The Dracula Tour
The Full Story
I am a workaholic, or rather l used to be one. These days it is probably more befitting of the phrase as Suze likes to quote at times, ‘living a life without moderation’, whilst l quote back ‘moderation is for cowards!!’
However when l was in my later teens and early twenties l was a seriously dedicated worker, l simply couldn’t stop. When l was twenty aka 1983, l was working as one of the youngest assistant area catering managers for a private company. My contract was for 60 hours a week minimum, with a take home pay of £4900, of course back then as a juinor, it was still considered a ‘fair wage’ because it was reflective to the cost of living in the UK for the time. But it was still a lot of work for a permanent contract. I hear of people complaining today who are in their mid twenties and early thirties about the fact that they may have to work 37.5 hours a week and they are only on perhaps £20k pa, and despite all the years between ’83 and 2018, they are still in a better position than l was financially back then.
Now whilst l know today that the reason l was seen as a robot is due to my Asperger’s, my love of routine, of patterns, of the black and white, of an endless physical energy, of an ability to not not just multitask but triplemultitask both mentally as physically, but of course l did NOT know that back then. Combine those qualities with no romantic involvement, living at home and basically what many said was a complete and utter lack of ‘life’, then what you actually have left is a 100% completely functioning robot. But what the critics actually forgot and l didn’t know back then, was that l loved work, l loved everything about work, l had made it my special interest or rather l had turned work into a hobby that l just happened to get paid for! What was not to love?
Despite living at home, l actually hated being at home and that was because it was a continuous battle zone of arguments and violence from my Father to my Mother and myself, so let’s be real, who would wish to live in an environment of a constant barrage of doors slamming, high pitched screaming arguments and the more than occasional twack as someone got hit?
Yeah l know what you’d say, no one! Well l was no different so working the 60 hour contract week simply wasn’t enough at times, and so it wasn’t unusual for me to work closer to 90 hours a week. It became so inviting that l went out and bought myself a campbed and set it up in my office. Because l used to work in the civil service industry side to catering, all the buildings had showering facilities, so l could bathe and sleep, and l could fix myself something to eat should l need to. You don’t have to be a chef to make toast and grab a bowl of cereal.
However, my bosses began to notice that l never went home and l was brought in one day and asked if l was either extremely stupid, on the take, had mental problems or perhaps l simply had no life? I answered honestly with the latter and that l just loved work as it was to me a hobby.
I remember clearly the two big bosses looking at me, and one asked, if l had a good home life and when l answered that l didn’t, they suggested one of two things; 1] move out and if l couldn’t afford that then 2] take more holidays. They continued with the fact that whilst it was brilliant to have a worker so dedicated and with an unlimited supply of energy, that life was about moderation, and they said l obviously had no concept of that word. i am guessing my blank response to the word answered their question. My main boss, Michelle simply said “Rory, l am ordering you to take holiday time! Starting from today. All this overtime you do you don’t get paid for, and we are beginning to feel like slave drivers and your staff are worried about your sanity!”
I obviously looked quite grumpy at her response to me, because she simply said “You can wipe that look off your face, you are a young man who has got so much to give to the world, why don’t you go out there and do some exploring?? In all my days as a manager l have NEVER had to actually order someone to take time off! So from right this minute, l am giving you two weeks off, and this.” With her last statement, she handed me £700, “Take time off Rory, go out and have some fun!”
The other boss in the room, sitting next to her – Gerald said, “Go and get drunk, get shagged rotten, grab a tattoo, disappear for 14 days and come back more refreshed!”
I walked out of the office that day thoroughly upset and confused. Why did they want me gone? What am l going to do? Where am l going to go? I had packed my briefcase and was walking down to the train station, thinking about the £700 in my pocket, when l walked past a travel agent, that had a picture of Dracula in the window and advertising it as The Dracula Tour. i was quite captivated by this image. I was also at the time writing for pulp magazines and comics horror stories and l was quite a keen horror buff.
“The Dracula Tour!” I said out loud, so loud that passer bys must have thought me quite unusual. I thought about that if l went home my Mother or my Father would probably want a good chunk of this money. As it was l paid my parents a large chunk of my money to live in the house in my old bedroom where l never used to pay anything when at school, and whilst l didn’t begrudge that as Mum said it was teaching me about money. I really didn’t want to have to hand over this little bundle.
“The Dracula Tour follows the history and the legends about Dracula, the infamous character of Bram Stoker. The tour starts in Bucharest, a city first mentioned in a written document by Dracula himself. On the way to Transylvania you’ll reach the real fortress of Vlad the Impaler and then, passing through Sibiu you’ll see many other place related to him such as the Corvin Castle, the medieval town of Sighisoara, his birth place, the Borgo Pass or the Bran Castle, the most visited tourist attraction of Romania”
It was 8 days travelling and 5 days in Mamaia beach resort and it was only going to cost me £300, which meant l could have spare money for spending and … that’s when the second idea struck me. I could desposit a fair chunk of this money into my bank and start saving up to move out!
I walked into the travel agent and simply said “Sign me up for The Dracula Tour please, l want to go to Romania!” Within the hour, l had paid for my trip and it was set up, the next morning a taxi would pick me up at home and whisk me off to the airport and by tomorrow afternoon l would be starting my adventure!
When l got home later than day, l simply walked in and said to my parents l was going on holiday for two weeks as of tomorrow and no one was going to stop me. I ran upstairs, threw my briefcase under the bed, grabbed a suitcase flung all sorts of stuff into it, got my passport, and in the space of an hour l was packed and raring to go! Over dinner l told my startled parents and my Sister l was starting my adventures from tomorrow.
Well my Mother wasn’t so impressed, l have to be honest and she started to kick up a fuss and said l would be kidnapped or killed, that l had no right without discussing things with them first, my Sister burst into fits of giggles which annoyed my Mother even more, but my Dad l will give him due, he simply said “Margaret, Rory is old enough to make these decisions by himself, if he is old enough to give his life for this country, then he’s old enough albeit slightly strange to be going on some kind of vampire holiday!”
It was settled then. Later that night my Dad came up and gave me a load of condoms for ‘Just in case moments’, even then l thought it odd that Dad had condoms just lying around. He gave me some advice too, he said to never place a condom on the outside pocket of my wallet as the circular shape could be seen by others and it gave the game away, again something l found odd?
However, the next day at 6am, the taxi picked me up and l was off to start my first real adventure by myself – what could possibly go wrong?
What could go wrong? Well, that is a line that should perhaps appear somewhere in my eulogy at my funeral, for the amount of times l have actually said it. There l was sitting in the taxi super excited that l was going to Romania on a Dracula Tour, starting to read my well thumbed copy of Bram Stoker’s famous book – Dracula – l figured l needed to be in the spirit of things. We didn’t have the Internet back then, so it wasn’t like l could just Google up Romania and get a feel for it. A horror buff doesn’t need to do things like that ..
The journey up to Heathrow was quite uneventful apart from the fact that it was actually pissing down in huge torrents. Once l arrived it didn’t take me that long before l gone through the terminal and was sitting in my departure lounge awaiting my flight.
Back then, l was more gregarious about life than l am today, l was definitely more social and l was always smiling. People liked me, l am not saying that people don’t like me now as l am still an affable fella, but l just don’t mix with a lot of people.
However, l am none too sure why but l have always been a magnet to some people, they see me and think ‘Oh yeah!! I am going to sit next to him!!” Which is exactly how l met The Squealer aka Liam Ratcatcher. You couldn’t miss him, he was dressed in a vibrant pink trouser suit and he seemed to shimmer as he walked through the terminal, and you could hear him approaching from a fair distance away. In fact it was his ‘squeal’ that l heard first before actually seeing him. I heard this strange laugh – well that’s an understatement, however the clip below is similiar but imagine it slightly higher pitched!
He was one of those people that you saw and instantly cringed at and looked the other way, and prayed that they didn’t sit next to you! But l have never been lucky like that!
You’re ahead of me, the squealer sat down right next to me. It was obviously irrelevant to him that there must have been twenty other seats he could have picked, but somehow he picked the seat next to me! I quickly brought my copy of Dracula up closer to my nose and prayed some more that he didn’t talk to me!
“Oooh hello, what’re you reading then??” he asked.[Think Kenneth Williams – NO really!!]
“Dracula.” I answered apprehensively.
“Oooh vampires, l say, nothing beats a good suck eh? Wink wink, nudge nudge.”
I looked at him incredulously, and realised that he was deadly serious in his humour, he kept winking at me and smiling. He had the most remarkable white teeth l had ever seen and his eyes actually glinted like some toothpaste commercial, l could almost see myself in the reflection. Well l didn’t know how to answer that and so simply smiled back and said with a slight giggle, “He he, well that ‘s what vampires do.”
