Where did we get to on the Slayer Tour? Oh yes, Deva in Romania. In my road atlas – which excludes Romania in any detail, as if to say ‘Don’t bother unless essential’ – I’ve now written “Dreadful but no police” for that stretch we did down from Oradea last time. The reason for the dearth of law-enforcers on it? Nobody in their right mind would take that road.
Shall I let you in on a little irony? After being launched out of my seat for a couple of hours over potholes, one hand on the wheel, the other defending soft parts of the body from dislodged umbrellas raining from the top bunk, the authorities had then put up a sign indicating uneven road ahead. Oh, they must have dined out on that one for a while, laughing themselves all the way to the gritting station. (That’s if they had any grit, of course. There’s barely tarmac.)
Having survived this road – a road sharing properties with one described in a 1910 road atlas as ‘Surface becomes a bit loose after Eastbourne’ – it was time for a refreshment stop. Comforting to know I suppose that, well on my way to neural impingement of the spinal column, it was only 1300km or so to Athens. Groan. And it was getting hot – hotter than Satan’s ballbag.
‘Omelette?’ suggested the stout attendant rather firmly, indicating with her fingers that it would be a man’s omelette made with at least four eggs. Cholesterol seemed to be the least of my concerns in these parts, however – even the grass looked ill.
While I waited, I watched a glassy-eyed, slack-jawed man at a table nearby, wearing an overcoat several sizes too large and incongruously thick for the season – the sort of fellow that collaborates with the end of the dole queue.
He had the air of a wastrel, frankly, ripping the filters off endless cigarettes and drumming his fingers rather than reaching for an improving book. Had he missed the bus and decided to wait three days for the next one? I pondered this as a crinkled-skinned shepherd churned through the entrance in a blunt gait, ordered nothing and then left. What a funny place.
Pushing off again – into the seething mass of cattle and battered Dacia 1310s, one car crabbing so badly from being whacked up the arse that it drove forwards at an angle of 45 degrees – I began noticing roadside stalls manned by bandy-legged women.
‘Look, Darling, that woman’s selling plastic bottles of liquid that looks like wee,’ you might say if driving past. Moonshine? Unpasteurised fruit juice? Or actually wee? I wonder who actually stops to buy this refreshing nectar and whether selling three bottles in a day pays the bills.
More intriguingly, though, how do these women become so bow-legged? Surely they weren’t all high-profile cellists in their day. Perhaps the curvature resulted from gripping watermelons between their knees on long journeys over these bumpy roads. Ah, the mysteries of the Balkans…