“Four Men in a Boat” by ” Shipmate” – Chapter4

4 CHAPTER FOUR  (Give me a ring.)

The Temple of the Golden tooth is in a town that once used to be the Capital of Ceylon, Kandy.  It lies to the South of the present Capitol Colombo and the Island Country is now named Sri Lanka. 

The ancient relic arrived from India early in the millennium and is probably the most sacred antique of the Buddhists. 

The Country benefits from many religions including ancient Indian beliefs to more modern Christianity brought by colonialists, especially Catholicism by the Portuguese.  Both the Catholic and Protestant churches have established missions to spread their beliefs and are currently represented by sailor’s missions known as ‘Stella Maris’, which relates to the Catholics and ‘Flying Angel’, the Protestants.

Two sailors awaited transfers to other ships bound for the U.K and were put up in the GOH, as it was known, or to give it its proper title The Grand Oriental Hotel.

At the time, in the summer of 1960, top rated hotels in Colombo amounted to only two.  When the seamen transgressed the Grand’s Victorian rules they were moved to the ‘Galle Face’ a luxury hotel built by the British before the arrival of the railways.  The contrast between the two venues was quite extraordinary.  The GOH came over as very Colonial and quietly very grand whereas the Galle Face was much more modern and purpose built with luxury and comfort in mind overlooking the Indian Ocean and enjoying the superb sunsets. 

Prior to their transgression, the young sailors were in a bit of a dilemma.  On one hand they were accorded all the facilities of a top hotel but on the other they had little money to enable them to reap the benefits of their stay.  The fateful day coincided with the arrival of Peninsular and Orient’s latest Cruise Liner, the Canberra.

The lads were cooling off with the breeze from one of the giant fans in the bar early that morning, when a shore party arrived.  Wearing Canberra hats and carrying balloons and streamers the excited party livened up the bar when after a few beers, they started to sing to a tune played on the hotel piano by one of their crowd.  A couple of girls joined the sailors at their table, telling them all about the wonderful new ship with it’s bar dispensing draught beer and depicting the Lords cricket tavern.  Somehow after celebrating their time ashore, the revelers gained two extra in their number as they returned to the launches taking them out to where the great ship was anchored.  Along the way, both men had acquired ‘kiss me quick’ type hats and easily got included in the party. 

Once on board the Canberra they readily made their way to the ‘Lords Tavern’ and joined in with the merriment.  Strangers were shouting rounds and competing with one and other so no one noticed the two extra people.

Towards evening, through the mist of his alcohol-induced torpor, one of the sailors heard the ships siren sound its not unattractive bellow in communication with the tugs.  He was further alarmed to hear the muffled thump of the engines.  They were underway and bound for Australia completely in the opposite direction they wanted to go.

He nudged his companion and they swiftly made their way to the boat deck stopping only to retrieve a young child they found wandering about.  For security, and not wanting to add a ‘drunk in charge’ complaint, they left the lost child in the First Class passengers lounge with some of the bewildered occupants and hastily made for the boarding ladder.

The pilot boat converged towards the boarding gangway.  It was bouncing and pitching into the troughs made by the bow waves caused by the big ship’s motion.  The pilot threw his bag over after attaching it to a heaving line and nimbly jumped across the gap avoiding the splashing waves.  He was quite alarmed to be followed by two men, a little worse for wear, who landed on either side of him.

“Sorry we should have returned ashore earlier,” they announced, and quickly made for the stern.

 On arrival at the jetty, the two jumped ashore and disappeared amongst the crowds without further explanation.

The main bar at the GOH was in full swing and the pair managed to catch the barman’s eye.  Between serving other customers he pulled a couple of pints and passed them over adding the price to an already lengthy tab. Singing had started and it promised to be a very lively evening.  The pianist in his immaculate dinner suit much preferred to play modern music as compared to the ‘Palm Court’ variety that he had to play on the terrace in the late afternoon.  A drummer and a double base accompanied him and they soon had the guest’s attention.

All was quiet when he awoke.  ‘Mac,’ his friend, slumbered in an armchair on the other side of the ornate stone fireplace.  An urgent call of nature needed answering so he made his way to the ‘gent’s’ along a carpeted corridor leading to the main stairway.  For a rupee he was able to get a toothbrush kit from one of the dispensers and set about his ablutions.  When he returned to his sleeping companion he felt much improved and decided that a livener would fit the bill.  Mac stirred and his eyes gradually focused.

