Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Random, in its Myriad Forms

Well, I’m back. I’m restarting the blog. It’s been months, I know: a lay-off so embarrassingly long I’d have sleepless nights about it if I didn’t have more important things to have sleepless nights about.

If you’re still tuned in, I apologise. Wholeheartedly and profusely. What I can’t offer is an explanation. It’s a writing thing. For some reason known only to my subconscious, the saga of Bertha the Earthtruck and her circuitous assault on the European mainland just slipped down your correspondent’s list of priorities and got forgot.

Then I cleared my desk, examined my priorities, decided everything was pointless anyway so I might as well work on the thing-that-is-most-pointless-of-all, and started thinking about 1974 again.

These things happen. Which kind of sums up the entire Bertha experience.

Where was I? We’ve left Amsterdam. It feels like we spent a year there, but it was only a couple of days, I swear. We’ve also left Pat in Amsterdam, and we’ll return to him in due course. Right now it’s time to crack on. Toot sweet, big time, with a following wind and our tails between our legs.

If I could, I’d describe our route from Amsterdam to Germany. Fortunately I was in the back, and hung over, so that’s spared you the nerdy details. All I can report about the short journey to our next stopover is the following:

1/ We’d decided to take a look at the Mosel Valley. Someone (I think Yaya) had been there on a family holiday many years before and remembered it as a beautiful spot. Quite how this gelled with our other stated ambition of driving Bertha down the Champs Elysee is anyone’s guess, since Paris and the Mosel were in opposite directions. Like I said, I was in the back.

2/ For at least part of our progress, Andy took the wheel. Yaya remembers being rather surprised that an ex-Royal Navy ambulance could actually travel that fast. I expect we hurtled past Nijmegen at all of 55 mph.

3/ On our way, we discovered that Holland does have a few hills. They’re right there, on the German border: up and down undulating things that astonished us so much we must have talked about it for all of… well, two minutes. Which only goes to show that the memories that stick aren’t always breathlessly memorable. They’re just memories, and random at that.

4/ When we crossed the border into North Rhine-Westphalia, the evening rush hour had started.

I know this last because we had to queue. Right there on the plains of Northern Europe, where the A77 becomes the A57 and Holland merges seamlessly into Germany, was a customs and immigration post; at which everyone travelling to and from their places of work in Wijchen and Heesch and Duisberg and Essen had to stop and prove who they were and where they were going.

I expect they don’t bother nowadays, with the European Union and everything. I imagine it was a fairly routine procedure even then, for commuters and border guards alike. Join the queue, shuffle forward for ten minutes, wind down the Volkswagen’s window, flash your passport with a cheery smile, and off you go.

Of course the word routine only applies if you’re not at the wheel of a Royal Navy ambulance with a two foot high flaming sun mandala hand-painted on each side.

I’ll leave it to Andy to encapsulate the moment, as the eagle-eyed German border guards spotted us drawing to a halt at the back of a queue of thirty or forty cars.

‘Oh look,’ he said. ‘We’re the one in a hundred random sample.’

Looking back, I like to think we introduced a little variety into the lives of Customs and Immigration Deutschland that day. To say nothing of their lovely Alsatian dogs, who were immediately invited on the grand tour of our unusual-looking vehicle and the myriad possessions we’d been invited to unpack and display on the side of the road. Naturally, being young and blonde themselves, the guards were exceeding taken with the decorous picture of Brigitte Bardot we’d thoughtfully left hanging over the sink: one of them even went to the trouble of lifting it up to see if there was anything hidden behind. And of course they enjoyed themselves enormously taking everything apart and then getting us to put it all back together again.

The only slight blot on the proceedings? Seasoned Bertha hitchhikers will instantly recall a post from many months ago called The Great Escape, which concerned the Earthtruck’s arrival at Knebworth Festival and the great convenience of having a six inches by twelve hatch, opening onto the road, in the middle of the floor.

Never did figure out that hole, our border guards. They tried, of course. They clustered around it. They tut-tutted amongst themselves in German. They interrogated us, individually and collectively. They muttered darkly about drugs and weaponry. They gingerly ran their hands rounds the underside of the aperture. They even volunteered one of their number to get his border guard uniform all scuffed and dirty looking at the hole from underneath the truck.

All to no avail. The dogs grew sullen, the sun sank low in the North-Rhine Westphalian sky, and the guards were finally forced to the reluctant conclusion that the hole, like so much in life, had no apparent purpose and offered no prospect of advancement in the immigration service.

What’s worse, they had to let us in.


Anonymous yaya said...

thank you mark
welcome back
life now resumes its normality in all its randomness
deutschland uber alles

7:28 pm  
Blogger Cherrypie said...

Jack's away for the weekend with his Grandma so I shall be looking for something safe and non-destructive to occupy my time. I promise I shall make a proper start on Bertha from the beginning. I'm a quick reader so I hope you're going to be more prolific over the next few weeks and months x

10:03 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

No pressure then, Cherry Pie?

Welcome aboard. You are now officially a hitch-hiker. There is no escape. And if you cause any trouble it's a month in the cooler...

8:18 am  
Blogger Cherrypie said...

I'm halfway through. I've just got to Knebworth but now I feel a strange compunction to go and sit in my Shed and play some Zappa records.

I'll jump back on tomorrow. x

10:58 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

You're only allowed Zappa if it's the one that goes 'trudging across the tundra, mile after mile...'

8:18 am  

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