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It was a truly unforgettable experience, you'd say, except that half of the time there the four London representatives of your august organisation couldn't remember a thing. The other 50% we'd like to forget, but there is such a thing as collective consciousness - but collective unconsciousness? We've been back a week and I'm still blathering.
The two-and-a-half hour flight was punctuated by various offerings from the drinks trolley, an eclectic meal of pasta, curry and carrots, topped off with a compulsory cognac, all of which was served by an enthusiastic old girl called Kaya Toots. Oh, and for pudding? A large Jam Tart.
Our first morning's bus ride into town was, shall we say, a scenic tour. We hadn't been warned that the women would be so beautiful - and so young. Beautiful was bad enough, but our combined average age made us older than Gary Mackay so we knew it was going to be tough going.
"I think I'm going to die!" said Scott. I doubt we'd've got the coffin lid shut. In The Bar With A Name (that's how it translates) it got worse. Wall-to-wall, they were. Sigh. After a nice meal and a kilo of Stella Artois, we were looking at the sign for the toilets.
"So if the M means Men," I asked, "What does the N stand for?"
Brian looked up. "Nae chance!" he said, and he looked down again.
What, the fitba'? Oh, that. It was rubbish. You'd hope Hearts could have blown Lantana away but some hesitancy and some poor finishing meant the PieMaster didn't have to drop the second leg prices to a quid for adults and 50p for concessions. Played in a public park that made Scotstoun look classy, Hearts fans were magnificent, even coaxing a song from the Lantanians (which is a Russian team in Estonia and so not locally popular) and then singing it louder and longer. I doubt whether the foreigners joined in with "Ro-bin-son, wank wank wank!" or "See you in court, Fat Boy!" but it got a bit much when the thirty aggrieved Hearts fans started up with "There's Only One Wallace Mercer".
Desperate to escape the crowd after the game, the four of us dived into a below level bar whose window display included a rattlesnake, a cactus and a skeleton in a cowboy outfit. Inside was just as outlandish, ol' staging-post decor and an owner who wanted to play 'slaps' with anyone and everyone. Afraid it would graduate into a game of 'knuckles' we retreated to a far corner where the kilts of Davy and Scott were attracting the worst kind of attention - The Older Woman.
One complete madwoman wanted to spirit Davy away to her art gallery, no doubt to exhibit him. "You Are So Be-eeeg!" she kept repeating to him. "Ah, yes, maybe," he replied. "Another beer, Dave?" we asked. "Uh, no, I don't think so," he replied, and we left.
Back in The Bar With No Name (no wonder we seemed confused - that's how it translates, however illogically) we gave it the old sing-song, but as always the Billy Song started some bother - not in the usual way, but this time it prompted a couple of Rangers idiots to start up The Sash. Cue some drunken pointy fingers and finally the Hun bloke decked some Jambo. Sigh. Fortunately London Hearts were on hand to start up with the politically offensive "Krushchev came to Scotland" (words available on application) and a tricky moment was averted. The pure sheer different class London Hearts Flag (as seen on national telly!) was raised and only lowered much later into the night as we stumbled out.
We'd been told about another bar round the corner - Toples's Bar, I think the sign said - and we went in for a nightcap. Perhaps my hearing was bad, too. "It's no' quite the Western," someone grumbled - good cheap local beer, comfy seats, modern decor and muted lighting. And what's that wrapped around a pole on a podium, smirking at us in the scud? God, strippers are meant to be barred from Club 18-30 Holidays, but these were - well, 'Barely Legal', I believe the magazine's called. They were wonderfully good-looking and had a sense of humour by divesting one boy of his Hearts top and putting it on to great cheers. There's always a first time. Hopefully the old girl in the Western will learn a similar lesson .
We had already taken cold drinks that morning. We sat in the Old Town between some old yokels from Bristol ("you waaantin. Joe Jurdan baack?") and six young Lutheran pastors who were sipping large pints of beer. It didn't take long to realise they weren't quite what they seemed - rather a pity. Some fancy dress for a wedding that afternoon, otherwise we'd've invited them to the game.
Our meal the following evening was in a geen-yu-ine Estonian bar with a dining room in the back. In the window was, I swear, a stuffed wolf with an eagle's wings. I hope there's photographic evidence of this or else it's not just Pirotin I'm taking for my hay fever.
