Serbia as I’ve been telling everyone was mental. I cannot believe we fit in so much adventure and madness into one week. I made good new friends and solidified old friendships. I flew out on my own and met the guys in Budapest airport where they have a flower dispenser like we would have a coke machine. Also I had a stop over in Milan and ate a pizza slice, when in Rome as they say.
Ben and I went straight to Fred’s and the others came with us on the train from Budapest (where it was raining a shitstorm) but went on for a night in Belgrade, I lost my ticket between the ticket office and the platform when we ran for no good reason. We piled onto the train, shoving anyone who stood in the way only to give up and run further along the train when we realised they were extending the train. It was a quiet night’s travelling and Ben the asthmatic smoker revelled in the smoking carriage and made new pals and we watched some doctor who on my media player. When the guards came around (which happened twice)
That first day and night at Fred’s were lovely, not so sunny but we watched News Knight with Trevor McDonald (Fred having been bereft of English TV for a while) and in the evening we chilled with one of Fred’s cousins (Bobbie) and one of his friends and played pool for hours which was great stuff indeed. We also had some lovely Burgers from "UFO Burger".
On my birthday we got up earlyish and the boys went out into town as I slept a little longer and they came back with a delightful selection of tat from a Chinese import shop including a vicious looking set of nun-chucks, 2 bbguns with laser sights, wee plastic army soldiers (good for shooting with the guns, I was later told shooting friends wasn’t the done thing), a great LED torch, spinning tops, a camouflage cowboy hat, a teddy-bear that sings the most terrifying ditty you could imagine when you attempt to move it, and all kinds of good stuff. The day was very chilled out and Fred’s cousin Robbie came around and cooked up the most delicious Goulash (spelt in Hungarian: székelygulyás) over on open fire and all of Fred’s cousins and local friends came round and we had such a great party. I almost slipped at the first hurdle in attempting to bring up both politics and religion having consumed more (delicious) homemade shnapps than I’ve ever seen before. As the words came out of my mouth I realised that it could be dangerous to ask “so this is a catholic country, you’re catholic, but do you believe the pope talks with god?”. Fortunately the youth of the lovely Hungarian minority village Temerin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temerin) seemed to be clued into the fact that many of these beliefs were socially constructed, Fred’s cousin replied “No I’m just catholic because my parents are” which made me think, I’m liberal, atheist because my parents are, and because I’ve never been presented with a seemingly better alternative.
The boys all arrived from Belgrade later in the night and got stuck into the food and shnapps. James Howard was particularly eager and before he even said hello or happy birthday was working on catching up and he steadily became more and more inebriated, perhaps he hadn’t had enough goulash. Before I had really had a chance to finish my goulash out came cake, and Toby and James Almuli and a Hungarian fellow who I thought looked a fair bit like Warwick’s own Pip Woolly were trying to force me to eat cake goulash and shnapps at the same time, so with the sting of shnapps, a corner of trotter and creamy cake in my mouth I knew I was destined to chunder, which I did later, into a bowl.
The end of the night was a messy affair with one of our number apparently peeing in the corner of a room (granted a room with no door) and I chased James Almuli into the room with all the mattresses on the floor only to find him attempting to teabag the paralytic James Howard and after shouting a warning along the lines of “Leave him alone or I’ll kick you in the balls, I’ll stamp on your nuts” I went on to stamp on James’ head which enraged the drunken beast.
The next day there was a flurry of hangovers and watermelon (man the local produce was the best ever! The tomatoes tasted like tomatoes should). The bulk of the group went with Fred and his family to meet the dignitaries of the town while Ben and I stayed at home to make sure James was ok (and to have a nap in a real bed). We woke to a telephone call telling us that we must come urgently, this call we managed to ignore twice but on the third we were informed that they were sending big Paulie (Bobbie’s dad) in a car for us. When we arrived we saw the most amazing sight. A packed trestle table in the middle of a traditional restaurant surrounded by the various members of our party, drinking local shnapps and generally enjoying the frivolity of the day and the hospitality of the local big-wigs. We were with Fred’s relatives the mayor an interviewer from the local paper, big names in the courts and shnapps factory. Total excitement. We went outside to have a group photo taken for the paper and when we returned we were presented with massive platters of meat on to of chips and local salad-stuffs, more shnapps and speeches by the mayor and one in return (translated by our language monkey Fred) by Ben, extolling the unexpected and wholly welcome generosity.
