Namibian became flustered last night. Unclear trucking instructions, delivered second-hand, plunged him into a fit of frantic gesticulating and wheezing. He stormed past me, sullen and jowly, like a bulldog that’s just licked urine from a nettle. Two hours later, with loaded trucks, the radio crackles.
‘Hang on Barny,’ he says, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’ Oh, great. This from a man who told me not two days ago what good health he is enjoying. I briefly wonder whether I should retrieve my stove from his cab, but a few seconds later, between oesophagus-displacing coughing bouts, he tells me he’s OK. What a drama queen: it’s probably only angina again..
It was 1000km from Hannover to Vienna; now it is 1100km to Antwerp. The next concert after that is Zurich. Remember I suggested that these itineraries are determined by cocaine-fuelled executives throwing darts at a map of continental Europe? Well, thank heavens that a particularly limp-wristed lunge didn’t have us all trundling down to Istanbul instead. There are two travel days to reach Antwerp, so barely an hour up the autobahn sees us fast asleep for what remains of the night. After all, yesterday was my third consecutive day without an afternoon nap.
Parking tonight is at Geiselwind truckstop in Bavaria. Namibian upsets the blameless ‘dinner lady’ (waitress) with his terse mannerisms and pidgin German. His pork is too tough, which he indicates by making a sawing motion to her with his knife. The knife slides through the meat like soft butter. He storms over to Burger King, tail between his legs. Meanwhile the rest of us exhaust the topics of lorries and perverts over a few surprisingly strong Kulmbacher beers.
Truckers, with so much time on their hands to muse – and I’m being serious here – actually make rather good philosophers. A conundrum emerges amongst our clan: what is the difference between a reason and an excuse? A think tank in The Pentagon could chew on that for months but, at Transam Trucking Ltd, one of our team instantly remembers an incident at school which hits the nail on the head. ‘I was told off once, for putting my hand up a skirt. I had a reason but it was no excuse.’
I wake to a blanket of overnight snow. All would be serene if it wasn’t for the idling truck engines, neon, garages, and the rumble of the A3. Namibian, ever predictable, is smoking a cigarette and staring into space. And will have been for the last hour.
The dissolution of the Deutschmark was bad enough. But with the current exchange rate from sterling to euros, buying a coffee in Germany is now daylight robbery. Admittedly, it’s nice not to rummage through a biscuit tin full of Austrian schillings and Dutch guilders when simply wanting a cuppa here, but at least it was cheap then. Ah, rose tinted glasses, the old days.. Today, however, I pay through the nose for an extra coffee at breakfast. Then, after filling up with diesel, I’m given two vouchers…for coffee.
The hundred yard drive to the fuel pumps, in weather this bleak, seems quite far enough for the day. Alas, still 560km to go. The weather worsens as we pass Nuremberg and Frankfurt, culminating in a near white-out around Cologne. How am I supposed to finish my crossword whilst driving in these conditions?
Earlier, a particularly violent gust of wind had rendered my answer to 11 Across an illegible smudge. Instead, Michael Palin’s audio book, Pole to Pole, keeps me company. As Namibian and I skid past Wurzburg - actually, most of the wheels are gripping the road – Palin crosses the equator into Tanzania via a gate, informing me that the highly intelligent hippopotamus has one hundred separate sounds in its vocabulary.
More water-logged, snow-choked cities pass the window, until a streak of lightning illuminates a Shell garage in The Netherlands. By the time we reach Belgium (the land of Tintin, waffles and nonsensical laws), we’re in our third country since breakfast. And as Palin lands on the world’s slipperiest continent, at 10,000 feet and minus fifty centigrade, we roll into Antwerp’s Sportpaleis. Backstage, the pub across the road, which has loomed all-consumedly at the fore of our minds for hours, looks darker than it ought to. It is closed..