AC/DC Tour reaches Dresden..

‘That’s what remains of old Dresden,’ declares the croaky Namibian. He points out a grassy knoll partially obscured by one of the AC/DC tour buses, and lights his umpteenth cigarette of the morning. Spielberg, perched on an upturned beer crate, looks briefly – and quizzically – up from an intimate email to one of his Swedish girlfriends. ‘I thought that hill was where they buried all the people,’ he counters. Hmm, we may need the informed opinion of Gentleman Steve to settle this.

I find Steve at a little after 8 a.m., ferreting in the Catering fridge. He tuts plaintively, discarding one soft drink bottle after another. ‘How am I supposed to have a decent Scotch without fizzy water,’ he wails, rather precluding further interview. When I do get him chatting however, his effervescence is directed more toward the nearby Erotic Car Wash than the bombings of ’45. ‘There’s also an Erotic Diesel Station on the A9 to Leipzig,’ he gushes, warming to a familiar lascivious theme. ‘When you apply the truck’s exhaust brake, the engine goes “aaaaaah”.’ Oh, very droll.

So what exactly defines an Erotic Car Wash? And how many of us do you think they’d allow in a vehicle whilst flaxen-haired, libidinous beauties work feverishly with a sponge? As Dresden, dubbed ‘Florence on the Elbe’, was the birthplace of that splendid invention, the bra, these are pertinent questions indeed. And I’m off to answer them before exploring the city in earnest. You see, either we could squeeze a dozen of us in a truck for this Erotic washing or, thinking well outside the box, I’m tempted to run the bicycle through for the full, bespoke treatment. ‘That’s the spot, keep polishing my crossbar until…’

The Wash, as it happens, turns out to be elusive. Adverts are posted all around the edges of the city, yet, standing atop my saddle, ineffectually peering over corrugated fences like a Peeping Tom, amounts to disappointment. On each occasion, rather than happening upon busty, aberrant nubile women, their lustrous, soaped locks glistening in a light breeze, there is nothing. Not even a poorly-filled bra. A few disused garages perhaps, and a thistle or three, but little else. The world is a pitiless beast, a cruel, merciless tease.

Sagging despondently over a cup of tea, a similarly stymied Alice approaches. His trouble however, is with technology. ‘We’ve got three fifty-year-old men here trying to copy pictures onto a memory stick,’ he says gloomily. ‘And it ain’t ‘appening. We ain’t got a clue what we’re doing.’ I follow him obligingly onto a tour bus, into that air-conditioned, soundproofed bliss. Ah, now I suppose you should know a little about the buses..

When the crew finish dismantling AC/DC’s gear, and the last trailer door closes, where do you think they go? Well, I meant after the showers. Yes, they repair thither, winding down in one of the bus’s two lounges, opening alcoholic bottles as though fearing the imminent return of Prohibition. Or, if feeling a little peeky, they may toddle straight up the stairs to bed for the journey overnight, without so much as an Ovaltine.

Each tour bus – we have eight on the AC/DC tour – is equipped with something like a dozen single occupancy beds upstairs (plus a DVD chill-out lounge); downstairs is another recreational area with a kitchenette. Oh, and the suspension system is far superior to that of trucks – it has to be, so that crew can arrive at the next venue refreshed, ready to set up the next show.

As I pop the photos on to Alice’s newly-issued AC/DC memory stick, he opens and closes his mouth in befuddlement and scratches his knee. ‘How does he do that?’ he asks the bus drivers. ‘Just look at him copying and pasting like a blooming clever clogs.’ Bluffing mission accomplished, it seems. He still has no idea that I couldn’t tell you the difference between Alt F5 and a terabyte.

So, I can finally think about cycling into Dresden, a remarkably attractive city rising like a phoenix out of the ashes. Literally. Well, the ashes bit, at least: the Brits totally flattened this city in World War Two. 22,000 square kilometres of rubble has gradually been rebuilt, using around a third of the original stones, restoring Dresden to its former glories. Here is a view of ‘Europe’s balcony’ from the north side of the Elbe.

Oh, I don’t believe it. Attempting to carry three bottles of water and a cup of tea is simply stupid. A full half an hour is now spent deciding whether the tea will stain, or whether short trousers might be the thing. Mind you, it looks awfully cloudy for a whole afternoon in Dresden with exposed shins…

AC/DC: Bloody double drivers..

I needn’t explain the concept of double-driving on tour, need I? All you have to know is that these beastly tour dates, coupled with absurdly complex tachograph regulations, require a second man to assist with the long drives. I suppose it could be a second woman, but it rarely is. That said, we did have an “it” out with us a few years back, a mysterious hermaphrodite. Nobody was quite sure whether it was a man or a woman.

Anyway, regardless of who or what is piloting, the bottom line is that the truck continues to roll for up to twenty hours straight; notions of stopping for a quick round of golf in say, Saarbrucken are heavily frowned upon. Not a bad thing, actually, because neither of us have rackets with us. Oh sorry, I mean bats.

