The River Elbe and Metallica..


There’s been no need to “turn” Namibian, as it happens. In fact, he’s up and about, eager for exercise, like an asthmatic gazelle.

The weather remains unfavourable, the mercury up to about 1 degree by late morning. Midday on the Tina Turner Tour passes as miserably as the earlier hours.

‘I can hear my blood pressure,’ says Captain Birds Eye, over a bowl of cereal. Short of consulting a doctor, I can’t argue, but that sounds unlikely. Does he mean tinnitus?

The dastardly duo – that’s Namibian and yours truly, if you were wondering – board a train into the historic port city of Hamburg, heading immediately for the nearest shopping mall to escape the biting wind.

Namibian begins to sweat; he’s wearing tracksuit bottoms underneath his jeans, and umpteen cardigans. I deliberately browse in a leisurely fashion, choosing a non-specific brand of blank DVD, partly enjoying his discomfort but mainly because, only singly layered, I’m still frozen.

Now, I like to include the occasional travel tip in my blogs – a useful guide included in what is otherwise, give or take, by and large, inane rambling. So: Ferry 62 along the Elbe is included in a day’s city travel ticket in Hamburg, which saves booking a €12 cruise.

The passenger boat plies its way past dry docks and one of the biggest container ports in the world, more or less following the route of the expensive tourist option. You don’t get any commentary, though.

What you do get, however – to continue the lavatorial theme – is a free toilet onboard. Another fifty cent saving! In fact, if you were really hard up, you could actually board the vessel solely to use the loo. But please bear in mind the considerable danger of emerging farther down river.

Returning from this nautical jaunt, I find two German girls (whom Namibian and I had met at a Metallica show in Prague last year) have driven 470kms to say hello.

Their names: “Crazy Sandra” and Pat, who we might just as well dub “Crazy Pat” on the grounds that…well, on the grounds that she’s crazy. Sandra has heavy metal tattoos – the majority of which are incomprehensible to normal people – and Pat is a member of a clique called “The Metallica Club”.

They find it inconceivable that Namibian and I can talk about watching a feature film – or, even worse, having a short nap – backstage while Metallica thrash away to an adoring public. The feeling is mutual; we find it odd that anybody would stand in the rain, subjecting his or her eardrums to such volumes. Mind you, it pays our wages, so long may it continue.

Anyway, one feels awful about retiring to bed wearing earplugs – with a cursory kiss on the cheek and a hug – if ladies have driven a long way to visit. Upshot: another ridiculously late night. Anyone would think this is a rock ‘n’ roll tour..

A Katabatic Wind in Hamburg?..

If I can survive standing next to a trailer in Hamburg in this temperature – even without the wind chill – a stroll down to the South Pole from Patriot Hills ought to be a doddle.

Anyway, if it wasn’t for the nearby rumble of the A7 Autobahn, one could be forgiven for thinking that we are already in the polar regions today. Namibian is wearing a red fleece in which he looks like a corpulent Father Christmas.

Katabatic, a Greek word, means “flowing downhill”. Oh, if only we were in Greece, eh? This is part of the problem with rock n roll touring: although island-hopping in the Aegean would make a splendid itinerary for drivers and crew, Tina Turner would be unlikely to recoup the cost of sending twenty trucks down there.

So, we remain, teeth gritted against the North German gale, in a Hamburg blizzard.

I hope I’ve established that this is not a holiday; it’s quite the opposite – in fact, we had to work for a full hour this morning, unloading equipment into the Color Line Arena. The driving now completed, we have five days of freezing frivolity to look forward to. I’m wondering how often I should “turn” Namibian to avoid bedsores.

I should stress, actually, that this tour is not representative whatsoever of the music industry. Take that dreadful Madonna tour last summer for example – yes, I’ll give her ‘sticky and sweet’. It was just drive, drive, drive.

