Love and Chaos Part 1(E) Richard 2

Much-loved travel bookshop Stanfords is fundraising for survival
Picture of travel bookshop, Google Images

Part One. London. Spring 1993

Chris liked effects. He liked startling and surprising and shocking people. It had cost him at least one job, and made strangers treat him with caution, as they dismissed his humour as a sign of immaturity and his behaviour as borderline psychotic. But the humour was noticeably absent when he met Richard for their farewell drink. In its place was an irritability and nervousness that itself was shocking and surprising.

For the sake of Auld Lang Syne, as Richard put it, they decided to meet in the Soho pub they used to go to in the Fordham days. Chris was late and arrived flushed and agitated. Being in no mood for small talk or self-perpetuating puns, he got himself a drink and began explaining.

“I went to get my final pay packet; I’d asked them if it could be in cash because I’m leaving in two days. So I go to the office, and waiting there, with the manager and Russell, are two company lawyers. They say that they’ve been going over the stock and that there are certain inconsistencies. So much alcohol unaccounted for. Before I have a chance to think up a good lie, they tell me that I’ll get my wages, but not my holiday pay and that if I wish to seek redress, I should feel free to consult with my own solicitor. Fucking wankers !”

“Shit ! Did they have proof, or …”

“I don’t know, but they ain’t gonna blame Sophie Bloody-Twatface are they ? Well, I did it, so, yeah, guilty, fine, then they start going on about how they should really call the police and make it a matter of record, but thought that this was the better solution. Not for me. Bring the police in, just give me my money. Time they get here, I’ll be long gone. Never coming back to this shit-hole, either.”

There followed a few minutes of silent drinking, Chris staring at a patch of English pub carpet, almost without blinking. Richard nervously tried to think of something, but after an awkward interlude that Chris showed no signs of breaking, he finished his beer and went to the bar, returning with two double whiskys. Chris took the glass and drank, but his spirits were still at a depth that Richard had never seen before. Still, he allowed him this anomaly. He had never quite accepted that Chris really was going to Germany, with no German, no job, no place to stay and now, evidently, no money. Then suddenly, Chris picked up.

“Wasn’t even good wine. Bloody shit. Think they made it themselves. Nuno wouldn’t touch it. Use it as mouthwash. He’d pour it over his boots to give them a shine. Fuck ! I was counting on that money. Shit !”

Nuno was one of a number of people that were known to Richard merely by name and by anecdote. Marina he had never met, and she was already back in Berlin. Trying to lighten the atmosphere and to genuinely help, Richard offered some money, Chris declined, but accepted that he could ask if he were in trouble. Richard thought about saying that he could always come back home and return to university, but somehow sensed that that wasn’t the way to go. Instead he asked about the travel plan which seemed unnecessarily complex.

“Train to Harwich, wherever that is. I asked the clerk, ‘Is that in England ?’ and she smiled one of those forced, what an idiot efforts. Then boat to the Hook of Holland, from there to Rotterdam, onto Hamburg, then train to Berlin. Zoo Station. Get mugged by the children of Bahnhof Zoo. Another thing I know about Berlin. Full of junkie teenagers who’d stab you for a quick fix. “

“And Marina’s going to meet you there ?”

“No, at a café a few blocks away. I’ve got the address and directions. She’ll try to have something organised for me. Maybe a place to stay for a few days.”

But then Chris trailed off, as if he were only now facing up to his decision, like a bad joke that had imploded on its perpetrator. The mood didn’t improve, the alcohol just bloating them and making the evening tense and hazy. They parted warmly enough but Richard was left wondering if he would ever see Chris again, a feeling that would return over the coming years.

That being the case, he actually felt pleased by Chris’ letter, not Chris being in trouble, but that he was in contact and needed Richard’s help. He calculated that he could spare fifty to seventy pounds and set about finding out the quickest way to get it to Berlin. He had heard about people wiring money in films but had no idea how one went about it. He asked at a Post Office and it seemed quite straightforward, provided one had certain information, which he didn’t. With no bank details to transfer money to, he was left with simply posting it and hoping it got there. Converting to Deutsch Marks would take more time, so Richard put three twenty pound notes into an envelope, sellotaped the flap several times, wrote over the tape for security and sent it, to an address which, at the time, meant absolutely nothing to him:

Chris Pearson
Bei Holtzengraff
Rigaer Str 16
10247 Berlin

It seemed somehow too little information for a European capital and the second line, beginning ‘Bei’ was a total mystery. He could have asked Melanie, who was still in London, but they had no plans to meet, and without Chris, if may have seemed rather false, not quite right.

A reply came two weeks later. The emergency was over, Marina had saved the day. He had his own flat: kitchen, bathroom and living room, and a job in a film studio. He had stayed with Claudia, a friend of Marina’s, right by where the Wall stood and had already found his local bar. Chris wrote,

“Can’t describe it, only its nothing like an English bar, thank fuck. Lots of people speak English. Work is all English speakers. Very different from London, people look happy! CHEAP !!! Beer, cigarettes, food – all cheap! Get your arse over here. “

There was no thank you for the money, but there was an invitation and that was even better. Richard planned how long he would have to work to be able to save up for the trip. It would be a few months. Nevertheless, the next day, he went out on his lunch break to the nearest bookshop and bought the Rough Guide to Berlin. He accepted that he wouldn’t be at university in September.

UK Break. Family and friends.

19th February 2020

The sky is grey, the prices are astronomical, people are loving Brexit, people are hating Brexit, people are predicting a boom, people are prophesying doom … and it is cold. It is very, very cold.

The view of east London, near the Olympic Stadium:

I arrived late Thursday 13th and spent most of the next day meeting my brother’s friend in his local (the nearest pub). At ‘Happy Hour’ a pint of Guinness was £3.50. Otherwise, it is a fiver (£5, that’s $6.50).

Sunday, I took the new express train from Stratford International 75 miles to Canterbury West (£35 single / $44), to meet up with some old friends, Carole and Pete. Carole met me, then we drove to a small cottage on the sea, at a place called Whitstable, famous for its oysters.

The sun emerging from the clouds at Whitstable
Beach bird looking for food
Canon overlooking the beach huts
Colourful beach huts
Typical quaint houses and curving streets of this sea-town.

Next day, we met Pete at Broadstairs (see next blog), but back in Whitstable, we had the traditional fish and chips:

Clockwise, from top left: cod & chips, skate & chips, and my choice, haddock & chips. Served with tartar sauce.
Pete VERY happy with his lunch. Note, also three mugs (large cups) of tea.

For my Vietnamese students, the above (three fish and chips and three mugs of tea) was about one million VND. I told you UK was expensive and this wasn’t even London ! However, in the UK one is never far from an Indian, Chinese or Asian restaurant. For example, in Broadstairs I saw:

Next Wednesday I’ll be back in Bangkok, so I can try the real McCoy (the real thing).