Suddenly his hand was on my knee, and l most assuredly DID NOT know what to do with that.
“My name’s Liam, Liam Ratcatcher! What’s yours?”
“Really, your name is Ratcatcher, and spelled like it sounds?”
“Oh yes, except l spell my first name L.I.A.M, do you get what l have done there?”
“As in, ‘I Am Ratcatcher?’ I asked.
“Yes!” he squealed in delight. “Do you know why it’s so clever?”
“No, why is it so clever?”
“Because l am in pest control, l changed it so that it would read like that. I am 28 and gay by the way, how about you?”
“How about me what? As in, am l gay?”
“Oh no silly, l know you aren’t gay, unless you’re not out of the proverbial closet yet. No, what’s your name and what do you do?”
So l told him who l was and what l did for a living.
“And where are you going then, anywhere exciting?”
“Yeah, l am going on a Dracula tour in Romania.”
It was the squeal l somehow knew l was going to hear, that gave it all away. Once he had finished squealing loud enough for everyone in every terminal to hear us he said “Oh is that why you are reading the book then, what a strange coincidence!!”
“What? Coincidence, what do you mean coincidence?” I asked, l might actually be wong.
“So am l, 13 days away in Romania! Who knew that fate would throw us together like this?”
But l wasn’t wrong. “Wow, that is, is, is just so brilliant, we are going to be holiday buddies!”
“Oooh l know, are you excited about it?”
“Yeah, l am over the moon. Do you think you might remove your hand from my thigh Liam, it was on my knee originally?”
“Oh sorry, people say l have wandering hands, it must have just slipped up with all the excitement! Liam smiled at me grinning and laughing and squealing at the same time!
During our conversation, two girls had sat down next to Liam, one of them had a copy of Dracula in her hands, and l just knew they were also on the tour, they were called Sally and Molly and were best friends, who worked in a library in Epsom, and this was their first holiday together as best buddies. They were 22 and 24 respectively, and had known each other since they were 12, and their families had always gone away on holidays together but this would be their first adventure!
Liam couldn’t help squealing his glee, “And now we are four!” He grew on you as a person, and l actually liked Liam a lot, he was good fun if you could ignore the squeal and after a while it was just kind of infectous and whilst l wasn’t squealing, l was laughing at his antics and so too were Sally and Molly who were also really funny, considering that they were librarians and at their own concession said they were funniest two in the library in comparison to the others who were dull!
Before we boarded our flight five other people joined us, there was Mitchell and his wife Gloria and their Daughter Hannah, and John and his girlfriend Tina. The nine of us were going to Romania on the Dracula tour, that we knew about so far and when we boarded and sat in our seats we discovered we were all clumped together. Another two ladies joined us in their 70’s, keen and astute horror buffs and ghost hunters alike and believe it or not twin Sisters and spinsters to boot – Dana and Dolly! We were now eleven! That was the tour group! I was lucky enough to be sitting next to the window with Liam to my immediate right and Molly next to him.
When l had arrived at Heathrow, it had still been raining hard. It was like that when we boarded the plane and it was like that when we were taxing down the runway preparing to take off and the only time it wasn’t grey and dismal was when we went through the clouds and l suddenly shouted out …
“Oh look it’s blue up here above the clouds??!” With a huge broad smile across my face, and suddenly all of our group was quiet, and some of the plane too and they just hard looked me and then Liam said “Oh Rory, you are so funny, who doesn’t know that? “
I laughed and joked and said l was kidding and we set off towards Romania and the Dracula tour!
You know l am supposed to be an intelligent guy, but l never let on that l DIDN’T know that!!
I have to be honest and say that l have been on better flights to Europe since the flight we took to Romania in 1983. It wasn’t bad in flight service, but it was a little bumpy at times and Mitchell said that it might’ve had something to do with Romania having to pay in cash every time they landed in London for their fuel due to the ecconomy problems in Romania and a very low credit score, and maybe they hadn’t got enough or they had bought low grade or something which didn’t help any of us especially at one time when the Captain said “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing ‘boompy time’ hold on to your seats!!”
Thankfully and finally we landed at Mihail Kogălniceanu International Airport which was apparently not far from our first destination of Mamaia, the beach resort on the Romanian Black Sea. It was at the time considered to be a top notch holiday resort. Lake Siutghiol sat behind it and we were all going to be in a ‘very good four star’ hotel according to the various travel agents and paperwork we had neatly piled in our laps.
Once we landed, and retrieved our luggage and got through everything all eleven of us were standing in the terminal completely oblivious to the next step – which should have been ‘Being met by the Dracula tour guide’. Who was already late and would not turn up for another two hours. So we all sat down, got ourselves some coffee and waited, and waited, and waited.
I have to concede to being somewhat uncomfortable during this wait time, purely because l don’t think l had ever seen so many armed guards, police and military in my life in one area and all looking very grim and sullen faced, and ‘ready. By ready, l mean ready for anything that wasn’t supposed to be there. They didn’t wear any smiles just an assortment of black uniforms and very black and lethal looking guns. Liam in his unusually and overly vibrant pink trousersuit with his impossible squeal laughter and the most unusual giggle l have ever heard uttered from a human being, the closest l could relate it to was a seriously deranged walrus was all smiles and winks at these tough looking guards and l swear at one point all of us were going to be shot, such was the glare from a couple of these guards who kept walking past us and on every swing getting closer to our location.
“Oh this is just silly” Liam suddenly burst out to us all,“We are on holiday afterall, we are holiday makers they must see hundreds of thousands of them every year, l am going to speak to them!”
Molly said quite truthfully l think, “Yes maybe so Liam, but maybe not like you dear, l mean you are not just subdued pink, you are dressed in hot pink! It’s not like well, welcoming is it?”
“What’s wrong with pink Molly, l happen to love pink, this is the 80’s you know, anything goes!” He snapped back.
“Well maybe everywhere except here Liam!” Sally quietly whispered, “Don’t cause them to become angry, maybe Rory should go?”
“What? Me? Oh no, no, no, no, no, sorry nope, no way Sally, l have a tendency to upset people just by looking at them, l am not a good choice, send Mitchell!”
“I am not going, l am quite happy to wait matey, l’m good.”
Liam, suddenly bent doen, pulled me upright to a standing position, looped his arm through mine and we sort of half walked half skipped over to the nearest pair of glum looking machine gun wielding guards and said “Oh l say hello, do you speak English? wonder if you can help us?”
The guy we were talking to was close to six and a half feet tall, he was a monster of a man, my Dad would have said built like a brick shit house as a way of describing this fella! He just looked at us and l thought “OMG we are going to die on the first day of our holiday!”
Liam, l learned in the first thirty seconds of conversation to this brute was absolutely shameless in his behaviour! “Oh l say, that is such a weapon, so big, so shiny, l do like a man with a big weapon Bet you know how to use it too?”
“What you want, go sit, go away. Don’t touch gun!!!”
The other guard was suddenly smiling and laughing at me a lot and winking, what was going on l was thinking. WHY me, why always ME?? But Liam took advantage of that and suddenly thrust the paperwork under his eyes. The second guards’ eye lit up, mumbled something to the first guard who then let out a massive bellow of a laugh! “Oh you Kustov, he spooky vampire man, he your guide! He drinking, he be here soon, all how you say it …?”
With that the guard made out he was drunk, and lifting his hands up to his mouth and pretending to drink and swagger around and laughing! “Good luck, he drive you? You need good luck, he .. how you say this ‘dement!’ With that he made the sign for someone being crazy!
“Kustov is crazy, are you saying our guide is crazy?” I ask shocked.
“Ya, yes, he is crazy, big crazy man, always drink, crazy and laughing like crazy, drink and drive is Kustov, and crazy. Good luck, have fun in Romania!”
With that the pair of them walked off laughing and taking sideward glances at us, leaving Liam and myself looking at each other with more than a little uncertainty.
“Ooher Rory, did he say our guide is crazy and drunk all the time?” Liam asked.
“Yeah, l think so, probably joking though, l mean the travel agents wouldn’t send us to Romania to go driving with some crazy rep would they?”
“Oh l don’t know, have you seen some of those Spanish reps? They are really crazy, cute, but crazy all the same!”
“Oy you two pair of clowns!” Mitchell shouted out to Liam and myself, “Our ride is here, funny looking fella, l swear he is drunk!”
