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Published: April 2nd 2008
Seagulls and bare midriffs.
I’ve made many mistakes in my life.
The latest one was based on the assumption that the weather in Holland and England would be mild since the temperature was going up in Pakistan. That proved to be a wrong assumption.
When in September 2006 we started our trip towards the East in the revamped Land Rover, we left behind our “European” camper, the Renault master we had bought the year before.
It was a good car although underpowered with too little ground clearance to risk roads in underdeveloped countries. We left it in a garage in Holland to be sold. After almost 16 months, it was still there, gathering rust and, with a month time before I could hope to get in China over the Khunjerab pass, which is closed in winter, it was decided I should go to Holland and sell the car myself.
After overcoming the unexpected reluctance from the garage owner to let the car go without paying a “parking fee” I took the camper to Harjet en Kees in Groningen where I was warmly welcomed, as always.
Immediately after trying to list the car on eBay to be sold, more trouble started.
The listing was blocked by the insistence I should enter a full British postal address. The car had been listed earlier without such condition and I didn’t know how to solve it. One thing became clear though: the car would have to be taken to England to be re-registered.
On March 10 I set out to do so, reached Calais only to discover that ferry prices had rocketed in the past 2 years, from 60 Euro to 225 Euro. There was no escape though and late that night, after a quiet ferry-ride I landed in England.
A storm was brewing and when I found a place to camp, at a rest place for travelers who crossed the Channel by car-train, the worst storm in 50 years was about to hit me.
It was freezing cold, the car was buffeted by gale winds and sleeping in my clothes with the thin sleeping bag Harjet had given me only brought at last a very grey morning with rain and a strong wind that threatened to blow the glass doors of the eatery off their hinges.
The next night was not much better. Now in Maidstone where I hoped to find an internet
cafee, a MOT testing station and a DVLA office, I camped in the parking area of Sainsbury.
It took only two days to get the car legally on the road again, with a small mishap that cost me 100 Pound (R1600!) to rectify: branches along the narrow road ripped off the side mirror which had to be replaced.
I still had not been able to list the car. There was no internet cafee and the library offered connection for free, but only for 1 hour per day.
By now I needed a warm bad, booked in to a small hotel and, after discussing my frustration with someone I met, I was able to get the car listed with the help of the hotel proprietor’s laptop.
I had lost almost two valuable weeks because of eBay’s nonsense, which became a lot worse when it appeared there was no category available for campers to sell. It got listed under “cars” together with 8759 other entries.
Not surprisingly there was no response that week. By now it was the 21st and pressure was mounting to get the camper sold in time. My return flight was scheduled for March 30.
I listed the car again, under “cars” at a very low price which would cover the cost of getting the car in England, registered and on the market.
The weather was not improving, with an icy cold wind blowing even when the sun was shining sometimes, but going to Hastings gave me as much time on the internet as needed, albeit for a high price: 2 Pound per hour or R32,-
In fact, everything is completely over the top pricewise: parking R16 per hour, coffee R20 a cup (from a machine, worse than dishwater), a cheap meal at Morrisons R60. I did not dare to eat at restaurants but eventually had to improve on my canned rice pudding and ready-to-eat meals from Morrisons counter.
In a town like Hastings there is no place where a car can be parked without paying. Exceptions are shopping centers (2,5 hours max) and Lidl, but there they have no toilet facilities.
After a week in the camper and with one or two responses coming in for the car, I booked into a bed&breakfast. I was near the end of my resolve to get that car off my name and, since it seemed less likely that I would be able to get a little more than the cost I had incurred to come this far, I became more inclined to spend some money on myself.
England these days is not a country to get your morale up. Apart from the bad weather and high prices, many old men look like war-veterans who lost the war, their wives appear haggard with many of them overweight or obese, younger women often show a white flabby midriff and charm, not to mention elegance is difficult to find. As is their sense of humor. A funny crack is reacted to with a vacant stare or incomprehension. Many wear a combination of garments that make them look like scarecrows.
But to see the seagulls doing their acrobatic act or just sail with the wind is uplifting. Their cry, loud and urgent, blends in beautifully with the somber sky and the dark grey sea. Much better than the buzzards we have here in Pakistan.
In the last seconds of the auction of the Renault on eBay, I got an offer for 3000 Pound. The next day the buyer came, proved to be a dealer bent on bringing the price down and, since it was the last day before I had to turn back to Brussels, I had no choice but to let the car go for 2550 Pound cash which, I was to find out soon afterwards, I could not deposit into our South African bank account without a bank account in England. The post office could help at a fee of 83 Pound and Western Union doesn’t send money from England to South Africa.
The saga of disappointments and setbacks continues. In Brussels airport I booked into an Etappe hotel, equivalent to Formula I but more expensive. On the day of my departure to Islamabad it all started well with me being comfortably on time when the clock shot up one hour: the summer clock had started and suddenly I was late. Too late to wait for the shuttle bus to the airport so a taxi was called. Too late to sort out my luggage to comply with newly introduced security rules so I lost my shaving cream and a few other things. They take everything that is made of steel from your hand luggage and issue everyone on board the plane an hour later with steel cutlery. Crazy.
I spent 10 miserable hours in de departure and arrivals hall off Abu Dhabi because the travel agency had not booked a hotel room for me as promised and back at the camping the fridge needed urgent attention after some processed cheese had processed further.
But home is where the heart is, and that happens to be here. Mission accomplished!
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