Raj’s account of the outward journey

Saturday the 18th of July, 2009


My version of events start just after 3am in the early hours of Saturday morning. Pulling into Tom’s driveway I was warmly welcomed by Vicci and Ellen who were already busy at work packing up the Chrysler. Vicci was pumped for the long hours ahead. Ellen was typically all smiles wearing a very comfortable looking dressing gown. Exhausted from my drive up from London I blagged my way out of helping too much with packing and got in a couple of hours kip.


Jaime wakes me up about an hour or so later. Apologetic for disturbing me but  absolving her guilt with a quick reminder I was being woken to start our HOLIDAYS! 🙂


We had the sunrise lighting our departure on an almost perfectly clear summer’s morning. Vicci was at the wheel, Tom sitting upfront, and in the back was Jaime, Ellen, and myself all in a row. Cosy in the back with all our additional luggage acting as footrests. The drive begins for Dover. We were only slightly behind schedule leaving The Warren around 5am. With Vicci in “trouper mode” and the route to Dover being reasonably straight forward it wasn’t long before the three in the back slept, including myself.


The next time I woke Jaime was on the phone with Chrysler, head office.  Using all her charm Jaime was negotiating a stereo unlock code. Apparently the garage back in Oxford had reset the stereo during the last routine service. The success of Jaime’s phone call was pivotal. No stereo meant no tunes. And Standlake to Founex with only my vocal range for entertainment would not have made happy the rest of the team! Thankfully Jaime’s charm worked and the unlock code was correct. From this point on ipod playlists were rotated in 30 minute blocks to help cater for everyone’s diverse taste.


Our ferry left Dover around 9.30am. It was only a short stint across the English Channel to Calais. With the Chrysler parked up in one of the below decks we were free to wander the boat’s upper decks. It had been years since I last was on a ferry and I’d forgotten how exciting it all was. There was a gentle rocking of the boat from side to side as we sailed off. It meant walking wasn’t as straight forward as on land. Get the rhythm of the rocking wrong and you’ll be falling sideways instead of walking forwards. In addition, any feelings of nausea could easily be attributed to the the rocking sensation. Poor Jamie wasn’t enjoying it too much.


We had a quick stroll. I was dead excited to see England get smaller in the distance so we all wandered to the back of the boat where there was an open deck for passengers to take in the view. It was very impressive. The white chalky colour of the cliffs of Dover were picturesque, with the harbour and town making up the landscape, and Dover’s old castle at the highest point on the hills. Wonderful!


There wasn’t too much debate needed for the next decision, it was time for breakfast. Everyone’s choice for breakfast was a little different. But we all had one thing in common, coffee.


After breakfast Tom and I had a go at the slot machines. I’d never played on these things before so Tom was feeding me instructions. Apparently it’s tradition to use the slot machines while crossing the channel. The results were £5 went in and £10 came out. Victory!


Before I had time to get bored on the boat we were already docking into  Calais. At this point things got a little manic. It seemed all the other drivers were extremely keen to leave the boat immediately. Maybe they had cabin fever or something but it was like motorists were almost revving their engines. This was rather confusing to me because surely the vast majority of people on the ferry were just starting their holidays. I couldn’t understand the rush. So we all bundled in the Chrysler in a quick-smart fashion and did our best to keep from delaying any vehicles behind us. For the next part of the journey Ellen was at the wheel and it was Jaime, Vicci and me in the back.


After getting off the boat we were soon on the motorway. A little point of useful trivia I soon picked up. French motorways are signposted with blue signs, just like in the UK. However, with UK motorways signs start with the leter ‘M’,  in France they use the leter ‘A’. Ellen was explaining it to me.


At the very first services we came to we pulled up and made time to organise ourselves inside the car. Tom had to be strapped in fully and the luggage at the back had become disorganised. It didn’t take long.


