Tartu student shinanagans

Wednesday 30 April

I’ve bought myself a pair of running shoes.  This in itself is a new experience for me, as it has never happened before.  A year or so ago I purchased a jump rope.  This I left, unused, in a hostel in Croatia; as it was taking up too much room in my bag.  But needs must dear readers, and the time has come for me to stop looking like a pear spliced with a potato.  I manage two decent runs, before realising I’m meeting old Estonian friends for some kind of student day of debauchery.  I hang up the boots, and promise myself to get started seriously after the weekend.  Well, maybe after Lithuania.  Or Romania.  Perhaps Georgia.  I hear running in Azerbaijan is all the rage.

So I’m staying with my old friend Helen, who I met many moons ago in Belgium as part of some kind of theatre festival.  A group from Scotland was joined by an Estonian bunch, and a mob from Hungary.  We all had to devise a piece to be part of this Belgian show.  Needless to say it was just utter carnage, and I’m pleased to report that not much has changed in nine years.

We pile into a car to make the short drive to Tartu, which is pretty much the centre of the academic world in Estonia.  I fall asleep within minutes, and wake an hour or so later to find my companions have sunk around four bottles of wine between them.  The following slurred conversation then ensues:

“Stuey, do you have any tanks in Scotland, y’know, moving about the countryside?”


“Yeah tanks.  In Estonia we have tanks, moving about the countryside, all the time, and that is why we’re better than you.”

I resolve to catch up as soon as possible.

Today a number of faculties, or “corporations” are basically given the key to the city as part of a traditional student faculty day.  Or something.  I don’t know!  I just work here!  I don’t think anyone really knew what was going on.  Anyway it’s a solid excuse for hundreds of students and alumni to don their best glad rags and tear the place apart.  The only moderately smart thing I own is my kilt, and we spend a good half an hour running around town to try to borrow a pair of black shoes for me.  I don’t have high hopes to be let in as we approach one such establishment, with towering Estonians guarding the entrance with ceremonial swords.  There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, as every member wears their own coloured cap and sash to denote which “corporation” you belong to.  Most guys look like Harry Potter on acid.  With a large percentage of the women being astronomically gorgeous, I feel I’ve wandered into a porn star and train driver convention.  There were certainly plenty of Hugh Hefner old boys kicking about too.

A sigh of relief is breathed as I’m allowed through the door and sign my name into this great tome of a book.  I don’t think many people outside the society get this opportunity, and I’m feeling particularly privileged as we begin to dance the night away.  A folky Estonian band belts out the local numbers, with pretty much everyone but yours truly crooning the tunes.  It’s a sight to behold, and again I count my blessings at having the chance to be here.  Hopefully I can make it out alive.

When the dawn starts to peak over the buildings, still shaking from some old, crazy, pissed-up/crack-head DJ; we’re heading off to another party.  By the time we make it there we’re beyond all hope, and it isn’t long before a taxi is a matter of urgency.  It must be about eight or nine in the morning when we stumble home.  Little did I know it was to be a benchmark for the days to come.  These Estonians are bat-shit crazy.


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A day for the boy

Tuesday 22 April

I feel the cold metal in my hands.  The weight.  The power.  Everything else is shut out.  I feel myself breathing slowly.  The only thing I see is the man in front of me.   I focus on his arrogant shoulders, his obnoxious head teasing me, his chest puffed out like a bull pigeon.  It’s more than I can stand.  I’ve had enough.  He’s gone too far.  In less than 5 seconds it’s all over, and I’ve riddled a paper target full of lead from an AK-47.  I might also have had an orgasm.

I’m standing in a tactical target shooting range rattling through an armory of high-powered weaponry.  A popular experience in the Baltic regions, this sort of activity is legal in these parts, so you can get your rocks off to blowing the shit out of stuff with guns you’ve only ever seen in the movies.  Now I’m not normally into this kind of thing; the whole ‘guns-don’t-kill-people’ nonsense and all (they certainly help), and I refuse to pose for pictures with the weapons.  It’s not big and it’s not clever.  But I thought I’d try my hand at hitting targets with some famous shooters.  You never know when it might come in handy if you’ve definitely got a burglar behind a locked door and you can’t see them.

So the man mountain of an instructor takes me through each model, and I have the time of my life drilling holes in a head and shoulders target.  I get to pop off a Walter PPK (James Bonds’ weapon of choice), an M4 with tactical scope (already an expert at this with Call of Duty on the X-box), a Thompson Carbine (a-la Al Capone), a Desert Eagle .50 (most powerful handgun in the world), a Glock (movie cop favorite), a pump-action shotgun (Arnie style), a Magnum 357 (for old timers in Lethal Weapon) and of course the AK-47 Kalashnikov (which is for when you want to kill every motherf*cker in the room.  apparently).

