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This is a question Road Trip

Gather round the fire and share stories of epic travels. Remember this is about the voyage, not what happened when you got there. Any of that shite and you're going in the fire.

Suggestion by Dr Preference

(, Thu 14 Jul 2011, 22:27)
Pages: Popular, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This question is now closed.

buffalo buffalo BUFFALO
**First post to the boards, apologies for length, I've been drinking red wine and this topic sent me into a reverie**

When I was 18 I was lucky enough to win a scholarship for a year to a university in the States, the home of the road trip. Cheap gas, abundant (cheap) motels and endless highways. There's a saying that in America, 100 years is a long time, and in the UK, 100 miles is a long way. I got to understand what that meant over the course of the year: with a 24 hour drive to Colorado for Christmas, an 18 hour drive to New York at Thanksgiving, an 8 hour drive to Chicago on a weekend and in the spring a 13 hour round trip to Graceland where we spent... 2 hours. I thought then - and still think now - how little I visit my grandparents, only 90 minutes away.

But the road trip was part of the fun - if not the whole fun itself. Driving to Graceland listening to tapes of Elvis, telling jokes, smoking. I thought *I* was the King.

After the academic year came to an end I was due to return to Blighty. But first, a 3 week grand tour: the plan was to go from Detroit (my friend's home town) across the midwest to Yellowstone, north to Glacier National Park, west to Seattle, down the west coast to San Francisco and back across the south through Arizona and past the Grand Canyon... About 7,000 miles in total.

We packed the car with a tent and tapes and books, stocked up our cool box with iced tea, bread and cheese slices, bought a few cartons of cigarettes and hit the road. Most days were just spent driving, which should have been quite wearing, but it wasn't. We took turns at the wheel, listened to music, talked, read books aloud to each other, sat in silence and admired the view. I appreciated at the time how lucky I was to be with someone in whose company I was so comfortable. No awkward silences, no desperate attempts to communicate. Perfect for such a long trip. And we stopped when we wanted, drove where we wanted, did what we liked - perhaps for the first and only time in my life.

Cal was 4 years older than me, a graduate, enjoying her last hurrah before entering the real world. I was young and foolish and still with a full 3 years of Uni ahead of me back at home. We made a perfect team.

Two events stand out for me, in addition to the massive strides taken during that time in my sexual education. The first occurred as early as day two of the trip. We left Detroit and headed around Lake Michigan into Wisconsin to stay for a night with our friend Klos - camp, eccentric, and dazzling in my impressionable young eyes. We stopped en route to phone ahead, let him know our ETA that evening. Cal left a message on the machine - "...we're so excited to see you". At this point, bouncing like a 7 year old after too many sweeties, I shriek "I've got an erection!" Hilarious.

So hilarious, in fact, that Klos decided not to delete the message from his home machine. Cal and I arrived at the house, his mother greeted us at the door with a look of disapproval. Klos let us know that he'd saved the message for his parent's enjoyment. I was appalled. Polite, sweet, unassuming - the last thing I want is to be embarrassed like this in front of my friend's parents - especially ones I haven't met before. I'm normally excellent at this sort of thing, I love charming the oldies, and the Yanks are so easy! But he's fucked that right up.

So I was standing in the kitchen feeling like things just couldn't get any worse when his dad came through the door, carrying a broom. "Where's that young fella with the erection? I've got something to beat it down with."

That evening we rented "Reservoir Dogs" and I was blown away by Tarantino for the first time.

After that we headed west, through the dusty plains, stopping off here and there at random or unexpected places, as the signs and the maps presented their wares. A mystical, magical house in the woods where a ball rolled uphill. Mount Rushmore. Little Bighorn (General Custer - what a cunt.) We slept in cheap motels, all the more romantic and evocative for their filth and disposability. We camped in car parks and made love by torchlight.

Eventually we came to Yellowstone National Park. Stopped at the warden's gate, paid our entrance fee, got our map and a leaflet about the buffalo. ("WARNING - Many visitors have been gored by buffalo. They weigh up to 2000 pounds and can sprint at 30mph, three times faster than you can run") Wow, I think, buffalo! I'd love to see one of those.

We drive south and stop at the large visitor centre, with exhibits about the wildlife and panels explaining the geology and the crazy volcanic scenery. At one point, I was standing in a doorway, when Cal pointed above my head, laughing. I looked up and nearly shat myself when I saw the hugest buffalo head right on top of me. I ducked and probably screamed a little, before realising it was just a good ol' hunter's trophy, stuffed and mounted. But, fuck, that thing was big.

We drive on, and on. Stop here and there to look at various bubbling sulphurous lakes. Drive a bit more. (Yellowstone is about 100 miles from top to bottom.) After a while I get grumpy that we've not seen any buffalo, I'd been promised damn buffalo and so where are they. We drive more. Then we see some cars stopped by the side of the road, but no indication why. We overtake slowly, I have my face pressed against the window, desperately trying to see over and beyond the car... FUCK! A buffalo stood right in the road in front of the car and hidden by it until we passed. Face to face with another beast, only this time it's alive.

Late afternoon we reached Old Faithful - the famous geyser that shoots up about 30m at regular intervals. I took photos, we laughed at a miserable old man who looked like Matlock, a US TV detective. It's late, we're tired - we've driven miles. We need to head out, back to a town for somewhere to stay for the night, and thence to the north, to Glacier National Park on the Canadian border.

Cal's driving, it's getting dusky, that terrible half light when your eyes haven't quite shifted yet to night vision. The picture flickers from colour to black & white like a TV on the fritz. Things merge and fade; shadows wink. Not a good time to be driving, especially on unfamiliar roads when you're tired.

We are on a straight, it's a long road ahead, slightly dipping - and as we crest a small rise the headlights flash from high to low over the road ahead. I'm sure I saw something, a shadow - a bulk - at the bottom of the dip that we're driving into. But the headlights now point down at the road as we descend, and while there's ambient light, it's blue-grey, hazy, the headlights ruin my night vision, I can't see what's ahead. But, there was something, wasn't there? Cal drives on, and on, and I can't believe she hasn't seen, like I did, but perhaps I was mistaken, it's right here, why doesn't she slow down, the hooves appear in the downward beam of the headlights and I look left at her, why isn't she braking....

BANG. My first car accident. Part of me giggles inside, like the time I broke my arm and I lay there in pain wishing "I hope it's broken". Then the smell hits me. Molten plastic - which, when I open my eyes, I realise is the shattered windscreen, and the weird polymer they use to keep all the pieces glued together so they don't spray in your already concussed face. The music's still playing, the engine's still running - hell, even the headlights are still shining... And in the dim light stands a very confused buffalo, shaking its head from side to side, like a cartoon missing the speech bubble: "What the fuck was THAT?!!"

I look over again at Cal, still with her head down, unprepared, even more shocked, her door window shattered and gone, the pieces of which I find sprayed all down her back as I put my hand there in an attempt to comfort and she flinches away.

A car coming the other way has seen the impact, stops. The driver is out and encouraging us to leave, waking us from our dream. As I look to my right for the door handle to get out, it's not there. The whole inside of the door has softened and disappeared, just humps and small mounds giving the suggestion of previous articles. It's like snow has fallen and hidden the handle, the lock, the armrest, as it would a bicycle, a ball, a hedge in the back garden. Only when I dig my fingers into the warmth and pull the handle do I realise that this snow is buffalo shit. And I thought I was scared.

In the morning when we returned to the wrecker's yard and reviewed the damage, we realised how lucky we had been. The buffalo was sideways on; we were going at a reasonable speed, and downhill: we had merely clipped his ankles and flipped him, full weight, onto the bonnet, whereupon his head had whiplashed sideways into Cal's side - one horn smashing her window, the other scarring the bottom of her door - and his arse had skidded right up and through my side of the windscreeen, shitting all the while, until it was right inside the car and spraying all over the door. Moments later, as the energy dissipated, we stopped, he slid off and regained his feet, and we all sat/stood around, shaking our heads, wondering what the fuck happened.

If he was head on, it could have been one horn each, right through our foreheads.

The car was written off: the engine and headlights were fine, but the roof over my head was totally busted. Cal's own car, now fucked, another debt to add to her $40,000 college fees.

Unfortunately it was Labor Day weekend - one of the few 'Bank Holidays' in the States, so everything closed for 4 days, which we spent holed up in Bozeman, Montana, where there was nothing to do but go to the movies. After 2 days we'd seen everything that was on so we went out and rented a video player and a stack of tapes.

Eventually we rented a car, adjusted our plans and went via Salt Lake City to San Francisco and the Grand Canyon, and then spent the final two days driving non-stop through Texas and all the way back to Detroit.

More amazing times, great sights, amazing memories... but something had changed. I don't imagine either of us were the same after the buffalo - I doubt he was, either. It was an intense moment, a bonding experience, a unique story. Poetic. But prosaic. How quickly things change, or something like that. Looking back, it seems to make me sadder than it did at the time. I see in it more of a fatefulness than perhaps I did then.

Things change. Time goes on. You never know how lucky you are.

All great road trips are cliches, though, aren't they?
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 2:15, 18 replies)
Easy Rider
In the Summer of 1998 I booked a return ferry ticket from Harwich to Gothenburg, on a whim. I had a couple of weeks off work and no real plans, but I wanted to get out of the house for a bit. So I took my motorcycle on a 3,000-mile, two-week trip of Scandinavia. Just because I had nothing better to do. I took the bike in for its scheduled service, made sure it was in tip-top condition for the trip, and went for it.

The ferry crossing to Sweden takes roughly 24 hours, and I had the pleasure of spending much of it in the company of a very friendly and welcoming bunch of people from the Chiltern Motorcycling Club (or possibly Chilton; I forget the exact name). When we arrived they rode off in one direction, to Norway, and I rode another, travelling through the night to Stockholm. I think I killed a goose on the way. At least, I hope I killed it. There was some very thick fog to add to the already dark conditions; without any warning I hit a goose with the toe of my boot, a goose which was standing next to the centre line and was invisible in the fog. I wasn't going particularly quickly, thanks to the fog, but being kicked in the chest by a heavy bike boot wouldn't do any creature much good at any speed. I hope I killed it outright, and quickly, rather than condemning it to a slow, agonizing death from the injuries. There was a car a few hundred yards behind me, and I wasn't wearing any reflective gear, so I did not dare stop to see what I'd done to the poor bird lest the same happen to me.

It's very weird to arrive somewhere at 4 o'clock in the morning in the broad daylight. The streets were busy with scantily-dressed clubbers of all genders, who were being turfed out as the venues closed for the night. I made my way to the docks, lay down beside the bike and dozed for a few hours until the ferry offices opened.

