Sunday, 19 April 2015

Spargel Everywhere: The Monochrome Set Germany Tour 2015: Part 1 - The journey out & Cologne

During the course of their last German tour, my favourite band, The Monochrome Set, were signed up to a German record label called Tapete (amusingly translated as 'Wallpaper'). A year later, their first album under the new label - Spaces Everywhere - is out, and the band embarked on a 9-date tour of Germany to promote it. I was lucky enough to be invited to join them on the tour bus for the trip, which was pretty 'flaechendeckend' ('surface covering' - much like the wallpaper indeed!), and as randomly fun and exciting as it was punishing. And I wasn't even working, though as the tour progressed I increasingly morphed into 'band runner', and was assigned an assortment of more or less offbeat errands to carry out. Oh, I should also say that the 'scented bit' was pretty minimal on this tour, and can readily be woven into the travelogue proper rather than having its own post at the end.


I set off from home at 7am on Easter Saturday, and as ever was surprised to see so many people about at such an unfeasibly early hour. On arrival at the airport I was crestfallen to find a massive queue at the one operational Germanwings check in desk. No one seemed to know what was up with the other desk, though a member of the ground staff - who bore an uncanny resemblance to David Suchet - could be seen listlessly tinkering with some knobs as we shuffled forward to the remaining counter at a snail's pace. Some forty minutes later, a fresh-faced young colleague came bounding up, and within seconds the check in computer sprang miraculously to life.

An Easter-themed airport security alert

In the spirit of using up my fridge contents in a timely manner, I had with me two hard boiled eggs and an egg-shaped bar of soap in a decorated cardboard shell, the latter a gift for Val the Cookie Queen, whom I was meeting towards the end of the trip. To my surprise, both of these Easter-themed items provoked a lengthy security alert. There was concern that the real eggs might be raw, and though I finally persuaded the X-Ray machine staff that they were in fact cooked - and that surely only the most foolhardy of travellers would risk carting raw eggs all over Germany in a rucksack - as a precaution I was given a special bag to put the eggs in for their onward journey. Meanwhile, the soap egg caused a stir, because the staff were adamant that it was a tin of Vaseline. Three X-Rays later, we finally confirmed that the offending petroleum jelly staple was merely another suspiciously behaving egg.

Once in the Duty Free, I was predictably assailed by a clutch of perfume tester-toting sales assistants. No, I don't want to try the new Jimmy Choo, thank you. My overriding priorities were a cup of tea, a cafe-neutral spot in which to consume the eggs before they caused any further brushes with officialdom, a stamp to put on Tara's birthday card, and a post box to post it in.

Taking a chance on Germanwings

The atmosphere on board the Germanwings flight itself - just 11 days after the fateful crash in France - was a curious mixture of tension, excessive bonhomie and gallows humour. Beady eyes were kept on the toilet nearest the cockpit, and had either of the pilots attempted to answer a call of nature, there would have been a chorus of: 'Nooo, please hold on - you said yourself that the flight time was only an hour and five minutes!' Seating-wise, I was 'mixed up' in a stag party bound for Dusseldorf, and as the plane was about 15 feet from touch down, one of the lads behind me said exactly what I had been thinking: 'It's okay - I can jump from here!' The filling in my in-flight sandwich had been shockingly skimpy - something which would normally have been a source of considerable irritation - but any disappointment on the catering front was more than offset by my delight at landing safely. As I disembarked, I pressed a handwritten note in German into a flight attendant's hand, which said: 'Happy to put my life in your hands - thanks so much for a safe journey.' It sounds a bit corny looking back, but at that time of heightened emotions and loss of confidence in the airline, I felt I wanted to tell the pilots that I wasn't going to let this tragic aberration destroy my own trust in them.



