Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Games with frontiers: The Monochrome Set's 'bun fight' tour of Germany and Austria - Part 1: Karlsruhe and Ravensburg

Messing about on boats, Karlsruhe
Six months on from the last tour, I have just got back from a trip to Germany and Austria with The Monochrome Set. It was only three gigs and four days away, but we agreed that it felt like at least a week, on account of the early starts and late finishes and the legion logistical problems that confounded us at every turn. But we kept the show on the road - or on the trains when they were running! - and it all came good in the end. Special thanks go out to Val the Cookie Queen from APJ for her epic amounts of roadie-ing on the final leg of the tour, of which more later...

Missing things

I wasn't joking when I said 'early starts', for on Day 1 I was up at 4.20am in my B & B in Tottenham. This pre-dawn hour was so unnatural to my constitution that I managed to leave behind my £400 custom-made gum shield in the communal bathroom, which led to much fretting and gnashing of teeth while I was away - for it is of course gnashing of teeth that it is designed to prevent. In addition to the abandoned mouth guard in London, I had already forgotten several things as soon as I left the house, to wit my brow and eyeliner pencils, a notebook to use as a tour diary, and toothpaste. Arguably, only the lack of toothpaste was key, but I did also pick up a Rimmel kohl pencil and an über-cheapy eyebrow gel mascara by budget brand Essence. Called Make Me Brow, it is a blatant knock-off of Benefit's Gimme Brow but with a better shade of brown ('Browny Brows') for my particular hair colour. I got it in Germany for about three euros, but I see it is available in Wilko's in the UK. Make Me Brow absolutely does the same job and it seems the beauty bloggers who have tumbled to it also agree.

Oh, I never did get a notebook, but just kept nicking those little bedside pads in hotels, as you do. And the odd pen with that, as you also do. But unexpectedly I did have to buy some cleanser, as I couldn't tell if the travel-sized bottle into which I had decanted a transparent liquid some time ago was micellar water or acid peel toner. I mean, better to wake up like a panda than inadvertently rub the latter into your eyes.

This 'missing things' syndrome escalated in unexpected ways later in the trip: once when the entire carriage in which we had reserved seats turned out not to exist, and once when the driver of our moving train was conspicuously absent. The wonky instrument display and missing gearstick which you may just be able to make out in this photo did not escape our notice either. Then the missing carriage - which meant that a tetchy diaspora of 100 plus extra passengers had to be accommodated somehow - almost led to a punch up on the train, as people hotly contested whether the carriage after 268 (which had been assigned the number 266), was logically really 267 (where we had seats booked) in feeble disguise.

This near descent into violence prompted Steve the drummer to coin the phrase 'bun fight' to indicate a train journey for which we were unable to secure advance seat reservations. Each morning he would confirm that day's itinerary with me (as the Gruppenfuehrerin with the Gruppentickets): 'Okay, so it's three trains - bun fight, reserved, bun fight?' Then as our travel arrangements progressively degenerated into chaos, it became apparent that our journeys were simply going to be one long, hot, cross, bun fight. But I will save the ultimate example of missing things syndrome - um...not a carriage, but a whole missing train to Austria - for later.

'Three men in two seats' ~ Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

Perfume bottles on walls, and taxing taps

My initial stress about the forgotten items soon dissipated on the Eurostar train bound for Paris, where the toilets were lined with 'trompe l'oeil' subway tiles incorporating a perfume bottle! My joy at this sight eclipsed my complete inability to find the foot pump that operated the water for the sink. As in to even think to look for one in the first place. Instead, I spent several minutes foolishly waving my hands in the general vicinity of the basin in search of one of those new-fangled sensor jobbies, before slapping and twisting the tap in a vain bid to shock it into action. When I got to Austria, I actually had a tap that was activated by being slapped on one side or the other, and hey, I was ready for it. There was no soap, mind, but you can't have everything.

Oddly, seeing perfume bottles on walls that aren't there has been a bit of a theme of late, for I spotted this example at the old Spode pottery factory last week, where I had gone to see the British Ceramics Biennial.

