Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Travel by numbers 18: Oslo-Berlin

Driven distance: seven hundred and twelve kilometres
Driving time: eight hours and twenty eight minutes
Sailing distance: four hundred and seventy three kilometres
Sailing time: fourteen hours
Idiot drivers: two enormous ones

So I tested my new friend and learned a few things:
1. I can drive uphill without slowing down.
2. a cup holder is crucial, but even more crucial is the right place to put one.

I got the tyres changed in a very small garage in Gothenburg, run by a very nice Iraqi man. He told me he'd been living in Sweden for 26 years, and almost never went back to Iraq because he found it too difficult and dangerous there. But his elderly parents still live there, so he does go back every couple of years to visit them. He made me coffee and we talked about the weather.
The biggest surprise there was the toilet. It was a tiny little room, painted in a very bright pink. I thought that was quite unusual for a garage.

Then I drove to the ferry.
I saw a truck lose its load in front of the check-in gates. First there was a loud crashing noise, and I didn't know what it was, then I looked over and saw the truck.

The trailer had come off the cabin and had hit the ground. Seconds later, the driver jumped out of the cabin, saw what had happened and grabbed his head with both hands. I felt really sorry for him.
He couldn't move, as the trailer was still lying partly on the tail end of his cabin. (I'm sure these things have proper names, but I'm not a trucker and I don't know them.)

Then a forklift came.

He lifted the trailer off the cabin and drove off again. To me it seemed like he could have been useful in putting the trailer back on as well, but what do I know.

The driver was on the phone running back and forth, into the building, back out, circled around his truck for a while.

All of this took about half an hour (check-in hadn't opened yet, so I was stuck there waiting - it's not as if I'd parked especially to witness the events unfold).

More truckers came to see what had happened, and they probably offered some advice.

This is the last thing I saw: the man trying to get the trailer back onto the truck.
Once I was on board, I could see the truck was no longer there, so he must have succeeded.

Monday, 25 January 2010


I'm here to steal the focus of the guys in Peterborough, because I think this is headline news: I've finally met my new van. I went to pick it up in Sarpsborg with Kjell, and then we drove straight to a car tools shop.

We bought a light because there is no light in the back of the van, and when we tried out the lamp we'd just bought, we found that there was a light in the back of the van after all, it only didn't ignite automatically.

If you look closely at picture number two, you will spot an airpressure horn. I simply cannot tell you how excited I was about that. It's been 4 years now I've been asking for a horn in my car. (If I drive like distances like a trucker, I should have (some of) the trucker gadgets. So now I do.
Mind you, that still doesn't make me a real trucker.

Then we went off to the office to get all of the set.

It started like this, empty apart from 4 summer tyres (which we will need later).

I forgot to take a picture of how it finished, so I will do that tomorrow. Suffice to say that there is still space left. We could have put all of our sets in there if we wanted to.
But we didn't want to because that would mean we'd have to unload all of them as well, and we don't need all of them, we just need the two biggest ones.

So what happens next?
Tomorrow I will get the spiked tyres changed for non-spiked tyres, as spikes aren't allowed in Germany - and that's where I'm going. Then I will drive to Goteborg to get the overnight ferry to Kiel.
On Wednesday morning I will arrive in Kiel and will drive to Berlin, where my new friend will have to wait another 10 days before going to Graz.

In the meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for anything that could liven up my new friend. It's quite grey/white/dull at the moment.
The wall of the cabin behind my head can have things taped to it, the ceiling can have things safety-pinned to it. On the dashboard I only want things that will really support me on very long trips.

The loneliness of the long distance driver can be alleviated by objects that offer moral support and inspiration.

But for now: come to Graz to see the square outside TAO shudder when I arrive and blare the red horn.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Pirates, Princesses, Robbers and Monsters!

On Tuesday Hannah Whelan led more story writing workshops in schools in Peterborough with some of the NIE artists in tow. The workshops were fantastic and involved children of all different ages and backgrounds. Games were played and many stories were written. We now have lots of stories to help with the show so the next day we took a closer look at them.

