AC/DC Tour – Ancona to Lisbon..

Jon looks summery this morning, no? His ticket on the Superfast Ferry to Italy, costing an extra fifteen euros, is marked ‘Cargo Co Driver’. He is the Jeeves to my Wooster.

‘I virtually am cargo,’ he weeps plaintively, and we take a stroll around the poop deck to improve morale.

Namibian emerges bleary-eyed, far from well rested. He has shared a cabin with his equally corpulent co-driver (whom Namibian has the gall to call fat), snoring at each other through the small hours. Now if an earplug manufacturer could drown out the cacophonous din in that cabin, it would indeed be a sleeping aid worth purchasing.

Burping, coughing, farting, wheezing, and talking utter balls: coo, what a night that must have been. Apparently they’ve had separate beds, but I briefly wonder – from a scientific point of view, you understand – if two porkers are anatomically capable of “spooning”. No, we don’t need any wise cracks about swine flu, thank you very much. Tempting though, isn’t it?

Just before we dock – an hour late, so Italian time is now effectively Greek time? Agh! – I check the ramp carrier (underneath the trailer) and the air deflector (above the cab) for unwelcome hitchhikers that may have stowed away during the crossing. Oh, those poor homeless Balkan chappies cause us such a headache.

Now the big drive begins. While the rest of AC/DC’s crew sip snowballs and screwdrivers in Athens – they fly later in the week – us truckers now tackle the whopping 2,500 kilometres to Lisbon. Oh, and “Balkan”, I’m told, comes from the Turkish word for mountain.

Now, “Wrecker” Jon has really only come on this trip to drink lattes and ‘large it’ up the French Riviera, and is displaying all the symptoms of a man on holiday. And he’s forgotten the one item I asked him to bring: a box of teabags. Tut-tut, Jonboy.

Well, he’s in for a shock if he thinks he’s got it easy – on a drive of this magnitude, we don’t even have time for a round of golf as we pass Monte Carlo.

Oh, I’m exaggerating. We pull in for a latte macchiato at pretty much the first service station we see – a pleasant stop with a fleet of tiny rally Fiats. They are stopping to use the facilities. Well, the drivers are, not the cars.

Aah, the Fiat 126 is so cute, a tiny car that could almost fit into my coffee cup. A collision with a pedestrian would write one off, I imagine (the car, not the coffee cup).

Easing out on to the highway once more, we’re prepared for the Italian police this time; I have written out fifty times, ‘I shall not show my penis to Italian policewomen.’ But just in case we are stopped and asked to produce tachographs, we have a little jape in store for the authorities (see photo)..

AC/DC Tour – Patras to Ancona..

Finding a football stadium without a map is reasonably simple. A DAF garage on Thrakis Street, Patras, however, is quite another matter. Spaznavs and Autoroute 2007 are next to useless down here; one has to use “the force” instead. Or buy a map.

Aha, but although a map is a sensible, well-founded notion in, say London or Berlin, this is Greece – and they use funny letters to confound us. A Patras map does exist – with streets thoughtfully marked in the Roman alphabet…but the index is in Greek. We’re stumped. Patras is hardly a small hamlet of half a dozen avenues.

The solution then, is for Little Dick to scout ahead, paying a taxi driver to lead the way, and to call me with garbled directions. Voila, Namibian and I arrive with a minimum of fuss.

All three of us are having our air-conditioning fixed this morning – it is becoming warm in the Mediterranean now – and we’re in a hurry. We’ve a boat to catch. Immediately grasping the need for haste, the mechanics make coffee and we all sit down for a little chat before fixing those nasty, dirty lorries.

Two technicians – the colour of spanked walnuts, if such things existed – squabble obstreperously both during and after our coffee break. The shorter of the two is wearing a white apron, looking a little like an ice-cream vendor.

They size each other up – it doesn’t take long because even drawn up to their full height, and shod in heels, neither of them reaches my chin. Gimlet-eyed, with deeply tanned brows, they continue to bicker and I wonder if there’s any chance somebody might run a retina over my truck this side of lunch. I’m not here on a social call.

