[written and posted 1999]

....(extracts from the Baedeker Rough Guide to Vulgaria)

..Space does not permit an exhaustive listing of the pros and cons of travelling by the Vulgarian national airline or an extra-national carrier. On the whole I favour the latter. The Vulgarian Air Force still occasionally play chicken with foreign passenger flights, but they are cowards at heart (see any history of the 20-Minute War) and a pilot who shows no fear can almost always force them to swerve.
..Flying VulgAir, on the other hand, may serve as a foretaste of the charms of the country as a whole. The cabin crew are exceedingly convivial and friendly. Do not accompany Ulriga the stewardess into the toilet, however, as this will make Gregor the pilot jealous and cause him to become depressed. Likewise, if Gregor offers you a swig from his bottle, do not refuse as this too will depress him. If Gregor becomes depressed he will attempt to fly the plane into a mountain, and while Gregor's aim is execrable, the mountains are very big. If you are travelling with a teenage daughter and Gregor paws her breasts, do not remonstrate with him as he will become offended and attempt to throw you off the plane. Smile and make light of it until Ulriga notices and hits him with a sap.
..If Gregor invites you into his cockpit, remember to pay compliments to the co-pilot, who will usually be his mother. If you fail to compliment her Gregor will become depressed. If you compliment her too excessively, however, he will offer to let you accompany her into the toilet, and will become depressed if you refuse. A safe thing to compliment about her is her guide dog. This is indeed a remarkable beast, trained to bark if it spots mountains or sea. If Gregor's sheep is co-piloting, on the other hand, that should be complimented too, but not too excessively or he will become jealous. If he takes a sudden violent liking to you, however, he may get Ulriga in to butcher the sheep and roast it there and then. Sometimes the co-pilot will be a sack of potatoes with a face drawn on. This can safely be ignored.
..If you are in the cockpit during the initial descent and Gregor points out his village, change the subject immediately, even if it means pawing his mother's breasts. If you show the slightest sign of interest in Gregor's village he will land the plane there, and neither you or any of the other passengers will be allowed to leave until you have slept with his entire family, including two exceedingly repellent nephews, and they with yours.
..The in-flight meal is the celebrated Vulgarian vole stew. The in-flight headphones offer a choice between a medley of songs sung by Star Trek actors or Jimmy Osmond singing Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. The in-flight movie is a 1983 South African film, The Kaffir Who Saved Christmas.
..Disembarking at Lee Harvey Oswald International Airport, your first step is to secure a porter to retrieve your luggage. Do not be alarmed by the condition of your cases. The baggage handlers are too apathetic to actually steal anything, although items of feminine apparel may appear strangely rumpled and stained. White sports socks and silk ties also seem to excite them unduly and are probably best discarded.
..For those fortunate enough to have an American on their flight, the ritual cavity search is worth catching. Tickets are available at the information desk. Post-reforms, the searcher (a former magician) rarely 'discovers' drugs or explosives any more, relying instead on the palming of gerbils and sex toys for his effects.
..The pimps in the airport foyer are a must-see for dermatologists. They tend to congregate underneath Vorgakoff's compelling mural, The Great Goat Winston Churchill Exacting Pleasure From A Troop of Girl Guides. This work dates from a brief period of Anglo-Vulgarian detente and was intended as a tribute.


