Monday, 18 October 2010

Switzerland ! Yodel-ay-hee-ho!

Lake Geneva
No, I wasn't yodelling as I flew into Geneva for my first ever Swiss visit on 21 March 2006. We arrived at night and I’d already briefed myself on the location of the train station, right next to the airport terminal. In fact it didn’t look like a railway station at all, with its glass façade resembling more an office block. But I went inside and then down an escalator to the ticket hall which was deserted. Where was everyone? I spotted a row of ticket counters to the right, but none seemed to be open. No ticket machines, either. What was going on? Were they on strike? No, this was Switzerland not France, so it couldn‘t be that. Then I spotted a sign for trains to Geneva, and followed it, down another escalator to a platform where a train was waiting on the track. But the sign on the platform said Bern, or Zurich, but NOT Geneva. Luckily there was a conductor waiting by the train, so I asked him if the train was going to Geneva. He told me it was and that it was about to leave and that I should get aboard. But I didn’t have a ticket. “J’ai pas encore acheté un billet“, I told him. He told me to walk down the platform to the second class carriages and get aboard. So I did, and travelled gratis into the city of Geneva in possibly the nicest train that I’ve ever been on in my life
It really was a super train - comfortable, stylish, and most of all, empty. Well, almost empty. I remember just two other people in the carriage - a young woman working on a laptop, and someone else. I settled into a cosy facing seat, stretched my legs, and lay back to enjoy the seven or eight minutes journey. Through the window I watched the suburbs slip past in the dark, in a kind of serenity and peace. I felt comfortable and fully relaxed, and was rather disappointed when the brief journey ended. But I also wondered if I would have to explain at the barrier why I did not have a ticket. But there was no barrier, and I was soon walking out of the station.

If you go down an escalator to the platform at the train station at Geneva airport, you go up an escalator (or stairs, I no longer remember) to the platform at the station in Geneva itself. Therefore, it was down an escalator (for example) to find the exit, and then onto the street. And it was there that I had one of the most serene experiences of my life, which was composed of many factors: the night; the silence of the street, with very little traffic, despite it also being a bus and tram terminal; but most of all, that irresistible feeling you get when arriving in a new place, a place where nobody knows you and in which you know nobody. All these things seemed to come together when I stepped into the street, and the feeling was so calming that I lingered there for several minutes before heading off to my hotel.

I’ve stayed in some crummy hotels…. I may have mentioned it before, but it’s one of those things that I never weary of repeating…. but this hotel one was a gem! I liked the room so much that I even took a photograph of it.

The next morning I got out of bed around six and looked out of the window. In the distance, to the left, I could see the Alps with their snow-topped peaks. It was exhilarating, but too early to get up proper, so I went back to bed for another hour or two. The next time I look out of the window a hazy mist had descended, obscuring the mountains. It was a mist that was to remain for the most of the day.

Geneva is a city of some 1.24 million residents in the greater metropolitan area, and is Switzerland’s most populous city after Zurich. It stands where the Rhone meets Lake Geneva, and is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. It is one of Europe’s most important financial centres, as well as the headquarters of the Red Cross and many agencies of the United Nations. The flag of the canton of Geneva is divided vertically into two parts: ‘yellow (hoist) and red (fly). In the hoist a black double-eagle with a red crown, beak, tongue, legs and claws, cut in half by the palar line. In the fly, a yellow upright key with its ward towards the fly’. The eagle is the symbol of justice and the key the symbol of ecclesiastical rule and responsibility. The flag is also two shields impaled: one half the Holy Roman Empire, the other one of the keys of the St. Peter’s, viz. “the keys to heaven”. It’s also pretty cool.

I made my way down a road (probably the Rue du Mont Blanc) towards the lake, expecting at any time to see Geneva’s most famous landmark, le jet d’eau, the highest fountain in the world. It is out on the lake, a magnificent spectacle and, because of its size, pretty damn difficult to miss. But I arrived at the lakeside, and no sign of it. Where was it? It’s true that there was mist over the lake, enough to almost completely shroud the mountains on the far side, the Left Bank, but even so…. It just wasn’t on. (I mean it just wasn’t on that I couldn’t see the fountain, not that the fountain wasn’t on, although, as I soon found it, it indeed wasn’t on, which just wasn’t on….I know what I mean.) I took a few photographs and then crossed over the truly spectacularly unremarkable Pont du Mont Blanc bridge, about which the only things of interest were the flags of Switzerland, Geneva and the United Nations fluttering on either side. And I swear there was a spring in my step, for I was on a mission - to track down Geneva’s amazing disappearing fountain!

Pont du Mont Blanc

On the other side of the bridge is the English Garden, which in my frenzy I completely missed. I turned left and headed along the Left Bank (this would be the Quai Gustav Ador) towards where my map (I’d bought a map on my way from the hotel - did I mention it? - one of three that I was to amass during the day) located the fountain. But as I closed in on the spot, there was still no sign of it. I finally arrived at jetty going out into the lake, the Jetée des Eaux Vives, with a beacon at the end. My map informed me that the fountain was near the end of the jetty. So I walked out along the jetty, past some gentlemen fishing in the lake, but still no sign of the fountain. If my calculations were correct, and they couldn’t be otherwise, it should have been right in front of me. I looked all around. I felt disappointed and on the point of despair. And then I saw it, or rather saw the spouts from the which the water should be spouting. But of the water not a drop. Someone had forgotten to turn it on. Or maybe there was a problem with the plumbing. Whatever, I had solved the mystery, and it was time to do some exploring. So I took a few photographs of a swan, in order to prove that it was impossible for me not to, and then turned my back on the lake.

