Today is Bun Monday
Short Story - Michael Gouda
"I thought these modern ships had stabilisers," said John Temple, raising his head from the lavatory bowl. He groaned and lowered it again.
"They do," said Alasdair. He looked over at me, winked, and asked. "How are you feeling, Peter?"
Apart from having the unenviable task of holding John's body to prevent it falling into substances which I refused to think about, I didn't feel too bad, except when the ship gave that particular lurching roll, dipping bow first and lurching from side to side at the same time. All the same I wasn't going to give way to Alasdair, the smart-ass, know-all, obnoxiously self-assertive student who was one of us four undergraduates who were on an exchange visit to a similar educational establishment in Norway.
Newcastle to Bergen, I wasn't sure how far it is but the shipping company claimed it would take just over twenty-six hours, a night and a day, that is. Unfortunately, somewhere between sea areas Tyne, Dogger and Forties, a gale blew up, one of those force 8 tending to 9 (severe gale), possibly 10 (storm) force. Sitting in the restaurant, we could see through the reinforced glass, waves twenty feet above us on one side and dips, twenty feet down on the other. They were grey, the sort of grey that reminded me of reinforced concrete and I shuddered to think what a wall of such stuff would do if it landed on our fragile little boat, It hadn't looked fragile when we boarded it at Newcastle. Now it felt like a toy.
There were fewer and fewer people around. Waiters spread water on the table cloths so that dishes could not slip off, not that much was being eaten. The four of us, third year students at Cheltenham College of Education, Alasdair (short, dark and cheeky in a sort of Cockney sparrow way), John (tall, elegant, I rather fancied him but he was seriously straight and was only waiting for his degree before getting married), Adrian (broad-shouldered, blond, a P.E. specialist - that says it all) and me (Peter Preston - the 'mature' student - you had to add a decade to the others' ages to find mine), sipped at glasses of beer and pretended to look like seasoned travellers until John gave a groan and rushed out towards the heads (which I understand is the correct nautical term for the lavatory). Adrian followed not long after, leaving Alasdair and me staring grimly ahead, silently daring the other to be the next to surrender.
That night, those of us who were able to sleep awoke to find water swirling round the tiny cabin we had been allocated. It was obviously in the bows of the ship; it was even pointed in shape with just enough room for two double bunks. Someone obviously knew that students would probably put up with anything. Anything, that is, except sea water swirling round the floor. Our shoes were sloshing around in the water. The ship was obviously sinking!
Even John stopped feeling sick, that feeling replaced with a universal one of panic.
We splashed through the water and out into the corridor (or whatever that is called on a ship). Luckily we found a sailor, or at least one of the company's employees.
"We're sinking," I gasped.
"Water in the cabin," said John (and then threw up).
"Lifeboats," said Alasdair.
Only Adrian said nothing but then he was always a quiet sort of guy, and his wide-open eyes spoke volumes.
The sailor (Norwegian but with a smattering of English) reassured us that it was just a burst pipe. "We not sinking," he said, and his calmness seemed to suggest honesty. But he did find us another cabin, this one with more or less a dry floor and we transferred our belongings while John made his way unerringly yet again to the heads.
In the morning it was calmer. The sea, though still concrete grey and slightly ominous, was no more than choppy. Alasdair and I took breakfast eating everything that was served. John arrived, took one look at the food and disappeared.
But all was not over. Over the Tannoy there was an announcement that, after 'this brief lull in the weather', the Captain regretted the return of gale force winds. As they were blowing from the north-east (ie our destination) we hadn't made as much headway as planned. Instead of the voyage taking twenty six hours, it would probably last another twelve, Some enterprising and obviously seasoned traveller at a neighbouring table worked it out that, had the sea been dry land, we could probably have cycled across quicker. It was what he said; I've never checked his calculations.
However, all bad things (as well as good) eventually come to an end (even if the end is death) and the sun was shining, the air cool and fresh, seagulls screaming as we arrived in Bergen and disembarked. What a marvellous word. It means getting off a moving surface, one that for the past day and a half has been hurling up and down, and from side to side, and depositing me on a motionless one which, unfortunately, seems as if it's moving too.
We took the train to Oslo where we were met by our genial host, Mr Torfeld, director of the Teacher Training College in Hamar. He was a short, moustached man wearing a jaunty porkpie hat who fed us in a restaurant and then took us to the Viking Ship Museum which (not surprisingly) was full of Viking long-ships. "Imagine crossing the North Sea in those," he said in almost perfect English, pointing to the open ship with its high prow but basically no more than a huge (22 metre) long rowing boat with a mast and sails. I saw John's face pale. We told Mr Torfeld about the speed of our crossing and the double gale we had endured and he laughed. "It does get a bit choppy sometimes in winter," he said. Choppy!
