Europe Blog #7: Enter England

Racing down from Skagen to the Hook of Holland we had just enough time to stock up on an undisclosed number of €4.96 “wodka” bottles (that’s about $6.50, people) while passing through Germany. I must let you in on the sad fact that we are actually not big drinkers at all, just mad bargain hunters, and have we have to drink our bargains, then so be it.

After a hell of a drive we boarded the ferry to Harwich, sighing with relief as we laid back on our crisp white sheets in our cosy cabins aboard the Stena Brittanica for an overnight sailing. No one could believe that only the day before, we were seriously considering going the long way via France, taking the much cheaper Calais to Dover sailing (you can’t walk past a bargain like that!).

After disembarking the ferry (much refreshed) we had to get through the notoriously strict British customs without getting deported. We handed the officers our passports and paperwork, which they scrutinised for about 10 minutes with furrowed brows before directing us to the Examination Centre – a dingy shed were we had to wait for an eternity with nothing to do but come up with some good alibis and mull over the stories we’ve heard of musicians being deported on the spot after the customs officers googled the band name and discovered gigs that were not covered by the appropriate paperwork. After some more quizzing by the officers and yet more waiting, we were finally free.

After stuffing ourselves silly on an all you can eat hot breakfast, revving ourselves up on all you can drink coffee and going nuts on all you can surf wifi (it’s a wonder we ever left) we waddled back to our cars and hit the road for Norwich (pronounced “Norritch”).

None of us had any idea of what Norwich would be like, beyond the fact that it existed as a dot on Google Maps, so when we got there we were surprised to find that it was a beautiful town brimming with history.

But before we could do any sightseeing we had to visit (you guessed it) the supermarket. We were totally overwhelmed by the size and variety of Sainsburys. Eileen was pleased to discover an entire aisle dedicated to gluten free stuff, and the “adult cereals” section raised an eyebrow or two (at least we knew where not to look when hunting for Coco Pops). I know you are supposed to be reading about the rock star lifestyle and here I am blathering on about groceries, but I feel I have a duty to inform the world about a unique product called Lotus Caramelised Biscuit Spread. It looks like peanut butter, but tastes exactly like Dutch spiced biscuits! Who would have thought that defying the laws of physics could be do delightfully scrumptious!

20140721-150831-54511652.jpgMatilda making sure we are well stocked.

When we got to the checkout we noticed Eileen had collected a vast array of beauty products and that’s when it clicked that her recent strange behaviour could be attributed to that fact that this afternoon was to be the long awaited reunion of her and her boyfriend, Melbourne’s hairiest rock star, Mr Bob Harrow.

20140721-145301-53581617.jpgHappy couple reunited!

Our gig that night was at The Bicycle Shop Cafe – a trendy little joint with an old bike out the front displaying a sign that reads “we don’t sell bikes, sorry” (is that hipster irony or is that hipster irony?). The band room downstairs was groovy if a little cramped and the show was a success. Being so freshly arrived in the UK, we were still in the habit of racking our brains at the end of each song for which language to say “thank you” in.

The next day we had time for some sightseeing and Camilla and had been told we must check out “the cathedral”. It seemed like a simple enough endeavour, but the town literally was so covered in ancient churches, cathedrals, castles and halls that everywhere we turned we had to ask ourselves “is that “the” cathedral”? One of the buildings we found was an incredibly beautiful, ancient and vast old church. We walked in expecting to pay some sort of admission fee, maybe pick up an information flier and be asked by some stuffy museum attendant not to use flash photography. We discovered to our surprise that the whole building was now just a fairly tacky antiques store selling old junk at inflated prices. It didn’t look like they were making much money and I had to wonder how cheap the rent was for a place like this. I asked the lady at the counter how old the building was and she said that no one knew exactly, but the mural of St George painted on the wall was pre 1450.

20140721-145638-53798421.jpg
Eventually we did find “the” cathedral, which was pretty impressive, especially considering its age was only a few years shy of a millennium.