‘How are you going mate?  I just need to go to the loo.’  His friend disappeared through the double doors,

Access to the bar was prevented by a metal grille, which became hidden at opening times.  However due to the positioning of the overhead fans, the grille didn’t quite reach the ceiling.  John conferred with Mac, who had returned to the bar and they decided to help themselves to a drink or two but intended to leave a note for the barman who had become a bit of a friend.

The night security patrol took their details having discovered them attempting to enter the bar.  Mac was anchorman and John had placed a bar stool onto a table and was just negotiating the gap when they were caught.  Unfortunately, the arrival of the security man disturbed his concentration and he slipped grabbing hold of the fan blade for support.  The screws that held the fan to the ceiling were not designed to accommodate a further twelve stones so the hapless sailor and dislodged fan, both crashed towards the floor.  As sometimes happened to John, who was a ‘Capricorn’; Lady luck was around to help.  Although the hard wooden dance floor lay almost directly below, the fan and the man landed in a heap on a large comfortable sofa with hardly a sound.

A promised bribe did not deter the night watchman from scribbling their details in his log although things may have been different had the fan remained in place.

The following morning the shipping companies agent found them regaling the previous nights events to the barman.  He accepted a coffee and tactfully broached the subject of their imminent transfer to the Galle Face Hotel.

‘You will like it there much better,’ he said, ‘It overlooks the sea and is much more modern and the other guests are younger and a little less, how do you say it?  Stuffy.’

He omitted to say that the Galle face was out of town and neither did he tell them that the manager of the GOH had called him that morning and told him in no uncertain terms that as a result of the previous night’s activities, the rooms had to be vacated, since they were unexpectedly full.  The agent had already sent a message to the Shipping Companies head office in London advising them of the circumstances and requesting sanction for his proposal.

Somehow, probably in the translation, the message had been a little jumbled.

The head of the personnel department was under the impression that ‘Fans’ were the reason for the hotel being full and causing the need to move his charges.

As he signed the ‘Approved,’ box he idly wondered whom the attraction was.  He knew ‘Canberra was on its maiden voyage and assumed that the ‘Fans’ were to due to publicity at the arrival of some famous personage.

In any event it wasn’t anything to bother the company’s Senior Marine Superintendent about.

The agent settled their bill and speculated how wonderful it would be to be taken care of as these sailors had been.  Little did he know that all the expenses, other than the basic living charges, would be deducted from their salaries.  The two men placed their luggage in the boot of the agent’s car and climbed in for the short journey to the ‘Galle Face Hotel’.

‘Any news of our ship home?  John asked.

The agent replied.  “Only another two to three weeks when it will be arriving.  Maybe stay here for three days.”

Both men were given rooms overlooking the Indian Ocean, complete with ‘en suits’ facilities and to their joy- air conditioning.  Whist the fans at the GOH were effective they tended to be noisy.  Though they had discovered that an additional benefit of the fans could be gained by placing a small torch taped to the ceiling immediately above the fan.  Insects and particularly mosquitoes would be attracted to the light and a satisfying ‘ping’ could be discerned as they flew towards their goal.

Unpacked showered and changed, they met up as pre-arranged in the terrace bar noted for its chequered tiles.  After a couple of welcome pints of cold lager, they decided to explore.

Lack of funds prevented the use of a taxi, so they walked the along the promenade, conscious of the blistering heat.  At the end of the walkway they met the main road that led into town.

As they entered a familiar suburb, John suddenly exclaimed that he knew where they were and led the way to a dingy but cheap bar used by the locals.

‘How come you know where we are?  Asked Mac.  Before he started to drink the unchilled beer straight from the can. 

‘My friend’s office is around here,’ informed John, ‘It’s a bit of a funny story.’

Mac was all ears as he listened to a tale of how John was on a regular run between Ceylon, India and South and East Africa when he became involved in a lucrative trade.

He would buy precious stones such as sapphires and emeralds in Ceylon and sell them in Africa.  From the proceeds, he would buy diamonds and bring them to Colombo for sale to his contact.  Over time the trade grew and his knowledge of the dealers and stones improved.  Funds were strictly limited so the trade was never a business but more of a way to get a little extra cash, however he made a lot of contacts in various foreign places, and the dealer in Ceylon became a very close acquaintance if not a friend.