On another whim I bought a ticket for that morning's ferry to Turku, Finland, instead of mooching around Stockholm for the day. While strapping down my bike in the ferry's hold I saw another biker securing a Triumph sporting an English number plate. My spirits emboldened, I approached my fellow Brit and expressed delight that I would have someone to share the crossing with. He looked around and, with a strong accent, said, "I'm Finnish. I'm a medical student studying in England. I bought this bike there and I'm bringing it home for the Summer." Finn or Brit, we hit it off and spent the entire crossing of the Baltic on the top deck in the sunshine, drinking beer and putting the world to rights.

When we got to Turku I made ready to hit the road for a blast across to Helsinki, but my companion stopped me. "I've just called my girlfriend. Her parents have a spare bed; you're welcome to spend the night. She'd like to meet you." So off we rode to Tampere instead. My first evening in Finland was spent naked in a sauna with a bloke I'd met only that morning and his girlfriend's brother, whom I'd known for roughly an hour by that point.

The next day I made my farewells and set off. Each day I would pick a place at random on the map, open the guide book to find some accommodation at my destination, and ride there. No fights, no arguments, no hassles, just the bike and me and hardly any traffic at all. I gradually meandered my way northwards, accidentally entering Russia illegally on the way (I only realised when I saw a bunch of bright yellow signs covered in warning symbols and Cyrillic characters, upon which I turned immediately around and scarpered), eventually reaching Rovaniemi, just south of the Arctic Circle.

I don't know if it's due to riding on the other side of the road, or if the culture is so much more relaxed, but I never had any of the hassles which plague my riding in this country. Car drivers always saw me coming and pulled over in plenty of time, instead of hogging the centre line in a testosterone-fuelled attempt to "win" by preventing me from passing. Here you're lucky to get a terse nod from another biker, but over there they wave to each other, with one's cool factor measured by how low one's wave goes. I swear I saw some cruiser riders scrape their gloves on the tarmac. The waving might also be partly due to the left hand's being the clutch hand on most modern bikes, so releasing that hand doesn't cause the throttle to close.

The next day I left the bike at the hostel in Rovaniemi and hopped on a bus to Santa Claus Village, where I sat outside in the blazing sunshine eating reindeer, drinking beer, and listening to Christmas carols... in June. I also got to sit on Father Christmas' knee, and paid handsomely for the photograph of it (though sadly not the negatives). According to the paint on the ground, which couldn't possibly be exaggerated for tourists, Santa Claus Village is directly on the Arctic Circle's line of latitude.

A couple of days later I reached a campsite near Karigasniemi, on the Finno-Norwegian border, and stayed in a log cabin with blackout curtains. I was far north of the Arctic Circle by that point, enduring not just constant daylight but constant sunshine. Even weirder than it being broad daylight at 4 in the morning is to see the sun high above the horizon at 2 o'clock and yet have no idea if it's morning or afternoon. The blackout curtains were essential.

I tried to press on to North Cape, but hadn't banked on the cold. Even in the middle of Summer, when you're that far north it's a wee bit parky, especially at 70MPH in perforated leathers. I did, however, buy the most expensive petrol I've ever bought. In 1998 I paid 13 Norwegian Crowns (£1.30) per litre. I dread to think how much it costs now.

While bimbling through northern Finland after returning from Norway, I noticed something odd. The roads were, in the main, in excellent condition, maintained very well and a lot of fun to ride, especially on the hilly, twisty bits. But every so often the road would become dead straight for a mile or so, and the tree line would retreat a few hundred yards on either side before returning to hug the road. This happened a few times, and eventually I found out why: the roads double as emergency runways. I didn't see any landings, though.

Towards the end of my trip I decided I wanted to spend a couple of days in Helsinki before returning home, as well as visit a friend in Imatra (of The Tightrope Men, by Desmond Bagley, fame), but I was still deep inside the Arctic Circle, roughly 700 miles away from where I wanted to be. With a cavalier disregard for speed limits, I opened the throttle and blasted down the motorway until hitting Reserve an hour or so later. I found a petrol station, paid a bit less than £1.30 per litre for fuel, downed some coffee, and walked back out to the bike, which was sitting rather oddly. The rear tyre was completely flat. Pumping it didn't help; I could hear a loud hiss which I eventually traced to a gaping hole in the centre of the tread. I don't know how I didn't notice it sooner; a flat rear tyre on a bike causes a very distinctive wobble. As I'd been doing 100MPH+ for the previous hour-and-a-bit, this was a tad worrying. Still, I'd had the forethought to arrange European cover with the AA, so I hauled out my mobile phone and made an expensive call back to the UK.

I sat at the petrol station, drinking more coffee, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After an hour-and-a-half or so, the proprietor of the petrol station addressed me by name. I thought this odd as I'd paid for everything with cash. I looked up and he held his hand to his ear, thumb and little finger extended in the universal "telephone" gesture. He handed me the telephone, and I found out why I'd been waiting for so long: the AA operator had left out a digit from my telephone number, so they couldn't call me back directly. Thanks to international directory enquiries, they'd managed to track down the number for the petrol station instead.

"Would you like the good news, or the even better news, sir?"
"Both, please, in that order."
"It took us a while - there aren't many bike places in Finland - but we've found a tyre for you. There's a tyre fitting place which has a tyre which fits your bike. They've only got one in stock; it was an order which wasn't collected."
"And the better news?"
"It's a mile from where you are now. They can come and pick you up, but it'll be a while before they can spare anyone to do it."
"Never mind; I'll ride there, slowly."

Eighty quid and an hour later I was back on the road with a belly full of food, a tank full of petrol, and a tyre full of air. I had intended to be a hero and ride almost the length of Finland, from Karigasniemi to Imatra, in a day, but gave it up as a bad idea and called in at Rovaniemi for a night's kip before pressing on in torrential rain to Imatra, where I had some god-awful blini in a "Russian" restaurant.

I got to see a proper Russian border crossing, on the main road into Russia a couple of miles outside of Imatra. It looked a lot like other border crossings, but a bit more... sinister. The Iron Curtain had fallen by that point, but there was still something menacing about that low-slung concrete bunker, as if something dark and brooding was hidden somewhere beyond it. Much prettier and uplifting to behold was the castle-like Rantasipi Valtionhotelli, sadly outside my budget at the time so I spent the night in a hostel instead.

I ambled back to Helsinki, mindful of my bike's rear tyre and tyre-bursting adventures of the previous year, and spent a lazy couple of days taking in the sights and the museums (free Internet access!) before catching the ferry to Stockholm, riding across to Gothenburg, and catching another ferry back to Harwich.

The crossing to Gothenburg at the start of my trip was as smooth as glass. No wind to speak of, no waves, just a quiet afternoon's boating on a lake somewhere, a lake the size of the North Sea. The two Baltic crossings were, likewise, millponds. The trip back from Gothenburg to Harwich was hellish. I spent almost 24 hours horizontal in my cabin because I couldn't cope with being upright. I tried standing outside, hoping that the cold wind would counter the nausea. I tried standing inside, hoping that the lack of cold wind would counter the nausea. I tried visiting the loo, hoping that the smell of other people's vomit would cause me to follow suit so that I'd feel better. Nothing worked, except lying down. By the time we reached Harwich I was ravenous but too scared to eat in case I got to enjoy unintended seconds. As we docked the captain apologised for the roughness of the crossing; it wasn't his fault, but it was a nice gesture. Apparently he laid on extra steam to get it over with as soon as possible; slowing down would have just dragged out everyone's misery.

The next day I took the bike in for its next scheduled service and was asked if I'd been off-roading. The bike had been freshly serviced and cleaned and was gleaming, and they weren't expecting to see me again for a few months. Just over two weeks later it arrived caked in mud, dust, and road grime, with another 3,000+ miles on the clock.

I learned one lesson that fortnight: don't use one's phone while abroad. The novelty of making telephone calls from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, and Latvia (signals from the latter three reached over the water to the ferries I was on) was too much to resist and I got landed with a bill for £250 for my troubles.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 22:36, 12 replies)
The Hearse!
Who says you cant have a wacky road adventure without Americas long highways. Every childhood trip was an adventure between that ages of 10 and sixteen, thanks to some French car electrics installer presumably working on a friday afternoon.

To respond to a growing family my dad brought a giant peugeot 505 ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peugeot_505 ) with extra seats in the boot. It was painted jet black and looked like a hearse.

Despite being begged to sell it by myself and my brother " we cant go anywhere at school with out having the Adams family theme tune shouted at us!" it kept rolling along for six more years.

Highlights included:

Finding six month old chips hidden under the seats hidden by my sister who "wasn't hungry but, I didn't feel like throwing them away".

Overheating on a summer holiday as the electric seat warmers refused to turn off. We ended up having to remove the fuse for them.

Seeing cars honking at us on the motorway, we couldn't work out why. when we got to our destination we found that my sisters had been using the heat of the rear windows to make a haribo collage on the glass.

The clutch pedal falling off on the A6 when we went to visit the grandparents in Leicester. They drove to us and we had a picnic by the roadside for Sunday lunch instead.

Getting in and out was a mini-challenge as all the doors stopped working apart from the drivers door. The kids had to all squeeze in first then open the big doors for mum and dad. A great way to relax after a trip round the supermarket.

Possessed electric windows: Would they refuse to open, get stuck halfway down, open then refuse to close, or open then shut only to suddenly open half way and refuse to budge until you hit the door with you fist in the right place? It was a total gamble as to what would happen.

I have stronger memories of this car than of the actual destinations we (mostly) arrived at. Aided in part as my folks only had three cassettes that were kept in the car, so I get flashbacks whenever I hear UB40, men at work or tubular bells.

What finally persuaded us to get rid of the car was 'the incident', driving back from the west country after a holiday we were baking hot. When my sister committed the most heinous of crimes, touching the electric window button. My dad screamed "How many times must I tell you children NEVER to touch the windows? I had to take the car to the garage to get that closed the last time you played with it"

"but daaaaad its hooootttt"

My dad opened the sunroof instead, the only reliable part of the car. All was well until it started to rain, buckets of freezing English summer rain. Pressing the button to close the sunroof, only produced a dismal grinding sound. The sunroof refused to budge and the rain only fell harder.

For the rest of the long journey me and my mum had to hold floor mats over the gaping hole in the roof of the car getting shouted at if we let any water in. We pulled up to the house with tired arms frayed nerves, and sore throats from shouting at each other. As the car idled in the driveway there was a 'clunk' sound.

Wordlessly the whole family watched as the sunroof purred into place and locked shut.

Car 1 family 0, we sold it next week for something more economical, reliable and it has to be said dull.
(, Sun 17 Jul 2011, 14:51, 6 replies)
Fixed It!
I used to work for a global telecoms company as part of the European Third Line team. The company was massive. Offices in every capital city in the world, offices in most major cities in most countries. 120 000 desktops worldwide - and a shit load of NT4 Servers. Looking after the servers and domains was my teams job. The desktops could go fuck themselves.

