Sometimes you meet people who change you. They might not play a life long role, however they shape your thinking, create memories or make you feel alive. Sometimes all 3. Nothing wrong with being vanilla, however triple choc chip with popping candy and amphetamines makes for a more exciting experience.
John had the ability to create unexpected utter chaos where there was calm. His sense of adventure led him to suggest that he, another close friend (TW) and I went inter-railing around Europe in the summer of 1991.
I sold my gold mk3 escort (even back then I oozed automotive style!!!) and emptied my bank account prior, however I was informed at very short notice, whilst working on a roof as joiners mate, that I needed to go and buy my ticket as we were departing in a matter of hours.
Packed some stuff in an army issue rucksack (friend in the military) without much thought. The rucksack was massive and adorned with a union flag I had cut from a navy flag.
Stoke Station at something past midnight so we didn’t waste even a few hours by setting off at a normal time.
We trekked across London in the early hours not realising that a train ticket to Dover allows use of the tube trains. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing.
Ferry to France and 1st stop Paris. The plan was to avoid main tourist areas after Paris and Amsterdam. Night train to Amsterdam. Traveling and sleeping on trains saves on accommodation costs … £10 per day to cover everything was not a lot of cash, even in 1991.
“Hi, I have just taken over Texas. Do you want to come and see the cosmos?” said a guy dressed in a toga outside the main station in Amsterdam. Whatever dude. Another time. We are not on the same trip.
We find a hostel bang in the middle of the red light district. Cheap … For a reason. Drop our bags and go on an adventure.
John had purchased a VHS video camera. It was the size of a small family car. He dropped it in carrier bag, ripped the corner off to expose the lens and filmed various ladies in door ways (who demand no photography) whilst giggling like 3 teenage boys who had never seen much of the adult world.
A few bars later and TW went back to the hostel. John and I returned a few hours later after a few more beers. Whilst getting ready to get into our bunks in the unisex hostel 2 Scandinavian girls came back and we made polite conversation. Whilst talking away one of the girls stripped down to just just her pants exposing her boobs before getting into her bed. Holy crap!!! John and I lay in bed giggling away like the children we were.
John had always maintained that we should carry US dollars and not bother with visas etc. as you can just bribe the officials, apparently… Via Berlin (flying visit – need to return) we reached Frankfurt an der Oder on the border of Germany and Poland. The train stopped and the officials came on board. “Passports and visas!!”. With a irreverent attitude John passed his passport with dollar notes inside. They looked confused. “Visa!!”. “We don’t have a visa but we are happy to pay for entry to Poland”, John said with a cheeky grin. They were very upset and our continued attempts to persuade them led the Guard to pull out a hand gun and point it in our direction as he ordered us off the train. It was late. We decided to sleep in a subway in the station and wait for a train in the opposite direction the following morning.
We started sleeping when a policeman with a big German Shepperd woke me by prodding me with an automatic rifle …
“Passport!”. I fumbled around … He stopped me, “I don’t need it. Hide it, you will be robbed for it”. Needless to say I put my passport between arse cheeks and didn’t sleep a wink thereafter.
The sequence of events are a little vague however I think we got to Prague next. We got to the town centre (not very commercial compared to when I visited just 6 years later) and I bought 3 hotdogs after changing our £10 each into the local currency. £3 quid each … no 30p each … wait 3p each!!!. We found a hotel that was about 3 quid for a 4 bed room with ensuite.
John had wet his jeans getting washed and it looked like he had pissed himself. He stood on the sink and tried to dry them on the lightbulb above … The sink came off the wall and smashed on the floor. Shit!!! Completely unfazed by this John grabbed the big book of train timetables and bashed his foot into a big red swollen mess. He sent TW to the hotel reception to tell him the sink had fallen on to John’s foot … He came and inspected and gave us another room after many apologies …
So out we went. First bar was like a shop with school tables. Pints were 9p and huge choice of one type of beer. Chalky but great. Spirits had similar variety and were about 4p for a big measure. Needless to say were getting our money worth. Then on to a club type place that served food. We were apparently supposed to keep what I thought were receipts. When we were due to leave they demanded these bits of paper. We ended up just giving them way more money than we probably had to but it was still next to nothing. I say all this but I was literally blind drunk.
Back to the hotel and John was no longer limping. He had forgot about his need to act injured. I remember getting back into the room and the video camera came out to do some early tech vlogging … I was basically naked and my excitement of the evening events was clear to see and committed to celluloid.
The following day we were went to spend the remainder of our cash before leaving. We came out the supper market with bags of food. Insane how cheap it was.
Somewhere on our way to Yugoslavia (not sure if this was the return leg or not) and we got robbed. I woke up in the night to pee and found my passport and bits other in the sink of the toilet. I gathered everything together. I had wrapped my bum bag thing around the arm of the seat where I had put my head. Someone had slashed thought the strap and cut into the seat. Some cash (other cash was hidden in various other places) and all my travellers cheques had gone.
We found a place that would reissue the travellers cheques but we needed a police report. Sounds easy enough. We find a bus and get a bit lost. A lady who spoke good English asked us if we were ok. We explained and she escorted us to where we needed to be going way out of her way. She had a very sick daughter and English Doctors had saved her life. She was passing on her gratitude. The kindness of stangers!!
We found police HQ and joined a queue. A very militant guy interviewed us and asked us what was stolen and we told him. He said without anything physical (e.g. a camera) being stolen, then he could not issue a report. We were in deep shit. John was not having this. He spied where others who had left the interview rooms were going. So we went that way. Joined another queue. We were asked by another person what was stolen. This time the list included a 35mm camera. A report was typed up and passed to us. Jesus that was easy. As we went to leave John decided to let militant dude know we had beat the stupid system … In he marched waving the report. The cop pulled out a hand gun and pointed it as us and started shouting, “English Bastards!!”. We ran like hell. Out of the station and on to the street. John howling like a crazy man, TW and I nervously laughing.