Hamar is a pleasant little town with many wood-built houses though the centre looks like any other modern western one. The snow was lying crisp and white on the roads and the temperature was, according to our informant, minus 12 degrees. That was really cold, but the humidity was so dry that it didn't feel as cold as -2 would have done in Britain. Nevertheless the hairs in my nose froze and my breath came out of my mouth in great clouds.
We met our student hosts. Mine was named Haakon (after the king I wondered). He was tall and thin and serious but perfectly mannered if in a rather old-fashioned way, shaking my hand not something I would have expected a student to do. He had a flat near to the college on the third floor; the bathroom was in the basement. I didn't ask.
Then he escorted us to the College and we met the students - en masse, like we were on the stage and they were in the audience, row upon row upon row. "You will please introduce yourselves," said Mr Torfeld, "and then perhaps answer some questions."
Well, we made a pretty poor fist of it, I guess. The introducing was OK. At least we knew our own names, though Adrian seemed to hesitate a little over his. We told them our subjects, main and subsidiary. John (bravely) said how much he was looking forward to the visit to Norway, with which the other three of us concurred enthusiastically.
"Please to ask questions," said Mr Torfeld to the audience.
The audience shuffled its feet. This was going to be embarrassing.
"Has no one a question for our visiting friends?" asked Mr Torfeld. Surely he could have thought one up himself.
I wondered whether to ask one myself when a hand went up from the front row.
"Yes, Bjørn," said Mr Torfeld. "This is Bjørn," he added to us. He didn't sound all that enthusiastic about the student.
The young man stood up. He had black hair and what looked like eye make-up. I warmed to him immediately. "Is EEF like real school in England?" he asked.
That stumped us. "What's 'EEF'?" I asked John.
Mr Torfeld whispered. "It is not very good film about school," he said. "Probably you have not seen."
Suddenly it clicked. He meant 'If...' Lindsay Anderson's violent, groundbreaking though controversial, brilliant film set in a public school. Well here we were on level terms. I had seen the film; I loved the film; It had been actually filmed in Cheltenham, at the Boys' public school - much to the headmaster's dismay when he had seen the finished result. It had a homosexual subplot and best of all, I was actually IN the film.
I stood up. "Thank you for your question, Bjørn," I said smiling at him. "To me it's an excellent film but of course it's a satire and though there are elements of reality in the story, it's exaggerated."
"Is it not like a real English school?"
"It's supposed to be set in a public school, which is different from our State schools. 'Public' school are in fact private schools." I realised I was getting into deep waters. "Perhaps we could discuss that later."
"What about the homosexual pair?" asked Bjørn.
I heard Mr Torfeld's sudden intake of breath. I realised he didn't like the way this was going. "I don't think Peter wants to talk about that," he said.
I wouldn't have minded at all, in fact I would quite liked to have discussed the delicious Richard Warwick's portrayal of the third member of the 'revolutionaries' and his attraction to the young blond junior boy, but I thought I should be kind to Mr Torfeld. "Perhaps that is also something we could discuss later," I said. "Perhaps in private." There was a ripple of laughter.
I continued. "But I will tell you something about the making of the film. I don't know if you remember but there was a mock fight between Mick Travis (played by Malcolm McDowell) and his friend, Johnnie (David Wood). A fellow student and I were walking through the town when they were filming this and arrived at the scene just when they were taking the shot. 'Just walk through and don't look at the camera' said someone (the director? Lindsay Anderson) and we walked past while they were filming."
"Are you in the film then?" asked Bjørn.
"Well, we didn't think we were going to be because they weren't entirely happy with that shot so they were going to take another one. Then something happened. As the two boys struggled on the pavement, there was a shriek of brakes and a lorry drew up, the driver leaped out swearing at what he assumed were a couple of yobs fighting while everyone else just standing around watching.
"He had a sort of rubber truncheon and he hit poor Malcolm McDowell over the head and dragged the two apart. McDowell wasn't very pleased and the driver was somewhat embarrassed when it was explained to him that they were shooting a film.
"But in fact it meant that they used the first shot as McDowell didn't feel like doing it again; I guess he had a bit of a headache. So I am in the film. You have to watch carefully, one blink and you'll miss me but that's my claim to fame."
