Are U2 fans madder than the crew? (Part 2)..

‘The funny thing,’  adds Mark, ‘is that we don’t even listen to U2 at home. But I love the excitement here amongst the fans: that angst, that knot in your stomach half an hour before you go in. Then the elbows everywhere; places guarded jealously; every man for himself.  And then we’re all friends again at the end.’ Some of the fans – I mention no names – have come out of the first show and begun queuing for the next show the following night. Now that is, beyond question, madness. I can’t budge on that one, I’m afraid.

The next candidate is Theresa, a Portuguese scientist. She’s a really big fan, but has only come to two shows. And, rather prudently, she doesn’t want to jump on Bono and kiss him to death. ‘I want to have an intelligent chat with him instead,’ she giggles. ‘I’d ask him why they don’t do the other really nice songs from the ‘80s and even ‘90s. They could do better, I think.’

‘Just OK?’ she asks suddenly, thunderstruck at my bullish indifference. She’s genuinely shocked that I think U2 are simply OK, rather than life-changingly marvellous. Well, they are OK – I quite like all that jolly “oooooohing” in the background night after night, but it doesn’t give me goosebumps. ‘Ah, you’re just being polite, right?’ she asks. I force a smile. It seems pointless to mention I’d prefer Barber’s Adagio for Strings any day of the week; or that a hard bop jazz quintet with front-line brass has me instantly basking in plenitude. No, far better to beam gaily.

I had meant to consult a larger cross-section of the audience on their pottiness, but this weather is vile now – and worsening by the minute. Hoi polloi are sinking beneath their tarpaulins once more, whittling away the remaining nine hours till the concert without protest. Still, at least they don’t have to drive the 2366km to Rome afterwards.

‘Mark, old prune,’ I say, looking up at the brooding firmament, ‘I’ll have to leave you lot in your own vomit, I’m afraid. I’m off to enjoy a leisurely Number Two on a comfortable toilet indoors, and then think about visiting Catering for some lobster ravioli. Tonkerty-tonk for now, and all that.’ He and Lorraine wave merrily and we promise to be “friends” on Facebook.

Well, I don’t get very far. My final interviewee for the day, a social butterfly hopping ebulliently through the crowd, is Lucia from Rome. In a certain light she looks like Pamela Anderson…whilst in others, like a Carthaginian General. It’s the nose. Anyway, today she resembles the former, so the friendly chat will be conducted in the truck, I think, over a bottle of particularly fruity Argentinian Malbec. ‘That’s it, you make yourself comfortable on the bed, dear,’ I coo, ‘and I’ll try and invent some leading questions.’

Hang on a minute, she’s not taking this seriously. Tickling my back while I assemble notepad and pencil wasn’t supposed to be on the programme. ‘We call this grattino,’ she says in her thick Italian burr, increasing the tempo somewhat. Well, I must say, it certainly hits the spot. Crikey, that’s definitely the spot. End of transmission…………

Are U2 fans madder than the crew? (Part 1)..

There are two extremes. On one hand, there is the crew. Few of us bother watching a show while on tour, be it Madonna, Bon Jovi or, in this case, U2. We tour primarily to pay our mortgages. Free travel, and chasing providers of milk and love, are arguably splendid bonuses, but fundamentally we’re in it for the cash.

On the other hand, there is a curious breed: the fans. Without them, of course, none of us, including the stars on the stage, would have a job. So they really ought to be treated with kid gloves. ‘Sad fuckers,’ summarises Gentleman Steve, with characteristic aplomb.

What makes U2 fans – or any fans, for that matter – tick, then? What encourages perfectly sensible bipeds to part with large amounts of the green stuff and queue in the rain for hours? Tell you what, I’ll pop out and ask them.

It so happens that I’m parked outside Coimbra’s stadium in Portugal (in late September 2010). The truck has been jauntily abandoned on the roadside, as though I’m quickly popping into the newsagent to ask for directions. And, of course, Namibian has pulled up behind me – this is our camping spot for three days. ‘At least the shop’s not far,’ he croaks, a lugubrious figure staring out the windscreen at the drizzle. ‘Maybe 500 metres, or it might be half a kilometre.’ Yep, same old Namibian.

Anyway, let’s meet the Great Unwashed on the other side of the security cordon. Staunch supporters, Mark and Lorraine get first shot at an interview, I think – the Coimbra show will be their 20th show in a row, ratcheting them firmly into the Hall of Nutters. ‘If you put the hours in, it’s a great craic,’ enthuses Liverpudlian Mark, squinting at me through the rain. I nod, mentally running through a checklist of activities that would appeal to me less than paying to stand here: poking myself in the eye; a blind date with one of Namibian’s wife’s friends; drowning, perhaps?

