I finished my week of night shifts on the morning of Monday the 8th of August, had a couple of hours sleep, and then had a dentist appointment in the afternoon. And London erupted during that dentist appointment. Facebook had been abuzz with the word that it was going to kick off on Mare Street, and in the time I went and had a crown replaced and my teeth polished, it did. And then Croydon, Lewisham, Catford, Peckham, Walworth Road... getting nearer to me. It's always been quite irritating that my hood is purely residential - it's ten minutes walk to any sort of supermarket or row of shops, and all that's near me is a little offie that shuts at 9.30 - but on that day I was quite thankful. (And even the offie closed at 8 that night, it was all getting so bad.) So I combined my night of doing my final bits of packing with watching the quite terrifying news.
And then of course I started to overpack. As Andrew had gone off to Europe five days earlier, I had already packed clothes and sent them off with him, so all I needed was toiletries and maybe a book. But that quite quickly turned into the ridiculous I'm so terrifyingly well prepared that I must have missed something point where you start thinking 'should I take a pen?' I did not take a pen.
Tuesday So I got up bright and early and made my way to St Pancras to get the Eurostar, and the train to Amsterdam for a bargin £60. I missed the change for the Amsterdam train at Brussels Midi by mere seconds, so did have to spend an hour waiting for the next one, but that was no big deal - plenty of coffee/smoking/toilet time. (I had been to that station once before and seen that the train track was full of cigarette ends, but I wasn't quite sure if smoking was actually 'allowed' or simply 'turned a blind eye to.' On seeing three station staff smoking, I gave in.)
And so I finally arrived in Amsterdam, around the same time as Andrew had arrived there from Berlin with the band, but the parking was apparently pretty bad, so he said I should try and make my way to them, if possible. Absolutely not a problem. I had spent ages on the internet checking what tram to get, where to get off, how much it cost... I was sorted for making my own way there. Unfortunately the half-mile long tram station was currently under a massive redevelopment. Half of it was boarded off or behind scaffolding. I found the stop for the right tram, but there were no ticket machines around anywhere. I spent fifteen minutes queueing for a ticket machine that I finally realised was purely meant for topping up an existing ticket. After about forty-five minutes I finally managed to buy a ticket from a machine that only took cards, despite having about €20 in change. I got on a tram, and burst into tears at the sheer frustration of it all. Obviously I needed to Calm Down at this point. I was about to see my lovely, adorable Andrew for the first time in ages. It was meant to be a running into each other's arms romantic reunion, and here I was sobbing in frustration at the goddamn Amsterdam tram system, I decided I would have a calming fag on detraining. However I had chosen to ignore my phone, and Andrew had replied to my series of 'Waaaah! I hate Amsterdam!' messages by saying he would meet me at the tram stop. So the first thing I saw was him scanning the crowd for me, and my God he was a wonderful sight, and it was wonderful to hug and kiss him, but my sulking grumpiness took the shine off the whole thing. Sorry Andrew.
So he took me into the venue to meet the band and let me help myself to food and drink, and then by some bizarre coincidence thedavidx and davidsmum had also just arrived in Amsterdam for a holiday so we met them for drinks and a good chat, and we dragged them along to the gig, and the after-drinks... Fun was had. Susan fell in love with Keegan the drummer. We randomly met someone Andrew knew who took us on for drinks. The usual. Our hotel was clearly aimed at bands, having bedside tables made out of amps, lampshades made out of drums, and was also up an outrageous number of stairs. Nice hotel, although we had twin beds and Andrew kept falling into the gap.
[This is taking some bloody time, right? Either I'll resort to quickie bullet points soon, or I'll do a 'to be continued' and never bother, or I'll carry on and everyone will have skimmed down to something more Facebook bite-sized by now. We shall see. I'll try and curtail things. So...
Wednesday. Driving to Munich. Andrew and the band partook of the generous hotel breakfast, but I got up later and only had an apple juice, an orange juice, and a large glass of water, and then we set off and were driving all day with just the occasional service station coffee and bag of crisps until we arrived ten hours later in Munich. This is the reality of band touring - hours and hours of sitting in a van, with every venue offering you just meat and cheese to eat. Not much to say about that night really - I started to develop a massive sinus headache, and I was so overwhelmed with tiredness that I could easily have slept next to an amp. Hotel was okay - twin beds again, and right opposite an Apotheke.
Thursday. Sinus headache getting very bad. Andrew said he'd get me something if he could. I pointed out that we were right opposite an Apotheke, so he got me the marvellously named Rhino Pront, which did help. No gig that night but we were staying in Munich, at a hotel, actually hostel, that was the lowest of the low and in the middle of a refurb. All seven of us were in the same room in bunk beds, and Kyle (keyboard player) was on a mattress on the floor. The bathroom had a leak from the ceiling, the landing carpets were bare foam, the next-door cafe had the rudest waitress when she brought us the menu but we only wanted a coffee. But we all made the best of it, and me and Andrew made an excursion out to a lovely lake where we were attacked by a quite intense colony of ants. I was quite tempted to just drop a food item there and watch them go for it - I have never seen such a thorough ant invasion.
Friday. My birthday dawned. I opened my presents from Andrew in the van as most of the band had a long lie-in, and I'd really rather not do that sort of thing in public anyway. Andrew had (obviously) got me some wonderful and thoughtful presents - some books, some cows, some smoking stuff (which was quite surprising, from an ex-smoker, but much appreciated,) a much-wanted potato ricer and some cow oven gloves, and, er, a copy of Princess Diana's death certificate wrapped around a Charles & Di official wedding programme. And the guys from the band had all signed a card for me. Late afternoon we set off for our eventual Swiss destination, and stopped off at Fussen, in deepest Bavaria. Kyle was in search of some castle or other, but we never found it, and also fell victim to the European thing of eating meals at separate times of day. Being a British/American group we were vaguely expecting to be able to get a meal at 3pm, and spent hours trying to find such a thing. However we did find a place - speciality, pork - and tucked in, and the boys calculated that this could be covered by the tour costs, in honour of my birthday, and so I ate an outrageous amount of pork, potatoes, and fried egg. Andrew did point out that although we'd seen cows by the thousand, most South German food involved the pig, and yet we saw no pigs in all our journeys.
