What'cha been upto?



I flew home for Christmas and was excited to return home to spend some nice time with my family, eating the best roast dinner of the year and filling up my British hump so to speak.  I had done good busking before I left and had got me a little bag o’ geld to get some presents in and other bits.  The morning of the flight was a strange one – one of those days where everything was slow. 


It started at the Bundesbank when I got there as early as I could to change in all of my coins into freshly minted geld, but there were about 30 other people there with the same great idea and I had to wait a good hour to be seen.  Then, on the way home I popped in to the Tedi shop to get some presents.  After darting around and picking some bits I got to the counter but there was one other person in front of me and I have never experienced such a painful process of paying for presents; the women at the counter was getting all the reductions wrong and having to check and dilly-dally that it took half an hour for her to finish, by that time I was tutting and muttering ‘oh mein Gott’ in impatience as the minutes ticked away and a huge queue of tutting Germans formed behind me. 


I made my way home to get all my stuff ready.  I was still on quite good time but now needed to rush at a faster pace.  I got a quick Doner down me and picked up my stuff to get the train.  I had to wait twenty minutes for that and by this time I knew I would be cutting it close.  I changed for the next one and it was another 20 minutes to wait!  The first thoughts of not making the flight were rushing through my head and I started to get a little worried. The train finally came and I would have about ten minutes to get through passport control, check in my luggage and get to the gate. 


I smiled and pleaded my way to the front of the luggage queue and then got through the passport control quite swiftly.  With 4 minutes until the gate closed I began the final mad-dash; panting and darting through the duty free until I got to the gate.  They had told me my suitcase was too heavy at the front desk, so I had to take a load of books and shoes and just stuff them into my guitar bag at inconvenient places so it was quite awkward to carry, when I got to the final gate I know they are authoritarian about your hand luggage and even though they gave me some frowning looks I made my way through and got to the line that was waiting to board the train.  Relieved and flustered I slow my breathing with a sigh of relief.  It was then that the plane was delayed 45 minutes and I stood there waiting with awkward luggage and this new born baby right behind me screaming and wailing.


I don’t want to dwell too much on all these little things that made it ‘just one of them days’, but it was, just one of them days.  The flight was pretty painless and in less than two hours we touched down in Liverpool where I took a deep breath of the Mersey air and felt happy to be back.  Gone, it seemed, were those gruelling twenty hour bus rides of half sleeping and back pains and bumpy roads to wake up groggy eyed in the morning at your destination feeling like you have just spent twenty hours on a bus. 



Anyway, it was nice to be back.  Spending time with my Mum and Dad, reading lots, seeing some old friends, throwing some darts, drinking some whiskies, drinking some tea, eating a lot of egg sausage and bacon and bubble and squeak and roast dinners.  I didn’t do as much busking as I should, even though the weather was quite mild.  I went a few days before Christmas to Chester and I was overwhelmed by the amount of buskers there were.  If you can call them buskers, it was mainly young girls or lads with a mic and a backing track.  Where I set up I could hear this lads awful falsetto voice butchering the Christmas classics.    I was just getting into it when a bagpipe set up twenty metres from me...End-game.

I wasn’t worried too much; I still had a bit o geld and was just enjoying being home and especially spending time with my Mum, and our little Jack Russel puppy, Mulder.  Whenever I was reading he would just come up and lay with me with his head on my chest.  In the mornings he would wait at my door and give me little barks to wake me up.  I would make a cuppa tea and come up and he would be on my bed looking at me with puppy dog eyes and waving his paws.  Awwwww, he’s a lovely little pup and I miss him loads. 


After Christmas and all the drama, disappointment and deflation it naturally entails, I felt it was time to get a ticket to somewhere. I had been promising my friends in the Netherlands that I would come and see them soon, so, I found a cheap bus ticket to Amsterdam of the 26 hour variety and got ready to begin a brand new year (even though the new year used to begin in Spring and the Pope changed it to January).  I had kind of missed those long gruelling bus rides and felt excited to do it again.  The last time was with Niz and we got rejected coming into Calais after 15 hours from Berlin.  That was a sad day and end to a journey.


