Dublín, we thought…yes, why not? And lo, it came to pass that we booked our trip to the Emerald isle. Had we known what awaited us, perhaps we would have booked something a little less problematic. Like Afghanistan.
It started as we rolled up at the car park that we had diligently prebooked. It was locked. A sign informed us that they were at the airport and would be ‘a few minutes’. A few minutes came and went and we decided to phone them. He’d been there all along. Apparently, the booking hadn’t been taken. Even though, on my two previous visits there, he’d urged me to ‘book direct’ because it was ‘better’. Mmm.
Anyway ,no harm done, and we arrived in good time. However, my ire was further raised when, finding a space on a table in order to fill my tray at security, some Bolshie Irish git started…
“Dere’s a queue here y’know”. I looked him squarely in the eye (at least I think I did, he was a bit pissed) and said:
“Don’t worry mate, I’m not stealing your place, I’m just unloading my stuff, it won’t go without you! ” ooh, he didn’t like that. He had a rebuttal:
“Some people have no manners!” I just burst out laughing. He didn’t like that either.
“Just get over yourself mate” I replied…
The fun in security didn’t stop there, as continuing the habit of a lifetime, miki was stopped and asked to empty her bag, revealing the usual culprit , a metal tin containing some art supplies.
“What is this?” Asked the security woman
.”Coloured pencils” said Miki
“What is biological pencils?” She responded. We were going to be a while, I could feel it. Luckily, one of her compatriots had been gifted with half a brain so the peseta finally dropped, but not before she insisted that she’d thought they were tattoo needles. I didn’t realise a prerequisite of joining airport security was that you had to be whacked off your tits on hallucinogenics…..
They seemed to be a little over zealous with the sizing of the hand luggage. You know the company. It rhymes with Brian air…anyway, the woman came along checking all the bags with a cardboard box, then, when we got through passport control, everyone…and I mean everyone, had to put their case in the dreaded metal frame. This is the frame that old ladies get their cases stuck in and the airport staff watch impassively as they risk heart attacks trying to remove them. But it really took the biscuit when my partner was asked to put it in by one member of staff, and then again by another two minutes later. We refused. What did they think it was? Expanding chuffing luggage? Undeterred, we soldiered on. Convinced our troubles were behind us, which in one sense they were, as the guy who’d heckled me at security had failed to get the jump on me when the gate was called, but….there was so much more to come. The majority of the flight was uneventful, save for the fact that the inflight magazine uncharacteristically offered three different meals at nearly 50percent off. Too good to be true? Well, yes as it turned out, as they didn’t have any of these fab meals available. Go figure. Well, we started our descent, approaching Dublin. It looked a bit dodgy outside, and Miki was getting worried. ” don’t stress” I told her,” it happens” , and truth be told, I’d had plenty of bumpy descents, but then I noticed the engines revving again and the unmistakable feeling of ascending. All this time we were fed zero info. Eventually, the captain said.:
“Er…we can’t land at dublin due to bad weather, we’ll probably have to divert….somewhere. “. This deliberately vague stance went on for some time and I began to wonder idly about the fuel capacity of a 737 and indeed how many airports there were to the west of Ireland before we hit the new world.
Finally, we started to see lights. A lot of lights. A big city. Doesn’t look like Galway bay, I thought to myself. The captain enlightened, and stunned us.
“We’re about to land in Liverpool . We’ll give you more info…..later.”
So, a little bit diverted then. A different frickin’ country. Now it was going to get really fun.
It was unbelievably hair-raising as we came into land, he was fighting it all the way. My guess is we had to come in on approach unbelievably fast, so he could maintain control against the savage winds. all I know is, he stomped on those brakes so damn hard I felt like I was meeting myself coming back. It is the only time I’ve ever applauded a pilot and meant it.
Eventually ‘the cap’ emerged from his cockpit, not to take the applause, but to deliver, well, no information at all actually. It appeared he was as much in the dark as we were. Well, when I say ‘emerged from his cockpit’, peeked around the door would be a more apt description. He addresses us on the mic , having a running argument with one guy, trying to explain why we were denied landing at Dublin. Apparently, the whole of Ireland closed down as we made our descent, as did all UK airports North of Liverpool .
