Tina Turner: Vienna to Antwerp..

Namibian became flustered last night. Unclear trucking instructions, delivered second-hand, plunged him into a fit of frantic gesticulating and wheezing.

He stormed past me, sullen and jowly, like a bulldog that’s just licked urine from a nettle. Two hours later, with loaded trucks, the radio crackles.

‘Hang on, Barny,’ he says, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’ Oh, great. This from a man who told me not two days ago what good health he is enjoying. I briefly wonder whether I should retrieve my stove from his cab, but a few seconds later, between oesophagus-displacing coughing bouts, he tells me he’s OK. What a drama queen: it’s probably only angina again.

It was 1000km from Hannover to Vienna; now it is 1100km to Antwerp. The next concert after that is Zurich. Remember I suggested that these itineraries are  determined by cocaine-fuelled executives throwing darts at a map of continental Europe?

Well, thank heavens that a particularly limp-wristed lunge didn’t have us all trundling down to Istanbul instead. There are two travel days to reach Antwerp, so barely an hour up the autobahn sees us fast asleep for what remains of the night. After all, yesterday was my third consecutive day without an afternoon nap.

Parking tonight is at Geiselwind truckstop in Bavaria. Namibian upsets the blameless ‘dinner lady’ (waitress) with his terse mannerisms and pidgin German. His pork is too tough, which he indicates by making a sawing motion to her with his knife. The knife slides through the meat like soft butter.

He storms over to Burger King, tail between his legs. Meanwhile the rest of us exhaust the topics of lorries and perverts over a few surprisingly strong Kulmbacher beers.

Truckers, with so much time on their hands to muse – and I’m being serious here – actually make rather good philosophers. A conundrum emerges among our clan: what is the difference between a reason and an excuse?

A think tank in The Pentagon could chew on that for months but, at Transam Trucking Ltd, one of our team instantly remembers an incident at school which hits the nail on the head. ‘I was told off once, for putting my hand up a skirt. I had a reason but it was no excuse.’


Tina Turner in Vienna..

The right to be heard, or in this case read, does not include the right to be taken seriously.

It has occurred to me, though, that, now I’m writing so prodigiously, my trucker pals might disown me, regarding me as the lone ranger. I must compensate with virile displays of testosterone.

A thuggish nameplate for the front windscreen perhaps? Or maybe showering less and murdering the occasional prostitute would do the trick?

After a balmy eleven degrees yesterday, this morning is foul and depressing. Even the house-wife prostitutes, not fifty yards away on Felberstrasse under umbrellas, do little to lift one’s spirits.

The scene is marginally brightened by two luxurious carriages from The Orient Express but, among the squalor, I half expect them to be riddled with resident heroin-users.

(We each have our own puddle to park in, just so you know; my Vienna walking tour looks doomed.)

Pedestrians waiting patiently for the “green man” in this country are beginning to annoy me. I feel such a lawless brute venturing across an empty street in Austria or Germany, or indeed German-speaking parts of Switzerland, watched disapprovingly by other bipeds.

Today, they wait gormlessly for the light to change, in the rain. Yes, I know it’s the law, but it’s frustrating beyond belief when there is little traffic. I decide eventually to risk the astringent stares, darting demonically through the five-hundred-metre gap between vehicles.

With the weather inclement, there is little to do but read. So, in the absence of observations from the Austrian capital, I’ll relate a little dialogue that took place over the headphones during Tina Turner’s show last night.

To pass the time, “on cans” before the show, we’ve been exploring the derivation of words. Yes, rather an erudite idea, and right up my “strasse”.

Last night, however, we were treated to a crew member’s report from a hotel room, where access to the pornography channel was blocked. Ringing through to reception, he asked: ‘Is my porn disabled?’ The voice at the other end, suitably taken aback, replied: ‘Ugh, Sicko, it’s just regular porn.’

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger; this is unadulterated gossip from backstage and ought to be turned into a BBC documentary.

