Sunday, 27 September 2009

Everything Falls Apart in The Waldviertel

We just went to Szene Bunte Wähne, which is one of my favourite festivals. It's in a place called Horn, a small town in the Waldviertel of Austria. One of the great things about it is the place we perform in: an old barn that comes with a voluntary fireman who has the most amazing white beard. He's there every year and looks after the space and the bar.

The other great thing about it is that international delegates from across the world travel down to this small town to see international theatre, so you find yourself at the festival centre talking to people from Canada, Korea, Scotland, Liechtenstein and so on.
I always wonder what the people of Horn make of this sudden foreign invasion.

I did some time lapse photography in the barn.
This is our get-in.

This is the 10am show we played on Friday.

There was something very bizarre about our accommodation: every night when I got back, my bed hadn't been made. The others said theirs had been made. But I could see from the folded edge of the toilet paper that someone had been in the room. Every day they folded the toilet paper edge into a nice triangle, but for some reason unknown to me they would not make my bed. Why would that be?

At the moment we are in Prague for a company meeting - most of the NIE members are here so we can sit together and discuss our future plans of roaming the world.

Tomorrow we will play in La Fabrika, and then we move on to Jindrichuv Hradec. It's a very full week, but it's great to have the chance to play our newest show.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Travel by Numbers 15: Berlin - Horn

Distance: five hundred and ninety eight kilometres
Duration: ten hours and four minutes
Idiot Drivers: one, and one cyclist on the Czech motorway

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Travel by Numbers 14: Oslo-Berlin (Hot hot hot)

Total travel time: twenty seven hours
Driving time: six hours (the motorway was closed at Ludwigslust)
Driving distance: three hundred and eighty one kilometres
Total distance: one thousand and one kilometres

Spending 20 hours in captivity on a ferry is sometimes a blessing. This ferry has it all: a gym, a swimming pool, a theatre, a casino, shops, bars, restaurants and a conference centre.
This is what the shopping promenade looks like. Every half an hour or so, they dim the lights and do some spiel with moving heads and smoke machines, and sometimes a scantily clad lady sings from the walkway across the shops. It's quite strange.

For me though, all that matters is doing nothing. I read an entire novel and caught up on sleep. And I didn't get into a fight this time, so I was quite rude to some drunk man who wanted to know my name. Well, I just walked away.

I had a room with a (restricted) view. Which means I had a window. Normally I don't have a window because it's a lot more expensive, but this cabin was apparently a bargain.

This was my view.

At 10am the boat docked, and I headed for Berlin. In the car that was declared dead a few weeks ago. Now it suddenly still has enough life left in it to go for a last trip to Austria and Czech Republic.
The car overheats and prefers driving 90km/h. I'm not too impressed with that and prefer driving 120km/h. So we found a compromise where I can drive 120km/h with the heating on full and the window open. This is what we do until I overheat and then we go back down to 90km/h with the heating off.
Fifty kilometres on, I went for petrol and an oil-check. The oil was fine, but when I tried to put the stick that holds up the hood (there's probably a name for it but I don't know it), it wouldn't fit back into place. I looked at it and noticed it was completely bent. The metal had gone soft because of the heat. By the time I'd noticed, I couldn't bend it back. So I pulled it out. It didn't seem to hurt.

Tomorrow we're going on a much longer trip and the big question is who will overheat to the point of damage first: me or the Caravelle. The annoying thing is that I look after the Caravelle, but the Caravelle doesn't seem to care much about me. Which is why we've come to the end of this relationship. I feel betrayed.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Back to late summer

I am in Oslo now. Flying for an hour and 40 minutes took me from 5°C to 20°C. It's as if I've gone into the future (early winter) and have now returned to the now (late summer).

On our flight there were two actors from the NRK. And they weren't just in their seats. They decided to act. As we were airborne and the fasten seatbelts signs went off, they started to re-enact the safety procedures, with some 'jokes' in between. I didn't quite get it, both actors couldn't keep their cool, the camera woman seemed to be taking random shots, and the whole thing only lasted for about 5 minutes and then they stopped. It was crap. (You should know by now that I don't mince my words).

