The wind whispers “beware”

The evening is coming.  I walk through the dance floor, the sun retreating, sucked from the darkening corners, leeching itself from the dusty floor. Lunging and fleeing at the horror of the disco lights being switched on.

“Got your gloves on boys? I think we’ll have trouble.”

I step onto the street and light my cigarette, looking up the walk towards Guildhall. Save for two chavs trying to bum some cigarettes from a passer-by, the strip was dead…. for now.  A deep sigh and I start to prepare myself mentally, to stand on the door for another night in deep analogy. As a backpacker turned publican to support my travels, my shaking over the past few months is diminishing. I hope to god it is still only visible from the inside.

It may be a desolate evening on Guildhall Walk but it is still early and the wind rushing past the door is whispering “beware.”

“I just heard the Fleet haven’t got any security on tonight” Chandler comments, shaking his head as he lights his cigarette. “She must have forgotten the game was on or something? Maybe she’s closing up? Some of the other pubs in the street are, not worth the trauma.”

It was the calm before the storm. Portsmouth were playing Southampton in the local derby. I had bulked my security to six and told them to be extra vigilant on the door. That meant checking everybody’s ID. Not to ascertain age but to ensure that we were not letting any Scummers into the pub.

I had nothing against anyone from Southampton. In fact those that I knew were quite pleasant. But fitting in meant using terms like moosh, supporting Harry and Jim to take the Blue Army to the top of the league, and of course referring to everyone from Southampton as Scum. If we accidentally let some in, history has taught me they will inevitably make their city of origin apparent to everyone in the vicinity, provoking a mass brawl. A lapse on the front door would almost certainly result in carnage.

“Come on, lets duck around and see what’s going on, we’ll give her a radio to call us if she gets into trouble.”

****

I moved to position on the door through the sweaty grindings of an inebriated sea of dancing peroxide in strobe and coloured lights. Here I have somehow found my home, hopefully temporarily, inside the bottled and released actions of angry young men.

All under control, I thought as Chandler put in the call on the radio “Robbo, trouble at The Fleet. What do you want us to do?”

Shit, I spoke too soon. I press in my mic “Meet me out the back in the lane, keep two on the front door and one inside, bring the rest.”

The short cut across the lane allowed us to be at the front steps of the Fleet in seconds. It was kicking off well. At first glance there was two separate fights each consisting of about four or five punters. We split into twos and made short work of it. Barging into the middle of the fray we collared the main trouble, worked out who was fighting who and ushered one lot out into the lane.

The baddies on the street wanted to go on with it for a bit but having one publican with a mile of front and three security guards who didn’t need it, seemed to settle them down reluctantly until their supporters inside kicked off again with the same group of guys.

They were dealt the same apparent injustice as their comrades and were also relegated to the alleyway. All seemed to be calm inside with the antagonists now pacing the laneway between The Fleet and the back of my joint. After checking the manageress was ok I left Chandler and another guard on the door of The Fleet to ensure the bad guys didn’t get back in and start things off again. I needed to get back to my gaff to ensure it wasn’t suffering the same fate.

We were not in my bar twenty minutes when Chandler put another call through “Robbo receiving?”

“Go ahead”

“Ah Robbo, I think you had better get back over here…..and bring help.”

One of my bouncers heard the call and met me at the back door, we poked our heads out into the lane, the crowd had swollen to over fifty and Chandler was pushing some back onto the street.

“Crap, lets go” We jogged quickly along the fence line and onto the steps of the pub, joining our other two guards. The crowd had lathered themselves up into a frenzy. Shouting. All the bad words. The guys inside were just as bad, banging on the windows riling them up further with every jeer.

‘What the hell happened? They were calm?”
“As soon as you left these guys called in their mates, we’ve had our hands full keeping them outside and then these pricks in the bar started taunting them. We’ve got to shut the doors, we can’t take all of them.”

“Do it, close ‘em.”  It perhaps wasn’t my call but this was getting out of control. Adam grabs a door but the angry mob rush at us in an attempt to force their way past. We were four guys standing on the steps of the pub, pushing the crowd back. A bottle smashes above our heads and a fist glances my cheek. “Shut the door” I yell.

The onslaught was relentless though and none of us could remove ourselves long enough to unhinge the doors. Our pushes became punches to try and protect ourselves before the mob lunged as one, busting through us.