Think seriously for a moment about twenty hours of confinement in a small space with a stranger. Perfectly ghastly, eh? Yes, indeed. A good deal of those twenty hours is spent speaking ineffable twaddle out of boredom, sulking in stony silence borne out of a crossed word, or sleeping. There is certainly room for huge clashes of personalities…which is why I get in touch with the office in advance.

My first choice of co-driver is “Wrecker” Jon, but he’s unavailable this year. Rumours are being bandied that he has moved into the sphere of biochemistry, yet I happen to know that he works in a shop selling equipment for growing your own dope. Hydroponics is the technical term, I believe. But, however you look at it, flogging UV lamps for nurturing marijuana hardly constitutes the lofty heights of a biochemist.

My second choice is “Frankenstein” Al. The soubriquet was tauntingly applied by vindictive schoolboys many years ago, and I now take great pleasure in rekindling it on the internet. Those rotten children had a point though – his forehead is indeed an unfathomable expanse. ‘Yes, it’s larger than strictly necessary,’ Al concurs. Actually, when his beard is at its wispiest, he is also Rasputin’s double, but we’ll stick with Frankenstein.

Al is a top egg.  He’s an excellent driver, confident yet showing appropriate deference in what is fundamentally my home away from home. And he’s a bally good laugh. You see, my biggest fear when receiving double drivers into the cab is not poor driving skills. Neither is it their sexual proclivities. Come to that, I don’t even mind gaspingly unfit, spherical chaps drinking Cola by the gallon and needing constant loo stops and cigarette breaks. No, the clincher for me is proper lorry drivers.

My heart simply sinks when a man hops aboard brimming with inane trucking argot. ‘Scania 143, eh? Fook me, pulls like a train,’ they’ll begin. I’ll try and steer the conversation to a more interesting topic but trucking is sometimes the only thing we have in common. ‘Course the E-Tronic gearbox is nowt like the Eaton Twinsplitter. I were coming out of Milan once with groupage,..’ they might continue. Ten minutes of this sort of drivel is enough to have me reaching for the cyanide pills, let alone twenty hours. This is why I’ve booked Frankenstein.

‘Ooh, my legs,’ he complains, hopping into the passenger seat in Paris. I assume he’s fatigued from a couple of laps round the Stade de France looking for my truck (there are twenty-eight other black ones that look mighty similar in the dark). ‘Tennis,’ he elaborates. ‘And I might have pulled a muscle swimming. Hotel pool was a bit on the cold side, though.’ Well, my heart bleeds. These bloody double drivers, at vast though necessary expense to the rock and roll industry, have enjoyed a couple of leisure days. Yes, while tour drivers have been slogging away organising two drunken barbecues, the double drivers have had a ripe old time.

‘One of our lot slept in a shop doorway, and another one got into a fight with a transvestite,’ he recounts. Well, that’s hardly unusual touring behaviour, but there’s more. ‘And one of them was so drunk that a prostitute gave him his money back.’ Honestly, heaven knows where the office finds these bounders. In comparison, my hour of trombone practice and a stroll round St. Denis Cathedral rather pales into insignificance.

Frankenstein heaves his suitcase into the trailer and clambers aboard once more. ‘God, my buttocks,’ he groans as I make him a nice cup of tea for the journey. There is then a brief lull while I snooze for four hours and twenty-eight minutes. Now, it’s a curious enough sensation to wake twelve inches away from a Derbyshire man, but this morning something else seems amiss.

Hello? We are in deepest rusticity here, negotiating a right angle on a road barely wide enough to accommodate a goat. And Frankenstein is making a dickens of a job changing gears, as though there is an impostor behind the wheel. ‘Don’t be alarmed, dear,’ he soothes as I rub sleep from my eyes and draw the interior curtain. ‘We’re only three kilometres from Forrenbach.’ Is that where we want to be then? Does this town lie on the A9 motorway to Dresden? ‘I don’t know, I can’t see it on the map,’ he admits. ‘But it sounds like the right sort of area.’

He’s missed his junction apparently but, rather than double back, he’s deeming it propitious to go native through unquestionably unsuitable villages, drawing stares from sun-leathered denizens. What makes matters a trifle worse is that he’s left his wallet, containing passport and driving licence, under the mattress in his French hotel. This, frankly, would be a horrendous place to be collared by German Mr. Plod and asked for documents.

‘Whatho Klaus,’ we would begin. ‘Ah, now it’s like this, old bean…bitte. About these documents you’d like to run your retina over…’ I can picture the handcuffs already. It doesn’t bear thinking about. As Frankenstein’s punishment, there is to be no more kettle-boiling until he is either in the right gear or on the right road. Both would be nice.

About an hour from Dresden, he pipes up again. ‘I say, would you be a poppet and do the last hour into town for me?’ Well, it does impinge on finishing a Stephen Fry novel, but I guess it’s only fair now that we’ve finally escaped narrow thoroughfares. ‘Dashed decent of you,’ he says, and scoffs the last butter biscuit. Bloody double drivers..