That night, after a brief pass through Austria, adding another country to be ticked off, we arrived in Bern, Switzerland. It was raining and it was grim and we took ages parking the van (we were cut up by some annoying Italians in the car park, unsurprisingly, but I didn't have to speak fluent Italian to realise how pissed off they were in the hotel to find out the menu consisted of pizza or spaghetti,) and then it took me an age to find a cash machine to get Swiss francs, by which time the bar was closed so I had to get machine coffees. And Andrew saw a shooting star and I didn't. So not the best birthday evening ever, but at least we actually had a double bed for the first time. And then...
Saturday. We'd stayed in Bern on the band's night off because it seemed to be not far away from Vevey, where the band were playing a small festival. We arrived at 12pm for soundcheck, and had the nice meat, cheese and drinks, but the band weren't playing until 11.30pm, so what were we to do all day? Word went round that we had a boat at our disposal, which we assumed would be a rowing boat, and assumed might not have room for all of us, so who was going to back out of a boat trip? It turned out that we had two speed boats ready for us, waiting to take us around Lake Geneva (which is really called Lac Leman, although the UK/US haven't really bothered acknowledging this.) And that was bloody amazing. All the guys took swimming gear and jumped off into the lake for a swim, and even though Brad hadn't brought trunks our driver (er, what is a boat driver called?) had spares to lend so he joined in, as did the driver - [French accent] 'They have showed the cour-age, so I must too.'] I haven't tried to swim, or owned swimming stuff, since I left school, and I genuinely do not know what my ability in swimming is because I could not swim as a schoolgirl, but I was a weedy kid, but am quite a muscly, strong older woman, so I didn't chance the swimming, but contented myself with dangling my feet into Lake Geneva, which was glorious enough. Having quite a few hours still to go before the gig, we checked into our five star hotel. And it was very much five star - free dressing gowns and slippers (those slippers may now live in SE16, you get me?) delicious complimentary chocolates, phone calls to check everything was ok, a range of smart bathroom products, a welcome letter with a postcard featuring the weather forecast, astonishingly fast broadband, and the view to end all views. The other guys in the band were facing the town, but me and Andrew had an enormous balcony overlooking the lake, where I watched the sun go down while listening to a tinkling piano with an entertainer doing easy listening classics which in the wrong place could have been tacky and risible, but at that point, on that day, it contributed to the feeling of everything being overwhelmingly wonderful. One of those stunningly amazing days that you will remember for the rest of your life as being so amazingly blissful and perfect. It was all absolutely stunning. I didn't have a deprived childhood, but I had a fairly ordinary working class upbringing, and it was odd that now I'd spent the afternoon on a leather-seated speedboat on Lake Geneva and was now sunning myself on a five star hotel balcony with an unbeatable view, surrounded by the Very Rich. And these people must have been rich. I was surprised that the hotel room didn't have tea making facilities, but looking at the room service menu with its CHF600 bottles of wine and the four pages of types of tea available I realised the type of people who stayed in hotels like that wouldn't even dream of making their own tea.
'You can pretend this is our honeymoon,' said Andrew, 'because we can't afford anything anywhere near this good.' So we went back to the festival to watch the other bands. We sat on the deckchairs as I'd suggested they might be good for shooting star viewing, with the Perseid meteor shower being due around my birthday. I had never seen a shooting star. Last year we were in France and it rained and rained so that ruined my chances, and as a child I spent time in the South of France where my mum and dad continually said 'There's one! There's one! Wow, did you see that one?!' and I never saw a bloody thing. Andrew had said 'what do you think they look like?' so I had suggested satellites, which I am familiar with, or maybe aeroplane contrails, and he had sort of said 'hmm' in the way that meant 'no they don't really look like that.' So I settled down in a deckchair and he went off to do work stuff, and there it was, a thing going across the sky. I can only describe it as movement similar to that when you watch a runner in the 100m on TV. It did not look the way I expected a shooting star to look, but I saw one, finally, and then I saw another two! Earlier in the day I'd thought I'd seen a friend of mine arrive with the other bands but I'd completely dismissed the idea after finding out the band (or singer of the band at least) was from New Zealand. Sitting on my deckchair while the band was on I heard the singer say something about Jules, who has just learned the songs. I said to Andrew, 'erm, that band that's on, have they got a black guy on the drums?' Andrew came back and said yes, so I wandered up to see them, and there was my friend Jules! So we had a big 'Jules?' 'Rhoda!!' reunion, having not seen each other for a few years, and it turned out we were in the same hotel, but I didn't actually see him after that. How odd though.
Sunday. A long assed drive. Again Andrew and the band partook of the hotel breakfast (apparently fantastic, mushroom omelette and three types of smoothie for Andrew) while I lay in, and then another punishing butt-achingly long drive. We arrived at La Rochelle, where JB's parents have a home, around 11.30pm. JB's mom and dad (American and French respectively) had catered for hundreds and wanted us to eat it all. We got massive servings of chicken and rice, followed by a cheeseboard, accompanied by wine, and then JB's dad took us on a walk to the sea, and round to the funfair. Andrew took a phone camera photo of us at this point, and despite us being overwhelmingly full of JB's mom and dad's food, and very tired, and it being drizzly and us not really wanting to walk round a funfair at midnight... we look happy.