K: To anyone thinking of visiting the Penge or Crystal Palace area of London, please please resist the temptation of reserving a room at the local Traveloven, otherwise known as the Travelodge. It’s a converted 1970s office block with tiny windows and no air conditioning. On the hottest night of the year, I resorted to doing something I’ve never done before. Because of the limited number of towels, we used a hand towel as a bathroom floor mat. In the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, I got up, took it off the floor, soaked it in water, and draped it across my face in an attempt to stay cool and get at least one hour’s sleep. I’m not proud.
What Phill failed to mention last night was our panic about the weight of the van. It has a legal maximum load of 7500kg (7.5 tons), and mum and Ian had filled it a third full and used up 2 tons of the possible 3.5 ton cargo weight allowance. We jiggled a few bits about, took out a few small heavy items (have you ever picked up a sewing machine??), but eventually Ian resigned himself to the fact that we would be overweight.
Our 0415 departure went smoothly, with Phill following in Blodwyn, and we arrived at the port about an hour before departure. However, we still had the one final possible hurdle which might stop us getting on that boat – the weighbridge. We rolled up, pushed the button, and burst into laughter – 7560 kgs! The extra 60kgs was probably me in the passenger seat (well, maybe when I was 11), so relief all round.
The ferry was very quiet, so we quickly scoffed our full English, and found a sofa to stretch out on. Then we were in France. We agreed to drive to the first services, so that I could swap with Ian driving the van. We pulled up, and waited, then got a call from mum to say she’d panicked, made Ian turn off too quickly after the sign for the services, ended up in a village, then rejoined the motorway having bypassed the services altogether. We set off to catch them up. It’s very difficult to drive as slow as the van (which is limited to 55mph), and soon we found ourselves ahead, approaching another service stop. I quickly texted mum to arrange to meet there. We stopped, paid a visit to the nasty toilets, and waited. And waited. Then a call came through – they think they passed the turning, worried that they were going to make the same mistake! Will we ever get there??
The highlight of our gentle saunter through France was a random stop and search by French customs officers – we had visions of us offloading the entire contents of the lorry. Fortunately, they were very polite and merely had a quick glimpse inside. Otherwise, the journey has been relatively dull. The weather tried to have its wicked way with us only around Rouen (a straggling tempest of the sort which has been battering Britain today), but elsewhere, it’s been generally overcast, keeping the temperature down, and avoiding the need for air conditioning. That, and our restricted 55mph has done wonders for our fuel consumption in Blodwyn.
16 hours after we drove off the ferry in Calais, and 21 hours after we drove away from the Penge Traveloven, we pulled into the drive of our soon to be house. This has been a mammoth, exhausting journey. I really don’t want to do it again at 55mph. Lucky Phill is flying home on Sunday (because we’re leaving Blodwyn here), but the remaining 3 of us have to squeeze into the uncomfortable small cab for the journey back. But, a more immediate crisis looms: I’ve been in France for over 16 hours now, and I’ve not yet had a glass of rosé…