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Mind your Ps in Queues - Accidental Tourist, The Channel Tunnel, France
Some traffic snarl-ups can turn the most mild-mannered of us, however good the sandwich
I checked the clock on the car. It was two in the morning when the Frisbee whistled past my door for the umpteenth time, letting out a loud automated wail as it flew. I lost my composure completely.
The channel tunnel had been closed due to snow – how can it snow in a tunnel? – and we were stranded with several hundred other vehicles, in a car park the size of Belgium, trying to leave France for England.
“Just anuzzer sree hours before you can board,” came the latest assessment. Add three hours to the four we had already waited and tempers were frayed, international relations strained. To compound the severity of the situation, the only accessible coffee machine had packed up because some joker had wedged a pound into the Euro slot.
I was in the driver’s seat because I was the smallest and most likely to be able to sleep there. In the passenger seat a bulky friend squirmed noisily, his leather jacket rubbing on the leather seat and emitting an irritating squawk of the chalk-on-board variety, and snored loudly, intermittently and tunelessly with random explosive snorts that have been known to scare off camp-loping hyena in the Okavango Delta.
Here in France, without the blurring night-sounds of the bush, the noise was intolerable. From behind me, exacerbating it, came the nauseating metallic tinkle of a personal stereo playing directly into mindless teenage ears.
The day had begun with a still-dark 4am start, zigzagging down a black-ice glazed mountain pass consisting of 22 hairpins. Ascending, at each bend, came a string of lurching, corner-cutting coaches, hell-bent on sending us over the cliff and tumbling to an agonising death in the pine trees below.
The only unlikely success of the day had been the hot dogs we had bought in an autoroute service station. These places are heavenly. Shiny marble runway-like corridors lead off in all directions, spattered with boulangeries, patisseries and coffee shops. There’s not a pie to be seen. Instead, delicious quiches, fresh pizza slices and sandwichs. Not to be confused with sandwiches, a French sandwich is a crusty length of fresh baguette, smeared generously with unsalted butter and then crammed with delicious unprocessed Emmentaler, real smoked ham, tomatoes and crunchy lettuce.
The French hot dog is equally unrelated to its South African “Oddog” namesake. It is a tasty roll, gently enclosing an offal-free sausage, coated in a gorgeous sauce with the mustardy cheese and nutmeg flavour of a genuine Croque Monsieur. Gourmet stuff.
We had then become embroiled in traffic jams in Lyons, Dijon and Paris, the latter involving almost two hours of crawling through black fumes in a tunnel. A sign had explained that the Authorities were experimenting with a lane closure. Well, Authorities, it is a failed experiment.
Now, though, motionless in this vast car park, I desperately wanted to get into another Tunnel. Then the Frisbee shot past my window. I threw the door open and in one leap, snatched it from the shocked child who’d just caught it.
“I am going to smash this bloody thing to pieces!” I heard myself bellowing irrationally. “If you must run around in the snow, can’t you make it silent? Turn off the bloody shrieking noise!” I told the adult who was playing with the child.
“Mon fils est aveugle!” His son, he explained, was blind.
“Well, he’s awfully good with a Frisbee, isn’t he?” I smiled contritely and got back into the car, where I patiently waited my turn to cross the Channel, dreaming of hot dogs.
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