Sunday, April 8, 2012

Between Cardiff and Rouen

Just a little under six hours sleep again... I'm knackered, feel like I'm floating in a cloud of fog, senses well and truly numbed. We've only been out just over a week. At least I'm not hungover today though..

I woke to the sound of Hugh and Katy speaking at the front door. I wanted to get up and thank Hugh for being so kind, bringing me the t-shirt at this early hour, but I just couldn't get my arse out of the bed. I physically could not move. Katy popped her head around the door soon after, to say goodbye. We thanked her again for her hospitality and as usual, we made promises to each other to sort a weekend visit out for the near future.

I rolled over in the hope of a few more minutes of sleep but Katy was soon back. Her car wouldn't start. Johan, Andy and I pulled ourselves out of bed and into the cold morning. We gave Katy a push down the hill and luckily enough her car choked into life. We waved her off again and headed back up the hill to the house. We got back to the cacophony of our alarm clocks, mine, Andy and Johan's, all with different tunes, going off simultaneously. Jon was still fast asleep on the floor, totally oblivious.

We showered, I opted for hot, Andy opted for cold, or rather he couldn't work out the heat controls, and then we got going. After picking the Tormented guys up we headed off to a nearby greasy spoon café, most of us opting for a fry-up. Great veggie bangers washed down with a dirty cup of tea and then it was time to get back on the road.

We never did manage to find a show for today. Originally it was planned for Paris, and then when that fell through the booking agent had confirmed a show in Nantes, only for that venue to close down shortly afterwards. Then we had the other offer from Nantes, but in all reality it was too long a journey to make overnight, especially since the second show offer for Nantes was for nothing but accommodation and food and at two days notice the gig would have probably sucked anyway. So the plan today is to get back on the mainland and get as far as we can in the direction of Bordeaux, which is where we play tomorrow.

It's a bit of a shitter having to drive from Cardiff all the way to Dover on the south east coast just to get the boat over to France and then head back to the south west coast. There are no other alternatives though. Nothing quite like having a “day off” on tour. We'd spoken about how nice it would be to drive in to Paris, find some hotel and spend the night chilling out at a small local bar, drinking the house wine. Or maybe hook up with the Black Breath guys at some small town and go bowling for the night. The reality is we left Cardiff at eleven am and spent the day in motion, first across the M4, around the M25 and down the M2 to Dover, the boat over to Calais and then onto the arse-rapingly expensive toll roads of France, following the signs for our chosen destination of Rouen.

The news on the radio announced that Jim Marshall had died today at the age of eighty-eight. Eighty-eight is a good innings by any standard. I think he can feel pretty satisfied with the stamp he left on life. Thanks for the JMP buddy.

Robban took over at the wheel when we got back to the mainland, relieving Johan of his duty. He's put in a lot of hours this first week and he certainly deserves the rest. He'd quite rightly treated himself to a beer on the boat. I sat up front with Robban for the final couple of hours between Calais and Rouen. You always hear about how beautiful it is in the south of France and to be honest, I've been quite ignorant of the landscape up here in the north. I've only ever really travelled the short stretch between Calais and the Belgian border and always thought of northern France as a grey, industrial area. I couldn't have been more wrong. The two hours we drove tonight provided scenery that was nothing short of spectacular. The lazy light of dusk gave a wonderfully eerie aura to the green hills of the valleys on either side of the highway, which were laced together by imposingly high bridges, somehow held aloft by narrow pillars planted deep in the land of the valley below.

We'd chosen Rouen as our destination for the night. We were thinking we'd try and find a cheap motel of the Formule 1 type, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. With no address for the GPS to follow though we ended up bang in the middle of Rouen, on the banks of the Seine. I can't say I was that disappointed, even if whatever hotel we'd find here would devour a considerably larger chunk of our tour float.

It was long beyond the hours of nightfall when we arrived and the city looked beautiful in the light of the moon. We'd passed a huge cathedral on the way in that looked like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. We found a hotel right on the river that looked like it might serve our needs. Andy and I popped into the reception whilst the the guys waited in the van outside.

We walked through the doors of the modest establishment to find a young girl working behind the desk, dealing with some old guy who looked quite the worse for wear. He was pretty filfty looking, had a half chewed cigar protruding from his battered mouth and was clutching a plastic bag with some cans of Kronenbourg 1664. When he bent down to place the bag on the floor I noticed some metal staples in the crown of his head that were peaking through a scarred bald patch in his otherwise full head of hair. “Fucking hell, if this guy can afford a room here we should be ok”, Andy noted.

The old tramp actually didn't end up getting a room and seemed annoyed at being asked to leave by the young girl at reception. We asked the girl about room prices and car parking, trying to explain that we had a large van. She seemed stressed, saying something about how she was finishing work at ten pm. I noticed the clock was already a little over that. She asked for our my surname and gave us two room keys, telling us to pay in the morning. Seemed fucking weird, not even asking for a passport or credit card details.

We jumped back in the van and went off in search of a car park. The back streets behind the hotel were petite and chock-a-block with parked cars that seemed to be randomly strewn about all over the place. There were cars parked at bus stops, on the pavement and in front of garage doors. There were signs here and there threatening fines and the dreaded tow-away, but nobody seemed to give a fuck. We drove around in circles for about a half hour, not finding anything, We ended up on a street where there were some ladies of the night looking for business and we started to wonder if we should re-think leaving a van full of guitars and other equipment in such a place. Drette joked that instead of paying a parking ticket we could just leave it with the ladies and pay them to watch it for the night..

We were dealt a stroke of luck when we were back on the main road by the Seine and found what was a seemingly free parking space, big enough for the van and literally just a few yards down from the hotel. We hauled the bags out and left the van in the hands of fate.

Johan, Andy and I shared a compact little room. Andy was straight into bed but I was not really in the mood to put my head down so soon after a day in constant motion. Being on the move all day had left me with a feeling of cabin fever and I felt that I needed a walk in the fresh night air, even if only for ten minutes. Johan decided to join me, something I was more than happy with since I didn't really fancy taking on the streets entirely alone.

We walked along the banks of the river a few blocks before turning off into a side street and up to the cathedral. The Parlement de Normandie is one of the most astonishing buildings I've ever seen. It was a huge marvel of architecture, decorated with endless statues of saints and other figureens, huge windows and a gigantic tower that looked a little out of place with the rest of the building, but somehow just added to the mystic of the image before us. We stood around on the picturesque square at the foot of the big oak doors at the front of the church and took photos. I was lit with yellowish green lamps from below that further added to the almost other worldly feel of the masterpiece. There were a young couple sat on the front steps of the building, obviously taking a pause on the way home from a night out on the town, seemingly oblivious to the beauty bearing down on them.

We eventually walked back in the direction of the hotel, choosing to stop by a cosy little Mexican restaurant on the way to have a beer. I've had nights like these before on tour when one beer can lead to another and then another and before you know it you're drinking shots and pissing away the opportunity for a real night's sleep. Tonight though we constrained ourselves to just the one beer before heading back. It was the perfect end to a long day. I climbed into bed happy that I'd actually managed a little sight-seeing on this tour. Most unexpected.    

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