Since leaving Crete my life has been slightly odd.
My boss from the NATO diving job lives in northern Germany. He got an employee to fly over to share the hideous drive in a 4x4 towing a speedboat, from the land of sweating souvlakis to the land of beefy bratwersts.
By a stroke of fate that you couldn’t have predicted would have happened to someone even if their name was Spawny Flukey Jammy Bastard the IVth, my boss would be driving one mile from the town of Trento in northern Italy where my girlfriend was staying as a couchsurfer with a cat obsessed Roman lady named Claudia.
I hitched a ride along with him, wedged in between suitcases, air pumps, flippers and wetsuits and we headed off for Chania ferry port. Stopping for some scoff on the way I ordered fresh chicken breasts in garlic sauce, not realizing the taverna clearly intended freshly killing a plump fowl out the back before plucking, skinning, gutting and roasting it.
30 minutes after my boss and his co-driver had eaten my food still hadn’t arrived and conscious of the fact that he was determined to get in the Guinness Book of Records for shortest time spent returning from Crete to Germany by road, I wolfed it down when it did finally arrive and suffered the kind of indigestion I haven’t experienced since having to reheat fish and chips in the microwave when in the police, after a call out to a firearms incident (replica of course) that took 2 hours, just as me and my partner had been sitting licking our lips in the refs room at the Nick with freshly fried cod and potato clippings in front of us.
Getting on the ferry as a foot passenger, I hooked up with the other two once they’d parked the car as the ferry pulled away from the dock. A spectacular sight at night as you get to see Chania slowly recede into the distance while the boat’s wake is lit up by the town lights. Some guy on the dock had a green lazer light that he was playing across the stern of the boat. I happened to have a red one from an old toy gun that I had bought in the Republic of Moldova 2 years ago and we spent a merry 10 minutes drawing on each other across a mile of ocean.
Turns out my boss’s cabin was the size of the average broom closet so I got to sleep in the corridor which it turns out wasn’t too uncomfortable once I’d inflated the neck pillow, stuck the squishy ear plugs in and put the eye blinkers on. Area was littered with three or four other prone dozers, jealously guarding their possessions by shoving them against the wall and putting one arm across.
The next day I had a surreal moment when we docked in Athens of having to wait until my boss drove off the ferry and then getting in when he stopped for a nano second after leaving the ramp. Reason for this was three or four miserable traffic cops directing vehicles who went crimson in the face if anyone didn’t do what they said or gestured and screamed in fury at errant drivers.
Making our way to Patras, six hours drive from Piraeus and the ferry port plus the surrounding area was chock full of scruffy looking, Eastern European types who eyed our vehicle hungrily as we cruised past. Checking in for the voyage, the woman in the travel agency warned us to keep an eye on the car as the local immigrants would either thieve from it or try and hide in it. My boss then went to check which embarkation gate we needed (the ferry port is FUCKING huge as each “gate” is about 300 metres long and there’s 5 of them) and left me to guard the 4x4. Sure enough, within about five minutes a visa of vermin drifted over and stood there trying to stare me out. One said “hello friend, I give you 50 Euros and my passport. You take me to Italy yes?” I solved the problem of having to check which end they might try and climb into by walking in a circle around the car until my boss came back who thought the whole thing highly amusing.
We then drove into the ferry port proper (a supposedly secure area) and stopped in a café for lunch. A tree growing the other side of the fence had branches that dangled into our bit and while enjoying a beer and a pita gyros the co-driver suddenly leapt out of his seat and ran outside. I followed him and predictably we caught two unshaven urchins trying to hoik themselves up into the rear of the speedboat. My mate told them to sling their hooks and when they replied “Fuck you baby!!” he ran at them making shooing noises and waving his arms. They grumpily climbed back over the fence via the Faraway Tree while their mates looked at us through the fence, swearing and blowing kisses.
Just before we drov onto the ferry a line of uniformed immigration personnel with torches opened all the flaps and hatches on the boat and had a good grummage around. Turns out that last year Hans had flown home and got someone else to drive the boat back, who got to Ancona only to find a freezing cold, cramped Albanian hiding under the RIB tarpaulin. He apparently took pity on the poor sod and gave him 100 Euros plus a fresh pair of jeans and sent him on his way instead of dobbing him in to the Carabinieri.
