Monday, 23 May 2011

Missionary work in a Catholic country...

It took a couple of minutes to realise where I was when I woke up on Tuesday, but as the fog lifted from my eyes (and at least a couple of sections of my brain) It dawned on me that I was in Zagreb. There are worse places to wake up. Filip was coming to pick up the London Calling gang at 12.30pm to take us to Rijeka, Croatia's premier port to the North and West of the Dalmatian coast, which everyone kept telling me was beautiful and it was a shame we weren't going anywhere near it. I scoffed a mineral water and we got in the people carrier. My left hand was a little calloused and memories of the night before came ambling back. I had carried my guitar case for what seemed like miles through the Croatian capital's suburbs as we followed our twenty year old guides to possible places for beer and recreation. They were now distant memories but the callouses remained. I've got that sort of injury before as a result of twenty year old girls, but I don't particularly want to go into how.

We plodded out of Zagreb through dense traffic until we eventually hit the highway and headed west. Filip appeared to be dawdling and explained in flawless English that we were waiting for Nino who was driving separately and would "catch us up". The region became more mountainous with every kilometre (it's 154km from Z to R) and we eventually began to travel through an impressive chain of tunnels, one of which was the best part of a mile long. Emerging from it I half expected to have either gone back in time or destroyed The Death Star. We stopped at services with about half an hour to go and Filip bought us coffee (We STILL had no money). He asked me if it would be OK if I went out for a drink after the show with his girlfriend as she was excited about meeting me...

...Well what do you think I said to that?

Nino arrived and we made the last leg of the journey in convoy, not hitting the city centre until around 4pm. We emerged blinking from the people carrier into warm Croatian sunshine. We still hadn't eaten but Nino directed us to a really terrific fish restaurant and I enjoyed ray wings with blitva, washed down with another dark Slovenian beer. Then it was another stroll through the town to get the cars to drive to the theatre. If yesterday's had appeared a little totalitarian, today's took the piss. It was massive, soulless and there were once again five guys for every job, which led to a lot of jabbering and not a lot of action before everything suddenly came together and things were looking good. Nino was clearly nervous about this one. I asked him why?

It turned out the gig had only been finalised three days previously so the publicity had been, to say the least, negligible. We drove out to our hotel which was way past the port and out into a wooded area overlooking a marina. It also looked very Eastern European

My hotel block. There was a Western one, but I had the Eastern one.

This was probably modeled on Tito's weekend retreat. I never saw it open.
I only had an hour to kill (Again) so showered and hooked up my dongle for a quick check of emails, facebook etc. As usual I got the message "You are connecting to another network and may be charged roaming fees". It was only a quick surf so no major financial harm could be done and anyway - it said I had connected to T-mobile Croatia so same firm - nominal charges, surely? Filip took us back to the venue and parked up. We discovered that they had sold 460 tickets in 48 hours. I felt like a rock star. We ordered beer. Backstage was similar to the night before with a similar amount of detritus, including a grand piano with a sign on it. I put my guitar case on it.

Apparently the sign says "Do not put your guitar case on the grand piano"

The show started. Sully bounded on to the stage and set our stall out beautifully, explaining how comedy shows worked and how the audience were expected to behave. There was a twelve year old on the front row accompanied by his mother. Sully spotted him immediately and fun ensued. When introduced, I also saw him and tore into his mother for bringing him to an adult show, before teaching him some "new" words, much to her disgust. By the end of my act she was looking disgustedly into her handbag trying desperately hard not to make eye contact with me. Fortunately the rest of the audience disagreed with her and the show was great fun. in the intermission I went to get my stuff and was accosted by a lady who said "Hello! I would like to have sex with you". I forgot I had offered myself to anyone in the crowd whilst on stage and was initially quite impressed. We settled on a photograph. The evening's's middle act was a local guy called Elvis doing his fourth ever gig. I must confess I didn't see his act, as Filip had hooked me up with the previously mentioned "girlfriend". by then and we were drinking beer in the foyer. We left in the next interval and I carried my guitar to the car before the three of us went to the bar where the organiser of the event was the proprietor. It is called The Jazz Tunnel. I'm not entirely sure why I find this so comical.

It is a great bar. A really great bar. I felt a little guilty about not watching Nick (the headliner) again but when he showed up with the rest of the gang afterwards he didn't seem to mind. Soon the beer was flowing again and Sara (Filip's enchanting friend) was proving to be exceptional company.

This is Sara. She is the latest in a long line of women I intend to ask to marry me  if I ever get sober enough to pose the question
Her boyfriend was at the bar but they didn't seen to be paying each other a lot of attention and I was more than happy to be the entertaining old Englishman for a while. The Jazz Tunnel was heaving. I like a heaving jazz tunnel.

Nick, Sara, Nino, Filip, Sully - the acceptable faces of London Calling

At the end of it all we went in search of late-night snacks, eventually falling on a fast food concession in another part of the city. As we queued up for hot sandwiches a drunk Croatian youth staggered over and started calling me "Mate" and quoting "Only Fools And Horses". Wary of the recent punch in the head I tolerated him. We said a reluctant goodbye to Sara, dropped off Nino somewhere or other and then thought we had got lost. Only Sully kept the faith with our route - mightily impressive considering how much he booze had consumed. I don't know what time we got back but we enjoyed a drink on the balcony and I retired to bed, nestling my laptop on my knees, going online, falling asleep and waking up an hour later, emitting a line I have never before emitted:

"Ohhhhh... roaming fees".

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