Two of these, carrying cars across Europe, hidden from prying eyes
Sitting in the sunshine, slurping coffee, watching the world go by and wondering if it's warm and sunny back in England when some cars go past and we have to make our three guesses.
Let me explain. Where we are now, and for the next week or so is on a route where they test new cars. Camouflaged cars, blacked out windows, what are they, we wonder. Last year we successfully identified the new BMW X2, well we guessed it was a Beemer anyway, and before that the new Land Rover. These ones, not sure yet, will have to have another look. Took a photo though, so see what you think. The lorries they come in are massive and this time they're from Germany, if that helps.
Donald Trump is sitting at the next table. Thought he would have been too busy this weekend, but am sure it's him. Fat, comb-over, no red tie but everything else is right. G says I'm barmy and when Donald stands up to go and pay I realise G may be right as he is only about five foot three. Oh well.
Just heard from friends back in one of the many places we used to live that a well known local character, Big Stan, has died. Not a surprise really and we haven't seen him in years, but even so. G knew him much better than me and I remember him mentioning Stan back when G used to write things down on a daily basis. I asked him to dig it out as a sort of tribute to Big Stan so here it is.
‘What’s up with you then?’
I don’t respond with an instant quip as it’s pretty obvious to anyone with normal eyesight what’s ‘up with me.’ The crutches are a fairly solid hint.
‘Knee operations,’ I reply, still marooned in the doorway, the questioner barring admittance.
‘Again? You had ‘em done last year, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah,’ I say, adding a rueful smile, crutches chafing as I perch like a weary flamingo in the confines of the doorway. ‘Didn’t work; had to have another go.’
Big Stan moved aside, lets me hobble past and subside gratefully into an armchair. He’s one of those men who everybody tags the description ‘big’ onto his given name when what they really mean to say is ‘fat bastard Stan.’ He’s an inch or so smaller than me, but is approaching twice my weight, well, you get the picture. Glandular problems he told me once, yeah, and eating a massive meal every couple of hours has nothing to do with it. He’s not a bad bloke, not really, just not who I want to talk to this morning.
My knees hurt, I’ve hardly slept, I’m only here to give my wife a rest from my grumbling. The waitress comes over, puts her arm round my shoulders to give me a hug, dislodging my crutches and knocking three cups, empty ones, off the next table.
There’s a rush from behind the bar, all hands to debris clearance duties. Now I feel responsible.
The waitress returns, eying my crutches warily. ‘You’re a one, aren’t you?’ she says, brightly.
I agree, I am a one, indeed, and order a coffee, latte with semi-skimmed if you’re interested in such trifles, and a round of toast. Wholemeal, with blackcurrant preserve. It’s a wine bar, not a greasy spoon caff, so that means I get ‘preserve’ rather than ‘jam.’ Not that it makes any difference to a Philistine.
Millie, that’s the girl making the coffee, brings me an armful of papers. Big Stan sits down in the chair opposite, overflowing it on all sides. I want to read, he wants to talk, there’s only going to be one winner.
‘You know what your trouble is, don’t you?’
I flick through the papers, saying nothing.
‘Too much contact sport, too much grafting. All that carrying bricks up ladders on them houses of yours you did up. When we gonna learn, eh’
I nod, refraining from asking when my companion last took part in any sporting endeavour. As for ‘hard graft,’ that was a complete non-starter.
Millie brings my coffee, pats my hand, avoids any contact with Big Stan, a serial groper only tolerated as he’s the best tipper in town.
‘You wanna sue the bastards,’ Stan says. ‘Should have made a better job of it the first time.’
I nod, vaguely, unwilling to explain the last operation had been successful for almost a year and that it was only recently that problems had developed.
I’m warm, the coffee is good, Stan looks like he’s taken the hint that I’m not keen on chatting just now, things are looking up, when there’s a huge commotion in the kitchen behind me. Millie runs out, shrieking like a banshee, as the room fills with smoke and the detectors overhead kick in with an ear-splitting racket.
Stan earns hero status by rushing, in as much as a three hundred pound man can ‘rush,’ into the kitchen and not only finding but operating the fire extinguisher. The toaster had burst into flames which had spread within seconds, Millie explains through her tears. Stan re-emerges, smoke-blackened, but the hero of the hour and Millie hugs him gratefully. He sits down again, nodding his appreciation of the well wishers’ congratulations.
‘Had that happen many a time on the ships,’ he says. ‘Dangerous places, kitchens.’
‘You were on the ships?’ I ask, thinking cruise liner or ferryboat.
‘Oh, a while back now,’ Stan replies. ‘Destroyers, mostly. Falklands War did for me. Took a direct hit, only bloody time we saw any real action. Piece of shrapnel hit me right between the shoulder-blades. Never even saw it coming. Invalided out; just the pension now.’
I said nothing, regretting my previous perceptions of the man. The kitchen had cleared, smoke dispersed, smoke detectors stopped wailing. It looked unlikely that my toast and preserves would arrive, but I could cope with that. I put the papers on one side.
‘Fancy a beer, mate?’ I asked.
Stan beamed. ‘Don’t mind if I do,’ he said.