Friday, 2 March 2012

A Tale Of Stale Socks And Purple Y Fronts

Going to France this year?

The French are experts of loading up your car, truck or bus with objects which you must by law carry with you. Already you have to take fluorescent jackets, fire extinguishers and warning triangles. All eminently sensible. Carrying spare bulbs used to be sensible, but these days more and more car designs make it impossible for the average person to change a bulb. It requires the expertise of a mechanic, so there is little point in carrying the bulbs anymore, unless you have a vintage vehicle.

The law changed in France in January with regard to devices which are capable of detecting speed cameras. Before it just referred to specific snooper type radar detectors, but now it is being extended to cover Sat Navs. That's fine if you have a portable Sat Nav, as it is possible to disable the camera alerts. If it is built in to the car, then it becomes more complicated and might need the manufacturer's input.

Now there is going to be a new requirement from July (if the law is passed - and the start date is by no means definite) to carry breathaliser kits. There is not much to say about that. Maybe it is a good idea, maybe it isn't. What I found amusing was the fast way in which some companies spotted an opportunity which will be lucrative. Take Irish Ferries. Though the law has not been introduced yet, they whizzed off a press release entitled: 'Irish Ferries  Says New French Breathaliser Law A Positive Measure'. They concluded that they will be on sale on their boats to France ahead of the proposed start date of the legislation. Good for them. The marketing department will get a bonus this year.

In Spain, if you wear glasses, you are required to keep a spare pare in the vehicle. Other countries have different rules. It is complicated. For once it would be great if there was one pan-European regulation.

Driving a bus on the continent is brilliant and awful. Brilliant because the traffic is less and it is a more pleasurable place to drive than the M25. Awful because of the often long distances you have to drive, mainly along boring Autoroutes and mainly at night.

Before the recent crash in France, there was already in existance a petition against coach drivers having to share rooms during their rest periods. It was something which has been common practise for years throughout the industry, a). because it saved the bus companies money shoving all the drivers into one room and b). it became part of the enforced cameraderie of driving, though sometimes there had been a differing of opinions of certain drivers, who, fuelled by alcohol, wanted to punch each others lights out. Even on a ferry or when you got to the destination, the drivers had to share a room.

I can't remember how many dreadful places I have spent the night. Once it was in a tent. I used to dread arriving at a hotel room, knowing that it had been occupied by numerous other drivers before and that it was unlikely  that the sheets had been changed. The aroma of bus drivers who had been on the road for twenty hours was not a pleasant one. There were full bins, cups with used teabags in the bottom, wet towels slung everywhere, a sweat shadow on the sheets and a beer and aftershave smell on the pillows. Often the hotels would demand extra payment if they knew there was a turnover of drivers, so the bus companies wouldn't tell them and therefore the rooms wouldn't be cleaned.

But I didn't really care. After a day and a night's driving through the centre of France, I would arrive at the hotel feeling knackered.  A quick shower, search for the cleanest part of the bed, turn of the pillow andd you were off into the lan of Nod. It was when you woke up that the stale smell of old socks and eau de bus driver hit.

The trouble with the bus industry is that it has spiralled down into the bargain basement mode of travel. It is ever decreasing circles.  People want to travel for next to nothing, which means the companies the companies have to keep their costs at rock bottom. The poor old British coach driver will never be on the same level as their continental colleagues, except in a few cases.

All in all, the safety is pretty well regulated. Though there are the odd accidents, given the amount of bus trips, it is a remarkably safe form of travel. Maybe eradicating the smell of old socks, having to share a room with an elderly driver who insisted in prancing around only in his purple y-fronts and giving the drivers some extra peace and dignity may make it even safer.

Then again, last year there was a report by scientists in Kenya who suggested that the smell of socks could help in the fight against malaria - if they are left in a trap outside. You never know what kind of bugs are lurking in any hotel bed.

I'm not going to be changing my socks so often in future.

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