They finished their drink and decided to stay for a rudimentary lunch before deciding to call on the dealer, as they were close by.  It was approaching three when they finally left the tiny bar. 

The short journey led them through the labyrinth of back streets and alleyways and their fair skins attracted furtive glances by locals unused to foreigners in their domain.  Taxis vied with rickshaws adding to the chaotic bustle around them.  Clad in their brightly coloured Sari’s, women joined the men selling almost anything from tiny market stalls which at times, spread into the road.

They reached their objective that was a six-story building and entered through the pavement door.  Beneath the stairs an old man dressed in a dhoti and wearing a headscarf attended an ancient photocopier and apparently ran a small business dealing with stationary etc. from the diminutive location. 

Their destination was on the third floor.  To reach it they had to pass the second floor containing both a tailors and a dental studio.

Heavy iron grids prevented unexpected entry so John spoke into the intercom announcing their presence.

A loud click gave them access through the door and Mac gasped at the sight that John had seen many times.

 They saw in front of them, an unanticipated oasis residing amongst the general squalor they had just witnessed.  Through the open door was a beautifully appointed room, full of antiques.  A rich heavy carpet softened any sounds and carefully sited gilded lamps gave the room a welcoming glow.

Seated at a carved wooden desk, sat an elderly man clad in a one-piece garment coloured white that matched his beard.  He stood and extended his hand to John and bringing John’s hand to his breast as though to touch his heart.

‘How very good to see you John, I thought you had disappeared.’

John introduced his friend who was told by the elderly man that,

“Any friend of Johns’ is a friend of mine, Please be seated, both of you.’”

The old man pressed a buzzer on his desk which resulted in an elegant secretary in a floor length gown of green and gold, entering the room from a subtlety disguised door that opened as part of a bookcase.

She nodded as their host spoke rapidly in the local language and left to reappear later with a silver tray of coffee brewing in a samovar.

The next twenty minutes were spent drinking coffee and acquainting each other with events since they had last met.

John explained that he had paid off of his ship on the East Africa run and was waiting for a company’s ship returning to the U.K.

Once back in England he was hoping to get engaged but he wanted to pass his exams first.

The Jeweler was delighted.  To him, the English man was not only a business acquaintance but also a member of the people who he much admired in the long years of his youth when Ceylon was a part of the Empire.  He thought them to be firm but fair and somehow their profiteering seemed preferable to the corruption practiced by some of the new politicians of the country, since its independence. 

He left the desk and adeptly attended to the combination tumblers on a large built in safe.  The door swung open and he removed a tray covered with black velvet.  He locked the door and returned to his desk placing the tray beneath a bright desk light.

Like a conjuror, he dramatically pulled the velvet cover from the tray revealing its precious contents.

Hundreds of sparkling jewels reflected their beauty in the intense bright light of the Jeweler’s desk lamp.

‘Choose one,’ said the old man, a smile lighting his features.

John apologetically protested that he wasn’t yet in a position to buy anything.

‘You cannot refuse my wishes to give you a lasting token of our friendship.”

The Jeweler selected a stone and scrutinised it through a special monocle before passing it to John.

John took it and viewed it closely noticing its rich deep blue colour that was much darker than any he had ever seen.  It was simply stunning.

“ Centered between two diamonds it would be a symbol of eternity.”

John replied, ‘I would pay for the mount but forget the diamonds as they would take me an eternity to pay for them.’

The old man laughed and said, ‘ You pay for the gold but gems are my life’s business and will be my pleasure to gift.’  Without another word he replaced the tray and relocked his safe.  He buzzed his receptionist who escorted them to the security door.  They turned to say thanks and goodbye and the Jeweler smiled and directing his words to John said, ‘Same time next week, large size.’

 John corrected him saying that his girlfriend was of average build whereupon the Jeweler gave a knowing wink and said, ‘ Average here would be your small size, but if you can get a proper size it would help.  Give me a ring.’

Back on the street Mac, who had remained almost silent, grasped John around his shoulders and said.

 ’You’re a dark horse talk about a crown among the thorns.  I hope I’m as lucky when I get a ring for my fiancée whoever she is!’

