KICKING A GIFT HORSE
Hungary's gradual descent into western style democracy continues apace and has recently resulted in a revision of the local bus timetables in order that they may resemble those of the various and multitudinous companies feeding off the mummified remains of the public teat which I believe was once known as British Rail.
I can well understand and, to some extent, sympathise with cosmopolitan urbanites regarding their desire to keep the rural peasantry out of their soon to be gated city enclaves but when their exclusion zone shrinks to include the suburbs wherein I have staked out my own particular corner of a foreign field, then sympathy morphs into indignation at quite a phenomenal rate of knots.
It used to be that I could arrive at the shelter in the sure and certain knowledge that there would be a maximum wait of one and a half to two cigarettes before my transportation would arrive and I would be whisked thence from the ploughed, plotted and pieced towards the bright lights, devilry and temptation of the metropolis, remembering to reset my watch from 1950's time along the way.
At the bus stop on Saturday evening however, a quick perusal of the timetable was all it took for me to realise that although I desired the company of the teeming sophisticates, the feeling was in no way reciprocated. I had missed the 1830 by some several minutes and the next municipal tardis was not due to arrive until 2000. The intent was all too apparent. "Come if you must," went the sub-text "but you can either arrive an hour early or a quarter of an hour too late."
The fact that I was silk shirted, Italian suited and rather expensively shod mitigated against my talking myself aboard any of the passing haywains (I kid you not) so there was little recourse other than to walk. After all, 7kms can't be all that far, can it?
The least said about the actual journey the better. I arrived at about the same time the later bus would have done with a raging thirst and neither in the mood nor the physical condition for dancing. At least the first set had started and the bar was almost empty. I drained the first beer as mine host was pouring the second and it was this I took to a table to listen to the jazz being piped in over the PA system. Barbara Thompson derivatives...next!
It was at this point that I had the first of a whole series of similar conversations which were to cause the gyp my feet were giving me to gradually recede from my consciousness over the course of the evening.
"Good God! It can't be Simon, can it?"
I had to go through a quick checklist before even considering a reply. Whyever the hell not? I'm not drunk? I'm well dressed? You're used to maybe finding me in some roadside ditch somewhere? All very pertinent questions as it happens but I don't think I'll go down that road, it would lead to far too much self-knowledge than is good for me.
"Where have you been hiding? Can I buy you a drink?"
You will, no doubt, have intuited that here was a question the affirmative answer to which was for me, the work of but a moment to supply. And so it went. It transpired that the only strategy necessary, free drinks for the acquisition of, was simply to have turned up at all. It certainly helped that the Culture House had, for the night, assumed an admittedly upmarket version of the role of Conan-Doyle's Picadilly Circus, a sink into which all those of my acquaintance drained.
A word about the music on offer. Risible. I gave Ravi up until the beginning of the third number to impress and then back to the bar hied me. Socially, an unqualified success. Musically, a non-event.
Only one contretemps the entire evening, somewhat of a record for me I freely admit. I fell into conversation with a quite spectacularly drunk Kenyan chappie who accused me of being a crazy Englishman.
Well, I couldn't stand for that, could I?
"No, no, no, dear boy. Crazy, OLD Englishman."
Oh well. If you have been, be sure to wash your hands.