Finally we’re away, filling up with cheap diesel and weaving an unconventional route to Patras docks. Organ donors (motorcyclists without helmets) buzz around us, yet another nuisance as we follow a tortuous route to the ferry.
The port, when we finally reach it, is pandemonium. What a frightful system they have in place here for booking onto a boat.

Perhaps it would be simpler if we were boarding a domestic ferry over to one of the Greek islands. But no, we’re long-distance, rock and roll sort of chaps. It’s the twenty-one hour journey to Italy for us, if you please. And check-in is simply dripping with inconvenience.

We drive into the port and park. Even this bit isn’t blindingly obvious; an awful lot of ships seem to be knocking about here – or moored, I suppose one should say. But the nice thing about bumbling along near the back of the fleet is that there are generally at least a dozen black trucks to look out for. Aha, there they are. Over there, Namibian – I’ve found our colleagues, look.

Now we have to walk about a mile – it is only a hundred yards as the crow flies – to the booking office, shadowing interminable wire fences. Namibian is peeved to say the least – this is some serious walking in his book, and the word ‘taxi’ is being bandied about for the return journey.

When we return, we’re advised to check underneath and inside our trailers, and on the roofs of our trucks. This is a port renowned for lurking Albanians, hitching routinely and clandestinely. Vigilantly, Namibian takes a look round my truck for me – Wrecker Jon and I are in the middle of rather an important chat about the rigours of one of our Russian adventures in 2001. I’m busy.

Ah, travelling to Italy by sea: heavenly. AC/DC tour truckers lounge on the top deck, admiring Namibian’s backstroke technique in the swimming pool. ‘Tsunami,’ we chorus as he bellyflops into the water. Puerile of course, but it amuses us nonetheless.

In fact, I’m still chuckling as I type. But onto a serious note: lounging with beers and a topless Namibian, we make plans for a 7pm dinner. Yet nobody seems to know whether the ship is on Greek time or Italian.

To compound the confusion, some drivers’ wristwatches are still on British time, and Jon and I are still bemoaning our jetlag from the forty-minute flight yesterday. And as we dock temporarily in Igoumenitsa on Greece’s west coast, I receive two startling text messages: ‘Welcome to Albania’ and ‘Welcome to Iceland’. What on earth is going on?..

AC/DC – Thessaloniki to Athens (28/5/09)..

A drop of champagne in the Da Vinci Restaurant is the way to start a day.

Over an extravagant breakfast on the terrace, desperately trying to determine the age of a woman in a bikini, I consult my Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe – it is one of the items I regard as essential when going to work. The guidebook is a little out of date though, still listing prices in Greek drachma.

‘Yeah, she might be a bit old, actually,’ pipes Jon, still squinting at the trim figure entering the pool. Oh, it will be a pity to leave the Nikopolis hotel. Not only does it have arresting, if elderly, local fauna, but the towel rails are heated, and the dressing gowns are sumptuous. I needn’t mention the towels, actually; they are so fluffy that I can hardly shut my suitcase.

Thessaloniki, known also as Salonica, is Greece’s second city, and it has ferries to Crete. We want to go on the run like Bonnie and Clyde, until the money runs out. Well, it’s already run out – Jon’s ninth espresso at the Bulgarian border saw to that.

Instead, Transam Trucking Ltd has booked us both a flight to Athens, an internal hop with Olympic Airlines. And jolly decently, the flight is scheduled after lunch, certainly allowing time for a smidgeon more champers with our breakfast banquet.

Ordering instant coffee at the airport cafe, Jon seems to be in a prickly mood. ‘Instant?’ he queries. ‘Well, where is it, then?’

Outside, the clouds are rolling in gently, certainly an opportune time to be flying south. Oh hang on, we’re working here, you know. But flying is such a treat: the 530km to Athens is covered in forty minutes, as opposed to six or seven hours by truck.

