Issue No.23 – Smokey Drives A Porsche!

The Paintbox gigs continued to roll merrily along, although strangely we were doing more shows overseas in Holland and Sweden with a couple of entertainment agencies Paul had managed to contact. By this time we were introducing more comedy into the act - not really sure how that came about - but it seemed to be very well received. With the aid of a few props and some costume changes, together with a few sketches and a good mix of pretty punchy music we had managed to carve a nice little niche for ourselves.

Mind you, the foreign schedules were very tough. I guess the agencies had to work us hard to make it all financially worthwhile. Most days (particularly in Holland) we would be booked to perform two shows, they even tried to get three in on one trip, and it proved almost impossible even with help from a makeshift road crew! Most of the time however we were left to our own devices - no sat nav back then - just the venue address and a map! So we just used to crank up the old Transit and off we’d go. By and large we managed to get around without too many setbacks, although there was one exception…

We were driving along quite peacefully when I noticed a flashing light behind us and strangely the light was about ten feet in the air. Not really knowing what to expect, I slowed down, when to my surprise we were passed by a Porsche 911 convertible sporting a telescopic pole on which the flashing light was perched. This turned out to be one of the special Dutch highway patrols known as the Rijkspolitie who were actually members of the Elite National Guard (more info here: https://www.excellence-mag.com/issues/274/articles/smokey-drives-a-porsche), which became all too obvious when two large patrolmen wearing long grey leather coats, crash helmets and holstered automatic pistols made their way towards us. As it happens, we hadn’t actually done anything wrong (phew!) but I suppose a van with English number plates and three dodgy-looking geezers was bound to attract attention sooner or later. After a quick browse at our paperwork, they were happy enough to let us carry on our merry way. They strolled back to their Porsche, the telescopic light magically went back down, and off they sped into the distance. We made light of it after they had gone, but I for one was mightily relieved. I decided being that close to a real gun was something I didn't want to make a habit of.

The gigs in Sweden were very different from those in Holland mainly down to the huge distances involved. I remember we did one show close to Lapland in the far North and the next day we were booked to do a venue in the South. It took all night and most of the next day to get there. The poor old van certainly earned its keep back then. Oh yes, our poor old van. Our last (although we didn’t know it then) Swedish tour was due to happen in the winter (we must have been drunk when we signed up for that) so making sure to top up the anti-freeze in the van and digging out our thermal underwear, we headed for the ferry. Now as you may know, I spent my youth in Newcastle, which does get somewhat chilly in the winter… but Sweden proved to be on a completely different level! Our first night was spent in a hotel which was nice and cosy but sadly we had no idea that the temperature outside had plummeted to minus heaven knows what! It was only when we came out on the following morning and tried to start the van that we realised that despite (not enough) anti-freeze, the engine had frozen solid and was beyond repair.

After much deliberation and some frantic phone calls, the Swedish agent suggested that our only option was to hire another van to cover the tour and make arrangements to return our van back to the UK after our last show. Unfortunately the bad news was that all of this was our responsibility and any incurred expenses were going to be down to us. To make matters worse, the only vehicle we could hire was a VW flatback truck with only a canvas cover over the load area. Obviously we were all pretty miserable at the prospect of driving the length and breadth of Sweden saddled with all of this, but we pressed on and did the tour. I must admit it was a very bad time for all of us - we had very little money (Sweden is a very expensive country) to cover food and expenses and even spent a few nights huddled up together in the truck to save funds. When the dust (or should I say snow) settled we managed to get the van (and us) back to good old blighty. Of course, the whole episode was a disaster and to add insult to injury, we still faced a huge bill to get our precious van back on the road.

Fate? Destiny? Luck? Not sure if I believe in any of those, but the powers that be must have had it in for us, because after Dave collected our van from the garage with its brand new engine… he was rear ended by a lorry on the M4! Thankfully, he was ok, but the van and most of our gear was not.

The time had come for us to make some hard choices.

 

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