A Swedish Pervert..

There is a certain protocol to be observed when a man is taking a piss.

Yes, a conversation can be held – e.g. ‘Have you found it yet?’ or ‘Hurry up; more than three shakes is playing with yourself,’ – but one must conduct this discourse in a certain fashion. That is to say, eye contact is permissible but it is reprehensible to let one’s gaze fall.

Now, three days ago – in a Swedish lay-by – I was stretching my legs, shirtless and with hardly a care in the world. Nearby, a nondescript gentleman in khaki shorts, spectacles and a baseball cap was loafing idly, but I assumed he was simply another truck driver taking a breather from changing gears and murdering prostitutes. I took little notice…but he certainly noticed me.

Queer as a nine bob note

 

After a couple of lay-by lengths, I paused on a nettle-strewn bank to enjoy a soothing wee-wee. Yet no sooner had I commenced than the nondescript gentleman – now known to be of base and despicable origins – was upon me. Well, not upon exactly, but he encircled me, stopping six feet in front. And his eyes, far from betraying uneasiness, shone. In fact, one could say they were addled with excitement.

Strong emotions engulfed me as his mouth formed an O. In fact, it rather put me off my grapefruit, a treat I’d been looking forward to since leaving Oslo.

Now, as you’ve probably discerned over the years, I’m not homophobic – I’ve even bought my own home – but I felt this behaviour needed a stern dressing down. So I shot him one of my fiercest glances, but he blinked calmly and continued looking at my willy. Not even a smile or an apologetic gesture or, indeed, a suggestion of shouting me a Crème de Menthe with an umbrella in it.

 

Here, Kitty Kitty

 

Rather reviling the nondescript gentleman by now – but moderately mollified by my ice-cold grapefruit from the fridge — I continued my pacing in the sunshine. Yet I was to be persecuted further. Scarcely had I begun again when the nondescript gentleman, now lolling on a railing next to a weighbridge, pursed his lips and sucked air as I passed. It was the sort of noise one makes when summoning or bestowing affection upon a pussycat.

Well, I got cross at this. Words flew unbidden into my mouth and I balled my fists. ‘Fuck off, knob jockey,’ I cried, frightfully out of character – after all, I couldn’t care less if fellows over the age of 21 fancy a cuddle in the back of a van. I smashed my right fist menacingly into my left, cupped hand. Ouch! Still, he finally got the message that my penis, much like great aunts, wasn’t to be trifled with. He skulked off in his Volvo, no doubt to the next parking area.

Such is the tenor of life on the road this week. Funny though, the Swedes. Fancy being named after a vegetable…

A 7000-year-old Salt Mine..

‘Do your buttons up,’ barked a stentorian voice.

Looking down at my blue overalls – I bore a tenuous resemblance to an Austrian salt miner – I obeyed. Outside the window, fairytale clouds obscured Halstatt’s prehistoric burial ground and hung like impenetrable curtains to the lake’s edge.

It occurred to me, as I looked slippy at fastening flares about my ankles, that the designer of this apparel had left little provision for carrying sandwiches. Not a single pocket in sight, and with a sizeable walk through wood-lined tunnels ahead. Tut tut, was this outfit really necessary?

Prehistoric..

 

‘You’ll see why,’ explained Amon, our guide, as we began marching. ‘Now we go back 250 million years. Please follow me, it’s a long way.’

 I felt a little like Jules Verne’s Professor Leidenbrock as we penetrated the earth’s bowels, entering the oldest salt mine in the world and learning that, 7,000 years ago, mining hoes were made from venison horn.

Europe’s Longest Wooden Slide

 

One of the big draws of Halstatt’s salt mines, however, is the 64-metre slide, the longest wooden slide in Europe. ‘No braking,’ instructed Amon, as our gaggle congregated apprehensively at the top. The abyss looked hairier than a Sicilian grandmother’s upper lip. ‘I repeat, do not brake. Or touch the walls. It’s very dangerous, you can break your fingers.’ Gulp!

She briefly demonstrated the sliding position and watched the first of her student lemmings disappear. What fun the miners must have had travelling between “galleries” in this manner. At the bottom, my forced smile, suffused with unfamiliar g-force, was frozen on a TV monitor along with a radar-recorded speed. I was disappointed. What had felt like a new slide-speed record had turned out to be a gnat’s eyelash over 23km/h, but I’d finally recognised the need for the overalls.

‘You’re not so fast,’ remarked Amon, joining us and further deflating my ego. She rose from the slide’s end with consummate eloquence, as though her descent were nothing more taxing than a nap on the sofa, and glanced nonchalantly at her own speed. ‘Yes, anything over 40 is good.’ 

Outside again, the weather remained foggy though enigmatic, the mists wholly enveloping Halstatt’s funicular. I felt the first droplets of rain. Yet I trudged to the start of the Brine Pipeline Trail, a walk along the world’s oldest pipeline dating to 1595. And I thought:

 Austria is certainly worth her salt.