Today Kjell, Iva and I spent 5 hours in our new storage space. We loaded the van full of Everything Falls Apart, and arranged the other stuff to make space for anything that is out to be put in. There is a lot more space here than there was in our previous storage space, it's a real luxury.

Anna and Sasha helped.

I asked Sasha to pull a Viking face. He doesn't usually look this scary. He's guarding the car which was deemed dead a few weeks ago. It's still well enough to go for a ride in Czech Republic and Austria though.

In the meanwhile we have a bigger problem. Ikea is no longer selling small Oddvar stools. We've been buying them all over Europe, and have a set in Oslo, one in Cambridge and one in Stuttgart. We were planning to get another set in Czech Republic. But Ikea is only selling the tall ones at the moment. Now what?

Tomorrow I'm off on the ferry. 19 hours on a boat. It'll be good practice for the two weeks we'll be spending on the banana boat in November.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

End of the Arctic

We're done up north. Last night we had a coffee and met a professor of Literature from Tromso University. He talked to us about the second world war, Shakespeare and the darkness of winter. He was a bit drunk, but very friendly.
Today we played two shows to a great audience in Tromso and now we're off. We dropped off all of our gear at the cargo place, and even though the guys there were very nice and helpful, I still don't trust cargo. But we'll find out in two weeks what the state of things is. We borrowed guitars in every venue this week, so we're sending back the broken guitar. If they break it more, it won't make a difference, as long as they don't break anything else.
We're travelling back on three different flights, like the royal family. Bob and David went immediately after the show, Liz and Alex left at 4.30pm, and Kjell and I are on the 6.30pm flight.
I will be going via Oslo to pick up the set for Everything Falls Apart and will be taking the Color Magic ferry from Oslo to Kiel on Sunday. Last time I got into a fight on that ferry, and I'm hoping I won't have to kick someone this time.
Next week will be a mad one. We'll be in Horn (Austria) for two shows on Thursday, then we're off to Prague where we'll have a company meeting with nearly everyone of NIE there. After that (on Monday), we're playing in Prague in La Fabrika, Tuesday we drive to Jindrichuv Hradec to play a show there on Wednesday. On the days we're not playing, we'll be setting up.

Paris of the North (?)

When I woke up this morning the mountaintops around the hotel were covered in snow. It must have been snowing all through the night up there.

After we played two fun shows in Norkjosbotn (which also has the easier and shorter name Vollan), we headed for Tromso. This is our last destination on this tour, as as far north as we will go this time. We're quite keen on coming back and going further: Finnmark and Svalbard are our aim.

The drive up north was amazingly beautiful. We all snapped away and I took some road trip films so you can have an idea of what it's like to be in the van with us.

Tromso is called the Paris of the North. I'm having a hard time understanding why. It's a nice town, but Paris?

The modern looking triangular building is the cathedral. On the mountain behind the white tall thing (is it a lookout post?) is a cable car. We wanted to go up but when we got there the rain was coming in fast and the entire valley was getting covered in clouds, so we'd miss out on the view and it wouldn't be worth the 100NOK. Kjell and I have time tomorrow, so if the weather is better we might try again.

After we arrived and checked in, we all went shopping together. NIE goes H&M...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The end of the world according to Randy

Today we are sleeping in a place that is almost as north as you could get.
But before I get to that bit, first a bit more about the shows we've been playing.

Yesterday we played in Salangen Kulturhus. The shows were fun, but the first one started a bit ominously. One of the kids (I've been reluctant to call them kids because teenagers aren't really kids anymore - but in this case I think I have a right to call them kids) walked in wearing a full face Bush mask with his hood pulled over his head. He was gesturing wildly, apparently thinking he was hilariously funny.
Initially it freaked me out a bit, because I couldn't see him very well and at first I didn't see it was a rubber mask.
But it had all signs of becoming one of those dreadful schools shows.

We were wrong though, it was great fun and they were all really into it.

After the second show we packed up and the man from the theatre opened the curtains. What a view...

