Maybe it was stupid to think that this time would be less eventful. We had blown our load all over Paris a few months previous with all kinds of ruckus, it made logical sense that it was a freak one off. How wrong we were.
It did not help matters that rather than catch an early nights sleep, myself, Gareth the roadie extraordinaire and Charlie Buttons, driving madman decided to drink gin until the early hours of the morning – Leon was at work until a similar ungodly hour. An entirely different story altogether; involving Canadians, high waisted trousers and a man howling like a cat in a wringer.
Going to bed less than two hours before you have to get up is only asking for trouble, but unlike the last adventure, we managed to leave on time with all of the gear safely stowed in the car, a false sense of security in place.
Three stinking hangovers and four sleepy heads later, the motorways were quiet and the tunes were distinctly nineties, which may or may not have helped, it was still too early to tell. The gin had not worn off and a distinct lack of breakfast was starting to take its toll on our weary bodies, all nutrients left in a dark dusty corner of a Nordic pub, organs crying out for attention.
As the morning wore on, so did the traffic, becoming slower with each passing moment. The clock ticked closer to our departure, yet there were many more miles to go, but stupidly, we were still in jubilant spirits, unaware of the horrors that lay in store.
I will spare you the boredom of describing the tedium that is Calais to Paris. It is only comparable to driving through the likes of Essex or Norwich, minus the bizarre signs with daunting animals staring out at you; flat and eye gougingly dull.
The fatigue kicked in crossing the Somme, so what do you do when you get tired? Put on a little bit of J.T to rock you back into existence.
There is something about touring that brings out the worst in peoples tastes, be it cranking out Cry me a river or being stuck in euro tunnel traffic screaming ‘Ugly’ by Bubba Sparxxx, it’s a side that stays relatively hidden from normal day to day life. Yet even though this was not a tour by any means, the cheese came flying out the stereo in all glorious forms. My mother would not be proud.
As usual, as soon as we hit the suburbs we were in the shit – if Vietnam was a road system rather than a failed war, it wouldn’t be far off Parisian roundabouts. We had barely breached the Northern perimeter of Paris before Charlie got the hang of Parisian driving, cutting into motorway traffic with less than 2ft to spare at 80kph, harassing everyone with jabs of the horn and screaming obscenities left right and center. When in Rome as they say.
After stopping off to eat an ice cream and watch a game of football on a pretty well equipped housing estate ground, we got a call from our host and changed direction, heading for Aubvilliers and strong coffee.
If you imagine a stereotypical French slum with boarded up shops, old men sat on street corners smoking and playing backgammon whilst hefty women shout at each other from the balconies opposite, then add the contemporary twist of five Parisian rudeboys all handcuffed against a wall whilst armed police search their car, that was where we were staying, or so that sat nav told us. Never trust them they are built by imbeciles. Arsene guided us to the right place, ten minutes up the road and we pulled up in an equally dilapidated area, and no, it was probably best not to leave the stuff in the car.
Strong French coffee poured from a saucepan, the sun shining overhead and a new wave of energy; we left in search of food, drink and snails, with plenty of time to get the gear to the venue and set up. The next series of events would go against that plan, partially due to distraction, partly due to street battles with the far right.
I had decided to be clever and book the car park in advance, just as Mark did last time, but there is something in my genetic make up that prevents me, no matter how hard I try, from being organized enough to pull it off. I had somehow booked a car park on the same small one-way street, though without thinking, drove to the wrong one, entered, and thought nothing of it for a few hours. This we will come back to.
First order of the afternoon was to get a beer and soak back into the bath of alcoholism that seems to consume all of us whether we want it to or not. There is something nice about drinking good beer in the afternoon, knowing you can dawdle as you have hours to kill and no agenda other than an evening full of more drinking and sweaty rock’n’roll. It brings forth that utopian idea of no work and all play, which I imagine would get pretty damn boring exceedingly quickly and society would falter, but every so often, it’s a nice little dream to have when the world around is grey and full of idiots and death.
The others wandered off for some food whilst I stayed to finish my beer, grabbing the chance for twenty minutes peace and quiet and a spot of reading in the unexpected sunshine. Time rolled on and there were places to be; I strolled back through a few side streets and pulled back up onto the rue des Pyrenees, assuming that the dirty contingent were at least half way through eating. How wrong I was. After casually bumbling through the menu, Charlie ordering the Snails as per his wish for the day, we purchased a few more beers and the talk swung onto football and F1, to which I zoned out, staring out the open window, only to see a number of huge Police vans pull up and then empty their heavily armed load onto the street in droves.