But they also talk some sense. Having run a restaurant in California for twelve years, Mark has this to say: ‘It isn’t smog in LA – it’s faecal material from every time somebody opens their mouth. Out there, it’s “what do you do?”, not “how are you?”’ They’re glad to be living in Spain now, as far as I can tell, and they are squandering their rapidly dwindling funds on following U2 around Europe.

I say “rapidly dwindling” because they’ve admitted spending £25-30,000 as fans over the last two years. Hotels, concert tickets, travel and board start to add up, of course. But are they certifiably insane? Well, let’s put it this way: if I had a spare ten grand floating around, I would whiz down to Antarctica like a shot – it’s my dream. So to spend two or three times that sum, to spend summers following the biggest band in the world, may not be quite as crackers as I’d thought.

‘Queuing is definitely part of it,’ admits Lorraine. ‘But it’s also about the people you meet.’ Looking around the crowd, I see that the hardcore fans are bonding. They recognise each other from previous tour dates and are having a barrel of laughs cowering under tarpaulins, swapping addresses and photos. The atmospheric prospect of using a portaloo must also be part of the craic, I imagine..

Look what I got for Christmas (Part 2)..

The dreaded hour has arrived. I “gown up”, along with a dozen other people, and head into the operating theatre. Yes, I did say a dozen. Maybe that’s why they call it the delivery room – with all these blighters milling about, I’m half expecting a Fedex parcel and a crate of milk to arrive as well. Who are all these people? Surgeons, surgeons’ assistants, knife sharpening trainees, a couple of lads from the job centre, a school girl on work experience…

‘This feels like washing up in my tummy,’ says Melissa, as the scrum on the other side of the curtain test their weapons. Then, before I can say Theo Hudson Davies, there is a gurgle. And another. Seconds later, a small chap appears, covered from head to toe in whale fat. Wow! No cloven hoofs, no dislocated neck. He’s a placid, perfectly-formed boy, weighing in at 8lbs 2oz – the absolute newt’s testicles, or whatever the expression is. And he’s handed to me without a manual.

‘Aah, he’s got big feet,’ says the female anaesthetist, smiling at the adorable ray of sunshine in my arms. Well, more of a blob, actually. ‘Big feet, massive cock,’ I splutter, shattering the ice into a thousand shards, rather than politely breaking it. Melissa tuts disapprovingly. ‘Or is the expression “cold hands, warm heart”?’ I add, gabbling now from frayed nerves. The anaesthetist pointedly ignores me.

We amble into the recovery room together, Theo and I, to, well, recover, I suppose. Melissa’s still fooling about in the theatre, being sewn up and no doubt apologising to the girls on my behalf. So it’s just the two of us – and one of us is technically a grown-up. Now I don’t mind admitting that this is one of those moments when the old tear ducts leak a bit. OK, so I’m trading the taunting of Namibian on the Shakira Tour for nipple shields and nappies, but, By George, it’s worth it. Yep, I look rather dishy in these nipple shields.

He looks totally like you, and nothing like me,’ complains Melissa, her itchy nose still wrinkling from the morphine. ‘So I want a maternity test.’ Well, I’m not so sure he does. For starters, I don’t wear a nappy during the day any more; and secondly, when he lies on his back, waggling his legs in the air, he’s the spitting image of his mother. Sorry, couldn’t resist that one. And, to be fair, he really only looks like me during periods of bodily disquiet – exactly the same facial expression, I’m told.

A few days pass. A foot of snow builds up on the motorcar outside, and we while away the hours drinking tepid, health-and-safety-temperature tea. At some arbitrary hour, decent reading material exhausted and a heavy-lidded torpor stealing upon me, I open the leaflet entitled, “Guide for New Dads”. Good lord, the NHS has a sense of humour: ‘The sudden loss of a sex life can be very frustrating for a man,’ it reads, stating the bloody obvious. ‘But it’s OK to ask your partner for a potentially exciting cuddle, as long as she doesn’t spit daggers.’ Mmm, no comment.

As we leave the hospital, potentially exciting cuddles in eminently short supply, a thought occurs: we haven’t got a receipt for Theo. Isn’t that odd? Well, maybe it isn’t – after all, some people are still searching in vain for a name at this point. And in this town, that’s a rum thing; I did hear of a couple who thought Chlamydia was a lovely name for a girl. Well, I suppose it does roll off the tongue…

Would you join me in a toast? Firstly, three cheers for Melissa, for such a sterling job. And secondly, altogether now after three: ‘Whatho Theo!’

