Friday, 26 September 2008

On ill-advised bravado

After a month's long hiatus I returned to work at the pub last night. Winter's here and these days it's fucking busy. I was working in the bar downstairs in the dungeon nightclub - pulling pints from 6pm-3am amidst a drunken crowd of students, young travellers, and lonely guys desperate to score with whoever will take them. The night passed, and not without incident, though I'll spare you the entire evening's details.

I made a decision to stay in Vienna for a couple of months - my pub is like a more hedonistic Cheers - everybody knows my name and I figured I'd miss it if I left. So for a while I was in higher spirits than I've been used to of late. Then I discovered that in my absence, half of my shifts have been given to the new barmen - not sure if that's a permanent thing or not, but it kind of put a downer on what had thus far been a pleasant return.

3am arrived along with the most tedious part of the shift - getting the drunken idiots to move upstairs and out so I could clean up the carnage they've left behind. I left the barmaid to finish up behind the bar and set to working the floor. Trouble arrived with the first table. I hadn't even had chance to show the wood my cloth (fnar fnar!) when a fight broke out. Some gargantuous beast of a man had picked a fight with a table of six fellas whom he was accusing of something or other and putting forward those accusations in the most eloquent way possible - by sweeping their drinks off the table and throwing a stool in their direction.

In my current mood, I wasn't ready to tolerate any more cleaning than I already had to do, so I stepped forward and tried to diffuse the situation, giving the signal to the barmaid to call for backup from upstairs in the form of 4 other barmen. After an arm in the face from the giant he seemed ready to leave peacefully and began to walk away, escorted by a couple of his friends. But then he snapped and turned, ready to pile into the guys again. His friends restrained him and seeing that my reinforcements were arriving I put a hand on his mile wide chest and said in my firmest of voices, "No. You're leaving. Now," and pointed upstairs. With this his attention switched from his original quarry to me, and with a confident smirk and a look of pure evil and murderous intent, he calmly replied, "Oh is that right? I'm leaving now?" He began to swagger towards me, although his mates still held him firmly - a fact which I made thoroughly sure of before responding with, "Yep. Now." I held my ground, although by this point I was terrified he'd be let off the leash and I'd be added to the debris to be swept up afterwards, but I guess he must have clocked my waiting army, as he turned and walked away, still held by his friends. I breathed a sigh of relief, made a few jokes with the guys he'd originally had beef with and went to finish my job, only for my boss to stop me and say, "I'd stay right there for a while if I was you - he wants to fucking kill you, you dumb bastard."

I wonder though, if I had been pummelled, I'd at least have been able to stay rent-free in the hospital for a while.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

On a maze in amazing Scandinavia

I'm currently enjoying a relaxing week on holiday in Stockholm. This place is amazing - a truly beautiful city full of beautiful people. It's basically a bunch of islands connected by a series of bridges. Wherever you look your eyes are treated to vast expanses of water, deliciously green areas, and immacualte architecture.

It's an easy place for a newcomer to lose their way. One island in particular, Gamla Stan, managed to draw me back there no matter how far away from it I thought I'd wandered. I'd traverse it's entire breadth, leave via one of the bridges, walk for miles in what I thought was the complete opposite direction, and yet somehow end up back on Gamla Stan.

But it was the labyrinthine motorways, which seemed to mark the entrances to most of the islands, that proved to be my most taxing opponent.

I'd decided to stroll along the river at the Northern edge of the biggest island, and take some photographs across the water whilst basking in its refreshing cool breeze. I had my map unfurled and ready to climb into if needed. It all seemed simple enough - leave the underground station, turn right, cross the street and I'd be on my desired path. What I didn't bank on was the 'street' I need to cross being a vast and ludicrous mess of roundabouts and roads, climbing over and through each other, with no obvious way across, since the traffic was thick and constant. I could see steps leading both upwards (but in the wrong direction) and downwards (apparently towards a subway) but no visible means of reaching either set. After much head-scratching, I decided to head back to the underground station and maybe take another exit, hoping it would lead me across the 'street'. En route I passed another set of stairs leading downwards, and decided to give them a try. I descended, and sure enough found myself in a subway, which I walked through, and up the other side.

