9.6 I tell you. 9.6. There’s a number for you to masticate over for the next few minutes, but until then let me give the secret to surviving a car-trip across the continent of Europe.
Since my last post, we’ve been in Jutland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and England. Geographically. Metaphysically, we’ve been to Oz, via Carcosa, eventually arriving at our ultimate destination of the west coast of Ireland. In between the petrol station stops, the whining and bitching from the backseat, the lack of faith in the GPS, the refugees at Calais, and the herds of freakshow people who travel via the ferry boats, here’s what happened;
I messed up in Brussels. We stayed there for an evening just off the Palace of Justice. We soaked up the ghost-town atmosphere and the next morning we made a beeline for the ferry to Dover. It’s a 168 km trip from Brussels to Dunkirk, the road was straight, the sky was blue. We arrived with thirty minutes to spare and that’s when I realised I’d left my jacket back in Brussels. Jacket. Wallet. Credit cards.
The PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE was cool about it. She knows shit happens. I however spent the next four hours locked in a maelstrom of self-loathing and teeth-grinding funk as we drove back to Brussels to get my belongings and then back again to Dunkirk.
Just in time to miss the last ferry.
At this stage, my lower left molars had been eroded to a fine powdery substance and my knuckles gripping the steering wheel were the same size and colour of ostrich eggs. Sensing disaster, the PSW stepped in and Accelerated Onwards In Absolute Silence, for our family’s survival depended on it. There was another sailing at Calais, but we only had 25 minutes to get there.
She did it though and we got the boat to Dover. We made it to London. Hurray.
Hurray for two reasons; my collection of aunts, uncles and cousin in London got to meet my family for the first time and also because our car narrowly avoided being blown up.
We rented a studio flat via AirBnB with an outdoor carpark beside the building. And for three days our time was good. We visited the Natural History Museum, Cleopatra’s Needle, the South Bank, Spitafields Market, and Shoreditch where my girls searched for traces of street art by their hero King Robbo.
We rose early on Thursday morning to drive to North Wales and I went to load up the car. What I saw made my bowels drop three inches – the carpark was gone and replaced by a scene from Apocalypse Now. Our car was obscured by smoke and debris. Holes were burnt into the tarmacadam ground. I counted at least fifty, six-packs of unopened Guinness cans and two large barrels with fires still smoldering in them.
And somehow my car was…okay, despite there being evidence of a naked flame less than a meter from the petrol tank. I was clearing the broken glass away from the tyres when I heard a voice;
‘I’m sorry…so sorry…but we were having a wake…do you know what a wake is, do you?’
I recognised the accent. It was laced with alcohol and tears and therefore Irish. It came from a man who had a white vest and a tattoo on his chest. ‘A wake,’ he repeated. ‘You know, like Finnegans Wake…‘ Ah, I thought. A Joycean scholar. He came over and shook my hand. ‘My mother died last night and we had to give her a good send-off. We didn’t make too much noise, did we?’
‘No, not at all and I’m very sorry for your trouble, but do you think you can help me move the broken glass from my car?’ Of course, he said, but he didn’t. He just gathered up the unopened cans of booze. ‘Here, do you want some Guinness?’ I declined. There are times when you just accept there is a higher power and your only response is to Accelerate Onwards In Absolute Silence.
We arrived in Galway eight hours later and my PSW and I went into the Atlantic for a swim. The water temperature was 9.6 degrees Celsius. There is only one response to this:
Accelerate Onwards In Absolute Silence.