After our sleepless storm-hammered odyssey the previous evening, Dave, Alfie and I were finally allowed to crumble into our bunks at 3pm. I awoke three hours later; I was overtired and couldn’t sleep for nauseating nightmare flashes. It was dark and we’d missed the whole day, and we didn’t have the will or the strength to venture out again that evening in search of a party. Being homeless in a foreign city during a storm tends to quench your thirst for adventure a little.
We headed over the road to a cheap Chinese restaurant and sat down adjacent to four young guys in caps, all speaking English. Dave asked where they were from and invited them to join us. They were from Melbourne, and had been travelling Europe for a couple of months. They seemed like chill dudes.
For some reason, Dave began to wind them up. I’m used to this; sometimes he just fucks with people for his own amusement. He’s nearly got me decked a couple of times. A while back he took the piss out of two backpacking kids loitering around Mauerpark, chastising them for their poor German. As we walked away, with me quietly bollocking Dave and telling him to be nice, a rock the size of my fist cracked onto the pavement beside us. We looked back and saw the little bastards hurling stones at us. We laughed at them and paid no mind, but fuck man – that was a big rock. I’ve no intention of being murdered for the sake of a rude passing comment.
Back in the Chinese, Dave was patronisingly predicting the route the Aussies would take and the cities they’d visit. He’s done this before plenty of times; in fifteen seconds savaging the supposed personal journeys and unique experiences of fresh faced young backpackers. Dave is all about new experiences, but once he has been there and done that, it’s boring to him.
The Aussies looked a little put out. When two groups of males meet, there’s always an initial tension. I suppose it’s evolutionary or whatever. Each individual sits around eyeballing one another, trying to figure out if they’re being mocked or genuinely bonding. It’s a stupid power thing – nobody wants to be too nice too quickly, only to realise that they were being made a tit of all along. The laugh those lads just shared – was that at your expense, or was it just a harmless in-joke? Do you chuckle along amiably, or glass them out of their chair? Presently one of the Aussies started waxing about how lucky we poms are to be able to travel so cheaply all over Europe. And then:
“Poms?” says Dave. “What are poms?”
I told him that it was just a nickname Australians have for Brits, but I think he already knew that. He just fancied creating a mess.
“Doesn’t it stand for… what was it? Prisoners of Her Majesty?”
Sigh. At this point I placed a hand on his shoulder and told him to be nice. The Aussies shifted in their seats a little.
“Because you guys are all convicts, right? From the prisoners we sent away?”
For fuck’s sake.
Now, at this point it’s worth mentioning an old story my grandad tells. It’s one of his famous army tales about a group of Aussies he once met when he was stationed in Singapore as a young man in the 60’s. My dad and I doubt that it’s 100% true, but to my grandad’s credit, he’s told the story a thousand times and the details have never changed. Essentially, my grandad maintains that he and his army pals got into a heated debate with a gang of Aussie sailors. Then, “the tallest, biggest bastard you’ve ever seen” loomed over my 5’7 grandad and asked him if he had a problem. And obviously, my eternally wise and prescient grandfather responded by declaring that every single Australian in the bar, especially the enormous one standing before him, was a no-good rotten convict and the dregs of the British Empire (things were a tad less PC back in those days, it seems).
The next thing my grandad recalls is being hurled face first into a jukebox (which he is adamant started playing music, no matter how much my dad and I scoff at him) and consequently being treated to the pasting of a lifetime courtesy of the large Australian gentleman and his compatriots.
Back in the present, Dave is eyeballing the four be-capped Australians and casually declaring their ancestors to be, essentially, scumbags. I am concerned of course, and half anticipating a brawl or at least a row, but to be honest I am too tired from the previous night’s homelessness to do much. Instead, I resign myself to countering every terse insult Dave throws out with cheerful self deprecation. It’s a nice way to defuse potentially rough situations – get everyone laughing at you, and they forget that they want to stab one another.
Thankfully, the Aussies were in more of a mind for a relaxed meal, and though they seemed understandably taken aback and offended, they were able to laugh and shrug it off. We ordered food, and as we waited quietly for our meals, Dave pipes up once more.
“Anybody know a good joke?”
Arse. Please don’t be xenophobic please don’t be xenophobic please don’t be xenophobic.
“Why didn’t the lifeguard save the drowning hippy?”
“’Cause he was too far out maaan.”
Laughter around the table, our meals came, we talked about Melbourne and bands and Berlin and techno, and nobody got decked. Maybe I overthink things, maybe I worry, but I’ve noticed over the years that, while many of my friends have been bludgeoned and/or throttled at various points in their lives, it’s never been while I’ve been present. All that nonsense happens when I’m absent. Maybe I’m a good mediator, or maybe I’m just lucky. Who knows.
After the food we headed back to the hostel for beers, met Hannah and the girls, invited the Aussies over, and we all sat around drinking for the rest of the evening. Dave and I balance each other out; he doesn’t give a shit what people think, and I give every shit in the world. He drags me by the wrist into fun new adventures, and I keep him alive by cricket batting away all the rocks and manure that are flung at him while his back is turned.
One thing is clear. To reiterate the overarching message of my previous article on Prague: Dave and I are, most definitely, going to die in India.