|Subject: Travel tragedies (Long)|
Lucy's near misses and tragedies resurrected long forgotten memories for me of a drive in an ancient Volkswagen Beetle through Norway and Sweden in March 1972.
At the time I was working in England and my wife (then girlfriend) Bronwyn was working in Oslo in Norway. I left England on the ferry from Newcastle to Stavanger on a smooth crossing which would have been comfortable but for the drunken giant (at least 6 feet 6 tall) who was next to me in the lounge (we were sleeping on cheap reclining seats) for the overnight trip. As his behaviour worsened more and more people left the lounge, preferring the cold of the deck to his repulsive intestinal contributions. When only a few of us were left he went to sleep and we decided we would pick him up and dump him on deck to sleep off his massive hangover. That was fine until he woke up on the way out...I think I ran away the fastest. Appeals to the ship's crew were in vain, they took one look at him and decided against intervention.
So we arrived in Stavanger the next morning, sleepless of course, but delighted by the bright sun and dazzling snow on the mountains, a delightful change to the grey, foggy England we had left behind. Things changed when I drove my car on to the wharf where I was stopped by the Norwegian customs. They kept me there for an hour while they removed the seats from the car and went over it very thoroughly, presumably for drugs. They then turned their attention to me and gave me a much more thorough examination than any doctor ever had. Eventually they let me go and told me they were doing random checks and that my car just happened to be in the right place in the queue.
The next day Bronwyn and I set off for Oslo, which involved driving through the snow for several hundred kilometres but we knew the roads were kept clear, the car was reliable (sort of), it had a heater like a furnace and anyway as we were young and in love we had other things than safety on our minds. We did get stuck in a few snowdrifts but managed to dig ourselves out with a shovel. Half way to Oslo I took a corner too fast and we ended up in an enormous snowdrift - we managed to get out but the front of the car was quite invisible. What could we do? There was no sign of habitation and as always on these occasions, night was fast approaching.
We walked to the top of the nearest hill and saw a house just off the road a few hundred metres away. There we found an old man (probably younger than I am now!) who spoke even less English (absolutely none) than we did Norwegian (about 20 words between us). He was pretty quick on the uptake and before long was striding down the hill ahead of us with a rope slung over his shoulder while we tailed behind with Bronwyn telling me "You fool, you can't let him help us, he's going to have a heart attack lifting and pulling the car around, didn't you see how red his face was". She was right about his complexion but I didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm and anyway I had read it was good to keep exercising into old age. When we reached the car we organised Bronwyn to get into the driver's seat (difficult in a snowdrift) while we were to bodily lift the back and move it sideways on to an area with less snow. Lifting involved our saviour chanting "Aon, do, Hup!" (One, two, Up!). On the Hup he and I bent our backs and tried to lift the car by the rear bumper (fender) bar.
Alas the Volkswagen couldn't count in Norwegian and wouldn't budge. After a rest we tried again. This time success and tragedy struck together. The bumper bar lifted but not the car, leaving our Viking friend reeling and holding aloft the whole bumper bar. In the meantime the car had got the message and (not propelled by Bronwyn, she swears to this day) shot back sharply, brushing me aside, the blow well cushioned by half a ton of snow, and ended up back on the road. Whew! Relief! We thanked our benefactor profusely and drove off again towards Oslo, minus a bumper bar, but them's the breaks (pardon the pun).
The rest of the journey was uneventful but for some reason the starter motor never worked again and I used to either have to park the car at the top of a hill or stand by the roadside proffering the end of the rope which Mr Aon Do Hup had left behind, begging passing motorists to give me a tow. In Oslo there was one tragedy when I forgot the rule about giving way to cars on the left (or was it right?) at intersections and collected a BMW, which left me with a battered wing. So battered was it that I bought a new one in a junkyard and attached it to the car. It was a most unprofessional job and the car now had no bumper bars at all and an unpainted wing.
Despite the moribund starter motor and aesthetic imperfections I drove from Oslo to Gothenburg in Sweden to catch the ferry back to England without mishap. On the ferry there was one interesting episode (yet another potential tragedy) to alleviate the boredom of the North Sea crossing, when a fire broke out in the cafeteria. No one did anything for a while except look at it, then sirens and whistles began to go off and passengers ran out on to the deck. There was total chaos when some of the ship's crew arrived with fire extinguishers and tried to get in the door a hundred passengers were pushing out of. Eventually they opened another door but unfortunately the first man tripped over the door sill and the whole conga line of fire fighters behind him collapsed, while the flames in the cafeteria grew higher and the smoke thickened. Fortunately they did manage to limp in and get the fire out, although we didn't get much food for the rest of the trip.
When we docked at Immingham (near Hull) insult was added to injury and minor tragedy. This time it was the British customs who wanted me, though thank goodness unlike their Norwegian colleagues they were only interested in the car, not my body. "That looks like a new wing on your car, sir - have you paid duty on it, how much did it cost?". The answer was no and 30 pounds, a lot of money for a young pauper in those days. "Mmmmm, we'll have to talk to the boss about this". The boss arrived and I took an instant dislike to him and feared the worst. Middle aged, overweight, close cropped bullet head and neatly pressed uniform, he looked like he enjoyed trouble and eyed me - scruffy, longish hair, flared jeans, obviously a teacher or something useless like that.... But then he turned on his subordinates. "You bloody idiots", he exclaimed angrily, "thirty quid for the wing, can't you see the whole bloody car isn't worth half that?!" A few more expletives and he was gone. Contrite, his now sheepish subordinates let me go, muttering that I didn't know how lucky I was the boss was in a bad mood, but look what I had done to make sure their day would be a misery.
So ended a trail of potential tragedies and near misses.....and the moral of this story?...You can plan your trip as carefully as you like but if nothing goes wrong there'll be no stories to tell your friends when you get back. Oh yes, and in case you're too young to have owned one, a Volkswagen Beetle will never let you down - in the end, but it will give you some surprises along the way!
So how about it Dear Ziners? Why don't you contribute to the pleasure of others by recapturing your travel tragedies (including perhaps your mis-spent youth), on these pages?
Michael Sydney, Australia