Just say no to ‘say hello’

Other people’s travel tips will only land you in trouble

Ever since the holiday I’ve referred to her simply as ‘The Troll’. Not in the internet sense: just because she was small and evil. Subsequent events have revealed her as a cadger, a grumbler, someone who will take you for (a) granted and (b) all she can get. In fact, her aura is so malign that even when she offers rather than asks for help it only leads to trouble.

But my partner and I didn’t know this at the time. We’d mentioned that we were off to Turkey. ‘Where-abouts?’ came the response. We gave the name of the coastal town, and would you believe it, The Troll went there every summer. ‘You must go and say hello to Emre,’ she said. ‘He’s a fisherman there; such a great guy.’ Emre wasn’t his real name, by the way. That has been jettisoned from my memory by a merciful providence.

So we did as we were told and found Emre’s boat, and thence Emre, and we said hello. He was a nice enough bloke, with a nice enough boat, and his English was good enough for a simple conversation, as long as you weren’t too bothered about nailing down the fine details. After admiring the boat we made to leave.

But of course these ‘say hello’ arrangements never end there, which is why you should never enter into them. However casual the initial contact, social insecurity always ramps it up. Emre clearly felt it was rude not to invite us for a drink on his boat later in the week. We in turn felt it was rude not to accept. A date was set for early Tuesday evening. Despite the fact that Emre was obviously as keen on this as we were — i.e. not at all — and despite our careful assertion that we’d be off to eat at a restaurant, just a drink would be fine, Emre didn’t have to provide any food… Emre provided food.

I don’t really like fish, but it’s hard to say that to a fisherman, so I had to sit there and smile and mutter ‘mmm, -delicious’ as plate after plate of local delicacies made their way from the boat’s stove to the table. Emre’s employees were there as well (‘If I’ve got to go through this then so have you,’ he’d clearly told them). By the end of the evening conversation had dwindled to about the level you’d expect between Ken Livingstone and the Chief Rabbi. The Troll’s worst, how-ever, was yet to come. As well as putting us on to Emre, she’d also recommended a -particular restaurant in the harbour. It looked all right, so we gave it a go. And the food tasted fine — on the way down. But in the middle of the night Jo and I awoke, feeling queasy. We had both eaten the chicken, so the culprit was obvious. Within minutes queasiness had given way to something far, far worse. For the next six hours, in a hideous -Turkish twist on Cluedo, it was the chicken, in the bathroom, with a vengeance.

This was beyond ‘bug’. It was beyond ‘virus’, beyond The Exorcist. This was the gastroenterinal equivalent of one of those old-style union leaders who marched into a factory and yelled ‘Everybody out!’ It would not be placated until every last molecule of matter in our digestive systems had left, using either of the available exits. Because the apartment was designed for a hot -climate — tiles everywhere — the sounds emanating from its only bathroom echoed round and around, a hellish soundtrack to the torture we were enduring. The only mercy was that the illness was one of those which operates to a very precise timetable: Jo’s attacks occurred on the hour and half-hour, mine at quarter-past and quarter-to. Thus we were spared having to share the facilities at any point.

It was a holiday-defining incident. (Thankfully, Jo and I had been together for a while by then, unlike the woman I know who went away for her first romantic weekend with a new bloke and promptly got the trots.) Despite the fact our appetites still hadn’t recovered by the time we flew home, we carried out our promise to buy The Troll some duty-free fags. Thirty quid’s worth, I think. I told her to give me the money whenever it came to hand. It’s what you say, isn’t it? But three months later the cash still hadn’t appeared. ‘By the way,’ I said casually, ‘that money — I can’t remember — did you give it to me or not?’ Again, it’s what you say. ‘All right!’ came the snarled response. ‘I’ll pay you back, OK?!’

Come to think of it, ‘Troll’ is quite generous.