Dirt Tracks and Dacias..

 

P1100436Where did we get to on the Slayer Tour? Oh yes, Deva in Romania. In my road atlas – which excludes Romania in any detail, as if to say ‘Don’t bother unless essential’ – I’ve now written “Dreadful but no police” for that stretch we did down from Oradea last time. The reason for the dearth of law-enforcers on it? Nobody in their right mind would take that road.

Shall I let you in on a little irony? After being launched out of my seat for a couple of hours over potholes, one hand on the wheel, the other defending soft parts of the body from dislodged umbrellas raining from the top bunk, the authorities had then put up a sign indicating uneven road ahead. Oh, they must have dined out on that one for a while, laughing themselves all the way to the gritting station. (That’s if they had any grit, of course. There’s barely tarmac.)

Having survived this road – a road sharing properties with one described in a 1910 road atlas as ‘Surface becomes a bit loose after Eastbourne’  – it was time for a refreshment stop. Comforting to know I suppose that, well on my way to neural impingement of the spinal column, it was only 1300km or so to Athens. Groan. And it was getting hot – hotter than Satan’s ballbag.

P1100439Romanian Restaurants

 

‘Omelette?’ suggested the stout attendant rather firmly, indicating with her fingers that it would be a man’s omelette made with at least four eggs. Cholesterol seemed to be the least of my concerns in these parts, however – even the grass looked ill.

While I waited, I watched a glassy-eyed, slack-jawed man at a table nearby, wearing an overcoat several sizes too large and incongruously thick for the season – the sort of fellow that collaborates with the end of the dole queue.

He had the air of a wastrel, frankly, ripping the filters off endless cigarettes and drumming his fingers rather than reaching for an improving book. Had he missed the bus and decided to wait three days for the next one? I pondered this as a crinkled-skinned shepherd churned through the entrance in a blunt gait, ordered nothing and then left. What a funny place.

Congested Roads

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Pushing off again – into the seething mass of cattle and battered Dacia 1310s, one car crabbing so badly from being whacked up the arse that it drove forwards at an angle of 45 degrees – I began noticing roadside stalls manned by bandy-legged women.

‘Look, Darling, that woman’s selling plastic bottles of liquid that looks like wee,’ you might say if driving past. Moonshine? Unpasteurised fruit juice? Or actually wee? I wonder who actually stops to buy this refreshing nectar and whether selling three bottles in a day pays the bills.

More intriguingly, though, how do these women become so bow-legged? Surely they weren’t all high-profile cellists in their day. Perhaps the curvature resulted from gripping watermelons between their knees on long journeys over these bumpy roads. Ah, the mysteries of the Balkans…

The Scourge of the Seven Seas..

2013-07-21 14.41.52School’s out, Baby – let’s steal a Ferrari. Yes, the dreaded “end of term” is upon us tomorrow; the provinces will be flooded with children. Help! But as the burlesque of summertime unfolds, there is plenty going on for them to do.

Take last weekend, for example. ‘Arrrgh,’ I roared, tapping my brother on the shoulder as he weaved his way through the ever-shifting crowds. ‘Arrrrgh,’ he growled in return, and turned to continue battling the procession. Shiver me timbers, he didn’t recognise me.

Well, he wouldn’t – I was dressed foppishly. Nothing wrong with wearing eyeliner and having a cock drawn on your bicep in permanent marker, of course, but I ought to explain. Last year Hastings attained a Guinness World Record by having 14,231 “pirates” in the same place – the biggest pirate day in the world. That’s an awful lot of pirates. And parrots.

Scurvy Dog

 

This year, managing by the skin of my teeth to be in the country, I walked down the West Hill to the festivities. Despite a broiling sun, I donned leather trousers – cough, GAY, cough – a bandanna and a wig. Absolute torture. ‘Couldn’t you have dressed as a Somalian?’ asked my father afterwards. ‘They probably wear shorts.’ Smart Alec.2013-07-21 14.28.53

To complement the ensemble, an ersatz telescope with a gold filigree handle poked from my pocket. ‘Wanna see my golden shaft, Poppet?’ I leered to myself in the bathroom mirror, practising before heading down to Blackbeard’s Bazaar. I squinted from behind a skull and crossbones eyepatch.

Keelhauling and Cat O’ Nine Tails

 

‘I can’t sail the Pearl single-handed, you know,’ I continued sotto voce. ‘I’m commandeering you and that bodice till dawn.’ Crumbs, what a pervert – even more perverted, perhaps, than a straight man going to yoga classes. Having made my own skin crawl, I stuck in public to ‘Call me Jack. That’s Captain Jack, if you please.’

But, hello, what’s this? After a couple of quarts of Nelson’s Folly, and posing menacingly for stangers’ cameras, there was something afoot in the beer garden of the Jenny Lind pub. Far away from the gauntlet of freebooting warlords in Hastings High Street, a bottom was being spanked.

Bring ‘er Alongside

 

2013-07-21 18.05.27In broad daylight, a “dom” had become a “sub”. Pressganged into lowering his pants, this scallywag corsair was being soundly thrashed by some brazen upper crust crumpet, each flog of the whip compounding the pain and jiggling her six-pounders.

