Hapless colleagues were led through the centre of St. Petersburg; others were seen heading the wrong way round the ring road. Oh, what a rigmarole. It became increasingly clear that our armed escorts had little idea how to reach Moscow.
The scrumptious irony is that it’s a straight road – bumble down the M10 and you’ve cracked it.
THE RUSSIAN ARMY
In the nineties we had serious escorts: the Russian army. Our chaperones carried big boys’ toys back then. I have a photo from ’98 of a soldier in my truck – he’s proudly brandishing a Kalashnikov. Back then, there was certainly a real risk of loads and vehicles being pinched, and drivers left in a bad way.
Anyway, back to 2010 and the U2 360 Tour.
Nowadays, we are sometimes assigned “proper” security – guys with uniforms, radio mics, knives and rifles. Other times we get ordinary blokes with cars. Must be the recession. And when I say “ordinary blokes”, I mean feckless fools following satnavs. One at least hopes there might be a bazooka in the boot? Yeehah – shoot-outs and road-blocks. “Ten four, rubber dick.”
Remember that Namibian, Dan and I were last seen following a silver van? That’s right – you were yearning for Namibian to be lightly fried and gulped down with chilli sauce by the baddies. Sorry to disappoint you. That piece of A4 was for real; one of the good guys was driving the van.
But he wasn’t hoofing it enough for my liking. And he was engrossed in checking his satnav on the St. Petersburg ring road. Right, well we hadn’t got all day. ‘Jesus Barny, you’re not supposed to overtake the escort,’ cried Namibian over the CB. I could hear his larynx on the point of collapse.
USING A MOBILE PHONE WHILST DRIVING
My phone buzzed. ‘Useless. Our escort went wrong three times,’ read the text message. Of course, cognisant of handheld mobile phone laws, I’d stopped to read the text message. But would it really have mattered if I’d kept thundering pell-mell down the M10? Is probity relative?
I mean, when other motorists are undertaking, driving without lights, drinking heavily and ramming fruit salesmen to death with Volvos, one’s slant on legality is altered. Try and embrace that philosophy because…in for a penny, in for a pound. Michelin Mat was now on the phone.
‘Oh whatho Barnaby,’ he cooed, obviously wanting something. ‘I say, we seem to have lost our escort. Would you mind swinging past our parking area and picking us up?’ Well, I was about to tell him that one has one’s code and oughtn’t he to be less careless in future, when I realised that my little convoy had a leader only by dint of luck.
Well, when I say “leader”, I mean collie. The official escort car was busy rounding up errant Namibians engrossed in biscuit tins rather than concentrating on keeping the hammer down. Technically, I was playing shepherd in our group. But no need to split hairs. ‘Rightho Matthew, be with you in a tick,’ I replied.
U2 TRUCKS FINALLY REACH MOSCOW
There they were: six forlorn truckers pacing in a dusty roadside yard. Pleasantries swiftly completed – and a quick glance at the communal map – we headed back out onto the pocked surface of the M10. Gentleman Steve, a veteran of mischief, soon peeled off down a shortcut, leaving me at the head of an eight-truck convoy.
The mobile phone trilled again. Blast, this was costing me a fortune.
‘Paul, old chap,’ I gushed, wondering who the dickens was on the receiver. Meanwhile, a welter of hazards loomed in front of the windscreen. ‘I’ve got your Coffeemate, crosswords and polos,’ he said, oblivious to the mayhem at my end. ‘Anything else you’d like while I’m at the airport?’ The penny dropped. ‘Ah, Fat Paul,’ I said emphatically. He was flying out to Moscow to double drive me on the next tour leg to Vienna.
Fat Paul is now stored under “F” in my phone. More about him another time. But I’ll just tell you that he’s the only man I know who gets an itch in the middle of his leg. No, not in an area between ankle and tallywacker; I mean actually deep down in his veins. How weird is that? I’ve caught him thumping his thigh a number of times..