Intoducing Eunuch (12/5/10)

It’s the little things that make me laugh in life. Yesterday I witnessed a spherical chap order a Diet Coke with a large bag of chips. Well, it made me smile. And so did a telephone call from my pal, Eunuch. I’ll let you in to my private life  – well, his – and introduce him, shall I?

Eunuch once grappled with asexuality. But he is now showing worryingly libidinous traits. He has struck up a relationship with a Russian lady on the internet, and things are rather hotting up. Her daily epistle – by email with tasteful photographs – continues from behind the Iron Curtain, with ever-increasing signs of seriousness.

He telephones me via loudspeaker today – he happens to be soaping himself in the shower, at the time – to ask for my home address. ‘The Russian embassy need it for her visa,’ he explains casually. Heavens, I don’t mind my place being used for a spot of romance while I’m away but this is starting to smack of KGB. Or identity theft, at the very least.

‘I’ve told her not to come until July, but she’s trying to bring the date forward to next week,’ he adds, lathering his undercarriage. Dubbed the “Kazan kiss of death” (by me), her pictures are rather titillating; I can see what’s got him so worked up.

Well, who am I to stand in the way of young love, eh? And what can go wrong? Eunuch plans to impress her with a cup of tea, out of a roadside van, on the way back from Gatwick Airport. Good luck mate – we all have our fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the AC/DC tour potters along – today we are in Leipzig, achieving rather less than I would have liked. I borrowed a broom, you see, from Number One – our lead driver. Now take into account that he’s had this broom for nigh on a decade; perhaps you can picture him understandably peeved when, within four eminently gentle sweeps, it snaps. Whoops!

So, instead of investigating the old town – the world’s first newspaper was published here in 1650 – I’m fooling about in hardware stores, desperate for a replacement brush. And I’ve had to appease Namibian today too, because, like nearly all of us, including me, he hit the roof of the stadium this morning.

He is ruffled, knee bouncing up and down nineteen to the dozen with nerves. To look at him, anybody would think that the world had collapsed. My placatory, ‘What’s the matter, fatty? There’s no damage done,’ does little to soothe him. Honestly, why these buildings’ entrances are made so low that trucks can’t get in without a scrape, I shall never know..

Still in Nuremberg..

‘Why don’t you do one thing at a time?’ asked my dear friend, Fat Paul, recently. You know, he’s got a point. Mind perpetually whirring, juggling multiple concepts, I’ve got myself in a muddle lately. So here’s what I shall do:

The blogs from last year – they need to be imported at some point – will go on the front page over the next couple of weeks. Then, when this bally U2 Tour finally finishes and I get some time off from sightseeing and socialising, I’ll write up this year’s touring notes. How does that sound? That way I can post a weekly snippet over the winter when not much travelling will be taking place. People like Superman (featured in Finnish Girls Part 2), continually hounding me for the next installment, can get stuffed until I’m good and ready.

May 10th, ’09:

A little project? Gordon Bennett! While Bettina sleeps off her drug-induced coma, I look through her pages of notes that she wants reading into a microphone – to be learnt with an impeccable English accent for an imminent exam. The topics are transport and religion. Simple enough, yet I’m supposed to make coherent sentences from endless bullet points spanning twenty pages per topic.

For example, under the subheading “Charitable work” in the religion paper, I’m faced with this: Quaker: social concern, peacemaking
Cadbury Trust
Rowntree Trust }(Quaker history) funding for housing
Not restricted on basis of religos beliefs

Lordy, this is hopeless. Stoically plodding on and on, sentences are soon abandoned. Even then, the recording lengths are still 27 minutes for religion and 25 for transport. More than once I pause to sip tea, or sneeze, and say, ‘erm, sorry, that doesn’t make any sense.’ The pronunciation, at least, is flawless, if I do say so myself.

A little later, Bettina, Eddy and I take a drive out to Fischbrunn – for an eight-kilometre walking loop in the ‘Franconian Dolomites’. We’re still in Bavaria here but window shutters are now red and white, instead of blue and white. Stout footwear is recommended for this forest hike because there are awkward climbing passages where a chap could fall fifteen metres or so, and perish.

So, shod in flip-flops – safety flops, I like to call them – I embark on the soft, mossy, forest trail. Eddy is behaving like a girl’s blouse, walking around most of the difficult sections in his hiking boots, while I have a stab at the worst of them. Actually, one bit is so bad that flip-flops are in fact unsuitable…and I’m forced to go barefoot for safety.

After nearly four hours of flirting with death, we come to a lovely pub in Hirschbach, glinting in the evening sun. An elderly man, sitting on a haemorrhoid cushion – he turns out to be the owner – talks to me in German. I nod a bit, interjecting with the odd ‘ach so’ while Bettina translates. Apparently the mayor of Scotland was here not so long ago, and he shuffles off to find the visitor book.

