This leg starts in Cologne where the other night I was traveling and I messaged Tracy to see if she could find me a hotel or something that was close to the Hauptbanhof (train station) and she came thru tops with a place that was 700 feet from the station*, I dropped my bags and hoped on a scooter to find some food. It is still somewhat hard to get used to most things being closed on Sundays in Germany. I mean, it’s nice but as I barely know what day it is anyway - it’s like “oh, that’s today? I really wish I could get some food.”
The trip from the central station to Cologne airport is beyond easy. There’s regular runs seemingly like every 20 minutes or so. Since I’m traveling with a guitar (and purchased a seat for it) I’m planning on getting there extra early because I’m anticipating it not going smoothly.** And sure enough, I’m about 4.5 hours early for my flight which is good because it’s nearly a two mile walk from the train platform to the gates for the planes. There’s a lot of sitting and waiting until the check in counter even opens. As far as I can tell - we are the ONLY EasyJet flight from Cologne today.
When it is finally my turn to check in there’s a long delay because they are asking why I haven’t checked in already online. I explain that the online thing wants to know my guitars Passport number, date of birth and whether it’s male or female. “You bought a seat for you guitar?” He asks almost accusingly. “Yes. I talked to customer service and followed all the guidelines on the EasyJet website. It is all done correctly, I checked before I left with customer service” He just stares at me. I think he’s waiting for me to say “ah, never mind, just check it.” But I don’t. I just wait him out. I can feel chest tightening and myself getting very anxious and nervous and then I tell myself “don’t be nervous. You have done everything they have asked for, you are early, you can wait and let him figure it out.” I take a couple of deep breaths. He’s staring at his screen and looks up again, “You bought a seat for your guitar?” “Yes.” I say calmly and leave it at that. He has the ticket info there. He can figure it out. I’m not the first person to do this. He checks with another agent. He stares at the screen a while longer. He checks with her again and then hands me two tickets, one for me and one for my guitar.
Now going thru security, there was a weird exchange that I wasn’t even going to mention but I was with a line of people walking up to the security checkin metal doctor things and an airline worker pushed ahead of me and stops right in front of me and takes the retractable thingy that makes the aisles and lanes and closes it off right in front of me. So now I have to walk down 10 feet, make a turn and come back 10 feet. It’s silly but whatever, right? I walk around and as I get up to where I had just been standing the same guy closes off my lane and lets some other folks come through. He then opens my lane and I go to get in line behind them because, well, I am the end of the line. And then he closes that lane between himself and me again and tells me to walk down the 20 feet to the next thing down. “Seriously?” I say. “Yes, seriously.” “It’s really hard not to take this personally.” I say to him and a guy that is right next to him in line that saw the whole thing just starts laughing.
I know he’s just doing his job and was oblivious to me, I’m just someone else in line that happened to be next inline 3 times in a row and got the aisle closed to me but I wish I had the cctv footage of it because it was just absurd.
Guitar goes through the scanner thing with my backpack and everything else and my guitar gets pulled aside. “Does your guitar have a battery in it?” “Yes.” “Why is that? It’s an acoustic guitar, why does it need a battery?” I start explaining that it is common and it’s for the pickup and plugging it into a PA and he cuts me off. “We’ve never seen an acoustic guitar that had a battery in it before.” So I decide to go Guitar Geek Warning on him. “You see, an acoustic guitar has a piezo element installed under the bridge and that’s what allows you to plug it in but a piezo element by itself doesn’t have enough gain so it requires a preamp and that’s where the 9 volt comes in and it allows me to shape the eq and get rid of the midrange quackiness inherent in all piezo elements. And I also have a humbucking soundhole pickup with a battery. Do you want to know why I use a humbucker instead of a single coil?”
Honestly, I got most of that out, maybe not that succinctly but it didn’t have to be he glazed over pretty quickly and just handed me my guitar and was like, “oh, ok, yeah…” and walked away.
More than Guitar Geekery it felt like Guitar Jedi. “This is not the guitar you are looking for.”