There were no free drinks, no refreshments of any kind for at least an hour. One stewardess gives away her own water after arguing with ‘number one’ (HEAD STEWARDESS WHO MUST BE OBEYED!) about the morality of witholding supplies.
Suddenly, several fire trucks are brought alongside…”don’t be alarmed” says the cap,” it’s to protect the refuelling dude from the winds.” ..and there’s me thinking they’ve come to pump some free drinking water on board.
The Captain says, in answer to a torrent of passenger questions:
“I can’t say whether its a yes or no to free refreshments or hotel rooms, but my instinct is definitely not! “
Amazingly, they start selling drinks and snacks, they are now making money out of our misery. After about two hours, some passengers opt for the last chance to leave as the captain offers to escort them to the terminal building. Even as I write this, the plane is rocking crazily on the Tarmac, we’re not going anywhere yet. It transpires that there is only one dispatcher here at Liverpool at this time of night. It’s now 2.18 am. There are a number of other planes that have been diverted here, and one guy to deal with them all, which he has to do, in person, in turn. The people that have disembarked need bags from the hold apparently. All are removed in the gusting winds, sifted through, and returned to the hold. Not that there’s any great rush, we’re not going anywhere, anytime soon. One interesting aspect was that the mouthy git who accosted me at security was one of those who chose to disembark. He also felt it necessary to go and confer with the Captain several times. Self important arse. Liverpool has my sympathy.
It’s now 2.30 am, the captain has returned. What further fun has the night in store for us?
It appears we are not alone, as I think Michael Jackson once sang. There are fifteen planes here that shouldn’t be, not counting us, which makes me believe that the two flights that left Murcia before us, bound for Glasgow and Newcastle respectively are here as well. We are in a miserable queue of misappropriated aircraft waiting to complete their journeys. We are in a weird kind of aviatory limbo, where our only sustenance comes from a team of stewardesses plagued by internecine strife and low supplies. Eight planes are ahead of us, and I draw some crumbs of comfort from the knowledge as we rocket down the windswept runway once again, that there are still seven behind us. This time, Dublin is kinder to us, and allows us to land. It’s gone 3am, and we head to the car rental counter where we discover their staff, predictably have given up the ghost and gone home. We bite the bullet and go to get a taxi, but we have to join a queue. Outside. In the cold. And the wind. Eventually it’s our turn, and we are confronted by the most hyper guy I’ve ever seen who must be out of his gourd on angel dust, pcp or something. He is dangerously manic, drives suicidally, and curiously, for a taxi driver who is Irish, and not from Mumbai, has absolutely no clue where the Travelodge Dublin south is. I kid you not. He dumps us where he thinks is right, after frightening Miki half to death by succeeding in driving more scarily than our flight could ever have been, and zoomed off with the words “you’re on your own.” I imagine he was found this morning wrapped around a Belisha beacon listening to Ebeneezer Goode on his iPod. At least, one can hope.
Naturally, the Travelodge where he dropped us was not the one in which we were booked. Thankfully the night bloke graciously gave us a complimentary room, once we had proved to his satsifaction that we should have been at the other one and had already paid. Not that it took the sting out of handing over twenty five euros to our kamikaze taxi driver for the privilege of being dumped in the wrong place. It was twenty three actually, but he sped off without considering the old fashioned principle of giving change.
He certainly didn’t deserve a tip. The only one I would have given him would have been: “Don’t ever drive a car again”.So today, we pay another ten euros to go back to the airport to get the car we should have had last night. Except it’s not there. We have to get a shuttle bus to where it is. So we do, and then we go into the office to pay. It rejects my credit card. It rejects Miki’s credit card. Finally, using an obscure rarely used one in the bowels of her purse, we are finally able to pay for the damn thing and drive away. We’re in the correct Travelodge right now. It’s raining, then it’s not. But it’s always windy. Yep. It blows.
“I get around” , sang some Beach Boy or other back in the day, and that’s something I can relate too. This weekend was…..interesting. One of my bands, Bootleg Counterfeit Sweet (formerly BC Sweet) was back in Germany for the first time in a long while, and me and the guys were looking forward to it.
