Last weekend we went down to Shropshire to meet some friends, John and Sue, at the Tewkesbury Golf and Country Club. We often stay there because they offer a bargain price which includes two rounds of golf for me and John, plus dinner, bed and breakfast – and a spa for the girls if they want it. I slept in the Sick Bay because we had Leo with us, and I like to listen to the radio all night, so Joy had the hotel bedroom to herself. (Joy can’t cope with the radio but Leo doesn’t mind). John and I hacked our way around the pristine course on Saturday afternoon while Joy and Sue did a tour of the charity shops in Cheltenham. On the Sunday we had our second round of golf, which, to our surprise, featured a far higher standard of play from both of us than had been in evidence the previous day. John is taking lessons so his game is on the up, meeting mine which is sadly on the way down. (We both feel that any round completed under a hundred is a major achievement, which gives you an idea of the level we play at). Unfortunately I was due to play tennis later that day and, knowing that we wanted to have a pub lunch before leaving, I felt under pressure time-wise so we packed in the golf after only 12 holes. A shame as it is so rare for us both to be firing on all four cylinders at the same time. We had teed off under the watchful eye of a ladies fourball who were following us and so were pleased to hit drives that were magnificent by our standards and even drew murmurs of approval from the ladies. We must have given the erroneous impression that we had some idea of what we were doing that day.
So we got to the pub early, the Gloucester Old Spot, had a great lunch but skipped pudding and coffee to get away in time to miss the usual M5 and M6 congestion – mainly due to the roadworks turning these roads into ‘smart’ motorways. Which means you will be able to use the hard shoulder when they get busy; so that’s all good, but why the hell is it so difficult, and so ‘smart’ to turn the hard shoulder into a usable lane?
We are slaves to the sat nav these days and sometimes get so engrossed in conversation that I tend to drive on automatic pilot. Approaching Birmingham, I noticed that I had drifted off the M5 and was heading for the M42. Without a map, or a mental appreciation of where these roads go to, I saw a sign for Birmingham and, despite the persistent requests of the sat nav lady to do a U turn, we carried on, looking for motorway signs. The road got more and more built up and, with sinking hearts, we realised that we were heading for the third biggest city centre in England. My hopes of getting back in time for the tennis were fading. We’d cut short our lunch for nothing.
It reminded me of all the times I have taken the wrong road but, in the same way that I hate asking for directions, I hate to retrace my steps and so tend to press on regardless. As a result I have wasted hours blundering through town and country in a bid not to turn around. Once we were making our way around the Peripherique in Paris and I suddenly spotted a sign for ‘Boulogne’. As our ultimate destination was Calais, just down the road from Boulogne, I pulled off and followed the sign. We ended up in the Bois de Boulogne, a nice little area in the centre of Paris, and spent the next four hours clawing our way through the crazy Parisian traffic before we eventually got north of the city.
I’ve done that lots of times but the occasion that cost me days rather than hours was in 2003 when I had taken a year off work to ride a bicycle to my birthplace in South Africa. Somewhere in Burkina Faso I came across the Niger river and in the mistaken belief that I was to the south of the river I followed the bank for a couple of days. In fact I was north of the river and was going in the completely wrong direction. I could not bring myself to cycle back and so carried on in the hope of finding a bridge. Eventually I came across a couple of guys who offered to take me and my bike across on a pirogue. It was four days before I got back to my proper route.
As we approached Birmingham we went past Fellows Speed Shop which was particularly galling as I have to go back there in a couple of weeks to have my fourth gear extended to take advantage of the extra torque of the Subaru engine. If only I had known I could have saved myself a journey.
OK the trip through Birmingham added an hour or so to our journey but I still made it in time to play tennis, and we got to see some iconic Brummie landmarks like Edgbaston cricket ground and the famous Bullring. Sometimes taking the wrong road can be a bonus and can add to the memories of a trip. Just that it never feels like that at the time.
However, I did make a U turn just recently. When I first got the Sick Bay I was determined to keep it as far as possible in its original condition, and this included the damaged Maltese Cross emblem on the side. The van was originally an ambulance attached to a hospital in Cologne where the text, ‘Malteser Hilfdienst’, (literally ‘Help Service’), is apparently quite familiar to many Germans. At some stage it seems that the emblem got scraped in some way and although it looked unsightly I had decided to leave it as it is part of the van’s heritage. What made me change my mind and get it restored? The Sick Bay has become very popular with people who are getting married. It was even the wedding car at my daughter’s nuptials a few weeks ago, and will be used for another wedding in July. I think that’s great as I love showing it off, but when I look at the wedding photos the damaged icon looks a bit scruffy. As we all know, these old vans can be battered and ratty in real life but look quite smart in a photo. (That’s why you should never buy one based on photos alone. Like I did.) But the damaged emblem will always look like it is – damaged. And a bride’s principal concern is how her wedding photos look, she doesn’t care about the level of authenticity of my old campervan.
So I googled ‘vehicle signwriters in Manchester’ and found this place in Stockport. The guy said bring it round to colour match it and measure it and it would be £20 for cash. When I got there everyone in the office came out to have a look while a couple of guys in hoodies did the job. Naturally they wanted to see the flashing lights and siren and I was happy to oblige. The finished job is identical to the original and I hope that my future brides and bridesmaids will appreciate how I have compromised my principles for the sake of their wedding photos. Just hope I haven’t taken another wrong turn.
Being the Midlands you always get interesting old cars knocking about. Here’s an old Morgan…