Some minutes later, he returns, and painstakingly flips gilt-edged pages, licking his forefinger between each agonising turn. As our eyes glaze, the entry is found and we are jolted into feigned interest. 1974 was the visit, possibly the last day in thirty-five years that anything happened here.

He adjusts his croupier’s armbands, while we demolish the last of the cheesecake. And then he waves us off. His parting shot to me, in German of course, is, ‘greetings to the mayor.’

AC/DC – Nympho in Nuremberg..

(from May 2009)
Four idle days in Munich: lovely. Well, the truck is idle, but I’ve sneaked off to Nuremberg – to meet “The Munich man-eater”. Bettina is a girl I met a couple of years ago in Canada’s remote Queen Charlotte Islands, just below the Alaskan border.

She texts me before I arrive: ‘no snoo-snoo’, which apparently means ‘no sex’. Do I have a reputation then? I hadn’t even thought about it, let alone suggested it – we’re friends – yet the matter has been pre-empted. Kissing her on both cheeks, we sit down for a beer and some catching up. Or that’s what I thought would happen.

Within four minutes she announces that she’s already spoken to her boyfriend, asking for permission to have a steamy night with me. Now, I haven’t even agreed to this, so I’m about to put my foot down, and tell her in no uncertain terms that I need to be seduced gradually, when she says, ‘but Eddy said no.’ Oh. Well, because it is now “verboten”, I quite fancy the idea.

Nuremberg – or just Nurnberg if you can find an umlaut on your keyboard – is a beguiling, manageable-sized city, awash with medieval history. Also here, in this former centre of the Holy Roman Empire, stand the largest Third Reich buildings in the world. Hitler, that infamous megalomaniac, blighted eleven square kilometres of the city with his monumental building projects.

But Nuremberg is not only famous for Hitler’s rallies in the Zeppelin field. The War Crime Trials were held here – the Nazi leadership was proven guilty before the eyes of the world.

Well, that’s enough history. Still bemoaning the prospect of a yummy cuddle, only to have it palpably dashed, I’ve popped down to the flea market instead. It is held twice a year, for a whole 24 hours, and covers the entire centre of the city. Oh goody, I’ve always wanted a ribbonless typewriter and a broken tennis racket.

Who actually buys a Casio keyboard with broken keys? Or a scratched Abba record? Or ubiquitous earthenware so biliously adorned that even a great aunt would discard it? I return to Bettina’s flat empty-handed. Eddy is there, and we bond immediately, no trace of awkwardness from Bettina’s forthright request.

We go out for dinner, and discuss Eddy’s mature studentship in economics, and how it is funded. ‘The good thing is that Eddy’s father had died,’ says Bettina, in her frightfully Teutonic manner of speech. Unabashedly stuffing a garlic naan into her mouth, her bald statement simply explains how Eddy’s fees are met. In England one might tread more delicately over the matter of parents expiring. That said, I do keep reminding my father that his current spending on travel is rather eating into my inheritance.

‘Do you want to meet three gay men?’ she then asks, perhaps the finest example of a non sequiteur that I’ve ever encountered. I shrug noncommittally, and so we mince down to the Hans sachs bar. As it turns out, we’re not just meeting gay men, but entering a gay pub, a marked difference that fact may have affected my answer. When Bettina excuses herself to the toilet, the gayest of the three sidles up. ‘Do you live with your husband?’ he asks me, before realising his mistake in English. I smile, wondering whether or not I’m flattered.

Back at the flat, while Bettina nurses a Temazepam and Marlboro Light, I get my instructions for the morning. She has a little English-speaking project for me, it seems, on a computer with fingerprint recognition software. ‘You need my finger tomorrow, or shall we turn on it now?’ Now is probably best. Oh, she means turn on the computer. Sorry, my mind was elsewhere for a moment there..

Namibian’s Birthday…

You wouldn’t believe how long it’s taking me to import blogs to this site from last year. And every now and again, I find a spot of text that deserves to blight the front page once more. This is from Christmas ’09 and celebrates the presence in my life of a certain South African:

Who better to conjure up a jolly yo ho ho, eh? Just the name “Namibian” connotes a jocular, doughy form brimming with platitudes, doesn’t it? A veritable, clownish Goliath of a man? A corpulent chap with a club foot?

Dear old Namibian may be all of these things and more, but he never fails to bring a smile to one’s face. He lights up another’s countenance like no other, and asks nothing in return.

Though lamentably incompetent, and as far from apple-cheeked as a human can be, he nevertheless possesses beguiling characteristics. Hang on, I’ll try and think of one…

Seriously, his cheerful spirit and ineffably entertaining quotes have becalmed many a fraught moment this year; in the face of adversity, he has diffused situations simply by saying something utterly absurd.

