Saturday, December 31, 2005

15 minutes out of the airport and we are already lost, driving in the dark through what looks like an industrial estate. Over the brow of a hill, on the other side of the freeway, we spot the illuminated sign of a Best Western, and decide that there is as good as anywhere. This hotel turns out to be right next to a racetrack, full of gamblers anticipating a big meeting the next day. We retire to the bar, where an old lady is singing "the shadow of your smile" to a tearful group of waltzing geriatric couples, accompanied on bontempi organ, saxophone and bass. The barmaid explains that she has sung at this bar for 40 years, and tonight is her farewell performance. It's as if they've been expecting us. We try not to stand out, and just listen to these lovely old songs, unfamiliar polkas and waltzes.

There is an enormous alpine horn welded to the ceiling, prompting James and Mark to tell the story of something they claim to have seen earlier in the tour, in the hotel car park in Tourcoing, France: a suspicious looking van unloads two 8 foot long horns in the foggy darkness, and a couple of men sit down to them, lovingly warming them up, and eventually blowing long notes together. Their girlfriends lounge a few metres away, gossiping and smoking. James and Mark lean out of the window and applaud, the men look alarmed and immediately pack the horns into the van, which disappears back into the gallic mists. I'm not sure whether I believe this story, but I want to. The barmaid tells us the last band who passed through were Nazareth. Unlike them, we have no promo photographs with us. We really have no idea where we are, Mark makes some money on the horses the next day though. All in all the best possible start to the tour.

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