My hometown (not that I’m there much)..

The year was 1066. Sound familiar, or did you doze through school history lessons? It ought to catapult marauding Normans to your mind’s fore. That landmark year heralded Britain’s invasion by the bloodthirsty William the Conqueror.

His landing in Hastings sparked an infamous soldier-culling skirmish, piercing King Harold’s eye with an arrow. Or so they say. Usurping the crown, William built Britain’s first Norman castle – atop the West Hill – in the following year. Now little more than a clump of stones, it overlooks the English Channel, once sentinel against pugnacious frigates. Confusingly however, the Battle of Hastings was fought six miles yonder – in Battle.

A nautical theme runs through Hastings. Nestling beneath vertiginous sandstone cliffs, the town has always relied heavily on the fishing industry. But during the Great Storm of 1286/7, the natural harbour silted up, vanishing forever. Boats have languished stoically on the shingle ever since. This is Europe’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet, and one of Britain’s oldest.

The “boy ashore” mans the winch. Oilskin-clad colleagues trudge up the pebbled shore with staunch resolve, diligently placing “troes” (wooden planks) under the weathered vessel as she inches up the stones. Chip-fed gulls wheel overhead, cawing deafeningly, and beadily surveying today’s catch. Then they swoop, adopting octogenarian posture against the scything offshore gale. Timelessly, the salt-weathered crafts wait in serried ranks, looking incongruous as amphibians. Tomorrow, rusting bulldozers will push their hulks into the sea once more.

‘Not worth opening,’ complains the miniature railway’s weathered owner. He furrows his brow, shrugs resignedly, and gazes over at the fish markets. ‘Nobody here, look,’ he adds, in an expansive gesture. He puffs dejectedly on a cigarette and throws seed to resident pigeons. Licking salty lips, I continue to look as his despondent frame shuffles off. It folds itself into a white van. Hastings attracts some quirky types.

Behind the town’s dilapidated façade, amusement arcades and chip shops, lies creativity. The tapestry of characters here is rich: some gregarious, others aloof. From the pub that brews its own beer, to eclectic live music, Hastings is packed with artists and musicians. One particular artist is so creative actually, that, at seventy years old, he has a three-year-old daughter. ‘Sorry, she’s four,’ he added. ‘Must remember that.’ Exiting the gallery last year, I remember nodding at his wife, assuming she was a daughter.

Heading home, I come to The Smugglers Caves. In the early eighteenth century, iniquitous transactions flourished throughout these dank subterranean caverns. Pious denizens slept; nefarious activities ran amok. My nose wrinkles as I pass the haunted entrance, but a waft of fresh halibut is the culprit. ‘Remember to unwrap it when you get home,’ the saleswoman had said. ‘And it’ll only need a few minutes grilled on each side.’..

AC/DC: Paris without leaving the gig..

The AC/DC tour reached Paris yesterday. After a statutory twenty-four hour break, the trucks begin rolling into the capacious Stade de France, taking care to avoid the pitch area. The ususal protective matting lines the edges of the stadium whilst the thinner Teraplast covers the grass. If we’re seen driving across the latter, punishment is at least a severe slap on the wrist.

I drive in last, utterly demolishing the place – whoops. With reckless abandon, black matting rucks up around the trailer wheels as a maiden’s skirt might in the prelude to undressing. ‘The earth just moved for me,’ says Scott rather aptly. ‘Quite literally, as it happens. The flooring just shifted several feet.’ The damage is temporary, though – a deluge of frowning Frenchmen have arrived to push the plastic rectangles back together. If only they had thought to wet the plastic with a hosepipe, all would have been wine and roses. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Michelin Matt with characteristic insouciance, ‘they’re only garlic-quaffing, pond-robbing surrenderers.’

Oh marvellous, everybody’s arrived now for a good gawp. ‘That’s major, that is,’ says Number One, our lead driver. Little Dick, cognisant that he can’t move into position until the flooring has been repaired, boils his kettle, emerging a little later with a mug pilfered from Download Festival. Alice, floating around in flip-flops and wearing a despoiled security pass, offers a note from his mum excusing him from assisting in any work.

And Gentleman Steve puts in his tuppence worth. ‘You’ve done it now,’ he says in patrician tones. ‘Ruined it for everybody. We’ll never be able to bring trucks in here again.’ I must say, the sprig of sycamore poking out of the back doors tops off the affair rather splendidly. That, and my mud-caked tyres caused by French Customs – they vastly under-estimated the room needed to manoeuvre an articulated lorry.

Now I’ve noticed a theme with Gentleman Steve. He’ll open a conversation with something relatively harmless, before abruptly changing tack in the direction of educational adult videos. ‘You should write porn novelletas,’ he advises. ‘Do you mean novellas?’ I ask. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ is the reply, ‘but porn is where the money is. Art pamphlets, my mate calls them.’ Well, if anybody has contacts in that corner of publishing, my email address is on this site somewhere. I could probably manage a spicy chapter or two.