The other all-time favourite hotel room tale, of course, is telephoning the madam of a brothel and explaining the unspeakable acts you’d like to perform when the lithe young call-girl arrives, only to be met with the embarrassing response: ‘You need 9 for an outside line, sir.’

Backstage, tapping away at a ridiculously small laptop, my friend “Mystic” says nothing, yet everything. He is wearing earplugs permanently now, to tune out the oral twaddle:

‘I don’t want to hear it, Barnaby. They’re talking about peep shows and masturbation.’ Oh, only another few months to go..

Hamburg – Vienna

If you were to hide a camera in a building overnight, where would be the last place you’d choose?

Astute trucker, Joe, chose the oven, then got drunk and slept in. You can see what’s coming… By the time he emerges today, lunch is prepared, and those reckless caterers haven’t checked the cooking area for electronic devices. “Melted” would be an understatement.

My German friend Norbert – ‘from a wery small willage’ – introduced his considerably younger girlfriend last night. He is overtly flouting an unwritten rule, apparently: Germans and Austrians do not, I’m told, see eye to eye. This relationship works, however, because Norbert is from Bavaria, once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Some years ago, Norbert stayed in my house as a foreign student learning English. Substantially his junior, I was nevertheless referred to as ‘my host daddy’.

Like me, he is something of an international gadder, so I called him yesterday to check he was actually in Vienna.

‘How are you?’ I began simply and slowly. ‘In the office,’ he replied, showing a worrying regression since leaving my tutelage.

‘HOW, not where,’ I persisted conversationally. Actually, his English is excellent, save for a few delightful mispronunciations.

In fact, we ended up chatting over Campari until 3am last night. I know, it’s not a very “cool” drink for someone in their early thirties, but it’s trendier than tea? I’m trying. And fine, if you’re going to be pedantic, I’m mid-thirties, I suppose.

Now, the complaints have started among the trucking fraternity on the Tina Turner tour: our railway siding parking area in Vienna comes without toilets.

The nearest are at the station, a ten-minute walk , which, quite rightly, upsets Namibian, needing to “go” at five o’clock in the morning. A simple matter like this, while the rest of the crew enjoy en-suite hotel bathrooms, breeds unrest.

While I cycle contentedly around the city – I re-visit a 16th century trombone in the Antiquities Museum; the instrument, then known as a sackbut, has changed little in the last 500 years – others have time to brood. In fairness, most of my colleagues will have been to Vienna fifty times compared to my seven or eight visits over the last ten years or so. They have become jaded.

‘Crouchers are better for you than Western toilets,’ Captain Birds Eye informs me, cryptically, then bombards me with statistics regarding bowel cancer in Europe versus Asia.  I think, however, we can safely attribute the marked difference in figures to diet rather than squatting techniques.

After a brief foray into toothless ferrets again – ‘they can give you a nasty suck’ – matters inevitably turn to sex.

Birds Eye, hogging conversation on occasions says: ‘Cos of the tablets, I have to book an erection two weeks in advance.’

I could of course choose to omit these quotes, but I think you can better empathise if they are included? People are for ever telling me what a great job I have, but look what I have to put up with.

Other colleagues start to arrive in Catering, glum-faced and bereft of cash, bitterly regretting late-night negotiations in the nearby brothel…


Wonder what the “L” on Trucks Stands For?..

Needless to say, our Go-Boxes have a problem. So, we pull in to the nearest garage before being frogmarched down to a police station.

Wow, what a splendid selection of top-shelf reading material adorning the magazine rack, I muse. And when I say “top-shelf”, I actually mean bottom shelf, thrust upon the innocent customer popping in to buy fuel or a newspaper, a little bit like those internet pop-up boxes.

Take “Buttlust”, for example: a pricey Canadian publication, billed as the ‘magazine for fanny fanatics.’ This translates poorly for the British male reader, possibly expecting quality snaps of female genitalia.

Yes, blame the North Americans for once again butchering the English slang and causing bewilderment. I open the glossy pages for a brisk ogle – for journalistic ends, and arguably for enlightenment – while Namibian sorts out the tax.