During their visit, darkness had descended and the whole area had changed and seemed to have come alive.  Colourful lights were everywhere and the smell of street cooking was mouthwatering.  Smoke from open fires wafted in the breeze carrying exotic aromas of spices and faint eastern perfumes.  The warm weather encouraged people out into the open and whole families strolled through the market place.  Strange music and singing could be heard from several of the brightly lit market stalls, yet in spite of being amongst foreign people and in an alien place, they did not for one moment feel uneasy.

They hailed a passing rickshaw and returned to the ‘Galle Face’ at leisure if not in style.  Mac gave the owner of the rickshaw ten rupees having been asked for eight and the man was most appreciative and was grinning as he passed the waiting taxis.  Mac wasn’t so familiar with barter and had used up their remaining funds.  They had nearly a week to wait before they were due another sub so they were a little daunted to have to rely on the Hotel for food and drink for the time being.

After their excesses of the previous day they decided to turn in early.

John woke to the sound of waves on the beach and pulling his blinds he was greeted by delightful birdsong and cloudless skies.  It was a Saturday.

After a hearty full English breakfast where they ate as much as they could since lunch was doubtful, they decided to attend one of the seaman’s missions and had heard that the Flying Angel had a pool.

The morning was spent swimming and sunbathing accompanied by a friendly man with a slightly deformed right arm.  His deformity did not prevent him from participating in water polo or any of the other activities involving a fairly large crowd of Merchant Seamen.  If anything the deformity seemed to help with the accomplishment of several sports from snooker to darts.  When they were chatting in the bar after, he stood them a drink and to their complete surprise they found out he was the resident clergyman.

‘If you come to the service in the morning,’ he said, ‘You’ll qualify for a sausage sizzle before going by coach to Kandy.  All for gratis.’

Unable to shout their round, they softened the blow by agreeing to attend.  After adding their names to the list they returned to the hotel for supper and a nightcap or three.

Rising early was never a problem for either seaman and as they walked the near empty streets only the absence of cries from the minarets replaced by church bells, served to remind them, should they need it, that it was Sunday.

A modicum of regret at their hasty promise was tempered with the thoughts of a succulent sausage sizzle.

A battered bus stood outside the mission, which did not bode well for their journey.

It proved to be an abbreviated service and the litany was familiar to both men who were equally taken with the sermon.  Afterwards everyone enjoyed the well-attended breakfast and were advised that the sausages and bacon had been flown straight out from England, a treat not to be missed. 

At nine o’clock they piled aboard the rather ancient bus, which set off for the three-hour drive up into the hills to the old Capitol.  Having been fed and possibly due to the early start, a lot of the trippers slept.

Depicted on a well known brand of tea is a picture of sari clad damsels gathering tea leaves in huge cotton bags on their backs.  The terraced hillside is verdant with a clear blue sky in the background.  Whoever originated the artwork for the cartons must have visited this part of Sri Lanka duplicating almost the same scene viewed through the bus windows.

Their rise in altitude was fairly gradual and hardly noticeable until looking down from whence they came.  About halfway, they had a comfort stop and noticed that the air had thinned considerably.  It was here that the first wild elephants were seen being chased by a throng of barefoot children.

They arrived at their destination a little after noon and the first thing they noticed was the freshness outside even though they were only just over 1500 feet above sea level.  Although the air seemed quite a bit thinner, the altitude provided a much cooler atmosphere that was extremely pleasant to experience particularly after the journey in a non air conditioned bus.  The town itself had evolved on a flattish plateau that rose to one side and was where the Temple had been built.

 The Royal Palace dominated the town and fronted a huge ornamental man made lake.  In the past, the Rulers believed that control of the relic gave them automatic ascendency so Palaces and Temples are often seen together.

The Vicar chatted good humoredly to the people nearest to him as he led the party towards the Temple.  He had been several times before and knew the drill.  Prior to entering the holy place it was necessary to remove one’s shoes although a dispensation had been made for foreign visitors who, having left their shoes, could continue across a lawn taking advantage of the cool grass rather than the hot stony pathway.