The global setup was interesting. There were three call-centres. America - covering North and South America and Caribbean, Asia-Pac, based in Melbourne covering Australasia and Asia and Europe which covered as far as Reykjavik to the West, Moscow to the East, the Middle-East, Europe and all of Africa. If any server went down in the "Europe" area, we were the boys to fix it.

We also had a "follow the Sun" policy where for 8 hours, Europe would be in charge of the global network, 8 hours later, America would take over and 8 hours after that, it was the Ozzies turn.

When I first started there I was quite excited about the scope for global travel. At work, I kept a bag under my desk packed with a weeks worth of clothes and toiletries. In my desk drawer was my passport and my company Amex card. I was fucking dying to use that beauty.

So, the first day I started there I was told that I was on-call for the month. I had to be ready to drop everything and set-off at a moments notice to anywhere in our "Europe" patch. All travel arrangements would be managed by our in-house travel team. They would arrange flights, transfers, visas, hotels etc. All I had to do was grab my kit and head for the door. Very exciting. Very Jet Set.

In my first week, a call came in, server down in Moscow. This was it! I rang a cab and headed for the door. My boss was liaising with travel who'd book the tickets and call me and tell me what flight I was on and text me the rest of the details. I was off.

Moscow!! I couldn't believe it. Red Square. The Kremlin. The Bolshoi Ballet. This was going to be great.

Cab arrived, I jumped in and was off to Heathrow. We were just pulling in to Terminal 1 and my pager went off. This would be the travel details. Scrolling across the pager screen was:

"Fixed It. Come Back"

Tail between my legs I asked the cabbie to take me back to base....Curses!!

The next three weeks were like that. I was called out about 12 times. A couple of times in the middle of the night. I never got further than the bloody airport. Once, we were actually boarding when my pager went off - "Fixed it. Come back..."

The cherry on the cake was a callout to Barcelona. This time I actually made it onto the plane. We took off and landed in sunny Barcelona at about 8pm and I headed to my hotel where I'd meet a local contact and he'd take me to site. At last! Exotic travel in far-flung places. I'd fix the server, do a bit of sight-seeing and stay a couple of nights - had to make sure it didn't fall over again. A bit of vino, a bit of chatting up the local señoritas. This was more like it.

I got a cab to the hotel. Rocked up to reception and asked to check-in when the receptionist handed me a note. I opened it....

"Fixed it. Come back..."


Cheers
(, Sat 16 Jul 2011, 8:59, 7 replies)
I'd taken a train from Portsmouth to Blackpool to buy a van
and 30 minutes after buying it, I'd rolled it on a motorway slip road outside Preston. A teary, bleary night being interviewed by the plod (no tax, no insurance, fake MOT) led to me standing outside Charnock Richards motorway services, penniless, hungry, a bit shaken and hundreds of miles from home.

I borrowed a biro and scrawled "SOUTH" onto a bit of old cardboard, and stood in the drizzle hoping for some sympathy, which came in the glorious shape of a Fire Engine. A BRAND NEW fire engine, with the plastic still on the sheets. It was being delivered from Lancashire to Birmingham by a surly old bloke who endlessly chewed toffees while telling me how stupid I'd been with my van. After the bollocking, he told me war stories; he'd been in Suez when the "fuzzy wuzzies" all kicked up.

He dropped me off the other side of Birmingham, having used the blues-and-twos to get through the traffic, where a luxury coach driver picked me up. Inviting me to help myself to the champagne and salmon sandwiches he still had left over from the tour, I reclined next to him and gorged myself while he regaled me with tales of Northern Ireland during the troubles; he'd been based out there and lost all his mates when their Land Rover was ambushed. Seems all long-distance drivers are ex military.

We parted ways at a service station in Oxford, and I re-drew my sign to say "Portsmouth". A trucker offered me a route to Southampton, so I hauled my way up into his cab and listened to his stories of Bosnia, and his time over there cleaning up the bodies and finding mass graves.

He left me at a petrol station, 30 miles from home, where I stood huddled and freezing, lashed by the Solent rain, until a middle-aged woman offered me a ride in her tiny Peugeot. She asked me where I was heading, and it turned out we were almost neighbours; she lived two streets away from me.

As I buckled up, I asked "I'm not being funny, but you're not ex-military, are you?"

She snorted with laughter. "Of course not."

"..."

"but my Daddy was a Major, I grew up on an air base in West Germany."
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 6:43, 4 replies)
Best way to move a barcalounger...
A fair few months ago now my friend moved out of his flat in Paddington, London to spend some time in America. He was originally from Spain and didn't have family here with which to store the crap he'd accumulated, so instead of putting it into storage, he just decided to flog it all on Gumtree. Before doing so, however, he decided to ask around the office if we wanted anything to save him listing everything online. One thing certainly took my eye - his reclining chair. The kind of barcalounger/la-z-boy in Friends. I foolishly agreed to take it, and even paid him that day, without even thinking about how I would get it all the way across and down to Clapham.

My crude solution was to borrow a cart-like contraption from work, wheel it all the way to Paddington, pick up the chair and wheel it back. Simple. I told my housemates the idea, and they decided we could make a day of it. Take a little break in Hyde Park, few beers/ciders, carry on down through Kensington, another break in Battersea Park, then down to Clapham. Maybe a break in Clapham Common too before the three-flight ascent to our flat.

The plan sounded fantastic, until we went to work to pick up the trolley/cart thing. Firstly it was blocked in behind a load of bikes, and lifting it over got our hands covered in axle grease. Not the best start. As we started pulling it along, the lack of suspension in any form caused it to rattle uneasily on the flattest of surfaces. This wasn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped.

As it bumped along, I realised what absolute cunts Londoners can be. No-one ever gave way to us on the pavement. It was a Saturday, and people were still walking like they were late for a meeting. It was about this time we stopped off at Saino's for the first of our alcoholic purchases. Getting through Hyde Park on the way up was quite pleasant in fact, maybe the alcohol had kicked in, or there weren't so many dicks about. We all perched on the trolley, and let it crawl slowly down the minor decline while quoting from pirate films, and finishing our supplies. We'd run dry halfway through Hyde Park, followed by that line from Pirates of the Caribbean about the rum being gone...garrrr!!!

Eventually we got to my friend's house, and picked up the bounty, and restocked our hold with precious alcohol. Yar! We felt like real pirates now! We took it in turns sitting on the barcalounger at the helm as 'captain' of the 'ship' while the rest of us pulled the cart along singing sea shanties. More specifically, 'Drunken Sailor' over and over again. We got strange looks through Hyde Park, and through most of Kensington as four drunk, 20-somethings pushed a reclining chair through the richest part of London pretending to be pirates. It didn't help that we were being taught the lyrics to 'Good Ship Venus' by one of my housemates, which is a particularly fruity number. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLotX3HE-4c)

As we sailed south through Battersea, we found more favourable sea mates. A few homeless/mentally unstable people followed us briefly and helped us push, which was greatly welcomed. With a headwind, we made great progress. We missed Battersea Park by being too drunk to remember we vaguely planned to stop there, and before long we'd entered the north border of Clapham Common. Nearly home...

Alas...the seas around Clapham are not friendly waters - well that's what we'd convinced ourselves. It gets a bit fuzzy here, but my kiwi crew member had reminded me that Aussies and Saffers were commonplace here, and that they would try and steal our barcalounger at any cost, as they loved sitting down.

We wheeled the cart slowly through the common, weary of antipodal types. Our plan was to pretend to be Australian in the event of seeing Australians, and hopefully we'd blend in. It was seamless. Our Aussie accents were spot on! If anyone was listening to us they would have been entirely convinced that we were going to put another shrimp on our barbecue.

After another break we picked up final supplies, and delivered the swag to our flat. No one really remembers carrying the chair up the stairs, and in the morning the pristine cream chair was covered in horrible muddy/greasy hand marks, as were some walls.

In conclusion, this is a sound method to move a large item of furniture in theory. Recommendations would be to cut down on the drink, and try not to watch an influential movie about pirates/samurai/marines in the month leading up the the move.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 14:32, 4 replies)
Story containing a road trip ...
I reguarly visit Japan from the UK as part of my job, and have a base in Sendai city, which is on the north-east coast of the main island - about 200 miles north of Tokyo. Long way to go, but interesting place.

Earlier this year, I'm sitting in my office contemplating where to go for a late lunch, when the room starts to shake. Heart rate quickens a bit, but I've felt this before - earthquakes are very common in this part of Japan and usualy don't cause any damage. I realise very quickly though that this is different: the shaking becomes very violent and seems to just get stronger and stronger. Windows break, furniture topples and slides from wall to wall, the building is groaning, cracking and creaking: its feels its about to collapse. I take cover under the desk for what feels an eternity, waiting for the floor to give way - but eventually it dies down and I run from the building into the street. Outside is not a pretty sight - cracked roads, lumps of concrete falling onto the pavement, some people obviously seriously hurt. The highrise buildings sway disconcertingly with the regular aftershocks and millitary hellecopters appear in the sky above. With no phone of power, my colleagues quickly disappear to find their families, and I am left on my own.

I wonder about for a few hours in a daze, lookinging for a working phone and something to eat and drink. Nothing is working. Everyone in a panic. I should add at this point that I don't speak any Japanese, and few people here speak english. I try to get to my apartment, but the building is damaged and I can't get in. It starts to get dark, but eventually I find myself at a school which has been converted to an evacuation centre. I spend the worst night of my life lying on the floor of a freezing school gym, rocked by violent aftershocks.

The next day army arive with food (boiled rice) and blankets. I spend the day aimlessly wandering and trying to find out whats going on. I manage to get in contact with my wife and familay back in the UK - its the first I hear that much worse things have happened closer to the coast. And that there are worrying problems at a nuclear power station 40 miles to the south of me.

I spend the next two nights at the evacuation centre. I really need to get out of here: the situation is getting worse. No running water, food and bottled water is getting more difficult to come by. But there is no way. There is no public transport at all. The airport has pretty much been swept out to sea, the railways will be closed indefinitely and all the main roads are closed becasue of damage. In any case the main expressway to tokyo goes through the exclusion zone around the nuclear power station.

I start to get really depressed and lose the plot a little bit. But then at 4am the next night I get a call (mobiles working now) from a colleague who knew I was in Sendai: he is leaving with his family and has a space in his car. He wants to leave right now - so I get my shit togther and go and meet him. He wants to get to Tokyo and has 3/4 tank of petrol. It should be just enough - filling up would be near impossible: I'd heard of people waiting in queues for a rationed 10 litres for 12 hours in the last few days.

We set off and headed north - the only open (although in some places still heavily damaged) roads, then over the mountains to Yamagatta and the west coast. The sun came up as we were crossing the mountains, snow 8 feet deep on ether side of the twisting roads - I was slipping in and out of sleep, but it was one of the most stunningly beautiful journeys I've ever had. Eventually me made it to the coast and then onto the expressway to Tokyo. We arrived in a suburb of Tokyo, 13 hours after setting off, with a nearly empty tank - a journey that should normally take a few hours. In spite of the media reports in the UK, Tokyo seemed relatively fine. I found a hotel and filled my belly with big macs and lager.