I am forced to the left of the door, my security all to the right and a sea of aggression divides us. The next few minutes was a free for all, like a medieval war scene, two opposing forces collided as the wave of baddies flooded the door. Terror sets in, your instinct to survive heightens prickly on your skin as you duck and throw haymakers in futile attempts to avoid the flurry of fists, boots and bottles.

A guy rushes me with his fist cocked, I throw one, hitting him worse than flush and then wrestle him past me against a pool table as another one follows him, punching me in the eye. The adrenaline pumping through my veins, a natural anaesthetic. I ward him off the best I can, my arms feel like they are restrained as we jostle, my punches ineffective.

We spin, someone has picked up a pool cue and swings it at me, he is just out of reach. I am punched in the back of the head. I fail to turn to see my new opponent, instead I palm the second guy in the face and launch myself at the snooker fan forcing him backwards onto the second table with his cue lost from his grip. One massive elbow across his head and he stumbles back off, hesitant to reengage.

I look up breathless, stricken with fright. The battle was lost. My shirt ripped, hair wet with sweat and beer. My bouncers each had their hands full, and were being pushed back towards the bar by the animalistic horde. Men were now leaning across the counter grappling at the terrified bar staff. I make my way through the frenzy of fists, lashing out at anyone and everyone in desperation for survival.

I see Chandler and grab his attention, pulling him back towards me “get the guys, protect the bar staff and let these idiots punch themselves out” I yell. He grabs the other two bouncers and we span the bar face, kicking and punching off anyone that came close, staff behind us in a mix of fear and excitement.

Someone ripped a radiator out and hurled it, a glass ash tray took a gash from someone’s head and pool cues were the weapon of choice at the far side near the tables. It was hard to see whether anyone knew which side they were on anymore or if they were just caught up in the exhilaration of the moment.

Fights however never last long, for starters I don’t think anyone really enjoys getting the daylights kicked out of them and it is a fact that kicking the daylights out of someone else is a very tiresome exercise. The fight began to peter out and we moved back in, grabbing the weary combatants and throwing them out onto the street one by one. This time their obnoxious stance of defiance was fleeting and they all walked away, no doubt to tidy themselves up to enter another pub somewhere to celebrate and retell tales of their gallant and bravery in battle.

We empty the bar, shut the doors and to the shaken thank yous of the manageress we ambled back to my pub…… no doubt to retell of our gallant and bravery in battle also.

Real Neat Blog Award


Petrel41 from the wonderful “Dear Kitty. Some blog” has kindly nominated “robboworldtraveller” for the Real Neat Blog Award. I encourage you to visit her Dear Kitty blog for very interesting posts on politics, science, social justice and much more.  Thank you so much Petrel41, I have very much enjoyed your site and it was so nice to receive this nomination.

The ‘rules’ of the Real Neat Blog Award are: (feel free not to act upon them if you don’t have time; or don’t accept awards; etc.):

1. Put the award logo on your blog

2. Answer 6 questions asked by the person who nominated you.

3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.

4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.

5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

Petrel’s six questions are:

  1. How do you advertise your blog to others?

I don’t. I love telling travel stories and I’m really surprised that my site has received the following it has. I follow other blogs that I’m interested in or that I feel I can learn from in terms of style and I have found some of those I follow will in turn follow my site but I don’t seek to gain followers, just happy to tell my story to anyone keen to listen.

  1. How long do you spend blogging per week?

About 2 hours at most. I am writing a book and tend to post blogs on stories that don’t fit into my book. I’m not looking to publish anything, just writing because I find it enjoyable so maybe I will end up blogging all my stories.

  1. How many posts do you post per week, on average?

Usually only one.

  1. Which of your posts is your favorite so far?

Probably An African Morning. That has seemed to have inspired the most comments and likes. I didn’t like it when I first posted it but then I don’t like any of my writing at first. It takes a while for me to enjoy my own work.

  1. Why did you choose to create the blog you did?

I started blogging just over three months ago because I wanted to understand how blogs work and also share some of my adventures. I plan to keep blogging until it becomes a chore.

  1. Are pictures or words more important to you? Or are they equally important?

Words, only words.

My questions for my nominees are the same as Petrel’s.

My nominees are a for some travel writers who I think are really talented. They take care not just to document but to take you with them. If you enjoy travel writing I encourage you to check them out:

  1. Ryan, No filter necessary
  2. Fresh Brew
  3. Nikki: writer, kind of
  4. Searching for Elsewhere
  5. Traveholics
  6. The Travelling Diary of a Dippy-Doppy Girl

Prey

I crawled up the sand away from the other divers desperately clutching at my chest. My breaths shallow, useless, unable to satisfy my burning lungs. I rolled to my back, sand and saliva mixing grainy on my face. Trying desperately to fill my tightened lungs with air I gasp and swallow as I wrestle my wetsuit to my waist.  I whispered to myself, ‘Moses is right; this may be all in your head.’

