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Published: September 20th 2009
A katabatic wind in North Germany? If I can survive standing next to a trailer in this temperature - even without the wind chill - a stroll down to the South Pole from Patriot Hills ought to be a doddle. Ah, I can use references like that - can't I? - on a site designed for travel writing. Hang on, it's my website - I can use any dashed references I like, thanks. 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 means “flowing downhill” in Greek. Oh, if only we we were in Greece, eh This is part of the problem with rock n roll touring: though island-hopping in the Aegean would make a splendid itinerary for drivers and crew, Tina 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; we had to work for
an 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 representational whatsoever of the industry. Take that dreadful Madonna tour last summer for example - 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. Yeah, I know - bonkers..
So, back to the relaxed approach. Breakfast chat hasn't moved on much in intellectual terms among the drivers. I've tried introducing topics like late Etruscan pottery, but each time we resort back to lowbrow topics. 'The tablets for my blood pressure aren't conducive to getting an erection,' I'm told by Captain Birds Eye, before briefly discussing prostitutes. After all, we're in the city of the “Reeperbahn”, a seedy street where Namibian and I were approached by half a dozen women simultaneously last
year. He, a picture of ebbing health, got away with feigning a heart condition, but I had no such excuse. 'Say you're gay,' suggested my South African pal. The trouble is, they probably cater for that in another room. We simply blushed instead.
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 passes as miserably as the earlier hours. 'I can hear my blood pressure,' says an elderly driver, 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 take a train into this historic port city of Hamburg, heading immediately for the nearest shopping mall to escape the biting wind. Namibian begins to sweat immediately; 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.
I like to occasionally include travel tips in my blogs, in
addition to what is otherwise inane rambling. So: Ferry 62 along the Elbe is included in a day's city travel ticket here, 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. What you do get, though - 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. There is a considerable danger of emerging further down river, though.
Returning from a jaunt on the river, I find German girls I'd met at a Metallica show in Prague last year have driven 470kms to say hello this evening. 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, I suppose. 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 - back stage while Metallica thrash away to an adoring public. The feeling is mutual; we find it odd that anybody would stand in the rain, subjecting their eardrums to such volumes. It pays our wages, so long may it continue.
Anyway, one feels awful about retiring to bed wearing earplugs, with a quick kiss on the cheek and a hug, if girls drive a long way to visit. Upshot: another ridiculously late night. Anyone would think this is a rock 'n' roll tour..
A hundred yards is regarded as a good walk in Namibian’s book. Remember that we sleep in trucks? Right, well today we are not parked as cosily as normal - our lorries are parked approximately one hundred yards apart. Oh, if you live in Europe, and are happy to approximate distances, a yard is three feet. Ha ha - that didn't help did it? No, a yard is pretty similar to a metre.
My mobile phone beeps, indicating an incoming text message from Namibian: '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's certainly led to a breakdown in communication. Now, you will be pleased to know that this was how Namibian spelt words to start with, and so texting has made little or no difference in his case. I grasped his gist - that my pink thermos was steaming and awaiting collection from his cab - and made a dash through the snow. He really is a lovely man, looking after me faithfully. The other eighteen truckers can make their own tea.
Frank arrives again in a wonderfully-dented blue van, the ashtray bursting at the seams. Once more, he has driven across the city of Hamburg to collect us, bringing us back to his paradisical abode north Hamburg. Namibian has now realised that he must shuffle around Frank's house, feet splayed, to avoid stepping on mainecoon cats. We agree that, at around 128kg, a misplaced sock could pulverize one of these €700 animals. The house is congested with them - cats, not Namibians.
Frank’s wife, the smiley Miriam, maintains that we
No name - I seem to have mislaid my piece of paper
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”? And while I'm asking questions, do you find my veering off at tangents disruptive or just a little bit endearing? - Frank allowed me three guesses per day until I had come up with all six names. In the end, he told me the genders and the first letter of each pussy - 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 interrogated me on arrival, I'd written the names down, taking the precaution of bringing the piece of paper with me.
A couple I’d met in Sri Lanka, Ingo and Meryam, happen to live round the corner from Frank so, 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 still calls the island - Ingo’s nationality had become evident when, 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, Swiss or Austrian. 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 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 use this riveting revelation when Ingo demonstrates a restoring function on my laptop by pressing Alt F5. 'Arsehole,' I cried, delighted with my deliberate mispronunciation. I should just stress that Ingo, a computer whizz notwithstanding, is not a nerd. Yet I now have a PC that can do stuff. Maybe computers will catch on after all.
As a rock n roll trucker - yes, OK, an international man of mystery if you like - 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..
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