Then later that day we headed by bus to the festival itself in Novi Sad. My god was it unlike anything else. Before we headed in we took in the exterior of this massive 17th century fort on a hill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrovaradin_fortress) and I for the only time during the weekend caught up with my pal Simon Bennet, we met only for a moment before we laid siege to the fort in our separate groups. As we approached we saw what was going on. There were thousands of people trying to get in through a gap a person and a half wide. It was a crush of epic proportions. A bundle if you will, everyone was trying to get in for Prodigy and no one was checking tickets or passports and women were being elbowed, people were trying to stay with or find other people. Cars sat stationary trying to get through (one may have been an ambulance) pumping exhaust fumes into the immobile crowd. Toby was having no fun and no air as he was below average shoulder/elbow height, we attempted as best we could to form a Roman style tortoise shield around him but it had little effect. At one point my hand got caught between the two people in front of me and in one terrifying surge I was dragged forward by the wrist my feet almost off the ground. We basically fell up the hill as the local police/security looked on mildly amused/bemused by the whole affair. I had decided that today would be a good day (as it was warm) to wear sandals. I may have been mistaken.
When we got in we moved (as a masse) almost straight away into the main arena and after a few minutes Prodigy started. We decided if you can’t beat the crowd join them, and mosh and that way you get to beat them, as it were. We rocked out pretty hard to all the classics.
http://danandmoni.com/?p=12 <- Copy and paste this for a link to video from the Prodigy gig
They slowed it down every 6 minutes or so which allowed the crowd to find their feet again and throughout we were all parched having been unable to get to a bar or sort out the deal with the coupon system. We begged water of people around us and some were kind enough to send us sips of beer. Ben drank some water that the offerer said was acid and towards the end of the gig he began feeling pretty sketchy. His lips began burning and we had no water so after we went to sit down as the throngs filed out. We felt totally lost and the lighting was bad, we eventually found some water and Fred and Ben went back by taxi. The rest of us took in the full extent of the event ending up in the main dance arena (which was reminiscent of a gladiatorial arena) which was to become our staple stomping grounds. We hung out with some of the guys from Temerin and after the night we headed over the river and chilled for a bit on the beach on the Danube by the campsite. A lovely spot. We heard rumours of 2 deaths in the crush at Prodigy but I have yet to have this substantiated and have searched online to find out if that was true. Hey ho I may never know.
After that the days and nights begin blurring into a massive adrenalin fuelled banter session. When we got back all of the designated sleeping rooms were more or less occupied by smelly boys so I decided to crash out outside in the sun in my sleeping bag. When I woke up Fred’s mum had arrived with some builders who had been booked to fix doors to all the rooms. I waved and rolled over. We had been invited to a shnapps factory before midday but that was very unlikely and unappealing. It was said that the tradition was that men would have a shot of the stuff before commencing with the day so I expect it was to test our manlihoods but how could that be in question when you looked at us. Especially the red-blooded Andrew Shaw. I put this theory to the test one of the later days as Big Paulie was trying to ply me with an unmarked bottle of the stuff. I challenged him to drink it and when he pleaded hospitality I tasted it and then forced him to tasted it by enquiring what fruit was used to make it. He then bumbled off on his little motorbike (which he drove into the wee courtyard like a mix between a hells angel and a clown on a diddy-bike). One of the things I learned about Serbia was that when driving there is no need for the two S’s: Seatbelts and Sobriety.
Also Serbian love taking photos of ethnic people, in our party Deji got so many photos taken of him and did nothing to deter the novelty hunters by dressing as Nu-Rave as they come; with de-glow sunglasses, a girl; Nana, joined our merry band by the speakers to the right of the stage also got snapped to death which led to what I consider an hilarious story involving a mashed football-loving Serbian and the translation of this well know adage/poem:
Find a penny
Pick it up
And all day
You’ll have good luck.
Give a penny
To a friend
And your luck
Will never end.
If you want the long and boring version of the story just ask.
