Return Journey

All holidays end, and eventually, no matter how wonderful a time you have had, you have to return home and go back to work. It’s sad to think that when I’m back at my desk, some other lucky fellow will be in my villa, sipping wine on my patio, and relaxing. At least he won’t be using my glass, because I bought my glass at a vide grenier and brought it home to the UK so, to the guy relaxing on my patio -get yer own glass mate!

Liz and I finished our holiday in France by motoring from the Cher department to the much lovelier Loire region and stayed for a few days in one of our favourite french towns, Doué la Fontaine.

It was nice to see our old friends again. We visited Julie, the landlady of a small bar in Doué. The bar is rarely busy and Julie runs the place herself. On the day we visited, she wasn’t feeling too well but what can she do she asks; she must work as there is no one else to open up. I have to say, I did consider eating there but earlier, as we walked around the market, we found a small bar offering a 13 Euro three course menu, including wine, so we sauntered round there to find a hidden gem of a bar that we had not noticed on any of our numerous previous trips to the town.

Julie’s bar in Doué La Fontaine

The lunch was lovely, if a little too big for someone who has never taken lunch seriously. A sandwich is my usual lunchtime fare but this lovely lunch kept me going for the rest of the day.

After a few days we had to say goodbye to Doué and set off for our rendezvous with the ferry at Caen. We did some serene motoring travelling north but as I was worried about time we jumped onto the autoroute to make better headway. After a good run we stopped at the services for some refreshments. French services, Aires as they call them, are much, much nicer than the packed UK versions. French Aires are like quiet restful picnic areas, some have petrol and all the other facilities of UK services but others are just small picnic areas. The one we stopped at was unusually busy. Rarely have I ever seen more than a few cars and wagons at the services but at these there must have been fifteen to twenty cars.

At the toilets themselves, one of the cubicles was closed for repairs and the other was engaged so I had to use the urinals. French men clearly do not need privacy because many urinals are open to the gaze of passersby, sometimes with a small modesty screen, other times not. Both urinals were in use but as I approached, one became free and as I opened up my trousers the one to my left became free also. Happy days I thought because for some reason, I always find it difficult having a communal wee. Just as I was ready to release my waters, someone stood at the free urinal to my left and my hoped for flow was stemmed before it had even started. ‘Come on’ I said to myself, ‘have a wee and get it over with!’ The more I tried the harder it seemed to be. My fellow urinal user was also having the same problem as I had not heard the tell-tale sound of his waters flowing either. He must have been trying hard because after a few moments he issued a loud and unexpected fart!. He was obviously flustered and mumbled a hasty ‘sorry about that.’ I detected a southern english accent and mumbled OK in what I thought was a french accent, not wanting him to think I was english as I felt that if he thought I was French he might be less embarrassed. (Yes, I don’t understand that either but that was my thought process.) Just then, the happy trickle of my waters finally began to flow.

A typical French aire. Looks busy doesn’t it?

We were early for our appointment with the ferry but what with passport checks and the inevitable stopping and starting the time passed quickly.

One nice way to travel on a ferry is to take the night crossing so you can freshen up, have a nice meal and perhaps the odd glass of wine and then sleep during the crossing, waking up in Portsmouth ready for the long trip up north. I’ve always rather liked that coming the other way, England towards France. It’s nice to wake up in France of a morning, all fresh and ready to drive through the Gallic countryside. Waking up in Portsmouth ready to face the morning rush hour is not always a good thing. On this trip we arrived in the UK at nine thirty in the evening. The weather kept mostly dry and we had a good run until the A34 we were travelling on was unexpectedly closed before we met with the M40. Ah, the nightmare of night-time road works!

The diversion took us back partly along the way we had had already travelled and on to the M40 from a different direction. Later as we ventured further up north we encountered signs for ‘DELAYS J15 – J16 M6’. Delays, at one in the morning? Surely not? Surely yes because after a while, when our three lanes became only one due to road works’ closures, we joined a sad and slow-moving convoy creeping forward in first gear. Oh well, good job it wasn’t a night journey in the other direction, hoping to pick up a night ferry to France. I could just imagine us sitting on the quayside having missed the boat!

