In September 1980 my wife and I decided to go to Belgium for a holiday. We went with a Touring Club which catered for Railway workers and their families. We duly met up with the party at Victoria Station in London. There were thirty of us - twenty eight English and two Scots. After an uneventful journey by train and ferry we arrived in Ostend where a coach took us to the Ostend Palace Hotel. After settling in our room we descended to the lounge bar expecting to meet the rest of the party.
We were the only people there. Assuming that we were first down, I ordered drinks and we sat and waited. Time went by and no one appeared. Looking around me I noticed an alcove with swing doors. Curious, I pushed open the doors and walked in to what appeared to be a church. Facing me were twenty eight people sitting in what looked like pews, twenty eight mouths were sipping cups of tea and twenty eight pairs of eyes were looking reverently upwards. I quietly walked forwards, turned and looked up to see a large television set showing Coronation Street!
Later, we went for a walk to sample the night life. On leaving the hotel we could hear, to our left, the sound of music. Turning a corner we found ourselves in a long, narrow street brightly lit with coloured lights - the predominate colour being RED!! The street consisted of cafe-bars interspersed with what appeared to be single-roomed houses with large plate glass windows inhabited by young women who did nothing but watch television with the curtains open, in full view of passers-by.
"Why don't they close the curtains?", my wife said.
"I don't know", I innocently replied.
At the end of the street was a night club called the 'Top Hat' which proudly advertised '24-Hour Striptease'. In the window were photographs of some of the performers with their names underneath, such as Sonya, Tanya, Yvonne, etc. Next to the night club was a tenement building with a brass name plate with push buttons adjacent to the names. Coincidentally the names were Sonya, Tanya, Yvonne, etc.
We saw a Bar which had a sign saying 'We sell Scotch Beer'.
Great I thought, I'll get a pint.
We were the only customers.
"A Bloody Mary and a pint o' Scotch Beer please."
The barmaid looked puzzled.
I quickly realised my mistake (this is a catholic country).
"A vodka and tomato juice and a pint please."
"A pint?", the barmaid said, rhyming it with mint, "we only have bottled beer".
She then produced a small bottle with a black liquid inside. Placing it on the counter she went to prepare my wife's drink. The label of the bottle was facing away from me so I turned the bottle to read the words - 'Scotch Beer, brewed in Belgium'!
Sitting glumly at a table, sipping our drinks, the barmaid must have thought we looked homesick. She placed a record on a portable record player and I sat and cried as I listened to the song 'How much is that Doggie in the window?'.
Walking back down the street, my wife noticed that all the curtains were drawn in the houses. "That's better", she said. We found a cosy little bar close to the hotel and each night we would pop in there for a drink before heading up town. The attentive barman was excellent. Each time we entered he would immediately rush over and place bowls of nuts and crisps on our table. His name was Oscar, which endeared him to me as I had a large tropical fish called Oscar with big eyes, just like the barman.
On our last night, we went into the bar, I'm sitting facing the street, and my wife is sitting facing the bar. The door opened and a fashionably dressed young man came in, pirouetted over to the jukebox and put on 'Stayin' Alive' from the film 'Saturday Night Fever'.
It was then the penny dropped!
I couldn't look, but I didn't need to - my wife gave me a running commentary.
"Look, he's dancing with himself."
"Look, he's dancing with the barman."
"Look, he's kissing the barman."
"Do you want to leave?", I quickly asked.
"No," was the reply, "I want to watch!".
Something had been puzzling me all week, we were the only couple that frequented the bar and we were the only ones that got free nuts and crisps. It must have been a code so that the regular clients wouldn't bother us. I whispered to my wife, 'I'm needing the toilet, but I'm afraid to go." "Go now", she said, "no ones there."
Dodging the dancers, I pushed open the toilet door to be confronted with a steep flight of stairs heading downwards. I ran down the stairs to discover another door. Stuck to it was a full size photograph of a naked man with the door handle in a funny place. Taking a deep breath, I grasped the handle and entered. No one there, I quickly started and finished then bolted back up the stairs.
"That was good fun," my wife said as I dragged her out into the street.
"Perth has nothing like this!"
When I was a Fireman in the early 60's there were railway lines everywhere. When I returned in the late 70's the railway had shrunk considerably and was still shrinking. Gone or going were sidings all over Scotland. From Perth to Inverness the sidings at Murthly, Dunkeld, Ballinluig, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie were rapidly closing. In Perth the sidings used to literally stretch from one end to the other. Perth South (opposite Tesco's), the Workshops which later became the Mineral Yard (opposite the Prison where the new houses are), the Station sidings, Perth North (where the Retail Park is), Shed sidings, Caley Yard, Highland Yard and the New Yard were all to eventually close. It was obvious to me that there was no future as a Freight Guard so in December 1980 I transferred to Perth Station as a Passenger Guard.
The creme de la creme!