Jolly Rogers’s bum steadily reddened…until the inevitable, expletive-laden signal was voiced, indicating that his threshold had been reached – the “code word”, I believe they say in the world of S&M. (That’s not Marks & Spencers, if you’re skim reading.)

Well, all jolly suitable stuff for the school holidays, I should say. And 3rd-11th August is Old Town Carnival Week. Goodness knows what’ll happen, but there’ll definitely be pram racing. Do get down to Hastings over the summer if you can..

Be a Trucker for Five Minutes…

2013-06-27 18.57.26Get your map out for a minute. Or open Google Maps if you haven’t got one. The latter might be preferable, actually, given that a) you’re already online and b) Tokaj, Hungary is minuscule, barely even a village. If you can face it, put some Slayer on the stereo, too.

Well, my old wrinkled testicle, you’re now in my shoes. The Hi-Voltage Festival has been cancelled in Istanbul; your next show – you’re driving, remember – is on the seafront in Athens. Which way are you going to go? It’s totally your decision; there is one truck on this Slayer tour and you’re now the driver.

The Balkan Route

 

Wrong! Macedonia was in your route, wasn’t it? Well, Macedonia entails a non-EU border – a ghastly one, at that – and the roads are scarcely fit for chickens. Try again. Yes, you have to pass Sofia (Bulgaria).

Now, given that Romanian roads are made of Playdough and consequently closed in extreme heat when they melt, you could certainly head through Serbia to reach Sofia. Many drivers would. But a) Serbia is also non-EU so you’ll be queuing and b) you can buy cordon bleu, chips and a pint for barely €3 in Romania. See how many factors you need to consider?

P1100437Oh, and it’s two in the morning so have a little nap until daylight if you like. And then let’s have an adventure.

Romanian Road Tax

 

Crumbs, what a good start – the sun is out and the delicious decolletage on the girl selling road vignettes is transfixing. Ooh, and she speaks English. Hooray! Sign her up on Facebook? Oh, don’t be ridiculous. A) When are you next coming through Romania? and B) you’ve got a 1700km drive to do. Focus! So that curio-seller demonstrating a naff pop-up chair at your window can piss off as well.

Right, road tax is paid and you’ve exchanged euros for Romanian lei. You’re off. At Oradea, though, you’ve got a decision to make: the main road to Arad or a “shortcut” down a goat track to Deva.

The Face of Adversity

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Entirely up to you but, as Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘There is no education like adversity,’ so let’s plump for the latter route. I don’t suppose he was bouncing around like the dickens at the time, though, practising emergency stops and dodging goats.

Anyway, I expect you need the loo after the hammering you’ve just taken on the Deva road. Toilets? Well, they’re a concept, certainly, in Romania. But when you find one, don’t make the mistake, as I did, of luxuriating with a book, foolishly assuming that the toilet is actually bolted to the floor.

Put the kettle on and we’ll continue down to Bulgaria next week..

A road would be nice…

P1100424‘Problem?’ asked the Hungarian promoter. I’d rolled in to Hegyalja Festival in Tokaj – near the Ukrainian border – and things looked iffy. A hundred yards away lay the stage, but, coo, what a hundred yards. Muddy? There could have been a tour bus from last year buried in that bog.

‘Well, as a vague sort of rule,’ I replied equably, ‘I try to stay on roads wherever possible.’ The promoter rested his bottom lip on his forefinger, every nerve strained. Money rode on surmounting this trifle. Big money. No truck on the stage equals no equipment equals no Slayer show. The latter is where our Hungarian chum takes the heat.

Rough Terrain

 

P1100430‘We have Manitou forklifts to pull you across,’ he suggested, exhibiting an agitation. Things needed to start moving fairly swiftly now; the morning was almost over. I’d also noticed that the lunch gong ought to be sounded shortly but I daresay our priorities differed at this juncture. ‘Not a chance,’ I answered as gently as possible. ‘The truck rides low and would certainly be damaged.’

The bottom was rapidly dropping out of his day at this point, I felt. The sun, quite literally, had gone behind the clouds. And the poor fellow had that self-reproachful air of being extremely remiss, a little like inviting a busload of pals round for a barbecue in an isolated field and forgetting to order any charcoal. Surely it’s a reasonably simple concept to put down some trackway if expecting a 45ft trailer?

Old Time Rock and Roll

 

P1100429Well, take those records off the shelf, Baby – it’s time to rock and roll. Or whatever it was Bob Seger sang. One minute I’m a hapless toy of fate, drawing the short stick; the next, I’m in the chips, plates of goulash coming thick and fast. With the help of the bus drivers, I’d spotted another route. Hooray! Grass admittedly, but it looked doable.

Bollocks. Thirty seconds later, I was stuck. Still, as Winston Churchill said, ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ Towing irons were taken out of lockers; forklifts were started; kettles were boiled. The stage grew ever nearer. But what about getting out again?

‘We’ll build you a road by tonight,’ he said with conviction. Needless to say, much like my hopes, it turned out to be built of sand. And not only did the sand run out mid-quagmire, but when have you ever seen articulated trucks driving on beaches? Can you see why I’m not a huge fan of festivals now?..