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Published: December 2nd 2009
The O2 Arena, Prague
17th March '09:
Yesterday should have been uninteresting - simply a travel day across Germany and into the Czech Republic. But the police got us. No shoot-outs or roadblocks I’m afraid, just a gentle slap on the wrist and a manageable fine. No, I didn't get caught making tea while driving. Nor was I caught red-handed at the wheel with a trombone but no hands-free kit. Would you believe that the offence was speeding? - in a truck on a motorway? It's ridiculous.
As you should all know by now, trucks are governed at 90km/h. The speed limit in the United Kingdom - if we could ever reach it - is a rapid 100km/h. That at least gives us something to aim for down hills. But in Germany... Absurdly, the speed limit here for trucks is still 80km/h.
A little west of Leipzig, a chubby, moustached policeman stands at the exit slip peering into binoculars. One can almost see the glint in his eyes - that mental rubbing together of hands as he envisages levering a fine from a foreign trucker. I groan inwardly - while braking hard and radioing Namibian - correctly gauging that, given this
policeman's age, weight and sallow skin, we are in for a relic of communism and corruption. Sure enough, he draws numbers in the dust on our trailers - the first indicating the speed limit, the second figure the cost. As these negotiations take place, just think how many cigarettes are being smuggled past their noses - from cheap Eastern countries - in the backs of other trucks.
What's really irksome is that sports cars are hurtling past at 200km/h, immune from prosecution. Trucks, on the other hand, chuntering along at 90km/h in the slow lane, are just so much easier to catch. Bereft now of cash, have we learnt our lesson? No, we pull out and immediately resume our normal speed. Well, it's a counter-productive law - just look at the accident statistics for a start. And consequently one begins to question other laws, rather defeating the object of, well, having laws in the first place.
And don’t get me started on the even more preposterous German law of travelling down steep hills at 40km/h - yes, that's right, I said 40km/h - whether laden or empty. For those of you tutting, ask yourself honestly - no matter
if you're blue or white-collar - whether you'd baulk at the odd tax dodge. No, I didn't think you would! You're as bad as me!
Returning seamlessly to the story, the hill south-east of Dresden has been upgraded. It is now all motorway, which rather puts an end to those ladies of the night - or day for that matter - that once lined this international route. I suppose they still loiter on the old road but, as usual, we’ve no time for dawdling. But I did once spend a cringing half-hour ascending this hill - more of a mountain, actually - out of the Czech republic, behind a particularly obnoxious colleague on a Paul McCartney tour. He blew his airhorn almost incessantly at the poor girls. I had to wave and apologise, rolling my eyes and pretending I didn’t know this other English driver in a matching-livery truck.
Oh, all this EU harmonisation has rather put an end to the difficulties - nay, fun - of the job. It used to be peak-capped officials, Marlboro bribes and paperwork, and, when heading for Prague, we used to put trucks on the freight train at the Czech border. As
the carriages began to lurch, women would bang on the cabin door, asking: 'saxophone mister?' These girls are now merely memories in the annals of international trucking - we don't even stop at the border any more.
The disadvantage of not stopping at borders nowadays is the money aspect; we arrive today in Prague with no Czech “shitters”. Yet we need beer and food, obviously.
Namibian directs me to a metro ticket machine, spectacularly mistaking it for an ATM. Obtaining Czech crowns by other means - a little black-market transaction with another driver - we head to the nearest dilapidated restaurant. A single, sticky menu page offers unappetising choices, with little chance of vegetables. Our lead driver kindly translates: 'chicken with cheese, piggy, piggy, or something with cheese.' What a job this is..
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