Outside London Gatwick I take a taxi to my bed and breakfast where I have the smallest room I have ever stayed in reserved for me. It’s totally fine, I’m just sleeping here and it’s only me but the guy at the desk says he doesn’t know if me and my guitar will both fit in the room and offers to let me leave it downstairs.***
The next morning I’m sitting next to a couple from Vancouver who are traveling to Africa. He’s super involved with his local Rotarians and spends most of his retired time getting old medical equipment to be donated to them so they can repurpose them to the developing world that needs medical supplies. They are very nice and even tell me that I sound a bit Canadian.**** I take down their info to share with my uncle Steve who is very involved with the Rotarians in Portland, OR.
From there it’s about a half mile walk to the train station which feels further today with my pack and guitar but with plenty of time I take the train from Gatwick to Eastbourne and then a 6 pound taxi ride to my cousin Natalie’s place.
Natalie and Rik are both working from home and still have work to do and I don’t wan to bug them so I go for a walk down to the ocean and while I’m there I figure - I might as well see if there’s a music shop around so I can replace that broken patch cable from the other night.***** From where I am by the beach the closest music shop I can find is 4 miles away. I start walking.
The gps takes me down roads, side streets, alleyways, bike paths, staircases between buildings, paths between houses, over the train tracks, more staircases, a bike path along the highway, down a dead end street with a step over the barrricade and there is the shop. It’s a nice shop too with good stuff and staff that actually knows shit. There’s one mandolin on the wall and I ask to play it. They tell me they don’t get too many people in there that know what to do with a mandolin. I take it into the acoustic room and give it a good go. It’s a nice one and even stranger - it’s a mandolin in a shop THAT IS IN TUNE. There’s an older dude and a younger one that work there and they come in the acoustic room and start asking me a bunch of questions. “You’re obviously a player. What brings you to Eastbourne?” And we have a nice conversation about traveling and performing and going to out of the way places and long story short, I spend $120 on a new mandolin.******
Rik and Natalie’s place is 4 miles back in the other direction. I message Natalie. They are busy until 5:30. My GPS says I will be there by 5:15. It is but a good stretch of the legs as they say in The Quiet Man.
It’s so good to see and hang out with Natalie and Rik. She actually lived with Tracy and I for a while out in California so I feel very close to her. It’s as much of a sibling relationship that I’ve ever really had and so it’s unique and special to me. It’s a great catch up and she makes a curry for dinner and then inflates my bed and we have great plans to go to Brighton tomorrow.
They have both taken the day off to show me around and we drive down to Sankey Head? Smokey Head? Stoney Head? Shit, I don’t remember the name but it definitely had “Head” in the name. And its a super rocky beach and has those famous white cliffs with the sea and the flung spray and the blown spume and seagulls crying******* and then we go to Brighton and have a great walk around the town where Rik tells great stories about his hometown and where he grew up here and the clubs and the bands they used to go see here and we walk out on the pier and then we head to a small restaurant where they’ve made reservations and Rik and I smash the fish and chips and it’s a fantastic day.
Thursday I take a cab to the venue as Natalie and Rik will be meeting me later and Beerarama is a new little bar in the heart of downtown Eastbourne. Jamie and John are…co-owners? I do meet someone else later who mentions being an owner or investor or something - I’m not sure. But they have made a space for me up front and borrowed a small PA set up.******** It is an oddly well-lit room (that is different for a bar) where you look out at the folks sitting here drinking and think to yourself “I don’t know if they’re ready for me but I’m booked to play, so I’m gonna play.” And it’s not like I’m overplaying the room or whatever - I just do my thing. Not super loud, not all wallflowers like either. Just at volume. This is the show and I’m here to do it.
