“This is England, we can chain you to the rail, this is England, we can kill you in a jail.” Joe Strummer/Bernhard Rhodes.
ENGLAND. THE FIRST FIVE HOURS.
I went home to England to stay for a month, sometime in a September, at the end of the eighties. Chris had never visited the UK and came over from Amsterdam to join me for my last week. It was in the days of getting buses and ferries, cheap flights were not yet a thing. As he was on a bus heading for Victoria Coach Station, London, I was on the bus heading to Victoria from Bristol to meet him.
I found him waiting, leaning against a wall at the grubby coach station. Thin, punky hair, eyeliner. Him, not me. Opposite him was a skinhead, with a wrench the size of a small dog in his hand. Chris said the guy had been there for the ten minutes that he had been waiting for me to turn up, just staring straight at him.
We rented a small van for a week and drove back to Bristol. We would bring it back up a week later and return to Amsterdam together. This was his first time driving on the right hand side in a car, although he had ridden a motorbike in Thailand. Apart from attempting to enter a roundabout in the wrong direction, we made it safely to King`s Square in Bristol. It was here that Chris needed to maneuver a tricky bit of parallel parking. As he pulled into the spot, and then out again to straighten up, another car zipped in straight behind him and took the space. Absolutely stunned that someone would do that he jumped out of the car and asked the guy what exactly he thought he was doing, in a fairly marked Austrian accent. The aggressive bloke looked straight into Chris´s eyes and said, “Why don’t you just go back to your own sodding country?”
(Over the years it has become a catch phrase in our home, and used many times in arguments, guaranteed to have us laughing and to end whatever bickering we might have been doing.)
ESCAPE TO WALES.
After staying in Bristol for two nights, we jumped into the van, along with sleeping bags, blankets, food and a water cannister, and took off across the Severn Bridge for Wales. Autumn is the season of magic mushrooms. The Liberty Caps are insignificant in their looks, a tiny parasol with a nipple-like point on top of the very thin stalk. They are found in grasslands, usually with sheep or cows in them. Hard to find until you spot a couple, and then the eyes tune into what they are looking for. They grow in many places around the world but if I remember correctly the British Liberty Caps are amongst the most potent.
We ended up somewhere fairly deep in the Welsh countryside, I cannot remember exactly where, but there were a lot of sheep. We parked up and had an early night, ready to go out hunting mushrooms the next morning. We struck lucky and within a couple of hours had a fairly full bag. Suddenly in the distance we saw a horse and rider galloping full tilt, heading straight for us. We quickly hid the mushroom stash. A woman started to yell at us that we were on private land and what did we think we were doing, and were we looking for mushrooms? Chris immediately spoke with her and said he had no idea that we were on private land, and that in Austria, even if the land is private, you are allowed to walk in the fields.
This time his cute Terminator accent, worked in his favour and she invited us to follow her back to her farm and invited us to share some the cider they had made. A long conversation ensued between her and Chris on how cider should be made and that his dad too made cider every year. She said that she had troubles every year with people stomping her grounds looking for mushrooms and that was why she had been a bit sharp with us. Nice tourists like us were always welcome. She sent us on our way with some homemade bread and a chunk of cheese.
We got back to the van and decided to spend one more night in it, and drove off a few miles to park up in a different place. It was at the top of a slight hill, sheep yes, but no farm, horse, or person in sight. We woke up around three in the morning, and heard some rustling sounds outside the van. (There were no windows in the back to look out of.) After listening on paranoid high alert, the rustling subsided and we decided that it must be the sheep, and went back to sleep. A few hours later we awoke and opened the back doors of the van, and stumbled out to see that we were completely surrounded by the army, and about fifteen of their tents. No vehicles, no noise. Completely shocked, and wondering if we were still stoned from the night before, we got into the van and drove away as fast as we could get our backsides out of there. Army manoeuvres at the crack of dawn.
We made it safely back to Amsterdam, with the fungi, and memories of Chris’s hearty welcome to England.
CQ of APJ.