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Published: October 23rd 2009
Oh, the glitz
Laundry in Antwerp's suburbs
13th February '09:
Groan. We’re parked on loading bays of a warehouse on Middelmolenlaan, a street utterly devoid of character. It’s drizzly and cold, the sort of weather that makes you tuck jumper into jeans without caring a jot about looking foolish. The warehouse is empty until the containers of equipment for AC/DC arrive tomorrow. This is the type of place, in short, that proper lorry drivers go.
Incidentally, is it worth describing places any more? I recently read an article on the future of travel writing that debated this topic. In Eric Newby's day, for example, we couldn't just Google Map the Hindu Kush; we needed evocative phrases to bring the mountains alive in our minds. Now, of course, with the advent of the internet, is it more important to concentrate on the people instead? I'm just throwing it out there, mainly because I don't bother describing places. You can get that from a guidebook..
Did I mention the cold? Travelling by bicycle, by the time I reach my first near-collision with a tram, any feeling in the extremities is a thing of the past. Rock n roll tours are not all glitz and razzamatazz, you know;
today is an opportunity to catch up with laundry. Old women sit in the laundrette, bookless, staring at their circling washing. A nearby chip shop might be a welcome respite from the gloom, I think naively, but the Indian owner seems indifferent to the winter, telling me, while I try and eat fast food with gloves on, that his father has “expired.” Oh, that's cheered me up no end.
Alice - who, as you will remember, is really called Mark - and Namibian, very sensibly, are watching war films in their trucks, the former sipping a beer with plans to write off the afternoon entirely. Retrieving my map of Oslo - it’s the first gig of the tour - Alice suggests, through a roar of Second World War gunfire, not to worry where we’re going. 'They’re about to blow up Germany in a minute anyway.' Yes, but just in case the country is still there tomorrow, perhaps I'd better plan the route.
Despite the foul conditions, I’m unable to shun an interesting city in favour of sitting in a warm truck. Even with the attraction of Tetley teabags and an episode of Jeeves and Wooster under the duvet,
I venture out again - a fashion martyr on two wheels.
It’s a fairly unspectacular cycle into Antwerp, through mini-Istanbul, merging seamlessly into Chinatown until, as you pass Sung Wah Supermarkt, the imposing Central Station hoves into view. Known as the Railway Cathedral, it looks like a basilica, but today is clothed decoratively in scaffolding. The ‘free map for young travellers’ is given to me without so much as a batted eyelid. (That’ll teach "Mystic" to assume I’m in my forties). Surprisingly, there is a host of attractions in Antwerp, but for tonight it's live music.
De Muze Jazz Café is great. The pianist chats to me at the bar, peering over my shoulder at my gig list - to see if he's playing here again next week. Meanwhile Gottfried, my cheery bar companion discovers my name is Barny. 'Ha! Barny, like the Flinstones?' he asks. An ageing, zealous fan of vocal jazz, he buys me a beer and leaves before turning into a pumpkin. Now, it seems ludicrous that all these blasted health and safety regulations emanate from Belgium, yet the first bar I walk into here has me unable to breathe for thick cigarette smoke.
Things are going from bad to worse: we’ve run out of gas for the stove. I blame Namibian; he blames me - a stalemate. Would you believe we have a third back-up plan? One simply cannot tour without cups of tea so we are - and I hate to say this - rather over-prepared for any kettle eventuality. Yet, this is an inauspicious start to a new tour.
I must stress that Antwerp shouldn’t be regarded as a pitstop between Brussels and Amsterdam, by the way. The local beer, ‘Koninck’, is alone worth stopping for. It’s an old man’s beer though. Excellent! The Grote Markt is not as impressive as it’s counterpart in Brussels, but Antwerp has a beach…of sorts. And the city, much closer to the UK than Amsterdam, hosts the Villa Tinto, “a mega-brothel with 51 sex suites where more than 100 prostitutes alternately work around the clock.” Yes, I whizz past on the bike. Slowly.
Prowling men in puffer jackets, normal-looking outside a shoe shop, here take on a sinister edge. It’s all very well-organised, with a police station in the middle and signs requesting “do not pee” in the alley.
And then there were three..
Transferring from Tina Turner tour onto AC/DC
The quarters for seafaring men, presumably an appreciable percentage of the clientele, are next door. Elderly and chubby harlots vie for attention with the younger prostitutes; there must be bargains to be had here. But, ever the stickler, I'm distracted by another blatant misuse of the apostrophe in a video shop across the road: the store advertises “DVD’S”. I’m glad Namibian is safely ensconced elsewhere; the excitement could have finished him off.
Oh, it’s not another rest day, by the way. There’s a frenzy of revving diesel engines and opening of trailer doors ready for the onslaught. The AC/DC containers are here; flightcases are unloaded. Reloading into cavernous, black trailers - “Black Death” trailers - begins. Oh, the camaraderie at the start of another rock n roll tour. Oslo here we come. Well, an acceptable stab into Germany here we come, would be more accurate. Norway is miles from here..
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