Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

“Didn’t even notice you were gone”


Guess who’s the most unpopular neighbour round this neck of the woods?

Sometimes I feel like one of those kids who always gets left behind on school trips. They pop into a toilet for a quick piddle, only to find the bus has left without them when they pop out. Nobody notices they’re not on the bus until roll call back at school.

Just in case anyone’s interested, I have’t posted anything since last January. I was in England for over a month. The first time in more than ten years. Seemed like a lot longer. Not since I’d last been, but the amount of time I spent there. Even then I’m not convinced Angelica knew I was gone. On my return she reacted as though I’d nipped down the road for a packet of fags. I haven’t smoked in years. Hello there, it’s me, I’m back. Remember, I’m the one that rants to myself all the time.

One thing I noticed while I was there is just how far the old country has drifted from Europe. Even though it’s a short hop across the Channel, you can hardly see what we used to call ‘the continent’ from the prom at Broadstairs. Even on clear days. Even standing on tippytoes. There’s just a mist where I suppose it must be. I get the impression the anchor has been hoisted and France may have already slipped below the horizon. A warning to all those aboard the sceptred isles: there are some very stormy seas in the Atlantic between the British Isles and America. Bon voyage!

Before jumping ship, I grabbed the chance to observe how a great number of English people go about their daily lives these days. What an eye-opener that was. Maybe it’s just me, but it was rather like watching an ageing retired couple with nothing left to do but spy on their neighbours. I got the sneaking feeling that, despite appearing over-polite to the point of obsequiousness while out and about the aisles of Marks & Sparks food emporiums, things might be different back behind closed doors. There was the nagging suspicion that after a long session of poking their noses into other people’s business from behind net curtains, more than a good few little Englanders whittle away their lives fretting and grumbling about untoward goings-on up and down their streets. I suppose I would think that owing to all the foreign blood swashing about my veins. When all’s said and done, I was born with one foot in Europe, as my mother was Norwegian. And what with having lived abroad since the late 20th century, I must now qualify as a complete turncoat. Anyway, without any coat at all I returned to Spain having felt more foreign in the country of my birth than I do in my adopted nation.


Winter’s day in Margate

Things really hit home in both a figurative and literal way when a welcoming guide at Canterbury cathedral asked my nephew and I where we were from in that “bain’t be from round these parts” manner even the most kindly Christians can exude. Admittedly, my nephew has that attractive Mediterranean aspect many women swoon over, and I sport the sort of tan you get from from years spent in more temperate climes. Nevertheless, though tainted by Scandinavian blood on my mother’s side, we were both born and brought up in England, and are as English as pork pies and pickled onions. My father – my nephew’s grandfather – served in the RAF during WWII, and my grandfather – his great grandfather – was captain of the SS Den of Crombie, which was torpedoed by a U-boat in WWI in the Mediterranean, while transporting much needed supplies for the war effort. Being the sensible sort of captain that refuses to go down with his ship, he abandoned it along with the rest of the crew. Arriving back in England for Christmas 1915, after many months at sea, he set about performing his husbandly duties with gusto. If it weren’t for that sequence of events, I wouldn’t have been here writing this. My father was born nine months later. In an odd sort of way, I suppose I ought to thank Kaiser Bill for that. And the rest of you can curse grandad for not going down with his ship like all good captains are supposed to.

So what was I ranting on about? Ah, yes. On hearing I lived in Andalucia the guide set about digging an even deeper hole for himself by claiming he was a regular visitor to the north of Spain, as if to claim some sort of kinship with us. I assumed my keep digging face and he kept digging. “It rains more there,” he tried. In that same moment he realised he sounded as though he was attempting to claim it was more like England than Andalucia, which was the last thing he wanted. I was beginning to enjoy watching him squirm immensely, but my nephew was offended. Justifiably so. Only a couple of months before a frothing nationalist had chased him down a street in Margate shouting for him to go back where he came from. He, his wife, and their two toddlers, are too happy living at their house in Broadstairs to return to their flat in Hackney.

So, to swerve radically back to the point – if ever there is one where ranting’s concerned – back in the 1980s I’d hop onto a plane to Istanbul to spend a few weeks travelling around East Anatolia. When I got back nobody seemed to have noticed my absence. On nipping into my local for a pint instead of being greeted with: “I haven’t seen you in ages. Where have you been all this time?” all I got was: “Didn’t even notice you were gone.”

No sooner had I begun to recount my tales of faraway places than I’d be interrupted by the news that old Fred – or old somebody else – was dead. What did they expect? He was old. After expressing my condolences, I’d try wading into my tale of sitting cross-legged in dusty, dark carpet shops in Kurdistan buying tribal rugs and weavings from men called Ali, only to be informed that QPR were playing at eight and it was on the telly. I never managed to get as far as the bit about drinking sessions at belly dancer clubs. And the night police armed to the teeth swarmed all over one gaff we were in. For chrissakes! The police pull your nails out for smirking in Kurdistan – luckily, I managed to hold one back. I’d just got back from a country where tribesmen used to kidnap Westerners like me back in the 1980s. They would drag us off to mountain hideaways and hold us for ransom under threat of death. And I was supposed to worry about QPR? If they’d been playing Leicester then I could’ve been interested.

