I will admit to a certain tension in the stomach and sweaty palms as I swung the 52 seater coach through the barbed wire topped rusty gates and out onto the dual carriageway. These are big machines. In recent years I must confess that I have hung out with mainly middle class English folk, none of whom hold large vehicle licenses. I do not know anyone socially who can back up an articulated lorry with a 45 foot trailer (I believe that is a rig and semi-trailer for you guys out there). I’m not a tom-boy – it’s just that I had the chance to get the licenses and improve my chances of work a few years ago. Now, I have some lovely middle class friends who are good people and far kinder and sweeter than I am. However, there is a huge gulf between social classes in the UK. AND THE MAIN DIFFERENCE IS MONEY. These days I swan off to the opera, serve foie gras at dinner parties, gabble in a couple of foreign languages, write (and parody) romance fiction and indulge my love of art at any exhibition I want to see. And it is all because there is enough money to give me the resources and time to do it. Left to myself as a bus driver I would be poor and exhausted. I would be buying the out of date stuff at the discount store and maybe dreaming of a take-out pizza as a treat. If you go to the opera or the ballet – take a look around and tell me there that we do not have social,cultural and income apartheid.
Now, why is this? If I need a lawyer he/she will cost me about £200 per hour. By driving a bus I will get £5.93p an hour. You can argue that the lawyer had to do more training and is more intelligent. I can assure you that an incompetent lawyer will kill fewer people than an incompetent heavy goods vehicle driver. It is far from certain that a lot of the professional classes could handle heavy trucks and buses. The fact is that the controlling classes have skewed all of the systems to maximize their own take and to minimize wages for the working classes.The Trades Unions have lost both their power and, equally importantly, have lost their articulacy and leadership. Maybe this is the natural law of the Universe and that the poor will always be with us. And they will always have souls just like the rich.
So, I survived the check run and I start Monday morning. I know it is gonna be a bit of a challenge because I’m rather a soft old posh trollop these days. I’ve spotted a greasy spoon burger caravan on the industrial estate so perhaps I can take one home for Gilles as a special treat. I’m not sure where I’ll be driving or in what vehicle. I’m gonna take Sat Naff as my friend. (I know it sounds daft but Sat Naff really seems like a friend when I feel a bit lost and alone.)
We’ve got some dear friends for dinner tonight – hence all this moules and foie gras discussion. Now that I’ve got a horny handed job and can bang on about the struggle of the proletariat I’ll have to shut up. There’s nothing as tedious as the bloody righteous- particularly when it’s only essentially a posture.(I mean if I didn’t go to work next week there wouldn’t be debt collectors kicking the door).I wouldn’t die on the barricades or go without proper harissa paste or a decent cut of lamb in my authentic tagine dish.
How far away my home seems now. I wonder if there are any late figs and if the neighbours are harvesting them and the apples. As I cycled back through the industrial estate, past the KFC into the swirl of traffic and the fumes of container trucks I had a quick flash back to my other life. A taxi driver gave me the finger for slowing him down in the bus lane. I quickly snapped out of my dream and gave him a gesture concerning his solitary sex life. I’m re-finding my roots.
Still no car. The garage thinks it might be a semi emotional or electrical problem. Gilles keeps telling everyone that it is the torque converter. They say they’ll phone back. They don’t.
Emma thinx: Is wrongeous or lefteous the opposite of righteous?
So we cruised up towards the coast.The names of towns had lived their growing signposts of fame, then slipped away behind like rejected talent show hopefuls: Poitiers, Tours, Le Mans. It’s really quite alarming to realise that there actually is a weather line at the River Loire. The temperature steadily reduced by about 8 degrees Centigrade as we neared the coast. About a mile from the port there is a Mcdonalds and I could tell that Gilles was getting a bit excited. You see I have the zeal of the convert and see myself as une Francaise , une maitresse de moules, une femme de fromage. All in all too posh to nosh. Not so my Gallic gourmet -“Zay ave zee Big Tasty.” He told me. The place was crowded. (The French are lovin’it – but don’t tell anyone). We queued behind 4 chavs – baseball hats backwards, bits of bling, a few tattoos. Somewhere in their lives would be a hot hatch with an exaggerated exhaust pipe. I wanted coffee with my Big Tasty meal. “Impossible!” Snapped the serveuse.
“It is not part of the Big Tasty menu.” Mumbled the rude child in an exasperated tone. She was the kind of person who would be rejected by Somali pirates. I ordered 2 Big tasty meals and a separate coffee. I could tell she despised my tactical manoeuvre. We munched – or rather licked and absorbed our soggy baps. I felt like an amoeba slithering my body around the outside of some unspeakable nutrient mass. Gilles pretended to be enjoying himself but I know that deep down he is a flame grilled whopper guy.
We pulled away. In the distance were the lights of the port. Now -have you ever seen a horse galloping in the lead towards the last fence of the Grand National. Suddenly the animal looks at the fence and says “Nah!- I’ve had enough.” Yes- the car saw those lights and stopped – more or less dead. She did not want to leave France. She could read my pain. The thought of driving on the left had stopped her heart. Gilles started to make unrepeatable remarks about having given le garagiste 1,600 Euros. All that cholesterol and anger at his age could be dangerous. We needed some exercise. The push was only about a mile. We huffed and puffed up to the check in and just about let it roll up to the cabin. I was worried that they might not let us in pushing the car. No one noticed. We were directed to follow a Monsieur red vest. We shrugged and looked helpless. We had our boarding cards. We could ask for Asylum.
There were many shrugs, smiles and “C’est la vie”sentiments. A large lorry appeared driven by a cheerful docker. We explained the story of the newly repaired car. The guy shrugged. “In Charentes they only think of beaches and the sun…this is no surprise.”
He towed us on board. He shook our hands. As France slipped away behind us we made for the bar. The beer was French, the tricolore trailed out stiffly behind the ship. I was still a little bit at home.
Emma thinx: Disappointed? But deep down you were right weren’t you.