The audience laughed and clapped and I felt quite the hero, but the ice was broken and the questions came thick and fast until we were quite tired.
Mr Torfeld realised and broke the meeting up, providing some refreshments. Bjørn came to speak to us. He really was very attractive - and it was eye make-up. Dark hair, an olive complexion and light blue eyes, a combination I find almost irresistible. He didn't look Norwegian at all. Not that I saw any future in it for me. I felt like a parent at a kids' party. The other three students were more Bjørn's age. The party broke up, John went off with his student host, a cheerful guy called Ivar. Haakon seemed to want to leave so I smiled goodbye at Bjørn. He came closer to me. "We have private things to discuss? You promised," he said, an enigmatic smile on his lips. Enigmatic? Well, I didn't know exactly what he meant so I suppose it's the right word.
Haakon pushed between us before I could answer. "Peter is tired," he said (prompted by Mr Torfeld?) and hustled me away. "He is a queer guy," said Haakon, nodding at Bjørn who was watching us go. "Perhaps you should keep away from him."
It sounded almost like a warning and I wondered why. Did his use of the word, 'queer' mean anything significant? A foreigner's use though could have meant nothing more than 'odd' - and certainly Bjørn looked less conventional that most of the other students. I didn't ask and certainly I was pleased to get back to the flat and a box-like bed that was really comfortable. After the previous night's disturbances, the strangeness of my surroundings didn't stop me sleeping soundly until Haakon awoke me the following morning with the smells and sounds of breakfast.
For the next few days, we visited college tutorials and classes in schools in Hamar. They all seemed rather regimented and slightly old-fashioned, as if we had suddenly slipped back a couple of decades into the teaching of my own schooldays. We attempted to convey the ideas of 'Teaching through Experience' but they didn't go down too well - perhaps it was the way we explained them - and I heard one teacher say disapprovingly. "It is just playing. Like in kindergarten.' But we persisted and I remember a group of girls embarrassed by being herded into forming a Rugby scrum by John after a question about sport.
Ivar invited John and me to visit his grandparents out in the countryside where se sampled some sort of Norwegian fish speciality and afterwards a delicious dessert of cloud berries and cream. Haakon organised a party for me, but his guests, after drinking more and more soon forgot their English and I found myself ignored. He hadn't, I noticed, invited Bjørn. In fact I didn't see much of Bjørn at all and people I asked about him seemed to dry up when I mentioned his name. It could have been their lack of English of course but somehow I didn't think so,
On the fourth day we were organised to pay a visit to the mountains, Lillehammer, where we would try our hand (or rather feet) at skiing. Alasdair was looking forward to it as he continued to tell us; I wasn't so enthusiastic, my sporting abilities were less than zero.
When we arrived though the sky was blue, the air crystal clear, the houses capped with a thick layer of snow. They took us up to the nursery slopes but from the start, though, I knew that skis and I were not going to get on well. We were taught the basics ie how how turn, how to stop, how to make a 'controlled' ski down hill. Alasdair, to give him his due, got it first time and was taken off to ski with some more proficient Norwegians. Even John and Adrian seemed to find out how to make headway, climb up a slope, ski down it and come to a gentle halt by sort of turning the skis into each other and forcing the inside edges into the snow - well, something like that.
I was absolutely hopeless.
It was probably the most embarrassing time of my life.
There I was, half way up a mountain, balanced precariously on these two strips of wood or something, sliding a few yards then falling backwards (or forwards) surrounded by a posse of giggling girls who, every time I collapsed, burst into peals of laughter and athletically pulled me to my feet until the next time I overbalanced.
"You must position yourself so that the weight is forward, over your feet," said one aiming to be helpful. "Then at least you will not fall backwards onto your bottom."
"Right," I said, balanced myself over my feet, and promptly fell flat on my face.
The girls screamed with helpless merriment and picked me up again. They were good-hearted creatures I suspected - or perhaps I was the only entertainment around. I had always suspected that the Norwegian sense of humour was largely of the 'banana skin' variety.
Eventually I got a little better and was actually able to ski for short distances just about upright. The correct way of stopping, however, was entirely beyond me and the only way I could stop was by flinging myself backwards and landing on my arse. Even this, though, did not always bring me to a 'sit-still' as I would often carry on for several yards in the sitting position. Bloody skis! Bloody snow!
I suppose finally I would have got down to where we were staying but I got a bit too bigheaded. and pride, as we know, goeth before a fall - not that I hadn't already had enough of those.