During this short delay in truck movements, Number One dishes out some crew merchandise, or “swag” as we call it. Ooh, we’ve each been issued with a body warmer, a football shirt and a USB memory stick in the shape of a guitar. But no laptop to go with it, I notice. Number One also reminds us that we may be up against it when re-entering the stadium later as pedestrians. Despite being up to our eyebrows in French security passes, admission (after drinking heavily in the less salubrious quarters of St. Denis) is far from guaranteed. ‘Gate T is supposed to be twenty-four hours,’ he informs us, ‘but if there’s nobody there ring the bell. Then wait five hours for security.’ The snigger isn’t strictly necessary.

Most of us however, are not dashing off to bistros with idyllic notions of slurping Cote du Rhone. A barbecue has been laid on by the staging drivers in the adjacent car park, comprising meat, bread and beer: a balanced diet if ever I saw one. ‘All this five a day bollocks must have come in since 2000,’ cries a querulous “Nellie” (Neil). ‘When the Enrique Iglesias tour went to Majorca years ago, we were still allowed egg and chips every night.’

Times have changed. We’re now more conscious of what we eat and, if women’s magazines are to be believed, we are what we eat. (Michelin Matt is tucking into a piece of piggy as we speak.) So what constitutes five a day? Well, there seems to be rather a difference of opinion amongst the drivers. One sentiment is that to comply you need two fruit juices in the same glass and three raisins in the Muesli. Add a slice of tomato and cucumber at luncheon and you might just have cracked it.

Others aver that doughnuts are the key to longevity. ‘Pink stuff is good,’ says Nellie. ‘Anything pink is a fruit.’ This is before we even dabble with healthy snacks such as lemon drizzle cake and blueberry muffins. ‘For example, I had strawberry jam in my croissant this morning,’ he continues. ‘It’s obvious, Barnaby. The clue is in the title.’ He shrugs and raises an upturned palm. ‘Strawberry.’

If you’ve spotted spurious logic above, feel free to visit my cousin’s website on nutrition.  But a word of caution, she more or less survives on cabbage and foul-tasting Chinese concoctions. And she doesn’t have nearly as much fun as I do..

AC/DC: The Bucharest gig..

As with any country, there is good stuff and bad stuff in Romania. On the plus side we have Dracula’s birthplace, the painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina and the beguiling bear- and lynx-infested Carpathian mountains. On the minus side we have inexplicable puncture wounds to the neck, rabies-ridden dogs…and the roads. Despite EU membership, resurfacing on the trunk routes leaves rather a lot to be desired. In fact, one would be perfectly within one’s rights to describe them as fucked.

Not only are they spine-rearrangingly dreadful, the traffic is hazardous too. The ubiquitous horse and cart – as prevalent as the bicycle in the Netherlands – vies with wobbling cyclists (unlit at night) and hunched figures carrying agricultural implements. Throw packs of mangy, multi-teeted stray dogs into the mix, and twenty-nine AC/DC trailers have got their work cut out. Essentially we’re on an obstacle course to Bucharest. ‘The dogs were culled with poison years ago, like in Spain,’ says Captain Birdseye. ‘They used to leave loads of them dead at the side of the road and go round with a truck to pick them up later.’

Well, the dogs are back. As we cross the Danube into Romania at Giurgiu, the road is littered with them, listless brutes in poor condition. They barely flinch as our tyres roll past their paws. No, I’m still talking about the hounds, not Namibian. He is guarding the trucks while I avoid an aggressive salesman peddling machetes next to a police checkpoint. How on earth would I take a fifteen-inch blade through UK Customs, I try explaining to deaf ears.

The sulphurous, nostril-filling odour here is nothing to do with Namibian’s egg sandwich, he assures me. Bulgaria’s industrial zone is just across the river, ironically depleting human energy with noxious fumes while creating the very energy that humans crave.  And besides, Namibian, with his loveable flaws at least as large as his virtues, proudly announces that he has had two poos this morning. News, indeed.

What a great venue for AC/DC to play a gig: outside the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest. Beneath its imperious gaze, forklifts are bringing in pallets loaded with beer kegs while crew scurry about with cables. Namibian immediately dashes off to the local production office, returning with AC/DC passes for our windscreens. ‘It’ll help if we’re stopped by the police again,’ he tells me, pseudo-omnisciently. He’s right, I hate to admit. Coppers do indeed waver when they see this rectangular piece of all-powerful, almost omnipotent piece of cardboard. They tend to wave us through the checkpoints, on the absurd premise that surely a rock and roll tour wouldn’t be carrying illicit substances.

Accompanying Namibian this morning is another reprobate, blackguard and cur, Cockney Russell. He has the voice of a common villain, affronting the ears of sensitive weeds like myself. Now Russ is an easygoing, live-for-the-moment sort of guy, and spouts aphorisms to that end. ‘We’re here for a good time, not a long time,’ he says for the umpteenth time. One need not necessarily infer from this that he is the Fastest Ejaculator in Great Yarmouth.