A dishevelling putty crisis 

No sooner had I got to my hotel in Cologne and unpacked a few things than I realised I had left behind a crucial hair product in my armoury - one unfailingly described by hairdressers just as 'product'. To be more specific, it is a 'styling paste with ultra matte finish' called 'dry muk', one of the very few unguents that gives my fine hair volume without leaving it lank and greasy. Now I only know that it IS the above, because I am now reunited with the tin and in a position to read the label. At five o'clock on Easter Saturday in Germany, my chances of finding something I usually referred to as 'product' seemed slim. The lady on the hotel reception recommended a supermarket round the corner, but a quick scope of its haircare options drew a blank. Next up I tried a drugstore across the road, and ended up buying a tub of some kind of 'dishevelling putty' by Wella or L'Oreal, on the fairly flimsy premise that this a) didn't smell horrible and b) wasn't for men, as many of the more recognisably 'product-looking products' seemed to be. I still had misgivings that this might not be as dry and light as my usual brand, and when I spotted a hair salon that was still open, I decided to show them my purchase and generally throw myself on their mercy.

The senior stylist took one look at my tub and clucked her tongue disapprovingly. She confirmed that the dishevelling properties of this particular paste would come at a fairly sticky and oleaginous price. After consulting with a colleague and poking around the fixtures in the salon, she finally put her hand on a tub of Sebastian Craft Clay, described in English on the box as a 'remoldable-matte texturiser'. Certainly its grey clay-y colour looked promising, and I reluctantly parted with 20 euros - the price of being able to 'verstrubbeln' my hair while away. My shock at the price must have been all too apparent, for the stylist immediately opened her till drawer again and handed me a small bottle of sparkling wine. I may try this trick again sometime - in any kind of shop, even.

The madness of King Georg

The gig that night was held at King Georg, a venue 'in the round' attached to a stylish retro cocktail bar, described at more length in this post from the 2014 tour. The little dog in a bag was still officiating at the cloakroom, and there was the usual notice asking people to kindly not stand in front of the mixing desk. But this year I fell foul of another prohibition. For after the gig, Andy the bass player gave me a strip of drinks vouchers. He suggested I exchange them for some bottles of water to drink in my hotel or take on the next day's journey, however, the barman forbade me to take my load of liquid swag off the premises. To circumvent this, Andy - who was staying over the venue and thus able to move freely between bar and band accommodation - casually suggested I give all the water to him. Once in the street outside, he promptly handed the bottles back to me. It was the first of many 'left field' tour moments to come...

It was here too that I first met the sound guy and our driver for the tour, a genial giant from Augsburg called Alaska. Yes, you heard right!, and we had hours of fun on the bus trying to think of other US states commonly used as Christian names. In the end we only came up with Georgia and Dakota, so please share any other suggestions in the comments!


Unknown said...

No spargel yet....?
I think your gesture with the note was lovely, and I'm sure it was much appreciated. I'm looking forward to the other parts, don't wait too long...

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

For Spargel that are purportedly everywhere, they were conspicuously absent from my first post, granted. I just needed a title to do the whole trip. I also nearly called it 'The Rhubarb Tour' for reasons that will later become apparent. ;)

Tara said...

Fab. Love the dog in the bag. What a to-do over the eggs!

Thank goodness you managed to "source" your "product". It can ruin a trip if you feel your hair is all wrong. Well it could for me!

Looking forward to the next part. .

Thinkingmagpie said...

You came back in one piece!! ;) I have to say, your account made me think about raw eggs. Are they considered to be liquid? Would anyone try to hijack an airplane with them? How dangerous are they...?

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa, I am glad that you safely arrived at home after the long tour, it was so nice to meet you in Berlin!
Speaking of easter themed items, your Cadbury eggs were heavenly and it took us two minutes to finish them off.
(And if I ever happen to own a dog, I'll call him Alaska!)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

LOL at 'sourcing' my 'product' - or a product that turned out to be very nearly the same. Like you - and Val indeed - hair has to be under control to enjoy a trip. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

I did! I laughed out loud at your suggestion about raw eggs being classed as a potential weapon. I guess if you pelted the back of the captain's head with them it might not be ideal for his concentration - especially during take off and landing.

Vanessa said...

Hey Anka!

It was so nice to meet you and Mr Anka in Berlin. You are coming up in the next episode, at a guess.

I am glad the Cadbury's eggs hit the spot. I might buy a bag myself if they are still around.

And Alaska absolutely should be a dog's name! I love how this Alaska's surname was Winter too. Yet a warmer character you couldn't wish to meet. ;)

Blacknall Allen said...

Eggs as security risk? Well, you can't accuse the Germans of not being thorough can you?
By contrast at O'Hare I was once told" Oh never mind lady" when the line for the metal detector got too long. So much for flight security in the Midwest.

