Sunday, June 26, 2005

On the Cusp

It’s a precarious form of writing, this blogging. Nowhere to hide, no pause for breath. That’s presumably its appeal: the unedited emotional nakedness. Weblogs fanatics frown on revision, and if you go AWOL for longer than a week or so it feels like you’re letting down the voices in your head. Listen carefully enough and you can almost hear a silent chorus of tut-tutting disapproval spreading to the far corners of the blogosphere.

What the heck. This is a blook, not a blog. I’ve been sneakily changing the odd word here or there and I’m not afraid to admit it. And every story has its break points. Sometimes you just need to stand back and consider where you’re going.

I imagine a break point in Bertha’s life round about now, on the cusp between England and France. We took the hovercraft, from Dover to Boulogne. That meant leaving our comfortable truck deep in the hold while we sat up top in a hideous lounge where the seats were laid out theatre style. Except there was no stage, and the only entertainment was the spray breaking over the windows as our Mountbatten Class SR.N4 lurched like a wounded elephant across the waves. Flump-flump-flump, stomachs heffalumping in sympathy, for 35 minutes non-stop.

That’s plenty of time to consider where you’re going, when you desperately need something to take your mind off the contents of your stomach.

Up to now, the Bertha trip had all been preparation, but we were shortly to disembark in darkest Europe. Ahead lay Amsterdam, Paris, the South of France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Not the most direct route, but we did have a couple of months. We were going to need that long just to get to know each other.

And here a thought occurs to me. I knew everybody pretty well, for one reason or another, but maybe not all of the relationships forming in the Earthtruck were so well-founded. Pat, for instance, barely knew anybody except me and Yaya. He must have found it all a bit weird, coming late to the project and only for a short while at that – but then Pat spent most of his time in a state of grinning bemusement, so I imagine he took it all in his stride.

Did everybody else feel the same? We’ll see, in due course. Meanwhile, here we were in Europe at last, and no doubt barrelling up the coast towards Ostend. No-one remembers doing this, but let’s face it: the Pas-de-Calais coastline ain’t anything to write home about. We were probably happily playing cards for matchsticks in the back.

We did stop at Ostend, though. Or we drove round it, so Yaya could point out the landmarks he remembered from trips there with his parents. Somehow Paul came away from this rapid guided tour with a story about Yaya and Stuie’s parents leaving Ostend in a hurry during the war (the Nazis were coming) and having to throw their best paintings and a whole ham into the sea because they weren’t allowed to take their valuables with them.

I’m fully expecting a whole series of comments putting me right about the above, but it’s only a random memory. Accuracy is neither here nor there. The point is, that’s what Paul remembers about Ostend; for the rest of us, the short journey through Belgium on the 27th July 1974 has no meaning whatsoever. We’ve erased it for ever – no doubt because our minds were already fixed on the fleshpots of Amsterdam.

And here we come to something we all remember. Not Amsterdam itself – Bertha was slow as a slug, and I expect the roads weren’t as zippy as they are today. But towards the end of that day we found ourselves on a back road in Holland, looking for somewhere to park and sleep the night.

The sun was sinking low in the sky, the air still and warm, the landscape flat except where it was bisected by distant low dykes. I expect it was a bit late in the year for tulips, but you get the idea. When we stopped, it was on the grass verge alongside a canal. In the shadow of a windmill.

We’d had a long day, and many days of close personal truck travel lay ahead of us, so we did what any self-respecting tourist does when faced with a warm summer’s evening and a tranquil waterway.

We went swimming. Washed our hair and everything. Then we sat by the canal and fired up the calor gas stove and watched the sun go down.

Let’s hear it for whoever had a camera…

A Low Countries Idyll Posted by Hello

Day One, passed into history. Next stop the Nieuwe Zijds Voorburgwaal.


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