All European cities have a historic old town and Geneva is no exception, and it was there that I now headed. But, as always in my travels, I had done very little homework, and so my tramping around the historic streets was random and haphazard. This is the way it is when you have the curiosity of a water vole. But I took some photographs of statues that I came across. One of a gentleman with a lowered countenance, his hands behind his back; another of a certain Pictet de Rochemont, 1755-1824. Charles Pictet de Rochemont was the man who prepared the declaration of Swiss neutrality which was ratified by the Great Powers in 1815. He is therefore an important Charlie in Switzerland’s history.

I finally arrived at what I now know to be the Place Neuve with its magnificent grand théâtre. Just opposite there is a park with giant chess pieces. Then it was downhill all the way to the Rhone, and another statue that I liked so much that I photographed it twice. It is located on the Quai Turrettini, and is called Aigle de Genève, Eagle of Geneva. There is an almost identical statue, which I did not see, which stands at the opposite end of the quay, this one depicting a woman and an eagle. They were erected in 1939 and are the work of Frederic Schmied (1893-1972). They are said to symbolise modern man and modern woman as seen through the eyes of totalitarian regimes in Europe. The eagle too is symbolic of something, though of what I cannot say.

I made my way down the quay and as I approached the lake I saw the jet d’eau for the first time. They’d turned it on! I took a photograph (naturally!) and then headed off to look for a pizza. I had one, the biggest one I’ve ever had, in the Dolce Vita restaurant next to the Hotel Bernina opposite the railway station. It was also the saltiest pizza that I’ve ever had. Then it was back to the lake.

By now the sun had broken up the haze and the afternoon was pleasantly warm for the time of year. I sat on a bench near the lake, where I witnessed a strange oriental ritual. I don’t know which country they were from - Japan? China? Korea? - but they were three components, a man, his wife, and their teenage son. They stopped near where I sat, and the man took a photograph of his wife and son against the backdrop of the lake. He then gave his camera to his wife, who photographed her husband and her son in exactly the same place. Then he gave the camera to their son, who in turn photographed his mother and father, always in precisely the same place. The family then walked just a few yards up the lake, where they repeated the ritual all over again, the husband photographing his wife and son, then the wife photographing her husband and son, and finally the son photographing his mother and father. A strange ritual indeed.

I basked in the March sunshine a while longer and then got up, shouldered my shoulder bag on my shoulder, and headed off towards the station. My 24 hour Swiss séjour was drawing ineluctably to an end. I stopped off in a post office to buy a postcard and a stamp, picked up my second map of Geneva, this one free, and reached the train station. I wrote my message on the postcard and then set about trying t find a post box. Certain that there would be one in the station, I looked high and low, until finally, with the help of an attractive woman who forsook (it’s the only word) her tiny shop to help me look, finally found one. Then I looked for a ticket machine for a train to the airport, couldn’t find one, couldn’t be bothered to wait in a long queue to buy a ticket, so decided to take the bus to the airport. Mistake! The uncomfortable and crowded bus took a full half hour to get there.

Geneva Airport is self check-in, so I self-checked in, picked up my last map, and waited on the hard metal seats for the flight to be called. Soon after I was on my way back. My brief séjour (I don’t mind using the same word twice) was over. But I vowed to return one day and take the train along the lake to Lausanne, but haven’t done so, and maybe never will. Then again, as Fats Waller used to say, “one never knows, do one?”

Friday, 8 October 2010

A rainy day in Amsterdam

I visited Amsterdam for the first time in 1972. The Swinging Sixties had just given way to the Cynical Seventies, though traces of the naivety of the old decade could be seen in the collection of hippies in front of the American Express office, trading airline tickets to wherever. It was just two or three years after John and Yoko’s pre-marriage bed-in honeymoon for peace at the Amsterdam Hilton, and about the same time after the Fab Four had split up for good. Soon we would all have to get used to the values of the new decade, and in particular its cynicism. No great problem for me, I have to say, as I was a born cynic. I haven’t believed in many things in my life, in fact I’ve always acted out of convenience rather than conviction, but one thing I do believe is that there’s too much optimistic stupidity in the world. So on paper I should have been overjoyed as we entered the Seventies, one of the most miserable decades in the history of the human race. But that’s another story which I can’t be arsed enough to relate. Suffice to say that I liked Amsterdam in 1972, and was looking forward to seeing it again 35 years later, the 6th of March 2006, to be precise, on a one-day flying visit.

The plane touched down at Amsterdam Schiphol airport and taxied for about 15 minutes to the terminal building. Despite its size and importance, Amsterdam Schiphol has only one terminal, which means that it’s big. It is also quite unique for airports on continental Europe in that the signs around the terminal are in one language only - English. At all other European airports they are in English and the language(s) of the country. This, of course, is for sound good reasons, recognizing the widespread use of English in the world. But it is also my belief that Europeans, basically, no longer like their own languages. Say something to them in their language and they invariably reply in English, even if their English is far from perfect. I once met a man who’d mastered the art of speaking English without the use of prepositions. And during this visit to Amsterdam I heard two young Dutch guys talking together in English. I asked them why they spoke English and not Dutch and was told by one of them that Dutch is boring. And it may be a sentiment which is shared by many Dutch people. At Schiphol Airport, for example, there is space called Schiphol Plaza. All around the plaza there are cafes and bistros with names in English, French, Spanish and Italian, but not a single one in Dutch. Tant pis, to quote a foreign language.

I needed to buy a train ticket for Amsterdam and went to a ticket machine, but it wouldn’t accept my Visa debit card. I needed a credit card, a man kindly told me in English. So I queued at the ticket desk, bought my ticket and got on the train.