6th February:

I can’t stand the rain, ‘gainst my windows…’ Nor can I, Tina, but it’s more of a damp mist than actual rain, the sort of weather one associates with Eastern European border crossings…and England.

This lack of sunshine, and its life-giving Vitamin D, is cracking the skin round my eyes. Or is it simply ageing? Or something more sinister? Whatever. But “Mystic” (mentioned in the last blog), at 41, guesses he might be younger than I, a mere whippersnapper of 33. Perhaps he’s just being nasty because his earplug-wearing antics are now recorded in cyberspace.

Or maybe it’s because I behave like an old git, storming out of bars in Sri Lanka, for instance, amid lasers and dry ice, because I could no longer see the columns of The Telegraph.

Regardless, Mystic was ‘verbally attacked’ later that day for wearing earplugs in the crew dining room; by doing so, he was tacitly implying that the caterers’ choice of music was naff. He’s a bit under the weather at the moment, unbalanced after losing a nasal hair.

And no, the green “L” on my truck is not an abbreviation of “learner”, thank you very much. Briefly, the Austrians require heavy trucks to have what’s called a “hush kit” fitted around the engine if travelling at night. I know, if I could travel during the day I would.

Anyway, the L indicates that this kit has been fitted. Occasionally, one has to show the accompanying paperwork before being allowed to proceed.

I’ll try and keep trucking stuff to a bare minimum in future, but I think it helps you to empathise? My only way to know if factual information has your eyes drooping is if you comment. And while I’m asking questions, any thoughts on constantly using the present tense?

There are two types of road tax here in Austria: pre-pay and post-pay. ‘What, you’ve got to pay by post?’ asks a poker-faced Namibian. Isn’t he adorable?

He assures me, incidentally, that his health is fantastic as he unwraps a 300g bar of milk chocolate..

Tina Turner Tour Cancelled?..

Breaking news: Disaster!

Namibian, increasingly the protagonist in this blog, has burnt out the socket that powers our kettle. We’re keeping our spirits up while trying to keep it from Tina; she’d only worry if she knew the tour was potentially jeopardised by such a pressing matter.

Fortunately, as an old campaigner, and in the event of Namibian’s ebbing health ebbing further, I have a gas stove and spare kettle in the side locker. So, with staunch resolve, the essential items are brought out.

Hot drink accessories are transferred between trucks – you didn’t think that I was going to adopt the role of tea-maker, did you? – and everybody can breathe a sigh of relief. The next concert is still on. Though, if I had to go to Vienna, I wouldn’t start from Hannover.

Hannover doesn’t have the same appeal as Venice or Berlin or Barcelona, does it? The city has its sights, I’m sure, but today we have time constraints for sightseeing. Often with rock n roll tours, there is just one day in each city.

Mornings spell unloading and leisurely breakfasts reading newspapers; afternoons often involve little naps. Remember, trucks in this industry generally travel at night. I’m sure you’ve all seen eighteen-wheelers drifting between lanes at night, drivers’ heads lolling? Sleeping whilst driving is a little risky.

After a little nap – heavens, these hours are hideously unsociable – Namibian brings me the perfect flask of tea, with removed teabag, and a selection of biscuits in a napkin. Things are looking up.

As I stretch, fighting off lethargy and hypothermia, he pads about with kitchen roll, cleaning my mirrors. Ever seen The Odd Couple? Look at the kettle photo – pure Walter Matthau. He’s just hidden his unfashionable underpants, drying by the night heater, from the camera.

What’s a night heater, you ask? Well, although trucking is a little like camping, we have the added advantage of keeping comfortably snug at night without eiderdown sleeping bags. A small diesel pump ticks away throughout the night, draining the batteries but keeping the driver warm.

The temperature is controllable on a thermostat but, if set too high, it can still get a little steamy inside the cab. So, with windows lowered four inches, and curtains drawn, the intrepid trucker can snooze naked throughout a snowstorm. Hooray!