I’m pleased to say I did pretty well, but would have done a damn sight better if I’d not had the shakes from alcohol consumption.  Basically if you want to shoot straight; don’t drink.  While I certainly got a thrill out of pulling the trigger, I still felt very uneasy in the presence of these killing machines.  Seeing cops carrying assault rifles doesn’t make me feel safe at all.  Even in this controlled environment, the danger and power was there.  It was a wonderful experience, but I think I’ll stick to paintball.

I continued appeasing my inner man-child with a trip to the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour.  Here I casually flew a Sopwith Camel simulator, successfully sailed my remote control tug into port, shot down enemy fighters with a browning machine gun, donned an Admirals uniform, maneuvered a navy destroyers deck gun, sat in an armoured personnel carrier, oh and boarded a submarine.  An actual WW2 submarine.  By the time I was finished giggling with glee in this wonderful museum, I was desperate to catch an episode of Sex and the City to balance myself out.  There’s been too much testosterone for one day.

And yet it is with a slight pang of regret that there isn’t a female companion to share this with.  I feel a little glum (and a total loner) putting my camera on a timer, while seeing and doing some really cool things that I’ve nobody to experience them with.  Such is the downside of solo travel dear readers.  Of course the up-side is I can do whatever the hell I want when I want.  I’m off home to watch Bambi.



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Monday 21 April

In an attempt to deal with my flight to Estonia, I’ve stayed up all night in the hope that I will pass out on the plane.  I’m walking around Gatwick like a zombie at stupid o’clock in the morning, having arrived far too early for the departure.  There’s plenty of time for the seeds of fear to plant into my brain and weed themselves into my psyche.  I google Easyjets’ track safety record for some reassurance.  Finding no fatal air disasters to date in some 2.69 million flights does little to calm my nerves.  There’s a first time for everything.

A few hours later and I’ve arrived, unscathed, in Tallinn; Estonia’s charming capital.  It’s a far cry from the rat-race stink-hole that is London, and I take to the quiet streets in the afternoon sun.  Having successfully survived the flight, coupled with the fact that I’ve put some distance from myself and the UK, I’m feeling surprisingly upbeat.  It’s a pleasure to stroll through the medieval old town and get lost down the narrow passageways and courtyards.  With only 400,000 odd inhabitants, Tallinn is my kind of capital.  I take a spot of lunch in a traditional ye olde worlde tavern, complete with wenches dressed for the part.  The city clearly prides itself on its dark age history.  They even think that ale is holy!  I think I’m going to like it here.

After a thick Elk soup, OX sausages and Elderflower juice, I get a serious talking to by a wench.  Presumably all part of the experience.   “WHO IS GOING TO CLEAR UP AFTER YOU BOY?!  YOUR MUM DOESN’T WORK HERE!”  she bellows in front of amused customers.  I stammer my apologies and take my bowls where instructed, before beating a hasty retreat from the crazy.  I’ll be back tomorrow.

I spend the afternoon stretching my new cameras legs, and my own, with a wander around the old town.  I feel a sense of relief, like something heavy has lifted, and a lot more positive than in recent weeks.  That’s what travel does for you I guess; gets you out of the hole you’ve been stuck in, slaps you round the face, and encourages you to live again.  Well I intend to, with a promise to cut down on the drinking and smoking too, and start doing some more wholesome activities.  And isn’t it nice to be talking about travel again, and not about girls?

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Getting back on the road

Saturday 19 April

Well here we go then.  My time in the UK has finally come to an end.  What have I learned?  Not much probably, save that this country is a total rip off and I hate London.  But I knew that anyway.  Matters of the heart will be given some more time to settle before judgement is called on my decision to return.  Only in the coming months will I know if it was a wise idea, but then again; you should have no regrets.  Except maybe for the time I pee’d my pants at a motorway Happy Eater circa 1985.  Someone still has the pictures.

On the morrow I fly to Estonia.  Now I’m trying to be upbeat regarding the word “fly”, and I’ve bored you all to tears already banging on about my deeply ingrained fear; but I’m sorry – those fucking things are not meant to be up in the air.  Sitting in beer gardens on the Heathrow flight path hasn’t done me any favours.  You can read the writing on the damn undercarriage.  Hopefully this will be the last flight I ever tak…no wait…take in a long time.  Jesus.  Nearly jinxed it.