Bronzed hedonists from Manchester mill about near the Thompson desk, while Jon inspects his passport, noticing an unfamiliar stamp. ‘What’s that stamp?’ he asks. ‘Where have I been?’ He has a short memory, you see, forgetting that we were dealt with at the Serbian-Bulgarian border only yesterday. I proudly produce twice the markings that Jon has; some of us visited Bulgaria  – and Serbia, come to that – twice.

Arriving in Athens, notices warning of swine flu adorn the walls. Tips to combat the virus include washing hands after using the toilet, and covering the mouth when coughing. Is this really world-beating advice from the authorities? I mean, we’d just never have thought of such innovative measures on our own.

So when I suggest that ninety per cent of the population – certainly in the West – are inveterate morons, am I being conservative? Though this is a statistic propounded by my father – excluding his own hereditary line, of course – this may not actually be an improbable figure.

Signs such as ‘This water is hot’ above hot taps or inside shower cubicles can only be targeted at the feckless idiot, can’t they? I rest my case, before veering any further from today’s events.

The metro in Athens is closed when we arrive, momentarily throwing us off-kilter. But we soon grapple with the transport options. Jon heads west across the Corinth Canal to Patras, and I to my truck at the modern Olympic Stadium. We part in the moonlight – Ok, mid-afternoon sun – vowing to meet again tomorrow afternoon at the ferry port in Patras.

Ah, how I’ve missed my colleagues. Hugs from fellow AC/DC truckers are thrust upon me when I arrive in Catering at the Stadium.

Namibian beams, and Little Dick jerks his head towards the tea urn. Vainglorious, I feel obliged to mention the swimming pool that featured in my life while they’ve been sweltering in a concrete car park.

Speaking of which, it would have been nice if Namibian had thought to open my sunroof, or cracked the windows an inch or two. He’s becoming thoughtless again – it’s like a blooming oven in here, and I did fancy a little nap before tonight’s show..

AC/DC – Serbia to Greece Part 2..

Remember we’ve just hit a bridge in Serbia? Well, not one to do things by halves, “Wrecker” Jon has punctured not one but two of my tyres, and startled a passenger (me).

It is one of those moments where the inevitable looms, like a truck coming towards you full tilt. ‘Fuck,’ says Jon.

I say like, as though an apt, crafty simile, but in fact a truck has actually just come towards us. Immediately after impact with the side of the bridge, my right eye pops open to assess the situation: nobody is hurt; our fragile frames remain intact.

But there is now a distinct paucity of functioning wheels on my truck, and our quest to reach Athens is rapidly falling into abeyance. Thank heavens, at least, that the kettle is still OK.

We are travelling with four other trucks – our single ATA carnet has to be processed with us all together – so at least Jon and I have some assistance and moral support. Consequently we immediately set about changing wheels just to get me over the Bulgarian border. The disadvantage of loitering colleagues however, is that I can’t really boil the kettle – it looks bad whilst nine other drivers stand around puffing and panting with wheel braces.

For anybody in the know, truck wheels are incredibly heavy – the lifting of which ought certainly to be avoided by trombone-playing travel writers. What if I break a nail?

So I pace a bit, pretending to direct traffic, and waving at the remaining AC/DC trucks rolling past, colleagues’ faces glued to our predicament as they briefly contemplate slowing down.

Glossing over the particulars, we do eventually manage to limp through the remainder of Serbia, clearing Customs reasonably swiftly. Entering Bulgaria however, is a rigmarole; one is handed a USB stick at the first booth, and a frosty glare. This stick is then bandied about from window to window – god help you if you miss one – as road vignettes are bought, and carnets stamped.

Athens is signposted as we creep past the last booth: 929 kilometres. Crumbs, that still sounds like an awfully long way.

Michelin Tyre Assistance rings me as I’m finally relaxing on the Bulgarian side, tucking into something inedible from an incomprehensible menu.

‘Mr. Barny?’ asks a thickly-accented voice on the other end of the receiver. ‘This is Mr. Melan. We can’t get anybody to come out to you in Bulgaria. Can you go back across the border?’