Thinking about it, the sort of Kurdish tribesmen I ran into were pretty friendly. All they wanted was someone different to share bottles of aslan sütü with. Lion’s milk, as aslan sütü translates into, is the popular name for rakı, the aniseed spirit drank in astounding quantities all over Turkey.  The all-male drinking bouts would eventually descend into raucous singing and wild dancing. There was that time one lot of tribesmen I impressed with my nifty footwork did try to tempt me up to their mountain village to continue drinking and dancing into the early morning. Any doubters haven’t seen me dancing on a night of rakı. I still think that particular group of tribesmen might have intended to kidnap me in order to sell me on as a dance slave. I’ll never know now, as I had some laundry to collect from hotel reception next morning . The desk clerk had told me it was a twenty-four hour service when I left it two days before. Needless to say it wasn’t ready. It only takes twenty-four hours the clerk told me again. That’s if they start it the same day you leave it with them, of course.

That reminds of the time I ended up in Armenia, like you do. Not the laundry reminds me, that reminds me of another time, the drunken singing and dancing reminds me. It wasn’t long after the fall of the Soviet Union, just following the war with Azerbaijan over Ngorno Karabakh. The Daily Telegraph rather unexpectedly rang me one morning about a proposal I’d foolishly hoped nobody would take me up on. To put it mildly, the streets of Yerevan were more than a bit lively what with mafia gangs and the police vying for control of the lucrative bribery and corruption industries. Most sensible foreigners disappeared into their hotels before nightfall on their own account so they wouldn’t get disappeared by someone else. By not wanting to go missing they didn’t know what they were missing. Normally, I had difficulty finding my way back to my hotel after dark, due to the generous helpings of vodka lavished upon me and the lack of street lighting. That was another time I might have just popped out for a pee to judge by the muted reactions I received in the pub on my return. I might tell you about that when I get more time.

Well, for those that have noticed my absence over the last few weeks, it’s nice to be back. For those who never even saw I wasn’t here; a pox on all your houses. You know who you are, even if I don’t.

To finish off, a belated, but still very special thanks to the exquisitely named Peppina R. Harlow, who managed notice I wasn’t there only after discovering where I used to be. I’ll get back onto the Bill Hopkins story as soon as I can locate the draft, Peppina.


6 comments on ““Didn’t even notice you were gone”

  1. J.D. Riso
    April 7, 2017

    Welcome back, Bryan. I noticed you were gone, but figured you were gallivanting around Norway or something.


  2. Colltales
    March 31, 2017

    Wow, that was a long and memory-soaked trip you took us all along. Even though if I were to sit cross-legged on a rug these days, I’d never be able to get up again, I can still feel the smooth silk fibers holding my butt while I’m enjoying tales and drinking with you and your comrades. As for England drifting apart from Europe, some of us think that’ll be a mistake, but that’s nothing else we can say or do to prevent it. Not that it affects much those of you who already have a foot firmly planted across the channel. By the way, the wood in Norway is still good? Cheers and welcome back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      April 1, 2017

      Thanks for that Wesley. Brexit is difficult indeed. It seems like a large number of voters that voted to leave the EU would now have voted to remain. There is little doubt in my mind David Cameron acted totally cynically in proposing a EU referendum at a time most polls were predicting there was a very good chance he might lose the election. He figured his only hope to cling onto power was to promise a vote on Europe. With a bit of luck it might land him a hung parliament. That result might’ve enabled him to form a coalition with the LibDems again.

      But discontent with the EU all over Europe is far greater than most politicians are willing to admit. Not only did Cameron win a good few far right votes with his promise, but he also mopped up some disgruntled Labour voters too, achieving the one outcome he hadn’t bargained for: an overall majority.

      Blinded by his own hubris and upper class arrogance the only overall victory he could see was a Labour victory, which would have given him plenty of meat to attack Labour for being Europe’s poodle. After all, he had promised the British people a chance to put an end to European bureaucracy. The overall majority he hadn’t bargained for left him not knowing what to do. A more honourable leader would have reached for the revolver in his desk drawer.

      When all’s said and done, what sort of politician resigns following a resounding victory? Only the most cowardly and cynical prime minister Britain has ever seen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Colltales
        April 1, 2017

        Yes, he’s lost a gamble & unleashed an incredibly gang of spineless crooks. Kind of what’s happening in the U.S., Brazil, France, etc. As for the Scotts, some choice eh? quit the U.K. to stay in the E.U. Next stop: Ireland? Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura Bloomsbury
    March 31, 2017

    only the other day I said to myself “what happened to that bloke who blogs from Andalusia – the one lives with the delightfully artistic Angelica and always has a million moans and acerbic asides that make me smile”. In all honesty I have missed you Bryan perhaps because I’ve given up moaning for Lent (seriously – and realise that its harder than chocolate!) and craved a gripe by proxy.
    This little Englander enjoyed your post immensely – am sure Angelica would notice that her raconteur was missing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      March 31, 2017

      Yes, even though I went soft years ago and chose live far from the grey and rainy isle, I still see it as my duty to moan on behalf of England and St George. And that includes moaning about England, of course. It’s a national pastime we should fight for to the last English man or woman standing.

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on March 31, 2017 by in Articles, Humour, Journalism, Satire, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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