Usually I would have a glance at such police presence then leave them to it, especially when they have guns, pepper spray and angle grinders, but it was either get involved with whatever they were about to destroy, or sit and listen to paint dry; football chat at it’s dullest.
Leaving my phone, jacket and all other evidence that I am in fact a real person, I crossed the street and began snapping away, much to the annoyance of more than a few of the coppers. As they descended the stairs in a fashion that would have made the roman legion proud, the throng of kids in motorbike helmets, old men and inquisitive shoppers followed them down; I might as well join them. More and more people began to gather, taking photos and filming on their phones; the police line halting again for a debrief before marching off up the street two a breast and forty or so deep. All other thoughts went out the window; the compulsion to follow them and document whatever was about to go down next was too strong. Following them closely for a good half a mile, and down countless streets, I suddenly realized I was in an unknown neighborhood that didn’t look like it would welcome anyone with a large DSLR slung over their shoulder. A man outside a café told me that it wasn’t safe to be here with it, or at least that was the gist of what he said. Regardless, I’d come this far and was determined to see what was happening. Another crowd had gathered up ahead and the police began to form into ranks. Shouts grew louder and angrier as I rounded the corner and the air grew tense; the crowd behind the newly formed line of cops started shouting and surged forward. I couldn’t make out what anyone was shouting, and the sun was going down much quicker than I had expected, and without a flash, my camera was becoming useless so I headed back in the direction I came, dodging a few junkies and gangs of rude boys.
They were drinking coffee and for all I can remember, were still talking football when I returned, a quick hustle later and we were heading for the car -which we had neglected to check the reservation for; it turns out we were either not booked into that car park or I’m just a complete buffoon when it comes to negotiating the world of preparation.
After a few minutes of arguing in French with the guy on the intercom who clearly had no desire to give my slow bumbling diction the time of day, I had to jog back through the maze of dingy parking spaces to the booth, argue some more, then give in and pay for the damn space. The one for which I had already paid a few nights previously on thee olde intronet.
Late to unload our gear for Thee Maximators set in classic ‘whateverbanditdoesntmatteritsalwaysthefuckingsame’ fashion, we set about getting in the mood for the evening ahead with a few shots, and in typical Parisian style, the whole place was empty up until show time. Damn their punctuality! As Thee Maximators powered through their set, the room filled up and by the time we hit the floor, the room was heaving. Although less debauched, we powered through the set to a gyrating room, letting the sweat take a hold; shirts were off, tables were mounted and drinks were poured.
It was from this point onwards that everything went wrong. We had decided to leave our gear in the venue and go out to the party a couple of lines on the metro away. Alice the promoter whipped out a bottle of Jack and we were away. The getting there is rather blurry, but we bunked the metro into the ‘rich’ district and headed for a house that was to be ‘trashed’.
There is nothing quite like busting into a party in a foreign country, there is also nothing like getting told to leave. Gareth kicked the bathroom door in or out, Charlie fell asleep in the hall and Leon was on some sort of rampage. About four in the morning we decided to leave and get some kip on the other side of Paris. South to North whilst wasted is not as easy as it should be… ‘Look for the cabs with the green light’ was all we were told as the medieval wooden doors slammed on us. Needless to say, we wandered for a good while before we gave up, crossed the river and practically walked into this guy’s car. He was more than happy to drive us all the way across town, but that feeling of doubt was there every step of the way. We got to the Aubvilliers district and he took a number of wrong turns, ending up on a secluded dead end. There were only 200e in my wallet, so what was there to loose, but the paranoia of the booze was just that. After correcting his navigation, we got to our destination and tumbled through the door, filling up every soft area in sight.
The late afternoon sun poured through the windows as Leon bumped around the garage/house, I think with the intent of waking us up but without the audio ability from his lungs, who knows. Either way, we woke up late, and had more or less, missed our trainboat back to England – The hangover putting off any actual reality of the situation; first call, food!
After walking through a few run down industrial estates, a couple of guys burning plastic (I can only assume to reclaim the precious metals inside) and the worlds first half star hotel, we made it to the Metro; one step and many stations closer to home.
The first worry was, how do we get the car out. Gareth had his Jacket containing the parking ticket and his phone stolen the previous night, somewhere in between his Rambo style door destruction minus the rocket launcher and arguing with a very opinionated French girl about said incident.
“Why would you do zis? It is not your howz”
“Why not?” Was the laureate’s reply; I think this is why we were asked to leave.
The second worry was the fact that all of our stuff was locked in the venue, which didn’t open till Tuesday; today was Sunday.