One of the items we were carrying in the back was Tom’s shower-chair. This is the chair Tom sits in while having a wash (obviously you can’t use a very expensive electric chair in the shower). At this point Vicci must have been extremely tired. The poor girl had been up for some 25 hours straight making sure the trip got off to a flawless start. After Tom was in and the bags were sorted Vicci was adjusting the shower-chair with cushions and blankets to make a shower-chair into a sleeping-chair.


I only draw attention to this adjustment of the shower-chair for one main reason. Either Vicci sleeps with the deep slumber of a hibernating grizzly bear or the additional cushions on the shower-chair transformed the chair into some industrial strength comfort! No matter how pounding the base beat of the music became, or how explosive the roar of laughter from a funny joke was, or how many times your nudged the girl, Vicci slept on! . . . and on  . . . and on. It was incredible! I’d never seen anything like it before. Vicci could sleep through anything! The next time Vicci awoke was at lunch. We’d pulled into another services a few hours later. The ramp to the Chrysler went down and, with Vicci still asleep in the shower-chair, Ellen and Jaime rolled her her out the door. Eventually the bump at the bottom of the ramp woke her!


It was a most delicious lunch. Tom and Ellen had packed up all the perishables from the fridge before we left and with a few extra bits from the shop we had a really lovely picnic. Olives and baguettes and cheese and lettuce and beetroot and yoghurt and other kinds of lovely things.


After lunch we got back on the road. We didn’t want to stop for too long to eat. There was a lot of driving ahead of us. Ellen remained at the wheel. Vicci got back to her deep deep slumber. We drove on. Ellen was very excited about cruise control on the Chrysler.


We weren’t doing too badly for time. We were making reasonable mileage but were definitely behind schedule. And then it happened. A loud pop followed by a flapping noise. We were travelling at 120kph up a gentle gradient on the A4 (French motorway) somewhere near Verdun, about 60km west of Metz, and we heard something that sounded like a tyre wasn’t happy. At this particular part of the motorway there was only a slow lane on our right, no hard shoulder. After a couple of hundred yards the hard shoulder came back and Ellen very calmly pulled the over the Chrysler. Ellen, the one with easiest ability to exit the Chrysler, inspected the right rear wheel and confirmed our fears. The tyre was hissing and letting out air at a very fast rate. We had a puncture.


Springing into action I knew this was my time to shine. All them years as a boyscout I figured, “no problem, I can fix a flat!”. We unloaded the boot. Out came the luggage and it began lining the edge of the hard shoulder. Next we got out the spare tyre and jack. I figured the jack lines up with the underside of the car next to the wheel. Ellen and I worked together to winch up the car. The jack was perpendicular the chassis. This was a mistake. The jack only had a very narrow base. And with the gentle gradient of the slope, as the rear right end of the Chrysler became increasingly elevated from the ground, the Chrysler naturally wanted to roll backwards under the force of gravity. Eventually the Chrysler was too high up and the jack was unable to resist the force of gravity and it gave in. In a sudden jolt the jack buckled under the pressure. This gave us all a shock.


We were now on the side of the A4 with a broken jack and a flat tyre. It was time for help. Tom got on the phone and spoke with our European breakdown policy people in the UK. It eventually transpired that motorway breakdowns can only be legally serviced by the the official breakdown service. French motorways are privately owned. Luckily there was an SOS telephone exchange about 10 feet away.


A short while later the motorway roadside recovery team arrived to assist. With the right tools now on hand in the back of their maintenance vehicle the  replacement tyre on in a jiffy. It was somewhere after 8pm when we were finally back on the road.


At some point Jaime took over as driver. The point at which this happened is a little foggy for me. I cannot recall if it was immediately after the puncture or if we stopped at some services again and then Ellen and Jaime swapped. I get the feeling the slight mental block might have something to do with Jaime’s crazy driving. For the next 4 hours, when Jaime was behind the wheel, my heart rate could not have dropped below 120bpm. The girl was wild on the wheel! Erratic breaking, cutting up drivers after over taking, hesitantly entering motorways. Oh my lord, never had I been so scared!


