Monday, May 30, 2005

And Ye Shall be Fishers of Men…

By the time we got to Sawbridgeworth, we’d already broken the trawling record.

We had to go via Sawbridgeworth because the (afore-mentioned) M11 had yet to be built. In fact it’s entirely possible that people we knew were labouring over its many layers of tarmacadam as we sailed out of Stortford with the stereo singing and the prospect of many weeks of leisure on our collective horizon.

The lack of an M11 also explains why that first day felt so long.

(NB: Anyone not fascinated by the constantly changing pattern of the UK transport infrastructure would be well advised to skip the next paragraph).

We had to start our journey on the old A11, now cunningly renamed both the A1184 and the B1383 for reasons that only road planners understand. And we had to plod right through the East End and out of London via the Blackwall Tunnel too, on account of there not being an M25 in those days either. None of this sailing merrily over the Elizabeth Bridge at the Dartford Crossing for us. We did it the hard way. I’d love to be able to tell you how we got from Blackwall to Dover, but I’m losing the will to write here.

The other reason that first day felt so long is that Bertha was awful slow. Even slower, when fully-laden with rucksacks and bedding and spare tyres and Swiss Army knives.

The combination of heavy payload and no motorways is what gave rise to the obscure practice of trawling: namely seeing how many other vehicles you could get stuck behind you, unable to overtake as you footled along at 30 miles an hour. Doubtless removals vans still play a similar game today. Especially in Devon.

That day, in Sawbridgeworth, we caught 24.

It passed the time, looking out the tiny back windows of Bertha the Earthtruck. She also had tiny side windows, but since the seats faced inwards, most of the passengers spent their time staring at each other rather than admiring the passing countryside. Only Yaya, at the wheel, and whoever had currently blagged the other front seat got to enjoy the outside world with any clarity.

Still n’all, there was a lot you could get up to inside Bertha as she bowled (or rather footled) merrily along.

You could play cards. Oh boy, could you play cards.

You could read. Until you remembered that reading in a moving vehicle makes you queasy.

You could admire the picture of Brigitte Bardot hanging over the washbasin.

You could smoke. Marlboro were popular. Or roll-ups of Golden Virginia. Dope was doubtless present, as we hastened to clear the stash before we got to any of those pesky border controls they had down at the Dover International Hovercraft Terminal.

You could talk idly of politics and international affairs.

You could talk, with rather more interest, about girls.

Or you could tilt your head back and let the cares of the world and the last six weeks a-labouring pass you by, and listen to the playlist.

I’ve asked around, and I’m pretty certain our onboard tape collection wasn’t that big. The ones we clearly remember go something like this:

- JJ Cale: Naturally
- Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark
- Tim Buckley: Greetings from LA
- Ray Manzarek: the Golden Scarab
- Barefoot Jerry: Barefoot Jerry
- Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks: Striking it Rich
- Frank Zappa: Apostrophe
- Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstacy
- John Martyn: Bless the Weather

Plus the radio. Somebody had brought a transistor. Within a few days the BBC World Service was going to start playing an unexpectedly prominent part in our lives as well.

However many tapes we had, the omens were good. The sun was shining, Bertha was trawling, and we were on our way to the Champs Elysee to turn Paris onto Joni Mitchell.

A few miles short of Dover, we stopped to fill up, wisely calculating that petrol was cheaper this side of the channel.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just cheaper – it was free.

Seems we chose exactly the right moment to visit the only petrol station in the South of England that was having a problem with its pumps. To wit: fuel flowing freely and unstoppably from every hose, but nobody getting charged.

There must have been some staff there somewhere. No doubt they were hidden inside, feverishly trying to cap the petrol well before Esso went bankrupt. Meanwhile a steady stream of vehicles queued at the pumps, cheerily filling their tanks tout plein before driving away without so much as a by your leave or a penny changing hands.

We did the same. It seemed propitious, seeing how far we had to go.

At this point students of the laws of karma will no doubt start muttering ‘what goes around comes around’. This correspondent couldn’t possibly comment. Not yet, anyway...


Blogger Omykiss said...

I wonder ... does 'footle' have anything to do with the Scottish 'footer' meaning 'messing around'? "You wee footer!" was one of my mother's favourite exclamations.

12:39 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

That sounds plausible. Footer? That's excellent. I'm introducing it south of the border...

8:25 am  
Anonymous Stuie said...

You forgot Todd Rundren!

2:11 pm  
Anonymous stuie said...

sorry, couldn't even spell his name right

2:15 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! A comment from Stuie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe I'm just superstitious about listing an album with a track called 'The Last Ride' on it...

3:42 pm  

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