After the show we went back to our strange hotel in the even stranger Bardu and decided to give Bardu another chance and drive around it a little bit. There wasn't that much more to Bardu: more army bases, a closed alpine centre, a closed motorsport centre, and more tanks.

So we returned to the smelly hotel.
And drove past it so Alex could show us where he'd been jogging the day before and where he got stopped by men with guns. One the way there we found some tanks.

They were part of a museum - it's not as if we'd scaled fences of army property.

In the evening we played poker. I lost (again). During the game we could hear gunshots in the forest at the other side of the road. Army practice.

This morning as we arrived at the sports hall of Bardu to play there, we heard more shooting.

After Bardu we drove up north. So far north in fact, that Randy (our GPS) decided we were approaching the end of the world. There seems to be no North Pole according to Randy. It all just stops about 150km north of here, in the Arctic Sea.

This is our hotel in Nordkjosbotn. It's a very friendly and non-smelly place, that serves fantastic food.

I just got back from playing pool with Liz. I lost. A pattern seems to be evolving... But I don't really mind.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Arctic Circle

We are currently in Bardu, which is a little bit like Twin Peaks.

We all met yesterday at Oslo Gardermoen, and waited anxiously for David's arrival. He was on a very tight schedule, and it started to look like he wasn't going to make it. As soon as we found out he'd landed (with 40 minutes to go until our next flight), the Mobergs got into Action Hero mode. Iva ran off to check him in at the self-service machine, Kjell phoned him to tell him what was going on, and the rest of us went through security hoping for the best and denying a possible problem. As David came upstairs (from the downstairs arrivals area), Iva gave him his luggage tag and sent him off to the security check shouting: 'ONE MINUTE!' That was how much time he had to get on the plane.
So he made it and we all set off to Harstad.

When we arrived in Harstad it didn't really look very different from other places I'd been to in Norway, so I was a little bit disappointed. But only a little bit, as I was (and still am) ridiculously excited about being in the arctic circle. Even though I've travelled to a lot of places (with various degrees of bizarreness), going to places I've never been to before still thrills me.
So we got into our rental car (which had all of our set and our lighting equipment tightly packed inside it) and started driving. To Harstad city. We were booked into a hotel on the fjord, which was quite classy in a tacky way.

After dinner we went for a walk to look around the town. The thought on everyone's mind was that very soon winter will kick in here, which means a lot of snow and darkness. Right now it is still light until about 8.30pm. But days are getting shorter and for the people up here total darkness will set in a few months from now.
It must be hard to live here. I can't even begin to imagine how it would be, and I don't think I'd be tempted to find out.

But it is beautiful. Stunning.
Kjell, David and I saw something in the water. 4 somethings. It could have been porpoises, or seals, or whales maybe. But they swam off to fast and we didn't get a good look. We tried to make them come back; Kjell and David gave their best porpoise impressions to call them back, but it didn't work.

This morning was an early one. We set off at 7.30 to go to a school in Skanland. That's where not such good news awaited us.

We opened our flightcases and the first thing Kjell noticed was a rattle in our streetlight. It had never rattled before. We opened it up and the ballast had come loose. Clearly it had had a rough journey. Next thing was the accordion. So Dave started operating it and managed to fix it. The third thing though, was Alex' guitar. Broken. Cargo had snapped its neck.
How I wished the set had stayed with me. But there's not enough time for me to drive it back to the UK for the tour there, so that was not an option. Maybe one day someone will prove to me that there is solace in freight, and that it can be trusted, but right now freight and cargo are not my friends.
We found solutions to everything and got ready for the show. 80 teenagers from Skanland came to watch us. It was very different from playing in Edinburgh, but it was great fun.
Afterwards we were invited to have lunch with some of the students who had helped us set everything up. They'd been a great help and it was very nice talking to them. We asked them what it was like to live here, and when the snow would come. Soon, they said. And the darkness would follow soon after.
They uttered their surprise at the south (Oslo), where it was light on Christmas day, where they heard people even mowed their lawns on Christmas, that's how warm and light it was there.
You could contest this statement, but in all honesty, I've been in Oslo just before Christmas when the snow hadn't come yet, there was only relentless rain. Not ideal for lawn-mowing, but I'd argue that the Skanland students were only exaggerating a little bit.

