Archive for November, 2009
So we’ve been on the road for nearly a fortnight now and we’re starting to get a feel for some of the intricacies of life on the move. We’ve only been hassled by the police twice (most recently this morning!) and are yet to get thrown into a French jail for Vagrancy, which can only really be considered a bonus.
When you have two people living in a very over-cluttered van, it becomes necessary to develop tight routines to overcome the more mundane practicalities. It’s all fine and dandy to have a shower in the back, but first we have to remove four large plastic boxes, a bin-bag full of costumes and the hand-crank washing machine which then have to be balanced in the middle of the floor until we can put them back away again. We are becoming like two well-oiled eels on ice-skates; ducking, weaving and slipping seamlessly past each other in the narrow space we inhabit.
For all our adeptness at manoeuvring ourselves inside the van, the woes and troubles which conspired against us in our attempt to leave the UK have continued to haunt us since arriving on the Continent. In France, Monday is a day when almost everything is shut, particularly in a small and rather crap town like Bellac, where we had pulled in late the previous evening. This makes it a rather unfortunate day to discover you have a punctured tyre valve hissing forlornly at you when you try to drive off. But all was not lost, for shortly before leaving England we had extravagantly purchased a Sat-Nav courtesy of Flame’s dad. Her name is Artemis, after the rather bossy but astute talking cat in the Japanese cartoon ‘Sailormoon’ which we are great fans of. Artemis is useful in such scenarios because she tells us where all the local amenities are situated and, after a few no-goers, we found a garage which was actually open. There was already a queue of sorry-looking tourists with broken-down camper-vans in the lobby. I wondered vaguely if the garage kept itself in business by sneaking around town on Sunday night with a penknife letting the air out all the tyres of the vehicles with foreign bumper stickers.
With a mixture of my bad French, Flame drawing diagrams and both of us gesticulating wildly, we managed to explain the problem and thus discovered that the French word for ‘The Valve’ is ‘Le Valve’. Neat, huh? Anyway, it’s an easy problem to mend and the morose mechanic had us fixed up in no time. As we paid out the princely sum of 20 Euros for the privilege, we consoled ourselves with the fact that at least on this occasion we had resolved our problem with the minimum of fuss and were ready to be on the road again before lunchtime.
‘So we just go to that place across the road to put a bit more air in the tyres, then we go?’ Flame suggested.
Then the roof fell off the van.
Sorry, hang on. What happened?
No, you heard me. Then The Roof Fell Off The Van!!!
OK, OK. I admit I am actually exaggerating this point slightly to make the story seem even more terrible than it really was. Quite a lot of the roof actually stayed where roofs traditionally go, on top of the walls. But we have these pop-up air vents, each measuring about 2ft square and we had stupidly neglected to put them down before driving off. As we went under the low canopy at the entrance to the tyre place, one caught against it and ripped straight off leaving a gaping hole exposed to the elements.
With the clouds lowering ominously above and the memory of the torrential downpours we had endured nearly every day for the previous week, we figured we had to do something pretty fast. Retrieving the offending piece of roof and parking next to a wall of about the right height, I gave Flame a leg up.
“Hey!” She called down. “The damn thing was only held on by plastic screws in the first place!” We consulted Artemis who helpfully informed us that the closest open supermarket with a hardware section was 40km away. Driving through the rain with a hole in the roof we naturally got stuck behind the slowest tractor in the entire world which was meticulously spraying horse shit across the surface of the road.
So, about three days later, once we had managed to overtake the tractor, get into town, get lost in the one-way system, find the supermarket, discover that there was a height barrier over the entrance to the car park, park somewhere else, put on our scuba gear, swim to the door of the van to get out and buy some bolts and washers I found myself sitting on the roof with our trusty cordless drill. Which had a flat battery.
“There’s only one thing for it hun,” said Flame as she plugged the battery into the overnight charger and handed me a roll of sellotape.
Episode One: Brighton – Bon Voyage!
Our plan in our little van – two Faeries set to conquer the continents of Europe, Asia and Australasia – should have had me brimming with excitement. But alas, instead it filled me tip to toe with an emotion that quietly bordered on vein bursting, blood bubbling howling! One day before we cruise off to fair France and the van was in pieces. Bits of wall were missing, wires bared to the elements, shelving on the floor – the ‘Beastie’ was completely unroadworthy and uninhabitable.
“It will take about 4 hours to install.” Kevin had said on Monday. Our skilled electrician friend had convinced us of the many merits of solar panels. A green supply of electricity; being able to monitor our amp usage; parking up for several weeks without needing to drive to re-charge. Yep, it seemed a lushalicious scheme. But what happens when you let a damn Phooka play with your electrics? Two days after he first popped his nose under our bonnet Beastie had become a maze of wire.
“It seems these crazy dudes that sold him to you have wired the earth to the body” he said. That sounded like a Chinese medicinal practise? “Yeah, this guy has been real dodgy with the electrics. Basically I’ve gotta trace all these wires right through the frame and make sense of them. Don’t worry though, Flame. It will be done by tomorrow”. But the light had gone from the sky and still Kevin was out there drilling more holes in our van.
And then there is the Awning. Beastie’s beautiful Awning. Now those of you who do not have a fascination with life on the hoof I can hear you sigh. An awning? So what, who cares? Park under a bloomin’ tree. You’re a Faery aren’t you? But on the one day we picnicked beneath it’s gentle shade I fell in love with that awning. Of course that was also the same day we had no idea how to put it up (or peg it down) and in half an hour the whole frame was wrapped around the van at jaunty angles while Izzy & Roge frantically joined us in trying to unscrew the thing as we were glared at disapprovingly by a local policeman. The awning, of course, was busted. And I was determined it would be back up – or we’d have a new one – before we departed to Dieppe at 4am on Thursday morning.
So here we were on Monday hammering, drilling, sticky with silicon. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. 6pm, 10pm, 1 am….. Thursday morning appeared peeping through the Brighton street lights…
‘Kev’ I said. ‘You know we really do have to be on the boat by 4am. I think we have to be at the wharf in two hours.’
‘Don’t worry about it shelia – check out the awning! It’s beautiful! The shelves are back in, you’d never even know I had to take off half the roof! And I found your missing 6 volts. Basically the leisure battery was ruined, it’s only been putting out 50% juice. That’s cool, you can pick up a new one in France’
‘OK. So what are you guys running the inside lights off now?’
‘The car battery. It will be fine.’
At 2am the RAC pulled up outside. Yep. The car battery was dead. We had to jump start the van. Through exhausted eyes I looked at those flashing yellow lights, the friendly man in overalls, Oli handing over £100 for a new battery and thought to myself ‘Can things get any worse?’
Well – yes they could. They could and they did. The evidence was in my pocket.
‘Oli – can I just show you something? It seems there is no 4am ferry to France.’
‘What? Flame – did you print out those tickets?’ my poor sleepy man asked.
‘Yeah… but they seem to be from Dieppe to Newhaven.’
‘Errr What?’ The poor monster. He was very bleary but I had to break it to him.
‘The tickets my love are from France to the UK, we’ve bought them the wrong way round. Pants.’
Yes. Bad. Bad. Bad.
The only resolution that presented itself was to spend the few hours that were left before dawn camped outside the Ferry terminal. At 8am the doors opened and we were still in yesterday’s clothes and looking dopey in the queue. Luckily there was a lovely French woman in there who rolled her eyes at us endearingly.
‘You Englieesh. So ‘opelesss’ she purred understandingly.
‘I’m from New Zealand’ I tried to get in.
We booked a new ticket anyway. Then we went to bed!