The stone building was splendidly carved and was the home, as well as the place of worship, of the Buddhists Monks.  They entered the sacred chamber with no preconceived expectations but were slightly disappointed to see just a silver cask beneath a gold canopy with two monks in attendance.  It was only later on the bus that the vicar enlightened them that the silver cask contained another cask, which in turn contained another cask and so on like the Russian doll figures.  Apparently there were seven casks in all but only three keys.  One key could open the first, third and fifth box and another the second, forth and sixth box.  The remaining key was only able to open the last box containing the tooth.

Returning to the entrance, the Vicar was quite non-plus when his party remonstrated that their shoes were missing.  The sailors on the other hand were a little less civil and made a considerable fuss.  However it seemed to be the custom as all the shoes were discovered for sale on a market stall only a few hundred yards away.  The paltry price for their recovery was preferable to trying to argue about their loss in another language. 

Some people, possibly Ceylonese speaking, had thought differently as many of the stallholders, although quite humbly dressed, wore quite new looking expensive shoes.

Situated less than five miles from the Temple is a large Botanical Garden.

A legacy of the relatively recent British influence was its scientific development that made good use of the existing tropical plants.  In 1901 King George V and Queen Mary, planted a ‘Cannon Ball ‘ tree that even today can be seen with fruits looking like cannon balls.  Lord Louis Mountbatten in World War Two famously used the gardens as a base for the South East Asian command.

Kew gardens were responsible for introducing many of the diverse horticultural specimens now used extensively in medicines throughout the world.

At the gardens, they saw a number of elephants that were kept for religious festivals such as ‘Perahera’, which formed part of an annual sacred ceremony, attached to the Temple.

Some of the animals were not particularly well treated by their mahout’s but many of the mahouts themselves were less than revered by the local population.  Others faired better and happily allowed several of the party to participate in elephant rides under supervision.

At five o’clock it had been stipulated that everyone should meet back at the coach in good time for the return journey.  Two people were missing from the head count so the vicar set about trying to identify the absent persons.  It was no surprise to him, as it had happened before although it was normally in a city where there were plenty of diversions such as bars.  Just as he had started to check the names they appeared panting from their exertions and settled into their seats having placed their bags onto the overhead storage rack.

 Back at the Botanic garden an attendant in the hot house couldn’t understand what had happened to the plants he was about to water.  They had been growing hemp for research purposes in hope of establishing a high fiber plant free of THC or other narcotic derivatives.  It seemed they had been moved.

 The bus left Kandy only ten minutes late and a short while later the vicar stood and faced the mixed bunch of seamen and thanked them for joining him.

‘I hope you’ve all had a great day out and one things for certain.  You may not have realized it but you’ve been nearer to God.  About 500 meters nearer.’  

He sat down well before the clapping stopped.

Their proximity to God appeared to turn events in their favour as the following morning after breakfast a tall slim man stopped them and asked if they spoke English. 

“We are English ‘”said Mac, and the newcomer asked where he could find a guide.

“Try the concierge,” said Mac.

“I already have but apparently all the official tourist guides are booked for the cruise ship that’s due in.”

“We’ve been here for weeks and pretty well know our way around.”  Answered Mac, “John’s been here several times before so if there’s anything specific and we can help, we will.

“I’m an author,” replied the man, “and need to absorb as much local colour as I can, before I return to the States.”

Sensing a deal the two sailors suggested a drink by the pool to discuss matters further.  They proposed that for ten dollars an hour between them they would be the American’s guides.  As part of the deal, he would pay for all transport and any other expenses including drink and food.  They proposed starting each day at eleven in the morning.

The tall American thought it over and agreed with one stipulation.

“What’s that?  Asked John.

“A trial period of one day for which there will be no payment other than expenses.  If I continue with your services, you’ll get the withheld payment at the end of the agreement.

“Done.”  Said the sailors.  “Except if we get transferred before you’ve finished, you pay us for the missing day.”

‘Agreed”

Their first days work started easily enough and was probably predictable as it involved a rickshaw ride to the GOH for drinks in the swinging cocktail bar before lunch.

The regular barman greeted them like long lost friends and to the delight of the tall American, included him in the round of free drinks and intimate chatter as though he had been known as a regular and frequent customer.

“I’ll get used to this I hope,” said the American, lifting a pint pot to his lips and downing a good slug of the amber liquid as he had seen his companions do with practiced ease.

The bar started to get quite busy for the lunchtime trade so they took their drinks out onto the verandah and settled into the comfortable cane loungers beneath a giant sunshade made of platted palm leaves.

