Please note, content in this post may be considered sensitive by some readers.
I was locked out. No amount of banging or phone calls was going to change the fact that there was no way I could get into the hostel and that meant one thing – I was once again faced with the prospect of having no where to sleep that night.
Tired; Having had no more than 2-hours sleep before I was awoken to the noises of the housecleaning team sent to clean-up the mess left by the drunken hotel guests the night before I was now beginning to think I chose poorly when I decided to stay in the heart of Dublins infamous Temple Bar district, but in my mind my sleeplessness was because of the two inches of window that wouldn’t shut allowing the party noises to waft into my room, rousing me from sleep every time I began to drift off.
After a day of lugging around my suitcase, it was a relief to settle down for the two-hour trip up to Northern Ireland – at least, it’s usually a two-hour ride but the train I had boarded had mechanical faults leaving me with no other option but to take the later train which was scheduled to arrive at 11pm, but with our delays it was closer to 11:30pm.
As I exited the station I thought my luck was turning as a row of shiny BMW sedans taxis awaited the last passengers of the night. Despite my weariness my driver was friendly and I couldn’t help but talk to him about how a lone Australian girl ended up in Belfast at midnight, and I excitedly tried to catch glimpses of a new city itching for me to explore it. The driver excitedly talked about the things I should see in Belfast, things that it turned out I wouldn’t see any of.
As we pulled up infront of the hostel everything seemed normal. I payed the driver, thanked him for his suggestions, and begun dragging my bags up the flight of stairs to the door.
Trying the handle on the door I realised that I was in a bit of a pickle, after ringing the hostels phone for 20-minutes I realised that I was in a spot of bother, and after I yelled and threw pebbles at windows I realised that I was somewhat screwed and wouldn’t be enjoying the bed I had spent the day dreaming about which lay just beyond the door.
I was confused. I had rung the hostel and left dozens of voicemail messages and even emails saying that the train was running late which meant I’d need a late check-in. But still, no one was there to hand me a key.
I sat back down on the stairs and grabbed my Australian phone, painfully switching the data roaming back on in hope to find a replacement bed for the night. I was on a main road but the lights were quite dark which led me to jump when I heard footsteps walking my way. A girl was walking towards me, along the side of the hostel. Thinking that this was my chance to get in and get a bed I struck up a conversation with her but it turned out that she’d lost her key and was hoping someone would be able to let her in. She said that a lot of the hostel stayers were at the pub down the road and she was going back there to see if she could get a key off of one of them.
After the girl left I resumed my position perched on the steps and made a call to my Mum. We chatted for twenty minutes about my options and after what felt like only minutes we had to finish the call but she’d call me back when she’d found me somewhere to stay.
I wasn’t too alarmed by my predicament any more. I’d spent over an hour sitting on the steps and come to realise that there must be a bowling alley after overhearing drunken talks and it seemed to be a student area with all the college aged students roaming the streets; but there was something not quite right.
When I get nervous, or even just when I don’t want to talk to shop assistants, I place fake phone calls. I take out my phone, look surprised and begin chatting away on my mobile phone. I talk about the weather, about TV shows, about current events – I just talk about anything, and I try to make it sound like a real two-sided conversation full of hand gestures and head nods. It wasn’t surprising to me when I grabbed my Australian phone and once again, placed a fake phone call to myself. I even begun to pace up and down the main road to stop myself freaking out.
As I was making the fake call a person walked into the front yard of the building a few houses down and, it appeared, disappeared from view. I recall myself thinking that he was a lucky bastard getting out of the early winter chill that was beginning to settle in.
After another 10-minutes on my fake phone call, I got bored and hung up on myself, but I still paced between the buildings. By now I could see the head of the man just peering over the bushes of the house. Thinking he was locked out as well I was slightly amused but continued playing games on my phone – I had to beat my current score on Angry Birds after all.
It was nearing 2am and I was tired and just plain grumpy. I was angry with myself for not finding some way to get through to the hostel owners to ensure my check-in happened, angry that I didn’t have a backup plan in place and angry I had no credit left to ring my UK friends in hope they knew someone who could help me.
I had just finished posting another Tweet for help when I saw movement in my peripheral vision. The guy who was originally three houses down was now in the yard next to me. Despite it’s weirdness I continued tweeting thinking he must have had the wrong house, but I couldn’t help but constantly look-up to check what he was doing. I kept catching him looking at me, not weird because except for the occasional drunken reveller, there was nothing else happening on the street.
After a few more minutes more movement caught my eye but I didn’t look-up until I heard cracking twigs and leaves underfoot. The guy was now standing 10-metres away from me, still partially obscured by trees and it looked like he was just staring at me. A little weirded out I begun to pull out my Australian phone, any number on my speed dial would do.
The man walked closer, out from under the shadows of the tree, and it became immediately apparent about what he was wanting comment on.
“Hello, you likey?“
In the time that it had taken for him to move along the fronts of three houses he had also managed to pull out him man-bits and begin playing with them. I hadn’t seen too many… appendages… in my life and I couldn’t bare to look at it, instead watching his face and eyes. I quickly realised that he wasn’t going to go away as he inched towards me still stroking himself.
“You want to play? It’s nice… good for you to play.”
With a head full of sheep, yearning to jump fences and take me to the land of nod the wittiest retort I had ever uttered blurted out of my mouth.