All was well until the waiter walked away having taken our order and a man sat down in the corner next to us. He had a box. He went away. He came back with a guitar case. He opened the box. He took out a synthesiser. He plugged them all in. And, together with a woman who sat on her stool and mouthed Cleo-Lainey doo-be-doos, they murdered classic after classic with such a blend of cheesiness and technical perfection that they might as well not have been there - simply put on the James Last cd, please! It would at least have had more personality, and better still, we could have switched it off.
They started up just as Brian took his first slurp of his liver soup, and we realised how long we were going to have to put up with this. Dave was the first to crack, gobbling down his main course but the indigestion he suffered later was as nothing to the feeling Scott had in his stomach having stayed close to the bitter end. It was all he could do not to throw his chair at them.
Our plushy hotel was situated in a dump of a district that would have Irvine Welsh smacking his lips in approval and each block of flats had its own sign on the end, saying "Baar" which turned out to be nothing more than someone's front room with well-stocked shelves. But Igor's Bar was different. That wasn't its official name, but Igor was the only man we ever met in it, that first fateful night we entered. From the off it was plain that Igor was not the power in the land, particularly as he kept on apologising to us for as yet unknown events.
We saw what he meant, only later. When the handsome, slim woman in the corner smiled at us, the ceiling froze over. The plump forty- something and her 'sister' pulled chairs over. The quiet teenage Eurasian barmaid smiled shyly and disappeared. The manageress behind the bar was friendly in the way alligators make friends with wide-mouth frogs. We were in a Russian Mafia bar and there was no mistaking it.
Brian said, "We're dead. I knew it."
Huh, he had nothing to worry about: Davy was possibly a candidate for Death by Chocolate from one of the older gals, but Scott obviously had 'Dish of the Day' tattooed on his forehead and was in clear and present danger of being eaten alive. Each of the Russians in turn made it plain to him that the pleasantly plump Babushka wanted his bod and nothing less.
"Get me out of here,"
Scott hissed, smiling at his admirer. Davy tried some of his magic tricks to distract them but without a vanishing cabinet (or a big saw) there was no getting rid of the lady.
"I'm sorry," Igor pleaded.
"I bet you are," we thought. They were the last words we heard him speak before we scarpered. We never saw him again.
You might think we shouldn't have ventured back (certainly Brian didn't) but emboldened by drink we popped our heads round the door two days later. For a moment it was eerily reminiscent of the bar in The Shining with no-one but the manageress there behind the bar, but silently, in her corner, was the handsome cool owner-woman, a cross between the Snow Queen and Rosa Klebb. Not a flicker, not a smile, just regarding us. We didn't even get a drink. After hours, she said. We left, perhaps more scared than the first time. Russian Mafia. Blimey.
Perhaps we'd offended the sisterhood of Estonia because the taxi we took back to the hotel the following day was driven by a striking young woman with bad PMT or else she didn't care if she lived or died. Not another one you rejected, Scott?
"I don't like to think what might have happened if I'd said yes,"
he replied grimly.
I've never been a fan of rugby but we watched the finest game ever on the Saturday evening - New Zealand v South Africa on Eurosport. Why so great? Because occasionally the CeeFax would flash up Scottish scores. So you can imagine what happened as the Easter Road story was relayed: 0-0 at half-time, 0-1, and then 0-2. Being Hearts fans life isn't the same without a nervy last ten minutes but when the game finished I suggest we go and celebrate with a bottle of Champagne, which we duly did. And very nice it tasted too.
It wasn't until some time later when we were in a little room in the "Irish" bar with the folk band which was as Irish as Pele when I did my sums.
"We've been done," I said angrily.
"That Champagne shouldn't have been 1500 krone - that's more than sixty quid. Non-vintage is never more than twenty- five. I'm going back to have words."
"But it was the vintage we drank," said Davy.
"Dave, I'm a wine merchant, I know what I'm talking about. I asked for the non-vintage. Scott, back me up on this."
"It said 1990 on the bottle," said Scott.
"Uh-huh! ..I see! Oh, Bugger!"
And none of my weasel words of excuse could get them off my back for the rest of the evening. Probably for the rest of my life.[We'll engrave it on your tombstone - Davy] I bet no-one has ever celebrated a Stranraer victory with vintage Bollinger. Worth every penny, I says. I should have spotted it, of course - but "I was very, very drunk at the time."
"Here's your menu back....."