..'The only place to stay in Vulgaria,' boasts the promotional literature for the Hotel Krass, and in a very literal sense this is true. The only other option is to take lodgings with a Vulgarian family, with all that that implies in the way of psychopathic hospitality, unwitting betrothal to unborn foetuses or widowed grandparents, hatchet attacks by deranged uncles, etc.
..Even the most jaded world traveller will be taken aback as he approaches the entrance to the Hotel Krass. The doors themselves are made of ivory, flanked with marble caryatids by Vorgakoff, and surmounted by a golden lintel engraved with the traditional Vulgarian expression of hospitality, 'My moustache is your moustache'. Due to a shortfall in funding, though, they are only eight inches high. Put your hand through and wave until someone opens a window for you.
..Negotiate your way through the hens in the lobby to the reception desk. The manager will probably be napping in his office. Do not ring the service bell as it has been wired to the mains. Instead, throw hens at his door until you have his attention. When he asks you if it was you who threw hens at his door, deny it vehemently and pretend to look around for the person who did, or he will shoot you with the harpoon gun he keeps under the desk. Be sure and ask for a room with a window. This is preferable to having a gaping hole in the wall.
..Decline the manager's offer to have a bellboy take your luggage up, that is if you can do so without offending him, bearing in mind the harpoon gun. The bellboys are eager and obliging but they are all over 100 years old and will usually die en route to your bedroom. Should this occur, locate the body immediately before rigor mortis sets in or you will not be able to prise your suitcase from their grasp and it will be buried with them.
..Two other members of staff have been fixtures in the lobby for several decades and have acquired the status of local legends. These are Otto the shoe-shine boy and Rita the hat-check girl.
..You will first be aware of Otto as a wheedling, imploring presence near your ankles. He will be pathetically grateful if you allow him to shine your shoes and will bite you if you refuse. Note the various stages of Otto's age-old ritual. First, he works with a pair of stiff brushes to remove mud. Next, he applies beeswax all over and polishes your shoes until he can see his face in them. Finally, he rubs them down with petrol and sets fire to them. No-one knows why Otto does this but he seems to enjoy it. Note the psychotic gleam of cunning in his eye as he lulls you into a false sense of security with the brushes and wax.
..Rita the hat-check girl occupies a cubicle at the entrance to the bar-restaurant. Hats must be checked here before entering. If you do not have a hat, Rita will rent you one and look after it for you. When giving largesse, bear in mind that Vulgarian currency is practically valueless and for all private transactions the people use chocolate coins or Weetabix Special Offer Tokens. One Weetabix Special Offer Token is the usual tip for Rita, although if you give her two she will also brush down your lapels and give you a complimentary lollipop. You will also be entitled to paw Rita's breasts. You do not have to do so, but she will be pathetically grateful if you do.
..Take the stairs to your room unless you are higher than the fifth floor, at which point the stairs end and are replaced by a rope and a grappling hook. The lift is very slow as it is powered by a donkey attached to a winch. If Strelg the lift operator offers you a swig from his bottle or attempts to put his arm around you, do not refuse or he will take you down to the basement and keep you there sulking until you kiss him and agree to become his penpal. If you do this he will turn up at your home sometime after your holiday and attempt to live there forever, but this is preferable to spending the rest of your life in the basement with him. While you are down there, say hello to the donkey. Its name is Trevor.
..Check out the large circular hole in the ceiling of your bedroom. This is a spy-hole dating from the Stalinist era. Midgets in the employ of the secret police were concealed in cavities above every room to spy on the occupants. Due to the poor standards of Vulgarian construction, the ceiling would invariably collapse in the middle of the night, precipitating the midget onto the occupant's bed, causing much consternation to all concerned. Later, the midgets were replaced by closed-circuit TV cameras, but as these were also of Vulgarian construction all the monitors ever picked up was episodes of Stingray. Many foreigners were arrested for having a submarine in their bedroom. The spy cavities are currently infested with hens, who will fly down and attack you in the night.
..If you find a goat in your bathtub do not complain to the manager. The goat is the manager's mistress, and if you tell him she is in your bathtub he will shoot you with the harpoon gun in a jealous rage.
..If you find the plughole of your bathtub is partially clogged up with body hair, tell the maids and they will come and completely clog it up with hair taken from a special pouch they carry for this purpose. Vulgarians believe that if a plughole is not completely blocked with hair the devil will climb up the drainpipe and carry you off to feed you to a giant blue mouse. When they have a bath they chew garlic to ward off the mouse, and wear a piece of cheese on a string around their neck to feed to it, and often carry a bomb to throw at it or a motorbike to flee from it on. As you can see, they are a resourceful people, and bath night is a traumatic occasion in Vulgaria.
..Remember to lock your door at night or you will awake to find all your body hair has been removed by the maids, who will use it to block the drains with.
..Leave your shoes outside your room before you retire so that Otto the shoe-shine boy can set fire to them. Otherwise he will attempt to crawl through the spy-hole to get them and will crash through the ceiling onto your bed in the middle of the night, bringing the poultry with him. Observe the psychotic gleam of cunning in his eye as he pretends to be a hen.


..'The hotel restaurant is the place to eat out in Vulgaria,' says the brochure for the Hotel Krass, and again this is unarguable.
..A trip to Vulgaria may not be the absolute high point of a gastronome's life. Fresh meat can be difficult to obtain in a country where sodomy is the national sport. Few people will be willing to slaughter an erstwhile sexual partner for food unless they have taken a sudden violent liking to you. The waiters at the Hotel Krass are the remnants of a lost SS unit and, while they can be both sudden and violent, they have not liked anyone since Rudolf Hess died. Be warned that they have been known to snap diners' clavicles simply for making eye contact with them. No-one has been foolish enough to ask them for a menu since 1949, but their heavy machine gun is still mounted in a corner of the dining room just in case. In any event, the chef is a sack of potatoes with a white hat and a face drawn on.
..Your best chance of obtaining food is to paw Rita the hat-check girl's breasts. If you do it expertly enough she will be moved to offer you a selection of simple dishes, the least unpalatable of which will be the vole stew. This will be served in the traditonal Vulgarian manner, with a fresh vole being dropped into your bowl of stew with a stone tied to its tail so that it drowns before your eyes.
..Do not order the crabs. They will not be what you expect.


