mister khan has left his adopted homeland, or was rather forced to leave his adopted homeland, for the annual fun of renewing his status as an economic refugee.
russian business visas are possible to atain. it is merely a matter of money and patience. it is best to have double servings of both.
mister khan likes to time this annual fare of blood tests, bribes and neccesarily fake invitations from the russian foreign ministry, with going somwhere pleasant, to remind himself that naormal civilisation and ecologicial patterns do continue to exist.
this year mister khan is feeling ambitious. more ambitious than ever before. mister khan went for the grand slam and is applying his resourceful contacts to attain a 70 year slovakian driving licence at the same time.
and so, mister khan finds himself in bratislava. but it wasn’t meant to be like this.
It started in munich. i flew there on friday night to cosy up with a girl friend. she’s sort of russian, and sort of not ,and has a belarussian passport and permanent german reisdence looks japanese, can speak ‘ossetian’ but may, i suspect, have originated from an entirely different planet. i’ll save you the detials of what went on, but needless to say by sunday, i was dehydrated, malnourished, lacking in vitamin d, could barely walk and had all manner of carpet burns. and then it was time to leave.
vadim is a friend of a friend of a friend of hers. vadim has a business in the sort of legal sort of not legal way russians tend to have businesses. one branch of his business is equiping german alcoholics who’ve fallen foul of their own habits and the law in equal measure. it’s a clever system. a simple system. you get on a train, go to a small provincial czech town, register that you live there, return six months later to sit your driving test and, voila. the cost? 1400 euros.
I’m not a german alcoholic. i’m cocktail-sipping half pakistani occultist, amongst other things. however, this status makes it harder than one might think to attain driving licenses through the regular channels. 1400 euros seemed like a bargain. i didn’t know exactly how much value i’d get for my money.
we met at the station. vadim called to say he couldn’t make it but would meet at destination. marco, his right hand man, would be in charge of our group, numbering four. marco is a swiss-germanof the fat latently-homosexual type. he was also drunk. my travelloing companions, two with moustaches, one with out were also drinking beer, half cut, no doubt dreaming about getting back behind the wheel of their b.m.ws. ironic perhaps, but the bavarian brain is two dimensional, and those dimenions seem somewhat at odds with each other.the eight hour train journey was already looking less apetising.
drunkeness is something that clearly comes naturally to the bavarian male. i tried to be reasonalbly sociable whilst absolutely distant on the train, and managed this to some extent, only joining in on the fifth round of beers.
around the eighth, the action started. siggy, one of the least attractive human specimins that i’ve ever had the displeasure of communicating with, had that beery air of stupidity that not only made him incapable of walking, but had him dribbling slightly on his cheap red t-shirt. bits of schnitzel clung to his untrimmed moustache for dear life. his beady eyes, though decidedly unfocused, began scrutinising tyhe passengers of the single carriage international tram we were riding, courtesy of the czech railways authorities. i suspected he was looking for a stunner. turns out he was just discerning gender.
starting at the far end of the wagon, siggy played his praciticed routine upon half a dozen women, of all shapes, ages, sizes and nationalities. it went something like this.
“hello, dahhhhling” (attenpt to kiss the hand)
woman stares blankly out of the window.
“you know, dahhhhhling, you are verrrry beautiful woman…”
woman stares out of window, eyes narrowing
“I think we should be….yes….um… (power of english leaves him as dribble begins to escape mouth. he shuffles closer)…what’s your beauuutiful name?”
woman gets up and moves to another seat.
sitting next to me was a pleasant studenty type in her early 20’s with remarkably unstylish glasses and well brushed hair, who from the corner of her eye watched siggy’s encroachment with a horror that was gathering momentum.
as siggy made his final approach, i moved closer to her to fill the vacancy that would have cornered her. if i had a sword i would have drawn it, but i’ve travelled unarmed since the riding accident in the crimea.
“what you doing….huh…what you zink your doing?”
“she doesn’t want to talk”
“how you know, you, i tell you, you fuck off….hey baby…what is your name.”
“siggy mate. she doesn’t want to talk.”
“vhat your problem, hey? I talk to any girls…all girl”
“no you don’t”
“vhat you meen?”
“I mean you’re not talking to this one.”
“she vant to talk to me, don’t you baby.”
“siggy mate- go and sit down over there.”
“I vant to sit here. who you tell me what to do. fuck off. she vant to talk with me ok. don’t you, dahling?”
The girl said nothing.
“just say no”
“nein” the girl said.
“tell him to fuck off” i chirped up.
tears welled in siggy’s eyes. he pulled himself up to his full 5 foot 5, and gave me a look that was his equivilent black-beard’s ‘black spot’. the tram-train stopped for five minutes, and siggy took the opportunity to stumble around the platform, looking for a female to bother. having bothered some, he made his way back to me.