I suppose I should at least mention road tax throughout Europe. Oh god, do you have to? Well, I’ll skate swiftly over the issue because it is an incontrovertibly dull subject to readers other than truck enthusiasts. To cut a long story short, then, almost every country in Europe – off the top of my head, this excludes the UK, Finland and Latvia – charges trucks to use its roads.

Some countries use tolls, some a daily vignette system. Austria, which we are now entering, has a “Go-Box” which affixes rather ferociously to the windscreen. It beeps once each time the truck passes under a toll gantry.

Two beeps or more means there is a problem with the payment. ‘Halt immediately’, in other words, or you will be fined a fortune. Will we be OK? Come back tomorrow..

Tina Turner Tour – Hamburg to Hannover..

Tina was building up the blues last night…

‘He was blinded by the blackness of my long silk stockings…’ Phwoar! Dancers pout suggestively, undressing me with their eyes. Of course, they can’t actually see a thing, dazzled by bright spotlights, but it seems like they are seducing me, and me alone.

Great video feed follows them, from a filthy angle, up the stairs, in their school blouses and fishnets. Overdressed, I agree.

We’re heading for a climax – not necessarily musical – when the lighting director cuts in over the headphones: ‘How far’s the drive to Hannover tonight?’ I try to ignore her, immersed in a wonderful world of my own, but then: ‘And where do we go after Vienna?’ Aagh, look in the tour itinerary, Kathy, like everybody else?

The mesmerising moment passes but there is more to come – namely the massive build-up to “Goldeneye”, in which we’re treated to a display by a young lady in a deliciously tight leotard.

It is The Girl with The Golden Bum, arching provocatively in her figure-hugging outfit. But the lighting director’s voice cuts in once again, humming the famous Bond theme tunelessly. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow night.

Now, more importantly, Namibian has made a faux pas. As you may have surmised, I am partial to the odd cup of tea; for staying awake at night, however, tea is pretty hopeless. Coffee is the thing.

So guess what Namibian has gone and done now? Yes, he’s made a flask of tea for my overnight drive – and he has the temerity to complain that I haven’t washed out the thermos flask from two days ago. I think he’s slipping, you know. It hasn’t come to me buying my own kettle yet but..

Captain Birds Eye is cryptic again this morning – we’ve now arrived safely in Hannover – while eyeing a young lady with a face like a smacked bottom. She is a local girl, assisting with the unfurling of tablecloths, washing-up, peeling potatoes etc., in the catering room. The girl is quite simply fed up, probably with ageing, perverted truck drivers.

But Birds Eye is undeterred. ‘What she needs is some giggling pin,’ he says, his meaning as clear as mud. We look nonplussed. ‘Cockney rhyming slang,’ he explains, ‘like septic tank – yank; apples and pears – stairs; giggling pin – cock.’ Oh, honestly. How many more months of this tour must I endure?

You know how films sometimes announce that the views and comments within the motion picture are not necessarily those expressed or endorsed by the film-makers? Right, well you can apply that to this blog..

More Tina Turner Tour..

Nineteen truckers wonder why we are awake at two o’clock in the morning.

Remember Tina Turner has twenty trucks on this European tour? Right, well all tours have a driver that oversees truck movements – known as a “lead driver”.

His job is to liaise with the production team and supervise truck unloading in the order that “production” require. He/she will hereon be referred to as “Number One”.

Our instructions from Number One were to drive the whopping whole kilometre from the truck parking area back to the Color Line Arena, yet not “load-in” any equipment until after 7am. We moaned and groaned: it is the prerogative of the lowly truck driver to whinge about conditions, even though this tour has so far been money for old rope.

The thing about entertainment touring, though, is that the trucks simply must be ready when needed. Consequently, five hours early is not that unreasonable. After all, trucks can be whimsical beasts, choosing not to start at the most crucial of times.

