Metro 39

Richard Herring: Beware the terrifying mild curse of gipsies

Comedian Richard Herring recalls the time when his holiday was ruined after a brief encounter with a mysterious woman on a train journey.

It was Easter 1986. In fact, it was Tuesday, March 25. I know because I was keeping a diary and I have it in front of me.

My friend Geoff Quigley and I were InterRailing around Europe. We were 18 and hopelessly naive. I think our parents should be sent to prison for letting us out of the house, let alone the country. We were children. What were they thinking?

I wasn’t having much fun, mainly because I was missing my first girlfriend, who I had cynically split up with so that I would be free to pull saucy, European birds. Alas, no birds (saucy, European or otherwise) wanted to be pulled by me.

We were in Venice (which I dismissed in my diary as ‘a bit disappointing’ – take that, Venetians) but hadn’t thought to arrange accommodation and everywhere was booked up for Easter, so we got the train to Padua and hoped there’d be room in the hostel (too stupid to ring to find out). I started to write my diary. Geoff popped to the loo.

Suddenly, a wizened gipsy woman and a young girl entered the carriage and sat opposite me. I tried to tell them the seat was already taken but they both just laughed madly in my face. For what seemed like ages.

I was a bit scared but after a few minutes they left as mysteriously as they had arrived. Had I dreamt this? I looked down at my diary and a film of strange brown dust covering the page. It had been clean and blank moments before. What had just happened?

The Padua hostel, of course, was full so we changed our plans and jumped on an overnight train to Vienna (home of the Viennetta, though even that is not enough to impress Midge Ure). We’d bought ourselves a pre-packaged salad from the supermarket. It was all kinds of vegetable mixed together including some beans. They were a bit hard but if you crunched down on them…

Unbelievably, all the toilets were locked. Ten minutes into the journey, my stomach lurched. ‘The beans,’ I spluttered. ‘I’m going to be sick.’ But there was nowhere to puke. One of our fellow passengers found a plastic bag. As I filled it, Geoff grabbed another one and joined me in a chundering duet.

Our fellow passengers glumly passed the dripping bags down the row and threw them out of the window. And had to do so again several times that night.

Ten sleepless hours later, we arrived in Vienna with stinging throats and empty stomachs. I rang a hostel but left my wallet in the phone booth. I’d realised within seconds but I was too late. It had gone. I’d lost about £20 worth of schillings and all my bank cards. For the rest of the jaunt, I’d have to rely on my parents wiring me money.

I’m not superstitious but surely this could only be a curse from the dust-wielding, guffawing crone. But why? Because I’d asked her to move seats? Because I’d been a tosser to my girlfriend? If so, why was the innocent Geoff Quigley embroiled as well?

It’s possible that our own lack of common sense might have been to blame but I have always been this stupid and have never had such a run of misfortune.

I can only conclude that we were victims of a gipsy curse – not a particularly bad or long-lasting one but a gipsy curse nonetheless. Fear the mild gipsy curse for in some ways it is the most terrifying, confusing and inexplicable of all.

See Richard Herring’s reworking of his smash-hit 2002 show, Talking Cock: The Second Coming, on his nationwide tour. Visit for tickets.

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