Chapter Fifteen

Turkey

 

On our return to London, Anna was informed that she had been selected for the centrefold picture of Playboy magazine. This would mean fame and fortune for her and an entrance to the film industry. It also meant that she would have to go back to the USA to stay at the private house of Hugh Heffner. The Playboy organisation arranged for her American visa with no apparent problems.

My friend Cassy’s business was growing very fast. When I went to see him, he showed me a puzzle ring. A puzzle ring, for those that do not know, is a finger ring which can be ‘dismantled’ to form a puzzle and the re-assembled into a wearable ring again. Cassy told me that it had turned into a very popular line but that he couldn’t get hold of them in large enough quantities at the right price. He told me that there were plenty of cottage industries in Turkey but if exported through the legal channels, the government took too much tax from the makers and therefore large quantities had to be smuggled out of Turkey.

I agreed to drive to Turkey in my Volkswagen van and bring back 10,000 rings. That night I phoned up Ken and Charly to come over to my place. Turkey was a long way and so it would be much better if I took two other drivers with me. Charly had not even passed his driving test yet but Ken and I would teach him en route.

Whilst we were in the top floor Shaftesbury Avenue flat listening to music on my stereo at full volume stoned to the bone on LSD and attempting to plan our overland trip, I suddenly smelled smoke. I opened the window to find a fireman looking me in the eyes. He was on top of one of those long ladders attached to the fire engine. A red glow lit up the buildings on the other side of the street. I looked down and the smoke belched up into my face. It hit me like a ton of bricks. The building was on fire below us.

The fireman was trying to get us to escape down his ladder but we were tripping and could not possibly get that one together. Instead we made our way up to the roof and along the rooftops to the safety of the pub roof. The horrors that I went through that night, imagining that I was burning, the LSD had certainly heightened my imagination to the absolute extreme. I decided not to take the drug again and I didn’t do so for several years.

We set off on our trip the next day, only too pleased to get away from the charred mess. My flat was untouched but the floors below had to be repaired. The trip to Turkey took us 14 days and we travelled through eight countries. On arrival in Istanbul we soon found our sources, small sweatshops hidden in the back streets of the bazaar. Each ring was handmade by people of all ages ranging from 6–7year old children right up to very old males and females.

We placed our orders with all the sweatshops that we could find and then we had to wait a few days until they had all been made. We decided to take in the tourist sights and we found a guide to show us around. He advised us never to leave our van alone because there was a gang of drug smugglers that steal all the vehicles that they can. Then they secrete drugs inside the tyres, the petrol tank and even fibreglass them into the vehicle body. They then leave the vehicle so that the police can find it and return it to the unsuspecting owner who then unknowingly drives it and the drugs back to their own country. If they get through with the drugs, the vehicle is once again stolen and the drugs removed. If the owner gets caught, then he is the one that faces the charges.

Our guide also introduced us to a new drug which we could buy freely from any pharmacy. The drug came in small tablet form and was made as a cough suppressant. It was called Romilar and if one took twenty of the tablets at once, the effect was highly euphoric. I believe it contained opium. The first time we tried it was during our visit to the Blue Mosque. Ken really freaked. He lay on the floor of the Blue Mosque just staring up at the intricate designs on the ceiling for three hours.

Our rings arrived and we were due to start our return trip. We hid the rings in various places but most of them went into the spare wheel which was bolted onto the front of the van in full view of everyone. We crossed over the border into Greece and I sat in the back of the van making nail jewellery. When the customs asked Ken what he had to declare, he would slide open the side door to show me sitting amongst my various models. I would usually make a pendant in front of the customs man and present it to him as a present for his girlfriend or wife.

Technically speaking we were moving freely from one country to another but as I showed them that I actually made it as we moved across the border, they never usually bothered to search. If they did they would believe me when I said that I also made the puzzle rings as I had also learned how to make them. I told them that they were much cheaper to have them produced in Turkey. We used the same tactics through all eight countries on our return journey home.