If, however, the vehicle is more or less in position the night before, what can go wrong? No engine firing up? No problem. We can push the equipment the last hundred yards. And after such a hectic week’s sightseeing, 2am does seem a trifle early.

Breakfast in “Catering”, which Namibian insists on calling “the canteen”, yields a wealth of blog material. ‘I had a pet whale once,’ says one driver. Hmm. I frown in disbelief. ‘Well OK, it was a guinea pig, but it looked like a whale,’ he clarifies.

We move onto the topic of the hopeless situation back in the UK, where a sprinkling of snow is plunging the country into chaos, grinding the entire transport network to a halt.

‘You could sprinkle immigrants on the road instead of grit,’ suggests our Captain Birds Eye look-a-like. As I prepare a withering stare, my friend “Mystic” enters, looking delicate about the gills.

He is carrying a filthy, tea-stained mug that draws winces and cries of anguish from the catering girls (or ‘dinner ladies’ as Namibian calls them, oblivious to the derogatory slant). Mystic’s mug has already been banned once from Catering on this tour.

‘It’s no good sprinkling Poles on the road. They’d be too slippery,’ Captain Birds Eye continues. Oh, ha ha, very droll. Another driver, between mouthfuls of fried egg, says: ‘Romanians would be better, because they’d romain here.’

I’m unsure where this rapier wit is heading but I detect a whiff of xenophobia, and glance at Mystic. He adjusts his earplugs, and eyes the slowly warming tea urn in anticipation. We agree that listening to only half of the conversation in catering would be more than enough.

The Russian internet hottie, mentioned in the last blog, has now copied and pasted yet another pearl of epic literature to my hotmail in-box. Yet I smell a rat. Her writing is the sort of stilted English that makes no sense. And she ignores my replies, ploughing straight into undying love instead. Yes, she’ll have to go.
And so will I. The trucks have to rumble south to Hannover tonight – it’s a full two-hour drive, so I’m off for a nap..

Two Tina Turner Tour Drivers Sneak Off to Sulfeld..

There are those that do the bare minimum, becoming bored easily; and there are others who live life to the full, looking on any situation as an opportunity.

Namibian, therefore, dozes off to a DVD whilst I make a Grand Tour of Sulfeld.

This sleepy hamlet is not a village, our host Frank assures me, but a bustling metropolis. Well, I’ll be the judge of that.

Aha! There are two bakeries: a sure sign of a town worth visiting as far as I’m concerned. And one can even have a haircut here. A walk round the communal pond seems a little safer than trekking alongside the golf course where stray balls have been known to maim the odd pedestrian.

On my return, Namibian is wheezing in his sleep. A pal through thick and thin, I take a photograph and wake him. And do you know what he says? He makes the daft suggestion that I start making my own tea.

We gloss over this height of audacity, get the kettle boiling, and then it’s time for some music. A few trombone scales, admittedly a little shaky and tuneless, cement my banishment to the garage – which is cold.

Frankly, I’m always amazed that people – and plump people, at that – can go the whole day without anything to eat. Frank, at 11am, without so much as a croissant to commence the day, is quite content to wait until dinner when I ask what he would like from the bakery.

I query how he can be so much fatter than me; we put it down to booze and lack of exercise.

The rest of the day is spent deciding how to word an email to a Russian girl – a stunner from behind the Iron Curtain. She has latched onto my internet dating profile like a Cape Fur Seal eyeing up a plump young gannet.

Presumably she would like a passport through marriage, but one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. There is a chance – OK, perhaps just a mere scintilla of a possibility – that this could be true lust, I mean love.

As I’m pontificating on how best to find out her intentions without appearing too callous, Namibian quite literally explodes at the dining table.

‘Oh, I can sit and burp for hours,’ he says, sipping a cappuccino and lighting up yet another West cigarette. How nice it is, we think sitting here in comfort, to be paid every day, and have friends all over Europe..

A German Couple I met in Sri Lanka..

Ingo and Meryam, a couple I’d met in Sri Lanka, happen to live round the corner from Frank.