As we walked up the hill from the Metro, we saw nothing but warning tape everywhere and the road we needed to use, blocked to all traffic. Had the riot spilled into the main thru fare causing all manner of disturbance? Preventing hundreds from accessing baguettes and cheese on such a holy day? No. It was merely a downhill long boarding course, in the middle of the street! How dare they, and for such a rubbish form of four wheeled extremism. Dull even on the best of days, a sport for pussies in leathers and with crash helmets. I don’t care how much skin you’ve taken off on a 50mph hairpin curve, try carving a backyard pool with no pads or t-shirt whilst swigging a tin. No room for full leathers here.
Mais de toute facon, I digress, we got distracted by the event, stopping every so often on our walk up the hill, hoping to see someone fly face first down the tarmac, but alas, we were denied this most basic right. It was only when the roller bladers started coming down did we up and move on. No time for Fruit Booters, no matter how steep the hill.
My memory does not serve me well, but I think there is a gap somewhere. I suppose all stories cannot be historically correct when written in the past tense. Back on the rue de Pyrenees, the street markets had all finished, but the amount of rubbish still remaining was uncomprehensionable; there were entire crates of courgettes and peppers being chucked into rubbish lorries, perfectly good peaches left by the side of the road, and mountain upon mountain of cardboard boxes.
Tensions were beginning to mount at the state of the ridiculous situation we had gotten ourselves in for and it was not looking to end well. After waiting for Gareth and Charlie to casually dawdle up the to the car park with no sense of urgency in their boots, from out of nowhere, the walking shit storm of carrot pulled the much needed parking ticket from somewhere within his region, a small grace in an ever stressful day. The car was fine though stupidly locked from all sides, with Charlie having to squeeze into the boot through a gap of about a foot, and after paying almost double the online fee I had already stumped up, we had the car back, minus the gear; another small victory, now to the venue, hoping that it would be open.
At this point in the day, the train ticket back to blighty would set us back £175, almost our entire fee from the night before. My brain felt like it had an army of pissed up tory supporters shouting idiotic abuse at one another in it; breaking point was not far from the horizon.
As we expected, the venue was shut and there was no one in sight. After asking all the closing shops on the street if they had the number of anyone who worked there, we were close to admitting defeat and heading back to Arsenes and crashing another night, it would at least drop the ticket price by £100. An hour and a half of waiting and frantically ringing people in England to send me numbers from my ‘physical’ phone book so we could get the fuck out of dodge finally prevailed and Ben came flying round the corner on his vespa, appologising as all six foot whatever of him vaulted off and opened the door. Leon and Gareth had wandered off, and were still nowhere to be seen as we sat in the loaded car, ready to gun it at top speed towards Calais.
Even with a deadline to catch the last train back to England, the rate of movement was so slow that the Tories in my head began blasting Cliff Richard at full volume, so much so that I wanted to ram my fist into my mouth and drag them out and drown them in a pool of Gareths freshly harvested vomit that was lying drably on the floor.
We drove and we drove in Silence, then for some stupid reason, the severity of the situation cascade us into fits of laughter at the most minute of incidents occurring outside the vehicle, a sense of peace had been restored.
I shall skip the leaving Paris part, it was the same as entering, except with more abuse and spitting. We were glad to be leaving.
It was somewhere around Souchez that the engine began making horrible noises. We were home free and yet the fates were against us the whole way. We pulled over in a lay by that was better equipped than most homes in England and checked the engine. The oil was dry as a bone and we had none in the car. Our only option was to hope there was a services that sold oil within the next few miles before the whole thing ground itself into a pile of metal on the toll road.
Services were acquired in the nick of time, as was much needed food. After another session of foot dragging, we were gunning the last few miles with the tunes up high and the lights on full. We still hadn’t bought a ticket due to the fact that we’d had such a shit run of things, we were owed a good hand this round. We decided to blag it with our boarding card from the journey over, and to everyone’s elation, it worked, only costing us an extra 23e on top.
It was the home straight! And I think in the line of traffic waiting at passport control, ours was the only car bouncing up and down to the weight of four grown men getting rowdy to Busta Rhymes at full volume. Also: Porsche Wankers.
We boarded the train, said our farewells and fuck you’s to France and landed safely in Great stinking Britain, relieved and tired.
I suppose there are lessons to take from this, but at the end of the day, no matter how prepared you are it can all quickly turn to shit with the addition of whiskey and wine. To overcome such situations, you need to succumb to them and let the currents take control of your course, you will always undoubtedly end up home, minus possessions and cash on the odd occasion, but these are inanimate objects and what we take away in terms of adventure and memory is far greater than the possessions you own.
A bientot dame France, jusqu’a la prochaine fois