Well, frankly, no. One simply can’t drive willy-nilly across these bleak, bureaucratic frontiers. And whilst I’m thinking about it, why can’t the authorities brighten up the concrete with a few French marigolds or a hanging basket? Tsk.

‘We could have a tyre on the Serbian side in one hour,’ continues Mr. Melan. A drawn-out debacle ensues, beginning with a deferent chat with Customs agents enjoying an espresso break on the next table. The short version is that it then takes eight hours to travel from Serbia – Bulgaria – Serbia – Bulgaria to have the tyre changed.

This also involves detaching the tractor unit from the trailer so that I have no goods to declare – call it a little brainwave of mine, if you like. So, AC/DC’s trailer languishes with Jon in Bulgaria while I wait deliriously for a tyre fitter one kilometre away on the Serbian side. Jon moodily quaffs espressos in a different country – gradually depleting the pocket money I’d left him – and assumes I’ll be no longer than an hour.

When I’m finally mobile again, and sidle up to the first USB Gestapo booth once more, they’ve changed shifts and regard me belligerently.

Well, what on earth do I think I’m doing with no trailer? I think briefly of looking round in mock horror – ‘Ooh, it must have fallen off somewhere on the Nis road’ – but humour seems to be poorly received today. And anyway, I’m not in the mood.

Now to add insult to injury, once under way and reunited with Wrecker Jon, I have never seen so many tyre places in one country. Just half an hour into Bulgaria, the Sofia ring road -shanty towns to the north, and hideous Soviet-style blocks of flats to the south – is simply littered with forecourts stacked with truck tyres. The last six hours must surely have been a cruel, practical jape.

Progressing bumpily on crumbling roads, we guess as professional drivers what the speed limit for trucks might be in this country. ‘Flat out?’ suggests Jon, adding sugar to his tea as we pass another tyre retailer.

That sounds about right, yes – the company motto has always been ‘Drive fast, take chances’. Of course, in this new age of health and safety, we now say, ‘drive within reason, and take calculated risks.’ I jest of course. We still drive fast.

Other than a couple of tubby policemen who have no idea how to inspect a tachograph (otherwise I’d have been fined), Bulgaria passes without a hitch. Hooray, we finally enter Greece.

A sign reading ‘Automated Disinfection’ greets us at the border, yet there is no robot wearing washing-up gloves. In fact, nothing happens, except that a swarthy chap demands to see our passports. I think it must be an old sign, from the days of “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans.

Now what with the severe delay, we cannot complete the journey to Athens legally. Well, we could but we’d need to stop for a nine-hour break, potentially imperilling the Greek concert. Yet the show must go on, as they say in show business.

‘How far can you get?’ asks the transport manager in the office. We’ll make Thessaloniki, I reckon, and consequently two drivers are flown there immediately. They will continue with the truck to Athens, while Wrecker and I put our feet up in a twin room for what is left of the night.

A few hours later, the phone rings. It’s one of the relief drivers with extraordinarily vague instructions regarding the rendezvous point. ‘Hotel Nikopolis is where you want,’ he says airily. ‘It’s a white building five minutes from the airport, next to a hospital.’ Oh great, that should be a piece of cake, Greece being signposted the way it is.

Just imagine, if you will, that you’re driving an eighteen-wheeler on the international route to Athens and think whether nebulous directions such as these would help you in any way whatsoever..

AC/DC Tour – Serbia to Greece Part 1..

We’re not using the most obvious route from Belgrade to Greece. Solely for any anoraks charting the Black Ice Tour‘s progress on a road map, allow me to elaborate.

AC/DC’s trucks are heading south-east through Serbia, turning off at Nis on the E80 across to Bulgaria’s border. Ah, you think, why aren’t they traversing Macedonia to get to Athens?

Yes, that would indeed be the shortest route but it involves another non-EU border – far too time-consuming for big lorries. So straight to Bulgaria, and no more paperwork and officialdom – ah, the freedom of the open road, peppered with restrictive speed traps. But we have to get to the border first, which proves to be difficult.

