17th November, 2010
Back to the Kingdom of Fright
The Galaxy is pointed north to Amsterdam, from where sail shall be set home. The palpable kick-back of Holland comes upon me like a psalm. Those quietly fuming German men in their powerful cars, spinning past us like mad wolves are a thing of memory. It is suggested that we stop into Utrecht, and we do, and it’s worth it. I buy a trinket, and have a wonderful coffee, accompanied by a quality biscuit. A still canal laces it’s elegant way through my street. A stoner approaches me for emergency advice on the nearest available Coffee Shop. I shrug and dismiss him rudely but watch as the next Dutch guy attends to him, removes his headphones and gives a detailed description of the available outlets. This is heaven compared to home.
But maybe I judge too harshly. After all, is Britain not the country which produced…—More Tales
15th November, 2010
Rain Falling Into the Future
I sleep in and am awoken by gentle knocking. I have a mild hangover – the first in a month. I throw my electronic nonsense into my case and wheel myself to the Galaxy without brushing my teeth. Tardiness doesn’t do on tour; it shows a lack of respect. I make an apology and the next journey begins.
I love touring, with all my fibre. It is a comforting routine in a distractingly different city every day. It is travelling with purpose and I wish it were still most of my life.
The route takes us through wooded rises and great open plains studded with industry. The Germans make things. They do it quietly and they do it well. They believe that industry is the bedrock of society and leisure its just reward. The carnage of Thatcherism never happened here and perhaps never could. It strains one’s soul…—More Tales
13th November, 2010
More sausage with that, Sir?
As soon as I hit Hamburg I feel a little more comfortable, I don’t know why. In Berlin I had spent a whole day traipsing with headphones bolted to my head. The only music that suited the city was the astringent tension of some Beethoven string quartets. It seemed to draw out the latent angst. Reggae was ridiculous; the lowering cloud cover and the flat shadowless spread of Berlin demanded something overcast. Those bleak modernist Lou Reed and David Bowie records were recorded there for a reason. There’s still a wall around the town somehow and it’s oppressive. The lack of a nearby coast perhaps, its proximity to the endless expanses of the east.
The people at the Hamburg show are very sweet and I enjoy myself – not always a great sign. The venue is housed deep inside a “flak tower”, an above ground six-storey anti-aircraft…—More Tales
11th November, 2010
Garden of Earthly Delights
I rise to milky sunshine spilling around my silver Venetian blinds. The hotel is called Zoo after the nearby attraction so I go directly there and buy a ticket at the gates. Wild animals caged and corralled right in the city’s heart. First up are a small group of Indian elephants, forlornly trying to get back inside their locked sleeping enclosure. Their trunks are fascinating and surprisingly dexterous. It’s a quiet day here, just a smattering of humans, mostly pushing prams and wheelchairs. I skirt around the giraffes paying them barely a glance and am drawn towards a lonely young panda who is endlessly shuttling between its shuttered hovel and some frustratingly fenced-off eucalyptus. It seems deranged but what do I know? Other visitors are captivated by its cuteness. If it was mine I’d have it put down.
The whole place is a morass of desperation. Grubby hooded…—More Tales
10th November, 2010
North to Big Bertha
It is more or less straight north for four hours to reach Berlin. There are conifer-covered rises and wide ranges of great wind turbines along the route. I consider my usual conjecture – that if all the world’s energy demands were to be met by windmills there would be less wind. When you dam a river and form a lake to drive turbines there is no less water in the river system over time but there is less energy in the flow. Can somebody tell me – could we swallow all the wind?
The capital is gained before sunset and I have forty minutes to march about foolishly before being re-inserted into the Galaxy. I can’t find a single café; it’s all yuppie eateries and high-end wine stores. I am forced to resort to a Starfucks, filled with its usual mass of beige and brown swaddled idiots pointing…—More Tales
9th November, 2010
Escape from the Hidebound Empire
I wake early and decide to take the opportunity to explore. I make a beeline for Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust memorial in Judenplatz. Her Embankment installation at Tate Modern has lodged in my memory. The memorial is stark, quiet and eloquent. As I circle it’s concrete hulk the twin doors come upon me with a jolt: there are no handles. The library within is inaccessible because it has been burnt or buried or liquidated. I touch the pages of one of the silent books. A policewoman stands guard, presumably to protect the sculpture from desecration. She has missed the dirty purple teddy slumped in the doorway, with an “I Love You” cushion in its lap, shaped like a heart. Good grief. Somebody has inserted flowers in the empty holes where the doorknobs should be. It is the flagrant juxtaposition of the emptily sentimental with the sedately profound.
Into the East
The cruiser skirts along the foothills of the Alps to our right, two-storey barns and bulbed church spires nestling in the hollows. Across the border: pop radio. Wall to wall FM shit from Bryan Adams to Madonna. Amy’s Back to Black saves the day, scything through the crud with an incomparable bitterness and wonder. The rain is all around the vehicle like a tempest. In my hideously over-decorated hotel room last night I took a lightning tour of the TV channels. As I drifted through ch. 28 I just caught Dizzee Rascal saying, “…and the winner is Lady Gaga!”. Whither the rascal now? I see a smiling industry reptile in a white suit. Review the situation, take part, take over? I guess you did, Dylan. Bon voyage!
I take a fast stroll around the nearest bit of Vienna to the hotel. I’ve never been here before. I see rich…—More Tales
7th November, 2010
On down the toy motorway
Chocolate box Amsterdam terraces lean over their canals like kindly big brothers. Saturday mornings are easy here; none of that London mania or Glasgow hungover fermenting madness, just serene bicycling adults sailing by like swans, watchful and aloof. You can spot the stag-weekenders crowding into tiny corner cafes looking miserable and wondering why they came abroad with this shower of dicks. You know and they know that copious amounts of beer will be their only salvation. It is before midday and some are already nervously eyeing their watches. There is good time for a stroll and a few coffees. A girl is bumped from her perch on the back of her boyfriend’s bike by a passing van. She dusts herself off and remounts without complaint. How far can you push these folk before they become, well, intolerant?
Everything in Holland looks like a toy. It’s as if…—More Tales
4th November, 2010
I straddle the fat white tire-tracks of our wake as we put to sea. Desultory fireworks fizzle in the low winter sky like a damp valediction and Tyneside’s orange lights diminish as the ship is swallowed by the black sea. Over to my left a thin man peers back to land with a thin silver tin of beer, reeking of reflection or regret. A waft of fetid cooking fat puffs out from the ship’s kitchen. As the last two lighthouses pass like sentry-posts a couple ask me to take their photograph, with the dim sight of Blighty as their backdrop. There is a large height difference between them, making composition difficult. I am unhappy with the result but a message in German says the memory card is full. The tall young man seems satisfied with my effort. Below me, on deck 7, a clutch of cider-buzzing lads pose for…—More Tales