Wednesday, August 11, 2010


For LVB – The synchronicity is stifling as I look at the date on the document, it was Monday 12th August 2002 when I wrote the following...

...The heat is as intense as ever, taking a shower every few hours, but to no avail. Sweating buckets and donning frizzy beach-hair around the city cannot be avoided, as well as the irritation that comes with the soaring temperatures and constant need to drink water, followed by the urgency to find a toilet in the most inconvenient place.

Having just found out that the Bank was restructuring my whole department, and yet again the promised promotion would disappear into the dust for another year. The prospect of a stress-free weekend seemed low.

“How would you like to meet Yoshko?” my friend asked. “He’s a 30-year-old, six-foot-tall, blonde blue-eyed Ex-UN Special Forces Soldier from Slovenia!” I stopped to think for a minute, but it was about half a moment. “I think you know the answer to that question, don’t you?”

As we drove down to the coast I spent time in the car imagining my rendezvous with Yoshko. I knew nothing about Slovenia and its people, or the language, and even less about Special Forces soldiers. Did it matter? As it turned out he was a good English speaker.

Over dinner he showed me and my friend his tattoo of a crying eye, and the scars from knives and two gunshot wounds that he had received while serving in some war-torn area of the globe.

“They trained me to be a killing machine.” He said, “What am I supposed to do, that’s life.” He may have been trying to impress us, but his tone said otherwise.

He started to talk about Bosnia, and what the soldiers did there, and how many Americans got killed, and that the real horror was not Kosovo. A place I had some knowledge of through an old friend who was serving with the RAF, not pleasant things, things that changed the direction of people’s lives forever.

On one occasion he was tasked with checking out and ‘clearing’ houses in villages on the outskirts of Kosovo, searching for small arms weapons and insurgents. Yoshko and his small crew were almost out of ammunition and their radio had stopped working. They had no contact with their commander or base.

As they toured the area, going from empty house to empty house, they came across one that was still occupied. A Serbian man came out looking nervous and ‘twitchy’, talking loudly, but they didn’t understand him. Yoshko entered the house and went into the living room (lounge). Turning over the furniture, it was soon apparent why the Serb was anxious.

Hidden in a hole in the bottom of the sofa, and in the soft-chairs, were dozens of M48s and AK47 rifles and hand guns.

Time stood-still for a nanosecond. A Serb appeared from somewhere in the house with a rifle in hand.

“That’s when I knew, it was either him or me.” Yoshko explained, “It’s war, I’m a soldier, they pay me to kill so I kill. He pulled the trigger and missed, I shot him in the head. That’s life!”

I told him to stop; I didn’t want to know any more. I preferred to live in a world of horrors created by Hollywood, and stoned studio executives, not politics and the blood-thirsty war games that seem to be so easy by hiring young men in search of adventure, to go get themselves killed protecting my so-called freedom.

I felt guilty in a way, after listening to Yoshko’s stories. I had worried about my petty problems, not realising that there are people who sacrifice everyday to supposedly ‘keep the peace’, and stop the whole world falling apart. They allow me to live in relative safety. Never knowing about the dirty side of life, the things we are never told because they are too harsh for our sensibilities. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

It was now time for a well-earned drink or two, some loud music, and dancing ‘till dawn amongst the debauched British tourists, and forgetting the troubles of the world. The best place to do this would be Ayia Napa, a favourite holiday resort for thousands of visitors looking for the best the island has to offer.

Yoshko had already arranged a spot, to meet up with a friend of his and, if brave enough, join in with the karaoke. I definitely needed something to drink, something to take my mind off the images of death that replaced the taste of my aperitif.

“We’re going to the Bedrock Inn.” Yoshko revealed. I knew the place as a Flintstones themed bar, quite a well-known hot-spot where the staff apparently dressed like characters from the popular cartoon.

I cringed at the thought, but sooner than I imagined I found myself dancing and singing to everything from ABBA to the Blues Brothers. Yoshko’s friend however was quite subdued. Had he graced him with stories of war? God knows they were enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.

The guy didn’t have the physique of a soldier but was blonde and tanned like Yoshko, clean-cut, and wore Bermuda shorts and shirt. He scarcely spoke two words all night. He smiled occasionally, but didn’t sing only happily danced along and drank his beer heartily. I attempted to speak to him, but he was quite oblivious to our requests to join in with the singing.

I guess I’ll ask Yoshko tomorrow, or should that be today? I had lost track of time, and a few of my senses, as my eyes wondered to different men in the vicinity. As the night/morning wore on we were all too exhausted to sleep and decided to go for a late breakfast. Yoshko’s silent friend disappeared with the dawn.

“Who was that guy anyway, he didn’t say much?” I pried. Yoshko was sober enough to reply, “Oh, that’s Prince Willem, we met yesterday, by accident on the beach. Great guy.”

Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, heir apparent to the throne of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and probably his mother’s, Queen Beatrix, 60% share in Royal Dutch Shell.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Excerpt 6 - A Long Time Ago on a Lightship Far Far Away…

A love of science fiction and fantasy permeated my teenage years, just a kid when Close Encounters of the Third Kind hit the cinemas, couldn’t get in to see Star Wars, but eventually mature enough to enjoy the phenomenon that was ET!

As my interest in real flying saucers began to diminish, my interest in film increased. What better way to really get stuck into the genre than to join an amateur film club. A step up from the video rentals store, although we’d been avid members for a couple of years, and got to taste plenty of obscure movies that the cinema wouldn’t allow us to see. (I recall being turned away from ‘Blue Thunder’ as I was underage, which seems quite ridiculous to me now.)

After spying an ad in the ‘Bristol Evening Post’ for people to join in with amateur film-making, to talk about, watch, and ‘re-create your most famous sci-fi moments’. We couldn’t resist but to go along and sign up to the club called ‘Nemesis’.

At first, what we found appeared to disappoint. There assembled a bunch of people, young and old, that expressed an interest in sci-fi and making movies, but they seemed hell-bent on one aim. We sat to watch the premier of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and it wasn’t until the credits rolled that it dawned on us.

The name of the group should have alerted us sooner. Nemesis, as it turned out, was a Star Trek fan club, something not mentioned in the ad. Members of the public that had gone along to the meeting at the city center hotel, and to sign-up for membership, soon dwindled as the hour-long introductory talk went on.

In the end, all that was left was a ragtag bunch of college students, a family of four looking for a hobby they could all participate in, a post-graduate drama student looking for work, two biker dudes, and us.

We weren’t sure if it was a good idea, as given the choice, we preferred Star Wars to Star Trek, but what the heck, we were looking for a laugh, to socialize with other sci-fi fans, and basically see if we could get some amateur filming done and under our belts.

The Bristol docklands have a long and morbid history. Once, on a school history trip, we sailed along the canal that runs through the length of the city, along winding narrow waterways, under stone bridges, and scenic views of the parks that have now been converted to office blocks and an indoor tennis club, while the captain of our boat (barge) talked about the slave ships.

He recounted tales of how Bristol was the first port of call for unloading slaves from Africa back in 1730, and how the ones trying to escape were drowned in the river and hung up from chains under the bridges, to serve as a warning to others.

“See over there?” He pointed to the rusted chains pinned on the bricks of a short tunnel we traversed. “The river’s full of dead men’s bones!” I remembered his words as we walked along the cobbled streets of the docks, just a stone’s throw away from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, in search of the Star Trek club house.

Eventually we saw it, an old lighthouse ship, permanently moored near a bridge, painted orange-red, with a small broken neon sign fixed above the starboard side of the deck reading ‘The Lightship’. It was now a pub and disco. Not a particularly classy joint, but the frequent of many young people in need of cheap entertainment and even cheaper beer. This is where our ‘film club’ met every weekend.

Over the months we participated in talks about movies, practiced our amateur dramatics – re-creating favourite scenes from various movies, not just the Star Trek franchise. We watched videos relentlessly, and even did readings of Andy McNab’s ‘Bravo Two Zero’. I stopped short of wearing the Deanna Troi outfit and attending the opening of a new local supermarket with Worf - Son of Mogh!

On Saturday nights these loveable Trekkers held ‘Queen’ appreciation discos, and we listened to nothing but ‘Queen’ songs… all night. It was very freaky but great fun. Yes, some members spoke fluent Klingon. Trekkers and Queen seem to have an affinity to one another it seemed.

I have great respect for the fan club, as this group of people were the most kind-hearted, passive, and well-meaning bunch of people I’d ever spent time with. The girls in the group used to carry mix-tapes around with them to listen to Patrick Stewart’s voice (Captain Jean-Luc Picard) whenever they wanted. He recited Hamlet to them weekly, along with the regular Star Trek diatribes. They were in awe of him.

I soon realised what it meant to be a real die-hard fan. I admit it did take a while to understand this strange fascination with the Star Trek Universe. The group eventually disbanded due to some internal misunderstanding between the ‘leader’ and his ‘followers’, after a spoilt evening of trying to organise a cinema trip to see ‘Star Trek: Generations’, and a further disagreement about the latest script written by a member of the club.

Our ragtag bunch got back together for a short while, joining us were a couple of members of the local Doctor Who Fan Club, under the moniker of ‘Penultimate Productions’. Soon work got underway to make a real movie, with real actors, a half-decent script, some great hand-made sets and costumes. An unfinished three minute clip was shown on the UKs Channel Four, Film Four Beginners special competition (1994). We were famous for … about three minutes!