Outside Centraalstation

In 1972 I’d stayed in a hotel opposite Centraalstation and I wanted to see if it was still there. I remembered the railways station, too, and I was looking forward to seeing its grand façade. But upon stepping out of the station, not only was it pouring with rain, but the station façade was covered in tarpaulin. This, in fact, is typical of my travels. At almost every destination there is either building or maintenance works taking place. How do they know I’m coming? Is it a conspiracy? Neither was I accosted at the station by drug pushers and hustlers, which the travel guide I’d looked at had assured me I would be. Nothing so far was going to plan. But my hotel, I‘m pleased to report, was still there. I’m not actually sure which one it was, but there were several, side by side, and it had to be one of them. And the trams were there too, blue and white ones, just as I remembered them.

The rain continued to pour down, but it didn’t deter the cyclists, who were everywhere. I saw one who was riding his bike while holding an umbrella over his head. Nature adapts. I bought a map, which was soon soaking wet, making it difficult to read. So instead I just wandered aimlessly, hoping to stumble upon something of interest. But there was nothing! I couldn’t even find a canal. Neither were there crowds of people everywhere. Where were they all? Hiding from the rain? Luckily it was dinner time, so it made it my mission to find an Irish pub for some Irish stew. But the Irish pubs I found were all ‘themed’ pubs. Their only connection with Ireland appeared to be that they sold Irish beer. Big deal! So I ended up in an Italian restaurant, where the customers all ordered in English, and the Italian waiter replied in English. The food wasn’t fantastic either.

And still the rain came down! I wandered some more and finally came across a canal. It was a big one, too, and may have been the Amstel, though I wouldn’t want to swear to that. I had no desire to visit any of the tourist attractions in the city, but I did want to ride in a tram, so decided to take one back to Centraal. Buying a ticket for public transport on the continent is always a challenge as every country has its own system. In Italy you buy a ticket before boarding the bus or tram, either at a bar or a tobacconist or some other licensed vendor. In France you buy a bus ticket on the bus, but not a tram ticket, which you have to purchase before boarding. The tickets are at a fixed price for one journey of any length, though you can also purchase a day or week ticket, what the French call un pass. In Switzerland you buy a ticket before boarding, though the price depends upon the length of journey. In Amsterdam you can purchase a tram ticket when you board the tram, and the price also depends upon which zone you are travelling to. They also have conductors seated at tables onboard the trams. On the tram that I boarded the conductor (?) was a young guy with heavily tattooed arms, no uniform, and an expression that said that he would sooner be somewhere else. Though he did speak English.

Back at Centraalstation I consulted my soggy map and discovered that the famous Red Light district was not far away. So I set off to look for it, and when I got there found that it was full of people. So this is where they all were! And I can quite understand why they were there….apart, of course, for the obvious thing. For it is, in fact, a very nice place, with lots of narrows streets, and peaceful canals with picturesque humped-back bridges. So I wandered around, did a little window shopping with all the other tourists, then realised that it was time to head back to the airport.

The rain was still pouring down when I reached the airport. I self-checked in, with the help of a passing air hostess (or do we have to call them cabin crew?), then went to the Plaza. I bumped into an English gentleman: sixties, well spoken, aristocratically scruffy. He asked me for thirty euros for a hostel for the night. I gave him five and a cup of herbal tea. Sitting together in Grand Café drinking our tea, I got quite erudite as I pushed my nostrum on globalisation and how they won’t be happy until every last vestige of local culture throughout the world has been eliminated and we’re all talking the same mono-gibberish and drinking our coffee and eating our cheeseburgers in the same architecturally identical restaurants and coffee bars, but I don’t think he gave a toss. And I’m not really sure how much I did either. So I left him to cadge another 25 euros and went up on the airport roof and stood in the rain and watched the puddles forming on the tarmac.

Schiphol Plaza

The flight was called and I was the first passenger to arrive at the boarding gate where two hostesses were talking together… Dutch! What were they thinking of? Hadn’t they heard that it’s illegal? In fact, it was the first Dutch that I’d heard spoken all day. More passenger turned up, then the plane did, and we all clambered on board. We taxied 15 minutes to the runway and then were airborne and on our way back.

I liked Amsterdam. The people were friendly enough and polite, and the cyclists didn’t seem to mind a bit when I wandered into their cycle lanes making them swerve and fall in the canals. Would I go back? Oh yes. And maybe, just maybe, one day in another 35 years time, I will!

The Holiday - a play

A small town railway station in the North.
Early morning.
Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn, with their daughters Sandy (Glyn) and Mandy (Wynn), both aged about 12 years, await with suitcases for the London train to arrive. The platform is almost deserted.
Sandy (or Mandy) looks down the track, but there is no sign of the train. The track is long and straight, the landscape almost flat, and there are some high clouds in the sky.
They wait in silence.
Two ladies approach and stop near the Glyns and the Wynns. The ladies talk and Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy regard them as they do so.

FIRST LADY: A pity for your hump, I said. Go on, on your bike, I said. It was six and two threes to me.

SECOND LADY: What does that mean?

FIRST LADY: What? On your bike?

SECOND LADY: Six and two threes.

FIRST LADY: You've heard of that phrase, haven't you? Six and two threes?

SECOND LADY: Yes, I've heard it. But I've never known what it meant?

FIRST LADY: It means it's the same.


FIRST LADY: I had a head like fifty. A pity for your hump, I said. Go on, on your bike, I said. A brick short of his load, if you ask me.

The two ladies walk on. The Glyns and the Wynns regard them as they go. Sandy (or Mandy) looks down the track, but there is no sign of the train.
A porter approaches and leans down towards Sandy (or Mandy), his face round and ruddy. The porter smiles.

PORTER: London, is it?

The porter laughs and walks off. Sandy (or Mandy) regards him as he goes.
A train whistle blows. Sandy (or Mandy) looks down the track, but there is no sign of the train.
They wait in silence.
The two ladies walk past with their luggage.

FIRST LADY: A pity for your hump, I said. On your bike.

