Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Monday, December 20, 2004
Island Life
As part of his job as a money-launderer and part-time smuggler — I do keep the most select company, my dears, you really ought to come out with me more often — one of my erstwhile friends used to fly over on a regular basis to the UK, or the "Island" as he called it. It wasn't meant as a term of affection.

Depending on which piece of bad attitude he was sneaking through customs that particular weekend, it was either a reference to what he perceived as our Little Englander mindset, or to our ramshackle infrastructure and general inability to organise even a dose of the clap in a Camden Town knocking-shop. Considering he was then living under one of the most corrupt regimes in Africa, and that he hailed from a South American country tangoing its way to bankruptcy, coming from him I thought that was pretty rich.

But when you've just returned from a place where not only do the trains run on time, but you suspect they don't run at all, as your rail journey is so smooth it feels stationary and instead it's the scenery outside your window that's being moved by eager Bundesbahn scene-shifters…

….and when the no-frills and delayed tin can you're travelling in has only egg-and-cress sandwiches left, and your stewardess, far from being a gentle colleen from Kilkenny, is an Amazon huntress from Andalucia with an accent so strong you half expect Sylvia Vrethammar to turn up and lead the service team down the centre aisle in an enthusiastic chorus of "Y Viva España"

…and when you touch down at a supposedly international airport, where all the signs are in English, and there's not an Ausgang, sortie, or salada to be seen, and you're informed the last London-bound train left at nine because it's Sunday and that's what always happens Sundays, even though scary señorita was merrily fleecing passengers for twenty-two quid return tickets up in the air just thirty minutes ago…

… and when you turn up for the replacement coach service to find you can't board without a ticket, and the driver isn't allowed to take any money, so you've got to get your ticket from the little man in the ticket-booth who isn't there any more…

When all this happens, as it did last night on my return from Berlin, then you start thinking my dodgy Anglophobic friend might just have had a point after all.