C’est la vie!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or the icon below to go straight to amazon!

Life In The Fast Lane!

I’ve written plenty about my previous life in its various incarnations, bus driver, cigarette man and so on. I currently work in the Highways Agency North West Regional Control Centre and if you want to know what I do there’s a TV documentary programme that’s currently airing on BBC2 called Life in the Fast Lane. Alas, you won’t be hearing my dulcet tones as I broadcast to our traffic officers, as they filmed it down Birmingham way and the North West was sadly not featured.

When incidents happen on the motorway we have a log on which we record all kinds of data about the incident and we add updates as the job progresses. ‘Vehicle recovery has arrived.’ ‘Speed restrictions cleared,’ and stuff like that. There’s a lot of mundane stuff we add too and it involves a lot of typing. One colleague suggested the other day that a thought transference/ ESP link would be quite handy and save on the fingers as they continually thrash the keyboard. The problem there though is that certain unwanted things might appear on the log, especially if the incident is on CCTV and we are watching.

“Watch what you are doing you pillock!”

“Look at that idiot in the Fiesta!”

Or, to the man who wanted to get something from his car, despite the fact that it was on fire and had turned into a minor inferno: “Don’t go back into that car!” He did and was lucky not to be burned to death.

In our control room we answer the ERTs, emergency roadside telephones used by motorists who have broken down at the roadside and sometimes we hear things like this:

“I’ve broken down and can’t remember who my breakdown recovery is with.” Ok, so what do you expect me to do about it? Guess which recovery organisation you have joined? Call a number of recovery agencies randomly and hope one of them knows you? No, what I can do is have you vehicle towed off the motorway and charge you £200. £200! Yes, it is an expensive business breaking down on the motorway. Here’s another one:

“I’ve run out of petrol. Can one of your patrols bring me some fuel?”

No, but we can tow your car away and charge you £200! That response, as you can imagine does not always go down well but as I have said, breaking down on the motorway is a serious and expensive thing. Do not go on the motorway without checking you have enough fuel as it’s not only expensive but dangerous.

Running the motorway is a serious business and there aren’t many comic moments that I can tell you about but here’s one that comes to mind.

Some years ago we had a new recruit that I’ll call Eric, (once again, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!) Eric sadly was not doing too well in his training and it was later found that he was dyslexic so sadly he was unable to continue his career with us. Anyway, on one of his last days one of our managers decided to give him a go as the radio dispatcher, passing out incidents to our patrols over the airwaves. Well Eric did OK until a patrol came across a pedestrian. We reported this to the police and they asked for the person’s name and date of birth. Well, the pedestrian had one of those cross gender names, something like ‘Lesley Smith,’ that could be either male or female. The police asked us for the sex of the person, were they male or female? So Eric asked this question over the air, the patrol however were in one of those radio blackspots were there is poor reception and couldn’t seem to understand.

“Please repeat your last message,” they kept asking.

Eric was getting a little flustered by now and repeated, “Is the person male or female?”

“Please repeat,” asked the patrol.”What details do you need?”

“I want the sex. I need the sex!” called Eric.

I haven’t laughed as much since . .

 

 

On the bridge

It was me that found you on that lonely road that night

I spied you on the cameras around midnight

You looked cold on top of that bridge,

I suppose you thought you’d see things in a different kind of light,

Way up on the bridge

In the middle of the night.

The ambulance was on stand by anyway

And I know you had your problems

If only you could have let on, hinted to someone

Maybe you wouldn’t have given us such a fright

But I prefer to believe you were coming down

And that you tripped or were nudged by the wind

It’s a sad place to die in the middle of a road

No one heard you call or shout

And darkness came when the lights went out.

 

 Image

Its a really tragic thing when death occurs on the motorway. Even though the individual will not be known to us the sadness is still there, knowing that we were unable to prevent this tragedy.

My freedom of information request to the UK highways agency revealed that there were 652 suicide attempts on the motorway in 2013;

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/motorway_suicides#incoming-523298

652! That’s a heck of a lot of distraught, sad people.