Narrowly avoiding a forklift, I take a look inside the Palace, the second largest building in the world. A gargantuan edifice, it boasts 1000 rooms over fourteen levels. A photocopied list of rules is thrust into my hand upon entry: ‘It is Mandatory to Keep Clean!’ reads one regulation. ‘It is compulsory to wear the badge at sight!’ reads another. And one is not to ‘violate the legal access norms’ by straggling or purposefully sneaking away from the tour group. They’re awfully serious here, exchanging the casual visitor’s passport for a dog tag on a chain. I feel like a Marine.

365,000 square metres are certainly not to be sniffed at. If you were you to sniff disparagingly however, at the profligate consumption of energy and materials, then know this: there is no air conditioning in the building, and the materials are sourced from within Romania’s borders. Silk tapestries, oak panels hacked from Transylvanian forests, the mind-boggling one million cubic metres of marble: all are domestic products, harking one’s mind back to those heady, pre-globalisation days before supermarket shelves were stocked with an overwhelming choice of equatorial fruits. They used what was available.

Cleverly, small holes have been bored into the ceilings, thus acting as an economical and effective air supply. Entering the Ceremony Hall, a commodious room nineteen metres high in which I could fit four of my local theatres and several trucks, the group gasps collectively. And we rush to the window. The balcony offers a perfect view of the AC/DC stage. Oh goody, as though I haven’t already seen enough of it. I keep quiet, and my laminate well hidden, while tourists murmur about the chances of getting tickets to the show. Well, that’s the end of the tour. Despite being inside for an hour, we’ve still only seen approximately five per cent of the Palace..

AC/DC play Download Festival..

Here we are at Download Festival in Donnington, UK. There are an awful lot of people in Donnington today, somewhere in the region of 94,000. And according to Gentleman Steve, they are mostly, if not all, ghastly.

He emerges from his truck this evening squinting against the sunshine and walking the constipated stride of one who has recently awoken. ‘I see the main lyric of the day is Waaaaah,’ he observes wryly. He’s referring to the cacophonous racket on the second stage behind us.

I suppose it’s a bit odd that we “watch” these shows from behind the stage; I’m sure it sounds marginally better from amongst the audience. But from our vantage point, the incessant drumming and chainsaw-like guitars tend to impede conversations and civilised tea drinking.

‘Who listens to this shite anyway?’ he asks rhetorically. Well, as I say, there are 94,000 people behind that fence going nuts. He ambles off for a nice cup of soothing tea in that cocoon we love so dearly, the Catering Tent.

In Catering there are a few new drivers with whom to natter. Up until this show we’ve been using nine Dutch subcontractors, but, since our own trucks have finished the Black Eyed Peas Tour, the Cloggies have been dismissed.

It’s really nice to chat with colleagues not seen since touring concluded after U2 last August. Tea is being consumed in huge quantities whilst the Brits all have a good old matey catch-up. In fact, without realising the time, I’ve missed Them Crooked Vultures, only a one-minute walk away on the other stage. Shame.

Also a shame is that the tour is now bereft of Dutchmen – they were proving eminently handy for bicycle repairs, at the going rate of a bottle of red wine per job.

Now, having bemoaned the dearth of pert, bouncy breasts on the video screens this year – OK, so the adjectives aren’t strictly necessary – things are looking up. Well-bred English Roses, smashed out of their heads on cider no doubt, have started the ball rolling again.

A single set of hooters on the screens has triggered a splendid, roar-provoking epidemic of good-looking women throwing caution to the wind. Brian, the lead singer, voices nurturing encouragement over a pounding bass. ‘If you’ve got ‘em, get ‘em out,’ he yells in that unmistakeably hoarse Geordie accent. Awful really, but I’ll roll with it. When in Rome and all that.

Can you believe it isn’t raining? The traditional English festival site ought to resemble swampland, a sea of muddied writhing bodies, an orgy of the Great Unwashed. But although cold, the weather holds for the AC/DC show, the headlining Friday night act.

Yet the punters are adequately prepared. In fact, they are prepared for Biblical floods. As Runaway Train gets under way, somebody lobs a yellow inflatable dinghy over the heads of the audience. Half-filled beakers follow suit, chucked equally gracelessly and indiscriminately, wetting random fans’ necks.

Do you know, you simply couldn’t pay me enough money to be out there with all that lot. There aren’t enough barriers, for a start, so I’d be risking a nasty bruise from all that boisterous bundling, shoving and jostling.

As I watch from the much-envied square footage occupied by laminate holders, a human form sails over the masses, limbs flapping helplessly like those of an upturned woodlouse. The Red Cross Tent is going to be busy tonight.

Well, that was Download through the eyes of a crew member, no doubt a vastly different experience to the one that comes immediately to mind. Maybe if I’d “dropped an E” the festival’s intrinsic qualities would have been more readily apparent?