The ladies walk past.
The train whistle is heard again. Sandy (or Mandy) looks down the track. The train is coming in the far distance. Sandy (or Mandy) looks too. Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn pick up their luggage and take their daughters by the hand. The train pulls up at the platform. The waiting passengers all board it. No one alights from the train. The train moves off.

A closed compartment on the train.
Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn sit opposite each other on the corridor side, with Sandy and Mandy opposite each other on the window side. A gentleman enters the compartment. Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy regard the gentleman. The gentleman sits between Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn) and Sandy (or Mandy). He takes a handkerchief from his pocket and blow his nose with vigour. He holds the handkerchief towards Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn.

GENTLEMAN: So much for modern washing machines and powders! This handkerchief was bright green when it was new, then after the first wash the colour migrated into a sort of eau-de-nil, and then into what it is now, a khaki I suppose. Just look at that! Perborate, that's the cause. It attacks the fabric. That's why, when they first introduced it, the fabric producers had to come up with new materials that could withstand the perborate. Royal blue, that was dreadful! You see, sometimes they would pour the powder onto the water while the water was still, and it would slowly drop down onto the fabric, in concentrated form of course. Then when the wash was started and they took the garment out, it would be all blotchy. Covered in blotches! And do you know who the worst offenders were for using perborate? Well, I forget their name now. But it was absolutely dreadful! You have no idea. Of course shirts, now they're a different matter. Polyester cotton, you see. I have nothing but praise for shirt producers. This shirt can be put into a washing machine, into boiling water, thrashed around, put into an extractor, into a heat dryer, and finally ironed with a red hot iron. And will it lose its shape? Not on your life. It won't shrink, it won't grow larger, and it won't lose its colour. Photographic print paper is exactly the same.

The gentleman puts the handkerchief back in his pocket. There is a long pause. Sandy and Mandy look out of the window. The gentleman speaks again, suddenly)

GENTLEMAN: Wool, now there's a substance. (He prepares for his monologue as the train continues on)

A London railway station, Kings Cross for preference.
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy disembark from the train. The gentleman helps them with their baggage.

GENTLEMAN: ......not that I expected them to be handing out bouquets. There are degrees of reprimand, shall we put it like that?

The gentleman lays the baggage on the platform, tip his hat and walks off. They watch him go.

The railway station taxi rank.
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy, Mandy, and the taxi driver load the baggage into the cab, which they then board and the taxi drives off.)

A quiet suburban street, Ilford for preference.
The taxi stops in front of some terraced houses.
A lady (this is the Landlady) is standing on the doorstep of the house at which the taxi stops. Next door another lady stands with a black dog which barks playfully.
As the taxi halts, Mandy runs to the dog and pets it. Sandy lays a suitcase down on the pavement. Her mother steps out of the taxi and falls over the suitcase onto the pavement. Sandy laughs a silent laugh.
Mrs Wynn pays the taxi driver and the cab drives off. Mrs Glynn stands and picks up her luggage. Mrs Wynn picks up her luggage, and they all go towards the landlady. The landlady (small and middle-aged) smiles a charming smile and greets them.

LANDLADY: Hullo, now. We've been expecting you. Come on in. Was the journey nice for you, now? All right?

A narrow winding stairway.
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy struggle up the stairs with the baggage, followed by the landlady.
The wallpaper is peeling off the walls, which look damp and porous. They reach the first floor landing. There are two doors opposite each other. The landlady opens the door to the left. Inside can be seen a double bed)

LANDLADY: This one will be the girls' room. All right, now? Will this be nice for you, now?

Sandy and Mandy exchange glances, take their vanity cases and go into the room. Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn take a look inside. The room appears to have been recently redecorated but remains sparce and unhomely.
The ladies return to the corridor and Sandy (or Mandy) closes the room door from the inside. Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn follow the landlady to the next flight of stairs to the second floor. Just then the other door opens and man (this is the Landlord), wearing pyjamas and smoking a cigarette, appears at the door. He is southern European (Portugese for preference) in complexion. The ladies do not see him, but turn when he calls out.)

LANDLORD: Mind the stairway.

Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn and the landlady turn and look at the landlord, then continue to the second floor.
On the second floor there is one door on the left and another at the end of a short passage. The landlady takes them into the room on the left, which is likewise redecorated and sparse. There are two single beds, one to the left, the other in an alcove. There is one window high up on the wall.)

LANDLADY: This one is yours. All right, now? I hope that it'll be nice for you, now. Breakfast is served at eight-fifteen.

The landlady goes out and closes the door behind her. The ladies look at the room and then at each other. They inspect the sheets. Mrs Glynn (or Mrs Wynn) sees that there is no lock on the door. They exchange glances.)

The ladies' room. Black.
Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn are asleep in their beds. Mrs Glyn has the bed to the left and Mrs Wynn the bed in the alcove. Through the dim light of the window a chair can be seen propped up against the door. There is silence. Then suddenly a train roars past at high speed (Inter City 125 for preference) and the room vibrates.
Mrs Wynn sits up in bed.
Mrs Glyn sits up in bed.
They look towards each other in the dark.

Morning. The door at the end of the passage. From inside the sound of a lavatory flushing. The door opens and Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn) steps out, then returns and flicks with her foot at the mat around the bowl. Underneath there is thick dust.

Living room.
Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn), Sandy and Mandy are sitting down for breakfast. The landlord is reclining on a sofa, still wearing pyjamas and smoking a cigarette. (Note: When the landlord speaks his questions take the form of demands). Mrs Glynn (or Mrs Wynn) comes into the room and sits at the table. The landlady comes in through the kitchen door, bright and friendly.

LANDLADY: What are you having for breakfast, now?

MRS WYNN: I don't want an egg.

LANDLADY: All right, that's all right, now. (To Mrs Glyn) What are you having for breakfast, now?

MRS GLYN: I don't want an egg, either.

LANDLADY: All right, that's all right, now. We've got no sausage. Will you have bacon?