I managed to get back to London three days later. I've been back since then, and the place is getting back to normal. Don't want to do that ever again though.

Length: having been to a few hot springs, there is a significant difference.
(, Wed 20 Jul 2011, 16:08, 15 replies)
I was hitchhiking from Padstow, Cornwall, back home to Midsomer Norton, near Bath.
My first lift took me to the M5 at Exeter! Result.

My second lift - a stereotypical white van man van.

"I'm going up Bath way." I said.

"Go for it" he said, "Just bang on the doors" he said, indicating the back of the van.

Bang I did. The doors opened, to great cheers!

"Hooray!" the occupants cried, "Welcome in!"

I was handed a joint, a tin mug of cider, and asked to tell my story.
It turns out the guy was going up to Birmingham, and picking up every single hitchhiker he saw. He called out the junctions as we reached them, and I was back home quicker than if I'd got the train.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 11:15, 4 replies)
Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Volcano's
OMG WORDS-stay with me folks, this is an epic!

Last year, there was a group of 10 of us on the way to Puerto Banus,in Southern Spain for the Boss' stag do.
We arrived at the airport in Birmingham in timely fashion, and loitered around waiting for the check in to open.
As we waited we noticed an unusually large presence of heavily armed security and police, which we kind of commented on but pretty much ignored, knowing that in a few short hours we would be hammered and surrounded by fit birds.
Talking of fit birds, who is this tiny china doll goddess approaching us in airline uniform? It's Cassie, she seems lovely, I wonder what she's going to say?
"I'm sorry, the flights are all cancelled due to the Volcano in Iceland".
The airline had clearly hedged their bets, and had sent a very pretty young thing who no one could possibly shout at, it would be like bollocking a kitten for being a bit fluffeh, and we could only stand agape as the airport slowly emptied and various mutterings from other groups of angry people confirmed that the story was true.

Well that's the weekend fucked! BUT NO!
The boss has spent a fucking fortune on a 12 bedroom villa for us to destroy, and he wasn't going to let a small issue like no flights stop us from getting to Spain! A plan formulated in his mind, oh so quickly, and he grabbed his suitcase and belted towards the monorail thing that would take us to Birmingham New St station. We followed, bemused.

He paid for us all to go on the train to London.
He then paid for us all to go FIRST CLASS on the Eurostar to Paris, and then paid for flights from Paris to Valencia.
He then hired 2 cars (tiny, tiny cars) and we fucking DROVE the rest of the way to Puerto Banus, where we arrived, 12 hours later than scheduled, in the pissing down rain, and proceeded to get fucking ruined for 2 days! Then we had to get home.
We hadn't thought about that. At all.
OOOPS.
A quick call to the Mrs confirmed that we were, indeed, stupid cunts (she had alluded to this when I called her from London on the Thursday) and we couldn't get back, due to the ash cloud.

Now, in our group, were 5 of 7 dept managers from the company we work for, and we were all meant to be back in work on the Monday. This was Sunday morning, and we were stuck.

No, we are not stuck. We have Cars. Tiny, tiny cars.
5 of us, and all our luggage, decided we HAD TO TRY to get back, for our families, for our jobs, for men everywhere who had been defeated by mother nature.
We packed a shit load of stuff into this tiny tiny car, and crammed in, and set off to drive the WHOLE LENGTH of Spain. Which took 24 hours. We holed up overnight (after a very dodgy Chinese meal, which I think was mostly dog) in a F1 hotel, which is basically where long distance truckers go to kill hookers. The bed was 2 ft wide and made of rock.
At 5 in the morning, we needed to be off, and after our three hours of kip/non kip we were back on the road, to leave the rental car at entirely the wrong place (we no longer cared) and took a taxi over the border into France. We aimed to get a train across France, to Calais, and get a Ferry home.
OH NOES! France is having an industrial strike, and there are no fucking trains. We loiter around the arse end of wherever the hell we were, trying to come up with another plan. The Mrs at this stage had texted me to say there is no point going to Calais, as all the Ferries were booked solid, and the Navy were getting involved to get people home, but we faced a wait of at least a couple of days.
No we don't, not us! Not we brave few.
We got another taxi to the nearest airport, had to wait for someone to drop off a car which we could then drive almost the full length of France to Dunkirk. This car was tiny. Tinier than the other tiny cars. And it had no air con. And the windows were stuck. But fuck it.
We drove, another 12 hours, across France and arrived in Dunkirk.
"Sorry" said the nice French man, " you can't get on the Ferry, its freight and wheel traffic only, no foot passengers".
People were getting on this fucking ferry with kids tricycles, to get around this, but we were stuck, at the terminal (not many kids tricycle shops THAT close to the water) and we were no nearer to getting home.
BINGO, we call John, one of the company drivers, and he catches the NEXT ferry over, drives off, we pile in, and drives back on again.
Genius.
We get to Dover, and John, bless him, takes us home.
I love John.
I arrived home, to an angry Mrs, on the Tuesday, at 2pm, 52 hours after we set off, on three hours sleep, and almost no food.
I went to bed, and got to work on Wednesday.
The rest of our group arrived home on the Friday, having taken a slightly more scenic and genteel route home.

It was certainly something I will remember forever, but I won't ever do anything like it again, not through choice anyway.

Next time the Volcano goes off, I'm staying in bed.
(, Tue 19 Jul 2011, 12:43, 8 replies)
It was early one summer's morning.
The sky larks tweeted, invisible in the azure sky, and the sound of someone banging on my front door was not doing my hangover any favours.

Wearily I dragged my stinking corpse out of bed, and opened the door.

It was my mate Rob.

I grunted, turned, and he followed me in.

"Get the kettle on" I grumbled, and started to roll a cigarette.

"No time for that" he said, "We're hitching to Wales."

"What?"

"We're hitching to Wales. I've got an ounce to deliver for my Uncle Jim, so we're hitching up there."

"Oh for fuck's sake" I moaned. "Can't we do it tomorrow?"

"No time like the present, and it's not as if we've got jobs to go to."

"Oh for fuck's sake" I moaned again, "I'm having a shower first."

"You can have a shower at his. Come on - we're going."

I grabbed my bag and off we went.

_____

The trip into Bristol was easy enough, and it seemed around then that a pint was in order.

We walked to the other side of town, and tried to work out how to get onto the Severn Bridge.

A few false starts and we picked up a lift with - unsurprisingly - a travelling salesman, who was going to Cardiff. He was an easy-going chap, and soon we were hotboxing his little Metro and we were having a grand old time. On arrival in Cardiff we gave him a blim as thanks, and tried to get our shit together enough to figure out the next part of our route.

Jim lived in Glyn, which is just outside Bumblefuck, due north of Wherethefuck.

It was about 3pm, and it looked like aiming for Abergaveny was our best bet.

"So what's your uncle called, Rob?" I asked.

"Jim." he replied.

"Jim what, though?"

"I dunno. I last met him when I was seven."

We got four miles north of Cardiff, and then there was a significant lull in the traffic. Another joint, and we managed to flag down a posh lady in a Range Rover who took pity on the two gangly, red-eyed youths with their silly mohicans and leather jackets. "My son's into all that" she said, "He's an idiot as well".

She asked whether or not our parents knew the state we were in, "They do worry about you, you know - whatever they might tell you". She told us about how she'd been at Woodstock, and, impressed, we asked her if she fancied a smoke. "What sort of hashish is it?" she asked, "I understand it's quite strong these days."

We told her it was just a bit of block, and Rob skinned up.

"Gosh" she said, mellow-wise as she drove, "I haven't smoked for years ... wait until I tell the girls I was smoking with a couple of handsome young lads from Bristol - they'll be so jealous! Don't tell my husband, though!"

She dropped us off near Llandridnod (I apologise if my Welsh is off, but it's your own fault for not discovering vowels early enough), and by about 7 I was starting to wonder what the fuck I was thinking that morning.

Via another salesman, a half-hour hike to the horizon, and a farmer called Pelé (yes), at Midnight, we'd managed to get to Glyn, which, as far as I understand to this day, consists of a pub, drizzle, and an orange street lamp.

The lights were still on in the pub, and Rob thought we should give it a try.

We walked in through the door - two young, dirty, English upstarts, travel-weary and cold, into a warm, smoke-filled room full of farmers talking Welsh. As the door creaked and slammed shut, silence fell. If a record had been playing, it would have scratched to a halt.

Understandably, they were staring at us like we were about to ask for their daughters' hands in marriage.

"Hello" said Rob, "Do any of you know Jim?"

"Jim?" replied one, "You've just missed him, lads."

"Ah" said Rob, casual, like, "How far away does he live?"

"I'll take you there in a bit if you like" said Mr Farmer, "I'm going that way meself after my beer."

"In that case" said Rob, "Can I buy you a pint?"

We got to Jim's, a bit pissed, at about half past two.

"Rob!" he cried happily, "How are you?! Great to see you!"

We spent a week there. He's got a double hammock in the garden with a mattress in it, that hangs over a tiny little trickling stream. He's got wind chimes, and a magnificent climbing tree. He built his house himself - he's a builder by trade, and his son has a fish tank built into the end of his bed.

Jim water-divines in his spare time, he showed me what to do, I had a crack and it worked.

A great place is Wales.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 15:07, 17 replies)
Day trip to Florida
I was having dinner with a friend in Toronto who was umming and ahhing about the cost of a flight to a family reunion in Florida. A friend leaned across the table and suggested she 'just drive there'.

On being told, in no uncertain terms, that To/Fla is over 2000km, her friend scoffed and announced that her parents used to drive her family there in hours.

On being shown an atlas, and given a stern lecture in geography, she started to doubt herself and called her mum, who calmly informed her that as children they had been drugged insensible prior to a marathon 30hr journey, and in her late twenties genuinely thought that the other side of the continent was only a couple of hours away...
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 16:35, 4 replies)
Pearoast
On the way back from Cornwall we pulled into a petrol station to fill up, my mate spilt petrol on his hand then after filling up went and washed it off (well thought he got it all off) We then left the petrol station and pulled smack bang into a traffic jam. I lit a cigarette and his hand went up in flames pretty much straight away, nowhere to go he sticks his hand out the window and starts waving it about, behind us was a policeman, he jumps out of his car and arrest's my mate straight away, possession of a firearm....
(, Tue 19 Jul 2011, 16:51, 12 replies)
I was on the Danny Baker show two weeks in a row with this one...
Let me recount my trip into an actual circle of HELL. This being, as you might have already guessed, Manchester.

For reasons far too complicated to explain, I got hold of some tickets for a Man United match at Old Trafford. Away end only, you understand, supporting the poor saps who were about to get a lesson in football from the legions of darkness.