Stepping back into daylight disorientated me more than it should. Rather than being on the opposite side of the road of death I was now further back from it on the side I'd started from. A subway that served no purpose at all - how continental. So, on to the underground station, where I found another exit, which led to another staircase, which I excitedly occupied. Now here's a headfuck - I emerged somewhere in the midst of the fucking road system. I was now standing on a small piece of completely pointless pavement, surrounded by busy road. I pinched myself. Maybe I'd fallen asleep somewhere along the way. And if that was the case... hmmm, nope, can't fly, so I guess I was still awake.

I'm not exaggerating when I say I spent around twenty minutes walking around that stretch of Stygian motorway searching for a way across. At one point I could see across to my intended destination where a man stood, silently taunting me, taking photographs of boats. Twenty minutes may not seem like so long, but when you're stuck in an Escher painting of traffic and mystery it seems to go on forever. Eventually (and with an audible whoop of victory) I found myself on the path I'd been aiming for. I breathed a sigh of relief and... BEEEEEEEP! OK, so it wasn't a path at all and I was standing directly in the way of oncoming traffic. Panicking, I ran first to one side, then to the other, then back, scrambling over a fence to escape death, and landing, short of breath on what was definitely a path. Yep, no question about it. I could see the individual paving stones and everything. In your face, Sweden, I have conquered your labyrinth.

Then I glimpsed the bike painted on the paving stones and a cyclist ran me over.

Monday, 1 September 2008

On close shaves with homelessness and having pieces of me removed

Before I begin, I'll warn you - this is a long, episodic story, and a relatively slow mover. Stick with it though - it involves a man sticking his finger up my arse, and I know that's what most of you are hoping for every time you log on to read a new post.

Last week I had a friend staying over as he explored Vienna as the last stop on his European adventure. Unfortunately, it was a last minute decision for him to come so I didn't have time to arrange a few days off from work, but I managed to keep my Saturday free so shenanigans could be had. And had they were - we took in the fairground, and then went partying until 6am-ish, finishing up the night by napping on the underground, and then watching a man take on six other guys in a street fight whilst eating a kebab. Us that is - Brawly had opted for a hot dog as his weapon of choice - a wise decision as they fit nicely into a balled fist, allowing punches to be thrown without letting go of the delicious snack, whereas a kebab would have shot bits of meat and garlic sauce all over the place.

Anyways, the following evening I was back at work, and whilst it wasn't too exhausting - people have better things to do on a Sunday I guess, towards the end of my shift I felt a nagging, dull pain in my side. It was aggravated with each step I took, but was completely tolerable so I didn't panic, but put it down to my kidneys taking revenge on me for the previous night's session.

Earlier that evening my friend had popped in to pick up my house keys, and stayed for a few beers. I feared he'd get home and fall asleep and so warned him that it was my only set and that he'd need to stay awake or at least leave his phone on loud and near his ear. I also pointed out that the apartment door could be a bit stiff to open and that if he had any problems to call me or come back to the pub. When 2am came limping along, I hurried home, the pain in my side easing a little, and called Josh (the doorbell works, but is not very audible, even when awake). I could see from the street that the lights in the living room - his bedroom for now - were off. Not a good sign. His phone remained unanswered and I remained outside in the street considering my options. I tried calling a few more times, but to no avail. I noticed the living room window open, so began to shout him, but as it was now close to 3am, and on a heavily populated street I had to do that whispery shout thing that actually serves no purpose in any situation. Unsurprisingly, this did nothing to rouse him, so I upped the decibel level of my shouts, gradually increasing the bellow factor in the hope my neighbours wouldn't notice my incremental increase in volume.

So what had begun as a faint "josh? *pause* josh? *pause* josh?" gradually escalated into an all out "JOSH!JOSH!JOSH!JOSH!JOSH!JOSH!" with a handful of ill-executed wolf whistles thrown in for good measure. It was at the "WAKE UP AND OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR YOU BASTARD!" point that a neighbour poked his head out the third floor window and angrily yelled at me to shut the fuck up as it was 3:30 on a Monday morning. I shrugged apologetically, waited until he'd retreated inside and then put the next stage of my plan into action. Well, I say plan, but at this point I was at a kind of loss, so my 'plan' involved rummaging around in my bag for stuff to try and throw through the window and hopefully wake him. Chucking stuff through a window 10 metres directly above your head is not easy but I managed to score with a bottle of contact lens solution, a can of deodorant, and one of my work shoes, the other left taunting me by perching itself soundlessly on the windowsill.

