True Life Adventures

True Life Adventures. All these adventures are really true.

Friday, January 01, 2010

I Burst Back!

The bastards at Border Control have had me looked up. Took me for the West Tibetan Fuckwarriors or something.

My lawyers, meanwhile, were distracted fighting a paternity suit on my behalf in Taiwan. Fortunately, the bastard has dropped the claim. He had heard that Harriet Harman had learned of his existence. There are some people you just don't mess with.

Anyway. I will update you on developments.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Away on Business

First of all, let me apologise for my extended absence, which has been inexcusable. Business took me away to Northern Pakistan, where I have spent a good deal of time in the company of a few remarkable gentlemen. I am guessing that the least said about these fellows, the better - especially after a browse through a few newspapers on my return - but I will make mention of a conversation that I had with one chap.

He had just come over the border from Afghanistan, where he had been in a little trouble with the authorities. His own travels had a mystique about them, and he was terribly cagey about dates and times. But one thing was clear: he was a funny guy.

Business meetings were always rough and ready affairs - meetings in my line always are - but the venues kept changing and times were, well, unpredictable. But this man always refused to travel to meet me on account of a very bad leg, and insisted on a location that was incredibly inconvenient and required a journey of half a day each way. I would have refused and returned to more comfortable surroundings except that this fellow was incredibly well connected.

Like most of the educated men that I met in this region, he had been educated in North America in the 70s. For reasons that were never made clear, my associate did not find himself in any of the North Eastern colleges that would have been de rigeur for a man with his background. Instead, he had made it to Berkeley, which afforded him an especially liberal education. As such, we had a great deal in common.

At Berkeley, he had roomed with Lance Ito, who had presided over the O. J. Simpson show trial. Ito had been quite the card at college, and in between attending lectures and seminars, had a hankering for the high life. Since my associate came from a wealthy Saudi background and also - at that time - enjoyed such privileges, Ito was happy to hang out. I was told how Ito would don an aviator cap and goggles on Pearl Harbor Day and run the corridors howling 'Banzai' at the top of lungs. In addition to that, Ito was very fond of attending local bars and hitting on women, bragging about his Ford Mustang. Apparently, it was all he had to brag about.

Anyway, it was during this time that Ito began to see a young girl that attended one of the bars down on Van Nuys. She was barely 16, but since she was the landlord's niece, she would regularly be there, generally playing pool in the backroom with bikers. Ito was besotted and would drag my client down every night, to chat with the girl. More often than not, my client would sit at the bar and watch from a distance while Ito would be politely, yet firmly, rebuffed time after time. On one occasion, however, Ito brought the girl over to meet him. She was the sweetest looking girl, although not the brightest in the room - despite her determined with Ito. Susanna, as she was introduced, chatted politely for a few minutes about nothing before my associate had to walk across the room to pick up some cigarettes from the machine. For some reason, she found this the funniest walk she had seen, on account of his bad leg. Despite Ito's sudden embarrassment and desparate urging for her to be more considerate, she persisted and began to laugh about what it meant to walk like an Egyptian. Both Ito and my client attempted to explain that he was not Egyptian, but Susanna seemed too drunk or too stupid to register the fact.

Cut to 10 years later, my client was in Afghanistan and engaged in fighting against the Soviet forces. Because of the Cold War, my client was - at that time - in regular contact with operatives from a variety of U.S. organisations. His connections with these operatives sometimes became quite close and one would regularly bring different things over with him to amuse my client and support his militias. One of the things, my client often requested was a pack with the Billboard Top 20, which in those days would arrive in a 7" vinyl format. Sitting amongst the mountains, the militias would sit, with an old beat up gramophone, and relax, listening to the sounds and trying to imitate Casey Kasem.

The operative showed up one morning with the latest batch of Top 20 singles, and amongst them was a 7" with a picture that he recognised. It was Susanna along with her band, The Bangles. The song, of course, was 'Walk Like an Egyptian'. This caused my associate a great deal of amusement, who laughed loudly as he told me that scratched onto the vinyl was the message 'for Osama'. As he told me this, he climbed to his feet and did an interpretation of the dance shown in the video.

'Of course,' he said, when he sat down, 'I am not actually Egyptian.'