There is little in the way of real motorway in Serbia despite the map marking a nice, thick blue line; gnarled figures carrying hoes share the road with us, crossing inopportunely. The Nis road cuts through mountain valleys, twisting sharply and turning alongside a river. It is pleasant, admittedly, but slow. Bulgaria, here we come.

Alas, a mere twenty kilometres from the familiarity of the European Union, we hit a bridge. Poor old Wrecker Jon is forced off the bridle path – posing as an international route to Sofia – by another truck hogging the asphalt. Oh dear, he has a history for this sort of thing. Watch this space for what happens next..

AC/DC Tour – Belgrade..

There is a dilapidated air about Belgrade. And AC/DC’s venue in this former capital of Yugoslavia – the Partizan Stadium – rather blends in nicely. It is, for want of a better description, a shit hole.

Aside from a much needed general sprucing up, Namibian and I are unimpressed with washroom facilities.

The toilets are mirrorless. In fact, if truth be told, they are toiletless. Gaping holes in the floor and no toilet paper is hardly cricket for rock n roll crew. And it’s hot today, mercilessly hot – by 7.30 am, we’re awake and drenched with sweat. Despite perspiring like a garden hose, Namibian is jovially filming everything this morning – obviously from a comfy seat in the shade.

‘Come into Catering again, Barny,’ he orders, as I mop a weary brow. ‘I‘m sending this video to my dad.’ So I walk in again, feigning surprise at seeing Namibian, ostensibly for the first time.

‘Now here we are in Siberia,’ he begins, ever the hopelessly inaccurate narrator. He might mean Serbia, I think. The footage is priceless.

For any remaining slumbering truckers thinking of lying in bed for an extra little snooze – those lucky enough to have trucks fitted with air conditioning units – forget it. Blasted forklift drivers are screaming around the place, side-shifting staging pallets. So a spot of peace and quiet is in order – perhaps a gentle cycle ride away along the river?

Pah! Belgrade (Beograd) is definitely not for cyclists. The roads are clogged, regardless of the time, with high-emission vehicles, and there is no room for the lowly peddler. Cycle lanes, except along the River Sava (where fitness enthusiasts smoke outside the Wellness Centre) are non-existent. Try the pavement instead, you cry? No luck there either: they are cracked and high-sided. It is tiring.

Zastavas and Yugos crawl past, belching clouds of exhaust, alongside tram buses containing doleful-looking employees resigned to a life of drudgery.

In the smog, policemen replace traffic lights, beckoning and halting the frustrated motorist. Pedestrians ignore roadwork barricades, treading tar into their soles. Oh blast, I may need a new pair of flip-flops now.

Stickily, I amble past the train station. Like Paul Theroux, I am ineluctably drawn to trains and their stations. I stop short of wearing a mackintosh – and diligently noting locomotive serial numbers while adjusting spectacles and squeezing zits – but I seldom see a train pass by without wishing I were on it.

And Belgrade seems like a good starting point for an adventure; I yearn to hop on a carriage bound for Istanbul, then Tehran, and still further. I don’t really want to miss a free lunch in Catering, though, so I make do with just popping my head in to the main station, to see where trains go. The departures screen, a woeful departure from the Roman alphabet, is an enigma.

Continuing up the hill brings me to St Sava Cathedral – a shining beacon visible from all access roads to the city.

With a 4000-ton dome, it is, or will be – I’m hedging my bets because the statistics are ambiguous inside – the largest active Orthodox church in the world. Worshippers put Serbian notes into donation slots, and kiss the foreheads of painted saints, whilst impious workmen drill, bang and dig, eerily illuminated from high above.

But if you’re wanting a taste of the Balkans, and regard my advice as worth taking, miss out Belgrade and go to Budva, Montenegro instead..

AC/DC Tour – Vienna to Belgrade..