In-train brain games

Despite the Deutsche Bahn's best attempts to thwart us, we still managed to spend a lot of time on trains, and quickly developed a series of mental pursuits to while away the long journeys. (I also had my knitting with me: a green, speculative scarf in moss stitch for which I signally failed to find a taker.) We did crosswords - I embarrassed myself by correctly deciphering one answer as 'thong' - guessed the age of famous people with birthdays (who knew Jimmy Carter was 91?), but the puzzle to end all puzzles has to be the one set by Andy, the bass player: 'Name a tube station in London that doesn't include any of the letters in "mackerel"'. (Answer at the end of this post - sorry I can't make it upside down.)

Incipient second pillows

By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Karlsruhe, our first stopover. Regular readers may recall my banging on about the futility of German pillows, which are typically big square floppy things you have to wrangle, origami-style, into peaks substantial enough to lay your head on. Here - and in my guest house in Austria - I noticed a new phenomenon of an incipient second pillow. These are what I believe are known back home as 'boudoir cushions' in the likes of Dunelm Mill, and I am hoping that by the time of my next visit, they will have grown into full-size pillows with a bit more fight in them than the conventional variety.

Check out the farfalle bedspread!
Tantalising toilet paper

The gig in Karlsruhe was literally round the corner - or at least it was for me and the merch team - while the rest of our party had been relocated at the last minute to what the promoter referred to as 'a much nicer and better hotel', for which  read 'with riotously colourful and busy decor - and no en suite'.

Then the actual room where the gig was held was incredibly cold, due to an over-efficient air con system. Our discomfort was somewhat offset by the system's integration into an amusing 'trompe l'oeil' robot. Then in the single, unisex toilet that served the whole club, I was reassured to read a note on the wall stating that in the event of the loo roll running out - as must surely happen every half hour with this level of traffic - there were ample stocks conveniently perched across bits of pipework by the ceiling.

'Paper view' from the throne
Giant tea bags

Tea bags have been getting bigger for a while on the continent - at least the ones you get in the fancier type of cafe - you know, those silky fabric pyramids on a string, or the long rectangular sachets attached to a bit of cardboard that you have to drape awkwardly over your mug to allow the bag bit to infuse. At the station in Karlsruhe where we had breakfast before catching our train, I noticed that even the conventional paper tea bags had been quietly getting longer - and wider. This disproportionate size of bag to mug or glass is not necessarily a trend to be welcomed, however, for with its sheer size comes added strength, and those who favour a weak to medium brew need to be pretty darn quick off the mark with their bag removal.

The gum shield hunt

Our next stop was Ravensburg, a heartstoppingly picturesque town not far from the Bodensee, bristling with towers on every corner. I had no time to do the tourist trail, sadly, being focused on the important task of scoring a temporary gum shield. For I was struggling to sleep without one, and my teeth felt hot and sore in the morning, suggesting that what little sleep I had managed was spent in grinding mode. After a scurry round the town, I found a chemist with a solution to be going on with, though not before they had offered me a box of cloth face masks of the kind favoured by Japanese people concerned about catching flu or 'worries over micro particulate matter following the earthquake and nuclear accident of 2011'. In the end I bought a whitening kit, on the strict understanding that before retiring I would thoroughly rinse out the gel that had been pre-applied to the mouth guards. I could of course spend 20 minutes actually whitening my teeth beforehand if I wanted to, but on this tour there was never a spare 20 minutes for anything...

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce
The Zehntscheuer

The gig in Ravensburg was held in a converted tithe barn (or 'Zehntscheuer' in German), which is odd, as that is the name of my road! It had the most wood of any venue I have ever been to, and it wouldn't have surprised me if the entire backline had been hewn out of oak, though luckily for the band it wasn't. Our good friends Kenji and Ronny had come down from Augsburg for the gig, which was enthusiastically received by a mixture of fans and people who were there to enjoy a meal and whatever music happened to be on offer. Though one person walked out when the singer made a quip about the parlous state of Bob Dylan's toilet, a story which I see has been covered (though happily not in the Biblical sense) by a member of our perfume community - Avery Gilbert of First Nerve!