MRS WYNN: Yes, I'll have bacon.

MRS GLYN: And I'll have bacon, too.

LANDLADY: What about the girls? Will they have bacon?

MRS WYNN: Mandy will have egg and bacon.

MRS GLYNN: And Sandy will just have bacon.

LANDLADY: All right, that's all right, now. (She walks to the door, stops, ponders, then walks back to the table) What did you say you wanted again?

Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn exchange glances.

MRS WYNN: I don't want an egg.

MRS GLYN: And I don't want an egg.

MRS WYNN: But Mandy will have egg and bacon.

MRS GLYN: And Sandy will just have bacon.

LANDLADY: All right, now, that's all right, now.

The landlady goes to the door, stops, ponders, then goes through into the kitchen.
There is silence.
The landlord, who has been watching throughout, now speaks.

LANDLORD: Did you sleep all right?

Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn exchange glances, uncertain who should answer first.

MRS WYNN: Actually I never slept a wink.

LANDLORD: Why not?

MRS WYNN: The noise of the trains all night long.

LANDLORD: Are you not railway people, then?

MRS GLYN: Yes, we are, but we're not used to trains all night long. It's only a little village.

LANDLORD: That's not the point. Are those beds not all right? What's wrong with them?

MRS WYNN: Oh nothing, they were very nice.

LANDLORD: Well then, why didn't you sleep?

MRS WYNN: It was just the noise of the trains all night long.

LANDLORD: But you are railway people? (To Mrs Glyn) Do you work for the railway?

MRS GLYN: No, but my husband does.

LANDLORD: (To Mrs Wynn) Do you work for the railway?

MRS WYNN: No, but my father did, and my mother still has a free pass.

There is silence. Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn look at the room. Everywhere, hung in frames on the walls and on the furniture, there are photographs of a dark skinned and chubby faced lady. The landlord stands and goes to one of the photographs hanging on the wall.)

LANDLORD: This was my first wife. She died 1959. My son lives in London. He visits me every day. He only lives five minutes away but his car's broken down. He's got his own telex and he's the only one to have his own telex.

The landlord polishes the photo frame with the sleeve of his pyjamas. The landlady returns with the breakfasts.

LANDLADY: There you are, now. That'll be nice for you, now. All right?

Each plate has egg and sausage on it.

MRS WYNN: No, I didn't want egg.

MRS GLYN: Neither did I. And neither did Sandy.


They all look at the plates, unsure what to do. There is a long silence. The landlord watches from his place near the wall.

MRS WYNN: That's all right, we'll.........that's all right.

LANDLADY: All right, that's all right, now. I'll bring the tea.

The landlady returns to the kitchen. The landlord crosses to the table and looks at the sausage just as his guests are about to eat.

LANDLORD: (calls to his wife) Vera, why didn't you pierce the sausages?


VERA: (from kitchen) I did pierce the sausages.

LANDLORD: You didn't.

Vera comes back in with the tea.

VERA: (laughs) If I'd pierced them any more they'd have burst. (She lays down the tea) There you are, now. That'll be nice for you, now. All right?

Vera returns to the kitchen. The landlord looks closely at the sausages and then moves furtively around the room. Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy eat. The landlord pauses in the bay window, then picks up a large, heavy and dusty book, which he carries to the Glyns and the Wynns at the breakfast table, then to their surprise bangs it down on the table.)

LANDLORD: Would you please fill that book in? I want your comments.

The landlord walks towards the door, leaving the book on the table. He stops near the door and dusts a photograph on the table (folding for preference) with his pyjama sleeve, then goes out.
Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn look at the book and exchange glances. Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn) pours out the tea.

MRS GLYN OR MRS WYNN: This tea's coffee.

Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn) pours out the coffee.

The passage way at the foot of the stairs. Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy are all standing.

MANDY: I'll just get my coat.

First floor bedroom. Mandy enters and picks up her coat from the double bed. She glances through the window at the garden below, where she sees a brick shelter with a hatch on the roof. She goes to the window and looks out. The landlord, still in pyjamas and slippers, climbs onto the roof of the brick shelter, opens the hatch and goes inside.
Mandy puts on her coat and goes out.

Trafalgar Square.
Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn sit near the fountain.
Sandy and Mandy feed the pigeons.

The Tower of London.
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy eat ice cream as they are conducted on their tour.

Houses of Parliament.
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy pose in front of the palace of Westminster as an Indian gentleman takes their photograph. The Indian gentleman smiles, gives the camera back to Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn), tips his hat and walks off.

A court room at the Old Bailey.
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy sit in the public gallery. A fragile and tiny lady is standing in the dock. The foreman of the jury stands to deliver the verdict.


LADY IN THE DOCK: I never touched him!

JUDGE: Silence in court.

Night. The terrace row in Ilford (for preference).
Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy approach the boarding house and Mrs Glyn (or Mrs Wynn) rings the bell. The house is in darkness. Silence. Mrs Wynn (or Mrs Glyn) rings again. Footsteps are heard coming down the stairs inside the house. The door opens to reveal Vera in her dressing gown.)

VERA: Hullo, now. Has it been a nice day for you, now? Come on in. I expect that you're ready for your beds.

The passage way. Mrs Glyn, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy go to the staircase, with Vera behind them.

VERA: Oh. (She goes into the living room and returns with the book) My husband says you won't forget to fill in the book, now? All right, now?

After some hesitation Mrs Glyn takes the book and they all mount the stairs.

First floor landing.
Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn kiss their daughters, who go into their rooms. Mrs Glynn and Mrs Wynn make their way to the staircase.

VERA: Will you put it outside the door when you've finished? All right, now?

Vera goes into the room on the right. Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn mount the stairs.

Mrs Glyn's and Mrs Wynn's room. Mrs Glyn sits on her bed studying the book. Mrs Wynn sits at her shoulder and peers over it. Mrs Glyn reads from the book.