And it goes over. There’s 3 folks sitting right in front, nearly arms length away and the older woman of the group, Beatrice, is clearly enjoying it. She’s probably about my Mom’s age and she is just digging it. “You sound vaguely Eagles.” “Can I quote you on that? Vaguely Eagles?” We all laugh. She has questions in between songs and I tell my long rambling stories and we all have a great time. As I finish my first set they apologize for having to leave but they have reservations. Food always trumps entertainment. I get it. But I’ve made some new fans and then there’s Jake and Sapphire who have shown up. The two both have brand new crocheted hats they are wearing and they work at the record shop around the corner. They are hoping I have vinyl for sale but I only have one left and I it’s back at Rik and Natalie’s place because I really did no anticipate anyone here wanting vinyl. Idiot I am. They are moving to Munich and he is half German and I introduce them to Rik and Natalie and they start speaking German to each other. I sing APB to Jake and we all sing along.
After the second set ends the group of 6 Welsh dudes that were sitting in the middle of the room, alternately listening and chatting - each one of them comes up to tell me how much they enjoyed the music. I’m calling the night a win.
Post show Jamie and John invite me back any time and we make vague plans for next year. Natalie buys pizza and we go home and spend the rest of the night telling great stories about our family and we reminisce a bunch about my dad and it’s a solid end to this stay in Eastbourne.
It’s now Friday and I’m on my third train of the day. I went Eastbourne to Victoria Station and then Victoria Station to Paddington Station and then Paddington to Plymouth in southwest UK. Mostly easy except I was unable to print out my tickets for the train because of twin security systems from different companies not working together. The Trainline Company requires you to put your credit card you purchased the tickets with in the machine along with the confirmation code to print out your tickets and when I bought the tickets my credit card company created a special “online only” number for purchases so sites cannot steal my credit card number. What that amounts to is my actual credit card not being recognized by the company where I bought the tickets from.
Eastbourne station told me to get it sorted at Victoria Station.
Victoria Station told me to get it sorted at Paddington Station.
Paddington Station said “You cannot pass” until I get it sorted with Trainline or my credit card company. Everyone loves making an international phone call for many minutes and being on hold knowing that you’re paying like $2 a minute or something crazy.
I’m nearing Plymouth now and my friend Peter Crawford is picking me up at the station and then I go play Bar Rakuda tonight by the sea. It’s pretty damn close to the ocean and around the corner from there is a plaque from where the original Pilgrims left for the new world in 1492.**********
See you tomorrow.
*Provided you exit the correct side of the Hauptbanhof, otherwise it takes a few annoying minutes to walk around
**This is called “foreshadowing”
***Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen.
****I get this a lot.
*****It’s a 1/4” cable that it’s about 5 inches long and I think from traveling in my bag and being plugged in the whole time it may have put stress on the connectors because it was shorting out. I usually have extra but this one was brand new before the trip. These things cost like $12. EZPZ.
******I know what you’re thinking. “Bobbo, don’t you have a mandolin?” Yes. Of course I do, but I don’t have one with me! “Bobbo, but can you even travel with it? Why do you need it?” Ok, so yeah, it’s going to be a pain in the ass but it’s little and I have that session at Windmill Lane coming up and it would’ve cost $100 to rent a mandolin for the day. “Bobbo, what are you going to do with it after you record at Windmill Lane?” I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I mean, maybe I leave it at that studio until the next time I come to Dublin. Who knows? I don’t know! Stop asking so many questions!
*******This may be Wordsworth. Or Emerson. I don’t remember
********One of the smaller PA setups I have ever played through but perfect for this room. There was a floor monitor powered speaker with 1/4” line input, a 4 channel Behringer mixing board and a couple of cables. it took me seconds to dial in and I set the monitor on the floor behind me so I could hear and everyone else could as well. EZPZ.
**********It’s real easy to look at the names of those pilgrims and think - these were the most religious, uptight geezers around. I bet the town was glad to be rid of them. “They’re going to the new world? Ha! I bet they fall off the edge of the world!” Weirdly, they were the kind of people who today would believe the world was flat and yet they knew in 1492 that it wasn’t and that they would find land. And on top of all that, they were so boring and un-original, they left Plymouth and where did they land? Plymouth! No even “New Plymouth” or “Plymouth Jr”. Plymouth. Probably same mail code too.