I was able to get on board on the car on this trip which turned out to be both amusing and stressful as my boss got into an argument that came within a hair’s breadth of fisticuffs.
The guy directing cars into the individual bays on the ferry parking lot was a belligerent little git who kept directing my boss to line up the vehicle in Greek, despite it being made clear that he couldn’t understand a word. Instead of trying to modify or adapt his instructions he simply kept sighing and harrumphing loudly and speaking even louder and more slowly. Eventually my boss told him to go fuck himself and the guy replied “you say fuck you? YOU SAY FUCK YOU?!!” to which my boss replied “oh, now you fucking speak English?!!” after 15 minutes of this prick assuming that anyone taking a ferry from Greece to Italy would obviously speak Greek by default. My boss got out the vehicle and lunged at the guy, raising his fist and then thought better of it and got back in the car slamming the door. The poker faced prick then went and got his supervisor who was clearly none too impressed but at least tried to communicate in English and explained clearly what he wanted my boss to do.
Cabin this time round proved to have 4 beds even though my Hans had only paid for 2 so I got a top bunk while the other two sprawled out on the bottom beds. I feel sorry for any poor sod who had to serve on a ship of the line circa 1806 or has subamarine affiliations today. The cabin was tiny and with 3 of us was too tight for comfort, let alone four. 200 years ago this would have been the size of the Midshipmen's berth in the HMS Royal so claustrophobia is not something you want to suffer. The journey was 20 hours which didn't prove to be as big an arse ache as I'd imagined as I was able to sleep much of it and spent the rest watching movies on my Netbook.
Pulling into Ancona in Italy we saw the same glorious sunshine we'd left in Greece and I fell asleep happy that the European summer had lasted so long. Cue a nap of 20 minutes followed by waking up to find the sodding rain was pelting down and the skies were grey. Turns out Ancona was the last refuge of the poor man's blanket until next year.
Got to Trento after about another 10 hours, by which point my legs had gone almost completely numb through being in a foetal position for so long. Hans was being a miserable cunt and at one point quite insulting but as I knew I only had a short time left with him I bit my tongue. He rolled off the Autostrada at the Trento turn off and parked for a maximum of 60 seconds while I dragged my bags into the road and after 2 ultra brief handshakes he got back in the vehicle and with a squeal of tyres was back on the road to Germany. Only problem was that he'd dropped me in a non pedestrian area where I shouldn't have been, with two backpacks, a laptop and hand luggage. I managed to waddle over to a housing estate 200 metres further up and from there to the train station where my girlfriend was waiting for me with open arms (which meant I could offload one or two bags into them).
We spent a pleasant 5 days in Trento which was freezing fucking cold and grey but the view out of our window was spectacular with the border mountains visible in the distance with clouds dancing around the peaks and the snow looking like icing on a cake.
Our host had two cats which slept in our room which at first was quite fun until one of them decided to mark its territory by pissing on my camera and my rucksack and the other thought it would be jolly good fun to take a swipe at my toes at 5am while I was fast asleep. My girlfriend forbade me from kicking it off the bed so I just had to curl up, keep my feet under the covers and wait until she dozed off again before shoving the moggy on to the floor.
We had to unexpectedly leave after 5 days due to our host's sister getting sick and needing somewhere to stay so we took off to Verona to another Couchsurfer, a woman and her husband who were very friendly and even gave us our own room and fed us while we were there. Verona is beautiful even during a European winter and a trip to Juliet's balcony meant I got to carress the boob of the statue of Juliet (worn to a shine by all the sweaty palms that have groped it's mammary fat in the past few decades) which resulted in my girlf pulling a face and saying even though I may have thought it was for good luck it means in 6 months I'll find my true love.....which she took to mean didn't mean her.
We then flew back to England which was the usual freezing cold shit hole I remembered it as. She got back the day before me and against all the odds my Ryan Air flight was not only on time but also 90 mins early. I'd booked a train ticket with Southern Railways for 7pm at a vastly reduced rate but the woman on the information desk said that I could only use it on that one meaning I had to sit around in the arctic chill until my appointed carriage rolled in.