Ah, I jest. It wasn’t too bad. And Jaime did have the hardest drive to do. By this time the sun had long set and it was a particularly fiddly bit of the journey. It took keen attention from both Tom and I on directions to make sure we were on the right route. As we approached Strasbourg on the A4 we travelled across the river Rhine and into Germany. We were aiming to use the German A5 autobahn to blitz our way into Switzerland at lightning speeds. But the the French A4 and German A5 are not connected by motorway. We were winding our way around using national roads. Single lane things with roundabouts. It was tricky.


Once we were sure we were on the autobahn we were making great time. We entered Switzerland around Basel. It must have been nearing the small hours of the morning by this time. Shortly after arriving across the border another quick toilet break at a services and Vicci took over the driving for the last leg of the journey. I have to confess, with Jaime returning to her back seat position I was more at ease with the driving. Tom was confident over the route we were taking on Swiss soil so I don’t think we used the map too much after that.


It was nearing on 22 hours of straight travelling and all those who were not directly involved in driving or directions were drifting in and out of sleep all the way to David’s front door.


We finally arrived at David’s house at about 3 o’clock in the morning. Once we came of the Swiss main roads for the town of Founex it was like the whole of Switzerland was sleeping. So peaceful.


Josie was the first one out of the front door to welcome us all to Switzerland. David shortly followed. We had arrived. What a journey. What an experience. And we get to do it all over again, in reverse, on the way home. I know I can’t wait!

3 thoughts on “Raj’s account of the outward journey”

  1. Oh Raj, I miss you!
    I am so jealous that I’m not in Switzerland with you guys. I love that you have this blog so that I can hear all your stories.
    Luv you all and miss you heaps!
    Rach xx

  2. Hey! The password was right – at last!!! I managed to log in LOL.

    As soon as I read this post, I knew Raj was the genius behind the pen! Hilarious, yet one is caught up with the movement of the journey.. a loooonnng journey from the UK to Switzerland by car was turned into an adventure – I can just imagine, with this group – that this would have happened and the beautiful calm of Ellen settling like a cloud over the “madness”… you have to meet them to believe it – all fireballs of energy and such a great, clean, open, honest love shining out from each and every one of them. It was really lovely meeting everyone and my ex supervisor David!

    As long as I know David, gathering at his and Gillian’s home with the family has always been like this… No matter how much good work David Nabarro does for the world, to the world he’s the UN System Senior Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza (this includes all those nasty new flu viruses that affect us today like Influenza A etc.), to me he’s just David – a man with a big heart who has my respect, spare moments he has to organise gatherings like this last one to touch base with loads of people they never get to see in months because of work of course… I am deeply grateful for David who never changes, no matter what important position he holds. A highly influential individual who, due to his personal charisma, intelligence and wisdom remains simple – not many people are like this today..I am truly grateful in knowing them all. I am really glad I had a chance to work with David – geez how the guy made me run – thank goodness I found out he’s a “bullet point” person very fast – right up my road as this is the only way I function and the only way I survived LOL – it was a great experience – it really was….

    Anyhow, yesterday (Monday 21 July), meeting Tom, Ellen and their friends was especially heart-warming in that I was finally meeting all those people I had seen on the website in person – and boy was that a brilliant experience… what is great is that the “carers” are friends and more or less the same age as Tom so they all get on so very well – they’re constantly having a good time!! I told Tom they go out more than I do!!

    I had a great time and experienced a lot of good emotion with all those around me. Speaking with Tom, I find him as a fellow “Leo” – his birthday only days after mine – comfortable! I would have loved to speak more with him and friends – I’m sure we’d have a blast.

    Thank you so much to David and Gillian for inviting me to meet all these wonderful people. I truly enjoyed myself and I really hope to see them again in the future!!

    I wish all the best because you truly deserve it honestly.

    loads of love and hugs.

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