36 hours of Madness in Paris
To wake up at the ungodly hour of three thirty is never a delightful task, regardless of the trip ahead, but let us rewind to the night before to really start our journey.
After a short rehearsal, Leon went to work to do his thing whilst Mark, my tall dry witted excuse for a housemate/driver and I prepared for the arduous journey ahead. The dossier was filled with the relevant paper work, the car was cleaned in preparation for a claustrophobes nightmare and we made bets involving passports. The test pack couldn’t have gone worse. The amps planned wouldn’t fit in with the borrowed floor tom that ended up being bigger than the tiny jazz kick and we hadn’t even put the guitars in yet, but when you live with musicians, there is always someone to save the day with a single cone Fender beauty, even though it had apparently been used as an ashtray for a number of months. Thanks Mr. Meldrum.
As is customary, the man of the hour, roadie extraordinaire and all around offensive machine Gareth Llewellyn turned up late sans passport and a face full of tweed, but who wants to miss out on a stupidly planned trip to France? Hats off for getting the train back to London to get his passport only to fall in to bed in Brighton and get up barely three hours later. It beats going to work though.
A steaming pot of coffee. Forgotten gear. Nothing but rain. Victor Hugo runs a service station. School Chaos in the tunnel. Bonfuckingjour.
After a heart attacking inducing pot of coffee that contained a good portion of half the bag, we loaded the gear into the car as quietly as possible hoping not to wake Andreas; the ex military turned bumbling life coach who has the tenacity of a pitbull when it comes to talking you under the table.
It was only after we had picked Leon up and driven about twenty miles outside of Brighton did we realize we had left the Snare behind; which when supplying all the kit means that it’s pretty integral to the smooth running of a show. It was too late to turn back so the next few hours was spent on phones frantically sending messages to friends in Paris and beyond in the hopes that one of the many drummers would be in town with a spare snare or two.
Even though France is an hour ahead, it wouldn’t have been fair to start ringing everyone at cinq heures, so we just looked out of the window and hoped that it hadn’t been left in the street for some lucky student crawling home from a night out on the seafront to pinch. Drenched in his own vomit, clutching his female prey with a cider soaked vigor, the student male used his one vaguely sober eye to scan the package with what could barely be called interest, deciding it would make a rather good ornament for a corner of his shit stained house. Thankfully this was not the case and I’d just left it under my clotheshorse.
And the rain it hammered down. And the rain it washed away our dreams. And it just would not stop. Weeks of searing heat and the one day we decide to leave the country, the heavens open and all of the gods decide to piss at once, but we are British so we only moaned a little.
The petrol meter went into the red just as we arrived at Folkstone with enough ‘gas’ to spare to make it coughing and spluttering onto the ferrytrain.
In the world of truck drivers, touring bands and AA personnel, service stations are a thing of beauty, only to be rivaled by the sight of your destination or a bed, but they are not to be confused with Ferry ports, train stations or airports. The hopelessly named ‘Victor Hugo’ services at the Eurotunnel was filled to the brim with wide awake eleven to fifteen year olds running around and screaming, apparently overjoyed to be compos mentis at this hour, watched over by vulture like teachers and irritated couples heading to Europe to complain about how very un British everything is. On the bright side, we found a shop called Leon and had breakfast.
The train was boarded, only to be held hostage by a new group of volatile children, pissing themselves with excitement about using a toilet on a converted cattle truck. Demands for all windows and sunroof holes to be opened were obliged begrudgingly whilst looking at the thin white vents situated above the car, reminiscent of something from a Bond villain’s lair, expecting the sleeping gas to start pouring out at any second. The paranoia began to set in. Had we been tricked into becoming just another horsemeat scandal? Was Marks parking to blame? Or was it Gareths piercing cackle? Maybe the strange covered lump in the boot of the car gave it away, but suddenly before we knew it, we were in Calais and everything became backwards. It also hadn’t stopped raining this side of the Channel either.
Don’t forget to drive on the right. Ou est la caisse claire? How low can a punk get. Mp3 rips. The Dutch are invading. Drive like a Parisian.
Driving through this tiresome part of France is akin to driving through Essex. The motorways are long and unforgiving and the ground is relatively flat and insipid, coupled with the driving rain and the spray kicking up from the tankers we passed, there was a good chance of dying a cold, wet, painful death somewhere along the A26.
At our second French services, the only people we could see for miles around seemed to all be Dutch, go figure. We couldn’t.
There is only so much you can say about motorway driving so I’ll skip ahead to the good bit -The Parisian suburbs.
As the motorways receded and buildings replaced the endlessly dreary monochrome fields, the satnav decided it didn’t like us and took a break, consistently with each roundabout that got larger, the road markings disappearing into the four lanes of chaos surrounding us. One such roundabout it even took us down every single turning, leaving the last to be correct, much to the annoyance of the drivers around us and Marks ever decreasing sanity.
‘Why oh why did I agree to this?’ rang his internal monologue, which slowly drifted into his regular speech patterns ending without outright curses.
After what felt like forever we arrived in the city center where everything broke down. No one pays attention to lights, pedestrians, markings or each other, but after a while, Mad Max mode came out and we made it to our desired destination, more or less intact. Upon arrival at our twelve hour car park of choice, we decided to just drive into the wall, brakes were too much effort after being awake for over nine hours, and it had only just gone past lunch time.
Cognac. Pere Lachaise with Jim. Gareth wants an umbrella then pisses on the French. Serving food during Ramadan. ‘Bonjour, tu veux une bierre?’ Bottomless bar.’ Leave me in the street or put me to bed.’
