Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Big cream taxi: On tour with The Monochrome Set in Holland and Germany - Part 1

I realise that this is the time of year when it is customary for perfume bloggers to publish Christmas Gift Guides featuring a tempting selection of fragrant things, followed by a retrospective post about the year's releases and/or discoveries. I feel so remote from the perfume scene these days that I doubt I will be doing either of those this year, although I do have a few perfume reviews in the pipeline. For even in this becalmed plateau stage of my hobby, a few of the more persistent perfume houses manage to cross my path with their new launches, some of which - I am pleased to say - genuinely stir my slumbering mojo!

Yet in my own small trend-bucking corner of the blogosphere, the event that is still on my mind - more so even than the upcoming festivities - is my recent trip to Germany and Holland with The Monochrome Set, this time in the slightly ramped up (but still essentially nebulous and ineffable) role of 'Logistics Manager'.

The tour has stayed with me because it was the most intense and full-on of any I have been on. Every day felt like a week, and I was so wired all the time that sleep proved chronically elusive.

And normally while away I keep a daily record in a little notebook of amusing incidents or observations of band life. Sure enough the notebook came out with me, but for the entire ten days of the trip this is all I managed to jot down...!

So rather than adopt a chronological approach as in past years, I will go with the thematic format I used to adopt for write ups like this one of my overseas business trips, back in the day.

But first a word about the title (with apologies to Joni Mitchell)...basically, because we were travelling around by train and staying in some out of the way places not readily accessible by tram or bus, we ended up taking a number of (to my mind quite extortionate) taxis: all of these vehicles were of the people - and gear - carrier variety, and all without exception cream in colour.

Source: Taxi 730101

Rum hotels

Now I know that on their travels some readers may stay in reliable hotel chains like the Hyatt and the Marriott - and even in one or two of comparable quality not ending in ''-tt' - as I used to myself on work trips to the States, say, but sadly that is not my reality now - or even that of the band's every once in a while. For example, I spent the first night before we left London in the amusingly named Beaver Hotel in Earls Court - the sort of place where you are unfeasibly excited to find a plug socket in your room, and where there is a very real risk of meeting a man with an enormous paunch and wearing only his underpants on the way to the shared bathroom.

Source: Tripadvisor

The balance was quickly redressed by an Ibis in Holland and a business hotel in Leipzig - even though it was so far out of town it may once have been technically in Poland - before things took a dive again in Berlin. Although my ill-defined role as Logistics Manager related mainly to booking train travel, I also made a couple of hotel reservations, one of them at the Easyhotel in the Mitte district. It was close to the venue, modern and cheap. I still haven't fathomed in what way the hotel was easy, mind you - for the punters at any rate. The rooms were so tiny that when lying on the bed your feet were practically in the shower, and the complete lack of space around the bed took me right back to childhood caravanning days.

The difficulties of negotiating our 'easyrooms' in Berlin paled into insignificance, however, compared to the dizzying array of malfunctions that awaited us in the Stadt-Altona Hotel in Hamburg, the choice of the record label this time, who one can only infer must have enjoyed preferential terms. To give you an idea of the inherent unsatisfactoriness of this accommodation, I had three different rooms during my two day stay, while the merchandise team and the bass player had two each. We built up a comprehensive photographic record of all the snagging issues we had found, and it became a competitive sport to wave our camera phones around, as we bigged up our own rooms' shortcomings: "But I had more clumps of fluff on my (weirdly sealed with gaffer tape) air vent than you did!" "Ah, but I had actual rust spots on my radiator, not just an inaccessible knob!", and much more in that vein.

My inaccessible radiator knob in Room 2 of 3

Within the overarching category of 'rum hotels' there should perhaps be a sub-thread on the lack of full - or even three quarter length - mirrors in the rooms almost everywhere we went. I took it as a sign from on high not to be so vain as to wish to see if my hastily donned outfits worked as an ensemble, but over time it did lead to a slightly disembodied feeling from not having seen my reflection below shoulder level since leaving England.

Rum toilets and graffiti

Regular readers will know this as a well worn theme of past tour posts, and the selection of graffiti-strewn conveniences on this trip didn't disappointment.

Hafenklang, Hamburg

Not to mention those facilities featuring unexpected pop art:

The ladies' toilets in DB's, Utrecht

While at NAUMANNs in Leipzig there was a Waterhouse in the Water Closet.

Source: Caryne Pearce

The toilet theme really did have legs...here is some (consciously?) amusing signage from a Russian restaurant in Berlin:

Oh, speaking of graffiti, we were back in the same venue in Frankfurt this year where the singer had made his mark on the wall on our previous visit - one of the more wholesome examples of self-expression on the wall, it must be said.

So obviously he had to have another crack this time round...Take 1 reads, with the merest soupcon of numerical irony: "1) This is my second attempt at graffiti. I find this far from unsatisfactory." Then Take 2 reprises his tone of British understatement: "2) I have returned. I am not entirely displeased."

