In the US presidential election Republican challenger Richard Nixon defeated the Democratic candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and American Independent Party candidate George C Wallace. The Beatles released their self titled album, popularly known as The White Album. In the third series of Star Trek the first ever interracial kiss was aired on US national television, between Captain James T Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura, and I embarked on my planned trip to The Netherlands.
* * * *
When the taxi arrived to take me to the airport, I didn’t have the faintest idea what awaited me in Amsterdam. Godfrey Hillendale sat comfortably in the back seat of the taxi. Although younger than I, he was also my boss by virtue of a university degree. He was reputed to be an electronics boffin, although I’d yet to see any proof of that claim.
Godfrey was in excess of six feet tall, very slim, with a sharp bird like face. His hair, which grew over his collar, was wild and red, and receding significantly at the temples. Godfrey spent most of the working day in his office, with the door firmly closed against intruders. He drank copious amounts of black coffee, and had amassed a huge collection of polystyrene coffee cups, which were stacked in huge towers around his office making it almost impossible to enter.
I couldn’t see the fascination of collecting coffee cups, but apparently they carried different batch numbers, which made his hobby rather like collecting train numbers, which I found equally mystifying.
“Good morning Ray,” called out Godfrey from the back of the cab.
“Good morning God,” I replied, a little less cheerily, as I couldn’t, with the best will in the world, be described as a morning person.
Initially I’d begun calling him God behind his back, and admittedly in malice; as I’d been promised the job as head of the department before Godfrey had taken up the post. After performing that duty for several months, in an unpaid capacity, I’d been rewarded for my efforts by the unannounced arrival of Godfrey to take my place. This had resulted in some unhelpful behaviour on my part I’m ashamed to say.
As we became more familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, I realised that Godfrey had few, if any, management skills, and was happy to hide in his office, with his precious coffee cup collection, while I continued to run the department as before. Realising that Godfrey relied upon me, and was unable to confront me, I soon began to call him God to his face, and Godfrey seemed happy to accept the promotion.
To mark the occasion of our trip, I’d dressed in my best blue suit, purchased directly from the retailers shop window, while wearing my brand new overcoat in an attempt to look businesslike. I was what they termed, in the trade, a stock size, the outfitter explaining that my measurements exactly matched those of the shop window dummies, so that the display suits fitted me perfectly. Convinced that they were of a superior quality, and fitted me better than a made to measure suit, I would regularly ask if any of the demonstration suits were for sale, which they often were, as material runs came to an end and the sample suits became redundant.
Godfrey had made no such concessions to the trip. He wore his everyday grey flannels, blue blazer, and camel coloured duffle coat with peg buttons, finished off with his university scarf, which he wore with pride as a badge of academic achievement.
I had little in common with Godfrey, and the initial flurry of excited conversation, about the trip, quickly dried up. I tried all the subjects on which I felt knowledgeable, music, television programs, books, history, news, and even politics, of which I knew precious little, but Godfrey was not what you might call a man of the world, and had little knowledge on any of my chosen subjects.
“What do you like to do in your free time?” I asked him, frustrated by his lack of enthusiasm on any of my proffered subjects for conversation.
“I like to drive onto the moor with my girlfriend.”
Finally we had something in common, but Godfrey, being Godfrey, just had to go and ruin it. “To receive and transmit radio signals.”
I was surprised to hear that Godfrey had a girlfriend, but it was of no surprise to discover that she shared his passion for radio signals. I wasn’t averse to taking my girlfriends onto the moor, but not to transmit and receive radio signals.
By the time we reached the airport we were sitting in silence. I wondered what on earth we would talk about until Wednesday, the day when Godfrey was scheduled to return to England leaving me behind.
I was excited about the flight. As a child I’d flown on family holidays to the Isle of Man, in transport planes converted, by the addition of seats, to become passenger aircraft in the aftermath of the war. On this occasion I was flying, for the first time, on a jet aircraft, something which had been an ambition since BOAC introduced their Comet in the early nineteen-fifties.