Of course, none of this actually explains why I have been gone for such a long time. Well, my associates have been known to have some ideas that are a little extreme. I do not share them, it should go without saying, but neutrality is a by-word in my line of work. However, in these troubled times, even neutrality is suspect and so travelling in the region resulted in some unlikely detours and some unlikely misfortunes, even by my standards: a month in a hotel (if you could call it that) outside Kabul, six weeks in a Thai health spa ('no prostitute today, thanks'), getting caught up in a Bollywood picture - 'Anannas Ishti-al' (watch out for my bit part!) , and two weeks at Border Control in China (read prison). Any or all of these could form some part of future True Life Adventures, but for now I will leave you with the comforting knowledge that I am safe at home again now. So hopefully, I will be able to tell you another story soon.

چيزهاى كنارى يا ثانوى

Friday, November 12, 2004

Erich Honecker makes a connection

A few years ago, I was invited on to a news discussion programme. Having a tendency towards media-whoredom, I leapt at the opportunity. This rarely happens, especially to one in my profession – and given that it was being broadcast on an Albanian cable channel, I figured that no one who really mattered would see it.

There was a very strange guest list for the show. There was a third rate reporter from a Polish financial magazine, a news anchorman from a local channel, and me – tagging along with an interpreter (my Albanian is a little poor, I am afraid). Joining the show halfway through was an East German glamour model, who wore an obscenely low-cut dress. I initially suspected that she had been wheeled out to keep the viewers, as the debate was flagging a little.

As much as the delightful woman appeared as thick as a post, she certainly did kick-start the debate. Apparently, the anchorman had dated the lady some months previously and they had not parted on good terms. Furthermore, the Polish reporter was unable to keep his eyes off the model’s cleavage, and this clearly caused the anchorman some additional discomfort.

My part in this discussion was hardly central. To be honest, I was struggling to keep up, as my interpreter had to convey every minor nuance. We would probably have done better if we had tried playing Pictionary. But that aside, it did allow me to settle back and watch the dynamics as these three attempted to discuss the news of the day, while acting out their respective foibles.

To cut a long story short, the model clearly enjoyed the attention, but at the same time found the reporter repulsive. (He was a short stocky man, with breath that could kill fish.) The anchorman meanwhile argued with anything either the model or reporter said, and in doing so, sweated outrageously. Even the host of the show, who was really struggling to keep the discussion from falling apart, could not help from commenting on the growing stains on the man’s shirt – using them as an illustration of the allegations currently being made against the European Union in regards the CAP.

After an hour and a half, the show ended and we were each led to the Green Room. I felt a little lacklustre, as my inability to properly converse had meant that my talents had not really shone through. Both the reporter and the anchorman quickly departed, leaving the model and myself, and we decided to nip to a nearby restaurant to grab a bite to eat.

We both ate shrimp, and the model, it turned out, was the daughter of the old East-German Foreign Affairs Attaché who had spent a number of years in Albania during the Cold War. He, in turn, was the nephew of Erich Honecker. The model told a number of delightful stories about her great-uncle, who would often make time to attend family gatherings regardless of the demands of being Head of State.

One of the stories she told – and this is why I tell you all this – revolved around Honecker’s journey to London in 1975, in order to establish a trade deal with Denis Healey, who was Chancellor at the time and Peter Shore (Secretary of State for Trade). Healey was well known for playing hard-ball in such negotiations, and after a couple of days of awkward debate, Honecker insisted on a half-day adjournment, agreeing to meet the following morning. Leaving Whitehall early in the afternoon, Honecker and his team headed into the centre of London, looking for a quiet place to eat and discuss the negotiations. Taking a wrong turn, they found themselves heading towards Chelsea, and getting fussy and eager to eat and rest, Honecker insisted that they stop at the first place that served food.

What they found was a smallish pub, but it offered hot food and a range of ales, so the team entered and settled down. They had ordered their drinks and food when another small group entered and sat at a table nearby. A short while afterwards, Honecker overheard a little of the adjacent table’s conversation. They were discussing the development of the Krautrock scene in Germany in the wake of Neu!’s latest LP. Now what, apparently, is little known about Honecker is that he had always had an ear for music and was also very keen to know what was current in popular culture. So while Neu! and their contemporaries were not really his cup of tea, he was very familiar with them. Further, he was boring of the endless detail of the trade negotiations and wanted to think about something else for a little while.