 

Moses and I rolled off the bow at Silk Cayes, three pronged sling spears in our hand. We signalled our descent and ducked below the white caps to the calmness of a slow ocean current. Normally an advocate of taking only memories and leaving only bubbles, today we were diving with a purpose. There was a predator on the loose. One that needed to be eradicated.

Lionfish are introduced in the Caribbean. According to local legend a resort’s fish tank broke so they threw the Lionfish into the ocean. From there, having no predators, the Lionfish have multiplied in numbers and are eating all the reef fish on the Belizean coral reef. They can consume thirty juvenile fish in a minute and can reduce certain species of fish by up to 80% in an area within a five day period. Against all other instincts, today I am a hunter.

The coral in the clear warm waters off Belize inspires an inner tranquillity. Angelfish and Parrotfish brighten the scene, Jackfish school in a twisting cloud that bends and reforms as we pass and a lazy Grouper watches on as we scour the gradient of the reef.

Lurking in the coral recesses, the Lionfish hang in suspended animation, rocking gently on the ebb and flow. Their beautifully striped red, cream and black colouration and elaborate fins a warning to their protruding venomous spines.

The Lionfish venom won’t kill a human, but it will make you wish you were dead. I keep a respectful distance as I line my shot.

At first I wasn’t very accurate and managed to “scare” more than I speared. But as we traversed the lower realms of the reef I got the hang of it and soon was dragging a couple of dozen in the bucket behind me.

I looked across to a Black Tipped Reef Shark trailing to my right. Black Tipped Reef Sharks are generally not aggressive. They are beautiful, timid and social. Since making my way to Belize to dive the Blue Hole I had many wonderful up close encounters with these curious sharks.

At six foot and over a hundred kilograms I was genuinely excited to see this shark moving in and out of my periphery. Black Tipped Reef Sharks are quite harmless…. except when you are dragging a bucket of dead fish behind you and then they are considered extremely dangerous.

As this dawns on me, I look behind me. Another shark emerged and another and above another. Four sharks, excited by the smell of the blood of the fish in the water. Casing us.

One by one, they came into sight and then disappeared into the blue. No longer objects to be marvelled at. They were now vicious and energetic hunters, their eyes beady and foreboding, focussing on Moses and I. The hunters had become the prey.

I tap the fins of Moses ahead, signal that something is wrong and raise my hand flat, sideways and vertical against my forehead. He points at his eyes and signals we move ahead. The sinister outline of their pointed snout and blackened dorsal prowling across our perimeter, skirting the margins then darting away.

We flee across the base of the reef, escaping the predation of a pack of menacing sharks. Through the watery depths, my heart racing, fins kicking double time. Sharks following frighteningly close.

I look again to my air supply. As this was my first spear fishing experience, I had failed to fully appreciate how quickly you can use the air in your tank as you exert yourself at depth.

I signalled to Moses again that something was wrong. This time signalling that I only had 25 bar left in my tank. I cursed myself for my stupidity. An advanced diver I knew better than to get myself in this situation. I looked up towards the surface as a figure casts an alarming shadow. 25 bar wasn’t enough to get me to the surface with an appropriate safety stop.

We signal to each other to head towards the surface and to stop at 5 metres. If we don’t wait there for 5 minutes we put ourself at great risk of decompression sickness.

Suspended in the blue we float, bubbles trailing to the surface. The sharks return, circling below us. I count five now. My tank is nearly exhausted, the sound of our strained breathing and my heartbeat in my ears the only sound.

As my tank empties I grab Moses’ emergency buddy regulator and we both pull the remaining air from the one tank for the rest of our safety stop, silently keeping a watching eye for the sharks. It was getting quite tough to pull the air through the regulator from Moses’ tank into my lungs when Moses signalled it was time to surface. Moses looks at his watch, gives me the OK and I start to ascend.

As we fin to the surface I look around, I cant see the sharks. There is only one thing worse than seeing a pack of frenzied sharks in your midst and that is not seeing them. Then Moses’ watch starts sounding. This was his dive watch telling him it was not safe to surface yet. We waited another minute but his dive watch was still going crazy. Moses signals for me to surface. I pause. We can’t ascend too quickly after diving so deep but there was no choice, we had no more air. I look down, still can’t see the sharks.