MRS GLYN: Fine. (Pause. She reads from the book) Satisfactory. (Pause. She reads from the book) Comfortable. (Pause. She reads from the book) Clean bedroom and kitchen. (Pause. She reads from the book) Very charming and friendly, charming hosts, beautiful breakfast.

Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn exchange glances. There is silence. Mrs Wynn gets her handbag and takes out a letter. She returns to the bed and holds the letter to the book)

MRS WYNN: It's his handwriting. He wrote it himself.

Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn exchange glances. There is silence.

MRS GLYN: What shall we do?

MRS WYNN: I suppose we should write something.


MRS WYNN: I don't know. (Pause) At least the sheets are clean.

Mrs Glyn and Mrs Wynn exchange glances. There is silence.

MRS GLYN: Will you write something?

MRS WYNN: Oh, you should do that, Pat. It's your Billie that's in the railway.


Silence. Pat hestitates, then writes something in the book. Mrs Wynn reads it.

MRS WYNN: Satisfactory.

The second floor landing.
Mrs Wynn opens the door and puts the book outside. Pat is right behind her. Indistinct voices can be heard from downstairs.

Mrs Wynn's and Pat's room.
Pat and Mrs Wynn are in their beds with the chair propped up against the door. Dim light through the window. A train (Inter City 125 for preference) speeds past and the room vibrates. Mrs Wynn turns in her bed.)

The living room.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy are seated at the breakfast table. The landlord is standing at the bay window, looking out. He is holding the book. Outside, the dog is barking playfully.

LANDLORD: That dog's blind, it should be put down. (He turns) I worked on the railway in India 25 year, I had ten servants, all women.

The landlord sits on the couch, still in his pyjamas, and looks through the book. Vera comes in from the kitchen)

VERA: What are you having for breakfast, now?

MRS WYNN: I don't want an egg.

VERA: All right, that's all right, now. (To Pat) What are you having for breakfast, now?

PAT: I don't want an egg, either.

VERA: All right, that's all right, now. We've got no bacon. Will you have sausage?

MRS WYNN: No, I won't have sausage.

PAT: I'll have sausage.

VERA: (To Mrs Wynn) What will you have, then? Would you like a tomato? Would that be nice for you?

MRS WYNN: Yes, I'll have a tomato.

VERA: And what about the girls? Will they have a tomato?

MRS WYNN: Mandy will have egg and sausage.

PAT: And Sandy will just have sausage.

SANDY: With a tomato.

PAT: With a tomato.

VERA: All right, now, that's all right, now. (She walks to the door, stops, ponders, then walks back to the table) What did you say you wanted again?

Mrs Wynn and Pat exchange glances.

MRS WYNN: I don't want an egg and sausage.

PAT: And I don't want an egg.

MRS WYNN: But Mandy will have egg and sausage.

PAT: And Sandy will just have sausage.

SANDY: With a tomato.

PAT: With a tomato.

VERA: All right, now, that's all right, now.

Vera goes to the door, stops, ponders, then goes through into the kitchen.
There is silence.
The landlord is half regarding the Wynns and the Glyns and half reading the book. He seems particularly interested in Mrs Wynn.
Through the half-opened door to the kitchen, Sandy (or Mandy) sees an ageing Negro gentleman going out the back door.
There is silence.
Vera returns with the breakfast plates.

VERA: There you are, now. That'll be nice for you, now. All right, now?

Vera lays the plates down. They are prepared as follows:

(1) a raw unsliced tomato and sausage
(2) egg and bacon
(3) egg, sausage, bacon and beans
(4) beans and bacon

Mrs Wynn has plate (2), Pat has plate (3), Sandy has plate (1), and Mandy has plate (4). They each regard their plates in silence.

VERA: I'll just bring the tea.

Vera goes into the kitchen. Mrs Wynn takes plate (1) and gives Sandy plate (2). Sandy takes plate (4) and gives Mandy plate (2). Pat takes plate (1) and gives it to Sandy, gives plate (4) to Mrs Wynn, takes plate (3) and gives it to Mandy, and takes plate (2) and keeps it herself. Mrs Wynn looks at her plate. Pat now takes plate (4) and gives it to Sandy, gives plate (2) to Mrs Wynn, and takes plate (1) and keeps it herself. Mrs Wynn takes plate (1) and gives Pat plate (2). Pat looks at her plate. Mandy takes plate (2), pushes the egg from plate (2) onto plate (3), gives plate (2) to Pat, keeps plate (3) herself.
Therefore the following sequence:


Start (2) (3) (1) (4)

After Mrs Wynn's
first exchange (1) (3) (2) (4)

After Sandy's
exchange (1) (3) (4) (2)

After Pat's
first exchange (4) (2) (1) (3)

After Pat's
second exchange (2) (1) (4) (3)

After Mrs Wynn's
second exchange (1) (2) (4) (3)

After Mandy's
exchange (1) (2 -1 egg) (4) (3 +1 egg)

The landlord, who had been watching throughout, gets up and walks to the door, still carrying the book. He halts at the door, dusts a photograph with his pyjama sleeve, then goes out and closes the door.
Vera returns from the kitchen with the tea.

VERA: There you are, now? That'll be nice for you, now? All right, now?

Vera goes back to the kitchen. They eat their breakfasts. Mrs Wynn (or Pat) pours out the tea, and Sandy (or Mandy) sips it and confirms with a look that it is tea.
Mrs Wynn slips the sausage on her plate into her cardigan pocket. They eat in silence. Mrs Wynn is the first to finish, then stands and goes to the door.

The passage way.
Mrs Wynn steps out from the living room and into the passage. She goes towards the stairs. Suddenly the landlord appears from nowhere, still clutching the book. He startles Mrs Wynn.

LANDLORD: You didn't fill the book in.