On Wednesday Elisabet, Lenka, Unai, Carly, Tom and Ellie presented stories one by one to the rest of the group in promenade style performances around the Quaker House where we have been rehearsing.

Unai was a boy about to go on his first date, but he turns into a monster in the shower and can’t go. Elisabet became a young girl who buys a Princess dress for her mothers wedding but the Pirate that sells it to her rips it. But it’s ok they remain friends and get married when she’s older. Tom was a nervous young boy who had to judge a Police line up after his tictacs and water that he bought from the shop were stolen. Lenka told the story of a thief who stole chocolate from a local shop. Carly had us running around the Quaker House trying to escape from a very angry woman who’s shop we had just robbed and Ellie told us the charming story of Adam and Eve and the tale of the venue we were in. The stories were all written by children as part of the workshops. It was interesting to work with stories that follow an adult logic to an adults and it will be great to see how these stories affect the development of the show.

Then it was time for more music, out came the violin, guitar, accordion and drum (accordion case) and folk songs from Spain, Norway, Czech Republic and UK filled the corridors of the Quaker House.

Check back in the next few days for more about what we are getting up to in Peterborough.

written by Tom (Gideon) Womwell

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The arrival of the New Arrivers

We have touched down in Peterborough to begin work on our exciting new site-specific show in conjunction with Eastern Angles, Arts Council and Peterborough City Council. The new show is called New Arrivers and will open in Peterborough in the Autumn of 2010.  You can find out more about the show by visiting the mini site at

On Monday Alex, Cat, Tom (Gideon), Lenka, Elisabet, Carly, Hannah, Unai, Tom Anderson, Ellie, Marie and our intern Izzy descended on the Quaker House for the first day of work.

We kicked off the day by talking about the project and how we will be using stories written by school children as part of NIE workshops as inspiration for the show. The show will be performed in a disused shopping space in Peterborough city centre, therefore we have lots of stories about shops and many of them were written by children who’s first language is not English so that is interesting.

Then came everyones favourite part. LUNCH! Cat prepared a wonderful lunch which was all devoured very quickly. The afternoon saw movement work with big wooden canes and a trip up to Lincoln Road. This road is amazing, the streets are lined with shops and businesses from Czech Republic, Poland, Asia and lots of other places, it’s a real mix of cultures which is great to think about for the New Arrivers project. We ended the day with a coffee in a portugese café…. Unai had a beer.

Next up we will be holding more workshops in schools and going through the stories that have been written so far…..oh and we will be playing instruments too!

written by Tom (Gideon) Womwell

The end of a caravelle...

This blog post is not related to New Arrivers, which is obviously the main thing happening at the moment.
But I can't shut up and today I received an email from Kjell which I want to share with you:

Your good old friend was sold to two Chechenians with golden teeth today. It will be rebuilt to fit a Chechenian family of eight people, and the father in the house told me he wants to paint the ceiling gold(!) I think its the perfect end for this car!!!!
Best Kjell

Monday, 18 January 2010

New departures / New arrivers

We have now left Norway but not without a hint of northern light. Driving back to Oslo on Thursday night after dinner at Kjell and Iva's house, the sky was green. And not some weird bluish green, proper grassy green. It didn't move, so it wasn't as spectacular as you'd expect from the Northern Lights, but to see them this far south is unusual enough for me.
So, moose and northern lights on one tour: it can't get more Norwegian...

When we left, Anna gave me this for the van:

A small guard dog.
So if you have anything you think would look cool in the cabin of our new van, please bring it along to wherever you will find us. I want to turn the van in a mini museum of our travels.

Today is the start of a new project in Peterborough. The New Arrivers have arrived there last night and I have asked Elisabet to keep us updated. I'm not there myself, as I have some extra travelling to do in order to get to Graz on time with all of our possessions - in our new van.
(Is it clear how excited I am about our new van?)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Pimp our van

Hello one and all.
NIE (Kjell) have almost bought a van for NIE (me). It looks like this:

As I will be spending a lot of time in there, I want to have it decorated in true NIE style.
There's plenty of space to decorate as you can see here.

