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People Are Strange…

Saturday, 13 March 2010

..when you’re on holiday.

Or maybe it’s just my seemingly innate ability to become the centre of orbit for lunatics the world over.

Over the years I have met my fair share (perhaps even more than my fair share) of, to put it delicately, eccentric individuals. Admittedly my line of work puts me in the firing line of the more unusually minded members of the community but it’s the people I have encountered outwith my profession that have been among the oddest.

There was, for example, the man in Amsterdam airport about 10 years ago who asked if he could sit at a spare seat at the cafe table I was sitting at. Expecting him to sit down and mind his own business while I carried on reading my book I nodded my assent. Schoolboy error. His opening gambit set the tone for the conversation. As he sat down he placed two large brandies and two bottles of beer on the table. “I’m not an alcoholic” he told me. That was his opening line. Swiftly followed by both brandies. I attempted to maintain all my concentration on my book but to no avail.

What followed was a string of tall tales all about this man’s ever so interesting and exciting life. He was Polish-American and apparently had done it all. He had met Bill Clinton (this was just after the Lewinski scandal) and had told him he had disgraced the office of President and was “an asshole” as a result. He had shared a drink with John Lennon’s ghost on the night he was shot. His greatest endeavour however put these achievements in the shade. “I signed a deal with the devil” he told me. Expecting a metaphorical tirade about how he wasted his life pursuing a career at the expense of his family or some similarly tired cliche I braced myself for the inevitably dull punchline. “I sold my soul to the Devil,” he continued, “but I outfoxed him. I signed the document using my middle name, not my first name, so he won’t get my soul when I die.” At this point I was desperately trying to attract the attention of Amsterdam airport’s armed police.

That encounter came to an end when the fellow shouted to another person sitting in the cafe to come and join the conversation. It turned out to be Josh Hartnett who, obviously used to dealing with random weirdos at that point in his career (it would have been a year or so after The Faculty) made some excuse about having to catch his plane and left. Four hours later when I boarded my flight I discovered I was sitting next to Josh Hartnett. I thanked him profusely for abandoning me with the crazy person and then spent the next six hours being bored to death by his self obsessed wittering.

Another odd encounter happened on Academy Street in the town. It would have been around a similar time, after a night out with the girl I was seeing at the time. Walking along the street we got talking to an American man who was apparently on holiday. Seemed like a nice enough guy (lot’s of remarks about young love and similar) and then out of the blue he decided to tell me about how he “owned three major American cities”, was in the Mafia and then proceeded to offer me a job. To this day I wonder what would have happened if I’d accepted his offer. I suppose I’ll never know for sure if he was a Mafia Don or not.


I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon lately due to some encounters on our recent trip to Tenerife. Barbara shares my track record for attracting what can affectionately be called “Crazies” and so when we are together it really is just asking for trouble.

It started on the plane on the way over. One chap in particular marked himself out as being of special interest, henceforth to be known as “Drunky-Ginger Man” or DG for short. DG worked his way through several cans of Stella and half a bottle of champagne. Presumably after being at the bar in the airport given his state of intoxication. He lapsed between being unconcsious and semi-concsious throughout the flight, his stupor so deep at times that the cabin crew began to fear for his safety. When we were disembarking at Tenerife he became a tragi-comic figure as three flight attendants tried to ensure he had all his relevant documents (including passport) and get him off the plane. His prospects didn’t look good.

Our coach connection to the hotel was short of two people. DG wasn’t on the bus. Even money said he was one of the missing people. An hour and a half later we had checked in, dumped our luggage in our room and headed for the bar. Several drinks later we left to hunt down some late night food in the resort. Who did we pass, sat on a plastic chair, passed out by the pool but DG. Somehow he had managed to find his way to the hotel, presumably by some instinct that was immune to the effects of all the alcohol. He was to reappear from time to time over the course of the week, innocuously innebriated and apparently having a whale of a time.

Stark contrast to the harmless Drunky-Ginger Man was Fiona. We first met Fiona on the first night we were at the hotel when I managed to lock us out on our balcony. It was at about half one in the morning and the hotel bar was locking up for the night. Our first attempt to attract attention worked, with a hotel security guard attracted to our somewhat desperate cries for help. As he approached we appealed to him to go to reception and ask them to come up and let us back into the room. Smiling broadly he told us to keep the noise down. “Not a problem,” we told him, “we just need some help first”. He told us to keep the noise down again. I don’t think he understood what we were saying. I don’t think he could speak any English other than “keep the noise down.” Then he buggered off, leaving us hanging.

Plan B. I assessed the possibility of a controlled leap from our balcony (first floor) to the ground. No danger. A sheer drop, onto concrete with no way of reducing the height of the fall seemed like madness even to my drunken brain. A couple of balconies across I spotted a tiered wall-come-flower-bed arrangement that looked liked a decent prospect for clambering down. All it would take would be a deft hop across a couple of dividing walls, a short leap to the tiered wall and job’s a good ‘un. Thankfully for me Barbara has much more common sense than I and did a tremendous job of dissuading me from this loopy course of action. We opted for Plan C, shouting loudly at the one remaining human being in sight (who was locking up the bar) in a vain attempt to attract his attention. He disappeared in the opposite direction, bin bags in hand and took our hopes of rescue with him.

Just then we hear a voice from above us. A neighbour, attracted by our shouts, had come out to see what the fuss was about. Perhaps she would prove to be our saviour? As it turned out she had attended the same “how to help people stuck on a balcony” course as the hotel security man as she opted for the telling us to keep the noise down approach. She then started mumbling to herself so quietly we couldn’t hear what she was saying and then disappeared back into her appartment. In the end I managed to break back into the appartment with a sudden and direct application of force to the sliding door that popped it off it’s catch, opening it. So much for security! With one eye open and a sense of relief that we had invested in the safety deposit box for the room we retired to bed.

Fiona was to feature quite heavily over the next couple of days, largely due to the fact (which we found out later) that she was a paranoid schizophrenic who had flushed her medication down the toilet the day before we arrived. Her outlandish behaviour escalated over the next day or so culminating in her battering seven bells out of her mother by the pool before drifting into a very unsettling, very strange tirade to herself, talking about herself in the third person with a lot of references to spirits, her own death and the FBI. In the end her sister had to be called in from England with additional medication which settled her down almost immediately.

There were so many more. The dildo-wielding transvestite at the carnival, Frank the Mancunian bin man (not a bloody chip-shop anywhere can you believe it?), Frances the Glasgwegian care worker and a man so convinced that all foreigners are stupid he spent five minutes trying to explain his complaint to the girl at reception in single words, spoken loudly and slowly, only for her to tell him in perfect English that she couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell her.

I love people. I love the fact that no matter where you go in the world there are plenty of loonies to keep it interesting. Genuine characters who, love or loathe them, give you pause for thought and plenty to talk about. As infuriating and loathsome, as ignorant and insulting, as irrational and unreasonable as they can be, I somehow can’t bring myself to completely write off humanity.

At least not all of it anyway.

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