Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Small pink knitting: a mini-tour with The Monochrome Set, including a meet up with Val the Cookie Queen

Val the Cookie Queen of APJ, and husband Chris
Some three and a half months on from their last tour - of which Weikersheim was the most southerly point - The Monochrome Set went back to Germany at the end of March to play two more gigs down south: in Stuttgart and Augsburg, which are in Swabia and Bavaria respectively. I did toy with putting 'a mini-tour of Swavaria' in the title line, but decided against it a) because it might annoy the inhabitants of each province to be conflated in this way, and b) because it would cause consternation among the Google bots, whose only reference point hitherto for Swavaria is a rather sweet YouTube video of an Indian baby smiling beatifically in his fleecy cocoon. Worth ten seconds of anyone's time!

The journey out: aka 'not doing the Time Warp'

Thus it was that on Friday 31st I took the train to the airport. By 9am (thanks to a prolonged tea stop at Crewe), my latest scarf project was already off the ground.

I was flying from Manchester, with a plane full of noisy youths in too tight T-shirts, and orange-faced girls with scowling Scouse brows and jeans so comprehensively ripped as to barely deserve the name of 'garment' ('barely' being the operative word). Since I last flew with Ryanair, they seem to have relaxed both their 'one bag' and their 'no drinking your own booze on the plane' rules, for the girls were knocking back baby bottles of rosé with abandon even as they flashed their boarding cards (and everything else!) at gate staff. Ryanair had also ditched the irritating music, though as happens with monotonous regularity, I was seated directly in front of a small child, who proceeded to thump his tray table in a series of exuberant outbursts throughout the flight, apparently prompted by a winning streak in serial games of Snap.

It seems it wasn't just me that was a bit cross...these 'Air Fury' hand driers in the ladies' toilets in Terminal 3 had got themselves so hot and bothered that two of them were out of order.

I met the band at Stuttgart airport - they had flown from Gatwick with a crowd of similarly vocal young people... We all piled onto the S-Bahn, heading for the Hauptbahnhof, and it rapidly became apparent that the majority of passengers on both our flights were headed for an event in Mannheim - my money is on a rave called Time Warp. It was equally apparent that they were assuming Mannheim was a suburb of Stuttgart, and were crestfallen not to see it listed on the S-Bahn map, like expecting Manchester to be the stop before Cockfosters on the Piccadilly line.


And soon we were facing some navigational challenges of our own, to wit the perennial game of 'spot the venue', the German music scene being noted for its arrestingly novel selection of repurposed buildings, from lost property offices to bakeries, hospitals, Art Nouveau villas, and the occasional punk squat. Though as I note in this post from 2012, most of the venues look like a punk squat.

A gig in a box

That night's gig was held in a shipping container - or to be strictly accurate about it, a couple of containers knocked through - on a 'residential container park' in the north of the city. As soon as I saw the abandoned bus I figured we must be getting warm.

The surreal sanitary ware statuary was another surefire giveaway, along with the sign pointing out that the whole area was designated a cultural protection zone.

Seemingly of the banana...and why not?

The backstage area turned out to be another shipping container or several, positioned a stone's throw away. This has to be the first time a green room has ever been larger than the actual venue. The band were greeted by the reassuring sight of the 'satsuma rider', despite Easter being nearly upon us.

Note the partially pink table...

I did a bit more knitting during the sound check, determined to knit enough over the course of the weekend to justify all the time I had expended in the run up to the trip, trying to bottom out the security restrictions on needles at each of the airports in question.

The gig itself was fashionably late - the band didn't play a note till 11.45pm - and the atmosphere took the phrase 'smoke filled room' (or 'smoke filled container', that would be) to a whole new level. Smoke of all kinds, indeed. Personally, I am not averse to a bit of 'passive spliffing' - I just have to walk the length of my own street to get a similar effect - but this was such an intimate venue that the line between passive and active smoking became academic. Notions of personal space also went out the window (and yes, the containers did have windows!). Consequently one woman, whose serpentine dance moves were suggestive of a transcendental state, over the precise cause of which it is perhaps best to draw a veil, persisted in inadvertently slapping my backside with every uninhibited flail of her arms. There was a twist too to the recurring problem at gigs of  'tall man' syndrome, namely 'two tall men bobbing sideways every five seconds' syndrome. I can confirm that despite the metronomic regularity of the manoeuvre, it was as irritating as Chinese water torture, as well as making photos of more than random body parts of the band nigh on impossible. Though I did get a lucky break when the 'bobber twins' went to the bar...or was it the loo?! For as someone who has done a market research project on public lighting in Germany, I was most impressed at the well lit signage to the WC (in another shipping container, obvs).