Yes, I’ve led him around Europe, and bought him the occasional collectible thimble while he lies supine in his truck, but his generosity has remained boundless. Let’s doff our trilbys, and say Happy Christmas, to the man whose antics have provided us with so many guffaws this year.

Let’s also celebrate Namibian’s birthday, by rewinding to July on the U2 tour 2009. And how convenient that he looks – with his gargantuan frame and preternaturally sunny disposition – like the quintessential Santa Claus. Yo ho ho. I, for one, love him to bits.

Be honest, you thought Namibian was in his sixties, didn’t you? No, no, no. You’re a rotten lot. Had you looked closely over the last couple of months, you would have noticed a dashing exuberance and purple fetlocks, surely indicators of ebullient youth. In fact he has only just turned fifty.

Yes, Big Boy has reached the half-century and, by my calculations, has a good six years left before succumbing to the inevitable. As you know, there are only two certainties in life – and he’s already paying taxes.

‘You’ll be dead at forty,’ he snaps back, as though I’ve hit a nerve. Honestly, where this unwarranted vitriol comes from, I just can’t imagine.

We are celebrating his big day in a car park in Milan, sprawled in deckchairs beside fifty-four articulated trucks. ‘I’m Peter Pan,’ he gasps youthfully, through a fug of cigarette smoke.

Really? I don’t remember “the boy that never grew up” having quite such an insatiable appetite for whisky – or even whiskey, come to think of it – and Cola. And I could have sworn Peter was slimmer, with hair less like a toilet brush.

I’ll tell you what, though: Namibian really is losing weight now we’re into hot weather. As his shorts slide ever southwards, the rest of the U2 crew are submitted to a grotesque daily spectacle as he cycles past. On this score alone, he’s overqualified for a position in the construction industry.

Though he intends to be forty-nine for ever, and swears blind that he’s Peter Pan, any lingering misapprehensions as to his identity quickly evaporate: he pours another whisky – polluting it with a tin of pop – and swears colourfully.

And if language and alcohol were not evidence enough, Namibian cannot fly – it’s simple physics. Even with the secret ingredient of a McDonald’s pizza (with chips on top) inside him, he remains on terra firma. Rather more firma than he’d intended, actually.

Namibian is drunk; the bicycle is a stupid idea in his condition; a fellow trucker’s deckchair is crushed to a pulp.

Many Happy Returns,  Old Pest..

Friendly Finnish Girls (Part 2)

I’m disheartened. The “Helsinki Experiment” – tarrying in bars, hoping to be approached by fruity, Finnish girls – failed miserably.

Yep, that pitch to the editor of FHM, announcing Finland as a manifestly viable destination for sex tourists, might as well be scrapped.

Still, onwards and upwards – I’m not beaten yet. It’s just that Storyville Jazz Club was utterly the wrong place to conduct research. Surely there are gaggles of giggling crumpet in Helsinki, desperate for a fumbling tete-a-tete with an Englishman? Well, where the deuce they were last night is anybody’s guess…but tonight I have a back-up plan.

That Kari chap, the stagehand quoted in Part 1, really seemed to know his onions…so I’m going to give this social try-out another shot. ‘If no girls come to you in the city,’ he had said, ‘go to Kallio. There you have a 400% chance. But the women have been drinking beer for thirty years or something – you’re not going to be happy when you woke up.’

Ah, a splendid district for itinerant truckers then, hell-bent on glossing over all that tiresome wooing and unnecessary chitchat. ‘Just if they’ve got hair, it’s a result,’ chimes Michelin Mat, profoundly discouraging me from joining him on a night out this evening.

Instead, I choose fellow rock and roll trucker, Lewis, an angular youth looking not a little like Superman. But away from his native planet of Crypton, he’s a lost soul, speaking in the manner of a sexually-starved schoolboy.

‘Saturday night snatch?’ he asks, in a strained whimper. ‘Excellent. Walloping muff of any description, however dire, is an art form.’ Well, maybe more of a pervert, then, than a teenager.

Anyway, rather than bruise your senses further with Lewis’s gratuitous, unspeakable talk of ‘stoving in back doors’, let’s kick off at “On the Rocks”, a bar near the train station. Ooh, and a ghastly specimen with a hint of an Adam’s Apple has just begun a conversation with him while I nipped to the toilet.

‘Just one question,’ it says, toying coyly with its whiskers, ‘will you kiss me?’ Oh goody, now that is pretty forward. Lewis blanches, playing for time, wondering how best not to upset this studded creature’s sensibilities. ‘Go on, I haven’t got any diseases,’ it continues, doing shimself (sic) very few favours.