I sat on the back of the boat as we made our way to the nearest island. My chest tight, unable to take a full breath, lungs felt like they were burning. Moses sits next to me explaining he thinks his watch is broken, “we are ok, no problem, we are safe up.” I wasn’t so sure. “Its no problem Robbo, this…” he points at my labouring chest, ” this in your head.”

 

I lay on the beach, half in the water. The sun warming my tanned skin. The fire down the beach wafting grilling Lionfish and the flow of the wave gently rising to my navel. The clouds above stretch across the blue, interrupted by a palm fidgeting and rearranging its shadow. I roll my eyes closed, concentrating only on my breathing. Deep, slow, I breathed.

Eventually I return to the group, a plate of Lionfish awaiting me. The crew and some local islanders enjoying the merits of our excursion in a postcard perfect scene. I pull up a patch of driftwood near Moses. “You ok Robbo?” he enquires.

“I think so Moses, I just had to give myself a good talking to. I’m alright now”

“We will go down again then after lunch?” He queries, picking at the remains of his fish

“Absolutely mate, I wouldn’t miss it.”

The Pofadder

We start on our afternoon walking safari through the Okavango Delta, the sun still hanging high in the sky. A light breeze occasions our sweaty skin providing a momentary reprieve to the oppressive heat. The dry open fields of bush and savannah grassland framed by fingers of delta water carving through the dryness.

Ahead of us an unsuspecting Pofadder basks in the sun, camouflaging itself in the dryness of the grass. Bitis arietans, is a particularly aggressive biter and is answerable for more fatalities than any other snake in Africa. Preferring to bite rather than avoid confrontation it releases a cytotoxin venom, which in the remoteness of the Delta is likely to result in a best case scenario of the victim losing the limb this viper strikes.

We head out along a thin trail carved by animals through the savannah grass. Master, a member of the local Bayei Tribe and expert tracker in the Delta helping me lead the group. He has been training me to track animals through the bush, to decipher the subtle notes of broken twigs and tracks. I recall my many failed attempts when I started this training. At each track in the dirt he would point.

“Wildebeest?” I would look at him like a student eager to please his teacher

“No Robbo”

Hartebeast?”

“No”

A sounder of warthogs run by, tails in the air as a guide to the scurrying suckers following an impatient mum. The babble of the Delta waterways close by, keeping inconsistent time, occasioned by a stirring bush. The whisper of the breeze through the Mopani trees only interrupted by the coos of tourists spotting something big in the distance.

Our group stops momentarily to observe a cohort of zebra grazing across the expanse. No fences, no vehicles, in a line we pause to appreciate the wildness of it all before starting out again. We try to keep our footfall light on the dusty track, eyes keenly scanning the scene for hints of wild in the dry savannah.

The Pofadder ahead recoils, ready to strike.

Overhead the shrill and ominous cries of an African Fish Eagle, the sound of the African wild, signals the danger unfolding. The grass reaches up, slowing our steps, pulling us at our legs in an attempt to prevent our path to the wickedness ahead. But a sinister trap had already been laid and we were about to be under attack.

The Pofadder strikes. Silently, swiftly. I saw nothing, heard nothing, only the barking and high pitched braying of the zebra as two long fangs inject a venomous cocktail deep into the fleshy skin. The victim jumps back in a terrifying and futile panic. Kicking out as the Pofadder recoils, resets, pausing as the heavy feet of our group push up the trail.

Again the Pofadder strikes. A new victim now. Master and I turn to see the terror in her eyes as the serpents powerful thrust sends frantic and repeated blows to the ankle of one of my female passengers.

This second attack however was thwarted. The Pofadder’s mouth was still full of frog. Its first victim kicking, sheathing the viper’s fangs. The girl jumps away with a shriek and the Pofadder retreats back into obscurity in the grass.

Our hearts race frantic. We stand there all scanning the ground for further terror before composing ourselves to continue cautiously forward. A close escape. Fortunately for us, not so fortunate was the poor frog.

Want Power?

I follow the rope down. The blue slowly suffocates the light as I keep my eyes fixed on the braided cord.  Every few metres I lower my hand to my mask to equalize the pressure building on my face. Upside down. I follow the rope still. Down into the blue.

At twenty metres I grope for the weights at the bottom of the rope, my breath running low. I feel I’ve been underwater too long already. My chest tightens as I straighten and look back up towards the surface. Its too far and I first feel my lungs start to burn. A desire to swallow filling my mind to distraction I start my ascent. My diaphragm starts to tremble. Fighting to breathe I foolishly open my mouth, it floods with water causing me to cough.

