Fresh off the Boat

Laszlo Dumitrescu

Hello, people of Portsmouth, the English Riviera, my fellow Europeans. I arrive in your city from Romania to make a better life for my family.

The weather was shining when we approach the English coast. I had been drinking champagne since Calais and singing ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ at the top of my voice. In the harbour, I notice you have a building that looks like a needle for taking drugs. I later learn it is called the Spinnaker Tower. It remind me of the problems we have in my country. Children as young as nine give heroin by parents. It is the Roma gunoi who are the problem.

My family and I dock the boat and an Englishman carry our bags to the car. He drive to our new home in a place called Southsea that looks very English. He said my house – it is white, facing the sea – was built by the English King George. Imagine, the King George built a house that is for me. It is a very small house for my wife, Camelia, and my five children, so we stay here only until I find a bigger place.

On our first evening, we go for a walk across Southsea Common to the sea front. There was a circus by the beach. Gangs of men wearing England football uniforms sing disrespectful songs. A shaven-headed lout with a tin of beer, wearing beach shorts and a football jersey, whistled at Camelia. When his friend in a floppy sun hat made what I understand to be lewd comments about her glorious breasts – my place of worship, whose holiness lives in the finest Versace dress – I did not want to fight. Not on my first day here. I hurried my family towards the circus.

Straight away I see there are not so many differences between Romania and England. In Romania, you can still smoke in pubs; Government officials can be bribed with brandy and sausages; but my illusion of England as a place of good manners and respect has been shattered. I pick up your newspaper and I see that the BBC is controlled by child molesting gunoi. I wonder if my family would be better off in Romania. At least my children would have less chance of being molested. Camelia says she does not feel safe without protection. I tell her I will do anything for my goddess. ‘We should hire some muscle,’ she says.

Portsmouth has a lot of uneducated people who will work for next to nothing. Outside the Jobcentre I saw three of them, wearing sports clothes and smoking. In my bad English, I asked, ‘You people, looking for job?’

‘Get back on your boat,’ they said, and I wonder if they are politicians, who like to say these things.

I laugh at how dumb these people seem to be. ‘My boat is in your harbour,’ I said. ‘No English criminal knows how to drive a boat. I am looking for workers. I pay you.’

I took a roll of money from my wallet and wave it in front of their faces. They follow the money like a dog as I walk backwards. ‘Skill, skill. You have skill?’

They reached out with their hands, but were weighed down by idleness and drug abuse.

Tom, Nick and Alex were their names. Funny English names! They were veteran sailors from the British Navy, sharing a box of fried turkey. They tell me they have skill.

‘You like hard work?’ I ask.

When Nick showed me his arm muscles I realise God has a sense of humour. ‘Popeye,’ I said to him. ‘Popeye the sailor man.’ The others laughed, as I am a very funny man, but I am also a very strong man. They looked scared when I showed them my muscles. ‘Shave your face,’ I said to Nick and tugged his beard.

Tom and Alex looked like they fear success but they have nothing to fear. I tossed a coin in the street. When the Queen land face up, it was decided that Alex has the strongest brain. I paid him a few pounds more and put him in charge of the other two.

Back at my Southsea cottage, I told Alex that I would only speak to him. He would pass on my messages to Tom and Nick. ‘When I speak, they must look humble at the floor,’ I said.

‘When he speaks, you have to look humbly at the floor.’

They nodded downwards.

‘If they talk to my family or look at my wife, they will be out the door,’ I told him. ‘I know what you English sailors are like.’

I told Alex to tell the others to clean Georghe. He did not understand, so I tell him that my boat is name Georghe Popescu, after the great Romanian football team captain. I gave them the keys and told them the cleaning materials were below deck. When they were gone, I opened my laptop and tell Alex to help me look for schools for my children.

‘You should be in a good catchment area here,’ he said.

‘I would never put my children in your public schools,’ I said. ‘They would never get into Oxford or Cambridge.’

Alex smelled bad, so I sprayed him with my deodorant and gave him money to go to Primark for new underwear. When he returned, I cut his hair for him with kitchen scissors. Camelia used the clippers to make him look like Winston Churchill. Then we dance to the songs ‘Amazing’ and ‘Club Rocker’ by my favourite Romanian singer, Inna. After we had finish our dance, I told Alex to see the other two give me the best British elbow slime, and to make sure my boat has not been vandalised by jealous sailors.

