Thursday, December 15, 2005


I was scanning the bookshelves of a Hungarian bookshop in pursuit of a Berlitz guide to Budapest whilst uttering words to the effect that Hungary isn't a cheap country when to my side, a Hungarian dowager in fur coated ease answered in impeccable but strongly accented English: " You arre rrright, it is naught cheap!"

How do they do it? How do they always know - wherever I am in the world - what I'm saying when I've never a clue what they're gabbling on about? That is until they break off from eighty thousand words a minute, slow things down to: One. Word. Sentences. And take to recruiting facial expressions and hand movements (enough to impress Marcel Marceau) as props, as if addressing a simpleton. But she was right, to say I was right, rrright, even though she shouldn't have interjected to either show off her acute hearing, her language gifts or to seize the moment to validate a concern she and the people of her country feel.

But I suppose if you're going to talk to yourself, or loudly to someone else in the presence of others, you're going to invite comment from elsewhere. So many of us can't help joining in. In fact, I soon was, only a day or two later.

Arriving at Bristol International Airport and waiting in the rainy cold, cold, gloom for the out of airport minibus to rattle its way towards its advance paying customers all of whom, no doubt, recalling that it seemed like a good idea at the time, to go for a cheap piece of mud and scree next to a greasy joe caff five miles away, with a bunch of rusty chains, a few battered cones, a mangy German Shepherd and an awkward parking scheme to serve as security.

Bristol International Airport. Always sounds a little grand to me until I remember some of the airports I've been to, like Zante, which reminded me of a large gardener's hut with a health and safety inspector's panic attack of rickety stairs you had to ascend if you wanted to spend your last few drachmas on crappy wine and gaudy gimcracks before leaving. But waiting for a clapped out mini bus in the English squall doesn't endear either

Which of course was made worse as we were forced to watch, dolefully, in the manner of transfixed cattle, the other passengers with the vague physical familiarity you register on an aircraft as you tick off the faces of the people you might soon die alongside; pop-peeping the locks on their wink-welcoming cars and rev-rev-purring their way through the barriers homeward bound.

Once the ropiest minibus we'd seen that evening turned up, it's driven by a lad with a mobile phone clamped so hard to his head I thought he was cleaning his ears out with it. Somehow, and this must take some doing, he was able to park up, get out, roll the door open grab our bags off us and load them up like a huckster's booty and guide us to the side door. Without his conversation missing a beat.

We're in the van. Huddled. It's cold. The heater's rattling and chucking out tepid air. It's about as much use as a catflap on the door of an elephant house. And this lad's love life is about to become the leitmotiv of the trip back to the ... car park:

"So I says to 'er I says: You are my bird still I take it?"

"And she says: yeah, I'm still your bird, but I wanna goo out on me own or wiv me mates sumtimes not just wiv you all the toime."

"So I says, I don't understand. If you're moiy bird you're supposed to priort prioriti, put me first - if I want to do soming wiv you, you should tell your mates to fuck off til another noight. You know!"

We exchange glances - did he really say that. We are customers after all. Ah well.

"And she don't like that see, gets all shitty an' that."

"You know, coming on all: You doont oown me you know. I do 'av a loif of me own as well!"

"So I says: I 'spect my birds to do as I tell'em not go dropping me at a mooments nootice for their tarrtee friends. An she says - get this, she says, maybe we should finish then".

"Eh! finish! just cos I don't like takin second fucking place... so I says to her rooight then I'll ... 'ang on a minute, I've gotta sort out me passengers".

"All right at the back, we're 'ere".

"And?" we say in unison.


"Did you finish with her or not, we have to know?"

"Oh! I um wouldn't loike to umm ... did you 'av a noice trip?"

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