Originally we said 12 months. After twelve months we weren’t ready to stop, so we headed off on our northern odyssey. We didn’t want to return still feeling the pull of the road or feeling frustrated and trapped by the predicable rhythm of everyday life. One extravagant idea was to drive off into the sunset and drift for ever, but of course that didn’t take into account: money, cabin fever or our car still sitting on S’s folk’s driveway. We wanted to travel until we were no longer enjoying it and that time had arrived.
The diagnosis from the Belgian breakdown man was that Hans had an electrical fault, possibly wiring between the battery and starter or ignition switch and battery. He added a new temporary wire from the starter motor to the horn relay. Horn? I hear you ask. Yes, after much joking about horns, pressing buttons and lack of power (I seem to attract this type of humour), the ingenious solution to get us going was to run a wire to the horn relay so that instead of having to hot wire Hans to start, I simply turn the ignition key and press the horn button. Oh yes a start button, just like an Aston! This solution passed the few test runs we did, but as a backup I was shown which wire to use to touch the positive battery terminal if the relay decided not to play. Ooh, that’ll be fun inside a ferry, in a queue, removing the bonnet (it’s not hinged), turning the ignition to start then back to rest position, jumping out (after double checking it’s in neutral so I’m not run over), unplugging the wire, touching the battery without giving myself a new and stylish hairdo (not to mention wondering if there will be a large fireball following the sparks I’ve just made), re-positioning the bonnet, jumping back in and hoping I don’t stall on a steep metal ramp hovering precariously over La Channel between the ferry and Dover docks.
Documents signed, the cheery Belgie wished us on our way. In case you’re wondering, the Belgian breakdown people use Iveco trucks. There’s an endorsement! Please send cheque to…
With mix of regret and relief, Belgium was soon to appear in our rearview mirrors. The pomme frites, chocolates, beer and land sailing would have wait for another day. We retreated south again on route to French Dover, or Calais as it’s usually known. Amusing to think that a grimy utilitarian port town is also a large luxury car in Australia. I wonder if there are other products with inappropriate town names around the world? The Grimsby Fine Jewellery Co. – say you love her with Grimsby. Hong Kong Tranquil Teas – Feng Shui your soul with the calm of Hong Kong.
Calais was looking lovely as ever with a shroud of heavy evening grey as a fitting backdrop. This place is the gateway to adventures when you’re heading in the other direction! We went to the motorhome service area, purged Hans and bought some pomme frites to brighten our moods. Mmmm, hot carbohydrates. So to the ferry! Turn key, silence. Fuuu…deep breath, aaaaand exhale. We were ready to head back to Blighty, but Hans had other ideas. OK, the sparky wire it is. Hans sounded chirpy and eager to go in his clickety, clackety way once started. I know it seems like I’ve lost the plot with all this taking to a motorhome, but it helps in situations like this.
Once on the ferry, we came crashing back to the land of understanding everybody’s conversations. It was like some kind of audio assault on our ears. “Ere Polly, come and si’ ova-ere ya miserable cow!” shouted from one direction. The accent wasn’t a problem, different accents are interesting. Just the whole “look at us” shouting across the lounge at a volume only suitable for a football match or nightclub that was so disturbing. Body language and disapproving looks were more obvious now too. In front of us, a very sniffy lady scowled at a black girl who accidentally bumped an unused chair as she walked past the table. Pointlessly rearranging the chair, the lady looked up and down disapprovingly at the girl’s entire family, tutted and mumbled things to a nodding hubby. Either the excessive stress was over the girl’s lack of appreciation for right-angle neatness of chairs and tables or I suspect that a skin colour other than grey/pink was the real problem. All that hate and scowling over the years had paid a heavy toll on her face. That made me quietly happy.
Arrrgh, I don’t want to know what’s going on around me!
The white cliffs of Dover appeared out of the darkness and it was back to the vehicle deck. Uller the hound was happy to see us and we were happy her old bladder had held for the trip. After explaining my hot-wire, sparky starting procedure to one of the ferry crew, he advised me to wait until all the other vehicles from our side were off the ferry. Sparks, ruu, ruu, clackity, clackity, clackity. Hans started very enthusiastically and sat there idling happily wondering what all the fuss was about. Bonnet on, wait for the last few stragglers to clear the ramp and we were away. Yay! Oh, customs. Look normal, we don’t want to have to go through the whole startup procedure in a single lane tunnel after they’ve carried out their fruitless search for drugs harder than Metacam for dogs or the import of no more than about 12 bottles of beer. Phew, we must have looked really normal, they waved us through.
Driving through the delightful pebble-dashed outskirts of Dover, S exclaimed “Have we got enough fuel to get back? We can’t stop in a filling station and start with sparks right next to the pumps!” Good point there M’Lady. Consulting satnav lady and the odometer it looked like we’d be fine. 3 hours driving, no pee-breaks or unnecessary stops. After today’s excitement that started back in Belgium, I’m going to need fuel though.
The first motorway service centre out of Dover, S dashed in to find a virtual ghost building with nothing open. This is a little island of 65 million people, where is everyone? Meantime I watered the dog whilst keeping a close eye on Hans idling in the carpark. Confused, we drove off into the darkness enjoying the change in truck driver behaviour since arriving back in Blighty. The same trucks that back in Belgium were cutting us up leaving half a car length between us, sometimes no space so I had to brake to avoid collision as they merged into our lane, were strangely polite and subdued. Truck overtakes, I check the space in front of me, looks good, flash, flash, you can merge now, truck moves over and flashes indicators once left and once right to say thanks. How strange, why the manners now?
The next motorway service centre was at a junction where all the lights were switched off. What’s that sign say? Motorway closing for maintenance in 20 minutes. What?! I really don’t want to have to pick my way through minor roads and small towns in the dark. I need a snack and coffee though. Right, activate operation Snack-Snatch. Swoop in, park close to the entrance. S, purse at the ready, was to dash in, order coffee, grab crisps and brownie. Don’t care, whatever has calories and takes no more than 5 minutes! The get-away motorhome would be idling at the ready. Here she comes, open door, pull her in (remember the side step doesn’t work), jump back in seats, smack the dashboard and say “GO, GO, GO!” We’re away! Hans performed brilliantly, lurching around the service centre round-abouts and zooming along the access roads – almost at the speed limit! Back to the darkened and virtually empty motorway, calm was restored to cruising speed. Operation success with 7 minutes to spare.
Coffee, flapjack, the best crisps on the planet and half a tank of diesel still in the tank. We’re going to make it. It’s going to be a good night.
The adventure began 18 months ago when S quit her nicely paid job, we sold our nice house on a nice street in a nice part of the world. Nice, but not until we die thank you very much. Where’s the challenge, the unexpected and the thrilling? We never really set out to see all the well known sights, museums and cities or rush around like a headless coach party. We wanted a change of scene and to be able to soak up a few places at our own pace. Our main aims were to see Portugal and Sweden which aren’t exactly convenient for a quick hop from one to the other! So whatever else we saw along the way would be a bonus. Despite a slightly frustrating end to the journey, nothing really awful happened to us. We’ve had a fantastic trip that has changed (or maybe enhanced) our views on certain things. Hans the trusty old motorhome is still enthusiastic, Uller the dog is slower but still with us and most surprisingly I still have an unopened jar of marmalade.
A while after we started, we realized that we were both thinking, if we found a place that really appealed to us, we might decide to settle there. Try a new life somewhere. Where?