A Little Something on the Way home..

Now that the U2 tour is finally over, I bumble up to Suffolk to return the truck to Transam Trucking’s yard. It’s in a small village that only just features on road maps, and where the denizens still use beads for currency. They look on with wonder at modern innovations like the pound coin.

Radio Two’s signal grows ever weaker, and the roads narrow appreciably. In fact, Transam drivers have a saying: ‘If you can make it to the main road (A140 Norwich – Ipswich) from the yard, then you’ll probably be OK for the tour.’

Load of Old Rap

Before the radio fades completely, Steve Wright manages to announce that our tastes in music give clues to our personality. ‘Rap fans are outgoing,’ he says. Well, that’s news. There was me thinking that shouting to a drumbeat appealed to introverts.

Emptying the cab, and discovering the detritus from eight months’ touring – there’s a biscuit from February or March, or possibly January, behind the seats – I look forward to some peace and quiet at home.

Just at that moment a Kentish dressage champion – to be thematically consistent I may as well mention her E cup – texts with the following: ‘I am about this afternoon if you want to pop in for a cup of tea and optional stringless filth.’ Ooh, I love a girl with her own kettle. And it is on the way home..

 

 

 

 

Customer Service..

Don’t bother trying to check into an Italian hotel without a passport. Surely the intrepid reporter didn’t commit this rudimentary faux pas? Yes, just last week, I popped up to Lake Maggiore in northern Italy for a couple of nights.

I rang the ostello in Verbania to secure a room, arriving at  9pm, just in time for a glass on the terrace. Or so I thought.

‘Passport,’ says the sour-faced girl behind the desk. ‘Certainly,’ I say, fumbling in pockets. Very quicky it dawns on me that, despite a fistful of cash, I don’t even have a Tesco Clubcard on me. Everything – and I mean everything (credit cards, driving licence etc.) – is in the truck, 96 kilometres away in Milan.

She murmurs something about needing ID for the police. Oh come on, this is Italy – surely a bribe? A ‘grand cafe’, we used to call it, when pulled up at the roadside by  local constabulary. She’s having none of it, though, sitting there utterly indifferent to my predicament.

To paint the scene, she has the figure of one who may once have been delicious, then curvy but fun, and now has gone to pot. The moustache adds to her allure.  ‘Ring the police and I’ll explain,’ I say. ‘No,’ she replies. Ah, that didn’t quite go as I’d intended. Oh, for goodness sake, surely this is solvable.

She rings her “director”. Gabbled, rapid Italian ensues, but I do catch the word ‘perfecto’, and a barely perceptible upturn at the corners of her flabby mouth. I brighten, my spirits soaring as I emerge from yet another potential catastrophe without a scratch. As she replaces the receiver, I decide I shall drink white wine, not red this evening. ‘Not possible,’ she says tersely.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve travelled from London on a crap, provincial train, and then by irregular bus service to a town in Northamptonshire. It won’t be an idyllic setting, straddling the Swiss border, but perhaps you now empathise.

You’ve put all your eggs in one basket, and don’t even have the car to sleep in. Do you a) sob uncontrollably or b) throw tourist brochures at infuriating, vowel-spouting receptionists? Well, I don’t do the latter – she’d squash me. We’ve reached a stalemate: I stare at a blancmange; she stares back. Maybe Namibian could send my passport number up the wire? – a telegram, with little or no punctuation would be right up his street. ‘No,’ she says, warming to me a little I think.

‘Shall I just wander aimlessly round the lake, then, collapsing on the gravel when I can walk no further?’ I ask her. She shrugs. This is the final straw. And what’s really irksome is that I have a life membership of YHA…which I’ve left in the truck, of course. Now, if you had a shred of goodwill and were in her shoes – ill-fitting unless you had elephantitis in both feet – would you not  help me find another hotel?

She gives me two addresses and I begin to shuffle off, tail between my…Hang on a sec, what do you think telephones were invented for? ‘I hope you’re struck down by the lightning that’s now looming over Baveno,’ I think. A man has only so much patience.