Passive smoking

Between the higher proportion of Germans versus Brits who are smokers - especially in Berlin! - and the fact that half the band are also prone to lighting up, I did an awful lot of passive smoking while away. So much so that I really feel it qualified as active smoking. I didn't actually inhale directly from a cigarette at any point, but I did agree to hold one for the singer very briefly while standing in the doorway of the club in Cologne...under a red light. Let's just say that I shan't be doing that again, as I think the pose I unwittingly struck may have given out quite the wrong signal to a passing local.

Source: Caryne Pearce

One of my roles as Logistics Manager was estimating in advance whether the stops some of the regional trains made in small country halts were long enough to enable the keyboard player and the singer to nip onto the platform and have a quick puff. So I would get off first, scurry along the platform at full tilt to find the conductor, and put the question to him. On one occasion, the sight of him having a smoke with the driver gave me my answer right there. On another, the singer was asleep when the all-important fag break window hove into view. The keyboard player immediately hopped off when I told him he had 13 minutes, but I let the singer sleep on. I checked with him later and he would actually have preferred to have been woken up for the express purpose of having a cigarette. Which I didn't see coming either.

And it wasn't just the people who smoked on tour - it turns out that that these dancing bunnies from Berlin - who have featured in action in previous tour posts - also like a crafty ciggy at the end of the night.

Mould growth

Aha, not what you may understand by 'mould' - the heading refers to the steady progress I made with my knitting of a scarf commission for a friend. Because the wool was cashmere and inherently furry - as well as being a sort of bluey-green colour - we  had no sooner left St Pancras when the bass player observed that I was knitting 'mould'.

From that point onwards, my handiwork was known as that, such that people would encourage me to "get another row of mould done" before the next stop, type of thing. Despite the joshing, I carried on undeterred, while also acquiring excellent night knitting skills in the tenebrous venues where we spent many hours waiting around before the gig. I am pleased to report that the scarf - fashioned in five countries in the face of great provocation and ribaldry ;) - is finally finished and on its way to its new owner.

The satsuma rider

On arriving at a venue for a sound check - even though dinner is often catered in within the hour - it is usual to provide a band with a spread of food on which they can ravenously descend - or graze ad libidum through the course of the evening. In German, this buffet literally translates as 'arrival snacks', and the name stuck. Right from the first gig in Utrecht - possibly for seasonal reasons, or the perception on the part of the promoter that your average musician could succumb to scurvy at the drop of a hat - we clocked the inclusion of a crate or bowl of satsumas everywhere we went. Even though no one had specified it - J-Lo and the anti-clockwise-stirred cup of coffee-style - this fruity leitmotif came to be known as 'the satsuma rider', and we all took to stashing them away for the journey. It was rare in fact for someone to have fewer than five on their person at any given time, and I even found a couple that had snuck into my wash bag.

Part 2 follows shortly! (NB There will only be two instalments this time, notwithstanding the length of the tour, on account of the paucity of my note taking mentioned above. ;) )


Tara said...

It does sound full-on V but fun, despite the substandard accommodation. I'm with Sali Hughes on not wanting to stay anywhere that is not at least as nice as my own home these days. However, needs must. I bet you were happy to be reunited with your refurbed bathroom!
Love the satsuma rider.
Off to look up "tenebrous"...

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Sali Hughes makes complete sense with her comment, but it is sometimes hard to anticipate these things. The trouble with that particular hotel in Hamburg is that it is being progressively renovated, but I think only one of us had a 'modern' room! I always reckon any privations will make good copy, plus I was hardly inclined to sleep in any case.

I don't think I have ever used 'tenebrous' before! (One of those words in my passive vocabulary, along with the smoking, hehe.)

Undina said...

"passive vocabulary, along with the smoking" - brilliant! :)

Undina said...

While I despise any discomfort while traveling, I have to admit that those trips that involve some elements of unpredictability usually stay better in my mind and come out to be a much better conversation piece than boringly normal well-planned ones.
I find it strange that anyone would choose smoking over sleeping: having all the remaining teeth sweet, I still can't imagine waking up to quickly "inhale" (continuing the theme as well as imagining how Rusty does it) even the best cake or candy I've ever had in my life :)

Vanessa said...

;) ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

That is so true about the less than smooth trips being more memorable. In fairness I think that is most of mine, hehe.

I am with you on preferring sleep to any taste sensation, but I found the singer's stance on the matter amusingly different!

Ingeborg said...

A very entertaining post again. You are such a good observer, Vanessa!

Merry Cristmas! Our celebration on Christmas Eve was a good one, except for a child who was not totally satisfied with a slalom helmet (toys and games are more popular, an was also in the big heap of presents).

Vanessa said...

Hi Ingeborg,

Thanks! Am glad you liked it, and special props to you for reading the blog on Christmas Day. ;)

That's a shame about that child not being happy with his assigned present. I guess today's generation are harder to please than we were when we were young?