Remember Jonboy from Coventry? Well, he’s my allotted double-driver tonight, and he’s naively expecting an easy night’s work.

Yet within seconds of him taking the wheel, I nearly kill us both with a fire in the cab. Tea making, on tour, should be left to Namibians.

‘Chuck the stove out the window,’ yells Jon rather forcibly, as flames lick the pressurised gas canister. I radio Namibian to alert him to our predicament, suggesting he eases off the – ahem – gas. Silence. He’s probably too busy eating something to reply.

Hanging out the window, holding the stove, I am in two minds: if I don’t hurl the fireball soon, an explosion could shatter our windscreen and irrevocably maim us; but if I do launch it, the potential bounce could hit Namibian’s truck – he’s following fairly closely behind.

Just then, the flames snuff out naturally in the wind and Namibian’s radio crackles into life. ‘Did you say something a minute ago, Love?’ he asks.

Honestly, there’s no sense of urgency with these chaps from the southern hemisphere. Disaster averted, what we desperately need now is a nice cup of tea.

‘Milk, no sugar, Jon?’ I check. I light the stove once more – at arm’s length this time.

Ah, now I mentioned eastern European borders in the last blog. And tonight’s dickens of a drive is littered with them. The first one – entering Hungary – is a breeze but leaving definitely leaves something to be desired. After a cordial greeting from a policewoman – to lull me into a false sense of security – things take a decidedly precipitous turn.

A misdemeanour, which I shan’t dwell on for professional reasons, results in another fine. Oh OK, so I’m  a trifling, piddling, hardly-worth-mentioning 2500 kgs overweight on the drive axle – I might as well admit it. Told you this rigging was heavy stuff, didn’t I?

And the fine is considerable – it’s an even larger one this time than the one I received in March from that despicable female termite employed by the Italian police.

For those that have forgotten, the reptilian harridan seemed rather put out by my peeing discreetly in a bush.

Anyway, back to the present levy at the frontier with Serbia. Alarms are going off on the border weighbridge, a weighing scale that is almost certainly tipped in the Hungarians’ favour. I phone the lead driver for advice. ‘Just pay it,’ he answers decisively. ‘You’ll be reimbursed on show day in Belgrade.’

Rightyho. That’s the answer I was expecting. Now, how much is 300,000 Hungarian shitters worth in a sensible currency? A calculator is produced at the kiosk. Jeepers, that equates to about €1100.

As luck would have it, I just happen to have €1150 floating around the cab – ooh, I know, how the other half live. So I can afford to swagger around the compound unfazed by financial demands, knowing I’ll still have a few coppers left for a sandwich.

Changing money in what is fundamentally a shed turns out to be simple; paying the blooming fine seems to be less so. Hanging around with my wheelbarrow full of local currency, I begin to pace. But it does little good – the Hungarian border is bathed in lassitude and inactivity. Doors are locked; walls are stared at.

Now if I had an office, I would leave the door invitingly ajar, dealing with people as they needed me, closing it only for the time it takes to photocopy a secretary’s bottom. Here, trying to enter former Yugoslavia, the downtrodden proletariat seems to wait interminably, acquiescent. I begin to get cross.

Get too cross, however, and the jig is up. The more irate these faceless bureaucrats see you become, the longer the wait. Namibian makes me another flask, which remarkably fixes everything in an instant.
The next bit – entering Serbia – is rather jollier than leaving Hungary. The chubby clerk, sitting in a booth, leafs through my passport, seeing my next of kin (father) listed as Rodney.

‘Like “Only Fools and Horses”? Ha ha,’ he chuckles. ‘You are Delboy, no?’ The rubber stamps descend and, after five hours of border misery, I can now start enjoying my birthday.

Yes, that’s right, I said it’s my birthday. And what a way to spend it – in a big rig convoy through Eastern Europe. Erm, that’s angling for sympathy, if you missed the shriekingly obvious hint.

