The Gerald Bostock Diaries

Latest news from the lyric writer of the original “Thick as a Brick.”

Breton Madness and Norwegian Odyssey – Part 7

In mid-air as I write this. FlyBe from Brest to Birmingham. TheTAAB troupe sought to trouble a Folkie Fest in Quimper last night. A one-off in a beautiful little town in Brittany. Many Celtic and other acts from all-over-the-place converged for the few days of www.festival-cornouaille.com which featured many household names from the folk world. Meaningless to me, however as I don’t much like the noodling, fiddling, warbling, clogs-and-sandals brigade. Need a good shower and a change of underpants for the most part. Heard a few bits and bobs during the evening before our show when a few of us ventured into town from our hotel some two km away on the motorway fringe.

A tranquil river, The Odet, runs through the town and hosts strange, exotic, lazy fish who swam aimlessly with snouts (do fish have snouts?) raised above the water, perhaps gasping for breath in the clear shallows in the heat of the evening. Not salmon, for sure. Maybe pike, I was told. But these estuarine waters fill with the incoming tide and so they must be friends of the brackish environment, unless they swim upstream twice a day to escape the salty influx… Must ask Anderson. Maybe he knows what they were. A good honest worm, hook and line would have revealed all.

On the following morning I paid a brief visit to the Cathedral in the company of tourists with flash cameras and stumbled (with the help of Mr Google) on the Maharaja, local Indian of ill-repute. Actually, quite respectable food and mercifully empty and serving air-conditioned beer. Then back to the tented venue to set up the dressing rooms and help Chris Archer with the organisation of transport, run some errands for band and crew and supervise catering and dressing room drinks and so on. Quite fun in a servile, factotum sort of way. Not sure if I can make a career of this. Perhaps something higher up the ladder. Like bottle-washer. Bed-maker. Baggage-wallah. Member for Clutterbury North?

Baggage-wallah on the run, literally, as we were deposited by our taxis on a blistering hot morning outside Brest Airport to a sizeable crowd of passengers, airport personnel and security staff. No one was allowed within 300 metres of the evacuated building due to a bomb scare, so we waited in stoic fashion, uncomplaining to the last. And some of us were not even British. After an hour, we were marshalled in, to a chaotic, frantic check-in and enormous security queue for the x-ray machines complete with extra levels of body searching. Bad enough The Old Bag finding my copies of Politics Uncovered Magazine last month in the potting shed (the one with the delightful centrefold pin-up of her loveliness, The Honourable Member for Gropingham Central). Getting frisked and frolicked by the Gallic Garde and having my Big Girls In Uniform July Bumper Edition confiscated would simply have too much to bear. Anderson’s flute got the once-over, twice. Too phallic for the Gallic, I imagine.

Finally to the departure gate with minutes to spare when, on the verge of boarding delayed only because of a stuck elevator and a disabled passenger, the PA rang out with another evacuation message. Bugger me stiff with a red hot poker but out we were turfed into the July heat yet again and sent packing across the tarmac, out of the airport perimeter fence on to the road side to await further instruction.

No explanation and another interminable wait until a muffled explosion was heard from somewhere out on the tarmac apron. Cheers from the airport staff who knew more than we, obviously. I muttered to young Florian that it was probably a controlled explosion involving his guitar case and a carefully placed modest slug of Semtex. He was not amused.

At last, the awaited call to muster – back towards bloody check-in and security all over again. This time, we were ready and, as the waiting passenger hordes received the army and police barricade approval to proceed, we sprinted, like the start of the London Olympic Marathon, for the prime position at the head of the security queue. Whole damn thing all over again and FlyBe waited, God bless their little Embraer 195, for us all to board before setting off, two hours delayed. Poor Florian, Bavarian Guitar-meister, set off for an obviously-missed Air France connection in Paris and will hopefully make it home late tonight to Munich, just in time to leave again for his Lufthansa flight tomorrow to Oslo for a Norwegian Festival. More on that adventure in part two of this diary…..

Well FO sent a text late at night to say he had arrived in Munich finally. Unfortunately, his guitar hadn’t. Whether it is in very small toasted pieces, blowing in the winds of Northern France or lurking wounded in the dark and sticky bowels of Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport baggage halls, we as yet don’t know. Anyway, he will have to bring his spare guitar and various scrounged accessories today where we well meet him at Oslo International Arrivals. But now, to bed. The Old Bag awaits servicing.

A Norwegian Odyssey

We arrived on time into Oslo on a very full SAS flight and waited for baggage. And waited. I had to ask twice regarding bulky baggage pick-up point as none of our Storm (heavy-duty polypropylene) flight cases or guitars had come off the luggage belt. Not unusual in itself, this, as most airlines treat as oversized luggage anything that doesn’t resemble a normal family suitcase. They are then variously described as “Bulky Bags,” “Outsize Luggage” or “Special Baggage” depending on local airport parlance. For this reason, we use standard family suitcases with added inner foam protection, for transporting all the smaller loose pieces and even some of the vital tech gear like the audio-visual server and digital lighting desk.

John O’Hara, David Goodier and IA use Storm Cases for their fragile electronics, and jolly fine, sturdy cases they are. Also, IA uses a Storm double rifle case which just happens to fit his little boy’s acoustic guitar. Of course, this is a flaming red rag to the customs and immigration bulls who line the exit corridor and wait to pounce on the suspicious entrant so he does get stopped rather a lot. What’s in that bag, sir? Firearms? Ammunition? It is said that Anderson used to frequently carry various shotguns, rifles and pistols on his trips to Scotland in the 80s and 90s. His mandolin case, to this day, was originally a custom- made lightweight Cripple Creek flight case originally made for his Armalite AR180 Assault Rifle.

