You have never been truly cold until you consider changing into a ski suit in a lorry park ,whilst searching for a fur hat. The beloved ski suit that made outings to my brother’s friends houses in Hungary was mercifully sat in the back of the jeep. I woke up in the 4 by 4 to find a snoozing brother. To be exact, I couldn’t see him under his thick cosy sleeping bag and hat combo. I was convinced he had been lured from the car and disposed of in the car park, so banged on the interior lights and awoke a very startled warm looking brother, as I scratched around for extra layers.
Earlier in the journey I had asked him how he stopped the pipes freezing in his log cabin. “I put some palinkah down the dunny.” Palinkah is incidentally the 45 percent spirit that Hungarians make at home and keep in plastic bottles. I suspect it is actually anti freeze in the first place.
He also tells me of a jewellery heist in his Hungarian village. The locals tunnelled from a derelict house into the jewellers and robbed the entire shop of its gleaming treasures. Sadly however, they were caught en masse after the heist wandering back to their homes with pick axes slung over their shoulders. I start lookng at jewellers differently and wonder if it would be possible to befriend a couple of a pick axe weilding woodsmen,anytime soon.
Having left my phone at Budapest, we make the four hour round trip to go and collect it. I was most disappointed to note, once I was reunited with my beloved telecommunication tool; that the Hungarian police had deleted my amusing photo of 19 customs police wearing fur hats, smoking outside the airport, from the phone. They had clearly gone through every photo. Perhaps that is why it took 3 of the burly and not very bright men, to get me to fill in a form.
“Is this phone yours?” He waved the phone at me, without asking for a description.
My brother contemplated driving to his cabin to stock up on more cat food for the stray. He is completely emotionally detached from the creature he refuses to name, despite it now having a magnetic collar, an automated feeder and a heated bed. We continued through the night, down through beautiful Slovenia. Its good driving a blacked out Discovery in Eastern Europe. Everyone thinks you are mafia, cars pull out of the way and you are shown deference at check points. Paul had forgotten about the 8 litres of wine in the back of the car and a contraband bttle of palinkah.
“Oh yes,” I hear him say, “Thats wine, but thats ok, right? ”
“Not really,’ replies the hatchet faced customs official at nothing to declare. “But go!”
I suppose we might have looked slightly mafiosa, me in my fur finery and my brother with his skin head and sun glasses on top of his head.
We continued to drive through Italy and along mountain passes, huge sweeping mountains cragged down to wide turqoise harbours. Terracotta houses vyed for the best panoramas and as the sun peaked in the sky, the cliffs seemed to shimmer.
I forgot that I hadn’t showered in days and that Paul’s odorous fishing gear was piled up in the back. In that moment, my mind left all the surroundings except for the cliffs and the Mediterranean, there was an enormous sense of relief to see the sea, after kilometeres of tarmac. Any apathy I had melted and I began to fall in love. Love has never crept up on me, it grabs me and I have surrendered before I know of the battle. It has always been like that, an all consuming passion that burns any vestiges of rationale. The moment I spoke Italian I felt my heart slide from its armour. I love the expression, the chases and rhythms in the language the rise and fall, the anticipation and relief of the intonation. I ask where the toilets are and such a mundane question and reponse leaves me with butterflies, certainly not because of the middle aged pock marked woman who tells me where the loos are, but because of the sound of the language.
I wonder if any foreigner has ever felt love stir when asking where the toilets are in a Brummy service station and I rather suspect they haven’t. Driving through Italy to work in Spain, is a bit like spending a few weeks with the fresher faced, exciting cousin before settling down to live with his older and more solvent relative.
Still the nights in the 4 by 4 were much warmer as a result of the ski suit and I quickly downgraded any style. In fact before Paul woke up, I hopped into the truck stop in my ski suit to drink cafe cortado and ate a croissant. I didn’t bat an eyelid ( for once) . “Spanish?” the canteen worker enquired. ”
“No, British” I reply.
He flashed me an “Oh that explains it smile.” I imagined hoardes of Brits dressed in ski suits, disembarking from tour buses in the car park. We were looking forward to breaking the back of the Spanish leg of our journey, when disaster struck.