Look what I got for Christmas (Part 1)..

A month? Oh, I’m awfully sorry – those promised four weeks have morphed effortlessly into almost eight. So what’s been happening, you wonder? Well, to give a filleted version of events: civil war erupted in Rio barely hours after I’d left; and that florid-faced celebrity, Namibian, has decimated food stocks on the Shakira Tour. Munich, I think the last reports hailed from.

I shall endeavour to chronicle Brazil – and no doubt recent travels to Italy and Morocco, too – in due course. For now, though, let’s deal with the present. We’re still crossing our fingers for successful data recovery from that infernal hard drive, but the latest news is glum – Stage One failed. ‘And Stage Two is expensive without guarantees,’ said the computer girl with a baleful, sadistic glint. Bereft of suitable pictures, then, this may explain today’s irrelevant selection rustled up from the tropical archives. Think of them, perhaps, as a soufflé whipped up on the hoof from an empty pantry. I’m doing my best.

Talking of food, would you like a choice morsel or two from my literary stove? Or shall I stop tying myself in metaphorical knots and plough headlong, without further preamble, not to put too fine a point on it, into the big news? Ooh, it’s really big. In fact, it’s a humdinging, bobby dazzler of a bombshell. I’m a father. No, you needn’t blink, rub your eyes and stare aghast at your screen in sheer disbelief. I’ll write it again: I’m now a father. Yep, that means I had sex.

You needn’t worry – I’m not going to blather incessantly like some righteous crusader, extolling fatherhood and denouncing the childless. Neither am I going to weep at those wasted halcyon weekends in Vegas, frolicking with strippers whilst the far more fulfilling path of parenting lay ahead of me if only I’d seen the light. Ooh, I’m bordering on mendacity there; it was a photographer in Vegas. No, instead, I’m going to take the piss out of the whole thing. Call it a defence mechanism, if you like, but I do tend to see a funny side to most situations.

This idea of becoming a dad has been a scream from the outset. I’m sure the mother will agree – oh, what a jape this is, she must have thought, pinned down on a cold slab in the operating theatre. Anyway, I drove Melissa – she’s the lucky girl, by the way – to Hastings Conquest Hospital for her caesarean on November 30th. Yes, obviously it was a “sun roof” job – I didn’t get where I am today by hanging around waiting for women’s waters to break.

Too posh to push, is she, you ask? Good heavens, no – she lives in a numbered house. Frightful, I know, and…Ah, can I just check that everybody grasps my sense of humour before I continue in this satirising vein? Let it be said for the record that I have the utmost admiration for women enduring this madness, from kick-off to final whistle: pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, deranged hormonal torrents of abuse etc. All the same, it’s frightfully handy to be issued an exact, unwavering date to turn up as a birthing partner.

‘Have we got everything we need for the hospital?’ asks Melissa pleasantly, glad that I’m in the country. ‘Think so,’ I reply, ‘the flask and sandwiches are packed.’ Her eyes darken a little – an interesting concept, given she’s half French-Moroccan. Let’s say, “narrow menacingly” instead, so you get the gist.

You see, because of the impending epidural, she’s not allowed anything to eat or drink, neither before the operation nor for a good while afterward. ‘Crikey, good job you reminded me,’ I yelp, sitting bolt upright now and skirting her thunderous expression. ‘I nearly forgot the mince pies.’

So here’s the scene: I’m tucking voraciously into a rather splendid picnic whilst Melissa starves on a hospital bed. Her lips are cracked from dehydration, and she’s famished. ‘Ooh, you wouldn’t like this coffee,’ I coo occasionally to pacify her. What? It’s no good raising your eyebrows – I’m supposed to be eating for two now, aren’t I? If this child is to develop into a hale bouncing boy…Wait a minute, why do we say, “bouncing”?

I can almost guarantee that, if dropped from an appreciable height, he would do little more than “thud”, and then bawl his tiny eyes out. Oh, there’s another myth, by the way – that babies cry. Granted, when not sleeping or mucking about with milk, they caterwaul like the clappers, but do you notice any actual tears? Nope, they’re faking it; they’ve got nothing to worry about and no responsibility. Regardless, I need to keep my strength up – to torment this thudding, caterwauling alien when he arrives.

And he’s almost here. In Part Two, if I’ve got any readers left after such a protracted absence, we’ll meet a little boy. The publishing date will be December 14th at 12.00 GMT..