After a hearty breakfast the next morning - so filling in fact that I ended up lobbing pellets of leftover bread roll into the path of an opportunistic robin -  we took the train back to the Hauptbahnhof and on to Augsburg, just two hours east. We checked into the wonderfully eclectic Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, where I had time for a bit of a lie down in the afternoon.

The communal bathroom on Floor 4

'The Cosmo' (as it has become fondly known, with this being a return visit ;) ) is a ground breaking combo of hotel and asylum seekers' hostel built around the rather nebulous business model of 'pay as you feel'. I resisted the urge at any point to say: 'I feel awfully much will that be?' The room I had booked had been commandeered by the people staying before me, who had extended their stay, and I was accordingly bumped to one called '4Null5' (405). To be fair, you really can't go wrong in this place - all the rooms are quirkily fascinating to a fault. As it happens, I had had a surprise nosebleed the previous night, but the Cosmo had thoughtfully anticipated my health issues and provided an ample provision of ceiling-mounted tissues.

At about 6pm Val and 'no fear' husband Chris met me at the hotel, where we exchanged presents (see my Naja review) and had a drink in a cosy snug behind the foyer (its space travel theme neatly dovetailing with the band's latest release, 'Cosmonaut'!).

Then it was time to join the rest of our party for dinner in the bar of the City Club, downstairs from the venue. The three of us shared a giant pizza that had been harmoniously designed by committee, and which kept us going till the similarly late stage time.

As they had famously done in Ebensee, Val and Chris acted as band taxi again at the end of the night, before heading back to their own (more conventionally appointed!) hotel.

Photo courtesy of Val

By 7am the next morning I could feel my hangover kicking in with a vengeance, to the teasing peals of church bells. My pain-killing weapon of choice is soluble Solpadeine, so I decided to nip down to the asylum seekers' floors in search of a kitchen, and a cup. Though clad in my nightie I was confident that I was unlikely to meet anybody at that ungodly - or do I mean godly in view of the bells? - hour, and so it proved. On my wanderings I was touched by the fact that there were several pairs of shoes outside every door along the corridors. After a cursory flurry of cupboard door opening in the one kitchen I wandered into, I felt as though I was trespassing and returned to my room. Where I had the bright idea to break up the tablets and dissolve them in my water bottle. When I recounted my adventure to the band, the bass player suggested that if it didn't already exist, it was time someone invented a collapsible ceramic mug.

Later that morning, as my hangover was lifting, we convened in the hotel garden for a last drink, before Val and Chris ran us all to the station in two car loads, where an elaborate series of farewell permutations ensued. But not before Val had invited the band to smell Galop d'Hermès on her, with its upbeat blend of quince, rose and leather, and given us all a generous stash of Austrian wafer biscuits. I chose the lemon ones, which proved to be a zingy taste sensation!

The journey back

At the airport, it took several attempts to progressively - and grudgingly - rationalise my luggage down to one bag. Sadly Easyjet, with whom I was returning, has not relaxed its carry on rules. At this point I took my knitting OFF the needles and entrusted them (along with the perfume Val had given me) to Caryne, who stowed it all in the merchandise case, which was going in the hold. We agreed that I would pick up the perfume in two months' time at the next gig I plan to attend, while Caryne would post the needles back to me sooner.

On the plane home...

And there was one last game I played with myself in a bid to prolong this all too mini-tour, namely I tried to see how long I could keep the stamp on the back of my hand from the Augsburg gig before it washed off. I promise I did continue to bathe in the normal way!...I just didn't attempt to actively remove the ink by scrubbing.

And I am pleased to report that the stamp lasted - or its faint vestiges certainly - till at least Tuesday... or could it even have been Wednesday?