Cassy was delighted with the 10,000 rings that he had ordered, plus I brought him various new models based on the same idea. He paid me a handsome profit on my investment. I gave Ken his cut and Charly and I decided to buy a mobile home between us. Charly and I had become very good friends by now. Charly was 11 years younger than me and he was very good at business mathematics. Because of this, I left all the finances to him as that allowed me to get on with the more creative side of the business. I did not like the accountancy side. I agreed to give Charly 40% of everything we earned together.

The caravan that we bought was 18 feet long and had two double beds, toilet and kitchen. The Volkswagen’s engine had to be changed to a bigger one and then once again we were ready. We called Ken again and set off on our travels. In Greece we had a false floor fitted in the caravan to enable us to carry the contraband on our return trip. This time we bought 89,000 rings which we secreted in our false floor. The reason that we bought so many was because we met a man called Daniel that agreed to return to England with us in the van. He agreed to finance the operation and we did not have to pay him until we were safely back in London. This sounded good to us as we had very little to lose except maybe the van and trailer but the profits made the risk feasible.

The return trip was going well until we got to Yugoslavia and the snow began to fall. We were on the main highway across the barren wilderness. The snow kept falling and became deeper and deeper. The weight of the caravan plus the heavy cargo and now the snow was putting too much strain on the engine. We had to keep going otherwise we may get snowed in for weeks. The border with Italy was at the top of a hill and we knew that if we could get there it would be much easier for us. If the snow there was too deep to continue by road then we could put the rig on a train through Switzerland to Germany.

We eventually arrived at the hill but we could not even get out of second gear the snow was so deep. The grit spreaders were out in force on the 2 mile ascent to the Italian border. There were large lorries lying on each side of the road; some had lost control on the descent and slid down the hill until they hit the bank on the other side. Others had just given up halfway and pulled to the side. We mutually agreed to try to get up the hill as the van was almost out of fuel and we knew that there was a petrol station at the top of the hill. We were also afraid that if the engine got too cold, it might not start again as it was losing too much compression. We also needed the van engine to keep the heater going for it was freezing cold outside.

I had a very bad cough and a high temperature and so everyone agreed that I should be the one to drive. The other four, Charly, Ken, Daniel & friend Abdul took their positions at the back of the van to push at the same time as I drove. After several attempts we finally got the rig on the move again but I could not get the van out of first gear. Halfway up the hill she started to slide back and so the boys quickly unhitched the trailer and let it run into the bank. I kept on going and they ran up behind and gave me another push. I finally made it to the top of the hill and to the filling station where I started to fill up with fuel. As I filled it up about half way, the electricity cut off. It could have been a disaster but at least we had enough fuel to keep the engine going all night so at least I stayed warm.

The next day the boys managed to get a lorry to pull them up the hill and we all set off once again for the Italian railway station. We loaded the rig onto a train which took us through the Swiss Alps into Germany. Whilst in Germany we called a mechanic from Volkswagen to fix our van.

We eventually arrived back in London and unloaded the rings into the flat. I paid Daniel and then went to bed. I suppose that I must have fallen into a coma because I woke up several days later in hospital. I had pneumonia and spent several weeks in bed. After I recovered I returned to my flat to find all my money missing. Daniel & Charly told me that Abdul had stolen the money that I had paid to Daniel for the rings and had also stolen Charly’s girlfriend’s car. I could only presume that he had also stolen my money. I never heard any more about him, I accepted that he had returned to Turkey with his loot.

Charly and I decided to spend the rest of the winter wholesaling the rings but within a couple of weeks we had sold 2/3 of our stock, Cassy being the major buyer. Anna had returned from the States but did not return to live with me. Instead she moved into a large house with a group of musicians and Sue, Helmut’s ex wife. They had just divorced. Sue stayed with their two daughters and left Helmut with their old flat.