I got this two weeks ago (eagerly awaiting the new van):

If you are around any of our future destinations (Graz being the first), please have think about how you could pimp our van. But keep the following in mind: I still need to be able to see the road and both mirrors.
Kjell pointed out that the back wall of the cabin is fairly big, so maybe you have some pictures that would look good there? Or maybe you're a very good airbrusher and would like to do something cool on the outside (like our logo...)?
Bottom line is: as I cruise back and forth across Europe, I want to know that I'm driving the funkiest van on the continent.

(I will veto any type of air freshener.)

So see you in Graz!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A great day in total darkness

Iva phoned me yesterday to discuss some future things, and while we were talking she said that the culture contact for the school we were going to today said we could have as much darkness as we wanted.
I said I'd have all of it.

For those of you who are not familiar with the kind of touring we are doing right now: we play in schools. Usually in gyms. And gyms usually have a strip of windows just below the ceiling. They are usually impossible to reach and sometimes there are no blinds.
Since it's harder to create the magic and illusion of theatre in broad daylight, we always ask schools to come up with something. Sometimes they stick black binliners along the windows, sometimes they attach an enormous tarpaulin to the roof.
But Norwegian sunlight is very bright, and it is never easy to make it pitchblack.

But some schools have gyms without windows. That's where we were today. The main thing the darkness does is make it easier for the children to focus. And to imagine they're not in their gym.

In the meanwhile Kjell is looking for a new van. If all goes well, I'll be driving a new van to Germany on Saturday, and from there I will take it to Graz in February. We will be bringing a lot of stuff to Graz, and all that stuff doesn't fit in our current van (which died a few months ago anyway, so that was no option).

The other recurring issue is the chairs for Everything Falls Apart. Due to lack of van-space, we've been buying them all over Europe.
Ikea stopped producing them. Iva then sourced a different type of chair for the shows we did in Czech Republic. They were quite similar, but not the same.
Today I found out that our trusted Oddvars are back in stock. So I'll pick up a few extra on the way to Graz.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The sweet smell of paper

This weekend we went to the top of the mountain overlooking Oslo's fjord. It was absolutely stunning.

Anna and Lenka went sledging. I passed, as I didn't have waterproof trousers and I had images of getting soaking wet from the snow and then freezing to death (it was still -20°).

This week we are playing in 5 different schools in Moss. Moss stinks.
You might think this is a very offensive thing to say, but it's true. Moss has a big paper factory, and it smells of... something like sulfur mixed with something else.
I love books and paper, but that smell sort of puts me off a bit. I had no idea producing paper caused this type of sensory assault.

It is getting warmer now. Today it was only -4°. The snow is melting and turning into black slush.
But we don't let that get to us. It's still great fun playing to smaller kids.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Norwegian wildlife

This morning we saw a herd of...

I say reindeer, Anna says moose.
There is no evidence. No pictures.

I was driving, that's my excuse.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Koede boernie

This morning it was -20°(C), we went to our favourite school but we didn't play.

This is the school:

This is why we didn't play:

Bergenhus Skole is the only school I've been to so far that has a very nice black box theatre. Unfortunately, that's not so ideal for this performance. We had some discussions about it yesterday (before going there), but based on our combined memories, we couldn't remember enough to really know whether it would be possible to play or not. So we decided to go there and find out.

My memory had no records of the seating steps not all being wide enough to put a tripod on.
With wider steps, we could have played half on the steps.
However, as you can see, only the middle step was wide enough, which would mean the tripods (with the projection screen draped over them) would be too far away from the floor cloth the kids sit on, and the projection itself would have been reduced to the size of a tv screen.

Some of the option we went through were: cutting the projections, cutting the slide projections, cutting the double bass, playing for only 20 kids instead of 100. None of them were acceptable.