After a brief phone call, over they come, armed with tea leaves from the subcontinent. My eyes light up; others seem indifferent, reaching for the treasure chest of alcohol bottles instead.

On the south-west coast of Sri Lanka – or “Ceylon” as the odd pompous fart in Britain (like me) still calls the island – Ingo’s nationality had quickly become evident. While lounging on the beach discussing a restaurant for lunch, he suggested an eatery: ‘It is eight minutes by feet,’ he said.

Yes, he could only be German. Or possibly Swiss or Austrian. Anyway, later, he apologised in case his German efficiency was in question – the walk took nine minutes due to a bus completely blocking the road.

‘Ach so’ in German, I am told, means ‘really?’, though not necessarily as a question – it can be used as a reply when something of interest is said. The funny thing about ‘ach so’ is the extraordinary likeness, when spoken by a German speaker, to ‘arsehole’.

I decide to use this riveting revelation when Ingo demonstrates a restoring function on my laptop, just after he presses Alt F5. ‘Arsehole,’ I cry, delighted with my deliberate mispronunciation, and wondering why the rest of the room is regarding me as though a ghastly apparition.

Impressed with my grasp of German? As an event trucker in Europe I expect you’re wondering how fluent my European languages are? Well, I long ago gave up learning any language that ascribes a sex to such mundane items as tables.

The French regard a table as a woman – odd, but I’m accepting it – yet the Germans refer to it as a man. With logic like this, my excuse is that I may just as well stick with the marvellously expressive medium of English.

The subtext, of course, is that I am useless at learning another tongue, but don’t really like to admit it on those terms alone. And I’ve already forgotten what Alt F5 does..

Namibians and Mainecoons

A hundred yards is regarded as a good walk in Namibian’s book.

Now, remember that we sleep in trucks on the Tina Turner Tour? Right, well today we are not parked as cosily as normal – our lorries are parked approximately one hundred yards apart. If you live in Europe, and are happy to approximate distances, a yard is three feet. That didn’t help, did it? OK, well, a yard is pretty similar to a metre.

My mobile phone beeps, indicating an incoming text message from Namibian. It says: ‘flask ov tea is made wen u wake.’

Good heavens, has the advent of the cellular telephone led to the destruction of the English language, I wonder, with a tinge of melancholy? It has certainly led to a breakdown in communication.

Now, you will be pleased to know that this was how Namibian spelled words to start with, and so texting has made little or no difference in his case. I grasp his gist – that my pink thermos is steaming and awaiting collection from his cab – and make a dash through the snow.

He really is a lovely man, looking after me faithfully. The other eighteen truckers can make their own blasted tea as far as we’re concerned.

Oh, I’d better introduce Frank. And quickly. That picture in the last blog, of me holding a cat the size of a puma? That was at Frank’s place. So, now that we know who Frank is, he can arrive again – in a wonderfully-dented blue van, its ashtray bursting at the seams.

Once more, he has driven across the city of Hamburg to collect us, bringing us back to his paradisaical abode north of Hamburg.

Namibian has realised that he must shuffle around Frank’s house, feet splayed, to avoid stepping on mainecoon cats. We agree that, him weighing around 128kg, a misplaced sock could easily pulverize one of these €700 animals. The house is congested with them. Cats, not Namibians.

Frank’s wife, the smiley Miriam, maintains that we are welcome to stay, providing we can remember the names of all six mainecoons. Well, that was what she jokily demanded last year, which led to a jolly little game on tour with Frank.

For six weeks last summer touring with Lou Reed – remember “Walk on the Wild Side”?  – Frank allowed me three guesses per day until I had come up with all six names.

In the end, he had to tell me the genders and the first letter of each animal – which narrowed things down considerably. Even so, these are cat names we’re talking about: think Indigo rather than a more obvious guess of Imogen.

Now, just in case Miriam was to interrogate me on arrival, I had written the names down, taking the precaution of bringing the piece of paper with me. But I’m not sure why I mentioned all that now..