Spielberg is playing Dad today. He’s trotted round to the local Europcar to hire a Lancia something or other, returning to take three of us on a little jaunt to the Alps. Little Dick eagerly hops in the back seat, and sits down next to a girl. A girl? Ah, I never got round to introducing Vanessa in the blog. She drives lorries, you know. In fact, we’ve got two lady drivers on the U2 tour, one of whom – a Dutch Rastafarian – frightens me.
Nessie is a garrulous, giggly sort of girl, saddled with a Birmingham accent. Now I use the word ‘saddled’ for a reason – she is fond of, or rather obsessed with, horses. Oh, that familiar litany on horsebox transport that us rock and roll drivers hold so dear to our hearts. We have a standing joke at Transam Trucking: if a double driver is flying out to drive with Nessie, we advise them to bring along a sugar cube.
Actually, she’s lovely. But strewth, can she talk. From experience, I can tell you that it’s foolhardy to start a conversation if you haven’t got an imminent spare weekend. The trick, should you ever meet her, is to hold up a hand mid-sentence and say, ‘I’ll have to stop you there Ness, I’m bored.’ She never seems to be offended.
Our adventure begins from the truck parking area opposite Turin’s Olympic Stadium, Spielberg reversing perilously close to Namibian’s gazebo…and stalling. There is a short delay while he affixes a surveillance camera to the windscreen, wires trailing past the dashboard and around the gear stick. ‘If we have an accident, this records everything to prove whose fault it was,’ he explains. The delicious irony here is that he’s positioned it so that his vision is obscured, vastly increasing the chances of an accident.
As it happens, the cigarette lighter is kaput and so the whole charade proves fruitless. Just as well. He pulls out of the gate and drives on the left hand side of the road. Oops! Do concentrate, would you Spielberg, old fruit.
Ah, now when it comes to concentrating, I have a confession. Laughing heartily at the redundant satnav – sitting there lifeless and silent – I glance at the trusty Italian map. ‘No, of course we’re not coming off here, Spielberg,’ I bellow in a stentorian voice. ‘See, there’s no signpost. Tut and tsk. Honestly, some people.’ It slowly dawns – as though awaking next to a startlingly unattractive member of the opposite sex after a crate of wine – that I’ve made a mistake. In fact, in the history of navigation, there can scarcely be a more egregious example of how to fuck up reading a map.
Wringing my hands, and feeling monumentally cretinous after pooh-poohing satnavs so mercilessly, I shift to Plan B. ‘No big deal,’ I venture blithely, ‘we’ll toddle over Mount Frejus instead. Full speed ahead, Spielberg – a latte macchiato in Bardonecchia will be just the ticket.’ At this, Little Dick becomes a little perkier, an animated figure somewhere beneath the head rests. ‘Ooh, cheese toastie, too?’ he asks.
The closer we come to elevenses, the more serious my misgivings about this mountain pass. In Namibian’s vernacular, I may quite possibly have “dropped a bollock” here. Yep, that little yellow line that squiggles so appealingly in the Italian map book doesn’t actually go over the top of Mount Frejus so much as through it – on the motorway that we’ve all driven trucks through about a million times. Blast! My companions, bloated on toasties and milky coffees, are awfully good about the whole thing, instantly forgiving my singular lack of orientation skills. We retrace our steps back to Susa.
‘Ah, this is more like it,’ chimes Spielberg as we finally join the SS25 towards the crest of Mt. Cenis. ‘I miss driving,’ he adds, also missing third gear. The windows are opened and we begin to feel nauseous.
But not nauseous enough to ignore the precarious, looming uncertainty that has arisen, a matter of utmost importance. Pasta on the Italian side of the border? Or Steak Frites on the French? This, of course, elicits subsidiary questions: a bottle of Chianti, or a more palatable Chateau Neuf du Pape? We remind ourselves that we’re still being paid today, and so we plump for a pricier eatery on the French side – a glass-fronted restaurant overlooking the turquoise Lake Cenis.
As we drink in the sumptuous view – frowning at the lonely lettuce leaf that the French regard as a side salad – a donkey brays. Or it might be an ass. Or are they the same thing, like an aubergine and an eggplant? Either way, Nessie’s ears prick up, her equine intuition piqued. ‘Donkeys can live till 65, you know,’ she tells us. We didn’t know, and we wonder if those are horse years or human years. Or whether it is only dogs that have different length years.
Hang on, how can they? After all, dogs live on the same planet and their sunlight lasts exactly as long as ours does. OK, so they seem to spend an awful lot of time curled up with their eyes shut, but then so does Little Dick – he won’t get up till 11 o’clock if left to his own devices. ‘Some twat made that up,’ he announces authoritatively, neatly concluding the debate. Well, there you are then – according to Little Dick, there is no such thing as a dog year.
Oh, by the way, after all that deliberation, the restaurant is fresh out of Chateau Neuf. We settle for a jolly smooth La Parrachee instead, and watch Spielberg polish off a tiramisu as though his life depended on it. ‘Eat it quick, get it done,’ he says, leading us all on a train of thought regarding his bedroom prowess..