TRAVEL: YOUR HOLIDAY DISASTER

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The Independent Travel
Peter Eldridge had never been further than his local football ground. Then came the invitation to Malta...

IT WAS the height of the Sixties. Chris and I were half way through our printing apprenticeships in a small printers just behind Fleet Street. Our wages had just reached pounds 6-a-week and the furthest we had travelled was to follow the brilliant Arsenal wherever they went on their away travels.

Chris had relatives in Valletta, Malta, and assured me they would look after us if we could get there. We duly saved our money and paid pounds 40 for a return flight and on one sunny day in August (the hottest month in Malta) we flew out of London.

I should say at this point that I've inherited my father's red hair and my mother's fair skin.

On arrival my friend's relatives greeted me like one of the family and even lent us a Ford Anglia, complete with its own record player. We toured the island in the sweltering heat listening to Stones records and frequently topping up the radiator.

My lack of preparation for the intense sun (90F in the shade) and the nylon shirts I had brought to wear soon led to six-inch blisters on both arms which the local chemist accredited as the largest he had ever seen before prescribing copious amounts of powder after the blisters were punctured (a bit like having your arms stapled).

Opposite our accommodation was the Barrel and Biscuit Bar. The owner Tony treated us like his own sons and we accepted his hospitality gratefully. Our regular drinking sessions on our frequent visits to the Barrel and Biscuit (kindled by the price of two shillings for a double) soon went to our heads.

One night we went up to the roof-top bar and engaged in one of those adolescent drinking sessions. I was drinking Bacardi - quadruples - and my friend was drinking whisky. After an hour or so Tony decided his "sons" needed some food and came upstairs with two huge plates of spaghetti bolognese. I immediately passed out. I was told the rest of the story the next day.

I was, apparently, carried downstairs by Tony who laid me on the bench in the street and called the local doctor. After about an hour later he arrived and immediately pronounced me dead. Some nuns were called who took me away and laid me in a room in their convent about a mile away.

I woke up some hours later (with Keith Moon playing a drum solo in my head) to find myself in a white marbled room with these bodies in their huge white hats drifting around me. After the initial shock, they brought me the local cure for a hangover - a crate of 7-Up - which I consumed amid gasps of astonishment.

Apparently one year earlier to the day the same doctor (who himself liked the odd drink on duty) had been called to the same bench to examine someone in a similar condition and had diagnosed him drunk. Unfortunately it turned out the person was dead. So this time he was determined not to make the same mistake twice and pronounced me dead.

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