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Published: March 24th 2010
8th June ‘09:
Namibian barrels past, taking no prisoners. Here he is, wildly overtaking up a hill. It's his turn to lead us into the gig again - a pretty optimistic undertaking, actually, as Marseille's streets are fiendish to navigate. To assist us, Little Dick telephones with a dollop of instructions: ‘the road network is hopeless, and the map is deceptive.’
His advice is to turn off Namibian’s satnav, and add thirty kilometres to the journey, approaching Marseille from the east. It seems that satnav users - or “spaznav”, as I much prefer - come rather unstuck when taking the obvious route. They become wedged firmly in a tunnel suitable for cars only. Well, they’d probably pull up a little before, but it would still be highly embarrassing. Often the reversing in these situations requires careful police supervision and a good deal of tutting and blushing.
This makes me fondly remember a pal of mine who once hit a bridge in Royston, England. We’ll call him Gary, I think, for anonymity. Or maybe I shouldn’t, because that happens to be his real name. Anyway, Gary used to drive rock and roll trucks, which, as you know, sail
effortlessly under 4.0m bridges.
But one morning he forgot he was driving an ordinary haulage trailer - at 4.2m - and had an expensive altercation with a railway bridge. Bang! He had to explain to the transport manager that he was off his assigned route because he always buys milk for his tea in the shop there. Hmm, very professional.
Well, I hate to admit it, but Namibian leads us straight to the gig. There is a minor glitch but, rather than flap and wheeze, he calmly turns around. Is he becoming an accomplished European trucker? Well, it’s beginning to look that way, or it could just be beginners luck. Let’s hope so.
If he becomes any more self-sufficient, blasting confidently into foreign cities without a care in the world, I shall feel redundant. I may even have to collect his load-out sandwich each night, and shine his shoes while I'm about it. As it is, any official paperwork for me is given to him from our lead driver with a brusque, 'pass that on to your sidekick.' Something is amiss here; I cannot, and will not, play Jeeves to Namibian's Wooster. That’s my final word.
As my South African pal rests on his laurels, snoozing in a dustbowl of a carpark - an area guarded by Cerberus the three-headed dog, and lying across the River Styx - I reconnoitre a route back out of town. Ah, the trusty bicycle really is an essential part of touring equipment; it gives one a chance to check the route out of a city. On many occasions I have taken a quick jaunt on the two-wheeler to check for low bridges and impossibly-angled turnings. And I’m so glad I do so today - Marseille, as I said, is fiendish to navigate.
It’s not just me out and about doing the sensible thing. Several drivers can be seen on bicycles, pedalling up to road signs and squinting. As we look at the height limits on road signs, deciding on the safest possible exit route out of this labyrinth, I notice familiar trucks heading the wrong way. Let's take David Wakefield for example, chosen because he featured in the last blog. Yes, that was him, lording washing all over the place. Which reminds me, I still haven’t done mine. Maybe at the next gig - in Paris.
is a veteran of trucking behind the Iron Curtain, yet he is seen driving in the wrong direction through Marseille - twice. The old port is admittedly very scenic - founded by Greeks, it has 2600 years of history and lots of jolly boats - but it is no place for lorries. Dutch Patrick takes him snorkelling a little later to cheer him up.
Resigned to eternal entrapment in Marseille - all avenues of escape are either weight- or height-restricted - I peddle down Corniche President John F Kennedy. It weaves along a craggy shore with odd pockets of Eden (where girls play volleyball in bikinis), ending at David's favourite marina.
From there I whizz up the hill - or, rather, puff and sweat up the hill - for a panoramic vista. Taking a deep breath, I look down upon France's second largest city, with its ferocious reputation for underground crime. Could Marseille, as this sign intimates, be described as just one huge toilet? I’ll tell you tomorrow..
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