Loitering Within Tents
The Jase’s Barcelona Travelogue
noun [C] UK INFORMAL
a young person who does not live in a way that society considers normal, typically with untidy or dirty clothes and hair, and no regular job or permanent home:
Lots of crusties came into town for the festival.
Cambridge English Dictionary
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
“the entropy (disorder) of an isolated system always increases, and when two systems are joined together, the entropy of the combined system is greater than the sum of the entropies of the individual systems.”
Stephen Hawking - A Brief History of Time
“I just want to fucking kill someone.”
We were off to join the circus. A spectacular festival was to take place in a gigantic big top on one of Barcelona’s golden beaches. It had been billed as an electrifying fusion of acrobatics, art, circus and music. Rock band Koogaphone were going to play three sets. I was going to twiddle knobs on the sound desk.
That was the plan.
It didn’t come together.....
Wednesday September 29th 2004
The Wine in Spain Falls Mainly on Rachael in the Plane
I met Julie, Rachael and Matt (a.k.a Koogaphone) at the no frills Easyjet Check-in. After a quick redistribution of luggage to compensate for ‘ladypacking’ (extra shoes and cosmetics being regarded as essentials) we had our boarding passes and were left with plenty of time for a pre-flight drink which, inevitably, made us late.
We made it though and we’re treated to an unexpectedly camp run through of the in-flight safety procedures by an airline steward who told us his name was Justin Timberlake. A trio of fellow passengers recognised me from hosting the Soulmates tent at Glastonbury. They were going to the festival too and told us they had a lift to the site. We were promised a lift then told we couldn’t have one. How did they get a lift? They were also very drunk and the girl began kicking the back of Rachael’s seat and throwing sweet wrappers at her. Rachael threw one back which landed in the girl’s red wine and was promptly volleyed back over the seat and onto Rachael’s chest, staining her t-shirt. Clearly Rachael had a nemesis in the making.
We trekked, liftless, with heavy baggage and guitars across Barcelona. So many stairs - so few escalators. Sue had told us to bring sheets as the accommodation “wasn’t that great”. I think Sue may have taken a masters degree in understatement. Our friend Tash met us at Selva De Mar metro station and informed us that we were not far from the “squat”. Over the last few weeks the accommodation on offer had undergone a series of downgrades from ‘room’, to ‘dorm’, now ‘squat’. However, we remained stoically British and didn’t allow a mere alteration of terminology dampen our spirits. We just wanted to be able to put down our bags and guitars and relax. In fact, we were so tired we’d probably have settled for a palette on a warehouse floor.
The squat was a huge abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Barcelona. It had been taken over by an artists’ collective and transformed into a kind of post-apocalyptic artistic vision of urban decay. The whole place was strewn with broken TVs, radios, grimy soft toys, bits and pieces of machines, body parts of mannequins - quite fascinating really. It reminded me of the human’s hideout in ‘The Terminator’. I wonder what a terminator would have made of this place? I don’t think he’d be back.
We were shown to our sleeping quarters - a very dusty first floor of the warehouse. This was topped with a liberal sprinkling of palettes, which were to be our beds. Good job we brought those sheets. Fortunately Julie and Rachael had brought an inflatable bed and Matt and I were able to requisition a couple of the acrobats’ crash mats to make our beds a little more palettable. Still, this did not bode well for a good night’s sleep. There was only one thing for it - we were going to have to drink our way out of this situation...
Just down the road was a small tapas bar which served big drinks. My vodka and orange was served in a half-pint glass three-quarters full of vodka. I hadn’t had a measure like that since Iain and I’s bizarre experience at a deserted hotel in Gran Canaria (see ‘Roistering With Intent’). I think I had about four of those, and some beer. I was subscribing to the same theory that if you fall over when drunk you’re less likely to hurt yourself because you’re more relaxed. My excessive drinking was purely a method to ensure a more comfortable nights sleep. Honest.
The bar was good fun and an excellent distraction from the warehouse that awaited us. We were able to chat with the circus performers and crew who were on the whole a thoroughly nice bunch. One seemingly ordinary girl described her act to me. It involved having her back pierced live on stage with hooks which were then attached by wires to a harp. When the harp was played it caused a sensation of exquisite pain. She would follow that with more mundane stuff like having nails driven through her. I don’t recall such extreme acts being on the programme when I attended the circus as a child. There were horses that ran in circles in one direction then turned around and ran in circles in the other, Latvian troupes of acrobats, clowns who liked to throw buckets of tinsel at people pretending it was water, and there was always ‘Norman the Budgie Man’, whose budgies would perform remarkable feats such as riding a tiny budgie bicycle, or a tiny budgie car, or a tiny budgie fire engine.... Norman never really did it for me. There’s only so much a small bird can do. He really over-egged those budgies.
We also met Owen, the driver. He’d been to the airport to pick up a group of people who’d come along for fun. As he was the ‘official’ driver he should have been picking us up instead. The drunken shirt stainers had nicked our lift!
We returned, though I really can’t remember how, to the warehouse. Someone had nicked our crash mats! Bastards! Matt and I were reduced once again to cold, hard slats. Rachael was sure that the thieves were the shirt staining crew. She even went on a rampage of investigation, convinced that our mats had been stolen by the dark side.
