Saturday, 2 April 2011

Journey Through The Netherlands: 2. The Friendliness Of The Port And The Danish Ferry

Many years ago, I used to drive charity trucks to Poland. This meant having to start the journey at a variety of ports in England. Harwich, Purfleet, Tilbury and Dover. I was fond of the people who worked on the docks. They were great characters, kind and interested in what you were up to. The Customs, too were equally helpful. More direct, but different from the mixed reputation described to me by fellow truck and bus drivers.

So it was no surprise to find that the atmosphere at North Shields was equally genial. The dockers and the customs were inquisitive.

"A choir? On a tour of Holland? What an experience for them," said one. "Hope they have a wonderful time."

It was a painless performance going through Customs, who checked the bus and looked in various suitcases. The huge DFDS ferry, Princess Seaways was relatively empty. There were only two buses. One returning to Lille and us. The boss's words were ringing in my ears as I drove onto the boat:

"Don't do what another driver once did and drive into the doors, bashing all the panels on one side of the bus. And whatever you do - don't forget to put the ferry lift up."

My previous record of having being the only driver to hit the depot's main door on both sides and the top was still fresh in his memory, even though it was done a few years ago now. The ferry doors were far narrower and eminently hittable. But I missed them and the ferry lift worked, meaning the bus chassis raised up perfectly and saved the crunching of metal as the bottom of the bus would have connected with the ferry deck.

The evening was magical. The huge Princess Seaways gently turned in the narrow Tyne, avoiding crashing into the oil rig on the south bank and we floated out towards the north sea in the cloudless blue sky and warm Spring sunshine.

At the mouth of the river, there was a flurry of excitement among the children. Two of the parents had stationed themselves on the sea wall and were waving goodbye to their child. The North Sea was like a millpond with hardly a wave.

This was going to be a good start to the tour. The trouble on the hill had faded into the distance.

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