Euro 3, 2012

Lech Waduster stared at the lock, snorted and barked at us not to touch it.

A pair of new latex gloves snapped crisply into place and from his portfolio he selected the appropriate brush as he advanced towards the camper door holding an extraordinarily large pot of black dusting powder. Dodek the Detective had already bravely entered the van armed only with a notebook and a camera and was photographing the damaged, discarded and dumped detritus that dominated the devastated van.

clip_image001[1]clip_image003[1]We had locked the van and left the campground to brave the vagaries of the Polish train service to travel from Sopot. At the station there was a huge gap between the train and the platform. The gap was just about manageable with extreme care, but to add a frisson more excitement the train driver decided that stopping at the station was an unnecessary waste of time. His approach was to slow the train down to walking speed, open the doors and before the train had rolled to a stop, he’d close the doors and accelerate away. This procedure was employed for the 20 or so stops whilst we were on the train and each time we held our breath as passengers young and old rushed to disembark, embark, stumble, slip and narrowly avoid disappearing from view beneath the rolling train. It was not a service to use if you were frail, disabled or hadn’t tried the long-jump since Sports Day at primary school. Actually, it wasn’t a service to use, but we persevered and fell out of the train at Gdansk where we got wet, mixed it up with a few thousand football fans and met up for a beer with our chum who was passing through on his motorbike. We waited ages for a delayed train service back to Sopot but passed the time by observing the Police who rather than deal with the Czech and German football supporters fighting at the front of the station, were all well-hidden around the back of the station where they were busy checking out the engines of their vans parked under the No Parking signs and smoking under the No Smoking signs. Eventually old blue n’ yellow rattled into view and (now well-trained), we launched ourselves in front of mothers with pushchairs, elderly folk with walking sticks and with perfect timing jumped at full speed – hitting the outside of the carriage just a few centimetres to the left of the open door. This time the driver had decided to bring the train to a complete halt.

We limped back to the campground in the rain to find the van had been severely done over. Laptop, ‘phones, back-up disks, camera, satnav, money, passports, credit cards, food, wine, cosmetics, jewellery, two months of photos, travel docs, house keys, insurance papers, van registration documents and receipts were gone. Wooden partitions were broken and cupboard contents were emptied on to the floor. The glove box lid was ripped off (that’s so much easier than pressing a button to open it), lighting, the TV, satellite system and acres of wiring were just ripped out with (I thought), an unsporting degree of brutality.

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The Sopot Police turned up quickly and whilst Lech Waduster and Dodek the Detective snapped, noted and dusted diligently, the interpreter they brought with them (pictured right) did her best to console us. She looked so sad as she explained that it was terrible, that she was upset, sorry and disappointed. You see she was learning Spanish and had hoped so much that we would be Spanish speaking rather than English…

It was dark, cold and raining quite hard by now, the mosquitoes were biting and Ms. Interpreteski was wearing us down with questions like…“Have you been to Spain? What’s it like? Do you like Spain? Is the food nice in Spain? Do you speak any Spanish? Have you thought about going back to Spain? Do you think any Spanish people will get robbed tonight?”

Eventually, Jane went for a seriously scary ride to the Police station and I was left to snort, bark and sob on my own. A pair of saggy Marigolds slapped sloppily into place and from my portfolio I chose a cheap cleaning cloth and started the long process of removing the mess left by Sopot’s finest. Lech Waduster had transformed the van’s interior from one of mere devastation into one of mere devastation where all the interior surfaces were also coated with black sticky fingerprint dust.

It was at that time I discovered a lot of Jane’s clothes were missing but wait, worse was yet to come. The thieves (clearly recognising that I was a subject of superb sartorial sense), had taken all of my stuff. In sum, I was left with one pair of underpants, one sock and one walkie-talkie. (I confess, there may have been times in the past when that would have been sufficient material for me to have a most enjoyable evening). Still, mustn’t grumble, at least they left me the Champagne bottle re-sealer. Sadly we no longer had any Champagne.

clip_image007[1]By 3 a.m. we had things vaguely sorted in the van. With help from the campground manager I had mastered a Polish laptop, cancelled our passports and most of our credit cards, we had eaten, found a bungee cord to hold the broken door closed and devised a plan to return to the UK to start the repair and replacement routine. We thought getting from Sopot to Suffolk shouldn’t be too much of a challenge apart from the fact we no longer had any navigation aids whatsoever. When we looked the only “map” we had was Jane’s wallet which was cleverly disguised as a street map of Manhattan. It worked though, we just drove West until we got to the water and took a ferry!

