Soon after joining the Royal Navy, Adrian, an old school friend of mine, had moved to Weymouth, a quiet coastal town in the south of England. I was on my way to France via the Channel Islands, and the ferries depart from there, so I decided to spend the night at his house.
I stepped off the train to be greeted by the screaming sound of seagulls and the smell of fresh sea air. I lowered the peak of my baseball cap to block the glare of the afternoon sun and then spotted Adrian waving at me from further up the platform.
We left the station and began the short walk back to his house, as we sidestepped seagulls fighting over a discarded paper bag of fish and chips.
‘Your timing is perfect,’ he said, ‘Sarah’s away this weekend, so we’ll be able to go out for some beers tonight.’
‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘but my ferry to Guernsey leaves early in the morning, so I don’t want a late one.’
‘You’ll be fine,’ he said, ‘the ferry terminal is a short walk from my house.’
After a quick change of clothes, we went to a city centre pub to meet some of his Navy mates. I lost count of the pubs we visited and the girls we talked to. I had forgotten how tough it is to keep up with Navy boys when drinking beers. It wasn’t until the early hours that we stumbled through his front door, knocking over furniture. I eventually collapsed on his sofa.
A few hours later, I was woken by my alarm and was experiencing one of the worst hangovers of my life. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sun rising. I had to leave soon or I’d miss my ferry.
I quietly slipped out of the front door and dashed along the backstreets to the ferry ticket office just in time. I must have smelt like a brewery and looked like death on two legs because the woman behind the ticket counter pulled such a face as I approached her.
‘You want a one-way ticket or a day return?’ she snapped.
‘Depends on the price,’ I replied.
She explained the day-return was half the price of a one-way ticket, so I said, ‘I’ll take the day return,’ muttering under my breath, ‘Why would anyone ever buy a one-way?’
She snarled back at me, ‘You can only buy the day-return ticket if you are coming back today.’
My head was pounding, and I didn’t want to get into a lengthy discussion with her, so I passed her enough money for the cheaper ticket and said, ‘One day return please.’
‘But you’re not coming back today are you?’ she replied.
‘I’m a backpacker travelling around Europe,’ I explained, ‘I don’t have an exact itinerary, so if I like it over there, I might stay, but I’ll probably be back on the last ferry tonight.’
She shook her head, but before she could say anything, I continued, ‘One day-return ticket to Guernsey please.’
She said, ‘No! I’m only going to sell you a one-way ticket because I don’t believe you are coming back today.’
I couldn’t believe it! The ferry was about to leave, and I felt too ill to ask for the manager, so I passed her the extra money. As she finally gave me the ticket, I muttered under my breath, ‘What a bitch!’
It was a rough crossing, as it nearly always is. It was then that I remembered why I always flew when travelling to France. The whole crossing passed without incident until I went outside onto the balcony for some fresh air.
I was watching the waves crash against the hull, and everything was moving up and down. It was all too much, and I knew I was about to throw up, so held tightly onto the rail managing to vomit over the side, but the wind was so strong, it sprayed most of it back onto me!
Soon after, we docked in Saint Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey. The Channel Islands are a British crown dependency, so they are not part of the United Kingdom or the European Union, which means you have to pass through customs.
I must have looked like a homeless beggar to the customs officials: unshaven, white as a ghost, vomit spray down my chest and staggering all over the place under the weight of my overloaded backpack!
A young customs officer smiled at me and said, ‘Please step this way sir,’ and pointed to a small room with white walls and no windows.
We were soon joined by an older officer, who stood behind the desk before leaning towards me to ask, ‘Why have you come to Guernsey?’
‘I’m here to visit my friend, Peter,’ I answered, ‘Last year, he stayed at my house in Australia.’
‘Peter who?’ he said looking annoyed.
‘I don’t remember, all I have is his first name and his home phone number on this piece of paper,’ I said as I pulled it out of my back pocket and placed it on the table.
‘No, he told me to call him when I got here and he’d come and pick me up,’ I explained.
The officers asked me to place my bag on the table and then proceeded to search through all my old clothes looking for something.
Finally, they pulled a near-empty bottle of pills out of my bag and asked me what was inside. I took the bottle from them to inspect it, lifted it closer to my face, and suddenly tipped the remaining couple of pills into my mouth and swallowed them whole!
‘They were the last of my drugs,’ I said smiling. The officers did not find my comments amusing and took the empty bottle of vitamin C pills from me for further examination.
After searching every possible inch of my bag including the lining, they gave up.
One of them said, ‘There’s only one place left to search.’ I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I had nothing to hide, I’d never in my life taken any drugs and never would.
I tried protesting, but they wouldn’t have it. The younger one put on a glove and said, ‘Please bend over and touch your toes, sir.’
Just as I became resigned to my fate, a third officer entered the room.
‘I’ve checked out that phone number, it belongs to Peter Duncan, head of Coutts Banks.’ They all stopped in their tracks and stared at each other.
‘That’s right,’ I said, ‘his surname is Duncan, and he did tell me he worked for a bank, but I never …’
The senior officer interrupted, ‘Get him out of here – we don’t want any trouble!’
Later that evening, shaved, washed and sobered up, I was at a cocktail party with Peter and his banking friends when one of them came over.
‘I made some enquiries with the Head of Customs. That incident this morning took place because they’d received a tip-off from a woman in Weymouth, who told them I was bragging about having drugs hidden on me.’
They all burst out laughing – but I didn’t, all I could think was, ‘What a bitch!’