I needn’t explain the concept of double-driving on tour, need I? All you have to know is that these beastly tour dates, coupled with absurdly complex tachograph regulations, require a second man to assist with the long drives. I suppose it could be a second woman, but it rarely is. That said, we did have an “it” out with us a few years back, a mysterious hermaphrodite. Nobody was quite sure whether it was a man or a woman.
Anyway, regardless of who or what is piloting, the bottom line is that the truck continues to roll for up to twenty hours straight; notions of stopping for a quick round of golf in say, Saarbrucken are heavily frowned upon. Not a bad thing, actually, because neither of us have rackets with us. Oh sorry, I mean bats.
Think seriously for a moment about twenty hours of confinement in a small space with a stranger. Perfectly ghastly, eh? Yes, indeed. A good deal of those twenty hours is spent speaking ineffable twaddle out of boredom, sulking in stony silence borne out of a crossed word, or sleeping. There is certainly room for huge clashes of personalities…which is why I get in touch with the office in advance.
My first choice of co-driver is “Wrecker” Jon, but he’s unavailable this year. Rumours are being bandied that he has moved into the sphere of biochemistry, yet I happen to know that he works in a shop selling equipment for growing your own dope. Hydroponics is the technical term, I believe. But, however you look at it, flogging UV lamps for nurturing marijuana hardly constitutes the lofty heights of a biochemist.
My second choice is “Frankenstein” Al. The soubriquet was tauntingly applied by vindictive schoolboys many years ago, and I now take great pleasure in rekindling it on the internet. Those rotten children had a point though – his forehead is indeed an unfathomable expanse. ‘Yes, it’s larger than strictly necessary,’ Al concurs. Actually, when his beard is at its wispiest, he is also Rasputin’s double, but we’ll stick with Frankenstein.
Al is a top egg. He’s an excellent driver, confident yet showing appropriate deference in what is fundamentally my home away from home. And he’s a bally good laugh. You see, my biggest fear when receiving double drivers into the cab is not poor driving skills. Neither is it their sexual proclivities. Come to that, I don’t even mind gaspingly unfit, spherical chaps drinking Cola by the gallon and needing constant loo stops and cigarette breaks. No, the clincher for me is proper lorry drivers.
My heart simply sinks when a man hops aboard brimming with inane trucking argot. ‘Scania 143, eh? Fook me, pulls like a train,’ they’ll begin. I’ll try and steer the conversation to a more interesting topic but trucking is sometimes the only thing we have in common. ‘Course the E-Tronic gearbox is nowt like the Eaton Twinsplitter. I were coming out of Milan once with groupage,..’ they might continue. Ten minutes of this sort of drivel is enough to have me reaching for the cyanide pills, let alone twenty hours. This is why I’ve booked Frankenstein.
‘Ooh, my legs,’ he complains, hopping into the passenger seat in Paris. I assume he’s fatigued from a couple of laps round the Stade de France looking for my truck (there are twenty-eight other black ones that look mighty similar in the dark). ‘Tennis,’ he elaborates. ‘And I might have pulled a muscle swimming. Hotel pool was a bit on the cold side, though.’ Well, my heart bleeds. These bloody double drivers, at vast though necessary expense to the rock and roll industry, have enjoyed a couple of leisure days. Yes, while tour drivers have been slogging away organising two drunken barbecues, the double drivers have had a ripe old time.
‘One of our lot slept in a shop doorway, and another one got into a fight with a transvestite,’ he recounts. Well, that’s hardly unusual touring behaviour, but there’s more. ‘And one of them was so drunk that a prostitute gave him his money back.’ Honestly, heaven knows where the office finds these bounders. In comparison, my hour of trombone practice and a stroll round St. Denis Cathedral rather pales into insignificance.
Frankenstein heaves his suitcase into the trailer and clambers aboard once more. ‘God, my buttocks,’ he groans as I make him a nice cup of tea for the journey. There is then a brief lull while I snooze for four hours and twenty-eight minutes. Now, it’s a curious enough sensation to wake twelve inches away from a Derbyshire man, but this morning something else seems amiss.
Hello? We are in deepest rusticity here, negotiating a right angle on a road barely wide enough to accommodate a goat. And Frankenstein is making a dickens of a job changing gears, as though there is an impostor behind the wheel. ‘Don’t be alarmed, dear,’ he soothes as I rub sleep from my eyes and draw the interior curtain. ‘We’re only three kilometres from Forrenbach.’ Is that where we want to be then? Does this town lie on the A9 motorway to Dresden? ‘I don’t know, I can’t see it on the map,’ he admits. ‘But it sounds like the right sort of area.’
He’s missed his junction apparently but, rather than double back, he’s deeming it propitious to go native through unquestionably unsuitable villages, drawing stares from sun-leathered denizens. What makes matters a trifle worse is that he’s left his wallet, containing passport and driving licence, under the mattress in his French hotel. This, frankly, would be a horrendous place to be collared by German Mr. Plod and asked for documents.
‘Whatho Klaus,’ we would begin. ‘Ah, now it’s like this, old bean…bitte. About these documents you’d like to run your retina over…’ I can picture the handcuffs already. It doesn’t bear thinking about. As Frankenstein’s punishment, there is to be no more kettle-boiling until he is either in the right gear or on the right road. Both would be nice.
About an hour from Dresden, he pipes up again. ‘I say, would you be a poppet and do the last hour into town for me?’ Well, it does impinge on finishing a Stephen Fry novel, but I guess it’s only fair now that we’ve finally escaped narrow thoroughfares. ‘Dashed decent of you,’ he says, and scoffs the last butter biscuit. Bloody double drivers..