After crashing the car into the wall, we decided to spend our five or so free hours wandering the streets in search of something to do. We hung around outside a toilet for a while and chose a direction to go in, found bar and started drinking. So French. It was still raining, but had eased off a little. A few halves and some typical English conversation later, we headed on and found out we weren’t far from Pere Lachaise. Obviously we went to the nearest Super Marche and bought a bottle of Brandy with the intent of fulfilling our teenage dreams of getting pissed on Jim Morrison’s grave. Juvenile doesn’t even go into it…a good fifteen minutes later we found what appeared to be the back of the cemetery and spent another ten minutes trying to find a way in, which was obviously at the front. Gareth Rambo pissed in full view of everyone without getting caught, and we gazed bleary eyed at the map in hopes of it making sense. We didn’t pay attention to the ‘vous ete ici’ blob and walked the wrong way for a while, almost getting hit by a car in the process. We found a toilet; re read the map and headed in the right direction. Obviously that’s where everyone wanted to go and it was the only crowded part, walled off from pesky fans with a nice metal barricade. Needless to say it was the let down you would assume it to be, so we walked to the highest point and swigged down half the bottle looking out across the Parisian skyline.
Une magique clope plus tard, we set off for some food. I had packed lunch so I was thankfully not part of the huge indecision that followed, but after another hour or so of walking we found somewhere, which would turn out to be seconds from where we to play later that evening.
Plates of meat, rice, couscous and chips consumed, we headed to the carpark, only to barely make it out with the Zangmobile intact. It turns out that a heavily laden Vauxhall astra doesn’t appreciate badly designed French underground car parks.
Venue found. We were offered beers before we’d even opened the boot; an insight into the night ahead, though there has never been a bad word to say about French hospitality, except maybe once in a tiny bar in Lyon that appeared to revel in the fact that it held up the rude French stereotype.
With the gear in a pile on the floor and the fatigue of being awake for roughly fifteen hours, Mark and Gareth parked the car and Leon and I set up on a shitty carpet on the floor. More beers, and then I think we looked thirsty, so they poured two more.
The French are punctual and love turning up on time it seems, this show was no exception. We sat around for hours, drinking beer and listening to the same rockabilly records, occasionally going out for a cigarette to while away the time, and as if by magic, people started to show up and hang around. By the time we had looked up from our first song the place was packed, people even danced?? An hour flies by when no one has any pretenses, and to look into a crowd with smiles on their faces makes all the difference.
The shots lined up on the bar faster than we could drink them and by the time we had finished playing, the party was in full effect. The handmade CD’s made the night before flew out our hands and we began careering round the tiny venue like landlubbered sailors in the middle of a storm, downing tequila and roaring appalling French at anyone who would listen. Leon somehow managed to acquire the very shirt off a mans back, whom wasn’t too pleased when we tried to drive off with him still shirtless and us smoking his spliff.
Earlier in the night I’d told Mark he didn’t need to drive again, then proceeded to ply him with drink, from which most of I have no memory. I shall leave out any incriminating details, but we had one hell of a drive through Paris. My head was out of the window dry heaving at this point, which was probably for the best. I told someone to put me to bed. Then woke up a few hours later without any shoes on next to Mark and our hostess whose bed I’d decided to claim as my own.
The rest of the evening after my passing out shenanigans is unbeknownst to me, so that can go unreported from this little tale.
I have never been to France and not been greeted with a breakfast of Croissants, coffee and baguette and this trip was no different. We loaded up on caffeine and breaded goods, thanked our hostess and drunkenly careered into the daylight hoping that the car was still there with all of its wheels. And with that unceremoniously fatigued exit, we headed straight for Calais with a rough idea of when we had to get the ferrytrain.
Drop the pants. Pour the wine. Knives for sale. STOP: Passports! Which way to the dog pound? Mayonnaise et al.
We fly out of Paris with the lightsabre cocksucking blues, Mark fully in the swing of French driving, sounding the horn and flipping the bird at any who deserved it. Pedal to the metal boys, lets go home.
Careering at top speed we hit the first proper service station out of Paris, almost literally. Breakfast numero deux was in order as stomachs needed to be lined and poison soaked up with carbs – also bowels needed to be evacuated in glorious beer soaked fashion.
There is something to be said about a cabinet full of knives, it is a primitively beautiful sight, but when said cabinet is sandwiched in-between the French equivalent of WH Smiths and M&S, it brings a whole new plate to the table. In what world do you stop at the side of the world to buy a coffee, a sandwich and an eighteen inch hunting knife? Or maybe for the younger kids, a set of balanced throwing knives? In America this would hardly be surprising seeing as it’s a country founded on genocide, an act which is hard to commit without weapons, unless you count Crack as biological warfare, but in the countryside of eastern France, it’s just a little bit odd. How British.
Gareth was left singing back door man on the toilet while we made a vague attempt at pretending we’d left him behind, by parking one bay up. Hilarious it was not.
More driving. Another long stretch of road. Calais.
Rather than following the signs for the tunnel, Mark was determined to make some use of the quarantine area in our journey, which amounted to speeding round the car park and shouting at peoples pet rats on leads. Then if that wasn’t enough, rather than stopping when asked to present our passports, which had been largely ignored on the British side, the pedal hit the metal and we almost took out the barrier, crashing and burning in a hail of bullets and stun grenades. The guard didn’t really see the funny side, but then again, who finds you funny apart from yourselves.
Gareth destroyed another toilet and due to some poor woman’s unfortunate timing, left her in for a treaty biscuit soup stronger than the fallout of Nagasaki.
England, motorways, expensive services and a one way ticket to Brighton, loading in for the poorly named, Skinny Girl Diet, who had attitudes to match.
Oh how we missed you Britain. Next time we’ll try and not come back, if only the French had a sense of humor to match their coffee.