One day as we went to go into the fortress I stopped and started chatting to some local Serbian guys who were wanting to break in. I was going to try and help them but then thought about the horror stories of the security mistreating the tourists and even worse the locals so I chickened out. After I got in I caught up with Toby and he reassured me that it might be banter to give it a go. So I went back out and tried to track down my potential accomplices. The deal was that after having left there was no re-entry. I went around the side and scoped the scene, I followed some guys who said they had done it previously, we got caught in brambles and scurried through cornfields and came up to the wall that was lit from one side so that the security standing on point could see people attempting to scale this massive wall to get up to a small fence. At the end of this bank was an exit that came out behind the entrance gates so I walked out as if going out then I sat down to send a text got up as a car drove past and went in. I wasn’t able to meet the guys I had been chatting to but the guys said they’d meet me afterward. When I came out (before the London guys had stopped dancing) I met the 2 guys Alex and Slyer and went on a mini tour of Novi Sad I was hankering for an ice tea. We chatted about politics, the disparity between the affluence and the poverty, the drug problem in the city, the history of EXIT festival and how it is now, the police, literature, graphic novels, shamanism and the karma of the Danube. They were very interesting and bucked every stereotype and prejudice of the Serbians that I had been exposed to gradually over my visit. The issues surrounding race were so overt and interesting, for example the Serbians at the festival kept photographing the black people there, elephant man style, the Hungarian TV that came to Fred’s to interview us asked outright if we were able to wake the black member of our party (not to interview him you understand, well he was in his pants but weird right?). Also a member of our party was part Serbian and apparently had a chilly reception from the Hungarians (granted I tried to kick him in the nuts but that was behaviour not race related). When I mentioned my new Serbian friends Fred’s mum surprised me by saying that they hated the Serbs. I understood that there is a lot of history there I didn’t know fully (not for lack of trying to understand) and that she and her family and community were directly affected by these huge political upheavals. But I pointedly said that she couldn’t hate all of the Serbs, she couldn’t hate the children; to which she responded that really she only hated their politicians, which I was happy to report was also the case for the Serbs I had met. They even told me of the massacre of Serbs in the frozen Danube during which many Hungarians risked their lives trying to save Serbs to whom they owed nothing. These were great guys, meeting young people from other cultures really made the trip for me. I hope to stay in contact with them over Skype etc.
Then came Goulash day mark 2: Fish
We all got on rented/borrowed minibuses and drove down to an offshoot of the Danube (I was in a car with Robbie his mate, Fred and Ben) it was hot and we napped on the way. When we got there the whole gang was there and there were tons of people cooking up mean goulash. It was sunny as and we all went for a little swim. I did some showing off and learned the word for a dive: “firash” or maybe they were taking the piss and that means splash. I also swam across this river which was quite wide with a rather strong current, I chased Ben and Rich who swam ahead. Once we got to the other side we had to go back up stream so as no to go too far down stream on our return. I chose to walk along the bank and the others splooshed through the silty water. I found an amazing walking staff and some logs that were rotting and hollow which made excellent floats to make the swim back less hassle. On the return leg I was worried about Ben as he’s an asthmatic smoker but he made it across alright.
The fish goulash was lovely and quite spicey, I invented a new drink; shnapps and ice tea which as I was loathe to finish it (that stuff is strong) I forced everyone to try, it became a game of have a sip pass it round.
I also offended one of our hosts by telling the only Scottish joke I know (I was prompted by the fact that every week their local newspaper makes jokes about our thrift) which ends by insulting lawyers (in fact saying that all lawyers go to hell) not realising that one of our uber generous hosts was a local lawyer. All the young’uns were banter, really happy to try hard to understand my mile a minute English, and all the girls were hotties.
Talking of hotties, after we got back from one night of debauchery that ended with us dancing heartily in the petrovian fortress as the sun came up and sweltering on the beach by the Danube we got back to the little farm house Fred’s mum was so kindly putting us up in and Robbie’s dad Paul was there and he enticed Jamie, Toby and myself to go to the swimming pool which had a natural warm bath in it, miming as we went it that it was the best place to shark on the local tottie. It was really nice and as it was hot it was full of local colour and life. We bumbled around in the pool and chilled in the warm bath then slept on the grass until chucking out and went back for more festivaling.
Another day when we got home Fred’s mum asked if Toby and I were hungry and said we should go to the local restaurant which we did, she helped us order and then left us to chat about the night before, how knackering and mental it all was and to eat fine soup and delicious lunch and rehydrate.
Saying good bye was quite an emotional affair, I made a card for Fred’s mum who couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful, a few of the young’un came over and wished us well on our way as we all ran around like unprepared headless chickens getting our stuff packed up. I gave Paul a straw cowboy hat that the guys gave me for my birthday as I thought it would look cool on him as he cruised Temerin in his undersized motorbike and I gave Eniko my walking staff to look after as I really had wanted to take it home with me and couldn’t bear thinking that it would become firewood. We named it Sandy and I suggested that if someone attacked her she could wield it to defend herself. We bopped into a taxi and left for our final night. We got into a Taxi with the nicest guy who chatted to us all the way about life etc, telling us of the stigma the community labelled him with when he sent his son to America to avoid getting caught up in war and how he didn’t give a shit because he felt he saved his son, it was bloody touching and great once again to cross the cultural divide and really connect with the people we were around.
