Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Going Off My Rocker in a Knocking Shop

Spain was created, it seems, in order to convince me that Jung and Sting were both right when they cracked on about synchronicity.

Apart my Orwellian nightbus nightmare, there was the strange case of the Chueca hotel.

The best job I ever had was helping Belorussian ballerinas with their non-professional needs on a shambolic tour of Britain in 1990. I enjoyed it so much that I volunteered to continue my duties during their Madrid season in 1991, free of charge. I even bought my own airline ticket. Frankly, I'd have crawled there with Roy "Chubby" Brown chained to my nuts if need be.

As always I left travel arrangements to the last minute, and so boarded an Aerolineas Argentinas flying trolleybus at sometime near midnight with what looked like a convention of people who took their dogs with them to "no questions asked" country guest houses.

I won't detail the bizarre manner in which the airline wanted paying, as I suspect there's a squad of men in black from the International Atomic Energy Agency still engaged exclusively on unravelling that one.

My best efforts at Spanish earned me a bus ride to central Madrid before my fellow-passengers had even recovered their collars and leashes. I found a public phone and called Basque Artist IV who had kindly offered me lodgings during my stay.

Basque Artist IV was a stubbled lush whose name began and ended with "X". This had struck me as a good basis for friendship at a party in London some months earlier. "When you come to Madrid you stay with me, Xardox the Fourth Artist!" he rasped through a cloud of cachaça and Ducados, propped up by his modishly-Scottish girlfriend and Basque Artists I-III.

He scrawled a phone number on a fag packet. I got him to sign it in case he achieved Hockneyed fame or I forgot the order of consonants and ended up lost, alone and sober on the midnight streets of Madrid.

Which is of course exactly what happened.

His phone hadn't answered for days. I assumed he was painting a mural in, or possibly on, Bilbao and would be back any day. He wasn't. For all I know he was some sort of happening dreamt up by Basque Artists I-III in a moment of Situationist ennui. Perhaps they had all been members of the Federation of Conservative Students making some sort of over-subtle point about minority cultures. I just don't know.

The hours passed in gloomy contemplation of Franco's architectural legacy, enlivened by a dousing from the maniacs who hose the streets in the two-hour gap that allows the crowds of happy drunks to get home, shower and arrive at their bank/parade ground/air-traffic control tower in time for work.

The most welcome sign in the world is a large, plastic doner kebab outside a Pinner takeaway near where I first stayed in London. "In this sign shall ye conquer" it says to me. But for a moment a scrappy neon "Hotel" in a cramped Madrid backstreet nudged it into the salad bowl of oblivion.

I spilled into the lobby, and had an exchange in elementary Spanish with the oily clerk at reception that went like this (to my understanding):

Boyo: Good morning, sir, do you have a room free?

A room?

. Please. For just one night. I am tired, but have money.

Clerk: Certainly. For one night?

Boyo: Please.

Clerk: OK. Random number of pesetas. Room 14.

Boyo: (handing random number of bills and swiftly rejected passport) Ta.

I spent a grateful few hours in the knackersack of Lethe, then called the partner of a friend due in Madrid that day in the hope he could put me up. He called me back soon after, and I checked out and moved into his pension round the corner.

It was owned by a couple who'd discovered that their modish support for the Republican cause did not go down well with General Franco's otherwise commendably multicultural Moroccan Regulares. They spent several grateful decades in France, and so I was able to explain in French my luck in finding such an accommodating establishment but relief at moving into their more distinguished rooms.

"That was not a hotel, but a maison d'assignation," explained our worldly host.

And so, on reflection, my exchange with the reception clerk probably went like this:

Boyo: Good God, Cavalry, do you have an open camera?

You want a room?

. Colour me up. For just one night. I have a uniform and doublets.

Clerk: Whatever floats your Armada, son. You want the whole night on your own?

Boyo: Would you care to join me?

Clerk: I'm ok here. Random number of pesetas. Conchita is in Room 14.

Boyo: (handing random number of bills and swiftly rejected passport) Hail Mary.

The receptionist at a Madrid brothel was confronted in the middle of a dry and balmy night by a friendly yet sodden Englishman (how was he to know?), bearing a suitcase of Mediaeval jerkins and expressing no interest in the specialist staff. He handled it well, as I'm sure he did during every Conservative Future outing to Spain.

Many years later, I wandered past a work colleague engrossed in the Rough Guide to Madrid. We fell to talking, and I asked him where he was staying in that fine city.