As it is, twenty-nine truckers are concerned more with provisions for the next punishing drive. Each of us is busy collecting on-the-road grub from our self-appointed sandwich monitor, the inimitable Namibian. He is officially in charge of doling out pints of milk, a selection of sandwiches and crisps, plus fruit and confectionery, for our imminent journey to Stuttgart. You see, there is no time to stop, and the next venue is well over 1000km away.

We can’t take the Rock and Roll Train through the Channel Tunnel to France – though quicker, it’s slightly dearer than the boat. Nope, it’s the good old P&O ferries freighter for us. Jolly good, because the breakfast is better than the airline-style muck served under the water. And the boat doesn’t put all that beastly pressure on my ears. Worth bearing in mind after amplified guitars like chainsaws at Download…

AC/DC: Bern, Switzerland..

You’ve noticed the mention of trucks and trombones in the tagline above, I assume. Well, there has been plenty of truck stuff…but scant evidence so far that I actually play a trombone. Or indeed even own one. In fact, for all you know, this could be dark subterfuge, a mythical gimmick in order to stand out from the travel writing fraternity. It could be…but it isn’t. I can prove it. Well, I thought I could.

Abandoning tour date chronology for a moment, I thought I’d post a jauntily-filmed video. It was shot at the last venue on the tour, the Stade de Suisse, Bern, Switzerland. The man behind the camera was a potty Dutchman named Tommy to whom we shall return in due course. My instructions to you were to be: crank up the volume, crane your neck to the point of dislocation and press “play”. However, at the critical point, I find that the file is too large to upload. So, instead, while I work on trying to calve the video into three manageable slices, I have only a photograph to offer. So we’re kind of back to Square One; I could have borrowed this instrument from a passing travelling salesman.

The evening began innocently enough with a chromatic scale or two in the back of a trailer. Yet AC/DC’s stage beckoned like the prospect of a generous snifter of port after dinner. I simply had to bask in thirty seconds’ worth of glory despite the empty stadium. Tommy whipped out a camera and asked me to pose “stage right” whilst giving a pretty decent impression of a standing ovation. The audient was on its foot, as Ronnie Scott used to say when compering at his Soho jazz club.

One of the reasons I’ve leapt ahead from Bucharest to Bern is because, before failing at the final hurdle, I was feeling rather smug. No, it’s nothing to do with the sonorous, booming pedal notes in the video that I can’t upload. Neither am I particularly proud of the mellifluous triplet doodle-tonguing in the opening phrase…of the video that you won’t be watching. No, it’s just that I’m rather chuffed to have – almost – conquered technology. When we downloaded the video onto my computer, the idiotic thing wouldn’t recognise the MOV format. However, after hours of concerted effort, assiduously discarding flv player downloads and threatening laptops with a gruesome demise, I finally managed to at least play it to myself.You’ll just have to imagine it, I suppose.

So what do you think my chances are of AC/DC requesting a bluesy trombone chorus in “The Jack”? It could be either before or after Angus takes his shirt off, I don’t mind. Fair to middling, or no chance at all? Yes, OK, I’ll put the practice mute back in and mind my own business. Now, while I’m mentioning this song (and the medium of video), I ought to report that we’ve had a jolly poor turnout apropos unleashed breasts this year. For the uninitiated, “The Jack” is a dirty, low-down blues. And, in between devilish guitar solos that tingle one’s spine, footage of the audience is plastered over the big screens. Traditionally at this point in the show, women sit upon men’s shoulders and…well, much as it pains me to say it, they get their tits out. Mind you, the weather has been a little chilly of late; perhaps warmer air at the forthcoming Spanish shows will induce less inhibited behaviour. We shall see.

Sticking with the theme of video, I’ve got another character to introduce: Spielberg. He drove a truck on a Rolling Stones tour a few years back and, as the Stones is his favourite band, he shot some footage. And some more footage. And some more. In fact, he was rarely seen without a video camera. Hence the nickname. I find him this morning perched on the kerb – on a street amusingly titled Wankdorf, next to the equally endearing Wankplatz – in the sunshine. He’s taking a relaxed ten-minute breather before capturing Bern’s charms on film. Bern is nothing if not charming: it has a fifteenth-century old town and a bear pit, to give you the briefest of brief overviews. Oh, perhaps it isn’t general knowledge that the bear is Bern’s heraldic mascot? Bears, incidentally, have been in the 3.5m-deep pit since 1857. Well, not the same ones, obviously.

‘Whatho Spielberg,’ I bellow convivially. ‘Sussed out the shower block yet, old onion?’ (I’ve been spending a little too much time engrossed in P.G. Wodehouse novels lately.) ‘It’s not a shower day for me,’ he replies. ‘So I wouldn’t know.’ Eh? Not a shower day? What is the old crocus babbling about? ‘I don’t go in for all this showering every day like some of them,’ he continues unabashedly. What, like every other civilised person in the Western world, does he mean? ‘Every four or five days is enough.’