Anyway I decided I was confident enough to ski on my own, so, waving off my flotilla of attendant Valkyries, I attempted a glide of my own. All went well until I saw an obstacle, in the shape of another skier climbing up the hill in the orthodox step by step process. Probably I would have missed him by yards but I was unnerved, I tried to alter direction swinging to the right, my ski poles flailing in the air, and I headed straight into a snow drift. Soft landing of course. Unfortunately I must have twisted my knee in the process and my cartilage popped out from under my knee cap. I must admit it had happened before and I knew I had a weakness there but on previous occasions I had been able to push it back. This time it wouldn't go.
The girls debated what to do and eventually went off to find an instructor. He came back in a flurry of ice crystals, a young man with blond hair and beard and more muscles than anyone has a right to. I was able to stand so he suggested that I step onto the back of his skis, hold him firmly round the waist and he'd take me down the hill like that.
And so it was. There was I, my front moulded tightly to this demigod's back and bottom and hurtling down at a terrifying speed. Perhaps it was a good thing that I was so frightened as if I had just been able to enjoy the experience, I might have made my pleasure felt, as it were. Luckily, or unluckily, my terror left me completely limp and we arrived safely, my knee was bound in a piece of elasticated bandage and I finished the Lillehammer expedition as some sort of 'almost' walking wounded.
Alasdair, the bastard, was tickled pink when he heard.
"Today is Bun Monday," announced Haakon, the morning following our return from Lillehammer. My cartilage had returned to its correct position behind the patella and I now felt only a burning pain which I decided I could put up with until I got back to England.
Somewhat bemused by Haakon's pronouncement I looked at him. "Bun Monday," he repeated as if I should know what he meant.
"Sorry, Haakon," I said. "I've no idea what Bun Monday is,"
"It's the first Monday before the start of Lent. "We have these buns full of cream before giving everything up for Lent."
"Followed by 'Fat Tuesday'," I suggested. "Mardi Gras".
He nodded, though seemed as if he was just as puzzled as I had been. "Unfortunately this means that I have to go to see my parents this evening. Will that be all right? You do not mind being alone?"
It was almost a relief. Haakon had been very good but he wasn't the greatest of fun. I quite looked forward to exploring on my own.
"I'll give you a key to the flat," he said.
"Today is Bun Monday," I announced to John, Adrian and Alasdair.
"Of course it is," said John. "Ivar explained it all. There's a big party at the College this evening."
"Do we eat the buns," asked Alasdair, "or throw them?"
"Go with the flow," I suggested.
"I bet there won't be much to drink," said John.
He was probably right. The authorities in the college were not very sympathetic to the blending of their students and alcohol. Nor, as it happened was the Government who had slapped on immense taxes so that even beer was fantastically expensive.
|"I expect we'll manage," said Ivar. "Sometimes we bring in home-made."
"The stuff that sends you blind?" I asked.
"That's some other disapproved of habit, well, by parents anyway," said Ivar.
There was a band on the stage. I hadn't really taken much notice of them as we arrived - just a group of guys but they suddenly struck up with the opening chords of a familiar sound - David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' and the words:
Ground control to major tom
Ground control to major tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
I looked at them and for a moment thought it was really Bowie, androgynously slim apart from a telltale bulge in the appropriate place of his tights, in full war paint. So Glam Rock had come to Hamar. I moved nearer and staring at me from under the make-up was Bjørn. He winked at me. I smiled and moved even closer so that I was almost at the front, almost underneath him so that I could look up at his body. His evident maleness aroused me. He had a bass guitarist who stood near him, sharing the same microphone and they sensually touched when they weren't singing.
Ground control to major tom
Your circuits dead, theres something wrong
Can you hear me, major tom?
Can you hear me, major tom?
Can you hear me, major tom?
Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the moon
Planet earth is blue
And theres nothing I can do.
The song finished and there was applause, mixed what I thought were catcalls and occasional boos. This overt eroticism wasn't to everyone's taste. The group went off to the side and were replaced by another, more ethnic, Norwegian folk dancing?
I stood there wondering where Bjørn had gone when suddenly I felt a figure slide through the crowd and press against me. His voice whispered in my ear. "Come, have a drink." I followed him to the side of the stage and slipped through curtains into almost darkness. But there was enough light to see him holding and offering a bottle to my lips. I took a swallow and gasped. I had no idea what it was, spirituous certainly and very strong.
Bjørn laughed, standing close to me so that I could feel the heat of his body and see the sweat on his face starting through the make up. There was only one other person whose mere closeness used to arouse me so quickly and immediately - Gavin from years past. Here our bodies touched and he pressed his groin into my side. I could feel his erection through the thin cloth of his tights, and his groping hand found mine. He raised the bottle to his own mouth and took a swig, then found my mouth and shared the burning spirit.
