Saturday, May 15, 2004


I knew I shouldn't have gone. I should have listened to the quiet voice of experience warning me of the dangers inherent in my planned course of action. But, oh no...Kan wanted ice-cream and white chocolate above all else so trousers were shucked into, shoes pulled on and laced, wallet and car-keys grabbed and the door headed for.

The phone rings.

It's the frog and dragon calling from her mother's just to check that the house hasn't burnt down in their absence and that I haven't eaten that Kinder egg that was waiting in the fridge for the frog's return. As if...say I, and make mental note to buy replacement at Tesco.

Open the gates to the drive...oh, shit...forgot to chain the dog. Brown blur of hairy alsatian hares past for a serious bout of tree sniffing. I listen to the voice of experience this time and decide to leave her to her trees and get her on the way back.

First decision...through town or the ring road? The ring road wins hands down as it's usually traffic free at this hour. Half way there and I get flagged down by the local dibble. Spot check. I get the usual three wishes...MOT certificate, driving license, green card (a confirmation that exhaust emissions are within legal limits) and settle back in my seat for the usual interrogation.

"This car isn't yours, is it?"

Oh, well spotted, that man. "No."

"Whose is it, then?"

Can't you read, you retard? "The dragon's"

"And who is she, then?"

I decide to be deliberately obtuse...well, he started it. "I'm afraid I don't understand the question."

"What's your relationship with her?"

The impertinence of the man.

"I know her."

"And what are you doing in her car?"

"Well, I was going somewhere."

"Where are you going?"

"Look, I don't mean to be rude or anything, but I fail to see why my destination should be any interest of yours."

He decides to change tack. "This isn't a Hungarian driving license, is it?"

"I would have thought that was obvious."

"Passport." Well, if he can't even be bothered to turn it into a question...


"Can I see your passport please, sir?"


"Why not?"

"For the very good reason that I don't happen to have it on me." Actually, it's in the glove compartment but I'm beyond reason at this point.

"You should have your passport with you at all times, sir."

"Oh, really? Is that why the Hungarian Ministry of Tourism publishes leaflets advising tourists to leave their passports in the hotel safe?"

"You do know that foreigners aren't allowed to drive Hungarian cars, don't you?"

"No, but if that's the case, I think you'd better tell AVIS and HERTZ before it's too late." I had actually checked this one out ages ago with a lawyer friend of mine and he told me it was bobbins.

"What are you doing here in Hungary?"

"Well, actually I'm the advance guard of the stream of English economic migrants you can expect now you're in the EU."


"Look, if it's all the same to you and all my papers are in order, I'd rather like to be on my way. If you'd like to arrest me, we can continue this conversation at the station. I would however, like to know what you are arresting me for and I would like it in writing, if you don't mind."

"On your way, then."

"Good night." Honestly!

So, arrive at Tesco. It's getting on for seven o'clock on a Saturday evening and the damn thing is full to overflowing. Ooops, forgot the circus was in town and camped on Tesco land. Bugger, bugger, damn, shit, blast. Join the queue of circling cars and eventually find a space to park from where I can just make out the outline of the store in the distance. Silently wishing I'd brought my hiking boots, I strike out for the store.

Now, the Nagykanizsa branch of Tesco does indeed share some of the characteristics of the Boston, Lincs branch that some of you may be familiar with. Any sensible shopper will start at the final aisle, otherwise all those lovely soft, squishy fruits you bought in the first will be squashed by the six packs you bought in the last; the lighting is depressingly intense and Oasis are groaning through "Wonderwall". The Hungarian version however, has added some refinements of its own designed to make the shopping experience even more of a torture than it already was.

Every aisle is exactly two trolley widths + 1 centimetre wide. The shelves are also much taller than their English equivalents and this leads to a rather uncomfortable feeling of claustrophobia. Every item in the middle aisles is routinely moved to another part of the store so that the male shopping technique...I know what I want and where it is therefore I do not have to wander around the place like a lost soul and look at every item on every thwarted on a regular basis. There is also a large tank full of live pike-perch and the occasional thud as one of these is delivered of a blow to the head forms a rather disconcerting soundtrack to one's perusal of the goods on offer.

Anyway, I make my purchases and head for the tills. The distance between the tills and the aisles is exactly one and a half trolley lengths. Think Piccadilly Circus at rush hour.