“I haven’t really told you about myself,” the American exclaimed.

My pseudonym in Billy Bates or W.E. Bates to be precise but you can call me ‘Gee’ short for Gary as most of my friends do.”

John passed around his cigarettes.  Mac took one and passed it to Gary who refused saying he didn’t smoke which, he felt, allowed him to pursue his other vices.

“I write pretty much anything but have been commissioned by the Tourist Board of California to do a piece on Ceylon.”

He took another pull on his pint, this time only using one hand, as he seemed to be getting familiar with the large glass.

“My chosen subject at college was psychology and I got an A plus for my thesis”

“Have you read Marks?” asked John.

“Yes,” replied his fellow apprentice, “It must be these damned bamboo chairs!”

The quick exchange of humour was almost lost on Gary and a minute or two passed when suddenly he stared to chuckle as he recognized the joke.  In the coming days, he never quite got used to the rapid repartee between his two English guides.  Although, he came to understand and appreciate most of it, he sometimes felt on a different wavelength.

They opted for a bar snack at the table where they sat and the pretty sari clad waitress served what was known as a summer curry.  It consisted of a bowl of fish curry and rice and a platter of fresh salads and tropical fruits including flaked cocoanut and deliciously refreshing marinated ginger.  A raffia basket arrived containing warm Chapattis that were to be crunched and sprinkled over the food, as was the local practice.

“It would help if you gave us an idea where you’d like to start,” offered Mac ordering another round to help wash down the lunch.

Gary considered for a while before replying.

“I rather think that a good guide needs to include a bit of everything for everybody.  So it really comes down to Religious and ancient places, other points of special interest, the Port, the beaches and other places for families.  A section on good food and nightlife is a must and a few pages advising on Currency exchanges, Banks, Embassies and a street guide for shopping and gifts.

Forty years later and his services would practically become obsolete being virtually replaced by what would become well known as the ‘internet’ with Ceylon becoming Sri Lanka. 

John stretched, yawned and rose from his chair.

“I suggest we start properly tomorrow and in the meantime we’ll prepare a list based on your requirements Gee.  This afternoon we’ll introduce you to the ‘Flying Angel.’  You probably wont include it in your guide but I’m sure you need a break too and we can take a swim in the pool and play snooker.”

Gary got up signaling his approval and called the waiter over for the bill.  Mac disappeared to the toilet and returned just in time to hail a passing cab.

The week that followed was packed with activity as the three men toured Ceylon in a variety of vehicles.  They visited temples, Churches and on Wednesday the famous street market that trebled the size of the normal market and was very popular with the tourists especially from the luxury liners.

  A whole day was spent travelling to the ancient capitol of Kandy to visit the renowned Buddhist’s most sacred place and the Zoo with its unique collection of working elephants which they all rode and managed to stay on in spite of a liquid lunch.

Friday evening of the second week saw them gathered round a low table in the veranda bar of the Galle Face overlooking the sea with its spectacular sunset.

“You guys have done me proud,” exclaimed Gary.  “I’ve got three tapes of notes and enough information for two books, so I’ve booked a flight back to the States for Monday morning.”

“Thanks Gee,” said Mac.  “Perhaps we should take you on one last fling.  Not for your work, just for you!” 

“What do you think John?’

“Good idea.  We haven’t really shown Gee any of the forbidden nightlife,” said John.

He had a good idea what Mac had in mind and was looking forward to the rest of the evening.

“Just so you know it will probably cost about a hundred and fifty dollars for the three of us all in.  As far as fees go, the clock stops ticking right now.”

It was about ten when they left the Hotel.

The doorman shielded them with his umbrella as they entered the taxi as it had started to rain.  A prelude to the start of the monsoon season John thought.  The taxi dropped them outside the GOH now a familiar location for them to start from.

Gary even referred to it as his favourite ‘watering hole’, which indicated to his guides that he had taken in at least some of their idiosyncrasies.

The original barman was on duty and greeted them all; including Gary, like long lost friends and the first round was on him.

As they took their drinks to be seated in the crowded lounge, Gary remarked that he would never forget this place where drinks on his first day and nearly his last, were on the house.

It was around eleven when they left and they were all feeling happily mellow.  The wet weather had passed and it turned out to be a glorious night with clear skies that revealed the brightly shining stars.

