The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s on-line Visa Waiver Application thingy enquired (and none-too politely I may say), if I’d had Granuloma Inguinale. I paused and pondered the question carefully.
I didn’t want to be refused admission to the country simply because I’d enjoyed a brief liaison with a bowl of Gran’s excellent linguine topped with some fresh ulomas. Whilst I tried to recall all the types of Italian food I had consumed over the years I browsed the next few questions: Between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies? Well that was comparatively easy to answer – “Not knowingly” was my response. Next question: Are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities? “Not unless I receive an offer too good to refuse.” The final question also had me scratching my head in an attempt to stimulate my recalcitrant memory cells: Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude? I shuddered at this question. What if I’d been drinking something akin to a wild mushroom turpentine and consuming bowls of Granuloma Inguinale at the same time… The consequences were too horrible to consider. I scratched that form and decided we should arrive by unconventional means.
San Francisco was good. (Despite the fact Google Earth showed our hotel as being east of Lower Nob Hill and within a few blocks of the wincingly-named suburb of Tendernob). We did all the usual touristy things; hung out with the drunks in Union Square, walked on the Golden Gate Bridge, dined with the tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf and wedged ourselves into historic, overcrowded transport systems – just so we could say that we had ridden A Street Car Named Perspire.
Air France helped us to leave San Francisco in a conventional manner and they duly deposited us in Paris. We collected the van and set sail for England just in time to help celebrate the wettest drought in history. But it was nice to see that the border police were on the lookout and that humour still abounds in road signs. (You may have read that there are plans to twin Dull with the Oregon US town of Boring.) Not wanting to be called Dull or Boring, we set off determined not to get in the wrong lane at this intersection and stayed on the look out for hidden tourist sites.
At Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, in a National Trust gift shop (of all places), I stumbled upon the latest publication on sale. I assume it’s intended as a cure for Kiwis who might be missing home just a little too much.
After two weeks of repairs, maintenance and improvements to the van we spent a few more days relaxing and socialising with chums and then set sail for Dover on Sunday 22nd April. Just as we were handing over our passports to the French officials the van decided to erupt in a cloud of steam. Small windows opened in the French customs building and heads appeared to observe the excitement from several locations normally secreted from the view of motorists driving through border control. One woman shook her hand in an “Ooh-la-la” pattern, other French officials shrugged or yawned and English passengers in vehicles around us screamed: “Fire! Fire! Did you know your van’s on fire?” As I was standing beside it at the time, I thought it fairly obvious that I knew it wasn’t running quite as well as Mr Fiat might have intended. We ignored the excitement, climbed back inside and limped the van around the departure buildings and returned to the front of the ferry offices. We sighed deeply and called the AA.
Jeff twitched, paused, twitched again, walked purposefully slowly forward and peered cautiously over the edge. Once his eyes focussed on the sight below he twitched more violently, grunted a few times and then he barked – quite loudly. The view over the small bonnet/hood opening into the van’s engine compartment isn’t pretty but I thought barking was an extreme response to a customer’s disabled vehicle. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate, but I barked back and Jeff looked alarmed. “Just our luck” (I muttered to myself), “to get an AA repairman that’s heading for a breakdown.”
It turned out Jeff was a very nice chap who had a touch of Asperger’s. We spent some happy moments barking and twitching together until the tow truck arrived.
After we had spent 4 nights in a hotel in Dover the van was declared repaired and with glee we finally set sail for Belgium.
Poirot squinted, tutted and muttered as he tip-toed very slowly forward by the devious means of employing ludicrously small steps. This odd little Belgian biscuit peered over the same edge into the same darkness below as Jeff had a few days before. Poirot’s nostrils flared, his nose twitched and his glasses inched their way back up to the bridge of his nose. “Here we go again” I thought and to save time I barked first. That scared him. All Poirot could deduce was: “There’s a problem with your motor.” After this enlightenment we hitched the van to his tow truck and arrived at a Fiat dealer near Leuven just after they had closed on Friday 27th April. May day holiday meant they were not to re-open until the 2nd of May.
This second enforced break in our travel plans meant at least another 5 nights in a hotel. We had broken down in Hoegaarden and were now fermenting in a Novotel in Leuven directly opposite the largest Stella Artois brewery. We concluded there was a message in there somewhere and promptly embarked on a five day weekend sampling many of Belgium’s finest beers and eating way too much good food. Two days on from workers returning to work after their arduous holiday weekend we learned that the timing belt slipped. That would be the timing belt installed in Dover then. It ran perfectly for 4 hours then slipped and caused damage to the valves and cylinder head. (Do I hear my lawyer at the old firm Beerpig, Gin Palace and Martinishake sharpening a Word Document?). The van has now been transferred to another garage as our first choice that diagnosed the problems yesterday, are too busy to start fixing it for a further 3 weeks…
You may recall I mentioned previously some of Belgium’s bizarre Confrerie where men in silly hats celebrate pretty much anything that brings them together where they can smoke, drink and wear silly hats.
Last weekend it was time to celebrate the worthy attributes of a woman strong enough to push cows over. She’s a bit of a charmer isn’t she? I’m reliably informed that the men of the Confrerie consider her to be a bit of a:
So finally, despite the fact we seem to be doing a tour of Europe by hotel and repair garage and the itinerary (not to mention the budget), are a sad and complete mess, we’re making the most of it. As the good burghers of this town might say: “I’m Leuven It”,
More soon but until then I just have to take this opportunity to say: “May the Fourth Be With You.”