Liam and l turned around to look at our group, and there was the oddest man l have ever seen! Kustov probably only stood around five foot, if ‘IF‘ that. He reminded me of one of The Krankies, the small one. He was also the same width as his height, he looked like a really colourful ball with legs! He was wearing a bright luminous green baseball cap with a pair of yellow vampire teeth on the peak, shorts that were either too long or trousers that were too short, l couldn’t determine WHAT they were, but they were bright red and he had a belt around them, done up too tight, so it looked like the shorts/trousers were fighting for their breath on his stomach! But it was his shirt, Hawaiian doesn’t even come close, and if it did, it was like it had a fight with a kaleidoscopic vomit festival whilst on the merry- go- round!! His hair was strange as well as it covered most of his face and the only thing that were really showing were his eyes the hair beneath the cap looked like a mad professor that changed his mind during a haircut!
“Oh l say what is that??” Liam whispered actually sounding quite concerned.
“Kustov our guide for the Dracula tour!” I answered equally as quiet, “Worrying isn’t it?”
We walked back to the group, and the thing that got to me first was a mixture of really bad body odour and drink, l don’t know what drink it was, but it was pure 100% alcohol what ever it was!
“Hel hic lo everyone, l am Kustov, your Drac hic ula guide for your holiday in Rommmania – Welcome!!”
With that Mitchell gathered up his family, and his luggage and flew out the door of the terminal and started shouting “Taxi, Taxi TAXI!!”
Kustov completely unfazed by this, simply swept us all up and herded us all outside to his van, which was actually quite smart for a Volkswagon campervan, if you didn’t mind the fact that it was bright pink [yes pink!] and covered in vampire bats!
“Oh hot pink, this is my colour, so, so, so, so my colour!” Liam exclaimed to us all and got in through the side door, all thoughts of ‘drunk and crazy’ suddenly unimportant!
With us all in the van, with the exception of Mitchell and his family who were nowhere to be seen, in fact l wouldn’t see them again until we were leaving Romania at the end of the holiday. The hiccupping Kustov got into the drivers seat and with a few more hics and a couple of belches, a back fire, a few loud farts and a sneeze we left the airport on our way to Mamaia!
Our holiday was just about to start!
How we survived the drive to the hotel is beyond me, it was like a roller coaster ride through hell. I am thankful that there wasn’t much traffic on the road [In truth in ’83, there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the roads] which is just as well. Kustov when not hiccupping and burping or farting, seemingly had three hands, and all of them were in the air as he gesticulated wildly explaining how we would have so much fun, and we were his third tour this year. That he was surprised about how many complaints he got and yet he still had travel agents send him new people for the tour!
He, when not waving his arms around his head, was pointing to the left and to the right and mentioning landmarks and yet when we looked all we could really see were either a plain house or an empty road, or an abandoned car, so were a little dumbfounded as to what exactly were ‘were’ supposed to be looking at.
Our party which had begun at a relatively strong eleven was now down to 8. John and his girlfriend were looking quite concerned as to whether they were going to see the next day let alone simply survive the frantic erraticness of Kustov’s driving and were muttering about finding alternative arrangements. Liam was in his element and was taking regular sips of whatever it was that was within Kustov’s ‘hip’ flask, l say hip reticently because it was to all purposes basically a flask for hot drinks filled to the brim with whatever Kustov was on himself, and was becoming quite tipsy!
Dana [pronounced Dayna] and Dolly were very calm and easy and kept on saying to everyone that they had lived a life of plenty so if they died today, they had lived a good innings! Whilst Sally and Molly were like me clinging on to anything they could hold that wasn’t actually moving with the ever increasing speed of the campervan! They looked terrified!
Within the space of perhaps 45 minutes we had arrived at the ‘4 star hotel’, and upon arrival, l quickly got out my brochure and looked at the picture and realised pretty damn quick that Kustov was at the wrong hotel.
“This isn’t the hotel advertised in the brochure?” I said to Kustov as we landed to a complete stop throwing everyone forwards by two feet, resulting with Liam kissing the front screen!
“No? Is it not? Are you sure? look again, look over there.” He said pointing to another hotel, which ‘was’ the hotel in the picture.
“Oh is that our hotel then?” Molly asked.
“No, but it is close to this hotel, yes?” Kustov answered laughing.
Everyone exchanged looks and then l asked Kustov, “So that hotel, is NOT our hotel, and is only in the picture because our hotel is close to it? Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes, no need for a different photo when l had picture of that hotel. This is my brother’s hotel, nicer, smaller, comfier! Yes??”
The hotel owned by Kustov’s brother “Enganov”, was much smaller than the other hotel, and just looked terribly sad and glum. It was bland in colour, a sort of off white with funny holes in the walls?”
Kustov seeing me look at these holes, quipped, “Bullet holes for effect, you like yes?”
“So they are not real bullet holes then?”
“Yes of course they are real, l shot wall. Tourists from England like to see them, yes?”
“Not really Kustov, not really at all!” I answered becoming a little more alarmed than l had been whilst speeding through the streets with a drunken driver who adopted the no hands policy whilst driving at 60mph!
“Oh, you’re the first who doesn’t like them.”
“Kustov!! Finally, you are here!” If l thought Kustov was big, l was wrong, another fellow presumably his brother rolled out of the front doors followed by a small entourage of people who were all smiling like lunatics and waving at us! Looking at the pair of them together as they embraced l couldn’t help but think of Tweedledum and Tweedledee!
Liam, was finding the whole thing rather quaint l feel, as he grinned like the Cheshire cat and expressed how much he loved this community thing already.
Everyone grabbed our bags and ushered us into the large and spacious lobby with its shiny marble floors, and l have to be honest and say the inside of the building was more pleasant than the outside. There was a brightly lit bar, a small shop, a fully armed security guard [alarming], a breakfast area off to the right and a rather grand looking staircase leading to the upper floors to the left.
We were each given a small coffee, and then we were walked up to our rooms. Now when l had booked my holiday, l was told l would have a single to myself, but now l was told l would have to share.
“Share? With who?” I stammered.
“Who do you want to share with?” Enganov asked. “You want woman to share with you, l can find willing woman for a little extra?”
“No! I was told and l booked and paid for a single room, with en-suite bathroom.” I said worried that l might end up who knows what.
Liam, suddenly chided “Oooh Rory, where is you sense of adventure?”
“No, no, no. There are eight of you, figure it out between yourselves, each of the rooms has single beds. Share with whoever you want.”
John and Tina by this time were looking reeeeally angry and suddenly John had this sort of mini tantrum. It was the first time he had actually spoken to anyone except Tina since Heathrow. “We booked a double bedroom, with en-suite facilities and a balcony terrace. That’s what we want, now!”
Enganov looked genuinely upset and hurt by this and looked at his brother, and l thought he was going to burst into tears. “You NO like my family hotel, you think you are better than us?”
John quite taken aback by this stood down, “No, l am just saying that this isn’t what we paid for, and that is what we want. What we paid for.”
“You want fancy hotel, fancy 4 star hotel, not nice 2 star hotel?”
Tina, who l hadn’t actually heard say a thing and reminded me of a mouse, didn’t stand down, and suddenly became as fierce as a tiger suddenly blurted out “YES!!”
“Ok, how about l give you the honeymoon suite, it is nice and has everything you want and more, nice view of lake, television, music and big, big, big much bigger bed? You do all sorts in that!”
“What? Do all sorts in the bed?” Asked John
“No! Bed thing things, your thing, not my things, l mean room, big room, do what you want in big room. For a few more lei, that is all l ask or dollars or pounds, and it’s yours.”
“We have already paid over the odds!” Tina snapped.
“Alright, ok, have it, you only here for a few days, but don’t use more towels than you need to otherwise that is extra!” Enganov snapped.
“No, we will book ourselves into a different hotel, the hotel over the road, the hotel advertised in this brochure!!” Tina snapped once more shoving the leaflet into his face, and with that John and Tina grabbed their luggage off the porters and stormed down the stairs and out of the hotel! We didn’t see them again until our flight home!
“Ooooh l say, how exciting, it’s like an Agatha Christie novel isn’t it? Now there are six!” Liam giggled. “Anyway more off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard?”
Enganov stood his full height and said to the rest of us. “You want to go as well? Not have Dracula tour, not spend time with my family?”
“No, l am good, l will share with Liam. What’s the worse than can happen?” I answered just wanting to stop all this funny business and get into the room. I needed a wee really badly!
“Oooh Rory, it’ll be so much fun, midnight cuddles, parties, frolics, l will not let you down!” Liam answered with big smiles and came over and gave me a big hug and patted me on my bottom!
Molly and Sally, Dana and Dolly, all went to their bedrooms and we agreed to meet for dinner later on that night in the restaurant. Whilst Liam and l were shown into our our own twin bedded.
