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Published: October 26th 2009
15th February '09:
It is 86km to the next truckstop, or “autohof” as they say in Germany. Our maximum speed is a snail-like 84km/h, and we have less than an hour of driving time on the tachograph. 'We should make it,' says Namibian. He’ll probably poison my next flask of cappuccino now that I've reported that.
Ooh, I assume everybody knows what a tachograph is? Very briefly, it is a system in trucks of 7.5 tonnes and upwards that records distance and speed. This paper chart - although now that we have entered the digital age, modern trucks use a credit card type tachograph - also records how long the driver has parked for rest periods. Infringements are not looked upon lightly; driving for an extra hour on a whim, for example, is regarded as a serious offence.
Over a pork schnitzel last night, Namibian tells me he loses weight all the time. 'Remember that Lou Reed tour when I got fat?' he asks rhetorically. I wipe my eyes and get back up from the floor, my sides still painful from laughing. 'Am I to infer, Namibian, that you were svelte before we started?' On a serious
note, he’s lost five stone, and is only making small inroads into large chocolate bars nowadays. So you needn’t worry, Namibian’s mum, if you are reading.
Uh oh.. We have “smokies” on our tail.. so seatbelts fastened, crosswords away, and hide everything, just in case. There could be shoot-outs and roadblocks coming up. Yeehah! Oh, this is not so much a chase by the German police as just sitting fifty yards off Namibian’s trailer doors, electronically checking whether we’ve paid the German road tax. We’re always running legally so they peel off, leaving us to board the ferry from Puttgarden to Denmark, surrounded by giant windmills. A Danish pastry seem apt on this forty-five minute crossing, though I wince at the price, even after the fifty per cent freight discount. I steal a pen from the waitress to feel better, then feel rotten when she borrows my own pen, apologising profusely, to take another order.
Namibian films us arriving in “Norway” - now when he says “Norway”, he means Denmark - but he's now calling every country “Scandinavia” to be on the safe side. Mountainless Denmark, barely keeping her neck above sea level, passes in less than three
hours, and is spent waving to colleagues that effortlessly pass me, the slowest truck on the fleet. Unfortunately, there is no time to stop in Copenhagen, and anyway it’s the wrong time of year for those yummy secretaries sunning their breasts in the summer lunch hours.
With headlights permanently on, regardless of daylight or visibility - it's the law, you know - we take the fifteen minute boat ride into Sweden, the only country in Europe where you can still use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. Nobody calls me, and I’m too frugal to dial an outgoing call. As we pull in at Munkedal rest stop, the snow begins to fall. Jotting down a few notes, I feel racked with guilt; the pen I am using is the waitress's pilfered biro..
Oh, isn’t paperwork a bore. We’re mostly spoilt nowadays with these paperless open borders throughout Europe, but there are still a couple of non-conformers: namely Norway and Switzerland. Neither belongs to the European Union, which means we have to export gear from the EU, then import into these countries, and vice versa on the way out. Rock n roll paperwork, the complicated
but logical ATA carnet, is unusual; we never actually deliver anything! Unlike most truckers, we re-load the same equipment (after the show) that we unloaded before the show. The big grumble, though, is that several trucks often travel under a single carnet. Upshot: I have to go through these borders with other drivers, at a time to suit them, which almost always involves rushing. Formalities over, leaving Sweden mid-morning, we’re free to dither again, stopping for photographs and such like.
Driving into a blizzard is a bit like having concussion...so we pull in for elevenses. We're in Norway now, where I get ever so slightly stuck. I shan’t go into drive-axle weights - arguably a duller subject even than carnets - but suffice to say I lose traction, rolling back just a touch, towards a large snowdrift. The garage lends me a spade, and I buy a reasonably-priced bag of salt. Despite a good deal of puffing with the shovel, the wheels continue to spin on the ice. The truck remains stationary. Blast! Namibian comes to the rescue, boiling the kettle. A capital idea - he really is a dear - but no sign of milk or teabags. Eh?
He proceeds to tip a whole flask full of lovely hot water onto the tyres. Who would have thought it - an African desert rat has come to the rescue in Arctic conditions. We're off again.
Arriving at Oslo's Telenor Arena, Namibian and I casually mention my spot of bother. 'A trifling matter,' I lie. There was a point at which I'd envisaged remaining at that garage until the ice thaws...in May. Anyway, feeling a little behind with trombone practice, I unzip my soft, travel case. Barely have I got the ice out of the trombone’s inner stocking when the phone rings. Unloading, for me, has been brought forward a day which interferes with our plans to build a snowman…
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