Georghe is a Blohm & Voss made to measure in Hamburg, Germany. She cuts through water like money through a corrupt political system. She is equipped with a steam room, massage table, Jacuzzi, flat-screen TV for watching football, two bedrooms for the children, master bedroom with ensuite, water bed, and miniature nightclub. When I commissioned the ship, I request that it be extra shiny on the outside, with lacquered aluminium coating so it glide through the sea at rapid speeds towards tax havens of my choice.

When I arrive at the harbour, I expected to see Georghe Popescu glimmering like Helen Millen’s necklaces. But to my surprise, the boat had totally vanish. My three roast beefs were nowhere to be seen. Typical English criminals, they were probably on the way to Costa Del Crime to open a bar called the Red Lion.

I call Camelia, who was at the Porsche garage picking up my new 4×4 thug wagon with black windows, and tell her to bring my megaphone. She drives to the harbour with the children in the back of the Porsche. I tell her what happen, and she said we must find three more roast beefs to help get our revenge, since we are new to the country and do not know the protocols for revenge here.

Women, always they must make sense.

I stand on top of the Porsche like a man of the people in a third world nation, as my wife drive to the Jobcentre on a back alley called Paradise Street (ha ha!). I was so furious, I screamed through the megaphone for her to turn left at Gregg’s the bakers, where English peasants buy hot rahat covered in pastry, and mothers use the sausage roll to keep her children quiet. ‘Left, left,’ I announced through the megaphone in Romanian. My wife stuck her head out of the window and yelled back, ‘there are bollards blocking the way.’

‘I don’t care!’ I told her. ‘Ram the sons of bitches.’

Three old ladies were sitting on a bench outside Gregg’s the bakers muttering into their pastries. They had probably never left the island of Portsmouth, so I ask them, ‘Excuse me, ladies, do you know how we get to Commercial Street? The road it is block.’

My friend who is English, a good man who work for UK Trade & Investment, tell me that Portsmouth is an island like Manhattan, with charismatic people and limited space make for good investment. I hoped it would be a city where workers never sleep. But getting lost on its back streets make me think it is more like Ferentari, a Roma slum in Bucharest, where the Red Cross saves children from famine. (I read in the news that in 2013 for the first time, the Red Cross delivers food parcels to English children also.)

In desperation, I asked people walking out of Bulk Recruitment, ‘You looking for job?’

One man with tattoos and a flat cap, carrying a Tesco bag, answered my announcement. ‘What kind of job?’

‘You know the show Hawaii Five-0?’


‘I need detective like in Hawaii Five-0 to come with me on a boat.’

‘You want the police, mate, or the coast guards.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘I cannot go to police. Police is corrupt. I want big, brave men who is not corrupt.’

‘Where you from?’


‘I reckon you can trust our police, mate.’

‘If the English police are not corrupt, why did they not arrest Jimmy Savile?’

He thought for a minute, and start to speak, but I said through my megaphone: ‘You have friends who need job? Big friends? We look for the criminals who steal my boat.’

This was a good man who had the ears of a detective. The hairs inside them twitched when I mentioned criminals. I waved money in his face, and he seem more interested.

His name was Steve, a funny English name! He called his two friends, Dave and John (haha!) who came running to meet us in mainland clothes, jeans and loafers with white sock. Steve and his friends had also been in the Navy, but I could trust them more than other roast beefs. I offered them five times more money and threatened to report them to tax inspectors if they cross me. Camelia drove the children home while I took my men to charter a boat, Hawaii Five-0-style. Steve and his friends had eaten too many sausage rolls and smoked too many cigarettes. Imagine slow motion and lots of wheezing as we jogging through the centre of Portsmouth, where I see the poverty that drive people to stealing. Many of the shops on Commercial Street are owned by charities and a lot are boarded up. We turned left through the university and see the students running down the clock before they became unemployed, drug addicted thieves. When my children are old enough for university, I will tell them to either go to Oxford or back to Romania, where at least the junkyard smells of home.

I run along the marina where lots of smaller boats are bobbing up and down. In the distance, I see what looks like Georghe Popescu coming towards us from the channel, shining white and cutting up the waves. She is being driven by Alex, who is wearing my captain’s hat and drinking my champagne. Furious, I run back to Steve and tell him, I have found the criminals who took my boat. They are foreigners. He smiles, and shows me his signet ring, perfect for punching people. Will he go and beat them up for me?
Photography copyright Richard Williams