20140722-113534-41734373.jpgNo antiques for sale here, unfortunately.

Everyone makes mistakes – some people accidentally book accommodation for the wrong dates, others may book accommodation in the wrong town. Then there’s the case of Eileen booking our non-refundable, non-transferable “Norwich” accommodation some 131 miles out of town and 2 days after we were supposed to be in Norwich. By sheer luck it turned out to be not too much of a detour to stay there for one night on our way to our next gig, so we headed off for a one night party in an obscure town in the English countryside. Our GPS took us on a cute route on backgrounds edged by hedgerows the whole way. Hedgerows are very quaint and I can see why people are campaigning to have them protected, but they are quite claustrophobic when driving and after 4 hours of being literally hedged in I was itching to pull out a chainsaw.

The place was very cute and we had an enjoyable night drinking cheap wodka and jamming. I hit my head a total of five times on the low doorways and now it hurts when I put my hat on. It was a fun night, but there’s nothing like a bit of drinking and jamming to make you miss your friends back home (Where’s Oli Dear when you need him?).

20140722-113855-41935833.jpg“What the hell are we doing in Barrow-Upon-Humber?”

Our next engagement was at a town called Shaw in the middle of England where we were to be playing a show at the beautiful theatre “Playhouse 2”. The support act was to be a 24 piece ukulele orchestra (what is it with grossly oversized uke ensembles?). During sound check we were given strict instructions not to open the stage door for the uke players, instead telling them to use the other door. Before too long were heard a knock-knock-knocking to which we replied “Use the other door!”, this scenario kept repeating every minute or so in a seemly endless cycle, which started to get quite surreal. As none of us had, as yet, laid eyes upon any of the ukers, only heard their rapping on the wooden door and occasional muffled voices, our imagination was free to run wild. Personally, I was imagining a swarm of midgets in Hawaiian shirts and little red hats armed with $15 pineapple shaped ukuleles. Before long it became apparent that a sign was needed on the door, reading “Ukulele players please use other door”. In fact, I can think of a lot of uses for such a sign and am currently considering going into production… The sheer volume of uke strummers was beginning to make me feel quite intimidated and I was considering calling a pest control team, but I’m glad I didn’t because in the end they were actually really good. I especially enjoyed their version of I’ll See You In My Dreams (love that minor 6 chord in the chorus).

When you are on tour in Australia or abroad it can be tough finding decent sound and lighting technicians. With this gig we lucked out with great sound, and in particular, amazing lighting. I didn’t even realise there was a lighting technician until we were on stage, covered with gentle fog and subtly changing hues to complement and enhance each mood. Usually when sound engineers ask us what we want I tell them to go light on the strobes, heavy on the fog and to enhance my cheek bones – they tend be OK with the first couple of directives but generally fail on the third. Tonight my cheek bones looked fucking incredible. All of ours did – it was unbelievable. At the end of the night a kid of about 14 came up and shook our hand introducing himself as the guy behind the lighting controls. We were gobsmacked. His dad was the sound guy and we discreetly enquired whether the boy was for sale. Apparently he was not.

20140721-152850-55730285.jpgHot-shot lighting.

Even better than our cheek bones that night was the excellent crowd who lapped it all up.

We love the accents of this area, but found it a little disturbing when camilla took her passion for learning local languages to adopting the local accent. We also enjoyed a cultural experience in the form of some spectacularly bad English take away complete with soggy chips, mushy peas and some other stuff that defies description. Gotta love it!

2 thoughts on “Europe Blog #7: Enter England”

  1. Love the caption “What the hell are we doing in Barrow-Upon-Humber?” under that photo!

    Great read as always x x

  2. great to see you leaving your big wuss image behind with some good old fashioned gratuitous swearing Jimmy. Everyone knows if you want the really big bucks it pays to be bad. A drug habit is also a good idea.

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