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Published: February 23rd 2010
24th May ‘09:
Wiener? Ah, if you're looking for Vienna on a road map, you'll find it written as Wien. I'm sure you knew that, though. The Ernst Happel football stadium, chosen venue for AC/DC's gig tonight, is in a pleasant park - an area that was declared free for public enjoyment in 1766 - known as Prater. Since the 1890s, when the Giant Ferris Wheel went up, it became more and more an amusement park - the sort of place that I generally loathe.
However, Prater has a certain charm; it is fairly small, its rides are not too noisy and the 'Toboggan” is one of the world's oldest wooden slides. This afternoon, while children enjoy the miniature train pulling in to Lilliputbahn, a personal trainer publicly humiliates people that sweat profusely in ill-fitting sports attire. Perhaps best of all, though, Prater is home to Vienna's most famous beer garden, the 'Schweizerhaus'.
When in Vienna - if the hardcore among you remember from the Tina Turner tour - I try and see my pal Norbert. Very briefly, he came to stay as a student at my house, to learn English. He arrives late as usual, with his
substantially younger girlfriend Karo, unable to park near the gig; forty minutes after our agreed appointment time, I have to walk in punishing midday sunshine, away from the closed roads, to find him grinning in a two-seater convertible Mazdza.
He has a funny, towel-like hat, to protect his neck from the torrent sun, and looks like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Yasser Arafat. It's great to see him. Karo slides onto the gear stick to make room for me, and we're off on a short dash. In fact, it's barely a hundred yards because Norbert shrewdly notices a police car behind, and Karo, who is sliding onto my lap by now, tries to assume a diminutive posture - to fox the police into thinking that there is only one person in my seat.
Norbert suggests dining at the infamous Schweizerhaus on pork knuckles and Radler, a German word for shandy. We’re surrounded by hungry, boisterous AC/DC fans with tasteful T-shirts depicting skulls. One or two look as if they may ordinarily eat live chickens, dismissing cutlery as entirely superfluous. Norbert, meanwhile, launches into a story about three-legged ‘porks’ which I more or less follow - it’s
definitely something to do with pigs. ‘Remember when I was lying on the floor with your daddy?’ he asks abruptly. Ah, yes, between them they fixed my leaking radiator in the dining room. It’s a funny way of describing a situation, though.
Norbert and Karo are gearing up to a rock-filled evening, but, as is so often the case, I have to retire to bed for a short spell. You see, tonight is the big push to Serbia via Hungary, and it may well be an elongated adventure. To that end we've been given a sizeable float for road tolls, and some “border swag” (a 'Black Ice' tour T-shirt, or three) to oil our passage past corrupt customs officials.
25th May: ("Vienna-Belgrade")
Jonboy - my pal from Coventry - is my double-driver tonight, and he's naively expecting an easy night's work. However, within seconds of him taking the wheel, I make tea and 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,’ says Jon rather forcibly, as flames lick the pressurised gas canister. I radio Namibian behind me to no avail,
suggesting he eases off the - ahem - gas.
Hanging out the window, holding this blasted 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?’ Honestly, there's no sense of urgency with these chaps from the southern hemisphere. Disaster averted, what we need now is a nice cup of tea. ‘Do you take sugar Jon?’ I ask, as I light the stove once more - at arm’s length this time.
Entering Hungary is a breeze; leaving, on the other hand, 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 - a rather larger one this time than the one I received from that despicable female termite employed by
the Italian police back in March. For those that have forgotten, she seemed rather put out by my peeing 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; the answer is simple. To get the truck to Belgrade on time, on a tour that costs close to seven figures per day to keep on the road, I need to scrape enough cash together to pay the fine. I will be reimbursed on show day. Rightyho - well how much is 300,000 Hungarian shitters anyway? 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, so I can afford to swagger around the compound unfazed by financial demands, knowing I’ve still got a few coppers for a sandwich. Changing money in what is fundamentally a shed is simple; paying the fine seems to be less so. Hanging around with my wheelbarrow full of local currency, I begin to pace. But 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.
In the fines department on this tour, I am leading by a clear margin: almost 1500 euros now.
Entering Serbia is rather jollier than leaving Hungary. The chubby clerk, sitting in a booth, leafs through my passport, seeing my next of kin 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, it’s my birthday. And what a way to spend it - in a big rig convoy through Eastern
Five trucks roll down to Belgrade together - taking photographs of signposts in Cyrillic, and dodging tram buses - 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..
(When I say five trucks, I mean three. Namibian becomes separated in the chaos of Belgrade and pays a taxi driver to lead him to the stadium. Bless him.)
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