Tobes and myself fannied around before heading into the festival; having to dump our bags in storage behind the camping pen for the early morning departure. I then went and met the Serbian guys I had met and I tried to get them a free ticket by sneaking in. But it hadn’t worked so the other person they had tried to get in couldn’t. I felt bad as though I’d been dicking them around because I was later than I said I’d meet them and it took me ages to find my way back to the place on the hill that you needed to go to try and sneak in and I said that they might be able to get the tickets of those of us who had left the day previously but Fred fairly said that they should go to the Hungarians who had been so hospitable. For the rest of the night we hung out on and off as did Toby and I. I learned this night that one of them (Alex) was very well educated in all things religious/spiritual and was a fundamental Christian and when pressed on why this was he said it was because he was born into it which seemed to be a theme of what I learned out there. He also turned out to be a 6 time heroin addict. On the last night I briefly went down to the dance arena (by the speakers on the right) and was delighted to see that Ben had joined our merry band and I told him that I was so glad to see him there shaking his thang as from then on I could remember it as if he had been there every night!
So you may be wondering “what was the music like then?”. Well truth be told it was pretty excellent. The Prodigy rocked out that first night despite the discomfort. I really enjoyed the Beastie Boys despite die-hard fans winging about the didgeridoo ambient interludes, Mix Master Mike also totally tore it up with is solos. I missed Basement Jaxx but could hear them as I came up the hill which turned out to be lovely prep for the night. CSS rocked my socks off! I knew I wanted to see them again and I got a chance to at Reading, they were so bouncy and fun and didn’t let up for their whole set it was like seeing an orchestra or bubblegum blowers, toe-tappers and excitable children, on ecstasy! Pendulum was pretty lame but did rock out some nice ditties which were good for really throwing yourself into but I’d heard him before and was under whelmed by his set (granted last time I’d heard him we had to break for a fire alarm), but I got to rock out with Jon Lau which was a more than pleasant surprise. There was a great little reggae/dub section tucked away at the back of the fortress which appeared to be behind a little maze or one way systems and proper old-school tunnels. I’d have liked to have spent more time there and in the trance area and in the makeshift cinema but there was just so little time and everyone was jostling and it took and age to get most places. Ho hum. Also there was some lovely drum and base I sought out and the dance arena was variable but was mostly consistently fun. I particularly enjoyed the big thrills of Richie Hawtin and Roger Sanchez. I also enjoyed juggling my hackysacks there when the sun came up and handing out sun cream to the otherwise scuppered whiter than white Europeans. There was also some lovely little break beats stages dotted around various parts of the hill which were great if short lived fun.
The train ride home was like a sauna. It was packed and boiling and we stopped for ages at the passport checkpoints. It was hellish and 10 hours long. We found a semi air conditioned carriage and chilled there and I watched The Science of Sleep on my Archos with a randomer I found there while eating nuts (as we hadn’t properly provisioned for the journey) and almost falling asleep myself. We got the train with Toby’s good pal and ex-cls-er James Down and a few of his friends and to sum it up in 2 words I’d have to go with baking and uncomfortable. To get from Budapest to Budapest airport I found someone who was going my way on the train to get the cost down but we got a bit stiffed on the cost, travelling like this was certainly ridiculous and not really my style. Ooh look at me, hoity-toity jet setter! On the plane I kept up my friendliness (which in truth should have been swapped for sleepiness) and chatted away to the only person on my isle who was an accountant girl for ITV. She had just been at a Jazz festival which sounded interesting. We swapped music tastes with our respective players. My bag became suddenly very chocolaty as the jar of spread I had packed for the journey exploded. Shitsticks!
When I got into Heathrow there was the usual mission of getting my baggage (which funnily enough had 2 bbguns in it and a horrible set of knun-chucks/knife stick) I got onto a train that was to take me straight to Finsbury Park across London, I set and alarm in case of oversleeping but it was no use. I woke up in Southgate only a few stops past mine but it was the last train and my phone had died so I called my rents and checked the possibility of buses before deciding to get a taxi. Lame. But what a ram packed nut-so week. Great people and a great, unforgettable time.
Oh if anyone who was there remembers something I’ve forgotten please let me know.