In the few weeks before I left, January got into swing and the weather was still so mild.  There were a few days of black clouds and howling wind and rain, but on the whole it was rather pleasant weather. I got a couple o busks in and managed to muster up about 50 quid to take with me.  All packed and ready to go I set out at 7 to catch the first bus to London.  Pretty painless, but then I had 6 hours to kill in London.  I went for a little walk, drunk some beers my Dad had given me, I sat in one place and just absorbed the passing people and city life - didn’t like it at all.  Maybe it is the North-South divide, but I really dislike the whole place and vibe.  Maybe there are some pockets of good things happening, but, naaaaah, not for me.



With a few beers to help me sleep, I got on the bus and between all the stops and wake ups and passport checks I managed to get a few hours of sleep in-between and woke up, with that groggy aching feeling in my old haunt of Amsterdam.  I think this is why I like the bus rides; because you feel like you are going a long, long way away.  Whereas the plane is instantaneous, the road is long and I kinda like that.  I felt that adrenaline rush through me once again, as I find that the more time I spend at home, the more localised I become.  I lose that feeling of excitement of being somewhere new and get lulled by the lovely home comforts.  


I was playing a gig with Cato the next day and was excited to see my old friend.  We made some great music together in my Amsterdam days and always got some interesting results.  I thought it was just the British home cooking that I missed but when Cato made some Dutch Stampotje it tasted amazing and made me realise how much I miss the Dutch food aswell.  It was nice to get the Amsterdam ingredients back in the fuel tank.  The Stampy, Hans’ Muesli breakfasts with fruit, the chocolate, the herb, the tobacco, the Albert Heijn egg salads, the language, the bikes, the North Sea wind, the quiet and all the other stuff that makes the Dam for me.

The gig went brilliantly and I played a great set to a beautiful and quiet audience who really loved the songs and style.  I felt I had found something in myself that I was looking for the previous year -  to be able to play alone and command the same attention as I did with my duo’s and bands.  I haven’t played many gigs this last year as I just enjoyed the liberty of busking, but this gig made me realise how nice a feeling it is to play a gig.



After the gig I took the train to Schagen to meet my very dear old friend Ron.  He is a great artist and makes all these incredible sculptures out of scrap metal and discarded junk.  He is a big kid in his heart and for that whole week we laughed hard, smoked hard, drunk hard and worked hard.  We made a nice song and I helped make him a website for all his projects (check it out here).  We lived on toasties, grass and German pilsners for the entire week and it was such a nice time.  He is one of the special souls in the world is our Ron.  

I took the train back to Amsterdam and my friend Cato said she could get us a gig at this big event that was happening.  I said ‘sure thing’ and we packed up our gear and made the long bike ride to the place in the West.  They told us we could just play anywhere and gave us our artist wrist-bands.  We entered and as soon as we heard the bass drum from the main room gave up any idea of playing and just partied.  I had smuggled a few cans of Veltins pilsner in with my stuff and didn’t have any geld, it was when we got to the back-stage area and they said help yourself to drinks and stuff I smiled wide. 


That was the place to be for me, lots of lovely ladies to chat to and palm read, there were dancers getting changed and just totting about naked and best of all, lots of free beer.  Ahhh, it was a funny night, we never even played but had a great time.  Everyone else was paying 4 euroes for a few squirts of Heineken and then 50 cents to squirt it out again.  We had our own toilets and free bar and I was in my element.

It was a lovely and productive time in the Netherlands and after a few weeks I was ready to head back to Berlin.  As soon as I got back I remembered how great it is to be here.  The liberty to drink wherever, the music, well, you know – everything about the place which I have already described with much love.  So I think I will wrap this one up here, even though I was sure there were a few more things I had to add.  Hmmm, maybe I remember for the next one.  Adios.

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