I was still putting up my pitch on Saturdays in King's Road, Chelsea. One Saturday night Ken, Charly and I took some of the new drug Romilar and decided to go to a new disco-pub that had opened in King's Road. I was wearing a long woollen purple scarf, tall leather boots and a long leather jacket. We were by the bar having a drink and watching the people dance when suddenly I noticed a beautiful girl staring at me from the other side of the dance floor. Our eyes met, she had obviously just entered the pub because she was still wearing a heavy fur collared coat.

She held my stare then smiled at me as she pushed her way through the dancers. She came up to me and took hold of my scarf as she pulled my head down and kissed me. I thought that I was dreaming or that the Romilar was creating hallucinations. When she said to me ‘Qual e tua nome’, I didn’t understand her and so she repeated it a little more loudly. Suddenly Charly replied to her in Spanish. She understood some of what he said and so they conversed with each other the best way they could. Charly then told me that her name was Neride and that she came from Brazil. She was on holiday and had seen me earlier on in the afternoon selling jewellery on my pitch but when she returned I had gone. She had visited all the pubs on King's Road looking for me. She told Charly to tell me that she wanted to get to know me better.

Even though I could not yet converse with her, we had a wonderful evening together. After the pub closed, I took her to a nightclub called Feathers. By coincidence I saw Anna dancing quite intimately with a boy I recognised from a musical group. It was obviously over with us and so I felt free to indulge.

After the nightclub, Neride invited me to stay with her at her hotel. The offer was just what I needed as I had now been living with Charly in the trailer for several weeks. The thought of a hot bath with a warm bed and a dream lady was out of this world. Neride and I spent two days and nights together getting to know each other more intimately. I understood that she had to catch a plane to Italy and so we left the hotel and caught a taxi to the airport. On the way, we passed by where I had parked the caravan and so she came for a quick visit. Charly was there waiting and so she told him that she would be back in a week’s time as her flight back to Brazil was scheduled to leave from London.

Four days later on a Sunday night, she knocked on the caravan door. She told Charly that she went to Italy to visit her fiancé, Terence Stamp the film actor, but after she had met me she no longer felt any devotion for him and so had cut her visit short. She wanted to know what our future plans were and Charly told her that our decision was to work the winter in Las Palmas, one of the Canary Islands. She said that she wanted to buy some of my jewellery to show to her friends in Brazil and that she would return to join us in Las Palmas.

She spent the night in the caravan with me. I was becoming very fond of her; she was different to any of the other girls that I had known. She was just a couple of years younger than me and for her 29 years she was apparently very experienced yet only looked like a teenager. She seemed totally self-sufficient and when Charly asked what she did for a living; she told him that she was originally a ‘Taxi Dancer’ in the Antique Dance Palais in São Paulo . Charly asked what that entailed and she went on to say that a client would first buy a ticket at the entrance kiosk which entitled them to a dance with her. With the money she made from this she opened and ran a small book shop but also had investments. When she left, she took quite a lot of different models of jewellery with her and said that she would meet us in Las Palmas.

Charly and I prepared for our trip and on our way out of London, I went to say goodbye to Anna. Anna asked if she and her new friend Cindy could come with us, making it clear the she and Cindy really only wanted a lift. We decided that it was okay to take them and so the four of us set off for Bilbao on the Cross Channel Ferry.

Charly’s parents were waiting to share their Xmas dinner with us but Charly was afraid to introduce the girls to them because we were all living in the same trailer and Charly’s parents were very religious. Charly explained that they would be very offended at their only son spending nights under the same roof as two beautiful girls. It all sounded strange to me and the girls but why offend his parents?

After the Xmas dinner we departed for the long drive across Spain to catch another ferry. Once the rig was safely aboard, Charly and I decided to sit down on the deck with our tools and invent some new models from nails & wire. No sooner had we made the first model, we sold it. The tourists were intrigued by our nimble hands and before we had arrived at our destination, we had earned enough money to cover our fares and the transportation of the rig.