Manchester’s airport couldn’t have been more different from the Squires Gate airport of my childhood, which as memory served consisted of a single story prefabricated building, akin to the ones where fighter pilots scrambled from battered old armchairs during the war years. This airport was of ultra modern design, built in concrete and steel, and of enormous proportions, with huge chandeliers of droplet shaped glass cascading from the ceiling in the departure lounge.
Godfrey and I became separated on the aeroplane, as Godfrey was graded as senior staff. This entitled him to travel business class, while I travelled economy as my reduced status dictated. I sat next to a boy of perhaps eight or nine years of age, who although travelling with his mother, shared my enthusiasm for flying, and insisted on holding my hand as the plane took off for Amsterdam.
* * * *
I met up with Godfrey at the baggage collection, and we caught a service bus into the city of Amsterdam. We were booked into the Rode Leeuw or Red Lion, which was situated on a road known as the Damrak. The Damrak appeared to be the main artery of the city, with many of the large stores and hotels situated along its length. Trams ran to and from the railway station at its commencement, and with hindsight I wished that we’d caught one of them, but without knowledge of the hotel’s location , or a command of the Dutch language, we chose to walk in the hope that the hotel wasn’t very far.
The hotel had a large reception desk, with a number of female receptionists to welcome guests. Uniformed porters, wearing pork pie hats, were fighting for suitcases to enhance their meagre salaries by way of tips, and I felt uncomfortable because of all the attention being lavished upon us.
Against my wishes, the porter took our suitcases into the nearest lift. The lift operator, who sat on a high stool beside a panel of buttons, enquired of the porter which floor the gentlemen would like, and I learned that we were expected to tip, not only the porter, but the lift operator on each and every occasion we travelled in the lift. With this realisation I resolved to always use the stairs.
My room turned out to be spacious, with a king sized bed, a sitting area with two comfortable armchairs, a coffee table, tea and coffee making facilities, and a bathroom with a separate shower. The decor was modern, but impersonal, in creams and white, with pictures on the walls so boring that no one even noticed what they depicted. A single chocolate had been positioned on each pillow as a welcome gift, and I made a cup of coffee, sat in one of the comfortable armchairs, and greedily devoured them both.
Once resuscitated I unpacked my suitcase, showered, and putting on my best blue suit and a pair of suede Chelsea boots, which were currently the height of fashion, I met up with Godfrey in the restaurant for dinner.
We were given an English language menu and I chose whitebait for a starter, simply because I’d never tried it before, while for my main course I chose Weinerschnitzel for the very same reason. I wasn’t keen on either of my choices, and decided to play it safe by ordering apfelstrudel for desert. This selection turned out to be made using raisins, nuts, cinnamon, and alcohol, along with the apples, but tasty none-the-less.
Amsterdam’s prostitutes sat in illuminated windows to ply their trade, I’d been told, and I determined to witness this spectacle for myself. Godfrey refused to accompany me, and decided to take himself off to the cinema instead. I’d no idea in which direction I would find the red light district, and being too embarrassed to ask, I turned right as I exited the hotel, which proved to be entirely the wrong direction.
I felt uneasy, and not for the first time since arriving in Amsterdam. Convinced that I was being followed, although I had absolutely no reason for thinking anything of the kind, I frequently turned abruptly, in an attempt to spot someone behaving suspiciously. I told myself I was being paranoid, but still the feeling of unease persisted.
Following the crowds I found myself in Rembrandtplein, a square which had little connection with Rembrandt, other than the proximity of his statue, which occupied the centre of the square.
The square was surrounded by bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, with doormen resembling gorillas in evening suits, cajoling punters to enter their establishments in preference to the establishments of others. For a long time I resisted the carefully rehearsed pitches, but after a complete circuit of the square, and feeling extremely cold in the winter weather, I succumbed to the pressure and accepted the next invitation.
The doorman, who followed me into the nightclub, insisted on helping me off with my overcoat, which he spirited away so that a change of mind, on my part, wouldn’t likely occur.
The nightclub consisted of a single room, with a curved bar in one corner which ate up a quarter of the room. Bench seating surrounded the remaining walls, with a handful of tables and chairs increasing the seating capacity nominally. Five or six men occupied the shadows, all of them alone, as was I, and all of them wondering how the hell they’d let themselves be suckered into entering the nightclub. I approached the bar and ordered a pilsner, which I knew from advertisements to be a beer.