Working in the catering industry as l was back then and having done my fair share of stints in hotels, l was most assuredly not disappointed with the rooms. They were very smart, they were clean and tidy, they had a television and music, the beds were very comfortable. Ironically, had John and Tina stayed they would not have been disappointed. Liam and l had a terrace balcony that over looked the Black Sea and the beach. We had en suite facilities of a bath and a shower and a working toilet. We had towels and we had all the comforts that we would need for a five day stay.
Admittedly the television showed mostly news and local news at that and when Liam turned it on, he just looked blankly at me and l him, and switched it off again. We unpacked and had a fresh coffee on our balcony and looked at Mamaia which was basically just one, long, long stretch of fairly white sandy beach and an expanse of hotels for as far as the eye could see either way.
“Oh well, this might be exciting, admittedly Spain has a bit more going for it, but it’s later in the day and the sun isn’t shining, tomorrow is another day Rory.”
We showered, changed and at 7pm went down the stairs for dinner and met with the remaining four ‘vampirettes’ as Liam had now nicknamed them.
Dinner was a small affair, some cold meats, some salad and lots of wine. We all had a good laugh, but admittedly retired early for the night due to tiredness and after having agreed we would all meet up tomorrow and ‘Hit the beach!’ as Liam coined it.
“After all we are on holiday!” He chimed in as we all went off down the corridor.
Our first night sharing a room, l think was the most hellish night of my life! Liam had a particular ritual he followed religiously before turning off the light, he had to have a hot bath each night, followed by a freezing cold shower, as this opened up his pores. He applied creams and lotions, after the shower to make his skin supple, he brushed his hair back, forwards and sidewards and applied a ‘sleep time gel’, so his head could be aroused and aware of all sensations. He then insisted on 15 minutes worth of yoga, followed by 100 press ups, and a further 20 minutes of what he described as ‘free the body freedom dance movement!’ A coffee before lights out and he was ready for sleep.
He even suggested sharing a shower with a wink and a laugh to save water! Just warned me that if l was to bend over to retrieve the fallen soap ‘”should he accidentally drop it”‘ l would become fair game, and looking at my face, laughed so hard l thought he was going to choke!
He assured me that his first time in a new hotel room was usually his quietest as he had to attune into his surroundings, and so he wouldn’t talk that much that first night and true to his word, we perhaps only shared five sentences before he switched off the light but not before he retrieved his teddy bear from a special case within his overly large suitcase, gave it a kiss and waved goodnight to me!
I normally slept in the nude as was, however seeing that this was also normal behaviour for Liam, l declined my routine and wore boxers and he just looked at me and winked!
Liam was a snorer, a loud one at that! He also punched his pillows within an inch of their fluffy lives, not only was Liam in flavour for sleeping in the nuddy, he also preferred to sleep with no quilt and only a thin sheet for covering. After the goodnight wave, within thirty seconds Liam was snoring, and loudly at that. If l thought his squeal was loud, l was sorely mistaken!
I lay there for the first couple of hours that night thinking back on the day wondering how only the previous day l had been questioning the sanity of my boss for making me go on holiday, and now l was a mere three feet away from another friendly lunatic who was now no longer snoring but talking in his sleep about hair dyes and blowdrys! To cap it ALL, not only did he sleeptalk, but sleep laughed!
Oh good grief, what had l booked as a holiday?
My eyes stirred from my slumber, and l was just about to stretch when l nearly shed my skin in fright ...”Mooooooooooorning hunny buns, how did you sleep?” Liam yelled at me from his position on my bed where he was propped up on his left elbow looking at me!
“Liam, what the …?”
“No, Rory you answer with morning Boobles how are you?”
“What?” I answered groggily, “Who is Boobles?”
“Me, that’s my nickname, what’s yours, everyone has a nickname?”
“I don’t have a nickname Liam.”
“Oh yes you do, come on what is it, l won’t tell anyone, promise Scous honour.”
After five minutes of his unrelenting whining l finally gave in, “Ok, my parents used to call me Snagglepuss, you know after the cartoon of the same name?”
“Oooh l like that, l shall call you Snaggles, because it reminds me of snuggles and everyone loves snuggles don’t they. Do want a snuggly cuddle now?”
“No Liam, l don’t, but thank you for the very kind offer, maybe another time ok?”
“I will hold you to that, oh by the way l see you are awake already in other areas!!” With that he swung off the side of the bed and went to make coffees for us both leaving me looking at my …
“Do you want sugar or are you already sweet enough?”
“Liam, is this like an act, or are you always this chirpy chirpy cheerful in the mornings?”
“Yep, l certainly am, are you not a morning person Rory? Or are you more of a night owl?”
“The latter in truth, because of my work, most of my days tend to just merge into one another, but l work a lot of nights, early morning, late shifts, early shifts. I don’t really know what day it is until a day off.”
Liam chortled, “Well l think that is quite possibly the saddest thing l have ever heard in my life! You so needed this holiday and by the sounds of it you need a good rogering to boot!”
“What?? Now listen Liam, l really do like you but not that way.”
“Oh you silly boy, l like you too and a lot, but you are not my type. I thought you would have figured that out when l was talking to the guards yesterday. I like my men big and all muscle and no brain, way less questions and awkwardness. No, l mean we have to get you shagged silly by a woman! However, now is not the time, for today is ‘Hit The Beach Time’, let’s go downstairs for breakfast, meet with the girls and plan our day!”
We got dressed and we were about to leave, l had to ask him, “Seriously Liam, are you really going to wear that .. out?”
We met all the girls downstairs at around 8.30am, and everyone looked to be in fine spirits. Dana, Dolly, Sally and Molly all looked at Liam in, well l am not totally sure whether it was admiration or disbelief, but as he skipped into the dining area, the girls were NOT the only ones to stop talking.
“Oh Liam, that is just so, so, … mm, colourfully unique!” Dolly said at last as we were sitting down to the table.
Liam had decided to wear for that ‘day’, l say this as he had a unique outfit for everyday of the week when on holiday and he had spent at least an hour pondering on what to wear for his ensemble for that morning alone before we had left the room! Bright yellow shorts, a bright orange oversized tee shirt with a big smiling face on the front and a huge green sombrero, with what l call Larry Grayson sunglasses and bright blue deck shoes! To say he struck a pose was an understatement, l felt completely overdressed in khaki trousers and a blue polo shirt, and a pair of Speedy Duck laceups!
“Morning everyone!!” He screeched at not just our table but the entire cafeteria! Everyone just looked, although the kids found him funny and laughed and smiled, and some of the adults sort of smiled, you know as one does when they are embarrased for someone else?
Once the commotion was over, Liam didn’t hesitate in proceeding to munch through anything and everything going with regards to food. I don’t honestly know where he was putting it. He was a skinny rake with hollow legs l figured as he polished off lashings of cold ham, slices of cheese, baskets of bread, juice, coffee, water, fruit and even managed to squeeze in a bowl of fruit loops!
“Breakfast is the best meal of the day Rory, always remember that. As they say a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!” And if Liam was anything to go by, the hotel’s chef was sure to love him.”
All told, we actually had a really good breakfast and the six of us managed to spend well over two hours in the cafeteria enjoying each other’s company before were kicked out by the staff, we all had funny stories to share and it was a good laugh. If honest, that hotel was by far quite possibly the best part of Mamaia in 1983 for the five days that we spent there, as that’s is where we were for almost 80% of our stay.
I thoroughly liked the other five members of our tour, Dana and Dolly, were well travelled sisters and were filled with intriguing and interesting stories from all over the world. Molly and Sally, it turned out had both been dumped by their boyfriends within weeks of each other coming on holiday, had worked in the library from leaving school and surprisingly enough were also filled to the brim with entertaining stories of the goings on between not just the pages of the books but also rather shockingly between the aisles to boot!
Liam was the funniest person l had met to date and l have met some really funny people over the years, he had for a while been a holiday rep in Spain and Greece and although he was a rat catcher by day, he also ran his own mobile hairdressers in the evenings and weekends. He laughed so hard when he reccounted the tale of telling me his name was Liam Ratchcatcher and oh how gullible l was to believe him? The truth was that he had changed his middle name by Deed Poll to reflect Ratcatcher,and showed me his two business cards to prove it. “I Am Ratcatcher” for the pest control side and Liam Preston for his hairdressing side. Preston being his ‘real’ surname.
“Why are you literal at times Snaggles?” He would oft ask of me, for me to reply always the same, “I hear that a lot Boobles, l don’t know why?”
So yes, the real fun for all of us, was in fact in the hotel of the cousins Enganov and Kustov. The food, the bar, breakfast, dinner and lunch, the people and the night life inside that hotel. We got to know each other all really well, over those five days. We ate together and got drunk together and for the very first time in a long time l felt truly relaxed.
