Sunday, 22 May 2011

An early start, a late finish and a suggestion from the Zagreb constabulary

Prologue: Whenever I go abroad my mother gets a long-term forecast for my benefit which normally involves the fact that it is going to be better weather in England for the duration of my trip. Her long term forecast for where I was going to this time was "A significant drop in temperature and rain every day"...

...Getting up earlier than you occasionally go to bed is never easy and a 4.30am start last Monday was particularly fractious for this dedicated night owl but there I was pottering around the flat, washing up late-night pots, tidying up and packing for an overseas jaunt the like of which I've never been on before. Don't get me wrong - I've done gigs abroad in Holland, Singapore, the U.S. and South Africa amongst others but the four-night trip to Croatia that I had somehow managed to get booked for was something I was viewing with a certain amount of trepidation, not least because I would be performing to audiences that had English as their second language, rather than the usual gangs of drunken ex-pats that fill most international rooms. The cab was prompt and I was at Letchworth railway station before 6am, cup of tea in hand, bleary-eyed and a little nervous about the day ahead.

I actually got to Gatwick early, checked in immediately and made my way through to X-ray, where a lack of foresight left me held up and being scanned for explosives. I had checked my guitar into the hold and crammed all my clothes, electronic equipment and toiletries into my hand luggage. Failure to put the toiletries into a clear plastic bag led to me getting everything out to be re-scanned, my shaving gel removed (over 100ml of skin-softener clearly poses a significant terrorist threat) and a once-over with what appeared to be a geiger counter. I started to question whether I was in fact an Interpol suspect but it became apparent that I was just, in fact, a bit of an idiot.

I then went for my customary Bloody Mary. It was, after all, 8.45am. Approaching the bar I said to the (very smiley) barmaid "Hello, I'd like the finest Bloody Mary you've ever made". She moved two steps to her left and asked her fellow barman how to make a Bloody Mary. I then corrected myself and said "I'd like the first Bloody Mary you've ever made". He then made it for me and she observed. I corrected myself again saying "Sorry, I'd like the finest Bloody Mary you've ever watched be made". It was a Wetherspoons. I shouldn't have expected any different and to be honest at £5.75 it was approximately half the price of the one I had (previously) had at Luton. I met up with Nick & Sully (The other two comedians I was travelling with) and we boarded a half-full Croatian Airlines flight to Zagreb which was utterly painless and we arrived on time. Small international airports are terrific - hardly any queues, straight through customs and out into the warm Zagreb sunshine. For information of what happened next look here

Our driver Filip arrived in a huge people-carrier and took us to our hotel in the city centre, where I got to reception first and landed room 101, which was handily by reception. It was a beautiful suite with a large lounge/reception area, beautiful (and huge) bedroom and a nicely appointed bathroom. I don't think George Orwell had this in mind when he wrote 1984 but I wasn't going to dwell on it. Sadly I couldn't work out turning on the TV or getting online via the hotel internet so with only an hour to kill I switched to my T-mobile dongle just to check hotmail and facebook etc. Our tour organiser, Nino took us for a traditional Croatian meal and I had Dalmation steak with this potato/garlic/chard combination that was delicious and (I beleive) called Blitva. Here's a photo of it anyway

Blitva - It's the shitva

There was a brief discussion as to whether my Dalmation steak was indeed made out of spotted dog or indeed if I would get 101 courses. 101 was clearly the number of my day...

6pm and we got a taxi to the venue - a large-ish and very communist-looking theatre about a ten minute drive from the city. Obviously we had no money on us (I hadn't even realised we had travelled outside the EU at this point) but luckily the bosses assistant, Luca was there to pay the fair in Kunas - a currency I admit I had never heard of, let alone used. It's roughly eight Kuna to the pound currently and judging by the fare it had cost him about £1.50. I figured he could afford it. The theatre was lovely and despite procrastination about the sound and lighting (there appeared to be four different men to go through for every decision we were all set up and ready to go in plenty of time to nip out for a cheeky beer before the show. I got stuck into some dark Slovenian stuff that really did hit the spot. By the time I had gone back in there were 300 people in the theatre waiting eagerly for the start of the show, Sully went out to MC and... they understood everything he was saying, laughed (mostly) where appropriate and were generous with their applause. The monthly tour is called "London Calling", he walked on to the Clash song of the same name, did about 15 minutes and put me on and do you know what? I did all right. Upwards of three hundred Croats thought I was pretty good. It was a bit of a voyage of discover in terms of what material worked and what didn't but overall I was pleased with the outcome. I had written one joke for Croatia which I had tried out three times in the UK with no luck at all but it was a triumph in the young nation's capital.

I left the stage to a decent amount of applause and headed back out to the bar for another drink, came back in to sit backstage while a Slovenian act called Tin wiped the floor with the audience (there was a "local" guest each night) and then returned to the bar where a couple of guys who had just watched me bought me a drink. The barman said "Same again?" to me and I was impressed, to say the least. The guys went back in to watch Nick (The last act) but I didn't get any further than the bar. As I approached it the barman said "You do like Psychobilly music, don't you?". I said YES and for the next few hours Marco and myself were keen friends. He gave me beer and forgot to charge me whilst I told him stories of various episodes with members of King Kurt, Guana Batz, Restless, et al. Until, show over, we carried on to a bar where "You can smoke inside". On our arrival we were joined by several members of the crowd, including two young students called Ena and Mirta who were clearly happy to hang around with the London Calling mob. More dark beer was consumed and I have a feeling shots were had. I convinced myself I had lost my guitar, Nino very sensibly said "Tonight is on me" which avoided any embarrassment and the next thing I knew it was 3am and we were sat in the park with said students drinking lager out of a four litre bottle that Sully and Nick had procured with some Euros they had on them. I didn't ask questions.

We stayed in the park until we were moved on by the police.

The girls walked us back to the hotel where we carried on trying to get through the lager in room 101. At 5am I said "Look I really ought to go to bed, guys - it's light". Mirta said "Me too - I have a French test at eight". Now THAT is how students should behave.

Mirta (left) had an exam three hours after she left. Ena (right) was delighted to tell us that she was often mistaken for a porn star. I (centre) was oblivious to both of these facts.
I was hoping to get this whole trip into one blog but clearly it's going to take a little longer. Tomorrow: The first EVER comedy gig in Rijeka!

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