Saturday, 2 April 2011

Journey Through The Netherlands: 1. The First And Last Hill Is An Embarrassment

"I've had an Anus Horribles," said the Essex driver while we were chatting in the coach park and waiting for our respective tours to arrive.

"Do you mean Annus Horribilis?" I arrogantly corrected him.

"Yeah. That's it. Anyway it's been bloody awful so far this year."

My party turned up. The luggage was substantial and there was an abundance of bottled water which was loaded onto the bus. I hoped this wasn't going to be the start of my own annus horribilis, as it all looked very heavy.

The choir and their entourage boarded, brimming with excitement. We set off for the ferry port and the first leg of the journey to the Netherlands. Out of the coach park. Round the corner. Children waving. Mood ecstatic. Up the hill. Up the steep hill. Up the very steep hill. Up, up, up. Traffic lights green. Traffic lights still green. Slow car in front. Slower, slower, slower. Bus was slowing, but we might still make it. Lights turn to amber. Slower, but we can still make it. We can shoot the lights.

Blast. Drat and double drat. The pensioners in front have stopped. This could be interesting, I thought.

Sure enough when the lights turned green the pensioners slowly drove off. The bus didn't. It has a little foible of a slight delay on hills when the accelerator and the hand break have an argument. I was stuck. The bus wouldn't move. Even in crawler gear, no matter how much you revved the engine. The lights turned red again. Then green, then red. nothing happened except the queue of traffic behind me, which now stretched down to the bottom of the hill and round the corner. There was only one thing for it. Put the hazard lights on, reverse back down the hill and take a run at it, trying to time it to perfection.

So that's what happened. The cars behind scattered, overtook, undertook and blew their horns. Once on the flat, I started again and the gently climbed the hill again. I could hear the deep intake of breath and gasps from the passengers sitting behind. All was going to plan, until a second car piloted by pensioners appeared in front of the bus, driving at granny pace.

Oh no not again.

But the pensioners had a second wind and sped away, possibly as a result of seeing a bus steaming up behind them. The lights changed to amber, but it was too late to stop and we shot off up the hill, to nervous cheers of relief from the passengers.

I felt the confidence in their bus and volunteer driver had rapidly seeped away. What had they let themselves in for. It looked a distinct possibility that they may not make North Shields, let alone the Netherlands.

Bizarrely, I was brimming with confidence, armed with the knowledge that this was the first and last steep hill, it was downhill to the ferry port and the Netherlands would be flat as a pancake.

Restoring passenger confidence might take more work. I was now truly under the microscope.

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