MRS WYNN: No, I didn't think I'd have to. It's Pat whose husband works for the railway.

LANDLORD: That's not the point. You are separate. You fill in too. (He thrusts the book into Mrs Wynn's arms) I keep books so that people make comments. (He takes a few steps to his exit and turns) I want proper comments.

The landlord disappears into the nowhere from whence he came. Mrs Wynn is left holding the book. She goes to the stairs.

The ladies' room.
Mrs Wynn sits on the bed with the book on her lap. She has a pen in her hand. She sniffs. She slowly writes in the book, looks at it, reads it back.)

MRS WYNN: Satisfactory accommodation, very helpful hosts.

The stairway from the second to the first floor.
Mrs Wynn comes down the stairs with the book. She stops on the first floor landing and looks in the girls' room where Sandy, Mandy and Pat are looking from the window. Mrs Wynn joins them and looks too. Through the window they see the garden and the brick shelter. The landlord approaches the shelter, climbs on the roof, lifts the hatch, and goes inside.

SANDY (or MANDY): I wonder if that's where his wife is?

PAT: Sandy!


MRS WYNN: Mandy!

The passage way.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy come down the stairs and into the passage. Mrs Wynn puts the book on a small table.

SANDY: I want to go to the zoo.

Vera comes in from the living room and thrusts a picture post card into Pat's hand.

VERA: My husband asked me to give you this. I hope that the day stays nice for you, now. All right, now?

Pat and Mrs Wynn exchange glances.

London zoo.
Sandy and Mandy look through the bars at the giant cats (lions for preference). Mrs Wynn and Pat sit on a bench nearby. Pat takes the picture post card from her pocket and reads it. Mrs Wynn watches and listens)

PAT: Please pay bill.

Mrs Wynn and Pat exchange glances.

London zoo.
Pat, Mrs Wynn, Sandy and Mandy walking around, Sandy and Mandy distracted by the animals.

MRS WYNN: Don't pay, Pat, not until we leave. We've already paid a deposit. Don't pay.

London zoo.
Sandy and Mandy make faces at the monkeys in a cage. Mrs Wynn regards Pat, who is lost in thought.

Night. The terraced row in Ilford (for preference).
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy stand at the door. Mrs Wynn (or Pat) rings the bell. A light comes on inside and footsteps are heard. Vera opens the door in her dressing gown.

VERA: Hullo, now. Come on in. Was it a nice day for you, now?

They go in and move to the stairs with Vera following behind.

First floor landing.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy reach the landing followed by Vera. Vera goes to the door at the right, then turns.

VERA: Oh, my husband says can you please pay the bill. All right, now?

Vera goes into the room. While the door is open the following conversation is heard.

LANDLORD: Vera, where's my black box?

VERA: Which black box?

LANDLORD: You know which black box?

VERA: But you've got four black boxes.

LANDLORD: You know the black box I mean.

The door closes. Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy all exchange glances.

The ladies' room. Pat is sitting on her bed counting out some ten pound notes.

MRS WYNN: Well count it out when you give it to her, Pat. Don't just hand it over. Count it out. (Pause) Will you?

Pat looks at Mrs Wynn and nods her agreement. Mrs Wynn smiles. She puts the chair beside the door. The two ladies exchange glances.

Mrs Wynn's bed. Black. Mrs Wynn appears to be asleep. A train roars past (Inter City 125 for preference) and the room vibrates. Mrs Wynn's eyes open wide.

The passage way.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy stand outside the living room door. Mrs Wynn and Pat have their handbags.

MRS WYNN: Don't forget, Pat, count it out. All right?

Pat smiles.

The living room.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy come in from the passage. A Scotsman (this is Mackenzie) is having breakfast at the table. He eats vociferously. Mackenzie's breakfast consists of kippers and baked beans. As he eats her slurps down his drink (tea?).
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy regard Mackenzie in silence. None of them sit. Vera sees her guests.

VERA: Oh, hullo.

Vera smiles. Pat crosses the room to where Vera is standing, opens her handbag, takes out a wad of ten pound notes and pushes them into Vera's hand.


Pat moves away, ashamed. Vera smiles.
Mrs Wynn crosses the room, opens her handbag, and takes out a wad of ten pound notes. As she gives them to Vera she counts them out slowly, one by one.

MRS WYNN: Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty.

While Mrs Wynn is counting out the money, Mandy (or Sandy) sees the landlord peering out at them from the kitchen. She nudges Sandy (or Mandy).
Mrs Wynn finishes counting the money and Vera goes with it into the kitchen.
Mackenzie finishes his breakfast. He belches, wipes his chin with the table cloth. Mackenzie stands and picks up his bag at the side of the table. He goes towards the door as Vera returns.)

VERA: Oh, you're off, Mr Mackenzie. I hope that Yugoslavia's nice for you, now? (Mackenzie reaches the door) Oh, Mr Mackenzie. (Mackenzie turns) The book!

Mackenzie goes to a table where the book is lying. Vera stands beside him. Mackenzie writes in the book, reading the word as he writes it)


VERA: All right, now, that's all right, now.

Mackenzie goes out. Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy sit down at the breakfast table. Vera crosses and begins clearing the table.

VERA: What are you having for your breakfast, now?

PAT: Actually we're going to Boulogne for the day.

VERA: Oh, that should be nice for you, now.

Onboard a hovercraft crossing the Channel.
Sandy and Mandy sitting together.

SANDY: Une boite de lunettes, s'il vous plait.

MANDY; Une boite d'allumettes! Idiot!

Night. The terraced row in Ilford (for preference).
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy stand at the door. Mrs Wynn (or Pat) rings the bell. A light comes on inside and footsteps are heard. Vera opens the door in her dressing gown.

The ladies' room. Black.
A train (Inter City 125 for preference) roars past and the room vibrates. Mrs Wynn moves sleeplessly in her bed.)