We headed off, we had a two hour drive ahead of us. Direction north-east. We stopped along the way to admire the view, and to look at WWII sites of the Battle of Narvik. I did a 360.

This is our rental car. We called it Spanky. It was Alex' idea - he got it from a television programme he watched where a tour guide was called Spanky. The GPS is called Randy. That was Kjell's idea. There are two more GPS's in the company: one is called Judy, the other is called Emily. I spend most of my time with Emily.

This is where we are now: 1001km from Kirkenes. Kirkenes is the end of Norway.

After two hours of driving we entered proper army territory. With Bardu in the midst of it. Bardu is a small town that currently has a big hole as its main drag. Roadworks. There are soldiers in camouflage jackets, a few shops and a bowling alley.
So bowling is what we did. And I lost spectacularly. My pink ball did not bring me any luck. But I had a great time.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

North North North

And we're off again. To Tromso. It's as far north as I've ever been.
People often ask us how we work, with everyone living in different countries. Well, this is how:

(Click on the animation to go to full screen).

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A small step for man...

If it hadn't been 11am, I would have raised a glass to the email I received from Iva: 'MLWD set arrived Harstad!!'
We are still on a break, and aren't travelling until Sunday, but our set has already reached its destination in the very north of Norway. I hope it's having a good time there.
If you knew what it has taken for us to get it there, you'd raise a glass with me. I still don't like our set travelling as an unaccompanied minor, I think it's much better for everyone's nerves when it's in the van with me. But sometimes the benefit to travel time are greater than the benefit to nerves, and then I just have to let it go.

This is it. And until it comes back from Norway and arrives in the UK on time for our UK touring, I will be slightly nervous. Over-protective? Maybe. But after the China adventure I think I am entitled to be.

So from now on the set has a passport. Like all of us. And it will probably get more stamps than any of us. And unlike our passports, it has details of all the places it will go in the next 12 months.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

We've gone. It's over. Finished. Done.

It's over. The bubble has burst.
I had two fantastic last shows on Monday.
First Sue came to see NIE (and missed Alex' Sue reference in the show). Liz made me laugh at the top of the show. She was snoring louder than ever. I could see Alex laugh as well, and I could almost see him think if she really needed the megaphone for the snoring.
Afterwards I showed Sue my drumkit and pointed out all the details: the coins and then nuts and the volume knob of the base in the tray that lies on top of the fan shell, the Hulk sticker on my blue bin, the Scooby Doo 'snare drum'. Sue was very impressed.

Afterwards NIE came to see Sue, all wearing Sue wigs. During the show I spotted 4 people in the middle of the audience wearing Sue wigs made out of newspapers. It was amazing. Afterwards I found out they were our friends from Unpacked.

After the show we did a photoshoot of all the Sues. The entire Pleasance Two crew was also wearing Sue wigs, which I found very confusing during the get-in.
There are a lot of photographs, but I don't have any. When Liz, Dave or Elena send me some, I will post them here.

We went for some final drinks and goodbyes to Brookes Bar. Tom had a splitting headache and didn't look very well. Until he left and spotted Linda Marlowe on the way out. He suddenly regained the spring in his step and rushed over to me to point her out. So I've started and finished the festival with Linda Marlowe.
Well done me.

Yesterday was not such a good day. First of all there was a slight hickup trying to print my Ryanair boarding pass (if you don't, they charge you a lot of money), then I couldn't start the van because the battery was dead. An incredibly nice man tried to help us.
In the end it was the startgas that helped us on our way.

I'm glad it's over. I've had a lot of fun, but during this last week I couldn't shake the feeling that someone has put a fifth week inside the festival and didn't tell anyone about it. So now it's finally time the rest.

I think I can speak for all of NIE when I say we will miss the Sues. What I will miss most is Hannah's Sue jokes. If you find her in a forest in Wales, ask her for a Sue joke: she won't disappoint.