No joy. I resigned myself to the fact that I'd be spending my night on a nearby park bench (all my friends in the area had wisely decided to turn off their phones as they slept - what kind of an idiot makes calls at that time anyway?). As I trudged off cursing, I figured I had nothing to lose by attempting to call Josh once more, and lo and behold, this time he picked up with a groggy, "Hello?"

I'm a nice guy so I didn't get angry, but calmly asked him to come downstairs and let me in, which he did. He then announced that he hadn't actually been in the flat himself, but had struggled with the door for longer than he could tolerate, sat down on the floor in the hall, exasperated, and then unwillingly fallen asleep there. So I'd been shouting at an empty room all night, and it may have transpired that we may both have ended up sleeping rough, despite having a perfectly good set of keys!

Job done, I went to bed, exhausted and looking forward to a few relaxing hours' sleep...

Unfortunately, at around 6am I woke up due to excruciating pain in my front and right side. I wasn't sure what it was, but it hurt to move at all, and when I stood up, I instantly doubled over with it. At this point, my girlfriend, who was staying at her parents just outside of Vienna, and whom I'd texted earlier when locked out, called me to see if I'd managed to get in. "Yep, I'm in," I said, "But there's something wrong with my body..."

I explained the symptoms and her first reaction was one of panic - she said I should go to the hospital as soon as possible as it sounded very much like appendicitis. Appendicitis eh? Meh, I'll probably be able to sleep it off, thought I, and laid back down in a relatively pain-free position. I managed to get in a couple more hours sleep and woke, with the pain mostly gone, but still there, nagging away. I figured I should probably go to the docs just to be on the safe side. Walking there was not a good idea and on arrival the pain had kicked back in with a vengeance. She prodded me, nodded sagely, and sent me off to the nearest hospital for further examination. Apparently, other than the pain , I showed none of the other symptoms associated with appendicitis, and the pain itself was a couple of inches north of where the appendix naturally lies, but clearly something was not right

After a short wait at the hospital (Vienna's health service really puts the NHS to shame) I was taken to lie down for examination - they took a bunch of blood, prodded me in much the same manner as my doctor had, and hooked me up to a drip to ease the pain. Whilst in this semi-high state the student nurses, intrigued by my Englishness, had gathered round to bombard me with questions about, well, being English - apparently it's a very desirable trait 'round these parts. And then the head doc returned, gloved up and, parting the curtain of nubile young things drawn around me, casually announced that he needed to investigate my rectum. So here I was, shirtless, high, and surrounded by giggling pretties, with a hairy man's finger knuckle deep in my arse. Not how I'd pictured the week beginning.

I was then left alone for a while, presumably whilst they checked my blood and whatever else for signs of disease or pregnancy or whatever. But after an hour or so, in came a new doc, who began asking me questions as if I'd only just arrived. Confused (and involuntarily clenching the back door), I explained what had been said and done so far (was that first guy even a real doctor?!). Unfazed, he took more blood, leaving me with a nice set of stab wounds in my arm, and after more prodding (although he kept it external) he sent me home, announcing that I definitely don't have appendicitis, and saying I should sleep on it and return if the pain was still there in the morning. It all seemed a little unorthodox but I guess he knew best, so off home I went.

Needless to say, the morning brought fresh and excruciating spasms of agony, but I didn't trust that first hospital, so I went back to my doc. This time I was sent off to be seen privately, and had an ultrasound scan, and more blood taken. Within a couple of hours I'd been admitted to hospital to await surgery - my appendix was about to burst, and had somehow gotten twisted up around my intestine, hence the pain being in the wrong place. I was also told it was rather long. And you know what they say about guys with long appendices... they're more susceptible to infection and displacement resulting in acute appendicitis and an urgent need for removal.

You're probably as tired of reading this by now as I am of writing it so I'll cut it short. In under a week since feeling the initial pain I'd been tested, diagnosed, admitted, operated on, and discharged from hospital. If I hadn't dragged this on so long already I'd include more hospital-based anecdotes involving conversations with a dying man, both of us speaking in a language the other didn't fully understand, sneaking out for forbidden cigarettes, being deprived of food for three days, and having kebabs smuggled in from the outside. Maybe those are tales for next time...