A friend has recently announced her pregnancy and she joked that if it was a boy she might call him Basil. I told her that there was only one country in the world where the name is not met with utter derision and that is France. So, to test my theory, when the ‘barista’ in the autoroute Starbucks asked for my name, because they’ve got to write it on the cup, I said Basil and watched for her reaction.
She had a second take and looked at me as if I was joking. She then muttered something to the name writer who looked at me and smirked. Regretfully I concluded that ‘Basil’ is not cool anywhere, even in France.
My brothers all have normal names, Philip, Robert, Steven. Unfortunately for me I was born just as my Granny Euphie married her second husband, a multi-millionaire by the name of Basil and I guess it was considered a smart family move to name the new-born after him. Good for the family maybe, but I was the one that had to face the sniggers every time I started a new school. When I began my first job as an Industrial Relations Officer in an engineering factory in Birmingham, I decided to start using my middle name, John, thinking I’d get more respect from the hairy arsed union reps if I didn’t have such a poncey name. These days I still tend to introduce myself as John and so if I met you before that time you will know me as Bas and after it will be John. Confuses everybody except me.
Now that I’ve cleared that one up, and thanks for the question Rob, my journey home from the French Alps. For once my plan came off, almost. The forecast was terrible, lots of snow, very cold and high winds. I decided to avoid the Jura mountains through which I had travelled on the way down and head for the warmer French lowlands. So I set my sat nav for Reims (no tolls), with the intention of resetting it for Calais once I had gone far enough not to be dragged back into the mountains. This worked in as much as my first night of wild camping, about a hundred miles south of Reims was quite warm, at least 20 degrees warmer than in the mountains.
However the roads were a lot different. As they take you from one village to another along the deep valleys, the route is very scenic but much slower. After a good night’s rest in the middle of a little village, I reset the sat nav for Calais and promptly got taken back into the Vosges mountains,returning to the fast free roads that go via Luxembourg and Brussels. These roads either look like motorways but aren’t or they are the free stretches of peage motorways. Great for racking up the miles but the drawback was that the bad weather really kicked in.
As any Bay owner will tell you, the truly challenging weather conditions are not snow and rain but high winds. This is because our vehicles were built before the invention of aerodynamics. So when a large vehicle passes you, it will batter you with its slipstream. A high wind compounds the problem and you have to keep a tight grip on your steering wheel. In the Vosges mountains they had issued a red warning for 90 kph winds and so the windsteer was horrific. When I realised that I was sliding an extra half yard because of the ice on the road the effect was quite disconcerting.
I don’t normally choose to wild camp in the middle of a village because I worry that lads on the way back from the pub will bang on the van for a laugh. Not that this has ever happened to me and in fact I met a guy who spent his life travelling all over Europe in his campervan who told me it had only ever happened to him once – and that was in England. Dunstable to be precise. I prefer to use aires or secluded spots out in the country but it was so wet and windy that I didn’t think anybody would consider going out and I had a very peaceful night in a church car park.
Having opened my word processor to type this as I sit in the back of the Sick Bay in an aire about a hundred miles south of Calais I see that it is Friday 13th. If I’d known the date I would not have dared to tackle those last four hundred or so miles in the worst driving conditions I have experienced for a long time. The aire is a new one and features a new development which I hope is not a sign of things to come – you have to pay 50 cents to use the loo. It’s very smart and has a twee new logo – ‘2 the Loo’ but the graffiti is no better than anywhere else.
My plan is to stay the night at this aire and by the time I get to the Eurotunnel in the morning I will be almost exactly 24 hours too early. It will cost me an administration fee of £25 to get on an earlier crossing but given that open tickets are about £100 pounds more expensive I am quite happy to fork out. I’ll be back home on Saturday rather than Sunday, in time for Match of the Day.
On the technical side, I only used the snow socks once and that was to get up the hill to leave the campsite, but they worked really well and were easy to put on. Once on the main roads I found that the ample salt and grit had done its job. Just got to remember to wash it all off when I get home or the tin worm will have a field day. Also my windscreen wipers proved inadequate for the demands posed by snow and ice. I took some Rainx but when I went to use it on leaving the campsite I found it had frozen solid. When it had thawed out I tried it again but found that the spray just froze on contact with the windscreen and so made matters worse. This stuff is great for improving vision in normal rain but it’s not much help in sub zero conditions.