OK, so Madge doesn’t organise the tour schedule, but it was as though cocaine-fuelled executives had thrown darts at a map of Europe to determine the tour dates. Dusseldorf – Rome – Frankfurt – London – Lisbon etc. Bonkers.

Anyway, back to the Tina Turner Tour…and the relaxed approach. Breakfast chat hasn’t moved on much in intellectual terms among the drivers since yesterday.

I’ve tried introducing topics like late Etruscan pottery, but we inevitably resort back to the lowbrow: ‘The tablets for my blood pressure aren’t conducive to getting an erection,’ remarked Captain Birds Eye, before briefly discussing prostitutes.

We’ll stick with prozzies for a moment as we’re in Hamburg, the city of the “Reeperbahn”. It’s a seedy street where Namibian and I were approached by half a dozen women simultaneously last year. He, a picture of ebbing health (pictured above), got away with feigning a heart condition, but that was an excuse I couldn’t get away with.

‘Say you’re gay,’ my South African pal had suggested. The trouble is, they probably cater for that in another room. We simply blushed instead..

Berlin’s Bundestag..

Not all of us are drinking tea and having early nights on the Tina Turner Tour; a number of colleagues were seen leaving the catering room at 9am this morning, looking wine-smudged and unsteady.

The recycling bin was full of empty bottles and cans. Very rock ‘n’ roll.

Now, how nice to have the bicycle again – I’ve missed frostbitten fingers. Cor, it’s cold. Really cold. Stopping at a newsagent’s shop to warm my nose from an electric bulb, I’m saddened to see that “spunk” is no longer sold.

This German liquorice – or is it Danish? – caused much hilarity one tour when my best pal Gary sampled the misnomer. ‘This spunk tastes a bit salty,’ he said before… I digress. Let’s get on with Germany’s capital.

A full fifteen Germans jump the queue this morning as I approach the metal detector in the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament. I know the British love queuing to the point of national fetish, but how can people unabashedly push in like this?

I murmur something unmentionable about ‘you lot leaving towels on sun loungers’ but decide not to bear a grudge. All the same, it’s worth watching the news tonight to see how many BMWs have been nudged into the ditch by black trucks on the motorway to Hamburg.

Amazingly, approximately three million people a year visit the Bundestag, centre of German lawmaking. Incidentally, should you – miraculously – be at all interested, the shorthand writers here can note an average of 400 syllables a minute. That’s faster than people actually speak. On the downside, a cappucino on the roof-terrace cafe costs £4.50.

Trabants and Trucking..

Truck manoeuvres start before 6am, and Namibian has a flat battery after boiling his electric kettle to make my tea.

It’s a reciprocal deal: he makes the tea in return for following me to gigs. It is, therefore, a bit mean that I make him go in front into cities, I suppose.

It’s for his own benefit, though; one learns little about international trucking from following a pair of black trailer doors for months on end. And I don’t feel too mean – after all, he’s chosen a pink thermos flask for me this year.

Now, by the time I’ve unloaded – or in the industry parlance, we say, “loaded in” (to the venue) – breakfast is up and running. Most tours, certainly twenty-truck Tina Turner tours, take caterers on the road to feed the crew. And it’s invariably excellent food.

We sit down to a fry-up and intelligent conversation from truckers fills the air: ‘I had a toothless ferret once,’ says my friend Mark. ‘If I could teach it to cook, I could get rid of the wife.’

The reply, from a chap who is the spitting image of Captain Birdseye, is something of a Chinese whisper. ‘I’ve never had sex with an animal I could cook,’ he says, without trace of a smile. ‘There was a goat once, but that was love.’ Funny lot, truck drivers.

Down at the DDR Museum: ah, the trusty two-stroke Trabant. In a word – “crap”. But, and it’s a big but, the average motorist could fix one nearly as expertly as a mechanic.

If you can believe it, there was a waiting list in East Germany of up to sixteen years for one of these four-geared beauties. As late as 1985, only every other family here owned a car at all..

