Tim Dowling: on tour we have nothing but time, Travelodges and cartoon penises | Tim Dowling

During breakfast at the Travelodge we find ourselves surrounded by a large stag party

It is 8am on a Friday and I am walking around Bury, Greater Manchester, looking for toothpaste. The immediate area is unpromising: an overpass in one direction, an underpass in the other, and no shops in sight.

My phone dings in my pocket. It’s a text from my wife that reads, “In case you were feeling guilty”, and is accompanied by a photo of a brand-new hairbrush. Yes, I packed our only hairbrush, forcing her to buy another, and no, I don’t feel guilty. The previous day I had looked at my hair in the mirror and decided mine was the greater need. She’s lucky I didn’t take the toothpaste; it had certainly been my intention.

I find a chemist on an otherwise deserted corner, buy some toothpaste and stomp back to the hotel as an icy rain begins to fall. Several weeks of rehearsal have reminded me what it’s like to be in a band, but I’d forgotten what it’s like to be on tour.

There are moments of apprehension and of adulation, but they are brief compared with everything else: the setting up and breaking down, the loading out and loading in, the waiting around, the endless getting ready.

“Move back,” I say, in the dressing room half an hour before showtime. “I need to set this up.” The accordion player looks at me with concern.

“You’re gonna iron now?” he says.

“I have to,” I say, “the shirt’s a mess.”

The iron is empty. I motion for a bottle of water from the table. “It’s not distilled,” says the accordion player.

“I don’t care,” I say, filling the iron. “This is how I roll.”

The next morning we sit drinking coffee in the hotel breakfast area.

“When are we leaving?” I say.

“Wheels turning, 11 o’clock,” says the fiddle player. This is the expression we always use, to convey a sense of urgency where there is none: even if we left at 12, nobody would be ready for us at our destination. We have nothing but time.

On the road north I speak briefly to my wife.

“Yeah, it was good,” I say. “I got told off by an audience member for talking about local politics from the stage, and I left my phone charger behind, but otherwise good.”

“Where are you tonight?” she says.

“Newcastle,” I say.

At breakfast at the Travelodge the next morning, we sit surrounded by a large stag weekend party: a dozen young gentlemen wearing T-shirts bearing an image of the groom’s smiling face photoshopped onto the head of a cartoon penis, a pair of hairy testicles dangling beneath.

Sign up to our Inside Saturday newsletter for an exclusive behind the scenes look at the making of the magazine’s biggest features, as well as a curated list of our weekly highlights.

“Where can I get one of those?” says the guitarist.

“They’re not for sale,” says a groomsman.

Wheels begin turning at 10am. Once again we arrive at our destination long before we are required. I find myself outside a restaurant, scrolling through alternating five-star and one-star reviews. Depending on who one chooses to believe, this is either the best or worst establishment in Yorkshire. The fiddle player rings me from the venue, just down the road.

“What do you think?” he says.

“Some describe it as ‘shocking’,” I say. “Others as ‘the perfect meal’.”

“Hmm,” he says.

“Food unpleasant, staff sarcastic,” I say. “But also delicious, friendly and Covid-safe.”

“Shall I ask the venue to recommend somewhere?” he says.

“Please,” I say.

Despite our being early, the extra hours somehow get used up. By the time we’ve finished setting up and sound-checking, it is once again dangerously close to the point where they let everybody in. The opportunity for a nap never materialises.

Our brief moment on stage arrives and disappears. Afterwards, a contingent of us sit in my hotel room, drinking red wine, eating pulverised crisps and pointing out each other’s mistakes. Suddenly it’s 10am again, and wheels are turning.

I ring my wife on the journey south.

“It was good,” I say. “I mentioned nothing about local politics.”

“Well done,” she says.

“I left an ironed shirt in a hotel closet in Newcastle,” I say. “But all in all, a success.”

“So where are you now?” she says.

“Watford Gap,” I say.

“Already?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll be home in, like, an hour.”

“Oh,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not really ready for you.” I think: no one ever is.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tim Dowling: we’re rehearsing for our first tour in years. Why is my wife here?
She sits on a sofa facing me, wearing an expectant expression. Ten minutes later, her smile is frozen – she can’t escape

Tim Dowling

05, Feb, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: hunting for a tortoise in driving rain will shrink my inflated ego nicely
Every season he adds a new hiding place to his rotation, to make him just a little bit harder to find

Tim Dowling

26, Feb, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Can I miss post-gig beers with Bryan Adams? It seems so | Tim Dowling
me and my wife a weird way home. My phone pings: a selfie just taken by our drummer with Bryan Adams

Tim Dowling

23, Jul, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: my sons have left the house, to be replaced by spiders
It has not been that long since the last of our sons left the nest – but I am not handling it well

Tim Dowling

30, Sep, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: it’s dark and wet – an ideal time for a spot of garden handiwork
I trip over a bird feeder lying in the blackness. And as soon as I regain my balance, I step on a rake

Tim Dowling

10, Dec, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: why does everyone give me a hard time when I get up early?
Forgoing my usual lie-in renders the whole household out of sync. Even the cat and dog refuse to play ball

Tim Dowling

03, Jun, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: I have failed to deter the fox. It is now in my office
It’s worked out how to open the new rubbish bin and is pursuing a strategy of encroachment. My tomatoes don’t stand a chance

Tim Dowling

08, Jul, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: my sisters have taken a stand on my share of the stuff in the attic
A dozen blurry snaps of hedges, all my payslips from 1985 and five teabags. What a fascinating life I have led thus far …

Tim Dowling

05, Aug, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: I’m on a road to nowhere – have been since I was about five | Tim Dowling
My driving nightmares are back – and in my waking life, the cat’s snacking on flies. Will the day improve?

Tim Dowling

07, May, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tim Dowling: my hand is hot, I’m hearing things – and my wife says I’m going mad
On a weekend away with friends, she tells everyone about my medical issues. I’d forgotten how indiscreet she is

Tim Dowling

05, Mar, 2022 @6:00 AM