The passage way.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy coming down the stairs. Sandy and is in front and she jumps the last three steps and turns to the others)

SANDY: I want to go down the river!

The living room door opens and the landlord comes out dressed for the road: suit, hat, leather gloves, collar and tie. He proceeds them to the door.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy watch the landlord leave.

The River Thames.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy on a pleasure launch going past the Houses of Parliament (for preference). Sandy points at a landmark (Big Ben?)

Night. The terraced row in Ilford (for preference).
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy approach the house, weary.

PAT: Our last night.

MRS WYNN: (softly) Thank God.

Mrs Wynn's bed. Mrs Wynn lies awake. There is absolute silence.

MRS WYNN: (softly) Thank God.

The passage way. Morning.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy come down the stairs, carrying with difficulty their baggage. Vera comes in from the living room.

VERA: Oh, you're off, now. I hope that your stay here's been nice for you and that we'll see you again. (She opens the front door) All right, now?

The terraced row in Ilford (for preference).
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy come out from the house. A taxi driver steps out of his cab and helps them with their luggage. The black dog runs up to Mandy who pets it. Vera watches from the front door of the house as they load the luggage into the taxi and the cab drives off.

A London railway station, King's Cross for preference.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy get out of the taxi with their luggage. Pat pays the driver.

Railway platform.
Mrs Wynn, Pat, Sandy and Mandy rush down the platform and board the train.

A closed compartment on the train.
Pat and Mrs Wynn sit on the corridor side, Pat reading a book, Mrs Wynn snoozing. Sandy and Mandy are on the window side, looking out of the window. The train passes the terraced row in Ilford (for preference) and Sandy and Mandy see the boarding house and the black dog playing in the street. Sandy and Mandy look at each other. They look out of the window. The train speeds on.


A close study of this drama may have raised the following questions:

1. What was concealed in the brick shelter in the garden?

2. Was anything concealed in the brick shelter in the garden?

3. What happened to the landlord's first wife?

4. Was the landlord's son's car really broken down?

5. Did the landlord have a son?

6. When was the boarding establishment last decorated?

7. Had Vera pierced the sausages?

8. Did Sandy (or Mandy) see a white-haired negro in the kitchen or did she imagine it?

9. Was the landlord forging the book?

10. Who was Mackenzie?

11. Does the railway maintain boarding houses for their staff and their families?

12. What was kept in the black box?

13. Is £80 (plus deposit) a reasonable amount to pay for five nights accommodation for two in a boarding house?

14. How much was the deposit?

15. What did Mrs Wynn do with the sausage that she slipped into her cardigan pocket?

16. What was the view on the picture postcard?

17. Did the landlord really work for 25 years for the railway in India?

18. Did he really have ten servants?

19. Were they really all women?

20. Does a hovercraft service operate for day trips to Boulogne?

21. What did Sandy and Mandy want with a box of matches?

22. Are there still closed-compartment trains operation inter-city into London?

23. Is perborate still used as a detergent?

24. What is the origin of the phrase: 'A head like fifty'?

25. Do railways workers' wives retain their free passes after their husbands have retired or died?

26. What was the lady in the dock at the Old Bailey accused of?

27. Was the dog blind?

28. Is the standard of French taught in our schools today on the decline?

One night Mrs Wynn had a dream.

MRS WYNN: (billing) Ooh, Walter.

LANDLORD: (cooing) Ooh, Dolores.

VERA: Oh, you're off, Mr Mackenzie. I hope that Yugoslavia's nice for you, now. Oh, Mr Mackenzie. The book!


MRS WYNN: Mister Mackenzie. How dare you write such an outrageous and disgraceful word about an establishment which is spotlessly clean and friendly with charming hosts and a beautiful breakfast. Vera, see that this man's dossier goes into the black box!

Note on the indistinct voices that Mrs Wynn and Pat heard from the landing.
Voices low
voice prominent
accents undetermined.

The morning of Mackenzie's departure that sofa in the living room is made up into a bed.

Notes on Mackenzie:
Six feet tall
red beard
hacking jacket.

Notes on the photographs:
Black and white
some sepia
young lady
chubby face
hair neatly permed
dark skinned

29. Could the lady in the photographs be the landlord's mother?

One night Mrs Wynn descended the stairs to the ground floor in order to explore the passage from which the landlord appeared when he gave her the book.
The passage was narrow and gloomy and had a door discernible at the end.
Mrs Wynn did not explore further.

FIRST LADY: On your bike, I said. That stopped his tap.

Drama at the Old Bailey.

LADY WITNESS: Then there's the matter of the sausages.

DEFENCE COUNCIL: Sausages? (He bows to the bench and goes to consult with the defendant in the dock. He returns to his place) My Lord, we do not wish to pursue the matter of the sausages.

PROSECUTION COUNCIL: No re-examination, My Lord. However I do feel that my learned friend is being rather dismissal over the question of the sausages. If we recall the detective-constable's evidence in which it was clearly stated that the defendant said that she would have confessed to murder in order to get out of the police station, yet would not apparently confess to the much less serious matter of the sausages.

JUDGE: Thank you, Mr Elliott. I'm sure that the jury will be cognizant both of this witness's and of the detective-constable's evidence, however, I shall make mention of it in my summing-up.

PROSECUTION COUNCIL: I am obliged to Your Lordship.

DEFENCE COUNCIL: My Lord, I hesitate to rise once more, but if the defendant indeed stated - and we have just to hear her testimony in this matter - but if she indeed stated that she would have confessed to murder in order to get out of the police station, she did not mean that she would have confessed to murder had she been accused of murder, she merely wished to draw attention to the desperate state in which she found herself. On the question of the sausages, however, as Your Lordship will shortly see, she remains adamant.

30. The landlord, could his name be Wooten?

31. Or Shoop?