"Do you want that private meeting you promised?" he asked.
The raw spirit had burnt a space in my throat but I managed to croak a 'yes'.
"Wait here," he said. "I won't be long."
So I waited in the wings and watched the group on stage, hoping that no one would ask me what I was doing. I didn't even hear him come back and my first notice of his return was when his arms came round from the back and his hands closed over my genitals. I felt his body pressed against my back and a pleasurable bulge against my buttocks.
His voice whispered in my ear. "So, where can we go?"
"I have the key to Haakon's flat," I said, "and he won't be back until tomorrow."
I felt rather than heard his laugh against the back of my neck. "He would be horrified," he said.
"He won't know."
"Perhaps not." And he laughed again.
We went out into the freezing night. The stars were crystal points in the darkness. Our breaths clouded together as we talked and laughed and occasionally joined as we kissed, when we were sure there was no one else around. We reached the block of apartments where Haakon lived. Bjørn appeared to know the way. Perhaps he had been there before.
"Let's have a sauna first," he said. "There's one in the basement."
Haakon hadn't mentioned this to me. Perhaps it was a 'treat' he'd been keeping for later, though we were due to return to England in two days time.
We stripped down to our underwear and then entered. There were two large women sitting in the dry heat of the small room in the corner of which a stove threw out heat. Thanks goodness they were wearing the minimum of clothes, bras and panties but I didn't enjoy looking. Bjørn greeted them with a spate of voluble Norwegian and they bridled. Then he threw a ladle of water on the stones which hissed and spat and immediately turned into clouds of steam. The women protested, so Bjørn said something more and emptied another ladle. More protests but they decided the steam was too much so they flounced angrily out.
The room was full of steam. Bjørn was no more than a darkish shape. I heard him say. "Now we take off everything."
He appeared out of the steam, a lean, tall figure, broad-shouldered, narrow hipped, smiling and with his penis already at half mast. We sat, side by side on a wooden bench and held each other, kissing and then he went down further, my chest, stomach until I gasped as he took hold of my prick in his mouth. I wanted him too and we sucked and licked each other, tasting the salt, smelling the exciting scents of a stranger's body, exploring the cavities and protuberances until the steam cleared and he had to get up and throw another ladle of water on the stones.
Then the outside door banged open and we heard voices.
"Time to find somewhere else to finish our private conversation," said Bjørn. We wrapped our towels around us as two middle-aged men came in, gave us inquisitive looks. "Student from England," I said, "staying with Haakon."
One nodded and we went out. I couldn't resist saying over my shoulder. "Today is Bum Monday."
The man corrected me carefully. :I think you mean BUN Monday."
"I know what I mean," I said quietly, and patted Bjørn's buttocks as we went upstairs.
Bjørn laughed. "We should by rights rush naked into the snow outside. And beat each other with birch twigs."
"I think I prefer to investigate bums," I said and we did just that.
We slept (if 'sleep' is the appropriate word) overnight and explored everything. Bjørn left before Haakon returned which was lucky because I had no idea how I'd explain his presence.
Later, somewhat sleep deprived I met up with John and the other students who queried my disappearance from the party and I told them, I'd got lucky, found someone to go back with. Alasdair, envious, wanted to know who she was but I refused to tell any details. "Not something a gentleman does," I said.
I thought I'd got away with it until Ivar sidled up to me and whispered, "It was Bjørn, wasn't it?"
"Of course not," I denied stoutly.
"He said he wanted to get in your pants from the first time he saw you."
"OK," I said, "but please don't tell the others."
"Haakon will be livid. He does not like Bjørn."
"Just don't tell anyone until after we're gone," I begged.
"Sure," he said, and winked conspiratorially.
I was able to get together with Bjørn again before we left a day later. We both realised that this was just a passing relationship - a holiday romance - and neither could see any lasting future in it. We said we'd keep in touch and Bjørn said he'd probably come to England some time and we'd get together. We exchanged addresses.
A day later we left. Mr Torfeld, Haakon, Ivar and Bjørn saw us off onto the train to Oslo and we managed to find the one to Bergen and the ship across the North Sea.
The crossing was calm, much to John's relief.
At the college we had to write up our experiences, some of which had to be suitably edited.
* * * * * *
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Started: Tuesday, November 29, 2005 09.00
Today: Sunday, December 4, 2005 17:18
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