Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Greece ‒ Not the musical (Part 1)
I must have been mad. “Like a lamb to the slaughter,” laughed her best friend, as I left the flat on Hangover Hill, with my guitar case and my small zip-up gig bag. Ever since I'd known her, every few months, as soon as she'd saved up a bit of money, off she went to Greece. Or Italy. Or France.
Uusally she hitch-hiked. In 1976, certain young middle-class Englishwomen still regarded this as a relatively safe thing to do. If she had a bit more money, she'd book a cheap flight from what we used to call a 'bucket-shop' ‒ a fly-by-night travel agency, usually somewhere around the Earls Court area, selling cheap flights.
She'd finally persuaded me that I couldn't stay in England all my life and why wasn't I a bit more adventurous? I reasoned that least I'd be able to keep an eye on her, I was deeply unhappy and chary of the whole thing. I've always hated foreign travel. I regard it neither as a privilege nor a treat. It's, just something which I have always had to do, either for work or because, in earlier days, my parents made me do it. If they took away my passport and ordered me to stay in England for the rest of my life, it would be absolutely fine by me. I've seen the world. It was boring. I don't believe that travel broadens the mind. I think in many cases, it narrows it. I know people who've been to Thailand or Egypt and only know beaches and hotels. What the hell, though. I was twenty three. My new band Gypp wasn't yet on the road. I said I'd go with her.
So now I was sitting at Victoria Coach Station, with a mixture of hippies, students and sundry other wazzocks, waiting for a thing called The Magic Bus to leave. I was also staring down three days of bum-numbing tedium, which would occasionally be punctuated by paranoia, till we got to our holiday destination. I don't take holidays. I have no idea what is required for a holiday, since I am incapable of doing nothing, I hate being a tourist and I don't want to meet new people. I'm one of those rare souls who, most of the time, is quite happy with what he's got and where he already is.
The fun started, as per usual with H.M Customs at Dover. Now I expect trouble with customs on my way back into the UK. But I don't usually expect it on the way out. Out of a whole coachload of people, it is me whom they come aboard for and request to step off the bus. They search me and my meagre baggage. They ask me lots of questions. “I don't have any drugs.” I tell them. “What makes you think we're looking for drugs?” I tell them that I have shoulder-length hennaed hair, I'm wearing a bright red jacket and I'm carrying a guitar. I ask them, surely this might be enough? They seem cross about my reasoning.
They discover that I'm travelling with the young woman. They pull her off the bus now. They go through all her stuff. They pull out her box of tampons and start cutting some of them up in order to look for drugs. Naturally they find nothing. They tell her to get back on the coach. They keep me with them. The senior customs guy doesn't like me. Even though I am being neutral and polite, he seems to dislike both my appearance and my attitude
“How much sterling currency are you carrying?” he asks. I tell him that I have about a hundred quid and that I had not found time to either change it, or buy travellers' cheques. “A bit over the top, isn't it? “ he barks. Mr Heath, our Prime Minister had only recently ordered that no one took more than £25 out of the UK. This was due to some kind of currency crisis or other, of which I can't remember the cause. “We could actually confiscate it, under the new ruling.” says the customs chief.
I have had absolutely enough, now. I look him in the eye. “Right then, Mister.” I say. “I'll tell you what I'll do. If you're so intent on busting me for something, I will go, right now, back onto that coach. I'll get my guitar, I'll take my bag and I'll walk back down that hall, get on a train to London and fuck right off back to Essex and I'll never pester you again. You don't appear to like people like me leaving the country. Well, I'll tell you something: I don't even want to go abroad actually. You'll be doing me a fucking favour. ” He tells me not to swear.
“Fuck off. What are you gonna fucking do? Beat me up in front of all these people? Go on then.”
He seems taken aback. I sense that he's not used to this level of defiance. “Okay, let me collect my guitar, I'll go. You've beaten me. A hundred quid is all the money I have in the world. I have to carry cash, because I don't have a bank account and if I'm going to get this much hassle just leaving the UK, what's it going to be like across half a dozen other borders to Greece? ” I begin to walk towards the coach. One of the other customs officers, asks. “ How long do you intend to be in Greece?” I tell him, “I dunno, maybe three weeks.” He looks at me contemptously. “And that's all you're taking?” I tell him it's all that I've fucking got. “Language.” says the boss.
" Fuck off.!” I spit.
“Okay, we've decided to overlook it, this time.” he says. “Can't be bothered with the bloody paperwork, more like.” I say. “What?” he asks.
“You heard.” They all look at me, like they wish it was a different world, one where they could beat my kind to death on the quayside. Shaking with nerves and anger, I rejoin my girlfriend on the coach. On the ferry, an hour later, wandering about on deck, the smartly-dressed but long-haired courier of the Magic Bus, approaches me. “They gave you a bit of a bad time, didn't they?” Yeah, I tell him, they always do. They're looking for dope. It's my appearance.”
“Never mind,” he says. “Took the heat off me, anyway. Wanna blast of this?” With that, he offers me an elegantly-made little joint. I'm really angry now. But I also sense a possible trap. I remember my dad's words about the ferries. He was working as a port health inspector at the time and knew very well how Customs and Special Branch operated. “They've got people of their own on those ferries.” he said. Caution takes over. “No thanks.” I tell the courier and I walk back down to the bar.
Some time later, we're sitting on the coach, having just picked some people up in Antwerp. The whole of our section of the coach stinks of dope. A long haired Swedish guy, with, not so much a joint, as a garden bonfire on a stick, shouts: “Anybody want shome dope? It's really goude dope. It should bee. I goddit in Amshterdaam!” The chubby student and his mate sitting across the aisle from me look nervous and refuse the offer. My girlfriend takes a blast. I refuse, politely. The Swedish guy finishes the joint and stokes up an even bigger one. A while later, we're approaching the German border. Peaked-capped men with silver hair and severe teutonic faces are already studying us, from a distance. The chubby student, sitting there in his clean white t-shirt and tennis shorts, is visibly freaking out. He calls:“ Swedish guy? Swedish guuuuy? We're coming up to the German border, now. We don't want the whole coach to be busted, do we? Can you ditch that joint and open some windows?” The Swedish guy, tells him not to worry. But he is worried. As for me, I'm just resigned now to the fact that it'll be me whom they haul off the coach again. And yet, it doesn't happen. The German border guard , who has a pistol, asks me for my passport, looks at the picture, studies my face, hands the passport back and moves on. The English student is quivering with nerves. The German border guard studies him a little longer. A few seats back the Swedish dopefiend is keeping up a loud barrage of stoned jokes. And the coach still stinks of dope. The border guard doesn't even look at his passport. We move on. I sleep through most of Germany and Austria, only briefly waking up in Salzburg to think about The Sound of Music before suddenly, we're in Yugoslavia.