As to Mamaia and our stay on the ‘popular holiday resort and beach’ l hear you ask? Well more tomorrow!
Mamaia was NOT what l had been led to believe it was by the travel agent back in Guildford! But l was long past believing anything anymore when it came to expectations in truth. However, one must adapt, and that is not me being terribly Britsish as l am not terribly British to begin with. Having spent most of my younger formulative years in countries a far cry from England, l have never classed myself as a Boy of Blighty. But l simply learned to adapt, it was easier and less stressful.
I was sharing my room with a gay hairdresser and who was so camp tents could have been named after him! Who caught rats during the day, who slept with a teddy bear that was bigger than his pillows, who had the most bizarre sense of fashion dress l had ever encountered, and had the most astounding sense of adventure l had ever known outside literature! He humour was truly keen and his awareness of making people laugh was incredibly lovable and endearing, and to boot l liked him.
I liked the fact that we called each other Boobles and Snaggles, l didn’t actually mind the inuendoes because they were not delivered with any malice but purely for a laugh, and it was good to be able to talk to someone about anything who wouldn’t judge and critique and Liam taught me a lot and helped me improve as a person, and l had to admire him for that. He was able to bolster my confidence in ways that l couldn’t. He helped me harness my power to make people laugh by simply allowing myself to be me, because he said l was a natural.
He didn’t two hoots about imperfections and quirks and said he was in no position to judge another, so he accepted everybody for who they were. Now l was the same, l think what Liam also taught me was to not become embarrassed so easily, and that advice he offered me in 1983, was a recipe for success throughout my life.
He wasn’t just a funny guy, he was a hilariously funny bloke who loved life and all the adventures and mishaps that it could throw at him. He was an excellent teacher whether his learnings were deliberate or not, he left an impression on people and in an excellently brilliant way. His solid advice was always think differently which fitted in with my way of thinking back then, and long, long before l knew of my Asperger’s or autism, the way he voiced it was simply be who you were and if that meant you were unique then live with it as it was your gift to the world.
That first morning as we six sat there looking out at the beach of the resort of Mamaia, it was pissing it down, it was grey and murky and otherwise really awful, but that wasn’t going to stop Liam oh no, after breakfast we all agreed to meet in half an hour and have a walk around the resort itself and see what was what.
What we discovered when walking around was quite alarming, and something that l wasn’t particularly aware of personally until my holiday in Romania and that was the poverty elements at that time. Having not returned to Romania since 1983, l have no idea what it is like now. But there was a huge saddening distinctive line between the holidayers and those who lived there.
We saw women with huge brooms sweeping the streets in pairs, everywhere we looked there were old women sweeping the streets between the hotels themselves. we walked past a local shop and noticed just how threadbare the shelves were in comparison to where we had come from, and when you see this, it stops you dead in your tracks and makes you really appreciate what you have.
All the hotels had shops, and these shops were stocked high with produce. Coffee, tea, biscuits, tobacco, alcohol, sweets and all sorts. Even hotel as a two star had a shop, and whilst ours was not a huge shop, some of the other hotels had massive shops, and yet in the local shops, very little, and the little there was, was ‘extortionately expensive’ for what it was!
People would come up to us and offer us lots of money to buy things from the hotel shops and sell to them, which l found really sad. Many a time buyers would offer you way over the odds of the hotel price so you made something for yourself, which l couldn’t do. yet many holday makers would take the locals money and buy them what they needed and pocket the rest.
No way was l, or for that matter Liam and the rest of us going to take part in that kind of life. If we were approached we would ask what they wanted and buy what they wanted and give them the change and if honest it broke me to see how very grateful they were for ‘your honesty’, and yet what l would simply class as the given. This being, don’t cheat people! Not surprisingly, Kustov was a black marketeer who made a very tidy sum out of his lucrative trade!
Before we left the resort the six of us had picthed in to buy our hotel maids a big box of goodies which included chocolate, coffee, sweets for their kids, milk, shampoos and a host of other bits and pieces for them as a way of a thank you.
As a resort, l wasn’t impressed with Mamaia of 1983, and l say that specifically, because it must be very different now and a quick look at Google Maps alone confirms that it is indeed a very different location, 35 years later. I was however impressed that on the couple of bus rides l took and talking to the local children as young as seven travelling to school was astonished that most of them knew a minimum six languages including English. I am astonished because currently in this country kids struggle to simply speak their native tongue at that age, and it was no different in 1983!
I think of the five days we stayed in Mamaia, we perhaps spent half a day in total on the beach and only then because of that was the only sunny time, the rest of our days there were wet!
Back then the beaches were barren places and only really, stretches of sand coastlining to the Black Sea itself. Nothing was there, just sand, and people milling around or sunbathing, and they even did that when it rained!? Liam did his best to enthuse, and was very good at getting the spirits lifted with attempts at raising volleyball teams, tag matches, beach tennis, ping pong inside the hotel, karaoke and the what nots. He even organised with Kustov a murder night!
I wasn’t going to be sad leaving the resort, l was really looking forwards to ‘Dracula Tour’ part to the holiday, which would be starting from the very next day. There would only six of us taking it, as the other five members of our tour had completely changed their plans and had opted for cruises and the such like.
However, Liam, Sally, Molly, Dana, Dolly and myself found ourselves on our last night in Mamaia and listening to Kustov explain to us that was a huge party on at his friends four star hotel down the road and we were invited!
Liam agreed on our behalf that we’d all go, and it was only on the way upstairs that he then told us it was a fancy dress! After five days with Liam, you just said ‘Sure why not? What’s the worst that could happen?”
I should’ve known!
“What ON earth are you wearing Liam?” I asked in astonishment.
Liam after spending nearly an hour in the bathroom came out wearing what l can only describe as a skin tight flesh coloured cat suit or leotard, pink tutu and on his shins brightly coloured fluffy yoga socks and plimsoles! Add to that image he had suddenly devloped breasts and long golden hair?
“I am a yoga teacher!” he answered tartly.
“But why the tutu?” I asked still trying to recover from the transformation, “And why the breasts?”
“Because l am a female teacher and they have boobies, and l am versatile which is why l am wearing the tutu!” He answered with a huge broad grin! “I have also got your outfit sorted out and you will not have to change from what you are wearing, which by the way, whilst you look smart, you are kind of boring. But l guess that is what comes from a young manager in catering who has no real life outside of work. However l will not tell you what it is till we get to the hotel.”
Liam and l had had the discussion concerning the party, that whilst l didn’t mind going l had nothing fancy nor dressy to wear and so l had opted for a nice pair of dark blue chinos and a casual yellow shirt, completed with my Speedy Ducks.
“Snaggles, you need to loosen up a bit and you have done remarkably well this week, but wouldn’t it be nice if you let your hair down a bit, how are we going to get you shagged if you are always so ‘prim?”
“Have you thought that maybe l don’t need to be shagged?”
“Oh come on! 20 and still a virgin, are we still in Victoriana London or something? I don’t think so, l lost mine at 15! Whilst that may have been too young, it was still better than you!”
“With a girl?”
“Yes with a girl! As it happens, l liked both until perhaps 18 months ago, when l decided against swinging that way as well, and opted for just one way. However, my motto is never say never! So whilst l like hunky men, it doesn’t mean that if some absolutely stunning creature walks my way and winks l am NOT going to say ‘Oh no, l can’t! Sex is sex and l happen to like sex however it comes, excuse the pun!”
“Well l am not hyper focused on it.”
“Oh yeah, yeah heard that line before, sex my friend is like pandora’s box, once it’s opened, you might think you want to close it, but you may never close it. Now l understand Dana and Dolly being too old, but there is nothing wrong with Molly or Sally, and they both like you! But you, well everytime they make a pass at you you miss all the clues?? Are you blind? They both like you and play your cards right and hey presto ‘ménage à trois’ could be yours!”
“Manage what?” I asked somewhat baffled what Liam was on about.
“A threesome, you know them and you, oh la la!” He answered laughing.
“Right, l see, mm, well l think you’ll find that they are just being friendly, and they have just split up from relationships, wouldn’t seem right, you know?”
“No l don’t know actually, anyway, whatever, l am ready, you are ready, let’s go and see what the evening brings!”
With that we both walked out of the door and headed off downstairs to meet up with the girls.
Downstairs l was met with an interesting combination of’fancy dress’ outfits, the two sisters were each carrying a book and an apple, upon enquiring what they were going as they answered with ‘book worms?’ Liam, found it highly amusing, whilst Sally and Molly had slapdashed themselves up as hookers supposedly. I just thought they both looked rather nice, and it looked no different to the usual attire l was used to seeing girls dress up in for a night out on the town, so l had to ask where was the difference? To be met with, “We simply applied more makeup than usual!”
