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Published: March 5th 2010
30th May ‘09:
Jon looks summery this morning, no? His ticket on the Superfast Ferry to Italy, costing an extra fifteen euros, is marked 'Cargo Co Driver'. He is the Jeeves to my Wooster. 'I virtually am cargo,' he weeps plaintively, and we take a stroll around the poop deck to improve morale.
Namibian emerges, bleary-eyed, far from well-rested. He has shared a cabin with his equally corpulent co-driver (whom he has the gall to call fat), snoring at each other through the small hours. Now if an earplug manufacturer could drown out the cacophonous din in that cabin, it would, indeed, be a sleeping aid worth having. Burping, coughing, farting, wheezing, and talking nonsense: coo, what a night that must have been. Apparently they've had separate beds, but I wonder if two porkers are anatomically capable of “spooning”. No, we don't need any wise cracks about swine flu, thank you very much. Tempting though, isn't it?
We dock in Ancona at 10.30 Italian time, but we’re a little late. In fact, we're almost an hour late, and so the “time” discussion arises once more; we may as well still be on Greek time. I check the ramp
carrier (underneath the trailer) and the air deflector (above the cab) for unwelcome hitchhikers - those homeless Balkan chappies that cause such a kerfuffle at the French port of Calais - and the big drive begins. While the rest of AC/DC's crew sip snowballs and screwdrivers in Athens - they fly later in the week - the truckers now tackle 2,500 kilometres to Lisbon. “Balkan”, I'm told, comes from the Turkish word for mountain.
Wrecker Jon has really only come on this trip to drink lattes and 'large it' up the French Riviera, and is displaying all the symptoms of a man on holiday. And he's forgotten the one item I asked him to bring: a box of teabags. Tut-tut, Jonboy. Sadly, there isn't a great deal of time to fool about on this drive, not even time for a round of golf as we pass Monte Carlo.
Oh, I’m exaggerating. We pull in for a latte macchiato at pretty much the first service station we see. The stop is made even more pleasant thanks to a fleet of tiny rally Fiats that are stopping to use the facilities. Well, the drivers are, not the cars. Aah, the
Fiat 126 is so cute, a tiny car that could almost fit into my coffee cup. A collision with a pedestrian would write one off, I imagine (the car, not the coffee cup). Right, enough being silly.
Easing out on to the highway once more, we're prepared for the Italian police this time; I have written out, fifty times, 'I shall not show my penis to Italian policewomen.' But just in case we are stopped and asked for tachos, we have a little jape in store for them..
1st June: (“Tea, tunnels and tedium”)
On our journey to Lisbon, we play a little game. As you head south and west, from Alessandria (Italy) to Ventimiglia (the border with France), there are some tunnels. When I say some, I mean dozens. So, as we pass the first one, we guess how many there will be over the next couple of hours. 'A hundred,' says Namibian confidently, though talking through his hat. What his guess is based on is anybody’s guess - oh, ha ha - as he's never been on this first stretch of road. 'Three score and ten,' suggests Jon, thinking he is now Bertie
from P.G. Wodehouse's “Jeeves and Wooster”. I guess 52, and live to regret it - sorely.
As the memory of our cab fire (in Hungary) recedes, Jon is now operating the stove unassisted; the fear of incineration is no longer strong enough to miss out on cups of Tetley tea. But what we have found is that boiling two cupfuls at once is foolish; bouncing along violently spills most of the water onto the flame. We have time to figure this out, you see - about 38 hours of driving time, to be exact. It should be more like 34 but we’re snarled up in traffic before even exiting Italy.
Fiddling with the igniter, and dealing with heavy traffic, means miscounting the occasional tunnel, or adding one, but the independently adjudicated tally is unanimous. Namibian and I both come up with the figure of 116 tunnels, ranging from about 70m to 1828m. Our count could be off, though, so don’t shout it from the rooftops as gospel, or include the statistics on a road transport article. Drat! This means that Namibian, with scarcely an ounce of knowledge of the region, has won hands down. 'Next time we come
along here, we'll count the bridges,' he gloats, filling me with despair.
Half a million kilometres is a milestone, wouldn't you say? Car drivers probably don't realise that trucks, if properly maintained, can run forever. Well, they can certainly do a full million. “Maintained” doesn't just mean having a Namibian clean the mirrors now and again; the truck is serviced regularly. And I drive it smoothly.
Jon also tries to, but as we approach the 500,000 km mark, we are descending an Alp at night. Ears popping as we head down to the Cote d'Azur, I have to almost shimmy onto his lap to get a photograph of the dashboard. 'Don't mind me,' I cry cheerily as he misses a gear and stamps on the brake pedal. As I've said before, we are professional drivers.
Refreshed after our stop in Toulouse - roughly halfway to Lisbon - Jon writes a guest blog of our recent adventures. Oh dear. If you’ll allow a pot to call the kettle black, the writing is a bit long-winded. For a start, there is no mention of the pretty waitress with whom he was stranded for six hours at the Bulgarian border.
Or any mention of 'waking up with a stiffy', a phenomenon that Stephen Fry fails to address in his “Book of General Ignorance”.
I file Jon's blog after he leaves for Lisbon airport. The file in question is a cylindrical receptacle at waist-height, found on most public streets. Yep, straight in the bin..
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