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“The Miserable Bastard” and “Dog-Shit Bridge”

The room was worse than I had remembered it that morning. The dust seemed to have proliferated in the few hours I had been away, and I was going to need expert equipment: several sponges, a mop, a bucket and, most importantly of all, two or three, no, make that four, bottles of beer. Pete was sitting in the kitchen watching a TV show that involved lots of scantily-clad teenage girls dancing and miming to atrocious Italian pop songs. “Pete, I need mops, sponges, buckets and beer. Where can I get them round here?” “Try ‘The Miserable Bastard’. He’s always open,” Pete replied without taking his eyes off the screen. “The Miserable Bastard?” I hesitated. “Yeah. Turn right out the front, then left, go over Dog Shit Bridge and it’s on your left on the corner.” “Dog Shit Bridge?” “Yeah.” Explanation came there none, so I set off to follow Pete’s instructions. Both The Miserable Bastard and Dog Shit Bridge lived up to their nicknames. The bridge was a disused road spanning a miniature valley and, indeed, as I crossed it, several dogs, some accompanied by their owners, others not, were using it for the very purpose that had earned it its nickname. Not a poop-scoop in sight.

Dog Shit Bridge today – no dog shit any more!

And The Miserable Bastard was Dog Shit Bridge incarnate, with about just as much charm. He scowled at me as I went in and didn’t stop scowling until I left. As I walked up and down the aisles of his shop, looking for what I had come for, he followed me as if he feared I might try to stuff as much as I could into the pockets of my jeans and then hotfoot it back over Dog Shit Bridge without settling the bill. He tutted, sighed and muttered oaths to himself as I tried to explain what I wanted to buy, using a mixture of mime, Italian for Beginners, and, when all else failed, English. He even looked miserable as he took my money. “Porca miseria,” he said, truculently, as he tossed the change in my general direction and followed my every step, beady-eyed, to make sure that I didn’t try to stuff any brillo pads into my bag on the way out. I came to enjoy my trips to The Miserable Bastard and did all I could to spur him to scale new peaks of rudeness, knowing how good it would make him feel if I succeeded.

Back at the flat, I cracked open a beer, stuck some AC/DC on the stereo to create a little good cheer, and tackled the dust. It took less time than I thought it would and, already, the room seemed a great deal fresher. Now for the walls. Fortunately, I had brought several postcard books with me from the UK, the sort that you buy from discount bookstores. I dismembered them and used them to cover the pock marks and cracks in the walls. When they were finished, I cut pictures out of magazines, some that I had brought myself and others that had thoughtfully been left by my predecessors. By early evening, Jimi Hendrix had taken his place alongside Margaret Thatcher, Richard Wagner and a set of De Chirico and Magritte prints. It was eclectic, but it was starting to feel more like home. Bugger! I had forgotten the light bulbs. Never mind. It would give me an excuse to go back and torment The Miserable Bastard the following day. 

View from Dog Shit Bridge – What are the chances of these surviving an earthquake?

I was determined to buy a ticket for the bus the next morning. I was still far too English to feel relaxed about sitting or, more usually, standing squashed between two fat, sweaty, malodorous housewives, knowing that I hadn’t paid my way. The others had told me that I was about as likely to see snow in August as an inspector on a bus, but that was beside the point. It didn’t take me long to realise that the things were dashed hard to find. On my first two attempts, the tobacconists just shrugged, as if I had asked for yak milk, and then a very pretty girl in a bar tutted and waggled her finger from side to side, which I thought, at the time, to be a gesture of rebuke but which actually means “No”, or “I haven’t got any”, or “It’s broken”, depending on context. A few more attempts later, I admitted defeat. I made my way to Stadio Collana to wait for the 182 bus, which Pete had assured me was the one I needed to take to get to the Centro Direzionale business centre for my first day at work. It was a 20 minute to half hour journey, depending on the traffic, he had told me, and I needed to jump off at the first stop after the tangenziale, the recently constructed by-pass. From there, the school would be easy to find. It all seemed simple enough. “Do you have a timetable I can look at?” “There are no timetables. Just wait at the bus stop for the bus to arrive. It’ll leave when the driver wants it to.” “Oh.”

