U2 Trucks Follow Russian Armed Escorts (Part 2)..

Namibian and his truckIt was a shambles. Trucks loaded with U2’s equipment were peeling off in different directions: left, right and centre like the Wacky Races.

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.

Rock and roll trucking

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.

Michelin Mat and me

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..

U2 Trucks Follow Russian Armed Escorts (Part 1)..

WHY DO WE HAVE RUSSIAN ARMED ESCORTS?

Unloading on U2 360 Tour

Rock and roll trucks are always assigned security cars in Russia. But why? Will we otherwise be overrun with marauding bandits?

It’s difficult to say, because every time I’ve driven to Russia I’ve had an armed escort. On each occasion I noticed no impoverished brigands lurking in the bushes. Never have I clocked pistol-toting rogues hiding in wooded expanses, eager to ambush me, duff me up and pinch my lorry.

Moscow Mafia? Tip-offs that valuable Western trucks are crossing the border? Sensationalist rumours of a nefarious underworld? I don’t know. But the protection racket is thriving.

Little Dick doesn’t worry about hammering his truck through Russia: ‘On a Motorhead tour once,’ he said, the show was cancelled when we arrived in Moscow. ‘Nobody thought to organise us an escort back to the Latvian border, so we just set off  – two trucks, no security.’ Brave man, Little Dick. Fortunately, he emerged unscathed.

But on the Metallica Tour last year, I got chatting to our armed securityNamibian unloading guys as they posed with guns for a photograph. They admitted to having taken potshots at baddies on occasions. Yep, protection sounds like the way forward, then; I’ve never been a huge fan of bullets in my direction.

The trouble on the U2 Tour, though, was the sheer size of the logistical operation. With a whopping 54 production trucks slipping through the Russian border, co-ordinating who was following whom became a little clouded.

SAFE FROM RUSSIAN HIJACKERS

‘Erm, shouldn’t we have an escort?’ asked Namibian over the CB. We seemed, all of a sudden, to be bereft of any security whatsoever. There was supposed to be eleven cars, each car escorting no more (or fewer) than five trucks. Fine, in theory. But black rock and roll trucks filled the very horizon. And then one of the security guys erred at the turn-off to Murmansk.

Assembling U2 360 Stage Honestly, I’ve never seen such nonsense in all my puff. I waved frantically at colleagues travelling in the opposite direction. Fifty-odd trucks were turning round, having blindly assumed that we were regrouping into the requisite number of trucks per car. Nope. One of the escorts was simply lost. Awfully bad form not to know where you’re going in a job like escorting trucks through iffy territory, no?..

So there we were – Namibian, me and a pal called Dan – barrelling along, heading southeast without a security car. Just the three of us, happily bumbling through a bleak land littered with unremitting hazards. And then we sat in a traffic jam caused by a sleepy trucker mounting the central reservation.

To my surprise, impatient motorists began unscrewing the bolts in the barrier separating the carriageways. A couple of minutes later several cars had turned around rather than wait. The queue shortened considerably.

RUSSIAN MAFIA..

As we began to roll again, a silver van passed us. ATaking a break from truckingn A4 piece of paper was Sellotaped to the back window: “U2 TOUR”, it read. ‘That’s more like it,’ said Namibian. ‘I feel safe again now we’ve got an escort.’ A piece of A4, Namibian? Don’t you think a bandit could whizz down to a stationery shop?

‘The baddies know we’re on this stretch of road,’ I said. ‘So how difficult would it be to whack a sign in the back of a van and lead us to a compound? Within the hour you’ll probably have been disembowelled.’ I broke off momentarily, swerving to avoid an erratically driven Lada.

‘Or the baddies might decide to eat you,’ I continued. ‘Actually, given your size, the latter is quite likely. Nature didn’t skimp; you’d make an excellent stew.’ There was a pause. ‘Oh yeah, never thought of that,’ he replied.

Still, innocent until proved guilty and all that. We followed the silver van, retaining the option of ramming him if he tried any fruity monkey business. Then we reached St. Petersburg..