Dotted all over the city, men snooze in these booths, occasionally glancing at the traffic. Their job, ostensibly, is to watch for motorist misdemeanours, radioing ahead if a heinous road offence is witnessed.
This is indeed a task for the hawk-eyed, eternally keeping vigil over the tarmac. A woman, of course, could read the newspaper simultaneously…but a man? No way, Jose.
The chap inside seems to regard multi-tasking as closing both eyes whilst deftly remaining on his stool. You agree that it’s a made-up position, a relic of communist job creation, or am I being cynical? Maybe don’t answer that.
Regardless, twenty-nine trucks sneak past in the early hours, headed for the Romanian border. In Bucharest, stories unfold. Sitting in Catering is Captain Birdseye, itching to tell me his story, and hiding behind a carton of Nivea Cool Kick aftershave. ‘Makes me more attractive to women,’ he rasps, mildly out of breath from slurping soup without pause. ‘Well, it does if I hit them over the head with the bottle.’
Birdseye was stopped by the Bulgarian police at the top of a hill. He didn’t bother pulling over to the side of the single carriageway, electing instead to park slap bang in the middle of the road. ‘It was a 60km/h limit, I was doing 73, what’s the problem?’ he asks genuinely, as allergic to speed limits as I am.
The police wanted money this time, though; fobbing them off with profuse apologies or signed CDs was going to be fruitless. ‘You must pay, we go to bank,’ yelled the irascible officer. ‘Night night,’ replied Birdseye, and he lay down on his bed in the truck.
The policeman began to hop agitatedly like a haemorrhoidal kangaroo. Finally, when the hopping reached its apoplectic zenith, Captain Birdseye handed him a €10 note and drove off into the dawn light. Sitting here now, nursing his umpteenth cup of tea, he still hasn’t entirely convalesced from the shock of parting with some cash.
In fact, the cobwebs in his wallet have once more been exposed. He pulls out a camera case that he has recently purchased in the local shopping centre. ‘Four euros, this cost,’ he boasts parsimoniously. ‘People call me tight but I lash out like this sometimes.’
Before reaching the Romanian frontier, Namibian and I had stopped near a billboard for a sea transport company, improbably named RUBISHIPS. Better than CRAPSHIPS, I suppose.
And at least the sign used the Roman alphabet – something of a rarity in Bulgaria. ‘I can’t work out all this Russian,’ a misinformed Namibian had said earlier as he blatantly followed me through a red light. (I try to catch lights as late as possible just to upset him.)
As you may or may not know, it was the Bulgarians that created the Cyrillic alphabet in the ninth century. (Since Bulgaria’s inclusion in the European Union, the alphabet is now the EU’s third official alphabet.) The Russians subsequently pinched the language, modifying it a little. Thus RUSE in English is written PYCE in Cyrillic. Road signs can become a little tricky to follow as the place names increase in length.
A good deal more confusing than the language, however, is the nodding and shaking of heads in Bulgaria. While Namibian languishes in the bunk like a stricken dugong, I’ve popped into a café to use up the remainder of our foreign currency. Actually, if I’m to be fair, marine mammals talk far less bollocks than Namibian.
Anyway, my order of coffee with milk is met with a vehement headshake and the old lady’s disappearance through a doorway. Oh heavens, given the language barrier, have I inadvertently asked to sleep with her daughter?
She returns moments later with a steaming cuppa, yet with little evidence of any milk. (She points meaningfully at the sugar sachets as though surely that is an adequate substitute.) Ah, but I still have a little loose change to get rid of. Perhaps a small gift for Namibian?
‘Cigarettes?’ I ask. The old dear nods and shows me the freezer stocked with ice cream. If you haven’t experienced first-hand this reversal of shakes and nods, it is jolly unsettling. Has anybody come across this in other parts of the world?..