A rickshaw took them the short journey to their destination. 

 Isaiah’s bar was approached from a narrow alley in a labyrinth of tiny unnamed streets backing on to the market place.

The colourful neon lights flashed invitingly, an oasis in the otherwise gloomy surroundings.  A few men and one or two hippy looking women sat around smoking and chatting outside.  Judging by the aroma they weren’t smoking tobacco. 

The three men entered the dimly lit club.  Western music was being played by three locals dressed in tuxedos and their singer, a beautiful coloured woman sang in almost perfect imitation of the latest hit in the international charts.

They were ushered to a small round table near the tiny stage and the scantily clad waitress took their order.

A couple of strippers appeared when the musicians had their break and performed a ballet routine ending up completely naked.

 After the musicians returned, the same girls could be seen cavorting with and being bought drinks by well-dressed customers.  A little later they all disappeared through a door marked ‘private’.

Gary noticed that his companions seemed to have slowed down their consumption, which was indicated by the several full glasses on the table.  When he questioned this, he was told that the bar only served beer until midnight and only spirits or champagne was available there after.

“Whatever you do, don’t have the Champagne,” advised John, “It’s only apple juice for the girls and they charge the equivalent of five pounds a glass!”

The American seemed in his element and regardless of the cost was drinking ‘Bourbon on the rocks.’

He seemed to enjoy joining in with the singer and one minute he was near the stage and the next minute he had completely vanished.

Mac, who had seen him pass through the door marked ‘Private’, assumed he had gone to the toilet and it wasn’t until nearly another hour had passed before they really missed him.

The place was at full swing and the comings and goings added to the confusion.  Not wanting to disturb other clientele, they had decided to collar the Madame to find out Gary’s whereabouts, when Gary suddenly appeared, looking a touch worse for wear. 

 Just because they were officially off duty didn’t stop them from feeling responsible for their companion who, over the last few days had become a friend.

They escorted him back to their table and saw him safely seated where he started to slumber, periodically awakening with a start as he began to lean over.

“I remember he referred to his other vices,” said Mac, “I hope he’s not been ripped off by one of the girls!”

John got up and made his way through the bustling crowd to the bar and engaged the ‘Madame” in a long earnest conversation.  From where Mac sat he could see the ‘Madame’ gesturing with her long cigarette holder towards the private door.

John returned rather gleefully carrying two pints of beer.  “What’s going on?” asked Mac.

“She’s slipped us a couple of pints on the house.”

“Not that.  Where’s he been?” he asked, indicating the sleeping American.

“Not to worry,” said John, “He’s been on the ‘Wacky Baccy, that’s all.”’

It was with much relief that they bundled the sleeping author into a taxi.  It was four in the morning when Mac paid off the taxi and tipped the night porter for opening the American’s room.

They put him to bed fully clothed having tried to remove his teeth unsuccessfully.  They were more successful in taking his ankle length cowboy boots off and remembered to put his wallet and watch into his safe.

He didn’t appear again until dinnertime that evening, when rather sheepishly the American joined them at their table.

“Hi boys we must have had a great night judging by my head, but I can’t remember much about the end of it.  My mouth’s sore.  Who hit me?”  Gary asked.

“Nobody”, said Mac.  “It’s probably where we tried to take your false teeth out.”

“I don’t have false teeth,” said Gary with a look of confusion.

What time did we get back?”

John replied, “We put you to bed a little after four.” he added rather impishly, “just after she left.”

Mortified the American said.  “She.”

“Sorry I meant, he,” said John.

“Oh my God.”  Cried the forlorn author, “Who was he?”

“The Night porter,” John replied.

They watched the heavy ‘Jumbo jet’ slowly lift off on it’s way west towards the rising sun.  It was Monday morning and the two sailors had just said their goodbyes to their new American friend.

Mac turned to John and said, “I don’t want to make an issue, but you forgot to give me my half of the first day’s fifty bucks!  I don’t mind the night porters tip and the taxi fare, that’s written off.”

John replied, “ The Gunge Gunge cost a hundred Dollars.

I felt it was best not to argue.  Let’s call it quits!”

They shook hands and called a rickshaw telling the runner their destination.

“Seaman’s Mission please.  I’ll pay,” they said in unison.

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