Thursday September 30th 2004
The Pear Shape of Things To Come
The was one tiny flaw in my plan to use vodka as a soporific - the inevitable hangover. Waking up on a palette in a dusty warehouse with a raging thirst and a head that feels as though someone had driven nails into it (maybe they had?) is not the loveliest situation in which to find yourself. Still, at least I didn’t feel as bad as Rachael. I saw her slowly begin to stir and realised that she would be setting the benchmark for hangovers that day.
“Want some water?” I asked.
She didn’t seem entirely sure of where she was yet. I saw shock, confusion, pain, bewilderment and a general fuzziness in her eyes. She was quite sure of what she needed though.
“Bag. I need a bag.”
Fortunately Matt had one to hand and Rachael was able to find a quiet corner of the warehouse in which to put the bag to good use (needless to say, she wasn’t picking up groceries).
One by one we roused ourselves and went downstairs to brave the cold showers. These showers were unique in that you actually came out dirtier and smellier than when you went in. I think the water supply may have been pumped directly from the sewers.
Eventually we were feeling alive enough to find Sue and attempt to establish exactly what was going on. For one thing, where was the circus? No one seemed to know. Apparently they were in the process of erecting the big top but no one at the warehouse was able to accurately describe it’s location. “Somewhere on the other side of Barcelona - about an hour and a half’s drive away,” was the closest we got to pinpointing the site. There really didn’t seem much point in sticking around waiting for everyone to agree on a plan and spring into action. The best thing to do would be to leave our stuff in Sue’s truck, go and have a day out in Barcelona, then rejoin the performers that night when they’d hopefully got things sorted. We had a plan. I love plans, especially when they come together.
“See you later alligators. Text us when you have the address.” And with that we we off.
Apparently we were quite close to the beach. Feeling confident in my linguistic skills I volunteered to ask a local directions.
“Donde esta la playa por favor?” The Spaniard understood immediately and pointed to the end of the street. I understood his point.
We spent the rest of the day doing the usual tourist stuff - drinks by the beach, a walk around the city centre, tapas and cava for lunch, a cable car ride, etc. - but looming over us like the Sword of Damocles was the fact that at some point we’d have to find a rogue circus, possibly in the middle of nowhere. Finally a text message came from Tash;
‘Go to Zona Franca. Look for corrugated iron and floodlights.’
We had a map of Barcelona and a quick look informed us that Zona Franca was a massive industrial estate. Our directions were about as useful as saying ‘go to Fulham and look for a kebab shop’. Still, it was all we had, so we took a tram to the nearest station to Zona Franca and walked...
Why had we been wandering around an industrial estate for at least an hour in search of some corrugated iron and floodlights? Clearly this was not the legitimate, organised show we thought was taking place. Since we arrived I had a notion that things we’re on the way to becoming distinctly pear in their geometry. I know a lot of circus performers and most of them are wonderful, lovely people but if you said to them “here’s a brewery, could you organise a piss up?” things may well go awry. We were lost, tired, confused and Rachael was beginning to get hysterical. She wasn’t screaming or hyperventilating yet but she was getting quite manic and waving arms around whilst dramatically shouting “I’m getting hysterical”. Luvvies.
I phoned Tash again and described our location. Apparently we were very close although no one on site seemed entirely sure of where they actually where. Finally, after more aimless wandering, lady luck smiled upon us and there was our holy grail, a large corrugated iron gate guarded by some rather crusty looking individuals. Cars were being swiftly ushered through and the gates closed immediately behind them. It looked like a very low-tech high-security operation which reminded me of the compound in Mad Max II : Road Warrior (if you haven’t seen this classic of the post-apocalyptic antipodean action genre I suggest you do so right away). Beyond the perimeter we could see the floodlights illuminating a large cloud of dust and as we came closer we heard something which confirmed that we truly entering a nightmarish version of hell on earth - German Industrial Techno.
The thing with industrial techno is that it is so annoying that the only people into it are those whose brains have been pounded to a pulp by constant techno vibrations. This not only leaves them immune to the “music’s” sheer awfulness but also completely unable to to comprehend why their missionary-like zeal to share their banging and thumping beats with the rest of humanity makes them so unpopular. Apparently one group of technothusiasts had been inflicting their Teutonic air pollution on the encampment for so long and at such deafening volumes that they had been threatened with an axe. Their response was to express profound disbelief as to why so many people hated the music and argue that they had a right to play their music. Unfortunately they couldn’t grasp the notion that other’s may want to exercise their right not to spend the entire day with a techno induced migraine.
We passed through compound security and entered the site. The thick cloud of dust was due to the fact that they performers were attempting to erect the circus tent on a concrete floor. This required hours of drilling for each of the massive tent pegs. Fortunately our tents were of the snap together pole variety and the wonderful Tash had erected them in our absence. However, with the dust the drilling, a concrete floor to sleep on and the incessant techno it didn’t seem as though we would be getting much sleep that night.
Little did we know that these would be the least of our problems.
