Saturday, July 23, 2011
Back to Britain - part 4: Swindon
I don't intend to visit Swindon when I return to the UK, but I think most Americans should be forced to drive round Swindon - for the hell of it and to boost the entertainment industry.
That's because Swindon in Wiltshire is home to the so-called "Magic Roundabout," which is actually a series of five mini roundabouts. The first time I encountered it I had only recently learned to drive and almost had a fit.
Americans tend to get freaked out by one roundabout as they are not very common round these parts. Add to the equation the fact you are driving on the left side of the road and going clockwise round the traffic island and this could be a recipe for panic. Whoever designed the Magic Roundabout probably didn't like Americans much.
According to Wikipedia, In February 2009 artist/filmmaker Tom White completed the short experimental film, Swindon Roundabouts. The film "consists of long hypnotic shots of the roundabout and its surrounding area collaged with interviews of local residents and an unsettling soundtrack. The film is intended as a homage to the late Frank Blackmore, inventor of the mini-roundabout," and general American hater.
I'd like to believe Tom White has since got a life but what are the chances really?
I always tried to avoid Swindon even though it was close to my home because it was so ugly and annoying.
But when I landed a summer job in the college recess as a mobile hot dog seller, I had little choice but to go there.
The hot dog company was a winning enterprize run by a man called Sleazy Keith - I have no idea what his real name was - who had made himself a millionaire on the backs of gullible students.
In a rickety Mastro van I would head over the hills and down into Swindon. On one particular night the van got stuck in second gear. As I inched through the bad part of Swindon (that would be all of it) with a high pitched whine coming from the engine, I became conscious this was the red light district and I risked being accused of curb crawling in a hot dog van because I couldn't get the accursed thing to speed up.
My rather classy training manager had told me during the induction it was his habit to give free hot dogs to the hookers, if they did something or other for his hot dog. I didn't ask for details.
But I got to a concrete parking lot without event (unlike the reversing problem I had in Worcester that caused bumper-maggeddon). I'd then light up the greasy old fat and get some burgers and hot dogs ready for the influx from the nightclubs when everyone became intoxicated enough to think my food was edible.
Trouble came in the form of Rude Girl in her pretty yellow party dress.
"Just get me a hot dog you horrible little man."
"Yes maam. I must say your dress is rather radiant tonight."
"Oh fack off and give me more mustard."
"Um this tube is rather a struggle I must say maam."
There was a sudden release as the mustard shot all over her new frock.
"Agggghhhhh.... look what you've done."
"At least it's yellow maam. Nobody will notice unless, well..."
Such was a day in the life of the bustling metropolis that is Swindon. Later that night Furtive Man came along and whispered: "Do you know where the whores are?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't catch that."
"The wh, wh whores,"
"Oh," I exclaimed in the earshot of the line that had formed. "You'd like to know where you can find the whores. No idea, sir. Although there's this girl in a mustard yellow dress.."
I'd head home in the early hours, my van rattling and shaking over the hills; at least that wason the nightswhen I didn't kill the battery and have to get my dad to fetch me, rather unwillingly.
Then at the end of the week, when I had raccoon rings under my eyes from all the late nights, Dodgy Keith would hand me a check for about $150.
"Is that is. For five nights a week?'
"You appear to have been eating your profits," he'd inform me.
Keith would promise me if I worked hard I could be like Jockie, a wheezing Scotsman who had a lucrative pitch by the cattle market. He made about $500 a week.
Jockie was flushed, overweight and choleric. He looked like he ate his profits, too. I figured he's only be around for another couple of years and his cattle market pitch might be all mine.
But who was I kidding? I saw through Dodgy Keith and the frightening gray flannel pants he wore in all weathers, his over shiny shoes and his top of the line Ford Granada with velvet seats and electric windows.
"Nope, Keith. I've been offered a 9-5 office job that doesn't involve going anywhere near Swindon. Thanks but, no thanks."