The conversation that ensued became quite animated, as the East German Chancellor and his long-haired neighbours discussed the comparative aesthetics of German and American styles in rock. Many rounds passed by and evening drew near and the two tables found themselves staring at the local paper, looking for a concert to go to. The long-hairs were quite drunk and evidently unable to hold their beer as well as the East Germans, but the East Germans not knowing the local music scene were equally mystified by the array of talent before them. Honecker took the initiative and grabbing his pint glass laid it down on the paper for a moment before lifting it again. He left behind a wet circle in the print that highlighted a concert nearby headed by a band called the 101ers.

The two groups headed off to this small venue and found themselves making up half of the audience. Honecker was feeling loud and gregarious and once the show was over, he shouted to the lead singer and guitarist to come over and share a drink. The singer did – he was quite penniless at the time – and Honnecker introduced him to his new friends, especially the ringleader of this group, the broadcaster and famous Radio One DJ, John Peel, who hit it off with the singer very well. The singer, of course, was Joe Strummer, who would later be a significant part of the punk group, The Clash.

Now it would be rash of me, at this point, to suggest what might or might not have happened had Honecker not tired so easily of Healey’s endless quibbles, but what we can certainly say is that if we should ask how John Peel came to embrace punk quite so readily, we should look to none other than East Germany’s most famous Chancellor.

John Peel - Rest in Peace (Say Hello to Erich for us!)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Goodbye Yasser

Well, Yasser Arafat is dead.

This is a shame, but let's face it - he had a good innings.

I met him once. It was a few years ago and we were in the Golden Tulip Hotel in Amsterdam. He was really pissed with George Bush at the time. Not for any of the obvious reasons. He had been at a dinner party in Monte Carlo and George Bush had spat in his soup. Very bad manners, I am sure you would agree.


Yasser told me many stories that rosy afternoon. He told me of his third cousin who had just been ran out of the Strip for harrassing a local goat. Last I heard the goat had made its way to California in an effort to shake off these memories, but ended up committing suicide after being captured by Special Operations Forces and being forced to undergo horrific staring procedures. Anyone can appreciate the wide-eyed fear that proximity to Special Ops would create.

Yasser also told me about the time he toyed with cutting an LP of his speeches backed with the wall of sound of Phil Spector - that was a missed opportunity. Spector had come over to Lebanon with John Lennon and Harry Nilsson in tow. Both Lennon and Nilsson had expected a Che Guevara type character, and despite Yasser's charismatic style were left a little disappointed. But all three were completely fed up when Yasser refused to hook them up with some girls and a little hash. Spector retired to the armoury, while Lennon and Nilsson cut to the streets. Spector lightened up a little after Yasser promised to let him head out after dark with a couple automatics, and they headed to the studio. The final deal-breaker came, however, when Spector realised the lack of over-dubbing facilities in Yasser's home studio. All three left the following day muttering about the lack of late-night drinking holes... Lennon wrote 'Stranger's Room' about the experience, although he had to re-arrange the lyrics slightly. Yasser was stoic about the experience. While he knew that the LP would be a cult smash that might give him that extra bit of credibility with the youth market, he decided afterwards that it would have cost him rootsy earthiness that was so vital in the Palestinian Struggle.

Best yet, was when he told me about a fancy dress party in the late 80s when he went dressed as De Gaulle. It was a huge mistake as there were a bunch of Algerians that just didn't see the funny side. I could not do justice to that story - hopefully it will appear of the forthcoming box-set of his stories, speeches and anecdotes. That will be such a smash! Pre-order your copy now!

Coincidentally, I met Harriet Harmen for the first time that day. We had corresponded for some time previously, but never actually met. She is such a charming lady. Filthy habits, of course - but I don't know about you, but that just makes her all the more alluring. She had got lost wandering the back streets, and approached me from behind - not recognising me, of course. She sounded so pathetic and pitiful as she asked for directions that I almost took her for a crack-whore. It was only when I turned to answer that I saw her face and instantly we shared hugs, and we hopped in a cab back to my hotel (paid for on the company's dollar, of course!). She wanted to stay and promised to be good, but I had an appointment at the embassy - and besides I wasn't sure that I trusted her.

We have met many more times since then, but those stories will have to wait for another True Life Adventure.