Let’s talk about Keith. Keith is a twat. Keith bestrides twatdom like a colossus. If Charles Dickens were to describe Keith he would probably devote at least three pages depicting just one tiny aspect of Keith’s gargantuan twatishness. I didn’t like Keith.
He was a twat.
It all began shortly after we’d bedded down for the night. I thought that if I could find a position which was only mildly uncomfortable and try to ignore the music then maybe I could get a few hours of sleep.
Keith had others ideas.
I hadn’t met Keith and I wouldn’t actually see him in person until the morning but that night I felt as if I really got to know the inner Keith. It turned out that beneath his twattish exterior he was actually a complete and utter twat.
Keith started up his lorry which sounded as though it was inches from our tent. Clearly there engine wasn’t in the best condition as it kept stalling and making some dreadful sounds. Then the driver began shouting;
“Fucking engine. Can’t get this fucking thing going. I wanna get out of this fucking place and my fucking van’s broke.”
“Calm down Keith,” said his female companion “turn the engine off.”
“Fuck off! I’m going. I fucking wish I’d never come with you, you fucking bitch.”
“That’s the last time I’m coming on holiday with you!” (You had to admire her mastery of understatement).
Keith continued ranting at full volume for most of the night. There was something genuinely frightening about him. At one point he shouted at the top of his voice;
“I just want to fucking kill someone.”
I believed him. We were all too afraid to sleep, believing that just outside our tent was a crusty Ted bundy. Eventually he calmed down and I drifted into an uncomfortable sleep. But not for long......
Friday 31st September - Pigging Out
The voice was familiar. It was, of course, Keith.
“Pigs. Pigs. Everybody out of their tents. It’s the fucking pigs.”
I my semi-concious state I imagined the compound was facing a bovine invasion, but then I recalled my schooldays and remembered that ‘pigs’ was a slang term meaning ‘police’ which we would use when we were trying to sound hard. We were in the middle of a police raid but all I wanted to do was get a bit more sleep. Matt felt the same, after all we’d experienced we weren’t particularly phased by the arrival of the pigs. We sat up, looked at each other, sighed and buried our heads back in our sleeping bags in a futile attempt to try and sleep through to commotion outside. Obviously it didn’t work. Keith was still doing playground chants, the compound was in a state of frenzy and there were now lots of flashing blue lights outside our tent. I still wasn’t really concerned - we would be spending the next night in either a hotel or a police station, palaces compared to our previous two nights’ accommodation.
The site was now full of armoured police vehicles complete with the accessory no armoured police vehicle should be without - lots of armed police. They were everywhere. Keith was doing his nut, running around telling people to wet towels, ready to wrap around their heads should the pigs use tear gas. It seemed that some of the hardcore crusties were gearing up for a fight. They were clearly veterans in the art of confronting authority - indeed I suspect it was one of the things they lived for. The puzzling thing about devout crusties is their sheer determination to assert their right to an alternative lifestyle to the point where anything that prevents them doing something, no matter how pointless, becomes a major political issue which threatens their very rights as human beings. But in life you have to choose your battles. When the ANC stood up to apartheid that was a cause worth fighting for, but I’m not going to get involved in all out war with the police over the rights of smelly people to play industrial techno on a wasteland in the middle of nowhere.
Some of the performers rather naively thought that because the press had turned up, they would act as their saviour by using the power of the media to make the authorities back down. They even dressed up in their circus costumes and took to their stilts hoping this would make a good photo opportunity and allow the press to show the citizens of Barcelona what they were missing. But the press were only interested in the conflict between the performers and the police, they hadn’t come on white horses ready to save the day. Indeed, the irony was that because there were so many police officers this was probably the biggest audience the performers were likely to get. After all, we’d spent hours trying to find the site and we were supposed to be in the show. No tickets had been sold, there were no posters around town, no websites with maps of how to get there. Who would be coming that wasn’t already their?
It took approximately half a nanosecond for us to decide to pack up our tents and go. I needed to pay a quick visit to los servicios but needed to circumnavigate a ring of armed police to get there. I made it and it was as I was exiting the gents’ tent that I heard Pete’s call to arms. I don’t know who Pete was but for me he was someone whose actions perfectly defined the crusty mentality.
“Get on your roofs. Everyone get on top of your vans now!”
“Pete. Calm down.” Came a voice from the crowd. “We’re biding our time. It’s not roof top time yet.”
I had to laugh. The brief exchange reminded me of the Pimms TV ads.
“Me plus two-hundred armed riot police. I make that roof top time o’clock!”
It was clear that for them this was a familiar situation. There existed a set of rules and a time scale governing the order of escalation. Negotiation, biding time, roof tops, towels round head, full scale argy bargy. They loved it. Rebels without a cause.
We decamped and left the site. The police asked us if we would be trying to get back in later.
And that’s it really. We found a hotel by the beach and had a holiday. Whilst the crusties continued to fight for their right to party we just partied. A rather confused one-armed Boughty arrived and joined us briefly before being sent up a mountain to get attacked by flies and Tash ran away from the circus on the last day just in time to return Julie and Rachel’s guitars, which had curiously been on tour without them.
I don’t know what happened to Keith. I suspect he may have finally killed someone.