02 May 2005
Up with the lark to get an 8.30 train to Belgium. Jet lag being on my side this wasn't painful and being a bank holiday in the UK meant the city was deserted. I love the Eurostar - the train line which links England and France under the English Channel (or 'The Sleeve' as the French call the strip of water which divides us.) At peak speed, trains clearly move less rapidly than aeroplanes, but the associated trauma is minimal compared with air travel. The trains leave London from Waterloo Station which is walking distance from my house. A brisk early morning stroll across Waterloo Bridge, with sweeping views of St. Pauls Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament, lifts the soul. The same can hardly be said of taking an hour to crawl to Heathrow in a cab, then sitting around for a couple of hours being periodically strip searched, before cramming into a pressurised tube and shot through the air.
The Eurostar goes to Paris or Brussels, but stops en route at Lille. Lille is in France, but it's only a short drive across the Belgian border to reach Torhout, the world capital of big video. I appreciate this sounds implausible and believe me when you drive up to the warehouses through open fields of peacefully grazing sheep and cows chewing on waffles, it gets more implausible by the minute. This, unbelievably, is where much of U2's earth shattering video hardware has been produced, including the PopMart screen, the first portion of which was demonstrated one dark night in the adjoining meadow.
I had come to look at some top secret video technology which is being flung together for our European stadium show. With me came some of the UVA guys, who are getting their heads round how this will all run in the new outdoor format. We were greeted by our favourite Belgians and we spent the afternoon or so figuring out how we would make it all work. A quick stop for some fine Belgian beers then we were delivered back to Lille and the train home. Oddly, at Lille station we ran into Tommy Whitelaw, the Vertigo tour's head merchandise chappie, recently profiled on U2.com. He had been to Brussels to advance the venue for June and is apparently doing a lightning tour of all the places we will play. Brave man. It was most odd to run in to him, having last seen him in Vancouver 48 hours ago, but he didn't seem at all surprised.