Friday, 22 April 2011

What Doesn't Kill You, Keeps You Alive

[cont'd from here] - I arrived in Victoria Bus Station in London on a September Saturday evening after a marathon three day bus/boat trip from Greece. I hadn't saved much money from my summer job and I blew what little I had in Greece, so I was now down to just enough for the train and ferry back to Dublin.  My parents would be none too pleased about the sorry state of my finances which were supposed to go part way to pay my fees. I must have been feeling fairly foolhardy or just plain dumb, since I decided to try and track down my cousin who was working in London for the summer between college semesters. I poured  some coins into a pay-phone (remember no mobile phones in these days) and called his home in Dublin and got his address from his brother.  I bid my college buddies farewell and headed off to try and navigate the London public transport system. I was now a seasoned traveller and had survived Denmark and Greece, so what could possibly go wrong?

By 10pm, I had finally arrived at the address of a very 'ethnic' neighbourhood in Hackney, East London and knocked on the door of the house.  I was wearing shorts and tee-shirt with a backpack and was sporting my newly acquired pink tan.  The door finally opened and I asked if Patrick was at home. The Carribean woman looked me up and down and must have put 2 and 2 together. This pasty pink Irish git must be a friend of the other pasty white Irish git that moved out 2 months ago. With a thick Carribean accent she said - "He no be livin' here no more, but me gotts' him address he be wantin' his mail sent to".  I wasn't too happy to have to head off to the far side of London - Brixton, but at least I had the details.

As I started to make my way back to the tube (subway) station, I noticed a dodgy geeza' (a rough looking individual) who seemed to be following me. There was no one else on the street and it was now dark.  He started to quicken his pace so I quickened mine. I had a heavy backpack on so had difficulty picking up much speed. I could hear he was gaining on me so I fumbled around in my pocket and took out my pen knife. He was now running after me so I ran as fast as I could.  When I realized I couldn't out run him, I turned around and warded him off with my knife (all 2 inches of the blade) and shouted "Keep the f#ck away, I have a knife!" .  He slowed down at first but then to my horror raised a brick he had in his hand above his head and with a muffled slurred voice said - "I'm gonna f#ckin' kill ya!"

His eyes were red and glazed over and he looked like he was off his head on drugs but he seemed hell bent on pounding me to a pulp with a brick. I was beyond scared.  I was terrified, so I took off as fast as I could running in the middle of the street with the psychopath giving chase.  A car was approaching, so as I ran towards it, I waved it to stop. The driver was a big Rastafarian and rolled down the window to ask "What the heck be goin' on man? " The brick wielding lunatic was still hot on my heels and was now chasing me in circles around the car.

Rasta dude got out of the car to intervene.  Thankfully, he was built like a ox and in a flash grabbed the drug crazed nut job, pushed him up against a wall, knocked the brick out of his hand and shouted "Get the f#ck outta my turf man!"  I didn't wait around to thank my Rasta saviour. I simply turned and fled.  I saw a bus pulling up at a bus stop and jumped on.  It didn't matter where it was going.  I was back among people - safety in numbers and all that.

Once I was well clear of the scene of the crime, I splurged on KFC for dinner and then a taxi to reach my cousins new abode in Brixton and got there around midnight.  It turned out to be a grafitti riddled squatted council flat.  The neighbourhood was not at all inviting.  Gangs of kids were hanging out on the corners smashing bottles.  I knocked on the door several times but no one answered so I sat on the front step and wondered WTF was I going to do now. I was already short of the money needed for the train / boat back to Dublin. Western Union didn't exist in those days and even if it did, I was going to get a 'boat' load of grief asking to be bailed out after 'working' all summer, so I was rightly up shite creek without a paddle.  At 2am an unfamiliar body drunkenly stumbled up to the door and asked in an Irish brogue "who de feck are you?"  I'm looking for my cousin Patrick" - I explained. "Ah yeah, Patrick moved out a few weeks ago - Not sure if he's still in London" - he said.  He could probably tell I hadn't had the best of evenings.  "You can stay here if you want, but just for tonight."  "Thanks" - I said. All I wanted was the safety of 4 walls and some sleep. Hopefully I'd  figure something out in the morning.
I slept late the next morning and finally woke up when my host turned on the TV. It turned out I went to high school with his younger brother so we chatted about what each of us had done for the summer and I told him of my adventures the previous night.  "So you have no idea where my cousin is? - I asked. "No, he was due to go back to college soon so he may be back in Dublin already" - he replied.  There was a knock at the door so he went to answer it.  "Ah it's yerself!" - I heard him greet the visitor.  And there, drunk as a skunk, wobbled in my long lost cousin Patrick.  He greeted me with indifference in his intoxicated state.  "Ah it's yerself!" - he said, immediately followed with "Jaezuz - I'm burstin' for a pish! there any beer in the fridge?"

He eventually sobered up enough to realize it was no small feat of chance and adventure that we had managed to meet up at all.  He had only showed up at his old temporary abode by chance to pick up his forwarded mail. We recounted our summer adventures over beers that evening (as the Irish do) and we headed back to Dublin the next day on the 24 hour journey of train and boat.  It was one of the roughest vomit comet ferry crossings I have been on, but just a small chink in the armour of this road weary traveller. This had been a summer, I would never ever forget.  They say what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. I now have a much better appreciation and understanding of that expression and a strange but understandable affinity for Bob Marley's music .


Tags: ..Ugly Mugger Fugger..
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Tiffany,  April 22, 2011 1:18 am  

hah - good recollection - I stayed in a council flat squat in London in the 80's - the only good part was the price - FREE!

Anonymous,  April 22, 2011 1:21 am  

It ended well but not sure I would have gone alone to find someone - fair play

Quickroute April 23, 2011 12:09 am  

@ Tiffany: Even for that price I'd stay anywhere else

@ Anony: Stupid does as stupid is

nick April 23, 2011 4:27 pm  

I lived in Hackney for a while and the same characters were in evidence - the incoherent drunks, the lunatics with bricks and knives, the disorganised squatters. I expect it's much the same now. With the estate agents still spinning it as "rapidly gentrifying". In other words there are a few middle class professionals slumming it until they can afford that posh gaff in Hampstead.

Quickroute April 23, 2011 7:38 pm  

@ Nick: I ended up living in Hackney a few years later - strange how life repeats itself - It was still ruff n' tuff

Baino April 28, 2011 2:52 am  

Aww I'm glad you're recounting the past. I miss your travelogues. Mind you the scariest moment I had was wearing Luton colours at a Luton vs Chelsea Match and the entire fan base for Chelsea, smashed up the city after the game. Scary plus. (Should have thanked the Rasta man now) And if your backpack was as heavy as mine . . running would not have been an option.

Quickroute April 28, 2011 10:37 am  

@ Baino: So you're a Luton hooligan - who would have thunk it. - Yeah the backpack is a bit of a handicap no doubt

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