The catch being that we had to get up early and drive up from the south coast with a chap called Brian.

I'd never met him before - the whole deal was done through a mutual friend called Geoff - and Brian trolled up in his Ford Fiesta and we set off, him driving, me reading the map, Geoff in the back offering bad advice.

It was as we headed north that he admitted after covering only about 20 miles in the first hour: "I don't drive on motorways."

Ah.

He wasn't particularly good at A-roads, either. Or taking directions, all of which he patently ignored.

I should have noticed this on account of his devious plan of ignoring all road signs that said "M5 NORTH", veering off in the opposite direction as if they were sending his beloved Fiesta over a cliff.

"Turn left here," I said as Banbury disappeared very slowly in the rear-view mirror, followed by a desperate "Left... LEFT... LEFT!!!!!" as he turned right, anticipating a short-cut that would eventually resolve itself Northampton.

At three o'clock - as the match kicked off at Old Trafford - he switched off the engine, got out and stretched his legs before declaring: "This is close enough."

We were alone in a car park.

A church car park.

A church car park in Coventry.

We had missed Old Trafford by a piffling 82 miles, and we turned round and headed back to Dorset.

We should be home in a couple of weeks.
(, Mon 18 Jul 2011, 12:47, 3 replies)
London to Mongolia in a Nissan Micra (and a Mark II VW Polo).
Easter 2007 I was stone cold sober in a pub in my home town when a mate of mine from childhood announced he was entering the Mongol Rally, a 10,000 mile drive from London to Ulaanbaatar with the extra bit at the start since he lives in N. Ireland.

"Aye, sounds amazing," I said. "If you get a place and if you need a teammate, just give me a shout." I went back to eating my Tayto Cheese n' Onion and thought no more of it.

A month later I got a phonecall to see if I'd join the team. Much to the chagrin of my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend I accepted immediately. My parents were somewhat horrified but agreed that since I was 31 years old they couldn't really stop me.

And so we went. And it changed my life. And I want to list all the amazing, mad, spectacular and gobsmackingly nuts things I experienced but I barely know where to begin. I've posted here before about DIY car repairs, writing off a bus in Omsk, pushing a Mini over a mountain, sunrise in the Altai mountains, landslides and hailstorms, Ladas full of Chechens, and bribing Ukrainian policemen. The profound sense of liberation that I felt on the journey I am attributing to the freedom of peeing in the wildnerness.

I flew back to London two months later and had a breakdown in Tesco when I realised I could buy more than one type of noodle.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 22:47, 4 replies)
Edinburgh to Alpe D'Huez and back again:
Prologue (three hours before leaving):
Heriot-Watt University beer festival. Attempting to get sufficiently drunk to sleep most of the way to Dover.


Arrival of the coach:
Drunk. Myself and the other Edinburgh participants load our skiing stuff onto the coach and depart. Sleep to Glasgow.


One hour in:
We have reached Glasgow and taken on the rest of the people. Drinks have been cracked open despite the warnings of the drivers concerning the limited capacity of the onboard toilet. The drive to the Alps is estimated to take about 28 hours.


Two hours in:
The bladders of some of the heaviest drinkers start to give way and a large group of people make their way to the toilet, causing the drivers to re-iterate their concerns about its capacity.


Five hours in:
All and sundry are drunk. The toilet is full but this is not a barrier to the general company continuing to use it. Before long the floor of the toilet (which I have the pleasure of being sat next to) is swimming in urine and other things less delightful. The drivers largely oblivious to this.


Seven hours in:
People are starting to fall asleep and many dares are taking place. Eyebrows are being shaved in fits of wild and entirely original abandonment and one individual, not content with this, decides this would be an opportune moment to experiment with some self-piercing. On his scrotum. He now appears to be sitting very uncomfortably and is making whimpering noises. He is also sporting a single eyebrow and (in between clutching himself and attempting to numb the pain with a rapidly diminishing supply of vodka) is threatening all manner of hellfire and genital-related injury on the individual responsible. I point out that this is unlikely to provoke a confession, but he seems unamused.


Ten hours in:
General sleeping coinciding with the alcohol being mostly gone.


Twelve hours in:
We have arrived at Dover, and are preparing to board the ferry. I have been eating seasickness pills by the handful in preparation which I combine with several pints before we actually leave the dock and I proceed to the observation deck, where I stay for the remainder of the ninety-minute voyage voyage - apart from a brief trip below to acquire a large amount of duty free pisswater masquerading as lager.


Thirteen and a half hours in:
The coach drivers meet the returning students at the door of the coach and they are not happy. We are informed that 1. "The toilet has been locked and will remain so for the rest of the journey" and 2. "No alcohol may be brought on this coach". We refuse to board the coach without our alcohol and under pressure from some irate ferry staff, the drivers are forced to give way.


Sixteen hours in:
The effects of the toilet closure are now being felt. Various empty bottles are being pressed into service in a way they were not originally designed for. The more intelligent members of the party are waiting for the drivers to announce that we will be stopping shortly before drinking furiously in order to use the toilets at the service stations.


Twenty hours in:
The drinkability of urine is being discussed.


Twenty hours and one minute in:
With the utterance of "I could just do wiv a nice pint of piss", the drinkability of a collection of different urine specimens is put to the test. In defiance of the laws of natural selection, the individual concerned does not appear to suffer any ill effects.


Twenty two hours in:
I have not slept for approximately thirty hours, and am feeling the strain. Fitful dozing is interrupted by a game apparently called "let's see if we can keep him awake". I do not share their enthusiasm for this game, but this does not appear to matter.


Twenty six hours in (near the foothills of Alpe D'Huez):
We stop for more supplies. For supplies, read alcohol. Snowing heavily.


Twenty six and a half hours in:
The drivers ask for quiet as the negotiate the treacherous road up to the ski resort. We want to watch Top Gun, and disagree. The drive up the mountain is accompanied by an extremely loud amateur rendition of "Highway to the danger zone".


Twenty seven hours in (at the resort):
The drivers declare us to be the very worst group they have ever had the misfortune to drive. An air of pride is generally present.



The trip back:

Sleep.
(, Sat 16 Jul 2011, 21:46, 6 replies)
I got married on June 30th 1998
I don't know why. I don't think anyone will ever explain this one satisfactorily.

By the end of 1998 it was more than clear that this was a doomed relationship so I did the responsible thing, took a three month sabattical from work and fucked off to the USA.

Work was - at that time - as a Lloyds syndicate manager, working with bus and coach companies. I'd started out in insurance working in the bus industry and I have a PCV - bus drivers license.

So it's the busmans holiday. I got a 60 day Greyhound pass and spent those 60 days bouncing about. I worked on the basis that I'd go 24 hours from wherever I was.

In 60 days I got coast to coast twice, ended up in places big and small, found an incredible amount of humanity and saw so much.

Memories in particular are:-

Pheonix - San Diego - across the desert with about 4 people on board

Reno - Las Vegas - I spent this journey talking to an ex USAF pilot who told me things that scared me then and scare me still

Los Angeles - Eugene - Magnificent.

The highlight - possibly sadly - was Louisville (Kentucky) to Charleston (West Virginia). I was sitting at the front chatting to the driver and mentioned that I could drive.

So I ended up driving. Greyhound - the absolute icon of American social and political mobility, with me at the wheel.

Then I went back and we got divorced on June 24th 2004.
(, Sat 16 Jul 2011, 19:06, 11 replies)
I needed a lift - it was getting dark, was starting to rain, and I was in the middle of bloody nowhere. This wasn't good.
A car pulled up thank feck, and I ran to it - the driver was an old chap - probably in his early to mid 60s.

We set off, and he started telling me about his hip replacement. I listened politely, and drifted off into the passing scenery, watching the countryside slide past in streaks of green and grey. He was telling me about how to exercise he had to carry his mate on his shoulders for half an hour each day, wasn't that something, eh? He bets I can't do that.

"Hmm?" I say, "Oh - sure."

"I'd like to see you try."

"Of course."

And so ... he pulls over. What?

"Get out" he said, "And carry me on your shoulders."

"What?!"

"Carry me on your shoulders. Or not - I can go if you like."

Oh for fuck's sake. "We're in the middle of nowhere ... !" I protest.

"Well then it's probably best if you prove you can carry me on your shoulders." he responds.

"OK then" I reply, crouching, "Hop on."

He straddles my shoulders, I stand up, and start walking 'round the car.

It's at that point I start to feel his little fellah against the back of my neck, starting to harden.

I drop down and land him "FUCK YOU" I say, "I'm walking."

I spent the night under a tree, with only my cigarettes to keep out the chill.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 12:32, 4 replies)
It's a long way to Tip...tree.
My Nan & Grandad used to love taking little me and my littler brother off to Tiptree to pick strawberries, on the basis that it must be where the best strawberries come from because it's where they make the jam. Old people logic, it's not worth questionning. So one sunny Saturday, off we go, me and my brother playing in the back, no seat belts or car seats required for kids in the back seat at the time. Grandad concentrating on driving and listening to Desert Island Discs or The Archers or somesuch, and Nan dozing in the passsanger seat. And the picnic bag sat on the floor in front of me, behind the drivers seat. The journey was uneventful, apart from a couple of 'You boys are quiet' comments from my granddad. And yes, we were quiet. We had access to the picnic bag...

Tiptree arrived, the blankets and chairs were fetched from the boot by granddad, while Nan opened the back doors of the car to start sorting through the goodies so she could start making the sandwiches (she always made them when we arrived, not before we left home), the bread came out, the cheese, the ham, the lettuce, as I watched, quietly, not feeling too well.

'Oh, I think i forgot to pack the butter', she said, 'Oh well, it will be OK'. And she went to pick me out of the seat, just as I decided to vomit a greasy, yellow, rancid dairy filled projectile all over her, the door, the seat, the floor and myself.

She hadn't forgotten to pack the butter.

I'd eaten it.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 10:21, 4 replies)
X marks the spot
For a journey that really is more important that the destination, you can't beat Confluence Hunting.

15 years ago, a guy in America was playing with his new toy, a GPS, and realised that he crossed the 72W line of longitude on his journey to work. He also noticed that he was quite near 43N latitude, so decided to go to the point where they crossed, and see what was there. After making it to the exact point - which was in a hedge at the side of a field - he took some photos and posted them on the net.

Soon, others were doing the same, and a project was conceived: to visit every integer crossing point of latitude and longitude on the planet. This is known as the Degree Confluence Project (http://www.confluence.org/). There are something like 13,000 of these points on (or visible from) land, and you are always within 79km (49Mi) of one.

Now, since this has been running for some years, all the easy ones have been done, often many times. Of course, the real thrill is to be the first person to get to one of these points, so when I discovered that the four closest to my wife's home town in Brazil had not yet been done, I was determined to bag at least one of them the next time we went.

It was a little tricky to explain to her family what it was all about, but eventually her brothers caught on and became enthusiastic. We pored over the map and chose our first target, and the next day set off.