Our paperwork duly completed, our motley group of five trucks roll down to Belgrade together – taking photographs of signposts in Cyrillic, and dodging tram buses en route – to a stadium that can’t accommodate juggernauts. This is a blessing in disguise, actually.

We enter what we call a ‘boneyard’ (an area to leave trucks) near the Partizan Stadium, and park with our back doors open, letting ageing, smaller Zastava trucks take our equipment up a hill and into the gig. The smell of their burning clutches pervades the hot air..

(Oh, and when I say five trucks, I mean ever so slightly fewer. Poor old Namibian becomes separated in the chaos of Belgrade traffic – he pays a taxi driver to lead him to the stadium. Bless him.)

AC/DC Tour – Wiener Prater..

The Ernst Happel football stadium, chosen venue for AC/DC’s gig tonight, is in a pleasant park known as Prater – an area declared free for public enjoyment in 1766.

Since the 1890s, when the Giant Ferris Wheel went up, it became more and more an amusement park – the sort of place that I generally loathe.

However, Prater has a certain charm; it is fairly small, its rides are not too noisy and the ‘Toboggan” is one of the world’s oldest wooden slides. This afternoon, while children enjoy the miniature train pulling in to Lilliputbahn, a personal trainer publicly humiliates clients that sweat profusely in ill-fitting sports attire. Perhaps best of all, though, Prater is home to Vienna’s most famous beer garden, the ‘Schweizerhaus‘.

When in Vienna – the hardcore among you may remember this from the Tina Turner tour – I try and see my pal Norbert. Very briefly, he came to stay as a student at my house to learn English.

He arrives today late as usual, with his substantially younger girlfriend, Karo, and unable to park. Forty minutes after our agreed appointment time, I have to walk in punishing midday sunshine, away from all the closed roads surrounding the stadium, to find him grinning in a two-seater convertible Mazdza.

He has a funny, towel-like hat, to protect his neck from the torrid sun, and looks like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Yasser Arafat. It’s great to see him. Karo slides onto the gear stick to make room for me, and we’re off on a short dash.

In fact, it’s barely a hundred yards because Norbert shrewdly notices a police car behind us. Karo, sliding saucily onto my lap by now, tries to assume a diminutive posture – to fox the police into thinking that there is only one person in my seat.

Norbert suggests dining at the infamous Schweizerhaus – on pork knuckles and Radler (a German word for shandy). Excellent. But we’re surrounded by hungry, boisterous AC/DC fans with tasteful T-shirts depicting skulls.

One or two look as if they may ordinarily eat live chickens, dismissing any cutlery as entirely superfluous.

So, while the fans gnaw raw meat, Norbert launches into an apt story about three-legged ‘porks’, which I more or less follow. Yes, it’s definitely something to do with pigs. ‘And do you remember when I was lying on the floor with your daddy?’ he asks abruptly. Ah, yes, between them they fixed my leaking radiator in the dining room. Still, it’s a funny way of describing a situation.

Norbert and Karo are now gearing up to a rock-filled evening. As is so often the case, though, I have to retire to bed for a short spell. You see, tonight is the big push to Serbia via Hungary, and it may well be an elongated adventure.

To that end we’ve been given a sizeable float for road tolls, and some “border swag” (a ‘Black Ice’ tour T-shirt, or three) to oil our passage past corrupt customs officials.

Oh, and it’s my birthday tomorrow. Crazy Sandra has designed, as a thoughtful gift, a splendid sign for my windscreen..

AC/DC Tour – Hockenheim to Vienna..

Last night was one hell of a packed show. Wow! Approximately 90,000 people came to watch AC/DC at the Hockenheimring.

And not only watch but camp – noisily, too, I might add. More than three hours after the show had finished, drunken revellers were still impeding traffic.

Laboriously, we were funnelled into a single carriageway – the only escape road. Rather typical, since there wasn’t time to bugger about. Our next destination in Austria – an unspeakably monotonous drive of more than 700km – is Vienna.