However all four were very impressed with Liam’s outfit, and not so impressed with mine, apart from echoes of what Liam himself had said of looking smart but a bit boring, very geek like.
“Well l am a bit of a geek actually, why l don’t just go as a geek then?”
“Well there’s no difference to normal then Rory is there?” Molly answered.
“Panic not ladies, l have Rory’s outfit here with me now!” Liam said and almost like magic produced a condom. “Come with me Master Matier over to my office here.” With that comment he led me by my arm to the lobby desk and asked one of the staff for some tape. Then he opened the packet, took out a bright pink condom, and armed with the sellotape proceeded to stick the condom to my nose!
“What are you doing??” I asked horrified with my nose now taped down and sounding quite nasaly.
“Fuck knows!” He answered laughing.
“What? Fuck nose? I asked totally bewildered.
“Yeah, fuck knows as in no one knows what you have gone as, so with a condom on your nose, it’s fuck knows!” He was practically on his knees with this humour but so too were the girls all laughing!
“You are joking right?” I asked attemting to pull the silly thing off.
“Oh no Rory, keep it on, it is very witty and does look very funny!” Insisted Dolly.
And so, l tagged along with the other five to go to a fancy dress party dressed up as ‘Fuck Nose!”
Well l have to be honest and say that the fancy dress night wasn’t a let down in so far as it being a proper party, loud music, karaoke, dancing, lots of people in an assortment of colourful costumes, flashing lights, the smell of ganja in the air, filled with smoke. At that time in my life l was actually a pipe smoker [yeah l know like WTF a pipe?]
Even then, once more not really knowing about the spectrum l did find it all a bit too much noise wise, l liked music and l loved it loud, but in the hotel there must’ve been close to 300 people, and l was kind of freaking at the sheer volume of party goers. However as it turned out Liam, Sally and Molly were quite large drinkers so they weren’t that long after arrival that they held the typical ‘holding the bar up’ pose, whilst Dana, Dolly and myself were not. Didn’t mind a bit of this and a slug of that.
Liam l learned loved cocktails, the more colourful the better, the more prettier and covered in paraphernalia it was the more riskier he became with the next one. Unbrellas, mint leaves, baubles, cherries, candied rims, the works. How he didn’t lose an eye is beyond me, never mind just a toothpick up in his nose! The three of them were going to leave the party as drunk as donkeys! I was in admiration of his drinking ability, l really was, he could down six of his funny cocktails in the space of time it took me to down a single one.
Plus he was in his element, he was dancing, singing, groping and being groped back by everyone and anyone, he didn’t seem to mind, but so too were Molly and Sally! I didn’t have that kind of confidence. Of course in 1983, l never realised that in a mere four years time, l would change into a completely different person, however l wasn’t that person yet. I wasn’t a prude at twenty, but l was very shy despite having some confidence with people, albeit smaller groups. I wasn’t an overly active nightclub person, l was more used to working behind the scenes than intermingling with the night life throng.
Dana and Dolly actually ended up having a couple of cocktails each and then actually managed to find somewhere to sit down with their books and apples and promptly read and ate them!
Liam and the girls had disappeared but l soon spotted them all up on the stage dancing like there was no tomorrow. Liam was pole dancing, and wasn’t that bad admittedly, whilst being clapped on by the crowds!
The two sisters came and told me at around half ten, that they were going to go and pack ready for departure tomorrow when we were due to start the actual Dracula tour part of the holiday and wanted to be bright eyed and bushy tailed. Once they had gone, l was sat there twiddling my thumbs thinking what the hell do l do?
It was then, that this chap came and sat down next to me smiling in a mischevious kind of way? I could tell he was a little worse for wear as he swaggered and swayed when he sat down on the couch beside me.
“Hello there matey, l saw you sitting here all by lonesome and l thought, mm that young man has something l would like.” He slurred.
I looked at this chap and gulped, and thought ‘oh great really??’
“Listen, um, well l ‘m not really, l mean thanks and all, but l am not …”
The chap looked me and laughed hard! Suddenly leaning really close to my face and then with his right hand he got closer to my face and ‘riiiippp’ he tore off the condom on my nose!! “I can see, you will not be needing this tonight, but l have a use for it right now!” His elbow nudged me hard in the ribs, and tossing his head over to his left he pointed out none other than Molly!!!
“You can have it back once l am done if you want?” He roared and off he sauntered, taking Molly by the waist and they disappeared into the crowd.
“Great, now my costume has been swiped!” I said thoroughly disgruntled. “I have had enough,l am going back to the hotel to pack!” I said to no one in particular and quickly exited the hotel, walked across the street, and somewhere in the distance l heard Liams’ crazy laugh with an added “OOOh l say, l do like my men big!! Is that a banana or what …?” Followed by a squealing cackle!
I don’t know what time it was when Liam got back that night or even early the next morning, however l heard him come in, swagger and bump into all the furniture, l heard the soft rustling of clothing being discarded in a heavy handed manner and then an enormous crash on the bed!
“Nighty, nighty night Snaggle Waggles!” He hoarsley whispered.
He was snoring soundly before l even had the chance to say “Night Boobles!”
Oh well tomorrow’s another day!
Liam, despite his ability to neck down half of a cocktail bars contents, was NOT very good as a drunk and worse yet was his complete and utter inability to refrain from ‘sleepwalking’ and lying down next to me! During that night, countless times l had to get up and shift his zombiefied form back to his own bed, so much so, l finally gave up and simply went and slept in his bed at around 4am. However by the time l reawoke at around 7.30 the following morning, l found l couldn’t actually move due to his concrete form lying next to mind with his right leg on top of my side and his face and right arm snuggled into my head and his right arm around my waist!
“Gerroff!” I grunted as l tried to move out from his sleeping carcass, and so determined were my efforts that when trying to push myself away from him, l promptly fell onto the floor in an undignified heap with a yelp! Which caused him to stir .
“Oooh my head, the room’s spinning, l have gone blind, l can’t see, who has got my eyes?” A strange horribly windswept head appeared slowly and clumsily over the side of the bed and was looking down at me and squinting. “Snaggles what are you doing down there? Did you sleep by my bed all night? Why? Thank goodness, we don’t have anywhere to go today, l am whacked good and proper!”
“Yes good morning to as well Liam, l wish l could agree with that, because although l too have only had marginal sleep due to a sleepwalking zombie, l am afraid to say you are totally and utterly wrong! Today is the first day of the rest of our holiday and we have to be packed and ready downstairs by ten for Kustov so we can begin the actual Dracula Tour itself. Seemingly it appears you have forgotten that eh?” I mumbled picking myself up off the floor.
“Nooooooo, that’s not TODAY is it? You have to have that wrong, it’s tomorrow, must be tomorrow, l am not fit enough to actually get dressed, l am ill!”
“Sorry my friend, but it IS today and you have precisely just above two hours to get your kit swagged up and made ready for decamp!” I said to him in a slightly raised voice so to ensure he heard me above his burblings, grumblings and mumblings of being unwell.
“Oh stop, there is no need to shout you know, l feel like l am trapped in a drum, stop it, ooh stop it!” He groaned.“Oh grief, l think l am going to throw up!” he said leaping out of his bed and making a desperate run for the bathroom!
Eventually, after repeated trips to the ‘bowl’, he had calmed down and l gave him a coffee l made for him to wake up a little more. By around 9’ish we both went downstairs having showered, shaved and dressed and packed. I had packed the previous night after the party disaster, and so felt a pang of sympathy for him and helped him pack. It was the damn teddy bear that was our biggest obstacle.
“Ooohggn l don’t understand it went in, it came out, it must go back in!” However, after our third attempt of taking things out, putting things back in the teddy was secured.
Downstairs in the lobby, we parked our bags at the door, and walked into the small cafeteria, where Dana, Dolly, Sally and Molly were waiting for us. it was a fifty fifty split of drunk and hungover to that of sober and simply tired.
“Morning everyone …” Liam groaned and begged for more coffee. “I am so, so , so and have l said so, so ill yet?” For the umpteenth time we all simply said “YES!!”
We had a simple breakfast, some fruit, coffee and tea, although Liam admittedly didn’t have the stomach for anything too taxing and stuck with coffee and a single unbuttered croissant.
“Interesting outfit today Liam?” remarked Dana “I didn’t think you actually owned any denim, l thought you were more of silks and chiffon type of traveller?”
