A new teacher by the name of Rupert arrived the following week. He had been working in Spain and he showed us a little trick that he had picked up there. By smearing a minimal amount of Pritt on to the end of your bus ticket, and allowing it to dry, you formed a very slightly shiny, but hardly noticeable, protective layer. Thus, when the ticket was stamped in the appropriate machines on buses or at funicular stations, you were, indeed, armed with a valid ticket but, at the end of your journey, a quick wipe with your moistened thumb and off came the ink, leaving the ticket as good as new. Tickets could be made to last weeks, months even, in this way. I had only just recently been lucky enough to chance upon an outlet that actually sold bus tickets and, in my surprise and enthusiasm, I had bought about 20 of them.
Rupert was a likeable bloke with an impish, infantile face and a character to match. With his passion for double entendres and the cognoscente’s ability to find them where nobody else would bother looking, he and I got on famously at first. “Matron!” he would drawl in a spookily accurate Kenneth Williams voice, whenever anyone said anything that could be interpreted, even vaguely, as slightly smutty. But he could also be embarrassing. Very embarrassing.
I had two new Italian friends that I would often pop into see on my way home from work. They were Dario and his younger brother Nando, and they were shamelessly using me for free English practice, but I didn’t care. Their mother made the most delicious coffee, and I loved to observe her ritual of tapping just the right amount of coffee into the caffettiera and making sure that the flame was just right, not too high, not too low. Having done so, she would disappear, not to be seen again until her skills as a coffee maker were required another evening. Dario and Nando encouraged me to bring “friends” round with me. I knew that what they really meant was “crumpet” but they were happy of any chance they got to practice the language and so, one evening after work, as Rupert and I hurled ourselves out of the bus and staggered back to an upright position, I suggested that we call in for coffee.
Everything was fine at first. Conversation flowed and Rupert certainly knew how to be witty and charming. You can imagine my horror, then, when he suddenly leaned forward in his chair and broke explosive wind. I died a death. Dario and Nando looked as if someone had shoved rusty spikes up their arses.
“Phew!” said Rupert. “Better out than in!” As farts go, it was an absolute beauty, that much was true. A rich, fruity baritone that changed note at least twice. But there is a time and a place for everything and this most certainly was neither the time nor the place. “What the hell were you playing at in there?” I asked him crossly as we walked home. “That’s social suicide in Italy!” “Oh, bollocks!” said Rupert. “Bollocks” was Rupert’s answer to everything.
The next morning, as I was walking to the bus stop, I spotted Dario coming the other way. I put on my most mortified expression. “I’m so sorry, Dario,” I fussed. “I’d only just met him; I had no idea that he was …, well, you know, … a …”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Dario frostily. There were certainly some bridges to be mended there; I’d have to find them some crumpet pretty damn fast and hope that she didn’t suffer from flatulence. As for Rupert, he’d farted himself friendless within three months and was making the return trip to the UK much sooner than he’d bargained for. He never quite made it onto my Christmas card list.