“It’s tiny. Sod off you prick.“
The irony struck me right away but I was on my feet, using the steps height to look more impressive, and to try to scare the guy off. Unfortunately for me a girl of 5ft 7″ and wearing a ski jacket, which did nothing but to make me look like a snow woman, wasn’t considered very scary in the eyes of the fiddler.
“Aww.. you likey? I can make bigger.“
I wouldn’t win the award for wittiest or quickest come-backs in any situations but my mind felt like jelly and despite my bravado I was worried that my 6-lessons of martial arts might not get me out of this situation.
“I have a boyfriend. He’s is bigger and he’s going to be really angry with you, now go away!”
The guy clearly couldn’t take a hint as he was now mere feet away from me, still playing with himself, and my bravado was fading fast. I begun staring at him hoping he’d just get the hint and go away.
To my surprise he did.
As he walked down the street which ran alongside the hostel I was filled with triumph and jumped up on the brick wall which acted as a railing for the staircase I had spent the night on. Hands on hips glaring still I began yelling after him how small his penis was and how he was a jerk. Instead of scurrying away like I thought he would, the added attention seemed to spur him on and he turned back, walking up next to the wall I was standing.
“You likey? You can have fun time?!“
Despite the shower of obscenities which sprung from my mouth I think he realised he would get nothing from me and began walking away again.
Fight or Flight
I wasn’t in shock nor was I angry, I was enraged and the adrenaline rush had kicked me into fight mode. I began pacing and thinking of ways I could track down the jerk and catch him and how things like this don’t happen where I live in Australia. But the idea sprang into my mind at the thought of home – if I was in Australia things like this don’t happen because we ring the police.
I began Googleing the UK polices phone number and without hesitation called them. A lady answered the call in dispatch and said that she was sending the next available police car.
As I hung-up from the call I was feeling chuffed with myself and rung my Mum wondering if she’d had any luck finding me a place to spend the night…. oh, and a sexual deviant just decided to pull his member out in front of me and have a fiddle. It was probably the craziest call she’d ever received but I couldn’t finish the whole story because the nights events had started moving faster and the police had arrived, as well as the girl who found herself locked out of the hostel.
The police officers took out a packet of cigarettes, offered the girl and I both a cigarette before lighting up themselves. After I ran through the nights events, the second police car which had just pulled up was instructed to patrol the nearby streets searching for someone of a similar description and the officers asked if I’d be willing to come to the police station so they could take a statement. Keen to get out of the cold my belongings were packed up in the back of the police car and I was soon whisked away to the police station with a guided tour of the cities sights by night, complete with stopping by a bar to ensure drunken patrons were alright.
The officers, part of the Northern Ireland Police Service or NIPS, were charming. One officer was a French man who, despite hating the colder winters which came with living in Belfast, moved to the city to be with his now-wife. He offered to buy me a hot chocolate or a snack whilst the other officer was taking my statement. The other was a local, who happily shared his cigarettes whilst telling me stories about how the NIPS were the only police department in the UK which needed to wear bullet proof vests, or how I should tell my friends from Derry that I’d become friends with the NIPS*.
After filling in a statement, agreeing to be video called if someone was put on trial for the ‘crime’ (I couldn’t and still can’t wrap my head around the incident being a crime) and signing my life away I was soon bundled back up in the same police car on another tour of the city. Somewhere between my first police car ride and filling in the statement my Mum had managed to call me saying that the Raddison Blu had found a room for me and were expecting me, and that was where I was headed – the officers even used the police lights!
The night manager at the Raddisson Blu was a champ, even upgrading my room to a business suite and providing free toasties much to my ravenous delight!
Despite having a great nights sleep the next afternoon I still felt rotten from being overtired and my cold was coming back so I opted out of exploring the city instead using my time to blog, have a bubble bath and watch movies from the extensive range offered in the lobby. By day 2 I still felt no better and again stayed indoors sleeping and using the free wi-fi connection. Although still thoroughly unwell, I managed to pull myself from the room on day 3 only because I had run out of clean underwear (whoops!) and had extended my stay by a night because I hadn’t actually seen Belfast.
It may not seem like I explored Belfast at all but sometimes you just need to stop and take care of yourself. Belfast is still there and I’ll be back there in a week because my final day left me with such a warm impression of the city – I got to get to know the locals a little better when I visited Anne Street (pronounced ‘Unn’ by the locals) and learning about the fascinating history Northern Ireland has to share which I began to learn about when I took a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast.
Although not physically or emotionally scarred by my time in Belfast it did give me a wake-up call about the realities of travelling alone and how unsafe it can be even in a English speaking country. The officers of the NIPS which picked me up told me that the hostel that I was going to stay at was in the middle of the student populated area of town and had one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the city – something which I remember every time I book accommodation because I’m quite happy not meeting another wanker on my travels!
Have you had any scary moments on the road? What would your tips to stay safe be?
*Derry is the name for ‘Londonderry’ which the Irish, Republicans, or those who can’t be bothered using it’s full name use. The Republicans are, generally, against the idea of Northern Ireland being a separate country from Ireland and instead want Ireland to be united as one whole unity. Becuase the NIPS are seen as British police on Irish ground the Republicans aren’t big fans of them.