P.S. Tour life is decidedly bleak: we’re having to survive on blackened tilapia with mango salad and a choice of only five puddings.

Tina Turner Tour Reaches Berlin..

Berlin, Baby!

This idea of letting “Namibian” drive in front was, is, and always will be daft. One either has a nose for directions or… Well, let’s just say that Namibian doesn’t.

But we have a “safety net” system of very basic Tesco walkie-talkies: Namibian heads into a city, ostensibly following a map, and I try and radio him before he makes a complete dog’s breakfast of the route.

The system is by no means infallible, however; a circuitous drive this morning, courtesy of Namibian panicking on the ring road, finally brought us to the O2 Arena, Berlin.

The bicycle puncture, that I’d meant to fix since finishing the Lou Reed tour last July, finally gets repaired. Oh, all right, I fit a new inner tube – if you think I’m going to fool about with glue and patches in these temperatures, you’re mistaken.

With nineteen other truckers on the tour, most of whom are old pals, it’s terribly easy to lose a day chatting. But I’ve never been a social butterfly, preferring instead to explore alone. Or with Namibian – because he’ll follow faithfully, and he’s jolly handy for taking photographs of me.

From experience, as soon as more than two truck drivers embark on a cultural afternoon, stops for alcohol inevitably eclipse any historical interest.

Not one hundred metres from the Arena is one of the best sections of the Berlin Wall – 1200m long. In 1961 the East German military sealed off the city with this 3.6m high barrier, stretching 100 miles around West Berlin.

Although it was built – uniquely – to keep a country’s people in, rather than the enemy out, it was actually the enclave of West Berlin that was surrounded. To reach West Germany from West Berlin meant passing through East Germany and then through the Iron Curtain. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the city went beserk celebrating; aspirin soon ran out.

Namibian and I are having a silly day today. How many times have I been to Berlin over the last 10 years? Well, if I don’t know, I don’t suppose you will either. Let’s say about a dozen.

Yet today, in a fit of madness, we’re doing the tourist thing: taking photographs with guns and hats, and stamping my passport with “Checkpoint Charlie”. We warm up with lattes at Snackpoint Charlie..






Tina Turner – The Beginning..

Incessant, driving rain and a filthy windscreen hamper progress to Antwerp. That, and searching diesel stations round northern France – heavy trucks need road tax for Belgium.

I’m now back on the European leg of the Tina Turner Tour…and there are no White Cliffs of Dover until early April; we will be touring solidly on the continent until then.

At 06.35, after just three hours in the bunk, drunken colleagues stand outside my truck window. A loud, slurred, somewhat incoherent conversation ensues. Don’t you just love these twenty-truck tours?

Then “Namibian Colin”, who shall feature regularly in this blog, accidentally blows his airhorn at 9 o’clock. When doing his daily sit-up getting out of bed, his bulky paunch catches the stalk on the steering column; he’s simply too fat..

24th January:

Good heavens! I could hardly look. Four bendy young honeys in miniskirts degrading themselves on stage…IN LEATHER. Yes, of course I watched Tina’s show. ‘All this crumpet is bad for my blood pressure,’ I wheezed chattily to Spotlight Operator Number Six. ‘Not mine,’ he said. ‘I take tablets.’

A sexy camera angle captured a guitar riff and four swaying rumps – in deliciously tight outfits. The rhythm section sizzled. Dancers’ tousled hair flew in all the right directions in ‘rolling on a river‘.

There was a token sensible haircut among them, though: the “thoroughly modern millie” of rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Big wheels keep on turning…’ yelled Tina.

My eighteen wheels certainly did. Sixteen forward gears; 750 kilometres to Berlin. Probably a bit less if I hadn’t let Namibian Colin go in front. His narration over video footage is pure gold: ‘This is me getting us lost.’

600 km in one day seemed quite enough, so we pulled into Bobby’s Diner for cheeseburgers.