  1. You lucky duck. Hanging with the cool crew. Sounds like an excellent adventure.
    Portia xx

    1. Hi Portia,

      It was a lot of fun, plus some knitting got out, got back, and got done. It was so good to see Val and Chris again and I only wish it could have been longer. xx

  2. And of course those stamps are always terribly useful as clues to help in solving crimes, especially murders ...

    You are so adventurous and that was certainly a "experience", but it must have been good to get back to your sweet-smelling home.


    1. Hi Jillie,

      Gosh yes, I can't think of a better clue, haha. In the old days of 'distinguishing features' on passports, I had listed 'severely ridged thumbnails', hoping that that small detail might one day come in handy, though I wasn't quite sure how.

      It was good to get back to my own bathroom (blog post on that to come soon!), but in all other respects I still have one foot in Augsburg...

    2. I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read about the stamp. I even thought of mentioning that under ultraviolet light it might have been visible even longer :)

    3. Haha - I wish I had had some ultraviolet light to have tried that trick at the time...

  3. Just brilliant.
    I think I've told you that weirdly I had a toy container port as a child which I loved. The Germans are extremely talented at re-purposing though it must make for a very tricky game of spot the venue. You scored a double whammy at the gig what with the bottom slapper and the bobber twins. Total nightmare. Standing up gigs can be the most fun but pretty wearing these days.
    How lovely to get to hang out with Val and Chris. I love those wafer biscuits too!
    Much admiration for getting in so much knitting and what a striking shade pink. You do source the best colours for your clients, V.

    1. Hi Tara,

      I did not know about your toy container port and I think I want one now, haha. What an excellently educational plaything with its twin associations of transport and commerce. ;) I had a garage, which I loved, and a post office, but your port sounds the business.

      I don't really mind the standing at gigs, on account of all the sitting that goes on on trains and whatnot. I do get frustrated if I have come all that way and cannot see, mind.

      The scarf is actually a speculative project that will end up in someone's stocking, yet to be decided. I can't wear that pink, but it is a delight to knit with.

  4. Cool trip. Unsurprisingly, I liked the Kulturschutzgebiet with added banana.

    1. Ha! I can imagine that appealing. There was also an amusingly named firm of solicitors nearby, the sign for which I am hoping will feature in the drummer's photo essay when it comes.

  5. That´s it. Next time you and the band and the rest of the crew are in Germany I am coming to at least two gigs, if not all of them. Perhaps a TMS Transport sticker for the car would be nice? It was so much fun and really quite surrealistic. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I hope that bright pink scarf isn´t s surprise for me. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. xxxxxxxx

    1. Hi Val,

      You would be more than welcome, and I don't just mean for the band transport neither, though that was much appreciated. 'Big black taxi' if you will...;)

      I love the idea of a TMS Transport sticker - maybe with the armadillo motif woven in somehow?

      Roll on the next Augsburg gig if not one before that you can make. And fear not, the pink scarf is not for you. At the moment I have only one possible recipient in mind, who I know to have a penchant for hot pink. xxxx

  6. Hi Vanessa! So happy I checked in on your blog for this fantastic adventure story! I am going to try to divine your email and send you a missive -- maybe a fb message.


    1. Hey Wendy!

      Lovely to hear from you and I am glad you enjoyed the post. There are quite a few more like it going back over the years, as you will have gathered. ;)

      My blog email should be listed over in the sidebar, if not I am very reachable via Messenger - would be great to hear what you are up to. I haven't been back to the States since 2010, sadly. I think that was when we met? xx

  7. Fun story! :)
    I was wondering: how do you transport an unfinished knitting without needles? Did you somehow get it on a thread? I was also wondering: would chopsticks be allowed on a plane? Could you use them? :)

    I have to ask... The room on your picture looks like it has some unused space and I cannot see a bad... Was it there? :)

    1. Hi Undina,

      Very good question, and in the absence of a needle to thread the stitches onto a piece of wool or thread - a needle being construable as an offensive weapon too, of course - I just took the knitting off, laid it flat in a plastic bag and packed it flat in the middle of my clothes. It didn't unravel at all, I am pleased to report.

      Behold, my bed! Though that was also a good question. The rooms at the Cosmopolis do a great line in unused space - possibly to foster a general air of calm, which they do in spades.