Monday, August 08, 2005

The Night After the Morning Before

No-one has any recollection of what happened next, but this is my best guess.

We went to the Vondelpark for a bit. Highly likely, since it’s just round the corner from where the brewery was. No doubt we were in the mood to cast an appreciative eye over the lovely young women of the global youth movement. No doubt (being in no state to chat up said lovely young women) we settled for a stroll in the sun and a cone of chips with mayonnaise (the Low Countries’ greatest contribution to international cuisine).

I vaguely remember a lake. That’s it. Then I expect we blundered back to Bertha and went to sleep.

I don’t know where we were parked but I do remember it looked a bit like this…


Leafy Amsterdam Posted by Picasa

(Imagine the white van on the right is a 1950s Royal Navy ambulance with a two foot high sun mandala on the side. You get the idea.)

I’m not sure what the parking restrictions are like in Amsterdam these days but I bet it’s not as easy to bag a spot alongside one of the Grachtengordel canals as we seemed to find it in 1974. We lived there for two or three days and no-one batted an eyelid. Never even had to feed a Pay n’ Display machine or nothing.

It was while we were parked there that I sat in the front seat, idly gazing out over the still waters of the Prinsengracht / Herengracht / Keisersgracht / Whatevergracht as a particularly lovely Dutch girl cycling by on the opposite bank, and wrote the first of several short poems documenting Bertha’s trip to Istanbul.

Fortunately for the literary world, only two of those poems have survived.

Fortunately for readers of this blog, I chose to keep this first poem secret from my friends. I imagine the moment wasn’t right, with the impending hangovers and all. So there’s no need to reveal it. Yet.

The poem’s time will come.

In the meanwhile, I feel duty bound to remember something even more awkward and uncomfortable.

You know how it is. With the possible exception of people born under the sign of Aries, we’ve all got half a dozen moments in our life that were so downright embarrassing that the old subconscious ain’t never going to let us forget.

Like the time I was hitch-hiking from Boston to Maine to stay with a friend deep in the woods and I got a really long lift with two enormous rednecks who had a gunrack on the back of the pickup cabin and beerbellies the size of Mount Tamalpais and a big smelly dog but they turned out to be really nice and went way out of their way to help me find my friend’s cabin deep in the woods very very late at night and I felt really sorry for them because they had a couple hundred miles more to go and so without asking my friend who was female and lived alone I cheerfully invited them in for a cup of instant coffee.

Forgetting that I was in America, and about to stay with a woman who was no more likely to have a jar of Nescafe in the cupboard than fly.

The coffee had to be brewed. On the stove. And that takes time.

Rather more time, as it turns out, than I had topics of conversation to entertain two rednecks with a gunrack and a friend I hadn’t seen for two years and didn’t frankly know much about anyway. Cue long. Awkward. Silence.

I know. Not that bad. No-one minded really. Only me, and the small but disproportionately dusty corner of my mind that will be forever reserved for my first night in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

It’s a bit like that with the ‘Danish’ incident in Amsterdam.

We slept it off, as you do when you’re 22. By 5 o’clock, we were raring for more. So we continued our day of culture. We went to the Walletjes, to drink more beer and look at more girls.

Actually there were two types of girl to look at. One kind sat in the windows that lined the streets round the back of the Oude Kerk. Very impressive they were too, in a kind of aren’t-I-glad-I’m-still-young-enough-not-to-have-to-pay sort of way.

We gawped. We tried to guess what the girls cost. We watched seedy Dutchmen slip in and out through the doors that led to the room behind the room with the window. We ate more chips with mayonnaise.

Then we snuk out of the red light district and went looking for real girls. It being summer in Amsterdam, finding them wasn’t difficult. The hard part – as always – was chatting them up.

‘Just smile,’ Pat said. ‘Then they have to smile back.’

Of course Pat also had a genial and sunny disposition, and probably made lots of friends this way. I spent the next ten years trying to smile at young women in the street without coming across as some kind of leering halfwit. Never made it work.

Things got better when we went for a beer. Picture the scene, if you will. A warm night in central Amsterdam. A jolly tourist bar, with tables in the back. Seven jolly hippies, gathered round their Heineken, taking in the sites.

A small group of (rather attractive) American tourist girls, sitting at the next table.

First the beer flowed, then the conversation:

- Where were we going? (Istanbul destination v. impressive opening gambit)

- How were we going to get there? (Bertha plays her by-now-familiar role as singular conversation piece)

- Were we enjoying Amsterdam? (Well of course we’re well into our second drinking session of the day hey hey hey)

- What part of America were they from? (No, I don’t remember)

- Where were they staying? (We may not have got a clear answer here, girls being canny about this sort of thing)

- What countries had they visited? (Denmark, as it happened)

- Wow gee are you really English? You look more like you a Dane to me…

This last directed at Your Correspondent. For his exclusive benefit. In skilled hands, probably a great conversational opener and a guarantee of company for the evening.

‘Gosh darn,’ I said. ‘I’ve always wanted to be Danish.’

Cue hysterical laughter.

Looking back, I’m still not entirely sure why everybody found this so damn funny.

It may have had something to do with my name. Gamon equals Gammon equals bacon equals Danish bacon (then the most popular brand in the shops). For a brief while I was even known as ‘joint’ at school. It had nothing to do with marijuana.

Or it may just have been the gauche way I said it.

Whatever. The Danish incident has forever since occupied a permanent dusty corner of my subconscious, and it ain’t ever gonna let me forget.

Needless to say, we failed to pick up the girls…

10 Comments:

Anonymous CarolineM said...

I deeply resent your your assumtions about Aries. Why, I've been known to BLUSH from time to time.

Look forward to the poem.

10:11 pm  
Anonymous CarolineM said...

See? I'm so upset I'm actually stammering...
(damn).

10:13 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

My brother's an Aries. It was a tempestuous childhood. I may have preconceptions for which I apologise. You're obviously one of the sensitive branch of the Aries family.

8:35 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I've just realised. I've not done the on-board astrological tensions for Bertha. Hmmm...

8:37 am  
Blogger Ms Mac said...

Errmmm, I can't really see why it was so funny either.

Poor bloke. Lucky for you, your witty banter got better with practise?

9:56 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

That's the thing. It wasn't funny. At all. But that didn't stop the buggers laughing at me. Pooh.

Witty banter much improved. Just in time for it to be too late for that sort of social skill to matter...

10:47 am  
Anonymous CarolineM said...

One of my brother's Aries too - Moth Boy - as is my daughter; couldn't call them tempestuous though. We must be some sort of *mutant lamb strain. *What disgusting words, I feel sick now.

Ohh, yes you have to tell us everyones star signs - they were important in those days maaaaannnnn.

1:21 am  
Blogger broomhilda said...

astro-charts please.

4:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dependence and Independence
By Doc Searls on Tue, 2005-09-06 01:00. Community In the midst of unimaginable destruction, a reminder of how much we rely on others and how much they rely on us.
I have a birthday gift for boyfriend site. It pretty much covers birthday gift for boyfriend related cards and gifts.

Paul

6:19 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

No idea what that last comment was about. Suspect this is the first bit of spam to arrive on board Bertha. I fixed it, I hope...

2:02 pm  

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