Of course, he no longer has these guns since they were prohibited by Parliamentary amendment to the Firearms Act (I had more than a little hand in that) following the Hungerford and Dunblane Massacres. Many lives were lost and the horrified British public – through the voice of politicians and the media – cried, “Enough,” resulting in the banning of large calibre automatic rifles for civilian sporting use and, finally, all pistols. Did it curtail or even slow down the increase in armed crime? Not one bit. Firearms are as easy as ever for the criminal fraternity to obtain. But I digress. As always. But that’s what we politicians are paid for.

Eventually, as I was queuing to report the lost or, perhaps, stolen bags and instruments, they finally arrived on the bulky baggage elevator – a full 30 minutes after all the other passengers had collected their luggage and gone. Phew! Trying to source alternative instruments and electronics on a Friday night in a strange country would be beyond my pay-grade….

So we made it through the customs bull-run and found the bus driver to begin the five hour journey down the coast of Norway to the little town of Arendal. “Could be seven hours’ drive,” the driver cheerfully informed us. Friday night traffic round Oslo and the prospect of weekend escapees heading off down the idyllic coastline were set to make it a very long day since we all had to get up around 06.00 this morning to travel to Heathrow Airport from our various homes. Toss-pot, the bus driver. Diddums had to stop three times to have a cigarette. Needed his skinny arse wiping and his sausages cutting up.

Of course, we would have to do the same thing in reverse early on Sunday morning for the return trip back to the UK.

The festival was a mid-town affair. Lots of bands over the three day period in various venues but a sort of poor man’s Montreux with an emphasis on world music and more eclectic acts, none of whom I, sonically-cloistered as I have been, had ever heard of.

Our troupe of musical pranksters closed both evening and festival as the rain which had lasted continuously from 07.00 in the morning finally abated in the late afternoon giving way to clear skies in the evening for our show.

There was an unlikely Indian restaurant a mere 80 meters from the hotel but at ridiculous prices, chock-a-block full on the previous evening of our arrival and closed for lunch on the show day so Mr A ventured to the edges of town to the empty Chinese where vegetables were on offer. Unfortunately so were the liberal doses of salt making it taste really rather horrid. I know this having been invited for the feast.

Why do restaurants, generally, have to load everything with salt? Given the pre-salted part-processed nature of so much meat and fish along with various other preservatives, colouring agents and taste-enhancers present in ready-made sauces and condiments, we don’t really need to endure this overload of quite dangerous salt intake. I am no nutritionist but I once served on a Parliamentary Committee trying to establish guidelines regarding food additives so we listened many defensive representations from the food manufacturers and the restaurant trade. All who claimed that the customers reacted better to heavy additions of salt and sugar. Well they probably would, even more so, if the purveyors of this muck added a few grammes of crack cocaine or morphine for good measure.

The countryside of Norway’s southern coast is gentle, green and undemanding. Lakes and rivers abound with modest timber-clad houses in fine array. Generally clean and tidy apart from the inevitable “European sickness” – the proliferation of pointless graffiti in towns and countryside alike. To see two-meter-high spray-can adornment of such utterly infantile nature daubed on the sides of barns, bridges and public spaces seems such a harsh invasion by those zombie cretins who mindlessly force their presence upon us. Lock the buggers up, I say. And their parents, who in most cases must know what their brattish offspring are up to. Don’t talk to me about freedom of expression or so-called street art. A bad fart in a elevator does not deserve excuse, however elegant the delivery….

The long drive back to Oslo was better than the outward journey. Tosspot the driver turned up at the hotel ten minutes late and then decided to repack his minibus, not caring for the way we had loaded it. We do this twice a day on average so we do know what we are doing when it comes to packing trucks, vans and trailers. But the asinine Tosspot thought he knew better.

What a bugger this touring lark is. You think it is going to be a holiday charabanc ride. A works outing to Rothesay. “Oh, the back of the bus they cannae sing…” Only to find that travel in the modern age is really no better than the late night stagecoach across forbidding, windswept Darkley Moor. At least the security queues were shorter in the days of Dick Turpin. The risk to life and limb, probably about the same.

Now comes the welcome Summer break for band and crew when all disperse to their various sojourns to be cosseted and kissed by the balmy breezes of August. Not bloody likely, as the weather forecast for the UK in the next week or so seems to promise more rain and cold temperatures after a couple of days of uplifting warmth last week. Some of the band lads are heading off on camping or walking holidays with family. Some crew have the odd gig to do serving different masters while IA and wife celebrate the bald old coot’s 65th birthday on a Rhine cruise ship. A bit odd since we have been up and down the Rhine several times in the last weeks while on tour but Anderson seems to like Germany and life on the river. It was the Danube last year, apparently. The Yangtse next? Or a punt on the Cam?

But The Old Bag and I shall have a quiet few days in Cornwall at her sister’s cottage and then off to……where? Perhaps Iceland, as I suggested in previous notes. Or maybe to the Western Isles of Scotland. Anywhere I can dump her in the residents’ lounge bar with a bad book while I go off for a brisk walk and the opportunity to sample local life in the streets, hills, woods and valleys of rural-anywhere. Might try a spot of fishing. A good working class sport. The elusive piscine quarry does not observe class, dynasty or social standing. A hook is a hook. A worm, a worm. And whether served on china plate or in a newspaper with chips, the final journey the same. Same old digestive system, same old sewer pipe.

Over and Out. GB signing off. Firm slaps and marinated morsels of Fjordic Flapperfish, you rascals.

PS – I can just see The Old Bag in tartan trews, sipping a warm Glenfiddich by the fireplace in the Station Hotel at Auchtermuchty. If there is a Station Hotel at Auchtermuchty….. If not, I will have an old Westminster aide call the strangely coiffeured Donald Trump and get him to build one. Pitch and putt, anyone?