We drove as close as we could, first on main roads, then minor ones and finally dirt tracks. We finally had to stop some 8km from the point, on a farm. The first problem was explaining to the farmer what we wanted, and I don't think he really understood - but once we'd explained that all we wanted were photos, he was fine with it, and we set off.

After trekking through fields of corn higher than our head, snake infested undergrowth, jumping over (and in one case falling into) streams, and being stalked by spiny anteaters, we finally made it to the exact point. We did the "confluence dance", trying to get all 0's on the GPS, and took our commemorative photos, before retracing our steps back to the car.

Yes, a completely futile exercise, but it felt so amazing to reach the magical point that we did it all again the next day. And the weekend after that. In all we managed to reach three of the four closest points, and although I was gutted to find that I'd been beaten to two of them - by mere days - I am the proud First Visitor to a degree confluence point*.

If you've never heard of it, visit the site. Then find a point and do it. The point you reach may be entirely unremarkable, but the journey - no, quest - will change your life.

* I'm not going to tell you which one, on the "no personal details" rule
(, Tue 19 Jul 2011, 11:14, 12 replies)
Got another one!
As a kid we used to go and visit our family in Northern Ireland. We made the epic journey from Clacton-on-sea, in Essex to Northern Ireland. Imagine it is 1987......

My mother plus my brother aged 8 plus me aged 6 plus luggage.
1. Bus from bottom of our road to train Clacton station.
2. Train from Clacton to Liverpool Street.
3. Liverpool Street sleeper to Edinburgh.
4. Train from Edinburgh to Glasgow.
5. Train Glasgow to Stranraer.
6. Ferry from Stranraer to Larne.
7. Bus from Larne to Belfast.
8. Coach from Belfast to Omagh.
9. Phone call to family to pick us up.

My brother managed to be sick in to the hood of his Parka jacket when on the bus from the end of our road to Clacton train station.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 13:53, 2 replies)
Old-bloke's weekend
Ahh... when I were I lad, we'd go down to the shore with stick with garden string tied to one end, dangling a mangled worm we picked out of the compost heap. Nowadays it's a great palaver with fancy rods with high tensile polymer fibres, big ice-boxes and gas guzzling SUVs to get us up the treacherous dirt road to the canal. Still, it's a good way to spend the afternoon with the chaps and some beer.

One weekend in early April (pike breeding season) a few years back, it was expected to be unusually good weather so we thought we'd make a bit of a thing of it and took our camping gear along as well so we could spend a good day and a half by the bank. The once-in-a-blue-moon tents came out, along with the thermal sleeping bags, firestarters, etc, and we headed off. The journey there was fine, and a good weekend was had by all, up until the Sunday afternoon when it unexpectedly started pissing down. I had caught a pretty good haul over the weekend and I was having a bit of trouble getting all of them in to my not-inconsiderably sized ice-box. In the inevitable scrappy packing that comes with rain, I just chucked everything hastily in the boot and headed off home.

About half-way home, I stopped at a motorway services for a meal and a coffee, and since the sun had come back out I thought I would let myself soak up a bit more cancer. When I got back to the car, I could actually smell it from a good few feet away and I knew something had gone wrong. I opened up the boot and a smell that would knock Satan's personal arse-licker unconscious billowed out at me. I pulled my gear away from the box and saw a strange dark reddish, lumpy soup layering the area around the box. After closer inspection, in between bouts of sever gagging, it turned out to be fish eggs from the masses of females that I had caught, which had evidently spilled their wombs due to the crush, and I hadn't closed the lid quite firmly enough.

Needless to say, the journey home was not one of the most pleasant roe drips I have experienced.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 3:43, 2 replies)
Hmmmm
I couldn't let this go by without digging out this old story from surrounding a b3ta bash in 2004ish. This was one of the "official" bashes that used to occur before Rob started getting freaked out by them (and who can blame him). The words are by esteemed, and now absent, b3ta user GR££DY. Took some finding on the wayback machine. Internet's changed a bit while 2004 it would seem...

Friday 11th April 2003

At 10.10 I got on a train at Meadowhall in Sheffield. This may seem like a fairly innocuous event, but I have a frequent habit of missing trains, so as far as I was concerned this was a very good start. The train was 9 minutes late, but I magnanimously take this in my stride.

At 10.45 I meet with Stouffer, Supermoore and his friend Sam in Manchester, slightly late but still on schedule.

11.50: Slight detour through Moss-side, no problems.

11.50 - 5.30: Nearly die on several occasions due to Supermoore's "unusual" line in motoring manoeuvres, and Sam's navigation;

Supermoore: "See if you can find Mile End"
Sam: "I can't read this map..."
Sam: "...Oh, it's upside down..."

Having reached London, and enjoyed an interesting and on several occasions nearly fatal detour through various London Boroughs, we finally arrive in Mile End, where the car will be parked over the weekend. We now take the tube from Mile end to Soho, during which journey, Supermoore and I conclude that I haven't arranged anywhere to stay for the two nights we're here. This would perturb any other human being, but a b3tan in a strange land is always amongst friends, I tell myself. Besides, I have my sleeping bag, and I hear Hyde Park is lovely at this time of year.

Saying goodbye to Sam in Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, Stouffer, Supermoore and myself leg it up Oxford Street, looking for Golf Sale signs. There were none. Finally, eight hours after leaving Sheffield I step into the John Snow, into the welcoming arms of a pint of unpronounceable lager and a group of lovely b3tans.

After drinking and talking for a bit (here time starts to distort), we decide it's time to line our stomachs in readiness for the main event. Thirdman suggested Wagamama's, and we all troupe down, surprising and possibly alarming a wonderfully camp waiter guy. I don THE T-SHIRT, amid much hilarity (apparently the thought of me wondering through Soho with BUM GAY written on my T-shirt was the sublimest comedy). If you're ever desperate for Japanese food in Soho, go to Wagamama's. The service is efficient, and the food superb and at a reasonable price.

Having sustained ourselves for the long road ahead, we walked to Insomnia, flanked as far as the eye can see by sex shops, and atop a Lebanese restaurant (a strangely fitting venue, I thought).
Here time starts seriously to distort. And the only events my brain has seen fit to file away are meeting Rob, Pep and Cal, Stouffer's dancing and Mike the Wonderhorse.
Needless to say the club was packed with lovely people, and a great time was had by all.

At approximately 2.30, and having drunk the club completely dry, Supermoore, 100% Kitten, 100% of Gibbon and myself exit the club (Supermoore exiting at terminal velocity, down a steep flight of stairs and into the street). Here things start to get ropy. We went to find a taxi, not the simplest of tasks when one of you is prone, and everyone else is four sheets to the wind. Locating a taxi, I begin a protracted discussion about the price. Upon reaching a consensus with the driver, I turn to the others to indicate that we have a ride.
The others aren't there.
Thinking with clarity, I wander off aimlessly, and completely miss the others returning in the taxi they had flagged (it turns out later it was five minutes down the road before they realised I wasn't there), luckily enough they had gathered my belongings and taken them with them.

It's OK though, because I know where they're headed - King's Cross Station - so I hop in a taxi and head there.
King's Cross Station is closed and locked.
Again, thinking with the utmost clarity, I utter a sob and wander around aimlessly for a further half hour.
I decide finally that I need to put out an All Points Bulletin, and fall upon the mercy of the board. To do this I will need an internet cafe. Not as easy as it sounds, having been drinking for a good seven hours and being a complete stranger in London.

This part of the story always elicits a snort of mirth from people. Being my good natured friendly self, I fall upon the mercy of strangers. In London. At 4 in the morning. Drunk.
I know, I know. At certain times I have an unfailing faith in human nature, this is a mistake. Pull the ladder up Jack. Anyway, asking random strangers if there's an internet cafe nearby, I receive amongst other things, verbal abuse, strange looks and utter, primal, fear until one person stops and tells me yes, he does know one, but he comes from Camden, and it's there. I agree to share a taxi with him, and he promises to show me where the internet cafe is (snort here). When we reach Camden he manages to extract himself from the taxi and disappear into the night, leaving me with a £24 taxi fare.
Bugger.
I manage to persuade the driver that we have both been ripped off, and he agrees to take me back to King's Cross for £15 (those who know London may want to snort here too). The taxi drops me outside King's Cross Thameslink, and what's the first thing I see. A BLOODY INTERNET CAFE IS WHAT I SEE ISN'T IT?
I sit down at a computer, log into b3ta, and utter the immortal lines B3TAN IN NEED. The flood of sympathy and concern is almost overwhelming. I am home.
100% Kitten and Gibbon are monitoring the airwaves, and I'm into the final stretch and running strong. Or so I think.

It turns out that I should have gone to King's Cross Thameslink earlier on, and not King's Cross Station, I did not know the distinction then, it will now stay with me for the rest of my life.

There are no guards on these trains at this time of night, so all I have to do is board at King's Cross (Thameslink!) and alight at St. Albans, where I phone the 100%s who pick me up. Simple. Upon waking in Bedford, I believe I uttered a primal scream. It is now 7.15am on Saturday morning and I am roughly 50 miles north of where I want to be. There is, however, a train to St Albans in 7 freezing cold minutes, the game is not up yet. I board the train, will myself to remain awake, and arrive in St Albans. The place is literally crawling with guards, so I have to pay my remaining £9 odd to placate them (narrowly avoiding an £18 fine). At 8.00am I phone 100% of Gibbon, who is surprisingly happy to come and fetch me, and finally, blissfully, I can go to bed.


Saturday 12th April 2003.

We awake at about 2.00pm, and realise that we are not going to London to do any of the nice things we have planned. Instead we mooch around 'till 4pm, and have a pub meal. Never has chilli tasted so good. A tour of the lovely pubs in St Albans ensues, Including the oldest pub in the world.

Random Facts gathered in St. Albans.

1) The average running speed of an adult male domestic pig is 7 miles per hour.

2) The distance between the doorway and the counter in McDonalds in St. Albans, is the longest distance from the doorway to the counter of any McDonalds in the world.

3) The density of Pubs in St. Albans is the highest in the country.

4) A resident of St Albans is called a Verulamian.

5) St. Albans Cathedral is the longest Cathedral in the country.

6) The first significant battle of The War Of The Roses was fought in St Albans.

We wandered through the Cathedral Precinct debating paedophillia, surrounded by young families. We laughed and joked about pirates, saying things like "Yarrr" and "Mehearties" within earshot of a man with an eyepatch. It is a lovely day, spent in the company of wonderful people, I am happy again.

In the evening, we drank a cocktail of spirits, were invaded by random people (one of whom sat upon and nearly vomited on Supermoore) and slept the sleep of the very drunk.


Sunday 13th April 2003

What was left of the morning was spent pottering around, talking, smoking etc. Supermoore and I were secure in the knowledge that we had a lift to London, since we had drunk the rest of the money the previous evening. Sorted. Yeah right.