“Dana, we are travelling to goodness knows where too darling, so l am prepared for all eventualities. Denim shirt and jeans is ideal tough wearing fabric, it’s durable and smart by itself, it needs no further complimenting, although l could have a beautiful cravat in my side bag for anything special you know, and l am wearing the most beautiful yellow socks, so my ensemble this morning was put together rather hapzardly, but it will work, from my shirt all the way down to my devilishly smart brown brogues, see?” With that he promptly side stepped a shoe from under the table to flaunt it.
“Oh yes indeed ‘darling’, very dapper!” Answered Dolly. “So are you ready, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the tour bus?”
“Is there a bigger bus this time? That would be much better.”
“No, l was joking Liam, it is still Kustov’s van, l can see him stowing our bags as l speak.”
“Oh grief, it’s lovely and all, but ..oh well, maybe l can sleep somewhere on the seats.” Liam inwardly groaned again.
“How are you two this morning?” I asked of Sally and Molly.
“Well we are ok, not as bad as Liam. Had a good night really, a really good night actually, had some fun, didn’t we Molly?” Sally said looking at Molly.
“Yes, well Rory knows l was a little busy, don’t you, has your nose recovered yet?” Molly added giggling. “But Sally had her own fun and frolics as well didn’t you?”
“You are only young once you know, and we had split up from our other halves quite recently, so l or we simply wanted to make sure we hadn’t lost the touch.”
“Good Morning everyone! I hope you had good sleep, and are ready for Dracula Tour?” Kustov boomed next to my ear, making me jump and almost fill my lap with coffee!
“Yes thanks Kustov, good to see you too!” I answered, making good use of the napkin at the table and wondering if the small stain would shift off my stomach.
“Good good, we are ready then to go .. .mahawahahwah woooo!” Kustov joked with a cackling laugh and l think some kind of ghost sound, whilst bent over pretending to be Igor!
Slowly we all got up, any last minute toilet trips were attended to. The staff gave us some packed lunches bade us farewell, and we all got into the van, with Liam taking front seat and even before we had left Mamaia, he was snoring loudly, and giggling! Which Kustov found highly entertaining, and then told us he had some ‘groovy music’ for the journey and suddenly Barry Manilow was blaring on the casette player!
Oh my really, what ever next?
I can honestly say with hand upon heart that it was during this particular holiday that l stopped liking Manilow. Don’t get me wrong, l didn’t particularly like him in the first place, however my Sister at five years my junior was a huge fan, posters, fan art almsot groupie to Mr Beak himself and of course non stop Barry playing at home when she wasn’t out with her friends. But it was that journey in the VW pink campervan that put me off him for life!
To make matters worse and l do mean exceedingly worse, Liam liked Kustov’s choice of music and sat at the front [Liams only spot in the van for the entire duration of Romania], and the pair of them would sing to their hearts content and laugh and joke and drink and pay both salut and homage to Mr Bloody Manilow! Worse, was somehow, yes he did maintain it was a ‘somehow’ and not a ‘deliberation’, he had only picked up two tapes one was the greatest hits of Barry and the other was John Denver! Liam also loved John?
My Father liked Denver as well, so in addition to listening to Manilow and Denver at home l also had to listen to the two tapes containing their greatest hits for 85% of the tour. The remaining percent was silence, and after the end of out first day, oh how l longed for that silence!
The first day out of Mamaia was a bit of a disappointment in truth. Kustov informed us that we would be travelling to Constanta the city which was just over 10 miles away from where we were staying in the hotel. That we would take in the sights before moving on for the rest of our ‘Dracula Tour’.
So we saw some fine buildings, some historical ruins, some excavations, a museum or two and the main shopping area and that mostly ate up the day. It wasn’t ‘that’ bad, but you got to the point where one building pretty much looked like the rest of the buildings. I took a few photographs, bought a few postcards, a nice scarf for my Mother and then we all [including Kustov] sat down for a traditional meal at a ‘local restaurant’ of his choice. Which comprised of some tripe soup, cabbage rolls, mici and eggplant salad which was very enjoyable and married up to some local wine which kept on arriving all the way through the meal and afterwards until around eleven. Traditional music played all the night, which was very jolly indeed, and when we left we were all still tapping our feet and humming!
We were then driven [yes he was somewhat tipsy] a few hundred yards to a small inn and offloaded for the night where two rooms only had been booked and Liam and l found out we were sharing with Kustov himself, whilst Dolly, Dana, Sally and Molly also all shared one room!
I know, like what ………. could it get any worse?
Yes, yes it could and how!
Kustov turned out to be a heavier snorer than Liam, who as l have said not only snored but giggled as well, so in truth that night l got no sleep whatsoever! But at least l could look forward to the next day when according Kustov, we would be hitting the countryside!
Joys, oh joys!
He may have been quite the drinker and a loud snorder, but credit to Kustov he was an early riser and always a happy soul and Liam and l had to remind ourselves of that each and every day during the five or so so days travelling around Romania. Even if at times we really didn’t want to get up at the crack of dawn! I came to learn that Liam was NOT really an early bird. I was neither an early bird or a night owl, l was just always working whatever the hours. My average day back then could easily stretch into eighteen hours, l grabbed sleep where l could and when l needed it. Those days it never mattered to me if l pulled an all nighteras l was younger and could do it.
These days an all nighter would probably finish me off, it’s bad enough just trying to keep some level of conscious ability to write long tale such as now because of all these tablets l am taking and the permanency of grogginess to my very being. However l digress ..
Liam was not keen to early rising, well not at say 5am every morning which is the time Kustov awoke us that very next day. in hindsight Liam as a snorer probably got more sleep than l did anyway, as l struggled to sleep with the two snorers combined!
Despite not being an early bird l couldn’t fault either Liam or Kustov for their chirpiness for the duration of the 5 day tour, and of the seven of us, those two seemingly were in cahoots to ensure that all of us had a good time. I can only put this down to Liam’s previous experience as a holiday rep. But also l think even Kustov learned quite a few ‘hospitality tips’ from Liam! When not on the road Liam was the first to encourage us all into song. Molly, Sally, Dana and Dolly were all avid book readers and were always nose deep inbetween the pages of a ‘good book’. One expects that from the likes of librarians perhaps, but even the seasoned ‘old ladies’ were just as keen to lose themselves into someone elses’ imagination instead of looking at some of the glorious countryside.
I read all the time at home, and so the last thing l really wanted to do was become immersed into another person’s mind when Kustov was driving.[Nevermind the fact that l was ALWAYS rather concerned as he always seemed slightly tipsy!] I cursed the fact that l hadn’t taken my camera with me. I couldn’t believe l hadn’t packed it. But Liam was an avid photographer as were Sally and Dana, and after the holiday had ended they kept up to their side of the bargain and sent me quite a few photos. Alas over time and more so me entrusting the transferring of 10k’s worth of photo’s to a disc to a friend in 2011, who promptly lost the lot, l have very few photo’s of my own anymore, just my memory].
Plus strangely enough, when it came to actually taking photographs of ‘tourist attractions’ in 1983, ‘tourists’ were not always allowed to take photographs and instead were manipulated in the buying of postcards. That in itself is even more annoying. Only last spring did l after years and years of carrying them with me, threw away nearly 5000 postcards – thinking l would never have a use for them! Why l never thought l would have a blog is quite beyond me!
The five days on the tour itself were l think way better than the five days at Mamaia beach resort, there was as mentioned the beautiful countryside and back in 1983, there wasn’t an awful amount of traffic on the roads, but some of the roads were lethal and many a time l think my heart stopped especially with Kustov at the wheel and more so, when it came to driving into the Carpathian mountain range, as much of those roads went obviously uphill. Alarmingly Kustov pronounced one day that he would not be drinking as much as ‘some of the roads can be tricky and quite dangerous if your eyes are not open properly!’
Strangely enough at hearing that little snippet, there was no song from Liam, and stranger still none of the ladies opted to read … go figure? everyone had their eyes peeled on the driving, Kustov, the beautiful mountain scenery and the roads or more so the edge of the roads and the remarkably steep inclines they rested atop!
There were more than a few occasions when l found myself praying to any deity listening to get me to the top in one piece!! The film The Italian Job with Michael Caine and that ending with the precariousness of the minis should give you ample ideas about it was with us in the pink campervan and Kustov’s driving and even he himself commented on one occasion of the similiarity! Which wasn’t that well received especially as we were within inches of the very rough edges of mountainous roads ourselves!
However, obviously we made it, despite the fact that Liam in his own words “Oooher, l nearly shat myself twice!!”
Transylvania was spectacular there is no other way to describe it, it is principally a historical region in the heart of Romania and of course most of us now would associate it to the likes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and vampires, Vlad Tepes and all other sorts of nasties. We visited Brasov, Peles Castle, Sinaia, Cluj – Napoca, Bran Castle, The Black Church, Sighisoara, Bistrita, the Borgo Pass, the Salt Mines of Turda and many, many more places to boot. Kustov knew how to pack in locations.