“today, everythnig is okay you know” he counselled in a whisper. “but tomorrow, i sink we have a problem”. I think this is the german way of saying ’i’m too drunk to fight, pleasse don’t hit me’
siggy then passed out. he barely made it to the ‘hotel’ and wasn’t seen til the next day.
i shan’t bother describing the ‘sport hotel’- just describe the concept. in former communist republics many hotels were built for provincial travelling sports teams, next to sport facilities, as sport was a very important way of distracting people how dismal life was whist actually making someone feel like a winner.
typically the rooms are like a pleaant prison, with three beds or four half meter wide berths.. i shared my room with marco the latent swiss-german- pederast. there was no way all the rooms were full. there was nobody else there. i offered to pay fifty euros for a room all of my own, but he assured me with an apologetic smile that everythin was full, forming a human wall between myself and the receptionist, who had to be telephoned to her desk from her home fifteeen minutes away and spoke no english.
but there was nothing to fear. either the night passed without incident, or the rohypnol was really good.
breakfast consisted of walking round the deserted ‘town’ at 7 o clock looking for a place to eat breakfast, in a town where everyone eats breakfast in their kitchen at home. another mark of marco’s incompetence. still no sign of vadim.
the only problem that siggy had with me on this new dawn, was that he had no recollection of ever having met me before.the little town when we arrived, was of the charming sort that make up 80 percent of eastern europe (and make it so fucking charming), complete with one of those eastern european town names, which are inevitably simultaneously unpronounacble and absolutely forgettable. when we got there whatever it wasfucking called, no vadim, despite marco’s reassurances. i took it upon myself to call vadim. he was four hours away.
the only tonic to the trip was the driver- oleg, a trusty ukrainian (as trusty as ukranians can be) who’d promised within fifteen minutes of meeting to sort me out with whatever unoffical pharmecutical dispensation i might require upon my return to munich, and possibly, brand new macintosh laptops at 20% of retail price.
can you see the contrast? german vs. ukranian? i know who i’d have in my life boat.
i gave my passport to a man with a broken hand who i’d never seen before, who disappeared into the police station, to begin the simple process of registration. he reappeared three minutes later. ‘where is your insurance?’ marco asked me, his face unneccesarily close. the baby-cham and lucozade still fresh on his teeth.
‘insurance?’ hmmm. it’s very simple. as a european citizen there’s this dickish form thing that you’re meant to get which lets you prance around european like a pony, sure of the fact if your haemmoroids play up in val-des-aires, you can get a french finger up your arse as free as you can an english one. unfortunately i’ve spent as much time in england in the last five years as i have sitting on the toilet. about two weeks. and as that’s where i’m ‘from’, that’s where i have to get it from.
‘no problem’ says marco. ‘you just go to germany and buy insurance for 10 euros’
’can’t i buy it here?’
“it’s very expensive’
’that’s not so expensive”
“butin germany you can for 10 euro”
‘10 euros seems a little cheap?’
’don’t worry- it’s easy- its no problem. germany is very close. it will take maybe one hour or two. you go with nico and martin- they have no insurance too ok."
two hours later the 2 other insurance-free germans were still sitting in the bar (which served as the temporary office) next to the police station, on their third or fourth pint. it was almost 12 o clock.czech republic, the spiritual home of lager, was beginning to look like an odd choice of place to re-equip banned drunken drivers to get them back on the road
like a cattle herder i berated and encouraged them into the back of the car. to be fair to them they probably didn’t know where they were going.
strapped up we headed off. oleg and i chatting heartily about the ukraine’s natural beauty, and ukraine’s natural beauties, whilst the two german guys felt thirsty.
in case they are never mentioned in print again, i’ll just sketch them for you.
there was baby faced nico, 25, works in a steel foundry making bits for cars he’ll never afford. and martin, a driver, clipped moustache. bavarian beer cheeks, and as drunk when he woke up as when he fell asleep.
after an hour or so of scenic country roads and waving to amateur road-side prosttutes, we reached the german/czech border. we all passed over our passports, or at least tried to. martin started to grumble. his cheeks went a little redder. i heard the german word for ‘shit’ a few times, and then a few more times. forgotten his passport. it was still in the custody of the guy with the broken hand back at the bar. the guards escorted him from the car. he couldn’t go back to czech, and they woudn’t let him back into germany as he had no other i-d. nico, who despite also forgetting his passport had already passed inspection with an i-d card, hopped out to try and aide martin’s cause. this just created a need to scrutinise his i-d more carefully. scrutiny that concluded it had expired in march.