The lift we were to get was with one of Gibbon's footballing friends, and he had unnecessarily filled his car up with girls and mates, to which there was no room left for random smelly strangers. The cheek! So we were left with no alternative but to fall upon the kindness of b3tans again. Amid hoots of derision (random quote "Hahaha, you twats!", cheers Martian), we asked for help on the board. Time for plan C. Hitch-hike to London.

We were picked up approximately 3 minutes after we'd started, by a lovely old gent in a red VW Golf. He wasn't the least intimidated by the two of us, chatted amiably all the way to Enfield where he lived, and dropped us (a mile out of his way) where we were most likely to get a lift to Mile End. What a hero.

We were now over half way through our journey, and it was still only 1.00pm. Passing a guy rolling a cigarette, we stopped and asked if we could have one. He was pleased to help, and told us that we could get on a train at the nearby station, travel two stops and get off without paying. This would leave us within spitting distance of our goal. We thanked him profusely and set off again, our faith in human nature fully restored.

On the way to the station, we decided to try to post to the board from PC World, but they weren't connected to the internet. Undeterred, we carried on to the station, where I was shot.
No, seriously. Just as I was crossing the threshold, I heard a twang and a sharp pain in my left buttock. Someone had shot me with a catapault from a white pickup truck. At the time, I was unimpressed with this feat, however on reflection it was an extremely challenging, and accurate shot from a moving vehicle.
The station turned out to be closed anyway, so we began the weary trudge back to our drop-off point, pausing to buy a pint of frozen milk to sustain us.

Half an hour trying to hitch on the A10 in Enfield taught us several things:

a) All Londoners are comedians of the highest order i.e. putting their thumbs up at us as they sped by, slowing down as if to pick us up and then speeding off etc. etc.

b) All cockerneys are bastards. I apologise to any cockerneys reading this, but you must admit that it's true.

c) Sunday is D.I.Y day. We only realised this after perplexedly watching numerous two seater sports cars zooming by with doors and immense flat-packed furniture poking out, and more numerous cars seemingly infested with undergrowth.

d) There was a huge MFI not 200 yards from where we were standing.

Deciding not to hitch was an easy decision, but what to do now? We'd considered phoning Sam and asking him to rescue us, but this was the very last option, we were now up to plan M, or something.

Plan M consisted of wandering around Enfield and Edmonton, visiting various decidedly closed and locked train stations. At 5.30pm, exhausted and nearly beaten, we collapsed at Edmonton Green. Immediately a loony comes and sits far too close to us and starts rhythmically clapping, very loudly. My nerves were so tattered at this point, I nearly swore out loud, but managed to retain my composure. We decided to go over to the bus terminus, and see if we could scrounge up a cigarette.

The loony duly followed us, although his moment of insanity seemed to have passed. He asked us for a spare fifty pee, at which request we laughed. He went away. Upon asking another loverly cockerney for a cigarette, Supermoore was rudely given the brush off. My time had come for action. Spotting an idle bus complete with driver, I sauntered over and explained our predicament, embellishing a few minor details. He said he would take us free of charge to Liverpool Street, but he knew nothing of it if an inspector came on. No decision.

Our heavenly bus ride was only slightly marred by one of the ugliest children I have ever seen yelling at the top of her voice and winding her equally ugly and loud baby sibling up. Thankfully they alighted before I was forced to put the entire family out of it's misery (I was the tiniest bit weary at this point). Finally we arrived in Liverpool Street Station. I could nearly smell Mile End, and it was the nicest scent I'd ever smelled.

Looking at the sheer number of guards in Liverpool Street Tube Station, we decided that we had reached the end of our run of luck. We would phone Sam and he would rescue us from there. It was infuriating, we had come so far, and were now two tantalising stops from Mile End.
Supermoore went into Burger King to change our last few coppers into a 20 pence piece, whilst I accosted a guard who was smoking a cigarette and asked him for one. He seemed unimpressed as he handed it over, so to placate him I told him of my adventure, and of our travels that day. He listened politely, and then said "I'll let you on".
We grinned like loons all through the station, on the train, and up through Mile End Station, the last hurdle was the guard there, but there was no way he was going to stop us now. We waved away any objections he may have had, and walked into the sunshine free men, yelling Woo Yay as loudly as we could.

The car was still there, it had neither been vandalised nor clamped, and Stouffer was waiting as arranged. We were home and dry.


Epilogue

We telephoned our loved ones from Bob Dino's house (cheers Bob), and went to pick Sam up from The Angel, Islington. He was in a pub opposite the tube station, and written in chalk on the board outside: Live Jazz.

Unfortunately my camera was full, so I haven't got any pictures of these people, but thank you to the guy who picked us up in St. Albans, the guy from whom we sponged a cigarette, the bus driver and G. Giles the Tube Guard. Not to mention, of course, 100% Kitten and 100% of Gibbon. If any of you happen to read this, you are our heroes.
(, Sun 17 Jul 2011, 23:23, 4 replies)

You don't know shit about road trips until you've tried to pull over by a pine tree only to discover after 3 hours of frustration that it's been your air freshner all along.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 11:26, 1 reply)
Visit to my brother in Wimbledon
After a trip to Birminghams Snobs nightclub one weekend, I'd caught a bit of ginger fluff from Coventry University...this was back in summer 2001. She was well up for everything and I asked to her come with me on a drive down from Bham to London to visit my brother in Wimbledon.

I had a Purple 1.8d Feista which looked like a big glans. She didn't comment on this as our brief relationship hadn't developed to that sort of conversation but I knew she thought it was a little bit shite.
The car was my little prison for a trip that should've taken 3-4 hours there and back:-

I had been in a car with my brother driving into Wimbledon so knew the route to my destination quite well....should be a doddle.
We managed to get on the M1 all the way down to the North Circ. and picked our way through traffic lights and jams getting to Wimbledon and had a good night at my brothers.

The problem was the next day - I had to drive out of London. I'd never done this before with anyone so had no idea, I'd not studied the map because I was trying to impress my piece of ginger fluff.
This was before SatNav's were cheap so I relied on an OS Map found in my car door pocket.

We set off at about 10:00am. I thought that heading East from Wimbledon would get me past London, then I could head up the East side of London and avoid loads of traffic, then head north up and into the Midlands. It didn't happen like that.

After about 200 traffic lights, we were running out of diesel and I had to put the wheels on some red double lines while ginger fluff had to get out and get some for me....she returned looking sweaty and flustered after about half an hour. We set off and after another hour of driving round in circles, traffic lights, asking directions from cockney's who laughed at my ridiculous car (one spat some chewing gum on the bonnet) I finally lost my mind and I remember swearing and shouting at everything and everyone.

She became quiet as I tried to lighten the situation by joking about how we will get home at about midnight and I remember her response "let me out". It was somewhere in Eltham, she got out, took her bag off the backseat and I never saw or heard from her again.

I thought that was the least of my problems....I'd been driving for hours and was still in the south of London. I continued to drive until I recognised a something on the map (Woolwich) so I headed toward it. I got into a traffic jam and realised I was heading to the Woolwich car ferry. I was in a long line of traffic waiting for the ferry to return. Luckily there was a hot dog seller just a short walk away from the car so I got out and bought one. As I started to bite down on my big mechanically recovered horse pole, all the cars engines started up and started driving toward the ferry, my car of course was blocking hundreds of commuters (it was about 5:30pm in the afternoon) so I dashed back, slipped over the kerb banging into my car dropping my food. Many people saw this and I had to drive onto the rather small ferry with those many people smirking and pointing at me. As the ferry tugged along I thought to myself "how the hell did I end up in this situation?"

As we got to the other end I drove off in a huff, (a murderous huff) and continued to head north - my delight as I saw a sign that said Harlow which according to the map meant I was heading out of London. It was about 7:00pm. I continued driving, my eyes dreary, filled up with diesel again, half asleep, starving and thirsty.....I passed Peterborough and started into Nottingham. Then realised I lived in Birmingham. I had to then spend another hour driving across from Nottingham, south into Birmingham.....I'd overshot a whole city.
The entire return journey was about 12 hours and two tanks of diesel.

The moral of the story is - don't go out with a ginger from Coventry Uni and get a satnav before you drive out of London.
(, Mon 18 Jul 2011, 16:08, 9 replies)
Bristol to Dublin on nowt
As a teenager I once htch-hiked to Dublin to raise money for CLIC.

I didn't really fancy it, but my best mate's gf was dead keen and he bottled it at the last minute, so I stepped in.

I had precisely £30 to last the estimated 2 day journey, much of which went on tabs and pasties before we even left Avon.

On our trip we met a fantastic bunch of people, but to keep it short I'll only relate a couple of tales, viz:

Bert, who not only got us free transit on the ferry by letting us hop in his car but told us a fantastic story. He was on his way to Eire to meet his first true love. He had left her behind in the company of his best mate while he went off to fight in WW2 (best mate had flat feet or smth). He was wounded in Europe and captured as a POW, but officially listed as KIA. After a year or two of mourning his gf ended up very close with best mate and they married. After the war Bert was released, and on his way back home met a lovely Belgian woman, who he brought back to the UK and married.

The two couples remained close and regularly spent time together, Bert in Cornwall and his ex in Eire with best mate. As the years passed Bert's wife passed on and he spent more and more time with the other couple. It became clear that his original lady still had feelings, but they couldn't do anything about it for obvious reasons. Then one day best mate passed on too. Bert had picked us up on the way to a) mourn his friend, but also b) move in with his original beau. The car was full of his worldly possessions and he was very philosophical about losing a friend but finally being with his first love.

Second amazing lift came from a couple of Irish guys who drove at least 150 miles out of their way to drop us at a convenient place for hitching. They were on their way to their kid sister's funeral. When they heard we were raising money for CLIC they gave us a carton of tabs, a flask of tea and a load of sarnies. Turns out she died of leukemia and they were happy someone was raising money for it. They were awesome.

Length? About 300 miles
(, Sat 16 Jul 2011, 21:39, Reply)
a heart of darkness...
I was in Ethiopia with a few others from uni looking at rocks with the local survey. The survey had given us a Landcruiser that had no brakes, collapsed suspension and a driver who was necking co-dydramol as his spine had also collapsed. Me being helpful offered to drive. Then it began to rain...

First thing was I approached a village at speed and noticed a soldier relaxing by the side of the road in a chair. Suddenly I realised he had a string attached to his finger that went across the road. This was his road barrier. Suddenly HE realised we were'nt slowing down and he frantically tried to undo the string before the jeep reached it. Luckily he got the string off and I smiled sweetly as I sailed over it and kept going. Further down the road overconfidence made me spin the jeep off into a ditch. Local children ran up to ask me why I had parked in their well? Scratch one landcruiser.