Spielberg doesn’t smell, it has to be said. But, even so, I begin to retreat from whither I’d come. ‘I wash in a basin everyday, though,’ he concedes, back-pedalling lest I get the wrong impression. Now I wonder if this a generational habit, spawned from living eight to a room in the industrial north, possibly overlooking an aluminium smelter. After all, Spielberg is a trifle older than me and hails from Manchester. Actually, I’m rather curious to learn of anybody in their twenties or thirties that goes in for strip-washing on a regular basis. Discounting overnight bivouacs in the mountains where we douse faces with icy stream water out of necessity, isn’t it just as easy to take a scrummy hot shower as to strip to the waist in front of a sink?

AC/DC: Sofia to Bucharest..

This is a made-up job if ever I saw one. Sitting in this “goonbox” is a bored-looking chap with a sallow complexion, almost that of a troglodyte.

Dotted all over the city, men snooze in these booths, occasionally glancing at the traffic. Their job, ostensibly, is to watch for motorist misdemeanours, radioing ahead if a heinous road offence is witnessed.

This is indeed a task for the hawk-eyed, eternally keeping vigil over the tarmac. A woman, of course, could read the newspaper simultaneously…but a man? No way, Jose.

The chap inside seems to regard multi-tasking as closing both eyes whilst deftly remaining on his stool. You agree that it’s a made-up position, a relic of communist job creation, or am I being cynical? Maybe don’t answer that.

Regardless, twenty-nine trucks sneak past in the early hours, headed for the Romanian border. In Bucharest, stories unfold. Sitting in Catering is Captain Birdseye, itching to tell me his story, and hiding behind a carton of Nivea Cool Kick aftershave. ‘Makes me more attractive to women,’ he rasps, mildly out of breath from slurping soup without pause. ‘Well, it does if I hit them over the head with the bottle.’

Birdseye was stopped by the Bulgarian police at the top of a hill. He didn’t bother pulling over to the side of the single carriageway, electing instead to park slap bang in the middle of the road. ‘It was a 60km/h limit, I was doing 73, what’s the problem?’ he asks genuinely, as allergic to speed limits as I am.

The police wanted money this time, though; fobbing them off with profuse apologies or signed CDs was going to be fruitless. ‘You must pay, we go to bank,’ yelled the irascible officer. ‘Night night,’ replied Birdseye, and he lay down on his bed in the truck.

The policeman began to hop agitatedly like a haemorrhoidal kangaroo. Finally, when the hopping reached its apoplectic zenith, Captain Birdseye handed him a €10 note and drove off into the dawn light. Sitting here now, nursing his umpteenth cup of tea, he still hasn’t entirely convalesced from the shock of parting with some cash.

In fact, the cobwebs in his wallet have once more been exposed. He pulls out a camera case that he has recently purchased in the local shopping centre. ‘Four euros, this cost,’ he boasts parsimoniously. ‘People call me tight but I lash out like this sometimes.’

Before reaching the Romanian frontier, Namibian and I had stopped near a billboard for a sea transport company, improbably named RUBISHIPS. Better than CRAPSHIPS, I suppose.

And at least the sign used the Roman alphabet – something of a rarity in Bulgaria. ‘I can’t work out all this Russian,’ a misinformed Namibian had said earlier as he blatantly followed me through a red light. (I try to catch lights as late as possible just to upset him.)

As you may or may not know, it was the Bulgarians that created the Cyrillic alphabet in the ninth century. (Since Bulgaria’s inclusion in the European Union, the alphabet is now the EU’s third official alphabet.) The Russians subsequently pinched the language, modifying it a little. Thus RUSE in English is written PYCE in Cyrillic. Road signs can become a little tricky to follow as the place names increase in length.

A good deal more confusing than the language, however, is the nodding and shaking of heads in Bulgaria. While Namibian languishes in the bunk like a stricken dugong, I’ve popped into a café to use up the remainder of our foreign currency. Actually, if I’m to be fair, marine mammals talk far less bollocks than Namibian.

Anyway, my order of coffee with milk is met with a vehement headshake and the old lady’s disappearance through a doorway. Oh heavens, given the language barrier, have I inadvertently asked to sleep with her daughter?

She returns moments later with a steaming cuppa, yet with little evidence of any milk. (She points meaningfully at the sugar sachets as though surely that is an adequate substitute.) Ah, but I still have a little loose change to get rid of. Perhaps a small gift for Namibian?

‘Cigarettes?’ I ask. The old dear nods and shows me the freezer stocked with ice cream. If you haven’t experienced first-hand this reversal of shakes and nods, it is jolly unsettling. Has anybody come across this in other parts of the world?..

Do we need vaccinating?..

I recently pitched this to the UK magazine, Wanderlust – for the “Travel Rant” page. It is now due to appear on the Letters page instead so I think I’m safe to reproduce it here:

Vaccination is big, big business. The pharmaceutical industry – a consummate master at making money – tells us that we need protecting from diseases. This is why travel articles repeatedly contain sidebars listing recommended jabs.

