Remember Jonboy from Coventry? Well, he’s my allotted double-driver tonight, and he’s naively expecting an easy night’s work.
Yet within seconds of him taking the wheel, I nearly kill us both with a fire in the cab. Tea making, on tour, should be left to Namibians.
‘Chuck the stove out the window,’ yells Jon rather forcibly, as flames lick the pressurised gas canister. I radio Namibian to alert him to our predicament, suggesting he eases off the – ahem – gas. Silence. He’s probably too busy eating something to reply.
Hanging out the window, holding the stove, I am in two minds: if I don’t hurl the fireball soon, an explosion could shatter our windscreen and irrevocably maim us; but if I do launch it, the potential bounce could hit Namibian’s truck – he’s following fairly closely behind.
Just then, the flames snuff out naturally in the wind and Namibian’s radio crackles into life. ‘Did you say something a minute ago, Love?’ he asks.
Honestly, there’s no sense of urgency with these chaps from the southern hemisphere. Disaster averted, what we desperately need now is a nice cup of tea.
‘Milk, no sugar, Jon?’ I check. I light the stove once more – at arm’s length this time.
Ah, now I mentioned eastern European borders in the last blog. And tonight’s dickens of a drive is littered with them. The first one – entering Hungary – is a breeze but leaving definitely leaves something to be desired. After a cordial greeting from a policewoman – to lull me into a false sense of security – things take a decidedly precipitous turn.
A misdemeanour, which I shan’t dwell on for professional reasons, results in another fine. Oh OK, so I’m a trifling, piddling, hardly-worth-mentioning 2500 kgs overweight on the drive axle – I might as well admit it. Told you this rigging was heavy stuff, didn’t I?
And the fine is considerable – it’s an even larger one this time than the one I received in March from that despicable female termite employed by the Italian police.
For those that have forgotten, the reptilian harridan seemed rather put out by my peeing discreetly in a bush.
Anyway, back to the present levy at the frontier with Serbia. Alarms are going off on the border weighbridge, a weighing scale that is almost certainly tipped in the Hungarians’ favour. I phone the lead driver for advice. ‘Just pay it,’ he answers decisively. ‘You’ll be reimbursed on show day in Belgrade.’
Rightyho. That’s the answer I was expecting. Now, how much is 300,000 Hungarian shitters worth in a sensible currency? A calculator is produced at the kiosk. Jeepers, that equates to about €1100.
As luck would have it, I just happen to have €1150 floating around the cab – ooh, I know, how the other half live. So I can afford to swagger around the compound unfazed by financial demands, knowing I’ll still have a few coppers left for a sandwich.
Changing money in what is fundamentally a shed turns out to be simple; paying the blooming fine seems to be less so. Hanging around with my wheelbarrow full of local currency, I begin to pace. But it does little good – the Hungarian border is bathed in lassitude and inactivity. Doors are locked; walls are stared at.
Now if I had an office, I would leave the door invitingly ajar, dealing with people as they needed me, closing it only for the time it takes to photocopy a secretary’s bottom. Here, trying to enter former Yugoslavia, the downtrodden proletariat seems to wait interminably, acquiescent. I begin to get cross.
Get too cross, however, and the jig is up. The more irate these faceless bureaucrats see you become, the longer the wait. Namibian makes me another flask, which remarkably fixes everything in an instant.
The next bit – entering Serbia – is rather jollier than leaving Hungary. The chubby clerk, sitting in a booth, leafs through my passport, seeing my next of kin (father) listed as Rodney.
‘Like “Only Fools and Horses”? Ha ha,’ he chuckles. ‘You are Delboy, no?’ The rubber stamps descend and, after five hours of border misery, I can now start enjoying my birthday.
Yes, that’s right, I said it’s my birthday. And what a way to spend it – in a big rig convoy through Eastern Europe. Erm, that’s angling for sympathy, if you missed the shriekingly obvious hint.
Our paperwork duly completed, our motley group of five trucks roll down to Belgrade together – taking photographs of signposts in Cyrillic, and dodging tram buses en route – to a stadium that can’t accommodate juggernauts. This is a blessing in disguise, actually.
We enter what we call a ‘boneyard’ (an area to leave trucks) near the Partizan Stadium, and park with our back doors open, letting ageing, smaller Zastava trucks take our equipment up a hill and into the gig. The smell of their burning clutches pervades the hot air..
(Oh, and when I say five trucks, I mean ever so slightly fewer. Poor old Namibian becomes separated in the chaos of Belgrade traffic – he pays a taxi driver to lead him to the stadium. Bless him.)