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Published: December 7th 2009
18th March '09:
You didn't want a blog on Prague, did you? Hasn't everybody been to Prague? Well, if you haven't, you ought to go - the City of 1000 Spires is captivating. It is possibly worth avoiding at weekends, though; English men displaying their penises on stag weekends can be a little off-putting.
So rather than exploring - don't worry, I had a girlfriend here ten years ago, so I know the city well - I'm more concerned with 92 local crew pushing AC/DC flight-cases up my trailer ramp, sweating and smelling rather ripe. You see, rather than loafing about in the Czech capital, we are in a bit of a hurry to leave - so much so, in fact, that an evil has arisen: the dreaded “double driver”. More and more frequently, scheduled drives between concerts are becoming legally unmanageable for just one trucker to complete in the allotted time. Ergo, a second driver must enter the arena (pun intended) - the O2 Arena in this case.
Today’s drive - starting at an unearthly 1am - is about thirteen hours, three hours too long for me alone. So my pal Rooster arrives, and this is the
The Milan Forum
Look how narrow it is! And I had to reverse about 100 metres up this ramp..
plan: one drives while the other, in theory, sleeps. The whole thing is laughable - nobody but the deepest of slumberers could possibly fall asleep, never mind stay asleep, on Czech roads, particularly if I keep one wheel deliberately on the rumble strip. Rooster, however, washing down a gout tablet with a chicken sandwich, makes rather a good attempt. As we pass through the South Tyrol Dolomites, I hear light snoring.
Unfortunately, all this rushing about has left the much-maligned Namibian rather on the sidelines - his “load of crap in the back” is less important than my rigging equipment, and he has to drive alone. With rheumy eyes and a quivering bottom lip, he hands over my pink thermos flask and waves me off, worried about finding the Milan gig on his own.
This necessary evil of double driving occasionally has its advantages, you know: our tight-for-time plan to unload at the Milan Forum - which, incidentally, is hellishly-designed for trucks - gives me quite a lot of time in Milan. So much time, in fact, that I shall take a small vacation - to Spoleto, Central Italy, for three nights with my grandfather. Rooster is last
seen charitably guarding my ignition key while I dash to Central Station to catch the 17.45.
The arrangement to be on this train was made a week ago, and was to be regarded as in place unless I telephone. Grandpa, at a spry 83, must still be in possession of a marble or two because, as agreed, there he is on the platform at 00.09. 'Now, where have I left the car,' he asks rhetorically, squinting in the darkness.
Why is it that grandparents inspect their grandchildren in such depth? He doesn’t say: 'my, haven’t you grown', but he certainly isn’t content with simple eye contact and a handshake; he peers suspiciously and tugs my cheeks as though perhaps I’ve had a spot of jaw surgery or a face-lift. Satisfied my bone structure is indeed still intact, we drive into the shadowy Umbrian night and discuss AC/DC. Refreshingly, he’s no idea who they are. 'Barnaby, I haven’t heard of anybody since the Beatles.'..
19th March: (“Paradise in Umbria”)
Today commences with a mild interrogation over a two-hour breakfast. While his wife, Ursula, puts away the dishes, Grandpa John asks me - conspiratorially - if it’s easier
nowadays to ‘get your leg over.' He then proceeds to call me Barbara, yet I look nothing like his first wife. Oh, he’s insufferably English, and tells me about pious Aunty Lizzie who sang - with poor John beneath the pulpit - more slowly and tremulously than any other in the congregation, embarrassing him horribly as a child. My mother’s green Fiat 127 - in which I used to try and hide under the front seat - doesn’t even come close in the humiliation stakes, I don't think.
A brief tour of the garden rather fills the morning, though we do manage to store some heavy wine-making equipment in the “cantina”. (Grandpa has very sensibly decided that it may be a little too much for an octogenarian to lift while balancing atop a stepladder.) Breaking for lunch, I just take a minute to breathe the fresh air and savour the vista. Grandpa decants a gallon or so of San Giovese red wine, plucked from his own vines, while I think of my good fortune: I'm still being paid, yet here I am halfway up a mountain, enjoying an inestimably fine view of Central Italy. There are no diesel fumes
and I have one of Ursula's mountainous plate of carbohydrates to look forward to. This is how life should be, isn't it? How idyllic to take a nap in such a higgledy-piggledy house - there are four doors to Grandpa's property...on four different levels!
As the evening approaches, we drive up to Monte San Vito, a typical Umbrian village at 914 metres above sea level. This is a former customs post between provinces, reached by impossibly twisty bends. Ursula, giddy with excitement, makes her first-ever mobile phone call as we loiter in front of a 1630 fresco. The call is to Maggie, another eccentric ex-pat, living nearby with nine cats and a dog. 'At 65, she may be a little old for you,' says Grandpa, dashing any notions of romance. A meal at a trattoria in the town of Sant’ Anatolia di Narco has been organised, and, as we dip biscotti into fortified wine, Grandpa begins a familiar story. You see, sporting shoulder-length hair at sixteen, I was once mistaken for his second wife in Nigeria..
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