critical incidents are a way of life now

a Belgian motorway, yesterday

I stood wearing a flimsy tee-shirt at the side of a Belgian motorway in a rainstorm and puked by the light of a 38-tonne truck. It was just one in a series of hairy moments on this particular journey. For once, I managed not to get too anxious and stressed about it. The truth is that although the channel tunnel terminal was busier than I’d ever seen it, the traffic was moving. There might have been a delay, but it was “fluid” as they say in their updates. In the event, we were loaded onto a half-empty train without much fuss, and were rolling out of Folkstone at 23:00, just ten minutes after our booked crossing. And they gave the cat an easter egg! (Which he has shown absolutely zero interest in.)

I see today that Dover has declared another critical incident. Well, it’s the school holidays, duh. And as someone with a lot of experience of crossing to France using the tunnel, I’ve got to tell you: from what I can see, more and more people a simply desperate to leave this shitty little island of grifters and racists.

But on this occasion, busy as it was, everybody at Folkstone was keeping things moving as smoothly as possible in the circumstances. It is notable that since the French started taking the piss by checking our passports and stamping them, the British passport control has very much stopped taking the piss. They no longer spend a performative three minutes on each passport (in between gossiping with their mates), and no longer scrutinise you as if trying to see behind your Mission Impossible rubber mask.

No, this time is was the fucking roads. Which I had anticipated. Nothing for it. Travelling in the rush hours on the first Friday of the Easter holiday in a rainstorm was always going to be a shitshow. Took us maybe four hours to do the two hour 45 minute drive to Folkstone? And that’s after a false start. The first thing you realise you’ve forgotten as you drive away from the house, you think, oh well. And then there’s a second, more important, thing, and even though you’re a couple of miles down the road by now, you have to turn around. Oh shit.

Then it was just busy busy busy, rainy rainy rainy, with Google popping up alternate routes to save you eleven minutes every eleven minutes. I tend to ignore these, on the basis that as soon as every other fucker using Google maps has followed the alternate route, you’ve got your eleven minutes back. But when we got to the inevitable queue caused by the inevitable accident (white man? check. Driving an unnecessarily large and powerful car? check. Four lanes into one? check. People trying to get into the one lane early instead of driving all the way to the flashing arrow and filtering in turn? also check), we were sitting there for a good hour or so, grinding along in that awkward spot just between gears in the automatic.

With all that, I was in a state of considerable bladder distress when we reached Maidstone Services. It was touch and go. I felt like Unlucky Alf as I slithered into the service station to be confronted with the Out Of Order sign on the Gents. Bugger. Disabled toilet was free, though.

Which is before you get to the bit where I decided to drive through Belgium and Luxembourg, on the Northern route, as I think of it. The Hell of the North. It adds, on paper, 30 minutes, but saves you all the motorway tolls, which is around €40. But it was a filthy night. Continuous torrential rain, invisible lanes (no cats’ eyes in Belgium, either), runnels filled with water where the heavy trucks go, aquaplaning, darkness. And, as my OH said, you get what you pay for. No tolls means roads of the same sort of quality we have in the UK. Pot holes, missing tarmac, loose gravel, undulations, bumps.

When my eyes started to droop (sooner than usual because of the excessive time getting to Folkestone), we swapped drivers, and my OH took the wheel. Well. How can I put this nicely? I try to be a smooth driver. I don’t think I’m a good driver, or a fast driver, or a confident driver. But I try not to jerk people around. My OH doesn’t try. So after about 45 minutes on these chronic roads, being bumped up and down, together with the odd sudden breaking manoeuvre, I started to get the sweats. I lowered the temperature in my zone. Took off my fleece. But then I just had to quickly lower the window and blow vomit out into the gale.

Fortunately, we were very close to a rest area, although the entrance too it was near-invisible in the dark and rain. My OH pulled quickly in and found a spot between two huge trucks (a lot of trucks were parked up in the strong winds), and I got out to throw my guts up.

Later on, when it was my turn to drive again, I managed about an hour before my eyes wouldn’t focus anymore. This is unlike me, as I’m usually pretty hardcore with the all-night drives. But it was a brutal drive. In the end, we rolled up to the house at around 08:30, approximately 15 hours after we left home. We used to think we’d done well if we did the journey in nine hours. Twelve hours felt like you’d been through the mincer: pounding headache, road shakes. Fifteen hours and you feel like you’re part of some NASA experiment designed to see if you can survive in a tin can on Mars.

Time for a whiskey.

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