I decided we could walk to the next village only to be told by a farmer bringing his cattle in that we shouldn't go that way due to 'lions'. So we walked back to a local hut where we were invited to stay the night. Then we heard the lorry go past...

We ran out and got a lift. As i got onto the back of the lorry I spotted the five men with AK47's and a boy with a bag full of ammunition sitting on top. What do you do? Easy. Make friends quickly. 'Do you want to keep my water bottle?' Sure. Then the lorry slid off the road...

We all jumped off and the men started digging the truck out. As i watched one of them swinging his shovel, the barrel of the machine gun on his shoulder kept pointing in my direction. He looked over and began to pass me the AK47. Luckily the boy with the bag of ammunition realised this would be a VERY bad idea and, like a waiter, casually took it away from me with a knowing look. Then a small jeep pulled up..

We jumped in the back and sped off. There was seven people in this tiny jeep including a woman giving birth. The jeep didn't stop until we reached the village where we were staying. That evening, my journey over. I sat covered in crap, drinking beer and waited for someone to appear and tell me 'Mister Kurtz, he dead' to end a perfect day.
(, Tue 19 Jul 2011, 19:38, 1 reply)
I was on an 8 hour coach journey across Slovakia
and it stopped at some small town for a toilet break. I got off to relieve myself, leaving my bag on the coach. When I came back out, I noticed that it had already gone. This was in 1998, so mobile phones hadn't entered my consciousness yet. I looked around in depair and couldn't believe I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I had no phone numbers on me and thought I'd have no way of getting out of there. I spoke very little Slovak and wouldn't be able to explain my peril.
I was looking around with my heart pumping, not having a clue what to do. Then I went over to the next platform and saw my coach was still there. I calmly got back onto the coach and went back to my seat as though nothing had happened.
(, Tue 19 Jul 2011, 0:50, 1 reply)
Boring 6 hour car journeys
Every Summer, my family would head for Stranraer in Scotland to visit family. It was a six hour journey by car and the family car at the time was a Volvo estate. With my two sisters in the back seats with luggage inbetween them, my brother and I were forced to 'camp' in the boot. We lined it with duvets and pillows and it was a nice little den for us to chill out in during the journey (obviously the parcel shelf was removed). Highly illegal yes, but we never got pulled over. Nice to see how responsible my parents were.

Such was the length of the journey, boredom would soon set in. We would soon grow tired of drawing or doing puzzles, so to entertain our young minds, my brother and I would hold up signs to other cars on the motorway such as 'Nice boobies', 'I just did a poo', 'your face looks like a rat's face', 'we're being abducted, please call Childline', 'your wheel has fallen off' and 'finger my bumhole'. Quite what people thought of this, I have no idea. It was made funnier to us as we had to stifle our laughter from my parents, who would have given us the biggest bollocking had they seen what we were up to.
(, Mon 18 Jul 2011, 13:20, 5 replies)
mad dash to paris in a knackered purple flowery peugot 205
About 10 years ago my Grandmother died. I really wanted to go to her funeral as she was amazing - she'd plotted with my other grandmother to keep me sane in the midst of all sorts of family wierdness.
Only problem was she'd lived in Paris and the funeral was there. We had no money and a battered old diesel peugot 205 which had, mileage wise, been to the moon and back. We'd painted it purple with multicoloured daisies all over it because the paint had faded to orange. It was an amazingly faithful runner and had never conked out on us over the couple of years we'd had it so we hadn't got out RAC membership...

We left our 4 and 6 years olds with some good friends and took our nearly 2 year old with us. The bloke I'd phoned at the passport office told me that he was fine to go on his mothers passport, which surprised me but I believed him. We had 4 days before the funeral - plenty of time!

Part of the way to Dover from South Devon at night the lights flickered a couple of times, the battery light came on, then everything just died without warning. My wife managed to pull over into the little bit of slipway between the motorway and a sliproad. We had no hazard lights, no nothing. And no RAC cover and a ferry to catch. Thankfully we were just inside some roadworks, so we got free recovery. I used the roadside phone thingy to call and for some reason we were told not to leave the car. Every time anyone went past on either side the car rocked and I was half convinced we'd be roadkill within 5 minutes, but the recovery lorry came along and towed us to the nearest services where a very nice AA man had a look at our engine and fixed it for free - the alternator brushes were manky apparently. A fast battery charge and a quick nap later and we were on our way.

We got to the ferry just in time and queued up. When we gave them our passports they asked us for one for the kid. When we told them what the passport bloke had said they just laughed and told us we couldn't board without one. They were very nice about it and changed our tickets for the next day.

After some interesting discussions on the phone to the passport office we decided that the best bet was to head for London and get him an emergency passport rushed through, so we turned round and bombed towards london. As it got dark, on went the lights and a couple of hours later the lights started flickering. Knowing what was about to happen we just managed to make it into a services before the engine died on us. This time there was a nice RAC man who had a look at it for us. He said the alternator brushes were worn out and he replaced them for us, only charging for the brushes. A quick nap later and we were on our way, bump starting the car. This involved getting it coasting down a hill with the gear in 2nd and the clutch down then pumping the clutch up and down and turning the key repeatedly until you get lucky.

It wasn't long before the lights started to flicker again. bollocks. We realised that the alternator was still not charging the battery properly for some reason and that if we were lucky we could run it without lights OK, but night driving was definitely out. So we pulled over and went to sleep for the rest of the night.

Caught an early morning train into London, went to the passport office who needed to see various document we didn't have, so we had to phone the friends our kids were staying with and get them to rummage under our bed for birth certificates and all sorts of stuff then go to a shop and fax it all to the passport people, who gave us a passport for the litle'un. Train back to where we'd left the car at the top of a hill, bump started it, rushed to Dover in time for the ferry. They let us on this time, and we parked where a little push would get us to the top of the ramp. The ferry people helped us to get going and there was a mighty cheer from them all as the engine kicked in halfway down the ramp.

It was getting late so we pulled over into a residential street in Calais and 'slept' in the car. The plan was to go to a local garage and get the alternator fixed. Unfortunately(!) it was a public holiday... But we found a one man garage open in the end. He was very impressed when my wife managed to guess the french word for alternator (alternateur). He couldn't source us a replacement as it was a holiday, but he cleaned it up again and between him and my wife managed to convey to us that it was the disc not the brushes that was the problem, and this was harder to get hold of as it was a more unusual thing to wear out. Almost all the shops were closed so we managed to pick up some of those weird plasticky brioches at a garage for breakfast and lunch and we hit the french motorway. If we'd broken down there we'd have been in all sorts of trouble as we didn't have the proper kit. So we had to just hope. By now it was the morning of the wedding.

We got to Paris without incident, but my aunt's directions turned out to be rubbish. We had to keep stopping and asking directions in crap french and then trying to understand the answers. We finally made it to her old apartment with three hours to spare before the funeral. We hadn't slept or washed properly for days, and we staggered up the the apartment to be greeted by my mad aunt in her underwear.

One funeral and a day with my Father (who'd come over from Hong Kong for the funeral) and Aunt who seemed to actually hate each other, and we bump started our way out of Paris. Got to Calais and 'slept' in the car again. Got chased out of a restaurant for using their toilet, looked for a garage, couldn't find one but some nice blokes helped us bump start from the flat, which involved the same actions for the driver but about 5 people rocking the car back and forth. A big cheer later and we were on our way onto the ferry. Everywhere we'd been in France people seemed to love the fact that we had a french car and that it was decorated in such a loopy way.

By the time we got home we'd conked out 9 times altogether. Our local mechanic fixed it and it never broke down again. We eventually got rid of it because it was cheaper to replace it that get 4 new tyres, get the door fixed (it wouldn't close) and get the heater fixed. I honestly think the engine would still be going.

My wife had a paddy when we got home because normal life was so boring in comparison. I think she's got a bit of gypsy in her lineage somewhere because she hates staying still and she's happiest on the road.

We're going on a road trip across France in a few weeks in our 18 year old leyland daf 400 home converted camper van, taking the now 13 and 15 year old kids. Going to Paris then down towards the Med stopping at vineyards, cheese farms, etc. on the way. Hopefully it won't be too similar to the last time we were over there!
(, Mon 18 Jul 2011, 11:33, 5 replies)
London to Mongolia in a Fiat Punto
Mentioned this before, of course, but never has it been as relevant as now. We drove 7000 miles in four weeks. Highlights and other memorable events include:

Having a party at Klenova castle in the Czech Republic with 1000 other ralliers, involving battlements, statues, gypsy bands and a lot of free gin.

Getting lost in every city centre we drove into, including L'viv in Ukraine, getting helped out by two lovely English-speaking policemen and then, obviously, driving past them again two minutes later.

Getting into a convoy with two brilliant Dutch guys in a 2CV and two wanky South African guys in a Suzuki Swift, later expanding to include a Vauxhall Corsa, a Daewoo Matiz, and two Skoda Felicias, possibly the least technologically advanced convoy to cross Mongolia since Genghis Khan. But a great group.

Camping in a field in Russia in the middle of a lightning storm and somehow managing to avoid getting struck.

Visiting the quite stunning Volgograd.

Being chased down the road by angry Russians who didn't want us to sleep in their cafe car-park.

Having our salami eaten by wild dogs in the middle of Kazakhstan.

Hitting a rock on the way to Astana, cracking our sump, then getting it fixed between 12 and 2am by a guy who arrived in his dressing-gown, while the tow-truck drivers took us out to dinner. Total cost: £100.

Happening on huge quantities of wild cannabis plants which were not even close to being ready to smoke.

Having a hairy moment at the Russian border when the guard noticed a large quantity of white powder in a Tupperware container. Cue frantic tea-drinking motions and cow noises to indicate powdered milk.

Having all our spare tyres stolen off our roof the night after entering Mongolia.

Driving for six days over rutted dirt roads through some of the most stunning landscapes I've ever seen, and shaking our car to bits.

Laughing at the cheating bastards who'd taken a Land Rover as we passed their broken-down, smoking corpses on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

Breaking down ourselves in the middle of the Gobi Desert the next day.

Nursing the car through the desert over the next couple of days without being able to stop the engine or allow it to rev down below 1000, having lost about 90% of our power.

Passing a camel corpse being eaten by 30 or so vultures while doing this (some had flown off by the time I'd circled round and got the camera out)

Finally getting back onto the sweetest, most beautiful things you will ever see on this rally - tarmac roads.

Having the second, left-behind part of our convoy (including my co-driver) drive into the finish line party half way through, with a yak's head on the front of the 2CV, a flare stuck in the top of the skull, and everyone else hanging off the sides.

Being asked to sing on stage at the finish line in Ulaanbaatar, having the power cut halfway through and finishing our rendition of Tenacious D's Tribute anyway.

Dancing in a chicken suit in a Mongolian club after the finish-line party.

Best month of my life. I highly recommend it to anyone with little sense and a thirst for adventure.
(, Fri 15 Jul 2011, 18:29, 14 replies)

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