But rather than recount Namibian’s hooplah on the Citizens Band radio, here is a little more on the Hockenheim track, gleaned from the on-site Motor Museum:

Though it is now one of the most modern tracks for both racing and testing, it all started way back in 1932  – with the first motorcycle race. Going back even further – to 1884 – the history of motorcycles begins with the ‘Reitwagen‘, slower even than a bicycle but powered by a combustion engine.

With a wooden frame, lateral support wheels – that’s a fancy term for children’s stabilisers, isn’t it? – and a top speed of 12km/h, these  were indeed early days.

Ooh, and the first truck was introduced to the market in 1896.

Now, while statistics percolate away in the old grey matter, just think of us poor chaps leaving Hockenheim at 3am. We travel through a netherworld while normal people snooze restfully.

You see, the rigging trucks are due to unload in Vienna at 2pm the same day, leaving little time for me to dawdle or sleep – it is a good nine-hour drive in a lorry.

That bilious creature, Nambian, could muck about napping, though – after all, he only has a few crappy lights in the boot – but he doesn’t. Loyal as a terrier, we chat on CB as the sun rises – a sight signifying that we are barely half way to the Austrian capital. Groan..

Yes, there are people that would give their eye teeth to visit Vienna in May, I’m sure…but I wouldn’t half fancy a little lie-down instead. Oh well, perhaps we’ll get some time off in September..

AC/DC – Pedal to the Metal..

Next stop on the AC/DC tour is the Hockenheimring, a Grand-Prix circuit near Mannheim, Germany.

Driving around the track – the Sachs Curve, to be specific – poses challenges in an eighteen-wheeler. The main hazard this morning, rather than cornering hard and tipping the truck on its side, seems to be avoiding forklifts.

In the build-up to the concert tomorrow night, the Ring is littered with them today; they slither hither and thither with crates of staging, their manoeuvres unpredictable. Safety when the track is used for racing however, is paramount. After Scottish Grand-Prix champion Jim Clark careered into the trees at 225km/h (killing himself instantly), two chicanes were built to reduce top speeds.

On a brighter note, I think we can finally say that summer is here – which prompts that stout fellow, Namibian, to organise a barbecue. He really is in his element: one minute dicing tomatoes, onions, and adding a secret ingredient; the next minute he flips burgers at the grill, temples moistening.

I think if it weren’t for his steering wheel fetish, I’d encourage a sideways move within the industry – to that of caterer. The expression, ‘Never trust a skinny chef,’ springs to mind.

While the food is being prepared, a tanning competition is in full swing on the track. I’ve mentioned this before but, between 11-3pm on fine days, “Alice” and Cowboy are seen on sun loungers, vying for the mahogany crown.

Cowboy – ‘I don’t do poses’ – has twenty years more experience, and is winning hands-down so far, turning on the hour, every hour, with the patience of a saint.

Alice, with skin closer to that Tangoed look of an airline stewardess than leather, has no chance – but he’s doing his best, which is all one can ask for. As we edge closer to our summer jaunt around the Mediterranean, could the title change hands?

Meanwhile, in the charming little town of Hockenheim, a mere pedal or two away, I find the inimitable trucker, French Fred, enjoying a Gauloise at a street-side cafe. ‘I ‘ave a new girlfriend,’ he says, sipping an espresso daintily. He hasn’t met her yet, though; we are talking of an internet romance.

I shudder to think what goes on behind his truck curtains, with a wireless internet signal and a webcam. But I’m curious to know his secret to crafting a personal opening message, to make each lady feel valued and special.

‘I copy and past ze same message to 300 woman,’ he clarifies. ‘Yes, why not? Maybe fifteen or eighteen reply.’ I’m stunned, yet intrigued.

‘Restaurant, ‘otel, let’s go. Visa card here, visa card there,’ he finishes breathlessly, with a flourish. I reel for a moment at this revelation, struggling to process his unorthodox approach to internet dating. I surreptitiously note the website as he heads off to the nearest cyber cafe. I like Fred.

And no, I’m not going to entertain a gag – considering all the portable toilets here – about pit stops and skid marks..