My mate, Ken, can be… I’m sorry, there’s no other way of putting it, a liability. On a whim he will suddenly disappear and not return unless accompanied by the police, an irate shopkeeper or some woman belting him around the head with her shoe. I’ve often wondered where Christian Louboutin got the idea for his red soled shoes from, well now I know, it was from some woman staining her shoe with Ken’s blood. Which is why, frankly, I’m worried.
One spring evening, Mrs T and I went out to dinner with our friends Ken and Di. It was a pleasant enough evening full of happy memories and much laughter and by the end of it we had agreed to go on holiday with them to Turkey. It seemed like a good idea at the time… until I thought about it.
The first time we went away together was to France. Travelling by car, we arranged to pick them up around 12.30am for the journey down to Folkestone and the channel tunnel. As we were approaching their house we noticed a drunk stumbling along the pavement and… bugger me, if it wasn’t Ken. Seeing that we weren’t leaving until late he had decided he had time to pop down to the pub for a quick one and stayed there until chucking out time. He was as pissed as a parrot.
We pulled up in the driveway, the car door opened and Ken poured himself onto the back seat. If I was Michael O’Leary and we had been traveling by Ryan Air instead of in the dark blue Carlton we had at the time, I would have called the airport authorities and had him chucked off, which given the state of the aforementioned airline with its shambolic organisation, dire customer service and a pricing structure concocted by a masked Dick Turpin, is saying something. Not that he was any trouble. Inside two minutes he was fast asleep and stayed that way until just after three when we pulled into a motorway services where he woke just long enough to ravenously mop up the gallon of Bass lying on his stomach with a greasy, full English and a pot of tea. His belly full, we returned to the car, he fell asleep and we didn’t hear a peep from him until we pulled into yet another service station just south of Calais where he surfaced for breakfast, filled his stomach and slept like a baby for the rest of the journey. Before we left home, we had decided to share the driving, but under the circumstances I thought it best to decline the generous offer.
We arrived at our destination around lunch time, a picturesque gite in a tiny Normandy village consisting of a handful of houses, a church and a bar outside which were tables balanced precariously in an uneven soakaway at the side of the street. It was quiet, peaceful and relaxing, the serenity broken only by the sound of the church bell and a regular chorus of “Ken, no” from Di and Mrs T who were paranoid he was going to get into trouble every time he moved out of their sight. And, to be fair, they had a point as you will soon see.
We had taken a video camera with us and one evening we were driving towards Deauville, came around a corner and spread out in front of us was a magnificent sunset reflected in the bay.
“Pull over, Tez” Ken said excitedly. “I’ll hop out and get a shot”.
He grabbed the camera and headed for a lookout point twenty or thirty metres in front of us. And while Ken was filming, a Mercedes pulled up next to the path leading to it and… Remember me saying earlier we had a dark blue Carlton? Course you do… Ken didn’t. He came back and headed for the Merc, which just happened to be about the same size and the same dark blue colour as our Vauxhall. He opened the door, climbed into the back seat… and re-emerged moments later looking red faced and flustered. He rapped on the window and gestured for the driver to wind it down. But the German driver was having none of it. Obviously fearing a high jacking, he was off like a shot. And as a bewildered Ken stood watching the Mercedes disappear into the sunset, as he took off his baseball cap and scratched his head, he cut the same forlorn figures as Stan Laurel just after he’d dropped a b*****k and Ollie was telling him “another fine mess you’ve got me into, Stanley”.
We went to Honfleur with its enchanting 17th century harbour overlooked by historic, high rise buildings. Several hundred years ago the French had this strategic spot fortified to keep out the English, but they hadn’t counted on Ken. He disappeared up the street at the back of the buildings overlooking the harbour to get a high, wide shot for our travelogue. He went into a restaurant, crossed to the window and proceeded to film… only it wasn’t a restaurant, it was a private flat and the elderly French lady sitting in the corner was distracted from her knitting by images of eating cake, Madam Guillotine and Ken’s bloody head dropping into a wicker basket.
We went into the town close to where we were staying and found ourselves in a small square fronting a medieval church. There was a man in a black suit standing at the door and over to one side several similarly dressed men with flags on poles. We thought it must be a special event, Saint’s day, festival, or something, so we hung around to join in the fun. While we were waiting, Ken, dressed in a gaudy, Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts and sandals, wandered off, offering a perfunctory nod to the man in the dark suit on the door of the church before making his way inside. Di rolled her eyes fearing the worst. And she wasn’t wrong. Once inside, Ken wandered around the place admiring statues of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the ornate stained windows through which cascaded a kaleidoscope of colour, all the time smiling cheerily at members of the congregation who burst into tears at the mere sight of him.
Outside, there was movement from the men with the flags. I got the camera and framed up on them, panned across as they paraded towards the front door of the church before coming to rest on a black car that had just pulled up. “There’re flowers in that car” I heard Di say. “And there’s a friggin’ body underneath them” gasped Mrs T. I looked up and the two of them were already hotfooting it away, then looked back to see Ken, totally unfazed, meander from the church tipping his baseball cap to the man on the door as he shoved his way through a line of solemn bearers waiting for the coffin to be rolled out of the hearse.
Back at the gite, Di was incandescent, “what were you thinking? Why didn’t you just leave?”
“How was I to know it was a funeral?” Ken countered indignantly.
“The people in black? The flowers? The hearse? The tears every time somebody looked at… she hesitated, shook her head and sighed despondently. “No, perhaps you’re right”.
Ken shrugged and wandered away like nothing happened.
So, now you know why I’m worried.