Our first clue that things might not run smoothly reared its head some weeks back, when we discovered the show was being advertised under our old name of BC Sweet, a moniker which, due to our refusal to line the pockets of any more lawyers is now put to bed. The new name reflects, if nothing else, some heavy irony….but that’s a whole other lawsuit….er, story.
Anyway, we got in touch with them expressing our dismay, and implied that we would pull the show if we weren’t advertised correctly. We specifically make clear in all contracts how we should be billed. There’s simply nothing more you can do in these situations. Well, everything seemed to calm down, so come Friday, I dutifully arose at the crack of dawn, dawn in this particular instance going by the name of 7.30 am, and made the two and a half hour drive to Alicante to get my flight to Berlin. I arrived in good time, strolling into the Airport at 11.30, my flight due to leave at 1pm. I scanned the departure screens….to no avail. No flight was advertised for Berlin anywhere near the appointed time. As luck would have it, the AirBerlin information desk was situated adjacent to this, your humble and now visibly palpitating writer. The lady manning the desk braced herself to receive the full force of “Kev in Panic Mode”, as I stammered something to the effect of “w-w-w-wwhere’s my flight? – it’s disappeared!”
Motioning for me to produce my booking reference, her fingers danced across the computer keyboard while mine drummed out paradiddles of pensiveness in concert with her on the counter. With a flourish, our performance drew to a close, she fixed me with a gaze of undeniable finality and delivered three announcements that might as well have been bullets:
“The Berlin flight was changed. You should have been informed. It left at 11 o’clock. “
I had barely time to ingest and process this triad of bombshells before she surged on, relentless:
“And not only that. Your return flight on Sunday has changed also.”
It transpired that I would land in Alicante a full three and a quarter hours earlier on the Sunday than I first thought, being routed via Palma instead of Dusseldorf. “Oh well, every cloud” I thought, temporarily oblivious to the fact that I had yet to find a way to leave Spain, never mind return.
My AirBerlin saviour’s fingers were already dancing again, however, and her face was a picture as it ran the gamut of expressions, through hope, expectancy, frustration, despair, and so on ad infinitum. She helpfully provided a running commentary to accompany her admittedly riveting gurning.
“Ah, so…ve can take you via Palma….ach nein! es ist voll….there is even no Air Berlin personnel we can remove for you…”
It suddenly dawned on me as she meandered through cyberspace looking for empty seats, that they didn’t actually have to do a damned thing. It was pretty clear that air berlin had almost certainly sent an email to the promoter informing him of the flight changes. They had clearly assumed it was just a confirmation of what they already knew. Except it wasn’t. Thirty odd years of international travel in bands has taught me that, if there is a possibility for something to cock up, then cock up it most assuredly will. And here was Miss Air Berlin, quite prepared to give her fellow workers the heave-ho off a flight in order to get me to me destination. “As long as it’s not the pilot, I suddenly thought, worriedly….”
Finally, and almost apologetically, she announced:
“Well, I can put you on a flight to Munich that leaves at 2.30 pm, but your connection to Berlin means you won’t arrive at your destination until 8pm.”
My original, and now patently useless itinerary had me setting foot on Berlin soil around 4pm, but fortuitously, I assured her, my colleagues in the band were arriving from England around 8pm also, and so that would be just dandy, vielen danke! Well, her little face lit up and she went on to tell me that she had also arranged for my passage home via Palma on the Sunday. So, Palma Sunday coming a little later than Easter for me this year. Not only that, I had the VIP lane option upon arriving in Munich, to smooth things along, so to speak. Just for the record: Air Berlin rocks!
Now, prior to boarding anything, I made several calls. One to the carpark, so they knew to get me at 4 on Sunday and not 7, and one to Marc, our bandleader, to inform him of my rescheduling. He gave me my driver’s number, and I texted him to tell him of my new arrival time. So I landed in Berlin fully confident our problems were behind us……
‘My’ driver, Karsten, turned out to be ‘Our’ driver, as I quickly discovered, following collecting me in what looked suspiciously like a builder’s van, as we made our way across Berlin from Tegel (my airport) to Schoenefeld (their airport). Karsten informed me that we had ‘about 300 kilometers to drive to Wolgast.” This of course set me thinking. What if I’d arrived at 4pm? It occurred to me that I would have been kicking my heels for 4 hours waiting for the others to arrive anyway.