If it wouldn't have been so damn cold, we could have played in the gym, but the heating in the gym didn't work (frozen pipes or something), so we couldn't move there.

The school then suggested the hall:
The problem there was that it was also the main entrance to the school, and the different parts of the school connect through this space. Additionally there are some enormous windows at both sides, and a lot of light-spill from the adjoining class rooms. So again, not an option.

You would have thought we'd be in and out of there in no time, but as we all like it there so much, we stayed there for an hour and a half, and talked to the teacher who was in charge of us. She was a very nice lady who told us her husband is a pig farmer, and these temperatures are quite tricky to keep the water flowing for the pigs to drink.
She also said he can't go away. Not even for a day, let alone a holiday somewhere warmer. Pigs need to eat twice a day. Every day.
It sounds like a hard life to me, but I guess that if he really hated it, he wouldn't be doing it.

After having coffee and cake (the school supplied the coffee, Nils had made the cake), we drove back to Oslo. In total, we drove for three hours and visited a school for an hour and a half. Not your standard working day. Not ours either.

Back in Oslo, I thought I should test myself under these weather conditions. So Anna and I walked to the harbour. It was cold, but not unpleasant.

And now my skin feels a bit sunburnt, even though I'd pulled my hat down to just above my eyes, and pulled my woolly collar up to just under my eyes.
I can deal with -20°.
The weather forecast says it's going to get colder.
I'll test my resistance if it does. But I'm glad I decided to put the International Haircuts on hold until after winter.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A good day

Today we had a much gentler start. No angry men waiting for us by the car, a smooth ride to the school, very friendly teachers, a gym with a half-decent blackout and very nice kids.

This was the view from the school:

Monday, 4 January 2010

I no longer need gas to start with a bang

Happy New Year.

Like a lot of kids this morning, we got up early to start work again.

The car has been fixed now, so I can leave the startgas in the car door and just turn the key and go.

This morning however, things weren't quite that easy.
Anna and I are staying in a short term rental flat which comes with a car park. Anna had been staying there before with Honza, but I'd never been there. When I arrived, she met me downstairs to show me the garage.
The space Honza used before was taken, so I parked next to it. There was plenty of empty space in the car park, so I assumed it would be fine. (Assumption...)

So this morning, at 6.45, we saw a Landrover parked right behind our van. And a man walking around the cars parked either side of the van.
As we approached he said to me in Norwegian: 'Is this your van? Why did you park there?' Even though I had understood, my Norwegian is not good enough for an elaborate apology and/or explanation, so I told him I didn't understand Norwegian. Technically I don't. If it suits me, I do. A bit.
The man was angry. Or rather, he was fuming. I tried to explain I was unaware of the numbered parking spaces, and that I only just arrived the night before. He told me that if we had been two minutes later, he'd have left and his car would be there until Friday. (And if my uncle had breasts he'd be my aunt, but anyway.)
I apologised a bit more, but it only made him angrier. It seemed incredibly hard to steer the conversation to an end, despite the fact that we clearly both had somewhere to go.

He concluded with: 'Anyway, this car is from Fredrikstad, it's not even supposed to be here. Is this even your car?' I promised him I'd call our landlord as soon as it was a more respectable hour to call people and find out where I should park. I apologised again and got into the van.
That's when I saw him remove notes from under the windscreens of the cars either side of the van.
They were printed. Not handwritten.
Which explained how much time the man had had to work up this seemingly exaggerated rage. If he'd already gone back into his flat to trace the licence plate of our van and write and print out notes on his computer, he'd definitely had enough time to reach the boiling point.

Having said all of that, my experience of Norwegians couldn't be further removed from this morning's incident. I know Norwegians as patient, friendly and welcoming.
But for all I know I may have caused this man to miss his train that would take him to work outside Oslo, or even miss his flight towards a holiday somewhere warm. Whatever it was, I'm sure there was enough reason to be furious with me.

Again, Mr. Landrover, please accept my apologies. It won't happen again.

This is what we can see from our balcony. It's 15.43 and the sun is setting.