On Wednesday night we stayed in a youth hostel, but I’m not going to tell you about that because nothing interesting happened there. Our last youth hostel stay, however, was in Bath, and was a rather interesting experience, due to the people we were sharing a room with.
We arrived at the hostel early evening just to quickly check in, before heading to the arts centre to do our gig. When we entered our bedroom, the lights were off and the curtains were closed. We were about to turn the light on when a towering figure stepped into view.
“It’s best to leave the light off,” he whispered in a French accent. I assume that this was because he was French, as opposed to just being eccentric and choosing to adopt a French accent just for the hell of it. Although, his first sentence had been rather strange, so maybe he was just very eccentric, and enjoyed confusing people with an array of accents and peculiar whispered statements.
“He’s meditating,” whispered the man, still with a French accent. We looked around the room. There was another figure perched on top of one of the bunk beds, motionless.
“He sits there for hours, not moving. But He doesn’t like it if the light goes on. He gets angry.”
“When you say, he gets angry,” I whispered, “what do you mean?”
“He just shouts,” replied the man.
Surely the whole point of meditating is to become a calmer and more centred person? Unless the meditation is working, but it’s just that he was an exceptionally angry man before he tried it. Maybe if someone had disturbed his meditation a few weeks ago, he’d have punched them in the face, but now, thanks to this man’s hours of meditation, he’s managed to control his reaction to merely shouting. If he can keep the meditation going, in another month he might have reached the stage where he just writes the person who disturbs him a strongly worded letter.
The four of us were all heading out of the hostel, and as we walked through the corridor, we chatted to the whispering French man, who, now that we were out of the room with the meditating man, had stopped whispering, although he still chose to keep the French accent. I was beginning to suspect that he might actually be French.
He said that he was going out drinking with some friends who’d moved to England from his home town of France. He hadn’t seen them for a long while, so it was going to be a big night, lots of drink and lots of food. He’d probably not get back til late. “But I’ll try not to disturb you when I get back in,” he said.
“So long as you don’t turn the light on, we should all be fine,” I replied.
He asked us what we were up to tonight, and we told him that we were doing a gig. He asked us what kind of songs we sing, and we mentioned the fact that we sing a French song. He asked us what it was called, and we told him. “Pique La Baleine.” He looked confused and concerned.
“Ah, OK. Kill the whale,” he said, sounding worried. “I’m a vegetarian,” he added, sounding angry. And then he briskly walked out of the hostel.
The song isn’t a song glorifying whale killing, nor does it describe the whale killing in great and brutal detail. It’s a song about a whaleman who is longing to go home and be in the arms of his love, but instead has to plough through the sea hunting whales to make money. The verses are all about his thoughts of despair and longing, which is countered by the chorus, a cry of “Pique La Baleine!” Kill the whale, which brings us back sharply into the reality of his immediate situation. But this French man hadn’t waited around for an explanation. He seemed to have immediately jumped to the conclusion that we were passionate whale haters, who loved whale death so much that we even learnt how to sing about it in other languages. Maybe his racing brain had gone to imagine that hour entire repertoire consisted of songs about animal cruelty from all over the world: a jovial Icelandic song about abattoirs, a Polish song celebrating vivisection. What a night it was going to be, sharing a room with an angry meditator who hates light, and a French vegetarian who thinks that we’re on a par with Hitler, except Hitler was a vegetarian, so even worse than Hitler.
When we got back to the hostel that night, the meditating man was asleep in the dark. The French vegetarian had not yet returned. We crept into our beds in the dark and tried to get to sleep, which wasn’t at all easy due to the grumpy meditating man snoring at an impressive volume. It was even worse for Michael, who was in the bunk bed below him, and the mattress, being very thin, was vibrating and pulsating with the rumble of the snores, causing the bed springs to resonate and vibrate along with the snoring.
But Michael wasn’t the most unfortunate one that night; I was about to get a much worse deal. I lay awake for hours, unable to sleep due to the noise from the snoring old man. Then I heard the door open, and in came the French vegetarian. He tried his best to quietly creep through the room in the darkness, but he completely failed to pull this off, crashing into each bed several times. He was clearly right about the night involving lots of drink, as there was a very strong smell of alcohol which appeared as soon as he’d entered the room. He blindly and drunkenly crashed into my bed for the third time, and then angrily whispered some words in French, which I assume were swear words fuelled by his crashing into the bed, but I couldn’t be sure that they weren’t something like, “and now it’s time to kill the evil animal hating British bastards!” I braced myself, in case I needed to defend myself from an attack. But there was no attack, at least not a physical one, although I was about to get a very unnerving attack of the senses.
The man began removing his clothes right next to where I was lying. He removed his shirt and dumped it on the floor. Then he removed his trousers, and my nose was assaulted by an acrid fart smell. He’d clearly also predicted correctly when he said that it was going to be a night with lots of food. He’d presumably stocked up on his lentils supply, and as he bent down to remove his socks, his backside pretty much in my face, he let out a really slow fart. It was so slow that he might have not even noticed. I could hear its low buzzing right next to my face, and then the smell came. I wanted to turn around and face the other way, but for some stupid reason I felt too awkward to do so. How terribly British is that? I would rather endure a man farting in my face, than risk embarrassing him by doing something that might make him feel self-conscious. So I just lay there, facing his backside, holding my breath, and praying that he would move away soon. Maybe this was a deliberate attack, to get me back for my animal hating ways. Maybe this was an animal rights protest. If it was a protest then it certainly fell under the category of a dirty protest.
The man eventually straightened himself and began to attempt the journey up the ladder and into bed. This man was very well-built, and this, along with his inebriation, meant that every step on the ladder caused the whole bed to shake. I was convinced he was going to fall off and land with his fart-ridden backside smack bang on my face. I turned on to my other side. Eventually af a lot more shaking, he made it into bed. But the “fun” wasn’t over yet. While Michael’s bed was shaking to the sounds of an angry old man snoring, mine was pulsating to the sounds of a drunk French Vegetarian man farting. As I mentioned earlier, the mattresses were very thin, meaning that I was treated to both the smell, the sound and the vibration of this man’s farts.
I tried to fall asleep, but it was impossible with all of this going on. The drunken French vegetarian methane machine on the other hand had absolutely no problem with getting to sleep, as in mere minutes of him getting into bed, he began to snore, perhaps even louder than the grumpy old man in the bunk bed adjacent. The sound that was filling my ears was like some really odd experimental piece of music, as if John Cage had taken a record number of mushrooms, and had decided to compose a piece involving arhythmic sequences of snores and farts.
Eventually sleep came, but it didn’t last long, as at about 530 in the morning, I woke to hear an even stranger sequence of sounds. The man above me was still farting and snoring, but above that was another sound. It was chanting. The grumpy old man was once again perched on the top of his bunk, holding a book and chanting in Latin. The weird incongruity of everything was just too much. Farting, snoring and Latin chanting. It was clearly too much for Sean and Michael too, because I heard them both trying desperately to stifle their laughter. I was doing the same. We quickly whispered to each other, all agreeing that we should get out of there. Five minutes later we were back in the car heading home.
Well, I suggested yesterday that, now that I’m thirty-one, my Dollops would take on a more erudite tone. It turns out I was wrong, given that I’ve spent most of today’s Dollop talking about farts. Oh well.