Anyway, the lads were patiently waiting in the cafe, and we all piled back in the builder’s van and hit the Autobahn, driving into what used to be East Germany. By that I mean, it’s no longer East Germany, the country, but it exhibits many of its communist traits, such as no amenities. Some time into the journey, we asked Karsten if we might stop at a motorway services to grab a snack and a coffee.
“Why yes!” he said jovially, “In fact it is the ONLY service station between here and Wolgast, we are in the East now!”
Well, we all had a jolly good laugh about that, as I availed myself of a curiously Franco-Prussian snack that appeared to be a perfectly serviceable croissant that had been raped by a bratwurst.
It can only have been another 20 kilometers or so down the road when Teutonic mutterings started emanating from Karsten’s mouth, accompanied by the occasional worried glance at the fuel gauge. After several unsuccessful attempts to engage him in conversation, and a further 20 or 30 kilometers, he finally volunteered some rather startling information. We were running out of fuel.
General weariness and a desire to get to bed prompted me to announce: “If we run out of fuel, you will be getting us a hotel or a taxi, whichever comes first. I’m not up for freezing our nuts off in subzero temperatures for the night waiting for some bloody farmer to turn up in the morning.” We exited the dark and empty motorway at the next available opportunity, which delivered us into some dark and empty farmland. The one town we did find was pretty much empty. Karsten ventured that this was probably due to the gang fight there the previous evening which had resulted in multiple arrests. Evidently they must have arrested the proprietor of the local petrol station, because it was closed.
However, there was a group of rather lost looking individuals gathered around under the ailing neon lights on the forecourt. God knows why. If this is what passes for a party around here, then they need to legalize drugs. Somehow Karsten managed to convince one of them to get into his car, and we followed him into the night, across some disused railway tracks, down a potholed lane into the middle of nowhere….and there, in exactly the middle of nowhere, was a single, solitary petrol pump with an automat. Never let it be said that the Germans have no sense of humour.
When we finally reached Wolgast (it was now the following day) the need to tarmac the roads seemed to desert them, and our last 500 yards were so rough it would have been ruled out as a suitable site for a moon landing. Nevertheless, we had arrived at our hotel, and, apparently, our gig. For there in the compact and bijou bar area was a small stage with a backline that made a Sony walkman look impressive. We were given schnitzels, lots of them, as the reality of the situation began to sink in..it wasn’t long before I decided I was better off in bed.
The next morning, I headed downstairs to check it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t. There were the tiny amps, staring at me balefully, as if daring me to defile them with a power chord. I defiled the cornflakes instead, along with a few other comestibles as we had the slightly surreal experience of eating our breakfast in front of the stage we were to be performing on later that evening. I thought it wise to eat all the bread rolls, in case anyone wanted to start throwing them later.
Looking around the vestibule, I noticed a small poster advertising the show which looked familiar to me, but for a strange reason. It featured a piece of artwork by my partner Miki, of our band. (See top of article) Now, we don’t use this piece of art in our publicity, and it’s not supposed to be reproduced by anyone without permission, (she wasn’t even credited on the poster!) but that didn’t seem to bother our mate the promoter, who’d also used the old BC Sweet logo against our express wishes. (I’ve changed it on here) To compound matters, I saw at least one more poster about the size of a small bus on the outskirts of town too. So, clearly some fell on stoney ground then….
That afternoon, Mike, Marc, Pete and myself convened in the gig/breakfast room to run through a couple of songs and see if we could get some kind of sound out of the equipment. After an hour or so we had a passable sound, given the limitations, and we declared ourselves able to gig.
Cut to 8pm, and a room full of eager German punters, as the strains of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” theme fade and Pete counts us into ‘Action’. The mics aren’t working. At all. The first verse grinds to a halt and instead of greeting the audience, at only a minute into the show, I’m apologizing to them. Marc disappears offstage to consult with whoever is looking at the mixer like it’s an alien, and Mike, Pete and myself entertain the crowd with an impromptu 3 piece blues jam that lasts 5 minutes but feels like a lifetime.
