Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Bond Street Bridge has left Berlin
If you ever have to leave Berlin, it should be done in a late model Mercedes-Benz. Take the autobahn. You will need to drive faster than would ever be sane or legal in most territories, and you will find that still you will get overtaken by families in Smartcars. Navigation will not be a problem - Mavis the authoritarian GPS unit will see you clear through the thousand kilometre haul to Calais.
I have a peculiarly arrogant habit of second-guessing information sources that I know to be fairly reliable, so I didn't believe google maps when it told me that it was possible to drive from Berlin to Calais in nine hours. It took Hitler ten days, for heaven's sake. Since his day, however, the autobahns have spread their tentacles all over Western Europe in a vast web of mixed metaphors, which speeds things up considerably. Since I had formed the impression that we would need to drive for at least twelve hours to cover the distance, I experienced some trepidation when a combination of factors delayed our departure until just before midday, to catch a ferry in Calais in the middle of the night. These factors were, in order: A hardcore festival in Belgium (of which more later, I hope), which necessitated an Emerald City practice to see whether we have our act together (we do); a gig at a very nice cafe in Fredrichshain called Klaus Abendbrot, which meant that said practice had to be scheduled for midnight the night before the drive; a broken U-bahn line on the morning of the drive on the way to pick up Darth the Merc, which led to a baffling series of line changes and delays; and finally Darth the Merc himself, who wouldn't start.
There's a trick to starting cars of this kind, which I won't relate in case somebody uses it to steal him. I am more sensitive to matters of security since having my identity stolen by an East Berlin spambot over the weekend, so the only clue I will give you is: you won't be able to figure it out, and you'll be sitting in a parking garage in Tegel airport for quite a while before you finally swallow your pride and go and ask the rental car guy how to start your car. He was pretty reluctant to rent it to me anyway, since I look like this at the moment:
And my obvious inablity to drive only made things less groovy. Since he couldn't find anything in the regulations to authorise his summarily repossessing the car, he had to tell me the trick and we hit the road.
As is usually the case when I make things up in my head in the face of reliable evidence, I was wrong. Which meant Google was right - you can drive from Berlin to Calais in nine hours. What I suggest you don't do when you get to Calais, if this should ever arise, is pick up hitch-hikers and take them on the ferry. The term UK immigration officials use for this practice is 'people-smuggling,' and I understand that it is frowned upon. Our hitch-hikers fortunately had the right papers, so we avoided the inconveniences that accompany detention under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Once we were off the boat in the UK, though, a whole new set of inconveniences arose - Mavis decided that the best way to get to Lewes was via a series of hair-raising sunken lanes somewhere in the depths of East Sussex. At 1am, in a left-hand drive car, after a thousand kilometre drive from Berlin and a brush with British Cuisine on the ferry, this was hard work.
When we hit Lewes, the reason why they have to hide it behind a whole network of twisty lanes became obvious. It's a small town in the South of England, surrounded by idyllic countryside, locally brewed beers, and vicars in thousand-year old churches so picturesque you have to take a look around the back to make sure they're not stage flats. Clearly, then, it is one of the most dangerous places in the world, and it needs to be concealed from casual visitors. We know that towns like this have a murder rate of about one a week - sometimes more towards the end of the season if the ratings are flagging. Fortunately there's also likely to be a hardbitten old DCI with a heart of gold, and his younger and more impulsive assistant, who will act within the law to keep the murder rate to a sustainable level in order that the town can continue to flourish into the next series.
Lewes Arms. In fact, the main purpose of the stop proved to be to receive what I can only describe as a two-day hospitality assault from Sul and Jaime Regan. They basically were such good hosts that I think I'll move into the spare room of their idyllic country cottage and just let them feed me delicious food, take me for gentle walks on the downs, tell me stories about the local customs (all of which seem to involve burning things to a greater or lesser extent), and introduce me to a fine range of local ales and musicians, until I get murdered by the vicar. Jaime played with me at the Lewes Arms, and I really don't think I could have asked for better company or a better venue for my first gig in the UK. I've got a series of shows coming up in London, and I confidently expect to get mugged, heckled, ignored or bottled at some stage over the next week, because I understand that's how people tend to interact with musicians in London. The Lewes Arms show was lovely, though - a good bunch of regulars in a room above a pub that was probably built by King Canute's uncle. See you next time, Lewes Arms.