"A boutique hotel in Chueca, the former red-light district. It used to be a brothel, akchooly," he honked fruitily, pointing at the address and description in the book.

As Bryan Ferry once remarked, you can guess the rest.


M C Ward said...

What happened to the Belorussian ballerinas? I was reading avidly from that point onwards.

Spain is a good place for coincidences. Somebody told me there are ley lines running through Málaga and Torremolinos. Not quite Glastonbury, but where is? I think I need some sleep.

No Good Boyo said...

Many wonderful and frightening things, MC. I'll reminisce some more anon.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ah, the Basques, a wonderful people, like the Irish with commitment. I had a similar experience in Istanbul last year, arriving in the city centre at night, finding it scarier than the travel guide had said, and being advising to find a bed for the night, any bed, before I was made into kebabs.

Btw, the wife and I have been looking for a mahogany wardrobe like the one in the picture; does anyone know where we can buy one?

Gorilla Bananas said...

There's something very noble about a man who spends the night in a brothel without having sex. The hookers might have seen you as a challenge had they known. Sebastián de Iradier y Salaverri is the only Basque I know and he was a good 'un.

M C Ward said...

I dreamed I met you last night, NGB. Nothing erotic, thankfully.

We were working in the same office and you gave me a book to look at. I felt intrigued and uneasy at the same time. You looked nothing like any of your photos. You changed into somebody else.

Gyppo Byard said...

I concur with Mr Ward - forget the brothel, Boyo, tell us about the ballerinas!

I work in the same office as NGB, and he *did* give me a book to look at once. It was a book of his own authorship, brilliant in its own way but utterly unpublishable. Some day I shall give it back.

Alistair Coleman said...

By way of incredible conicidence, I too work in the same office as NGB, and he too gave me a book to look at.

Brown, it was.

M C Ward said...

Has anyone not been given a book by NGB?

No Good Boyo said...

I would and my lawyers like to make it clear that "being given a book" by me is a literal statement of the truth, not the euphemism that formed the centrepiece of Rex vs. Scott, Peshawar, 1946 - the celebrated "well-thumbed copies" scandal involving Capt Scot "Scotty" Scott of the V Rajput Engineering Corps and the denizens of the Dwinakari School for Semi-Domesticated Pathan Young Ladies.

Apologies for the dearth of posting. I've been busy with Anti-Danube, especially as the Ruthenian spellchecker I downloaded turned all adjectives into "fakkyfakky" and most nouns into "hootars" (sic). I won't say what it did with the other nouns.

No Good Boyo said...

PS - Gadjo: anyone who wonders about the woodwork in that context is far too married. The estate of a Snr Buñuel might be able to help you out, though.

I spent five days in Istanbul. It rained constantly, but I had a good time by spending my days in argilah kiosks and my nights in seedy bars. Amazing I got out alive.

Perhaps I didn't...

I promise more details on ballerinas "when the mem-sah'b's not at home".

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ah, she's from a Buñuel film? I was trying to avert my eyes and think about wardrobes, but if I'd known she was art then I could have given her a proper look.

I was in one of those nargile cafes in Istanbul as well; a delightful, relaxing experience, and it seemed to last for hours.

No Good Boyo said...

It's from his Phantom of Liberty, and therefore counts as art. Also, if it's on my web blog it immediately counts as education/news, so ogle away.

I'll recount my nargilah experience some time - it was a lesson in how a tourist can become a guest.

Ian Plenderleith said...

A fine story indeed, but I'm concerned that you, of all people, should depict yourself as an "Englishman". That's no good, boyo.

No Good Boyo said...

My dear Pop, my attempts to explain my Welshness to a local barman later on the same visit led to my spending an evening with the drunken, enthusiastic but nonetheless tedious supporters of a Galician football team in a backroom.

Sometimes patriotism is not enough.

Anonymous said...

Missyoor Boyo, get your laffing gear round this.


Cheer up! What?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Absolutely true. The most lustless nights I have ever spent were in precisely such place. Found by the same route. But not in Spain.

No Good Boyo said...

Anon, that was one of my favourite JD tracks for ages. I asked for it to be played on my birthday at the Harpers night club in Swansea 1984. It was not.

Snoop, I was impressed by the dignity of the Spanish harlots. By contrast, a night in a Soviet hotel rarely passed without telephoned or even keyhole invitations to have various parts of one's body snorked by one or more spandex-clad clapulatrices.

I draw no political conclusions, but may understand why George Galloway was so sorry to see the USSR go.

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