As luck would have it, there was already a 182 bus waiting outside Stadio Collana and, joy of joys, it had seats empty. I dropped myself down on one and waited, in the blistering heat, for signs of life from the drivers who were standing around outside, laughing, playfighting and smoking cigarettes. None of them seemed to be in a particular hurry to get going, and I was beginning to get annoyed. The bus had filled up now, and several old ladies were looking pleadingly at me, willing me to get up and offer them my seat. They had picked the wrong day. I was far too grumpy to indulge in acts of chivalry, so I ignored them and stared out of the window. Finally, one of the drivers looked up, evidently decided that the bus was full enough to depart, sauntered over to the bus at a leisurely pace, paused in the doorway to exchange one final “bon mot” with his colleagues, and then settled down in his cabin. He made sure that he was thoroughly comfortable, manoeuvring his buttocks this way and that in his seat, put the key in the ignition and the bus wheezed off into the traffic. 45 minutes later, I was getting nervous. I couldn’t make out anything that resembled a by-pass and I was convinced that I had missed the stop. In a moment of panic, I catapulted myself out of the bus in the customary Neapolitan manner and then realized that I had forgotten to bring the address of the school, or even my own address.

As I paced up and down, wondering what to do, I spotted a billboard poster for the very school I would be working for. Surely that would have the address on. Indeed it did. I stood underneath the poster and spotted a man with a friendly face among the surge of people pushing towards me. “Scusi? Dove … er … qui?” I pointed at the address on the poster and the man looked sorrowful and shook his head from side to side, as if about to impart devastating news. “E’ lontano … lontano.” “Er, quanto?” There followed a salvo of rapid-fire Italian, the only word of which I caught was “taxi”. Now, I didn’t have a great deal of money left, and what I did have, I wanted to spend on spoiling my taste-buds rotten, not lining the pockets of some unscrupulous Neapolitan taxi driver.  “No, no, … piedi!” I pointed to my feet. The man looked positively pitying now.  “Porca miseria!” This Englishman was clearly mad. More Italian and another reference to taxis. But his hands were waving in the direction behind me, and so I decided to march off that way.  “Grazie.” I curtailed the conversation and strode off down the road. Fifteen minutes later, I still had no idea where I was. With the help of another billboard poster, I repeated the same scenario, this time with a young woman. Her hands fluttered back in the direction I had just come. I gave up and flagged down a taxi, dejectedly trying to work out how many pizzas and bottles of Peroni I would have to sacrifice in order to pay for it. 

But, ten minutes later I was, at least, in the Centro Direzionale business Centre, heading up to floor 13 of a sparkling office block that was quite at odds with any of the other architecture I had seen in Naples so far. Karen was waiting for me.  “You found it OK then?” “Yeah, I took a taxi.” “Why didn’t you take the bus?” “I did. I took the 182 but I got lost.” “I’m not surprised. It must have taken you all around the old town. You should have taken the C30. That would have brought you straight over the by-pass. You’d have been here in 20 minutes.” It was probably a good thing I didn’t say what I was thinking, as I was later informed that, if there was one thing that Karen couldn’t stand, it was bad language. I smiled wanly, and went to freshen up. I’d save the bad language for Pete, later.

My first week in Naples was pretty uneventful, consisting, as it did, of getting used to the public transport system, watching mind-numbing training videos, teaching one or two unmemorable trial lessons, and getting to know my work colleagues better. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. TEFL teachers are a bloody weird bunch. This particular group consisted of “Marxist-Leninists” with curiously rich parents who helped to subsidize the expensive tastes of their right-on offspring; rampantly promiscuous homosexuals and perverts of both sexes, despotic vegetarians and vegans who would dissolve into convulsive crying fits whenever I left portions of dismembered animals in the communal fridge – rabbits, especially, seemed to upset them; I wonder why? – and people with goatee beards, bad A-level results and useless degrees in “Eastern Philosophy and Peace Studies” from the University of Wankshire, who were having a year off to “find themselves”, smoke dope from flamboyant-looking glass devices and attempt to avoid doing anything stressful such as cleaning, taking the rubbish out to the bins in the street, contributing to the kitty for detergents, washing powder etc. or simply doing an honest day’s work. Whenever our employer was mentioned, they would all join together to squawk like a hysterical chorus of minah birds but, from what I had seen so far, Karen and the rest of the management team were far more sinned against that sinners. Disorganised? A little, but that was to be expected in a city where buses didn’t run to a timetable. 

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