Unbelievably, it’s six years since I was in Dublin for Paddy’s Day, at the start of my research for what became Three Sheets to the Wind. Which means it’s six years today that I had the scariest and most surreal cab journey of my life.
I wrote about it but it didn’t make it into the final book. It’s not really beer related as such, but it’s been sitting there in a folder for six years so I thought I might as well share it!
The story so far: I was in Ireland for a few days being a really crap traveller, utterly out of my depth. Liz joined me and we had a great Paddy’s Day, but I didn’t really get what I needed for the Irish chapter of the book – which meant that I would return a few months later and visit Galway. Somewhat downhearted, we hailed a cab to take us back to the airport, for our flight back to London…
Liz is unusually quiet and reflective on the way to the airport, in that we’re almost twenty seconds into the journey before she tells the cab driver that we’ve been here because I’m writing a book about beer. She gets a lot more than she bargained for in response. The driver turns around fully in his seat, away from the busy junction we’re rolling towards, to tell us that we are very, very welcome here. “That’s great. That’s really great. I’ve an idea for a book. Would you like to hear it?” Of course, we nod and say we would love to. He then spends the entire journey telling us how his sister had a relationship with a man from Eastern Europe who turned out to be a murderous thug. They went to live in Sweden, where the thug worked for a man who imported gold bullion. The thug’s job was to follow the people who bought the bullion back to their houses, kill them and take the gold back. Eventually, criminal mastermind and hired muscle had a falling out over the absurdly high bodycount their business was creating. Hired gun murdered mastermind, along with all his family, just to be on the safe side – except one son got away. This man then turned up at a wedding and massacred the hired gun and all his family, all except our cabbie’s sister, who was somehow spared. She took the hint and fled to South Africa, where she remains, too terrified to come back to Europe. But she took something valuable with her: the location of the spot where all the dodgy gold bullion had been buried, in a cemetery on the outskirts of Stockholm. She kept quiet about it for years, but when her brother, our cabbie, lost the multi-million pound fortune he had built up from property and ended up having to drive cabs, she told him the full story. He is now splitting his time between driving cabs in Dublin, and visiting Stockholm cemeteries to look for buried gold bullion and krugerrands. He has a man there doing research for him, and all our cab fares are going to pay for this man’s services. However, the trail seems to have gone suspiciously cold, so perhaps this contact is trying to claim the loot for himself. Our cabbie may have to go over to Stockholm again and, er, take care of him. He turns around to face us again, leaning over into the back of the car, his face close to ours, while doing seventy on the motorway. “D’ye think that might make a good book now?” I tell him that it would make a fantastic book and he must write it. I give him plenty of advice on how to get an agent and a publisher. Because the alternative is to tell him that he is mad, and I don’t want to do that, especially while he’s driving. I’d like to ask him, if he’s close to finding these missing millions, why he would want to blow it by writing the book and revealing the secret. He obviously believes his own story. The distressing thing is, it has so much detail and so many quirks of individuality I feel pretty sure there are shreds of truth in it somewhere. As I’m thinking this, he forgets about controlling the car altogether, reaches under his seat and brings out a 700-page pictorial guide to graveyards around Stockholm, starts showing us various pictures, asking us if we can read Swedish because he needs help with some of the passages. I want to scream so badly. I don’t recognise the road we’re on – I’m positive we’re not heading back to the airport the way I came in. We’re on a new motorway that’s still being built, and for the first time in my life, I visualise my own death. I know I’m going to be hacked up with a spade and buried in bin bags under a flyover. Then we’re at the airport. We leap out and get our bags. With my mouth I beg the driver to buy the Writer’s Handbook. With my eyes, I beg him not to kill us. We sprint through passport control, only relaxing when the plane finally pulls away from the gate and he isn’t on it.