Determined to overcome being Poleaxed, we left the Poles to polish their Polish poles and danced our way back to the UK where we immersed ourselves in a vat of Gin. However, just as sanity was starting to settle, I suddenly realised that the thieves not only had everything of value, they also knew everything about us. In a blind panic I emailed our travel agent:

The paranoia arises because they took everything. So basically, “they” could check in for our flights with our passports, sit sullenly in our seats, prefer Polish food, mop the toilet floors and start ship-building on the floor of the Premium Economy cabin of NZ38 before anyone even noticed that they only drank vodka and spoke (without smiling) about their new lives in Merivale – which they thought would be quite nice as they would be close to St. Albans (who might just be the Polish saint of vodka distillers). So at this stage I leave my fate in your delicate hands – if you think we should change anything like seat numbers, flights, front doors, drinking habits or even home suburb please let me know.

Yours sincerely,

Mortified of Merivale

clip_image009[1]Another vat of gin was just the tonic to calm me down and with masses of help from good chums we were soon planning a fresh assault on those feckless Europeans for the last 3 weeks of our time in the van. Reverting to form we chose a couple of nights in Brugge to steady our nerves but again left Belgium as soon as the Fat Police discovered I had sneaked into the country undetected. I didn’t bite and we trundled south across the border, determined to annoy as many people as we could by pretending to speak French. That reminds me, what’s the difference between a French kiss and a Belgian kiss? The Belgian kiss is a little more Flemish.

What other little excitements have we had since I last wrote? Well, prior to Poland we had been in Berlin for a couple of weeks where the weather was pleasantly warm and it was in Berlin whilst we were walking around a construction site on Tinkelwasserstrasse (or something similar), when this wheeled nutter decided to make a point about Cyclists v. Pedestrians. We were on the temporary footpath and clear of the temporary bike path when this psychopath-on-the-cycle- path decided to hit Jane in the back with his elbow as he rode past at speed. As Jane crumpled from the impact I could do little more than wave my Lidl shopping bag at him and threaten to report him to the Fuhrer of the sausage people. In my younger days I was tough and ruthless, nowadays I’m just rough and toothless.

clip_image011[1]The bruising soon faded and we enjoyed several visits to Theme Park Ikea to buy stuff but also to relax with a glass of wine and a good book whilst awaiting the arrival of dinner guests.

clip_image013[1]clip_image014[1]We flew out of Berlin to help the Queen celebrate her diamante Jubilee. We were there 10 years ago for her 18ct Jube and it seemed appropriate we should accept the invitation and do our bit to represent the millions of minions in the dominions. You may have heard it was a slightly damp affair but we had a great time with lashings of chums and of course William had flown in for the reunion. As you can see he was a big hit with The Family. We visited friends who in their excitement drove off while Jane was still getting in the car – but the bruising soon faded. I did have lots of stories to share with you of this side-trip but without the pictures there’s not much point and sadly, Lech Waduster and Dodek the Detective haven’t yet found my laptop so please make do with this picture that I’ve just “obtained”:

After a week of being drenched during Britain’s wettest drought on record we took a Lufthansa flight (which was operated by BMI which is owned by British Airways) back to Berlin. Exiting the terminal we hopped in a taxi which drove off at speed whilst Jane was still getting into the back seat. I yelled at the driver and as usual threatened to report him to the Fuhrer of the sausage people. However he was a Muslim immigrant so that was to no avail. (I hope you get that one). We did however get a discount on the fare – and the bruising soon faded.

In France we visited Bayeux and finally got to see the 1,000 year old tapestry. If you haven’t seen it I can tell you that it is an impressive depiction of an historical event, but I was left with a nagging feeling that it might have been embroidered. Still I persevered and followed the story through the 70m long cartoon – without losing the thread.

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We also stumbled upon the discreet entrance to Dame Edna’s apartment and in a supermarket in Honfleur we found a niche product for the larger than average noses of the French.

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There’s now only a few days left before we detox the van and decamp from Dinard. We’re currently sitting on the Brittany coast where it has been sunny and warm and we’ve had the chance to catch up with more chums and are catching our breath after receiving the news that my Mum died yesterday. I think we’ll stay here for a few days in this beautiful and tranquil location for some quiet contemplation.

Sometimes the bruising takes a little longer to fade.

 

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