was happy to be home after so long, Jo was happy that she had made London in one piece, and I was happy I would be only carting my own luggage around in future. Diana threw a meal together, the second flagon of red wine was cracked open and as it flowed we opened Diana’s box.
I must admit I was none the wiser after the event than before. It was full of packages with powders of various colours, dried leaves, roots and bean like err… well... beans. The labels were unreadable and even if they were I would not have recognised anything. I can’t remember much else about the contents of the chest, the day had been long, the wine was making its mark again and well it was some time ago.
Next morning we had breakfast together.
Jo took a taxi to the airport.
Diana was off to the British Museum.
I left for rehearsals.
I had a postcard from Jo some time later, but I never saw either of them again.
[Ed: Glad that’s over. I must ask, was all that true?]
Of course it was, you were there!
[Ed: Yes I suppose I was. Still ..]
Yes I know what you mean, rather a lot packed into 12 hours.
[Ed: Nothing weirder than reality.]
Yes very true. How about a cuppa?
[Ed: Good idea, ... by the way anything left of that ‘you know what’ from D’s box?]
No. Long gone..
[Ed: Shame, then a bicky then?]
Ok, why not …