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

These were British ground staff, interestingly, displaying Teutonic levels of efficiency. I loved your story from O'Hare - I never thought I'd see the day...though some airlines here are relaxing their stance on the 'one bag rule' as carry on luggage.

Olfactoria's Travels said...

I love your travel posts, so entertaining and you never know what will happen next.
I think your note to the crew was so kind and lovely, and I'm proud of you overcoming your fear of writing in German! ;)

Olfactoria's Travels said...

"proud of you FOR overcoming"
Maybe I should be more afraid of writing in English ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi B,

The tour had that random factor, no question! I was banking on the sentiment behind my note offsetting any grammatical oddities, which were doubtless present.

You are quite right that 'proud of you FOR overcoming' is correct, but I didn't falter when I read your original version because I think I would have picked up on the 'for' as implicit in the construction - so it didn't register as wrong at all. ;)

odonata9 said...

Love your travel posts! The egg soap issue in particular is quite perplexing. Virginia is another state name that is used as a name - my grandmother was a Virginia and one of my daughter's middle name is Virginia as well. Wyoming sounds like a good hipster name. How about Tennessee Willliams?And Alabama was a character in the movie True Romance (very violent movie, but I highly recommend it!) not sure how many are out there for real!

Anonymous said...

The very thought of ever leaving my hair wax behind has seriously given me proper nightmares. Truly. I have woken up in utter panic before realizing it was all a dream. Bed Head for ever. xxx CQ

Vanessa said...

Hi odonata9,

Nice to hear from you again, and I am so glad you like the travel posts - I was hurrying through them for fear of boring 'regular' readers. I am also grateful for the input of an American into our state names game - why, Virginia was there in plain sight and we missed it. Tennessee is less common but well-known in the case of the author. I hadn't heard of the Alabama character, but we can add that to the list. Wait till I tell the others - they will be kicking themselves about Virginia for sure!

Vanessa said...

Hi Val,

I am pleased you can relate to my hair crisis - I was lucky I realised my error before the shops closed. Funnily enough, I did the exact same thing during the UK tour of 2013, and ended up dashing into a Toni & Guy right under the wire. As a result, I have more pots of partly used hair product than I will probably ever get

Undina said...

Wouldn't the gerund phrase "proud of youR overcoming the fair..." be also correct? At least this is how I read B's comment :)

Undina said...

Love your travel posts!

Let me comment on something others haven't commented yet (almost).

I don't know about using states as names for people, but I have two co-workers who named their daughters with geographical names, which seemed extremely weird to me at the time: Brooklyn and Malaysia.

I can't use any hair products without making my hair look unclean and limp in the first hour after I wash it. But whenever I travel I bring my own shampoo since those free bottles in hotels seem to do more harm than good.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Glad you like the travel ones! I lost a follower right after I published the first one, so I started to worry that my ensuing posts in similar vein would trigger a stampede of further departures.

Of those names you mention, Brooklyn is familiar to me because of it being David Beckham's son, so named because it is where he was conceived, apparently. Malaysia is just all kinds of weird, though I do know a girl called India, which is a snappier variant of somewhere in that general neck of the woods.

I took many years to find hair products that didn't make my hair look greasy and limp right after application. I believe we have similar hair - quite fine and straight? The magic ones are all at the far extreme of matte clays / pastes. I can recommend both this Sebastian Craft Clay and my usual dry muk, should it be available stateside. I would be glad to send you a little test pot to try if you like!

Ref shampoo, I think I have the opposite experience - the one I have at home is too rich and leaves residue, but the little ones in hotels seem kinder to my hair and wash out properly. Actually, a kind of 'shampoo' features in my final post...

Vanessa said...

Undina, you are more attuned to the niceties of our grammar than the average Brit! I think you are quite right that the gerund construction would also work. It seems that when it comes to being proud of a person doing something, there are many ways in English of skinning the cat!

Undina said...

You have to show me an exact picture of the product that you're using - and I'll try to find it here. I'm curious.

Vanessa said...

Okay, I will email you a picture of the dry muk. The Sebastian Craft Clay is as above - I have taken to using them both in fact. I will also take a pic of what the Sebastian clay looks like in the tub.