Belgium

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Gaz WhelanWe finally depart Edinburgh around 4 a.m. and begin our overnight journey to Belgium. Fortunately, we are travelling in extreme comfort and style. Tour buses are incredible machines, some containing every luxury possible for a hard working touring musician or even the most pampered Roman emperor. But due to the late addition of the Belgium and Croatia gigs coupled with the fact that it’s festival season very few buses are available and our destiny is again in the lap of the gods. But like Athena looking down upon Odysseus and his troops a certain god unbeknown to us is smiling in our direction.

The Chilli peppers cancel last minute and decide to fly during their U.K. tour leaving a magnificent and luxurious bus available for our leisure, pleasure, travel…. and oh work as well. Parquet flooring, plasma TV’s, 2 lounges, 2 bathrooms, queen size bunks with individual TV’s and Bang & Olufsen music systems, and a state of the art kitchen all of which wouldn’t be out of place in a Manhattan loft apartment. Suddenly the 30-hour drive back from Croatia doesn’t seem so daunting?

We arrive in Belgium around 10pm (stage time 12.15) and are greeted with a friendly looking ’boutique’ hotel tentatively balancing on the banks of an unnatural but very picturesque looking river. The cobbled streets are littered with families riding bikes that look older than the small unassuming gothic style church that is gently ringing its bells to announce our arrival (…as if!). The mist is mischievously hovering over the river like a seasoned mugger in a doorway that gives the whole town a feeling that it’s harbouring some kind of secret. All suggestions and accusations come spewing out from every member of our party at a flattering pace (mostly connected to WW2), but this was just releasing tension after the long journey. Though my mind did wonder for a minute to someone putting their finger in a dyke (ooh Mrs) but that was a different country.

Once our paranoia had lapsed we all notice just how beautiful the town is. We are received at the hotel reception by a man aged around 40, a lithe like character stretching to around 6ft tall sporting short hair that proudly displayed blonde highlights and a suggestive camp demeanour, which could only be described as resembling a SS officer who had been a successful provincial hairdresser prior to the war. Someone behind me whispers, “fuckin’ ‘ell it’s a Belgium Gaz Whelan”, which I choose to ignore.

On my way up to my room I think…why is it that as soon as we Brits hit mainland Europe we resort to WW2 gags… pathetic really.

We meet in the bar for a ‘cheeky one’ before the gig. Behind the bar is the same man from reception but this time he’s sporting a bright white barman’s apron and balancing a striped tea towel over his left forearm. Whilst he pours our drinks he commentates in a somewhat stern like manner on how Belgium beer is the best in the world and that English ale is shit. This couldn’t be the polite individual who checked us in 10 minutes earlier could it? Or was it his alpha twin brother, Basil van faulty. Either way we race to finish our beers (Rob, soundman and scouser always wins) and we jump in the awaiting vehicles to take us to the festival site 200 yards away!

The show goes well but not as electric as the previous show in Edinburgh, though many do fail to match up to Scottish shows. We all head back for an early night as the hotel bar is closed and all the staff are asleep…..OR ARE THEY???

After a welcomed nights rest I descend to the dining room for breakfast and I’m greeted by a full turn out from our crew, very unusual. All are present and fully refreshed and ready for the 19-hour journey to Croatia. However, joy soon turns to sadness as I’m audibly assaulted by the sound of the Pet Shop Boys escaping out of the kitchen like a tooled- up prisoner of war escaping to freedom with a promise of vengeance. Sorry, at it again.

As I park my boney butt at a vacant table I notice that there was only cold fare on offer…the old ‘continental breakfast blag’. But before I could moan (and I am an Olympic champion at this) I’m confronted by the breakfast waiter….tall, blond, camp…shit, identical triplets?…can’t be? No it was the same man as last night, but this time with tailored fitting jeans buckled just below his chest so as the shortest route to his back pocket would be over either shoulder. He made Simon Cowell look like a gangsta rapper.

In all my semi-comatose state and with all innocence, although some would disagree. I politely enquire, “anything hot on offer?” A pleasant smile invaded the face I thought unable of any vertical expressions. “Only me”, he replied whilst tilting his head to one side and loosely biting on his pencil. As I struggled for a response his manner rapidly returned to a man void of any humour. “I’ll send over the waitress”. Well that’s more like it I think.

A pleasant smile invaded the face I thought unable of any vertical expressions

The waitress is in her late 80′s and probably harboured more war stories than a seaman’s mission. I instantly like her, no nonsense get on with it kind of attitude who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, the kind of woman I admire. She is also a lot more mobile than any of us. With much more caution I enquire, “do you serve anything hot? “Yes, tea and coffee, “food” I plead, “no.” She responded, cutting me short mid sentance. “Then tea it is”, I say. So much for a sturdy meal to help me on my way but a pleasant and business like overnight stay.

As we settle down onboard our cruise ship on wheels and start our long journey we pass festival goers leaving the site and heading home in long lines down each side of the road. Most are head to toe in mud and are carrying rucksacks. I can’t help but think that they look like a defeated army returning from days of battle. My conscience gets the better of me and I start to think about the huge dept we owe Belgium for what they sacrificed for us during the war in Europe. But I stop myself before this all starts getting to fuckin’ Hollywood.

We hit the motorway and I return to the present and happily join in with the orchestra of flatulence that is playing amongst the cold breakfast/Belgium ale club sitting around me.
It’s going to be a long drive.

Gw.