This is when you discover who your friends are. ‘Leave you to it Lewis, old bean,’ I crow, moving over to the other side of the bar to bask in his misfortune.

Now, there are a few other rock dragons knocking about in here, cheeks despoiled with metal, but really we might need to toddle off to a nightclub to secure any real data on the dating scene in Helsinki. But I’ll just watch Superman struggle for another minute or two before I rescue him.

Oh, were you wondering why we hadn’t headed directly to Kallio, by the way? Well, on the plus side, yes, the area is a netherworld riddled with violence and alcoholism. But on the minus, Kallio is uphill on the bicycles.

And also, one can become inadvertently embroiled in conversations with prostitutes up there…and I’m never quite sure how one knows. Do they mention financial transactions at the outset? And are those smokin’ hot, provocative fishnets solely the preserve of hookers?Or is it just that she’s cute and likes the attention?  Hmm, tricky one. One doesn’t like to ask.

But I had asked another stagehand – a brutish, bear-like man, known simply as “Animal” – about Kallio. ‘Go to a bar called “Trashbank”,’ he had said. ‘In there, you buy a Finnish girl a Gin &Tonic and her legs open.’

Oh, bloody hell. I know things generally boil down to sex in the end, but this is straying ever further from the purpose of the experiment: to see if Finnish women will take the initiative, drift over and chat to guys in bars.

This is not about whether I can approach a girl, talk bollocks and take her home. And anyway, Animal’s keen advice contrasts sharply with Kari’s promise of free beer into the bargain.

So I’d opted for the city centre again, buoyed on fresh air and naivety, only to have my dreams dashed. Oh, what a long, dejected cycle back to the lorry tonight. But who is floating around the truck park on my return, with a story to tell?

Gentleman Steve, that’s who, and he’s met a girl. Well, more of an aged, mottled cadaver than a girl, but no need to split hairs. ‘Over in the allotment this afternoon, it was,’ he boasts. ‘We had a chat about her beans.’ Ah, good old Steve. That’s cheered me up no end..

Friendly Finnish Girls (Part 1)

The die is cast, the social experiment of the century firmly under way. Yet the words of a Helsinki stagehand begin to look decidedly shaky. Girls don’t seem to be approaching.

‘You take a beer and stand awhile,’ Kari had said earlier, as we loafed beneath an azure sky at the Olympic stadium.

‘Seem a bit lost, as though you’re looking for someone,’ he’d continued, one hand fingering his ludicrous beard – one of those twisted, dreadlocked affairs culminating in a plait at chest height. ‘Then a chick just comes to talk to you.’

My eyes had shone with excitement, ears pricked at the divulgence of such esoteric delights. In fact, I rushed to fetch a notepad. This was hot stuff indeed, the absolute flea’s pyjamas of a secret. You know, I’d totally forgotten about this role reversal of the “cold approach” in Finland.

‘Don’t be too hasty with your beer,’ Kari had advised, as I’d scribbled furiously, hoping to goodness that my truck wouldn’t need moving for at least ten minutes. ‘And of course the next beer is on the chick.’ Yes, naturally, I thought. And she’s bound to be a supermodel too, blessed with scintillating curves?

So here I am, debonair and lost-looking at the Storyville Jazz Club in Central Helsinki. My chum, Ted, accompanies me as a makeshift wingman, eager to witness the cavalcade of stunners that will shortly be overwhelming me.

Ah, sadly, there is a distinct paucity of pretty girls in here, and I’ve possibly fallen at the first hurdle by ordering wine instead of beer. But surely this is just nit-picking?  I’m gently nursing my beverage (as instructed) and duly enacting the air of an unsure, windswept foreigner. It’s only a matter of time, surely.

Ooh, wait for it, wait for it. Lo and behold, I’m being approached…by a Norwegian giant in her fifties. She’s soused to the gills, stumbling uncertainly in the direction of my lap.

‘Don’t take the first girl,’ Kari had warned, lending a degree of calculated menace to the proceedings. ‘You are too easy like that. And you won’t get any beer.’ Crikey, this really is a science, then.

The object of the exercise is not just a jolly chat, but both alcohol and sex? He stroked his comedy beard and consulted with his pal, Tatu, who nodded knowledgably. ‘You need beer and a chick,’ he had said with unwavering earnestness.

Well, for starters, the approaching abomination is not so much a chick as a harbinger of catastrophe. And secondly, she isn’t even Finnish. But she’s awfully keen.

After clearing a bout of emphysema – coughing coquettishly whilst perched on my knee – she points out her husband at the bar. ‘Twenty-four years we’ve been married,’ she slurs, and pops her tongue down my throat while I was asking her to get off. The husband gives a cheery thumbs-up.

This experiment doesn’t seem to be going terribly well..