When I finally find a hotel, using my phone – ‘you don’t sound like a terrorist,’ the receptionist says – I could whoop with delight. It’s twenty-five minutes’ walk, and it starts to rain..

Busty Teen Ploughed on Couch..


Writing an attention-grabbing headline is one thing; designing a website is quite another. The latter requires more skill, dedication and patience than you can possibly imagine. Yes,  my IT man’s doing it.

Eschewing the wanton women that line Amsterdam’s canals, we’re spending five hours incarcerated in a Novotel hotel room, staring at a screen. ‘HTML? Or templates straight off the net?’ asks Fat Paul. Ooh, he’s caught me on the hop again. What on earth is he on about? At least I don’t seem to need “de-fragging” this time.

Big Font

As Fat Paul clicks and drags, I cling grimly to his meandering exposition on software and font sizes. I forget his exact words, but Size 14 sounds big enough for me. Truly, though, there are only so many cups of tea – partly because we run out of creamer sachets – that one can drink while designing a website before the eyes droop and the head begins to loll.

A temporary reprieve is needed.  So while he taps merrily at the keyboard, stretching photographs and adding something called a hyperlink, I go for sandwiches.

Cor, there are some ghastly men at reception – covered in gold chains. They have shaved scalps, unabashedly wearing T-shirts (several sizes too large) that say “Money over Bitches”. Slogans like this don’t encourage debate, I find.

It’s no good telling these chaps that, actually, I’d take a “bitch” over money, and perhaps if we looked deeper into their psyche we would discover latent homosexuality. One learns to recognise hostility. My T-shirt is far more tasteful: “If it has tits or wheels it will give you problems”.

The Votes Are In

Back upstairs Fat Paul is still studiously battling with fiddly editing tools. ‘You’ve got 25 votes,’ he says. ‘But the Portuguese guy’s got 1880’. Woohoo, it’s neck and neck, then. Johnny Foreigner is barely in the lead, just pipping me at the post.

If I can get everybody I know to visit www.barnabysadventures.sitebones.com and get ten other people to vote, I’ve already won, I think naively. The euphoria soon subsides..

Teutonic Maidens in Gelsenkirchen

Namibian shoots out of his truck this morning, like a gnu successfully evading a lion only to drop dead from exhaustion. Despite drowning his meals in salt, he still gets leg cramps, resulting in rapid, athletic movements…

…followed by stertorous breathing and dejected collapses. My doubling up guffawing does little to improve his mood. Though bathed in his usual miasma of grumpiness, he agrees to come on an adventure with Crazy Sandra and her buxom pal, Christine.

It’s a short drive from Gelsenkirchen to Duisburg, Germany’s eleventh biggest city. But there seems to be a theme when travelling with Crazy Sandra. First, make a show of map-reading while plugging in the oh, so foolproof spaznav, then hurtle up autobahns glued to the headrests, and, finally, err at the crucial step. Looking for a cruise boat moored in Europe’s largest domestic port, we pass a sign advertising “Advanced Nuclear Fuels”. This can’t be right.

One could almost certainly purchase Class A drugs on this street…but there is no sign of a jolly river boat stoking its boiler for a two-hour harbour tour. Personally, I would have followed the brown signs marked “Inner Harbour”, but that’s only an educated guess.

As Crazy Sandra battles her Audi round wholesome avenues, Namibian announces that his milchkaffe has gone right through him, and staggers out of the passenger side into Legoland. He returns looking thunderous. ‘You’ve got to tread over so many bloody bricks to have a piss,’ he says, having frightened the children.

Popping my head in – a trot down memory lane, if you like – I am bedazzled at the prices: Star Wars Lego is priced at €560. Perhaps that’s why my father encouraged country walks instead.

Eventually our goal is reached. ‘So what do you say now?’ asks Crazy Sandra. And referring to the ship lift adventure we embarked upon last time, she adds: ‘ This is not closed since thirty years. I am the brilliantest German woman you know. Write that down.’ It is a gentle command, and she beams with pride at locating this unmissable tourist attraction.