We start again. And an entertaining game of ‘musical mics’ begins as, during a second attempt at ‘Action’, Marc, Mike and I juggle the mics around between us to see if any actually work. They don’t, and a smell of burning wiring signals the end of this particular attempt to entertain the Germans. The mixer has exploded. Detleff, the guy who brought us over in the first place, is looking seriously harried, as well he might. Trying to get away with using ‘My mum’s PA system’ for a grown-up rock band is always going to leave you in a heap of scheisse.
Nevertheless, against all the odds, he disappeared into the night and returned with a replacement. I have no idea where he got it, or how. There’s probably a dead sound engineer lying in a ditch somewhere near the Polish border. Take three, and off we go! It’s still bloody awful, but the crowd, sensing we’re really up against it, seem to take to these four idiotic blokes who don’t know when they’re beaten. At one point, I moved away from the mic, and screamed the vocal at the audience, complete with expletives, just to get it out of my system. They loved it. They like a good shout, the Germans. Against all the odds, the evening was success. The meal we were expecting following the gig, less so. It took us half an hour to locate it. Apparently it had been waiting on a kitchen table in a hidden room somewhere and consisted on schnitzel, in a bun. It seems that, around these parts, the answer is schnitzel, regardless of the question.
Now, I was the only one who could remotely string a German sentence together, so I was charged with the task of making sure the promoter knew that I had to be on the road at 7am in the morning, other wise I would miss my rescheduled flight. This proved confusing, when another guy called George, who I’d never seen before, and who was pissed, insisted he was driving me to Berlin in the morning. Thankfully, before I retired to my room for a bit of kip, it was established that, for reasons best known to himself, this was a lie.
The next morning, as the clock struck 7 am exactly, Detleff and I were sat in the drive thru lane at the local McDonalds waiting for the shutters to open. He treated me to an Egg McMuffin, and we hit the road. how the other half live, eh?
This week is very special for me. It is the first time my Dad has been over to visit me where we live in Spain. We thought it was about time, and my sister and I clubbed together to bring him over as an 80th birthday present last year. We finally agreed on a date that didn’t clash with any Derby County football Club fixtures!
One great thing about having him over is that I manage to get out and about much more than I normally would, and get to see where I live anew through different eyes. I do believe it helps in appreciating everything we have.
We nearly didn’t make it though. The weather was so bad in England on Friday when we were due to leave, the plane was delayed by over and hour, and by the time we arrived in Spain, the airport in England was closed! I don’t think Dad could have picked a better week to escape the weather, as we watch reports on the BBC of power failures, 20 foot snowdrifts and even deaths with growing disbelief.
Ignoring the old beleaguered homeland and its plummeting temperatures, we’ve been swanning about in the roadster visiting places of interest such as Agua Amarga, Garrucha, Mojacar and Carboneras. It’s wonderful to spend these days together, and finally get to show him where Miki and I have made our home.
Several years ago, Miki and I were travelling through South-West Spain in our Motorhome, heading for Portugal. We chanced upon a little artisans market in a small Spanish village. I can tell you exactly when it was – June 25th, 2009. It was the day Michael Jackson died. We got the news as we browsed some art and got chatting with an amiable American at one of the stalls. He was there selling his artwork, and that of his girlfriend, a Polish stained glass artist called Justyna. We took to Ted straight away, he was a larger than life character. We exchanged contact details and promised to stay in touch.
We discovered he was from New Orleans, and the following year, we travelled to the American South on a road trip that inspired my Blue Odyssey album, and met up with Ted again, this time in his hometown. It was great to see him again, and he showed us around, took us for a Po’ Boy sandwich, and introduced us to his friends at the Apple Barrel in Frenchman Street.
Today, as we holiday in Lanzarote, we discovered via the Fine Art America website that Ted had passed away. After spending some months in Mexico, he’d returned to N’awlins, and there he died.
Here’s to you Ted, one of those characters that so enrich your life as you travel around the world. You were a good man, and you’ll be remembered my friend.