Of course they do; we all love hopscotching around the globe, and our health shouldn’t be compromised. But does the average traveller know what makes up a West Nile virus vaccine? Or yellow fever or typhoid?

Even a simple tetanus jab is laced with nastiness. It comprises – among other ingredients – aluminium phosphate, formaldehyde and thimerosal medium (49% mercury). These toxic medicines are being introduced directly into our bloodstreams, bypassing the body’s natural defence mechanisms. And are these vaccines even effective?

Conventional medical opinion argues that they are. In fact, those of us questioning the norm are often shot down in flames, labelled as witch doctors peddling evil heresies. But has the recent fiasco of swine flu not given rise to some doubts in the most conservative among us? The uptake of the recommended vaccination has been far lower than the government expected.

Highlighting skulduggery among powerful drugs companies isn’t my aim. But I am advocating that travellers think for themselves. Have you looked at the alternatives to vaccination? Yes, you may have to show a yellow fever certificate occasionally, but inoculations are mostly recommended, not mandatory.

Take Zanzibar, for example, currently in the limelight in Wanderlust. Last time I visited this idyllic island I was warned that the ship’s doctor would need to see my Yellow Fever certificate. So I bought one on the docks prior to sailing from mainland Tanzania – no jab needed, thank you very much.

Natural immunity is the key to protecting ourselves; simply being in good health is the best barrier to disease. Ways to reduce the risk of infection are: good nutrition (avoid toxins wherever possible), and avoiding antibiotics/vaccinations (these damage the immune system).

However, the best way to strengthen the immune system is to be under constitutional treatment from a qualified homoeopath. Otherwise, you can purchase a kit of travel remedies, taking care to carefully read the accompanying notes on how they should be taken and stored. The kits are available from www.helios.co.uk.

I would urge readers to take a look at www.campaignfortruth.co.uk. Researcher, Stephen Ransom, writes here about the damage that vaccination (as a principle, rather than individual vaccines) can do to our health. For information on the homoeopathic approach, please email susan_g_coates@hotmail.com – she’s my mum so be nice. Let’s stay healthy and focus on the travelling..

 

AC/DC Black Ice Tour: Bulgaria..

Do you know the most difficult part about writing a blog whilst on tour?

Actually, there are two major impediments to my writing the blog: the first is choosing which pictures to use, the second is internet access. I find myself skulking near the AC/DC Production Office with a laptop, furtively crunching my photos into her WordPress.

Caterers brush past, furnishing dressing rooms with drinks and nibbles. Other drivers clog up the corridor, seeking fresh towels and bothering me. It’s a little like a school excursion – always somebody to have a natter with.

Bulgaria, then. Nambian and I were last seen narrowly avoiding a larcenous fine for speeding. Another of our drivers, who shall remain nameless, had not just a picture card up his sleeve for the police, but an ace.

Travelling even faster than I had been – with glasses perched on the end of his nose, and a map on the steering wheel – he skidded to a standstill a full two hundred yards past the checkpoint.

‘Too fast,’ was the predictable opener. Face suffused with mock remorse, this was my colleague’s reply: ‘I’m really, really sorry, and I promise never to do it again.’ Remarkably, this did the trick. He was on his way again, scot-free. Unbelievable. Perhaps I needn’t have signed that CD after all.

Meanwhile, I ordered coffee at a Shell garage while filling up with diesel. A lot of diesel. Bulgaria has one of those tiresome rules allowing international trucks to bring in a maximum of 200 litres when entering their borders. This is in practice rarely checked, but to be on the safe side we’d arrived with fuel gauges at the top of the red. Big trucks have big tanks – and big drivers, without naming names – so Namibian and I dispensed 900 litres apiece from the pumps.

The cashier presented me with a bill of 0.79 “shitters” for the coffee, presaging rather an awkward situation. Neither of us had a Bulgarian lev to our name, and, more to the point, after purchasing nigh on two tons of fuel, it seemed reasonable to expect a free cuppa.

The cashier disagreed, thrusting the bill further across the counter, as though I hadn’t haughtily, naughtily ignored it. ‘Oh, do stop being absurd,’ I proposed diplomatically as he began to chase us out of the service area, foaming unattractively.

The remainder of the journey went without hitch, although “smoothly” would be a poor description given the road network in this country. Sofia’s ring is rough (now if that’s not a double entendre I shall eat my hat), her surface pocked beyond belief. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe it is a European city’s orbital.

Waiting for us at Vassil Levski National Stadium was German Holger, adopting his usual appalling posture and holding both a tin of beer and a roll-up. ‘What is “pretending” meaning?’ he asked. Little Dick and I conferred before offering an explanation and an example of its use.

Holger proffered a sandaled foot, vociferously drawing attention to the nakedness of his toes. ‘No socks, look,’ he boasted. ‘So I am pretending to be British.’