Sunday, 19 April 2009
Music, Beer, Football,Whisky, Pornography and Cash
In my wild youth, I used to get a real kick out of being in places I shouldn't be. Being half Australian and half Irish, I've always had a rebellious streak and one of the worst sides of this was reading "No entry" signs as "Please come in". I get a perverse buzz out of getting myself into situations which there is no obvious way out of. Probably the nearest I came to really coming unstuck was in October 1981.
I was living illegally in Stockholm, having entered through an entry point unmanned by immigration services. A Russian Submarine "Whisky 137" ran aground whilst spying on a Swedish naval base. The Russians despatched a rescue task force & the Swedish military sealed the whole area off. I thought that it would be fun to go and have a look. It soon became clear that the area was, shall we say, rather heavily patrolled. No problem, it was a huge area and a swift hike soon revealed a rather easy way to get a peep. Having made sure I wasn't being watched, I made my way down for a good shufti. It soon became rather clear to me that there was more to this incident than was being let on. The huge military presence & the demeaour of the Swedish soldiers & navy indicated that they were, shall we say, worried. As I started to make my way back, I rather unfortunately ran into an army patrol. Finding a Brit snooping around was nnot what they wanted. As I had no paperwork on me, they were even more agitated. I thought I'd try my luck "Look, this business is nothing to do with the British. If you arrest me, you'll only have a load of paperwork and hassle, and from what I can see you've enough of that already. Just let me go and I'll go home and no more will be said". They looked at each other (no radios, so no one else knew). The soldier said "Ok, walk back the way you came. If you turn around I will shoot you". I went back the way I came and didn't turn around. Rather strangely, when I got my pictures developed, none of the ones taken at the harbour came out, although all of the rest did?
Travelling on trains around the USSR, without the required paperwork, the best mechanism for avoiding attention was to take on the persona of a drunk Belarussian peasant. It appears that's something I'm rather good at. I once sat on a train from Vilnius to Minsk for 2 1/2 hours opposite a local KGB officer, without them realising I was British. When they got off, my friend commented that they'd kept saying how they despised Belarussian drunks.
My interest was primarily in the underground music scene. I just like meeting people and seeing what they are up to. I don't really like plush hotels, preferring the dark & dangerous side of life. In Minsk, friends kept trying to take me to the "posh" places. Eventually, I said that I didn't want to see these, I wanted to see where the roadsweepers and the dustbinmen got drunk. We went to a "beerbar". This bar was the real Soviet Union. I suspect that none of my student friends had been there much, given their reaction. It was full to the brim with middle aged workers and a small contingent of Cuban students. There were no women at all (apart from the other half, who was none too impressed). There were no womens toilets and no sit down loo's, for the men just a urinal consisting of a sheet of corrugated iron draining into a gutter. My friends were rather upset that I witnessed the rampant racism which the Cuban students were faced with. Events turned rather ugly when an old drunk came up and asked why a British Facist was in the bar. I responded that Great Britain was fighting the Nazi's when the Russians were their allies under the Molotov/Von Ribbentrop pact. That didn't go down too well. I diffused the situation by saying I liked the Russians because one of their linesmen won us the World Cup in 1966. At this the old drunk said that every Russian had been an Englishman for the day and it was all smiles after that.
Several of my best friends used to drive buses for Budget Bus overland tours from Totteridge Station to NewDehli. They told me that the secret to getting through customs quickly was whisky, hard core Pornography and Cash. Generally a bottle of Scotch or a few dirty mags would save hours of checks and paperwork. I always made sure that I had a few rather filthy magazines stashed in my luggage just in case. Unfortuately the one time these were found was by a rather stern female Swedish Customs officer, who proceeded to send me for an "internal search" at the start of our bands 1982 tour of Sweden.
One time they did come in useful was when the band were playing in Belgium in 1985. One of our party was a deserter from the French Foreign Legion. This shouldn't have been a problem as we were going to a Belgian port, but mid channel, the Ferry got redirected to Calais. As we approached customs, the said individual was getting rather nervous. Although he actually possessed several passports in several names (I don't know if any of us knew who he really was) he was convinced he'd be caught. At customs, we explained that we had a gig in Belgium and were running late. A rather lugubrious French customs officer gave us the old, whats in it for me look. We proferred the supply of Porn mags & a couple of beers and off we zoomed. The picture at the top of this blog is The False Dots taken on the road to the Tiki club in Belgium shortly after this event - L-R - Captain Ubungus (guitar), Allen Lucas (now called Allen Ashley)(Vox), Chris Potts (inventor of playing Tea Box bass with a drumstick) (Bass), Big Gray Ramsey (Drums) and Me. There's more about my Band, The False Dots on our Myspace page. You can listen to a few recent compositions there - I don't personally like putting audio on my blog page, because it can embarrass you when you are having a sly peek at a blog when you are meant to be working.