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

Coming up in Part 2 - border-related train shenanigans and Val the Cookie Queen's heroic feats of ferrying!

Tube station teaser answer - St Johns Wood (no, I didn't get it either).


Tara said...

Is that really not a perfume bottle in front of the tiles??? If it's 'trompe l'oeil' that's amazing!

That Make Me Brows sounds like a great dupe and what a bargain. Too bad I don't know of a Wilkos. The Benefit version is rather dark even in light/medium, I agree.

LOL at cross bun fight.

I had no idea about the expanding European tea bags but was aware of the floppy pillow situation. Fancy about the tilthe barn venue!

With all those missing things you could say there were spaces everywhere :)

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

That is indeed just a picture of a perfume bottle. And the tiles themselves are not really subway ones either, but give the illusion of having bevelled edges. It was more like shiny wallpaper with a tile design on it.

Now I can't remember which Gimme Brows I had - it got nicked in the case - but I think it was too light for me, if that is possible?

The floppy pillow situation has been the bane of my life for a long time hehe, but it could be that my complaints are gradually leading to change, even if these additional pillows still have some growing to do. Not unlike the Bonkers kitten indeed.

LOL at the 'spaces everywhere' left by my forgotten stuff - you are a real pro. ;)

Unknown said...

What a journey.

Anonymous said...

"Three thinking men in two seats." They all look very streng. Those foot pump sinks are very deceiving. You are not the only one to randomly wave your hands around, hoping for a torrent of water to appear. All very Candid Camera. And regardless of the size of the tea bags, Europeans in general seem to find making a decent cup of tea an epic challenge. As for the pillows, some the size of a single bed? I can only add that IKEA have recently started to do special size pillow cases for them. I wonder if that is only here? Servus. Bussis xxx

Vanessa said...

The wurst is yet to come, hehe!

Vanessa said...

Hi Val,

Thinking men indeed. Those Fahrplaene were constantly pored over, much good that it did us, haha.

It was very Candid Camera, my frantic antics with sinks. You would think after all my bathroom inquiries that I would have got the measure of all possible kinds of sanitary ware, but not so.

Tea is indeed very hit and miss over there. Dodging the Scylla and Charybdis of Kaffeesahne and hot milk for one thing...

Yes! Some pillows are the size of a bed. IKEA shouldn't encourage such madness...xxx

odiferess said...

I hope you stole that bedspread. There is not enough orange in the world. I imagine a grand dose of 1970s chypre would have accompanied it very well. x

Asali said...

Great tip with the brow thingy, looking for a new one pt, so will check it out :-) I agree the farfalle bedspread is hilarious, so typical to find this kind of 'artsyness' in a German hotel, and the colour!
St. John's Wood! Of course.

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

Of course not, haha. Not least because it would have played havoc with my Easyjet baggage allowance. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I was most pleasantly surprised at the brow thingy, and expected a performance more in line with the price. I liked the farfalle bedspread, I must say. I did have an urge to put a napkin ring on it too. ;)

Ingeborg said...

So many missing things, what a journey!

I really like the big tea bags, but the size of the cups in most hotels do not match the content of the tea bags in any way.

Undina said...

Your story about the missing/wrong numbering of the carriage reminded me a very popular stand-up comedy act from my childhood. It was about a train with two carriages #9. A running joke was that "everybody knows the carriage #9 is the one that is after #8 and not the one that is before #10." As you can imagine, by the third or forth reappearance the audience was crying with laughter. I'm sure that most people of my generation or older still recall it every time they hear "carriage #9."

Are you sure those huge tea bags are for the individual consumption? It looks like those that I saw here sold for teapots.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ingeborg,

I am terrible for forgetting things, and it doesn't seem to matter how often I do, I don't get any better at remembering. ;)

Re the tea bags, you could indeed say it's the cups that are too small rather than the bags that are too big. But either way it's a mismatch!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I loved your story about carriage #9 - that is exactly the nub of the problem we faced, with people aligning themselves with one or other system of counting / identification. What fun that that should have been a famous gag where you come from.

Teapots would be a much better fit for those tea bags, but they were certainly issued with mugs here.