So, there I am. Stuck in an aisle behind five other trolleys and glancing up at a huge sign promising that if there are more than two other customers in front of you at the tills, they will open another one to speed your passage. Two trolleys in front of me are an elderly couple who are suddenly joined by a companion bearing, you guessed it, another fucking trolley. Finally emerge from aisle to see other queues moving at three times the rate of my own. Wonder what the fuck is going on and a few minutes later, owner of trolley being served arrives back clutching 4 six-packs of Hungarian beer.

Now, much as some people seem to attract the nutter on the bus, it is my fate to be drawn towards the cashiers from hell and I was praying that this would not be the case on this occasion when I first heard her horrible nasal whine as she chatted non-stop to her colleague behind her. I unloaded my goods onto the belt and remembered fondly an occasion in an English Tesco when the girl on the till had made comments on my purchases and I had ended up inviting her to the barbecue she had deduced we were having. And she came, God bless her.

This specimen, on the other hand, I shall call her Dorry the Crone (an easy reference but 10 points nevertheless) proceeded to swipe my goods the regulation 3 times over the laser reader without so much as a "Good evening". She also stacked them so that I would have to reach for them rather than expend any energy pushing them down the incline to where I was waiting.

She informed me of the fiscal damage with nary a please and turned to communicate with her colleague. When she eventually deigned to bestow her attention upon me, it was with some measure of surprise and no small sniff that she realised that my hand was not still outstretched with the requisite amount of specie. I handed it over nevertheless and she wordlessly (to me anyway, her colleague was still the focus of her whine) placed my change on the little plastic platform provided for the purpose.

I pocketed my change, finished bagging my goodies and waited. And waited. When it became obvious to me that, as far as she was concerned, I was out of her life forever, I asked her for my receipt.

"I gave it to you."

"I beg to differ."

"I always give it. I always put it with the change."

"You didn't."

"Then I must have put it amongst what you bought."

"You didn't."

"Then look under those." Said she, pointing to the bags she had placed down for the next customer.

"Oh, sorry. I didn't realise it was the custom for people to have to root amongst other people's shopping for their own receipts."

I did indeed find one there but it was not mine own and I slapped it down in front of her.

"What are you giving me that for?"

"Because it's not mine."

Another sniff.

"Then have a look through those." said she, pointing at all the receipts left by customers less fastidious than your correspondent.

"Excuse me? Are you seriously suggesting that I should wade through a pile of waste paper to try and find something that you should have provided me with as a matter of course? Listen, let me make it easy for you. Either you find and give me my receipt or you can get on the phone to your manager and they can come and look for it."

At this point she began to seriously search for it and the saddest part of the whole incident occured. The customer behind me, admittedly being held up by all this, offered to give me his receipt if it was that important to me. As if it were my fault for not accepting the tawdry service that the one with the power over me was prepared to dish out.

She found it...on the floor under her stool, where she had thrown it after screwing it up into a ball.

"Oh, sorry for misunderstanding 'I gave it to you' as an invitation to scrabble around under your stool and retrieve the fucking thing."

No apology, no "good night", nothing. As I left, she was chuntering away to the next customer about the crazy people she has to deal with during the day and how we make her life an absolute misery. Sad thing was, he was agreeing with her. He knows where the power lies, that's for sure.

Right, back to car then. Am loading bags onto the passenger seat when I am approached by a girl who gives me a card. I read it and discover she is collecting money on behalf of deaf people. I feign ignorance, hand her her card back and as she turns away, I call her back. She comes. I give her some money for chutzpah and we exchange grins. Mine genuinely amused and hers a little chagrined.

I decide to travel back home through town this time and am on a side street when I notice a rather fat lass on a bicycle emerge from a drive in front of me and approach the, surely not...she can't be thinking of...she's not looking for any traffic...surely she's going to brake...Somehow I simultaneously sound the horn and swerve to avoid her and luckily there's nothing coming in the opposite direction. Shit on a stick! I glance in the mirror and find, to my disappointment, that she's still athwart the bike but I hope that there is no small portion of excretory matter presently sliding uncomfortably twixt her thighs and the saddle and drive on.

I arrive home and am heartened by the sight of my dog sitting patiently in front of the gates awaiting my arrival. I let her in, chain her up and perform the necessary steps to leave my car parked on the drive of our house.

Then I realise. A kúrva életbe! Christ on a trike! I've forgotten the bloody Kinder egg.

After all this, I've quite lost my appetite for ice-cream and white chocolate and have discovered that my urges this evening may best be satisfied by the goddess, Stella. Cheers all.

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