..'The hotel bar is Vulgaria's number one night spot,' says the brochure for the Krass, and it might have added that it is number one in a field of one.
..Although the bar at the Krass is inexpensive the place is usually empty, apart from the hens, as most Vulgarians prefer to do their drinking at work. Twice a week there is a disco at which songs by William Shatner and Jimmy Osmond are played. At weekends there is a cabaret. The headlining act is Alberto the Magnificent. He plays the spoons and has a revolving bow-tie and a winning smile. The support acts are Otto the shoe-shine boy giving a demonstration of the shoe-burner's art, and a female impersonation act by Trevor the donkey. Once a month there is a special gala night, at which Alberto performs a hen-swallowing act while Otto sets fire to his shoes, and the waiters sing the Horst Wessel song and interrogate a member of the audience.
..Single men looking for romance should note that, while Vulgarian women are renowned for their beauty and sexual voracity, unmarried girls are so strictly chaperoned that the only way to meet them is for their fathers to sell them to you. Any women you meet in the bar will probably be hotel maids, and any assignation they make with you will just be a ruse so they can drug you and steal your body hair to put down the drains.
..Your best chance for a liaison is to paw Rita the hat-check girl's breasts. She is 80 if she is a day, but what she lacks in manoeuvrability she makes up for in enthusiasm.


..The Vulgarians are justifiably proud of their cathedral, which dates from the 11th Century and is built entirely of hen guano. Despite the depredations of recent years, it still contains some unique artistic treasures, such as Vorgakoff's remarkable statue of the Virgin Mary. His technical achievement in evoking from marble the texture of fleshy thighs in fishnet stockings has rarely been equalled. Religious services here can be deeply moving, particularly when the cathedral is full. Few who are privileged to see it will ever forget the spectacle of the entire city making their devotions in an appalled, panic-stricken horde on bath night.
..Be sure to visit the house of Strelov, the national poet. An unashamed cartographer of the sensual world, Strelov died tragically of masturbation at the age of 25. Few other writers have sung so lyrically of the joys of hen-molesting. His collection of strangely rumpled and stained gymslips is now on permanent display, despite the protests of their original owners. Most Vulgarians can quote by heart his famous love ballad, 'She is some bird, that Rita.'
..The presidential palace, formerly the royal palace, is always open to visitors. If the door is not ajar throw pebbles at the President's window until he comes down to let you in. Remember to compliment him on his dressing gown. Check out the Great Hall, the Mauve Salon, and the Grand Ballroom, all now infested with hens. (Note that hens are sacred in Vulgaria, although this does not prevent them from being buggered, swallowed and occasionally dynamited.) Other highlights include Oleg the Incontinent's rubber throne and Oleg the Biscuit-Hoarder's Faberge biscuit tin.
..The President may conduct the palace tour personally if he is in the mood. Do not refuse if he offers you a swig from his bottle and do not accompany the first lady into the toilet. If the President becomes offended he is liable to fire Vulgaria's nuclear missile at your country of origin. The President's aim is execrable, and indeed the missile is aimed by goading a donkey to rotate the firing platform, and it may not even be a real nuclear missile after all - few other ICBMs are fired by lighting a blue touch-paper - but you never know. Several of the hens that nest on it have two heads and glow in the dark, so the thing could definitely spoil someone's day.
..If, on the other hand, the President takes a sudden violent liking to you, he may well make you his Minister for the Interior. There is no way to refuse. For the next few years you will live high on the hog, embezzling and procuring on his behalf and having your every whim catered for, until he announces reforms and executes you.


..If you are of a sensitive disposition it may be best to avoid Vulgaria during the three main national holidays - Stalin's Birthday, Attila the Hun's Birthday, and Jimmy Osmond's birthday - when everyone in the city celebrates by running naked through the streets blowing up hens and jumping on foreigners.


..Do not under any circumstances venture into the countryside beyond the city. The people there are incredibly louche and depraved.

© October '99