It is not lost on me that we are within a hundred yards of where we were an hour ago. The ubiquitous spaznav may now be the penchant of the populace, but I still obdurately refuse to buy one. As if to enforce my view of people losing their sense of direction entirely, Namibian pipes up. ‘Was this East Germany?’ he asks. We’re bordering Holland here. Say no more.

We clamber aboard MS Stadt Duisburg under a brooding sky, motoring towards the confluence of the rivers Rhine and Ruhr. The Rhine, as you know of course, is the river with the most traffic in the world.

What an idyllic cruise: the Bulk Terminal, handling mainly manganese and ore, makes an early appearance, followed by the attractively named Oil Island. Wow, oil depots can be found here.

The sun peeps out – a very brief tease – as we pass silos producing fish meal, then a copper works and the Sachtleben chemicals group factory, producing, among other things, white pigments used in paints.
The next beauty spot is Coal Island. Here, 1200 tons of coal are shipped in one hour. Whoopee! Look what’s coming up: Scrap Island. Do I need to say that scrap is pressed here and loaded aboard ships?

‘Try this,’ says Namibian loftily. ‘You can’t fold a piece of paper more than seven times. Not even tin foil, and it doesn’t matter how big the piece is.’ It does briefly divert my attention from the picturesque fuel bunkering station off the starboard side. Oh, and I hate to admit he might be right.

‘And,’ he presses, ‘they reckon you can turn a tennis ball inside out without cutting it.’ Bear in mind he thinks we’re in East Germany, though..

Berlin Couchsurfing – Tanya or Marie?..


I had a slightly odd evening in Berlin recently – “random”, I think the youngsters would call it. It started when I met Marie, who is really called Tanya, at her friend’s flat off Friedrichstrasse. You’re frowning so let’s engage reverse gear and incorporate some back story:

A couple of weeks ago I asked my pal, Swiss Jules, for suggestions on places to stay near Milan. He mentioned a jazz festival in Lugano, but I thought accommodation might be booked out. ‘Try www.couchsurfing.org,’ was his reply. I dismissed the idea – chiefly because I don’t like sleeping on couches – and opted for Lago Maggiore instead.

A few days later, though, I thought I’d have a little browse on the site. Aha, you can just meet travellers for coffee or a drink. Well, a coffee is actually a drink but I know what they’re getting at. How nice, I thought, to meet somebody interesting with local knowledge. Maybe I’ll see the side of town that tourists don’t.

Interests/Hobbies

The next logical step is to send a message to a suitable host. Now, I hadn’t initially thought of the site as a dating site but… If you’re anything like me, you’ve no time to delve far into the 1,600 or so entries for Berlin. Find a honey on the first page, is what I say.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. If she had listed her interests as shoppin’ and chillin’, I would have scrolled further. Tanya’s passion for sailing, however, was enough to intrigue me.

An extended nap in the afternoon, coupled with chaos on the S-bahn lines in Berlin, meant that I didn’t turn up in town until 10.15pm. Late for meeting a new girl, I agree, but the nice thing about Couchsurfing is that these aren’t “dates”. Anyway, I reached the flat where a send-off for a Parisian girl was in full spate. I rang the bell.

‘It’s Barnaby for Marie,’ I said. Silence. Bugger, I forgot that’s only her surfing name. Regardless, the buzzer buzzed and there were just seven flights of stairs between me and an exciting encounter.

POLICE – BEWARE!

We spoke of sailing and fashion – the latter topic saw little input from me – and how she would love to have Madonna as a godmother. That was the turning point. What I did discover, though, which is jolly applicable to me, is that drunken cycling is ‘verboten’ here.

No surprise there – this is Germany, after all – but the following news shook me up a bit: if caught, the police revoke your driving licence. That is worth knowing.

But surely a couple of “grapefruit beers” are harmless enough, I thought naively, knocking back the last alcopop in the fridge.

So, if squiffy peddling has you nervous as an oyster at low tide – glancing constantly over a shoulder for blue lights – you’ll be relieved to learn that, in Berlin, the metro runs all night at weekends..