And yet there is still the fleeting hope of a movie scene reprieve.  That moment when (usually a boy, but this time a girl) barely makes it to the airport in time to stop the guy from leaving.  Hurdling bags and knocking over grannies, she tearfully apologies for her stupidity, begs him not to board, and stammers her glaring error in letting him go in the first place.  Alas, dear readers, no such scene will take place, and our young hero will have no choice but to buckle into his seat, glance wistfully out the port window, and with a solitary tear rolling down his cheek, contemplate what might have been; before the onset of his impending doom at 38,000 feet.  Ain’t life a bitch.

So once again one door closes and another opens.  This time tomorrow I should be in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and I’ll be doing my best to immerse myself once again in the thrill of adventure.  No doubt such exploits will come to the aid of my rather wounded heart, especially when I’m surrounded by a load of Estonian chicks who look like Rivendell extras.  But you know I’m only joking right?



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Broken in Brighton

Sunday 06 April

I don’t feel the driving rain as I cut a lonely figure negotiating through revellers in Brighton streets, unfazed by some pretty girl trying to dance with me. Singing the same song lyrics over to myself, using the downpour to camouflage glassy eyes. Sitting alone nursing an ale surrounded by empty seats. I ghost to an unwelcome bed after time is called. It takes a lot of balls to take a risk when it comes to love. Sometimes it pays off and you get your just rewards. Sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately it looks like once again I’m falling into the latter.

I didn’t come back here for friends, family or to “sort stuff out”. As horrible as it sounds, it was just a front. A smoke screen. I was really doing the one thing that I swore I’d never do. Follow a girl.

After a whirl-wind anti-romance and intoxicating times together, the obstacles are far too great for it to continue. She was the first girl to visit my parents graves, the first to see where I used to live. The first to see a side of me I didn’t think I had. The first to truly make me laugh. I’ve never met anyone like her. But between perfect birthday gifts, beautiful dinners, stunning vacations and an incredible intimacy I’ve never known; I was just too damn overconfident I could change her mind. That’s time at the bar darling. Last orders.

Yet many a friend would scoff at such declarations. They’ve “heard it all”. “No I assure you it’s different this time!” “She’s not like all the rest!” Actually it’s no different. Nothing has changed. Once again I’ve failed to find what I’m looking for. Once again groans of familiarity wail from close pals. Stuart’s heart ripped off his sleeve, smashed onto the floor and stamped on. Then a dog has chewed it up, crapped it out, to be abducted by aliens, given an anal probe, slapped down onto the street to be pissed on by a homeless man and shat on by a pigeon. I really haven’t learned any lessons.

I’ve not slept, eaten or showered in days. Actually I’ve had a chicken and mushroom pot noodle and bowl of crunchie nut cornflakes. There’s more Gin in me than blood, and I’m rattling through a pack of tobacco a day. I’m trying to put a band-aid on cancer. But fear not dear readers, for I will be alright. I will drag my stinking carcass out of this black hole of remorse to a brighter tomorrow, or die trying. Please don’t call Social Services; I’ve simply fallen in love with the wrong girl. Or the right one at the wrong time. I’m not sure which is worse.

It’s not through any fault of hers or mine. Time, age, distance, and circumstance are all contributing factors. Yet I get the impression (as with so many girls who say “they’re not ready for a relationship”) that if the right guy came along they damn well would be. If I was Rob Stark they’d be throwing themselves at my feet. “It’s not you it’s me.” I’ve heard that one so many times before you’d thought I’d be used to it by now. I’d move mountains to make this work, but never do anything for someone who wouldn’t do the same for you in a heartbeat. People who are meant to be in your life will come in and stay there. If only we’d met at 26, perhaps I wouldn’t be an old dog with old tricks. The reason that it’s such a bitter pill to swallow, is that she is totally right. I can’t fault her wisdom. But it really hurts. It’s something she has to do, something she can’t ignore. She’s different. If you love someone set them free.

It is with a heavy heart that I get back on the road. The hitch to India will continue with my return to Bucharest as soon as possible. I will remain in London another week or so, while I spend a small fortune on sorting out my broken glasses (again). It’s ironic they break literally, while I’ve not been able to see figuratively. Perhaps somewhere down the line she will be ready, and maybe it won’t be too late, but you’d better believe she’s going to regret it. In an ideal world I would wait for her, but until then, and until further notice (and when I get my sight back); I’m still Looking For Stu.

Hopefully so is she.



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