Yes we started early, yes we drove for miles, yes we were tired out at the end of each day, sometimes so tired that we only ate a little for breakfast and a little in the evenings, but we had great lunches! But the other thing about being really tired was that we were knackered at the end of each day, l think an entire town could have snored in my shared room with Kustov and Liam and l wouldn’t have cared!
We climbed stairs by the hundreds, walked for miles when not sat on our bums and had a thoroughly great time, and had the Dracula Tour been in the Carpathian Mountain range for two weeks, l think l would have wanted another two weeks to really enjoy it – that’s how good it was. We stayed in small family run inns that Kustov knew personally, either the landlord or the family or even sometimes he seemed to have a girlfriend in every town!
Romania was vibrant, and it was colourful, and l learned that colour was everything there. I loved the culture, the folklore, the people and l loved the food. I loved Romania at that time and more so the countryside. When the tour ended on that last day, l was saddened to be leaving and vowed l would return one day, which still l have yet to achieve.
On the very last day Kustov took us to a small family run traditional restaurant which as it happened he had yet another cousin who owned the establishment and we had a truly lovely meal there, but this is where l was first introduced to the famous ţuică which was a plum brandy as well as silvovitz another plum brandy!
Liam, who blatantly maintained all the way throughout the holiday that he could hold his drink [and l did beg to differ] was the first who said that he wanted to try something typically Romanian and as if by magic, two trays were brought out with 7 shot glasses a piece by a waitress in traditional dress. Kustov’s cousin said that these drinks carried a health warning and they should be sipped and not ‘thrown back like Coke!’
But Liam knew better and whilst the rest of us sipped out small glasses of the two brandies, he knocked both back in a two step motion. Perhaps it was five seconds, others said it was less, l think it was five. But Liam’s face changed dramatically in those five seconds from normal colour to a funny shade of deep purple and quickly changed to almost greenish white! There wasn’t even time for Kustov to shout “Liam NO!!” Before Liam, had this funny smile appear on his face, followed by an eerie squeal and then he fell backwards off the pews we were sitting on and he landed flat on his back … out cold!
Kustov’s reaction was hysterical, he suddenly laughed so loud that both Dolly and Dana jumped a good few inches off their own pew! Sally and Molly who were sitting beside Liam and myself giggled and then looked quite startled! “Is he dead?” Asked Sally quite alarmed as Liam still had that odd looking expression on his face and his eyes were wide open, his legs were still on the pew, his feet dangled under the table, but the rest of him was on the stone floor.
“Yes, yes he lives!!” Kustov boomed, “It is the effect of the brandy it is 80% proof here, it is enough to stop an elephant, a family recipe. You are supposed to drink it slowly till you are used to it, and even then you should never throw it back in one as!! Ah Liam, he is such a funny one no?”
“Oh yes, he is totally hysterical!” I agreed as l gently sipped on my own drinks and could fell the incredible potency of their overall warming effect on my mouth, my tongue, throat and l could feel the liquid coursing its way down to my stomach!
“Should we pick him up, he has been out cold now for a good few minutes Rory?” Dana enquired.
“Nooo, he’s fine Dana, don’t worry about it, he’s good.” I answered laughing, “Liam needed to be taught that lesson l feel, he’ll probably have a double whammy hit him tonight on the toilet ha ha, bet it burns on the way back out eh Kustov?”
“Yes he will feel the effect all night, in and out, oh that is funny!!” Kustov laughed back with a huge broad smile on his face.
The reality is that it took Liam, nearly a further ten minutes to come to a point where upon he could actually sit up again! i was so enthused by these drinks that l bought two fancy leather covered bottles of the them so that l could present them to my Father [which ironically, l noticed were still in his drinks cabinet the other day! He couldn’t drink more than one small glass of each, and yet after all these years they were still drinkable!?’]
When we retired for the night in that inn, Liam in fact excused himself early as he had a stonking headache, which we all did laugh about, and after a night enjoying traditional music, and another meal and when Kustov and l retired, Liam was so out of it, he didn’t even snore!!
Kustov drove us to our hotel in Bucharest where we arrived early evening, once more we were all booked into twin rooms, although Kustov was once more in with both Liam and myself, he set up a campbed. We were due to fly out the following evening from the International Airport on the outskirts of the city. We planned to, after settling into our rooms and showering and taking some relax time to meet for our last dinner together in the hotel’s restaurant at around 8pm that night.
The dinner was nothing special admittedly, but all seven of us had a good time all the same. The hotel had a karaoke machine and Liam and Kustov were in full swing together as a double act with dancing to boot. It was just so funny seeing the pair of them together as the most unlikliest duo ever. Kustov came into his own as a new Barry Manilow impersonator if you could take into account he sounded like a drunken cat being murdered then his take on the songs was really quite spectacular with Liam standing behind him shaking his whatevers for all they were worth!
By the time we all retired for the night, Liam and Kustov were exhausted and ironically both slept and not once did either of them actually snore, which was typically ironic, that on our last night that should occur!
Come 7am the next morning, we were all up and ready for our last day in Romania, and by 8.30, we were all showered and packed and were downstairs with our luggage in the lobby where it would be stored before we were to set off for our flight home later that day.
We all shared a table together with breakfast, and Kustov told us his plans for the day and the sights he planned to show us. A few tables over and we saw the other who had been on the original flight with us when we first arrived … John and his girlfriend Tina, Mitchell and his wife Gloria with their daughter Hannah. We asked how their holiday had been and they answered that it had gone horribly wrong after they had left the main group. We couldn’t help but smile and laugh a bit at that news …oh well shit happens, Liam piped up. Which didn’t really go down that well with the five of them!
By 9.30, the seven of us set off to view the sights of Romania’s central city – Bucharest.
In 1983, Bucharest was a very different city to l should imagine the 2018 version. As l have said l haven’t been back since all those years ago, and l would like to go again, it is something which sits on my bucket list of ‘must do’s’. I know Suze would love to go so perhaps we can retake the ‘Dracula Tour’ sometime in the future. However 32 years ago, the city seemed to be crawling with security forces with some very menacing weaponry that even Liam did not care to mingle with so that was something. he just admired from afar.
I didn’t really rate the city in truth, but l think my sightseeing was reflective upon the seriously bad weather of our final day. It felt like it was literally raining cats and dogs, the rain was that heavy, to boot there was a seriously aggressive wind accompanied with a chill factor whipping its way the the streets which also didn’t help liven up our spirits. I longed to be back in the rural areas of the countryside and not sitting in Kustov’s van for most of the day.
Palace of the Parliament – House of the People.
There was also a very strong security force presence in the city, and it was odd seeing all the guards wearing guns that looked like they could rip a person in half with a mentality that wouldn’t take any funny business whatsoever, so much so, that Liam normally quite friendly towards ‘hunks’ as he put it, not wishing to even remotely interact with any of them.
Arch of Triumph
But once more kudos to Kustov, he did his very best to show us the best sights, so we visited the Arch of Triumph and the huge Palace of Parliament which was as said absolutely massive! But also managed to take time to visit a museum and there we learned about rural life of the country, we all bought too many postcards as many of the places didn’t allow or wish for us to take photographs inside these buildings. Although l think the best part of our tour of the city despite the weather was the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum for despite the bad weather we could walk around the open grounds and take photographs and see the many styles of traditional Romanian village life.
Our day in all passed pretty quickly – we lunched out and it wasn’t long before we were heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head out to the airport. Once there Kustov awarded us all with a bear sized man hug, and after the exchange of gifts from us to him, and seeing him looking very happy and sad at the same time and expressing how we were his best tour party yet, that we parted company and all six of us headed to the terminal for our flight home.
We didn’t have to wait long before we boarded for our flight back to Heathrow and by around 8pm UK time l was back and collecting a taxi to return to my home in Woking.
We all exchanged addresses as you do, and said we would keep in touch. The girls Dolly and Dana, Molly and Sally, l only heard from once and that was to receive the photographs. BUT, Liam and l remained friends for quite a few years afterwards, so much so that the last time l saw Liam was actually in 1989, and the last time l heard from him was 2006 when he rang to say he was going off to live in Australia, and that was the last time l heard from him. I never had a forwarding address or even an actual residential address, so who knows what happened to him. But l will always wish him well, he was one of those friends that when you started talking again, you never thought there had been a time when you had never talked, if you know what l mean.
But further more Liam and l actually went on holiday together three times after 1983, and we became good friends, so in many ways it is sad that l haven’t heard from him for well over ten years.