“Shorts only,” grunted the barman rudely.
“Bacardi and coke then,” I grunted back. I’d never drunk Bacardi, and didn’t know if I liked it, but I did know I liked cola so how bad could it be?
After paying an extortionate price for my drink, which tasted of cola and little else, I positioned myself on a high bar-stool. The barman reached under the counter, flicked a switch, and a spotlight flooded the dance floor with a bright light. Immediately a door beside the bar opened, and a girl of perhaps sixteen, or seventeen years of age, entered the room to dance in the glow of the spotlight. She wore a red cowboy hat, cowboy boots, a red leather waistcoat, with tassels, leather cuffs, also with tassels, and leather chaps, which showed her cheeky bare bottom through cut-outs at the rear.
In my limited experience of strip clubs, strippers who labelled themselves exotic dancers, only wiggled while removing items of clothing, but this girl could really dance. Twirling a lasso she jumped in and out of the loop, sending it high above her head, and back down again to her ankles. At one stage she dropped the loop over my head, and pulling it tightly she trapped my arms against my sides. She danced away while holding onto the end of the rope, then shortened the distance between us using climbing hand movements along the rope. She wiggled her small breasts in my face, before releasing me from my captivity, and my acute embarrassment.
Removing her leather cuffs, she dropped them, one by one, at my feet. This was followed after a lengthy spell of teasing, exposing one breast and then the other, before the removal of her waistcoat. The chaps came off with one almighty tug, to reveal a red leather gee-string, which she inched up and down using her thumbs to tantalise the assembled audience. Sitting on a bar stool she removed her boots, and danced wearing only the hat and the smallest of red leather garments imaginable.
Her hair was hidden beneath the cowboy hat, which she removed to cover herself, as she unfastened the gee-string and dropped it to the floor. Her hair was long, and as she removed the hat it tumbled to her waist. It was chestnut brown in colour, and completely natural in hue, as I was able to verify by comparison from my privileged position.
The music stopped, the lights went out, and everyone clapped politely, but instead of disappearing, she perched on a bar-stool beside me. I’d watched her with interest as she danced, but I now found it impossible to look at her, even though I wanted to do so.
“Would you like to buy Greta a drink?” she asked in heavily accented English.
Obviously she’d been briefed as to my whereabouts, and to my nationality. Perhaps she’d been deliberately chosen to dance because she spoke my native tongue.
The doorman, who’d enticed me to enter the club, approached the girl carrying a pink silk dressing gown. As she alighted from the bar stool, she gave me one last look at what was on offer as she put on the dressing gown, leaving it wide open, just for just a moment, as she flicked her long hair over the collar.
The doorman stayed close by until I ordered the requested drink, which was green in colour and served in a wine glass. It appeared to be a spirit, possibly chartreuse or crème de menthe. I’d once tried a drink of similar colour, served flaming like the brandy on a Christmas pudding. Foolishly I’d burned my mouth on the glass, never realising that it might have heated up in the flame. There was no way that this drink would light, because although it cost an extortionate price, it was not a spirit, but a peppermint drink known as green sticky.
“I have a room upstairs if you are looking for a good time” Greta announced.
I wasn’t expecting to be propositioned. I’d believed the scam to be charming punters into buying overpriced drinks, never realising that this girl had been forced into prostitution to pay for her travel arrangements from Eastern Europe, and her overpriced lodgings. Greta was beautiful; her lifestyle having had insufficient time to take its toll on her youthful body and pretty face. I was sorely tempted to take her up on her offer, but considering the extortionate price of drinks, in this establishment, I was concerned about the cost of her personal services, and what would be the consequences should I be unable to pay the bill.
Another punter entered the club, and soon the lights came on to herald the next stripper. Greta left her drink untouched on the bar, and silently slipped away. The new stripper was twice the age of Greta. She was dressed as a Turkish belly dancer, and I waited until the last of her seven veils had fallen to the floor before finishing my drink, retrieving my overcoat, which I worried I might never see again, and leaving the warm smoky atmosphere of the club to inhale the cold fresh air of the square.