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A "moving" adventure

On reflection, since turning 16 I have spent every two years moving. Either from country to country, or from city to city. At first it was easy, one suitcase and a portable radio being the only things I possessed. Over the years though it has just got ridiculous and I am now thoroughly fed up with even thinking about packing boxes and moving ridiculously heavy things from one place to another.

All in all then, I was very surprised at agreeing to help a friend and his wife move their entire belongings all the way from Bonn in Germany to Cork in Ireland. Of course, the idea of a road trip to the homeland was tempting, mainly though it was the copious amounts of alcohol consumed on that particular evening. According to my friend, all was organised: removal van, a relaxing ferry-crossing to Ireland with cabins, hotel and drinks in Cork and many, many helpers to load and unload. Didn’t sound that bad.

First step: pick up the truck. The short journey through town was uneventful and soon we were parked and ready to load. There were actually four or five happy helpers and the van was systematically filled up. This was great! In the blink of an eye the van was full, everything stowed and we could look forward to a few beers.

During a brief lull in the work, my friend’s wife very softly inquired if her husband had the passports and tickets for the journey. In the ensuing silence you could have heard a piece of paper drop. The next hour saw us removing the well-packed furniture and boxes from the van, much to the bemusement of the street’s inhabitants. The goal was to tunnel through to the very first item of furniture we stored, a chest of drawers, complete with contents, two passports and ferry tickets (we had put it in first as it was the biggest piece).

After this, the will to re-pack everything in an orderly fashioned had evaporated. Furniture, boxes, plants, pictures were literally thrown in. Gone was the poise and organisation. Chaos reigned and finally, if it weren’t for the double doors at the back, the entire contents of the van would be again strewn over the entire street. No worries, however, job done. I could worry about opening the doors again in Ireland, or so I thought.

Early the next morning we were ready to go. Destination Cherbourg, the ferry to Rosslare and a short drive to Cork, what could go wrong? My friend and his wife led the convoy in their Landrover, myself, another friend and his 11 year-old son following in the truck.  We were happy; we were trucking, at least until we reached the motorway. There the mood changed slowly from relaxed devil-may-care to panic. The truck had a speed limiter! With a top speed of 70 instead of the required 140, there was no way we were going to make that ferry. At the German/Belgian border the back-up plan was hatched: the truck and contents were to make for Calais; ferry to Dover; drive from Dover to Fishguard in Wales; ferry to Dublin; drive from Dublin to Cork. Meanwhile, the Landrover would proceed on the planned route to Cherbourg and be waiting in Cork when the truck arrived.

Ermmm... right!

So now two Northern Irishmen and an 11 year-old kid were heading for Calais in a truck hired by someone else, with only a vague notion of what was in the back, namely someone else’s furniture, and not just one, but two strict immigration controls to navigate.

Within 10km's of Calais we ground to a complete standstill. The left-hand side of the motorway had been closed and reserved for passenger vehicles making for the port. Our side of the motorway was completely blocked by hundreds of trucks, inching their way towards the ferry terminal. Despite being a very small truck, we were, unfortunately, a truck and destined to crawl our way to customs like all the others. We did get a first-hand view of various bands of refugees leaving the forests beside the motorway and trying to hide in, around, or under the waiting lorries.

Finally we made it to the customs post. This resembled a war zone. Heavily armed police and military with dogs, were searching trucks, bands of refugees sat with arms manacled guarded by armed customs officials. With a cold realisation I thought of the chaos in the back of the truck. At the customs post I heard the words which struck fear into my very soul: in his best Peter Seller’s French accent, the customs official asked me to “oepen ze troeck”. My whole life flashed before my eyes and the journey to those double doors at the rear of the truck the longest of my life. Wondering what was going to hit me first, I gingerly opened one of the doors, immediately reaching in to see what I could hold back. A wicker chair fell out first and with one hand catching it on the way down, the other holding in the entire rest of the contents, I smiled in what I hoped was a happy-go-lucky, Gallic, shruggy, helpless kind of way. Summing the situation up in a flash the guard shouted at me to “Cloese ze troeck! Cloese ze troeck!”.

We had made it and were now on the second slowest ferry in existence. From a line of six ferries lined up and ready to depart ours left first and got there last, but then again I wasn’t that keen on getting to Dover, where we, no doubt, had to go through the customs process again.

As it turned out, we were asked what we were carrying, furniture we confidently replied and luckily, this not being an airline, where you state that you know the contents of your bags, we arrived in the UK. My friend took over the driving and having decided to take the main road to London, crossing to the west south of the Dartmoor Tunnel and heading towards Wales and on to Fishguard, I promptly fell asleep. When I awoke the first thing that struck me was the sign for Stansted 20 miles, STANSTED?

Yep, we were now north of London. Having missed the exit to the West, we had gone through the tunnel and were now heading for Birmingham. Ah well, no worries, through Birmingham and out west through Northern Wales towards Holyhead. This was rapidly turning into an odyssey. We amused ourselves by sending text messages to the Landrover, now certainly in Cork, telling them we had had to head for Scotland and would be arriving from the North of Ireland in about a week. Apparently these messages almost led to divorce.

After hours and hours on the road we made the ferry terminal at Holyhead, had a quick uneventful trip across the Irish Sea and from Dublin it was only a four hour jaunt down to Cork. Having left on Friday morning at 7am, it was now 6pm on Saturday evening and we were sitting in a bar in Cove (near Cork) waiting for the Landrover, which, astoundingly, still hadn’t turned up. Eventually at about 9pm that evening they finally turned up, having spent the entire time on what turned out to be the slowest ferry ever built, that, and a short time spent in a French police station, almost being the second reason for divorce.

At 9am the next morning we unloaded the truck (no helpers at this end) and after a short trip to Cork, we were ready for the return journey. Complete with shopping from M&S and a leather sofa, which having been transported through half of Northern Europe wouldn’t fit into the new living room (yes, we were taking it back - don’t even ask!) we headed for Roslare. A few uneventful hours later we rounded the hill overlooking the port. There lay two magnificent, glittering ferries, shining examples of floating entertainment palaces, and berthed between them was a rather unassuming, very old, rather rusty freighter - ours -  the slowest ferry in the world.

It took all of 24 hours to wind our way across the Channel and reach Cherbourg. Entertainment was a 10 inch TV showing the same film over and over again and lots of drunken lorry drivers. They did have an “all-you-can-eat” canteen.

Two lessons were learnt on that trip: one, rather obviously, never help anyone move, ever, and secondly, when you are on a motorway and you merrily overtake huge lorries whilst going up hills, just remember that at the top of these hills, when your speed limiter kicks in and you travel slowly down the hill, these same lorries will be thundering down behind you blaring horns and flashing lights - luckily we only had about 10 hours of this on the way to Bonn.

I don’t quite remember what happened to the sofa.

Paul Periloli

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