“Calm yourself Robbo” I repeat in my mind, “you’ve trained for this.” My blood is still fully enriched with Oxygen. “You don’t need to breathe” I tell myself.

I close my eyes. I feel tired. I try and concentrate on my slow kicks to the surface, searching for the power to overcome the desperation in my lungs.

*****

“Something… want something?”  A murmur comes from a local boy as I pass. I’d have questioned whether he was even talking to me if there was anyone else remotely close. “Hey, you want something, want power?”

I continue walking down the dirt road to the centre of town, picking my way around puddles in the street and dodging a Shetland horse drawn cart. Wooden shop fronts with thatched roofs line the strip. Restaurants, bars, yoga studios, and dive shops. Purveyors of tours and Bintang and ice cream attempt to prise me from my path.

I had made it to Gili Trawangan in Indonesia to learn to free dive. The goal was to dive on one breath to a depth of 20 metres. Each day my instructor Victor refined my technique. Victor is the second best freediver in the Ukraine and he can dive to 85 metres. Mike who owns Gili Freedive is the British champion who reaches depths of 103 metres on a single breath. I am in awe of these guys. Baby steps.

After two days of exercises and training, breaking through the mental urge to breathe and the physical symptoms of CO2 build up I surfaced to the cheers of Victor and my fellow students. Mission accomplished. This evening I am out on the town ready to relax and celebrate over dinner.

Travellers pock the road. Their hair braided and skin deeply tanned. There are no cars on Gili Trawangan. Travellers walk, take a cart or ride a push bike. The horses were not well maintained and one had already bitten me on the hip as it passed, leaving a bruise and who knows what rabies type mad horse disease it might be carrying.

Another man sidles next to me on the road. “You want something, you want power?”

It is said some of the locals are on crystal meth and they will approach you trying to sell you drugs to support their habit. Some follow you into the toilets, they stand next to you while you are peeing and pull out a bag of weed. Others simply prop up next to you at a bar and pull out a little box with bags of cocaine, HDMA, crack and ice. They refer to drugs as power. “You want something?” they would ask.

I start out down the road and immediately am beckoned towards a pizza shop. I stopped to give courtesy to the tout, pointing out to him though that there was a mouse in the window walking on the toppings. He acknowledged that it was in fact a mouse. “Good eye, please come and sit.” I don’t.

I move further along to the town centre. Under a mish mash of tarps, strung across a square concrete football field, the smoke wafts from coal BBQs, the heat being fanned to cook fish, rays, crustaceans, and local chicken. Aromas swirling through the mugginess around cats on the ground, Christmas lights hanging early or really really late flashing in one corner, across seafood stalls, laden with today’s catch under melting ice blocks and the more than occasional fly.

Locals are choosing their dinner, the newer tourists with a little more care circling a couple of times before committing or moving to a more “western” restaurant.  Bintang and fresh juices adorn pink lino covered wooden bench tables. Travellers are picking through charred fish and their day’s adventures in tongues from across the world. The smoke thickens, the sweet clove smell of Gudang Guram cigarettes linger in the air, I feel totally in place.

After dinner my dive buddies and I find an outdoor bar with live music. Travellers walk past us on the street as we settle in for the evening.

A guy selling DVDs comes by intently trying to sell his wares, surely this is a diminishing business that once flourished in South East Asia.

A guy walks by intently trying to sell some portable Bintang speakers. I have seen this guy no less than 10 times in the last few days and every time he played Sultans of Swing. He must really like that song, or by now really hate it.

A guy walks by selling woven bracelets… intently.

As we talk a local man is grabbing at my arm. “Want power?” he mutters. His eyes look through me, his clothes dirty and torn, face shifty and world worn. I politely decline as he pulls up a stool directly behind us. He opens his box of drugs and puts his feet on the back of my chair. Again he grabs me with his rough hands “what you want? Again I politely fob him off.

He interrupts us again, now bragging about taking HDMA that morning. He looks left and right down the street. “The high very good, you want?”

“No mate I don’t”

His partner in crime hassling a couple nearby spun around, his pupils like saucers, pronounced aloud “I take crack. You want something?” He grabs a bag of HDMA and tosses it into my lap. I pick it up urgently and throw it back at him.

“Why you scared?” he demands.

“Im not scared, I’m tired and you are annoying me” I replied curtly

“Tired huh? You just need some power!”