To Halle and back

It was not a promising start. "Yes, of course I know where Halle is", said my Dutch colleague, "it's in Germany". No matter how much I insisted, he was convinced that there was no Halle in Holland. Eventually he found the tiny dot on the map, at which point his enthusiasm to assist me with my Dutch travel requirements faded to nothing more than a puzzled shrug of the shoulders and a slightly patronising "I don't know what you're going there for". Eventually, I booked to stay at what the website hailed as the nearest hotel. It looked quite close on the map, and the prospect of a nice gentle summer train ride through the Dutch countryside seemed appealing. After all, I was to be working in Holland that day anyway, so what could be easier?
Things were very different on the day. My meetings overran and I left my office in Wormerveer at 6pm. By this time, not only had I realised that my hotel was in fact 50km away from Halle, but also that if everything ran exactly according to plan, I would be at least 15 minutes late. I don't mind missing Waltzinblack, but missing any thing else on the set-list is a disaster. Then disaster turned to tragedy when I realised that I had not factored dinner into the equation! I was hot, sweaty, uncomfortable, late and worst of all - getting hungry.
As I made my second and last train connection by the skin of my teeth, I was beginning to think that things were going to plan after all. A quick telephone chat with the hotel receptionist changed all that. Yes, they could get me a taxi, but did I know that it is at least 45 minutes away (I had been told 30), it would be impossible to get a ticket because there would be 100,000 people there, and by the way, it is in Germany after all.
I arrived at my hotel knowing that I would miss the start of the gig.
After a fifty minute taxi ride through the Dutch countryside (no, it's not in Germany after all), I eventually arrive at the festival. As I walk the 100 metres or so from car park to entrance, I hear the characteristic thud of the Ashdown-powered bass overlaid with tinkling keyboards. I quicken my pace and try to tune into the music - its Walk On By, so I have missed half the gig at least. I pay my 5 Euros and hurry into the festival. It's a huge open space, with plenty of camping, and a host of very unappetising fast-food trailers serving Dutch-style "food".
In the middle is a large tent, which is where the music is emanating from. It's quite busy, a few thousand people I would say, but miraculously I am able to claim my spot right at the front in the middle, leaning on the barrier.
The stage is large and visually quite impressive, although the sound as they launch into Duchess is bassier and muddier than could do justice to the keyboards and guitar.
Dave was sporting his new "number 3" haircut which gave him a cleaner look than previously. I wonder what he did with his ponytail? He could have made a fortune if he had sold it on eBay.
The set was similar to the Norfolk Coast tour - Lost Control, WWW and Wild followed. Both Baz and JJ leapt simultaneously into the air for the start of Grip, and the duo enjoyed singing the backing vocals to Tank, showing as much by exchanging cheeky school boy grins. Time for "Thank you Goodnight", and I had my fingers crossed for a full encore. The Stranglers came back on almost immediately, and a quick time check revealed that they should have finished by now. The first base note from JJ announced NMH as a one-song encore.
So I had missed the first half of the set, and in particular the token new song. Shuffling somewhat forlornly from the tent, I used lager therapy to make the food options become more appealing, and eventually settled for a polystyrene tray of vlaamse frites - I think the chips were made of the same polystyrene, but at least the mayo was creamy.
During the 50 minute taxi ride home, I had time to reflect on the trip. A quick cost-benefit analysis revealed vastly disproportionate expenditure compared to the benefit received. When I add up the cost of the train, the hotel, the taxi and divide it by eight songs then I must question my own sanity.
Over a more leisurely beer-and-pizza midnight supper near the hotel, the craziness of it all makes me smile, and I decide it was all worth while after all. See you in Belgium.

Anthony Goodwin

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