I was sitting at home chatting with friends, when I got a phone call from my friend Mark, who lives in England. ‘Here, Phil, I’ve met this bloke who’s just come back from a trip to Hungary. He says he bought gear for next to nothing, and knows a block over there who can show us around for $100 a day. Fancy a trip over there?’
I’m always up for something new, so I agreed and a few days later a huge guy named Zulton met us at the airport in Hungary. He was roughly dressed, roughly shaved, spoke rough English and drove a rough car. ‘I have a space for you with my grandmother. You sleep there, she geed you. $100 a week, is goo deal.’
Granny’s place turned out to be an old house in a small village, she’d lived there all of her life. She was as tired and worn out as the house, a little old lady who couldn’t speak a single word of English. We had no way of communicating, except by hand signals and facial expressions.
It was late evening by the time we got to Granny’s, and Zulton had delivered us there are a bone-shaking ride guaranteed to freeze the bravest man into an iceblock of utter fear. Zulton did everything at a breakneck speed that matched his manner of speaking, machine-gun quick words rolling out one n top of the other, so that it was almost impossible to understand what he was saying. He left us at Granny’s saying he’d collect us the next morning to take us on our first day of buying.
Granny had put us up in a small room with three beds, there was almost no room to move, and it was cold, very timeworn, but clean. As soon as we’d put our bags down, Granny came and took us into a small dining room that held a table and two chairs. A couple of minutes later she came in with two bowls of some sort of soup.
For bowls, read buckets. They were the biggest bowls I’d ever seen, more like the ones you see on Victorian jug and basin sets, than soup bowls. She plonked them down and left the room. Mark and I stared at them, then tasted the concoction that was a deep brown colour and had bits and pieces f stuff floating in it. It was seriously horrible, and we couldn’t eat it at all, but we couldn’t upset Granny by leaving it either, so I took my bowl to the toilet, poured some of it down there, and flushed it away.
Once I’d disposed of mine, I started on Mark’s, but some of the lumpy bits clogged up the toilet, and I had to reach in and dislodge it. The next pour clogged it u again, meanwhile Granny would have been hearing the flush time and time again, she must have thought we had the runs or something.
Eventually we got rid of all the soup and sat at the table again, then in comes Granny with a plate of schnitzels. Did I say plate? Make that the biggest platter you ever saw, big enough to hold a dead ox, and piled high with schnitzels, dozens of them. We ate one each and were full up, but we couldn’t flush them down the loo, so I got a plastic bag from our room, bunged the remaining schnitzels in it and hid it under my bed.
Granny came back into the dining room, saw the empty platter, and smiled a toothless grin at us, thinking we’d thoroughly enjoyed her cooking. We smiled back and rubbed our tummies, while making faces that were supposed to convey that we were full up. She, though, must have thought we meant we were still hungry, because she came back with plates of meat and bowls of veggies, enough to feed three families. By the end of the meal we were on our third plastic bag and running out of space to hide them.
Finally, and thankfully, Granny ran out of food or energy, and we could escape the dining room. We took the plastic bags out from under the beds, hid them under our coats and, making signs that told Granny we were going out for a beer, we left the house in search of somewhere to dump the bags.
We found a large garbage bin just down the road, dumped Granny’s culinary delights and had dinner in a nice little Greek restaurant around the corner. That set the scene for every night we were at Granny’s, and we were there for a month! In the end the garbage bin got filled up, but not emptied, and we went further and further afield to find good dumping spots.
On our final day, just as we were leaving Granny’s, Zulton took us into her kitchen, which was small and very, very greasy. Granny, he said, wanted to thank us and tell us she’d never seen tow men with such big appetites, she’d found it difficult to keep up with us!
During our buying trip Zulton took us to some very out-of-the-way and unusual places in search of good buys, but the one that sticks in my mind the most was an old farmhouse out in the sticks, where we met a very rough character with a frightening demeanour. He took us into the house, down into a dank cellar by way of a stone staircase, and into a big room full of rotten pine furniture. Zulton stayed at the top of the stairs. In the room were two more men, every bit as rough as the first bloke, who took up station at the bottom of the stairs, the only way out.
The first bloke was the boss, and he had the habit f hawking and spitting on the stone floor. Trying not to show our fear, Mark and I made out we were looking at the gear, and I asked the hawker the price of a cabinet. He yelled up to Zulton in a guttural voice, Zulton called to us that hawker wanted us to buy the whole lot, everything in the cellar. Hawker quickly picked up on that and said, ‘Everything, you buy everything,’ followed by a hawk and a spit. By now, the other two blokes were following us around, about six inches behind us, and saying ‘everything’.
Now, I’m not saying Mark and I were scared, I’m saying we were frightened silly, terrified, petrified, could hardly walk or talk. The gear we were looking at was all useless too, bits missing, running with dam-p, full of rot and worm. We tried to leave but the hawker kept getting in the way, opening cabinet doors, pointing out the merits of his rubbish, and called to Zulton to tell us how much he wanted for ‘everything’ (hawk and spit).
‘He say he take $US5000, and he deliver to docks for you’. Later, ‘He say he take $US3000’. We settled on that, paid up and got out of there, feeling we were lucky to escape with our lives and the rest of our money.
‘You too soft,’ said Zulton. ‘Is all act, they act tough to scare you to buy. Next plate you act rough, say mo.’ ‘Thanks Zulton, you could have told us that before we went there.’ ‘Think you are dealer, not pussycat.’
By the time we left Hungary, a month later, we were as tough as they were and had pulled off a few deals that we thought were okay. But! And this is quite important, when you’re away for a while looking at gear, you tend to measure things against the gear you’ve already seen. For instance, if you’re continually looking at rubbish, something with even a marginally better look will take on the mantle of a ‘good bit’, when in fact, it’s just a better bit of rubbish. So when our container arrived in Perth and we unloaded it, we found we’d bought forty foot of rubbish that we wouldn’t have looked at twice in either the UK or Australia.
After four weeks of hard work fixing things up, we finally got to the last piece, held a big sale, dumped the rest in auction and made a grand profit of $6000 all up (or about $200 a week each for the whole exercise). We never went back to Hungary.
Russell’s Antiques, Perth, WA.