We headed up to my mother and step father's place where joy of joys my mother had bought me an engraved diver's watch for my birthday. Only problem was I'd bought a G-Shock Frogman on Ebay 2 months before, which because I was in Greece I'd had shipped to my mother's. She'd had to grit her teeth so as not so spoil the surprise for me so I now had 2 watches to trawl the depths of the ocean (or the local swimming pool's deep end). I sold the G-Shock on Ebay and was happy that I managed to get 95 pounds for it after having only paid 21 on a One Day Buy-It-Now sale. After 2 weeks the purchaser in Germany e-mailed me that he'd sent the watch off for a battery change and the repair shop had returned it unopened with a note saying "we don't work with fakes". Turns out the Frogman range were vastly copied and mine was one of the counterfeits.
Too late for me to complain officially about the cunt that sold it to me as 45 days had elapsed but ample time for my buyer to raise a grievance. He even sent me photos from a website he'd discovered which showed a Truey next to a Falsey. Being a gentleman I agreed to refund his money, minus postage and Ebay in their usual naffness directed me to the German version of the site which was where he'd made the claim...which wasn't in English meaning I had to use Google Chrome's translator to make sense of what I was seeing but which only partially worked (e.g. "Please wait for the refund does not respond to the buyer")
I hired a car to nip down from Warwick to Kent to pick up my old gear that I'd stowed at a mate's house in 2008 when I left the police. Decided I wanted everything in one place so a car was in the offing. Only problem was we had forecasts of REALLY bad snow and ice so me and the missus had to get up at 4am, trying to avoid the scheduled blankets of God's dandruff that it was predicted would be smothering the garden of England later that day. Bleary eyed and with a coffee wedged in the driver's side map pocket we sped off in the cold to Swanley to find that "nick of time" didn't quite do it justice.
We arrived at 6.30am and my mate had said he wouldn't be up till 7. I would have normally waited but the snow was by now pelting down and a car down the street was shaking its butt madly, with wheels spinning like rotary saws, trying to navigate the slight gradient of the street. We banged him up early and got my stuff out the attic, a quick cup of coffee and then back in the motor, slipping and sliding all over the place until we got back on the main road and off to Maidstone.
Called in on my mate G and his wife Janet who have just taken in a 10 week old puppy named Vimto. G has a "no shoes" rule in his house meaning we chatted in the lounge while his hyperactive mutt nibbled out toes. Originally very sweet and funny this became annoying and then painful when he grabbed my big toe, bit down hard and tried to drag it off somehere by tugging ferociously and growling.
The highlight of the day was meeting Inspector Harwood.
In the police there were VERY few officers I respected and the one worthy of the most respect was my section guv'nor. He was and apparently still is, Hands On and was an example to everyone with his hard work plus the fact that he got stuck in to core duties with the rest of us. When STAB PROOF SCARECROWS was published I devoted an entire chapter to him and sent him a free signed copy. We are now mates and he was well up for meeting up for a coffee when I rolled into town. He thanked me for how I'd portrayed him in the book and gave me a t-shirt as a present. I responded with a DVD of the Tim Piggot-Smith cop drama from 1990 "The Chief" which showed a Hands On Chief Constable of a fictional force in the East of England who was a kick ass leader and an inspiration to his juniors. I pointed out that I wanted to inspire him to take promotion and not rest on his laurels as an Inspector because we need people like him in ACPO as opposed to some of the mongoloid wurzels that currently hold high rank in the Fuzz.
I also gave him a model aeroplane kit of a World War II Spitfire to give to his mate and fellow Inspector "Spitfire" McGuire who I'd also portrayed heroically(albeit humorously) in the book.
Heading back we missed the M20 closure by about 2 hours and the guy at the car hire place was very relieved to see me roll in with his motor still intact when we got back to Warwick. Next day there were miles and miles of roads closed that we'd used just the day before and I snickered over my mince pie and mulled wine at the site of the thousands of gridlocked, snowblown motorists all over the UK.