it would appear, some people are banned from driving becasue they just are not mentally fit for the job. there is some logic to it.
with the clock ticking, and very little options, oleg and i cheerfully waved the prisoners off, as we headed ino the bavarian countryside, amused by various aspects of the caper. when we arrived at the insurance shop, it was of course, shut for lunch. when it opened, they said of course they couldn’t make my uinsurance documents as i wasn’t german. i went to a private insurance firm. they said they could insure me, but only inside germany. not much good for czech registration.
back to the border, we enquired after the prisoners. we’d obviously called marco, and left the matter in his capable hands. the czech border lady klindly informed us the pair had gone to plzen- the birthplace of lager. this obviously made sense to us, and we headed back to the place with the unpronouncable name, laughing.
enter vadim. vadim is a careful kind of guy. accurate in his manner, doesn’t, i suspect, leave things to chance, and won’t, i suspect, be leaving marco in charge of operations again. he informed us the other pair were still in custody at the border, regardless of what the border guards said. he also informed me there was no need for me to have insurance, but his ‘friends’ were no longer entirely happy handling my case, as they were quite sure there was something distinctly criminal about me as i was talking only to the ukrainian in russian, and i looked like a russian, and my name was russian (?), so naturally my passport was fake.
i responded by ordering earl grey tea with milk, taught the sweet little waitress how to make it properly (without leaving the tea bag by the side of the saucer. r.i.p douglas adams), complained about the weather and enquired as to the availability of a newspaper.
vadim said our only hope nown was to go to a small town 4 hours from bratislava on the night train. the prospect of escaping the german alcolholic contingent all together, now seemed more important than actually acheiving anything, so it was doubly good news- only bugger was it would eat up another day in which i’ve got to make a visa.
the train was at ten. it was six. the decision was made. vadim stands to make more moneyout of me than anyone else, so he began to concentrate. called up the office in slovakia just to confirm everything. turns out they’re shut on tuesdays. one man’s road kill is another man’s sandwich. ‘excellent’ i cried. that will give me a dayto pop to bratislava, check out prospective wives, do my visa, and be back in between the taught buttocks of munich before teatime on wednesday.
i took vadims address and said i’d meet him wednesday morning ‘somewhere’ in slovakia.
the overnight train had no sleeping carriages, but it did have first class, which i lapped up greedily, as it would inevitably be empty (first class in this regard being pretty much the same as regular, only more expensive, so only a fool would pay the extra) six big post soviet chairs, all to myself. just me and my book and the occasionaly bout of pilsner-induced flatulance, which could be heartily indulged.
bumped into vadim at the station. he was on the other end of the train, which would break off half way through and head south. only he was a little tense as marco and siggy had taken his car to the border four hours previously to retrieve the prisoners, and hadn’t returned. all his stuff was in the car, and there phone’s were not working. (plus the car’s diesel injectors were fucked after a trip through the ukraine). i smiled to myself as vadim watched the carpark nervously. those crazy krauts. i don’t think they showed up. i don’t know if vadim took the train.
but it dodn’t bother me. i was dog tired and free of sharing the karma of a bunch of bavarian fuck-ups under swiss lieutenantship (when was the last time the swiss faught a war?). i was on my way to bratislava to get things moving under my own momentum. i arranged my things in my little bag (i travel light- sunglasses, money, documents, book, tobacco, papers,pen, toothbrush), jammed it between me and the seat, drifted off.
..woke up after a bad dream in which i scuffed my favourite pair of shoes. i was almost crying. the door had slid open. ’that’s odd’ i thought. stuck my hand in my bag, and where normally is my wallet, there was air. ’that’s odd’ i thought. and then i made the appropriate mental calculations, and decided 800 euros wasn’t odd, it was a downright inconvenience. luckily i’d stashed some king size notes elsewhere, but it didn’t make for a pleasant feeling in the stomach. i checked and my underwear wasn’t inside out or anything, thankgod, the ghost of marco still looming close. and the cunt had the grace to leave my passport, which was very kind, piss on their grave. (all you need is love).
but business is business, so after convincing the guard not to through me off the train for not having a ticket (karma seems to work on the same concept as london buses), i arrived in bratislava at 6 this morning. first things first, and i did a quick reccy of the russian embassy. closed on tuesday’s naturally.
nothing to do. nowhere to stay. time running out. and i really need a shower.
incidently, bratislava has got more trendy cafes than it has trendy people and smells slightly of raw sewage.
contact lucantours for details of speical summer city breaks.
munich, czech republic, slovakia, in search of a dodgy driving license. first in a series of twelfty.