Day 99 - Manchester
Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
68Trip End Nov 07, 2007
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Hair: Suspicious that it's for the chop
Beard: Shuffling nervously
Distance Driven: 14,202.7km
Frame of Mind: Ecstatic Tired Empty
Day 98 - Welcome Home
My watch wasn't working properly so I wasn't entirely sure what time it was but I was pretty sure I had plenty of time. The sun wasn't up and it was a short ride to the ferry - only 20km - but it took a surprisingly long time, which meant that I didn't have time to stock up on a rucksackful of red wine as is traditional for Brits returning home from the continent. I did have time to spend the last of my Euros on a pain au chocolat and a cappuccino. Nothing special. I know that I'm only in a ferry terminal so shouldn't expect wonders but it struck me as funny that I could get frothy coffee and pastries in every country that I went through. I could email without hassle. It is interesting to see it...globalisation. It's not so insidious, destructive, corrupting or all-American as many people make it out to be. Places adopt things from other cultures and countries. Often it is McDonalds, inevitably Coke but coffee, weak fizzy beer, olive oil, tobacco, sheesha, falael, hummous, Guinness, ice cream etc. etc. etc. It is a two-way process and generally the things that work stick.
I got to jump to the front of the ferry queue as I was a pikipiki. There was a French motorcyclist who was returning to Leeds uni on his bike. He'd come from the interior of France that morning and would continue to Leeds that afternoon. Must be a good 600 miles. It was nothing for him. Why does 300km seem so much to me?! It's all what you're used to I suppose. He was also wearing what I would consider as practically nothing (says I sounding like the Victorian great grandmother I am), having only a small leather jacket on top of a T-shirt. He claimed it was so well made that even at speed he was toasty. The wonders of properly designed stash, I must get me some of that before I finish this trip.
My bike was tied up and cushioned with large rugby tackle pads and looked happy as Larry, dwarfed inside the empty cavernous hull of the ferry. The odo said 29512.2km. She's done tremendously well and I was pleased as punch with her. I was taking her home - my home, not hers. This would be the first time she'd driven on the right for a good 10,000km (nearly a third of her life) and the first time she'd set wheels on British soil. I could sense that she was as excited as I was.
I dumped my bag and headed up to watch the sun rise on the top deck of the ferry and felt a tremendous sense of contentment and anticipation as the ferry pulled away into the dark grey channel, heading towards familiarity.
I actually can't really remember the ferry trip. I don't know what I did or how I spent the five or so hours before arriving in Portsmouth but I do remember realising that we were close and heading up on deck as Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower came into view. I didn't recognise it, I'd never seen it before bit it undoubtedly meant one thing: home.
Charlotte was clearly a bit choked up too as she refused to start for a little. We rolled out and over to passport control where I interrupted a sullen woman who gave a cursory glance over my passport before continuing to her much more important job of reading The Mirror. Yup, I was home alright! No customs checks, which was good in a way, as I wasn't 100% sure that it was ok to import Charlotte but what it did make me completely forget was insurance. My insurance was valid for Tunisia but did not cover France or the UK. I had completely forgotten about it and indeed did forget about it till just over two months after I arrived in the UK. It turned out to be quite a pity that I did forget.
So I had made it. Back home. It all looked and smelt so familiar. I was on the motorway heading towards Southampton within 2 minutes of leaving the ferry and was happy, unbelievably happy. Despite the unease I felt at being on a motorway, on the left, in so an exposed position I may have even shed a tear.
What did I notice about Britain, apart from everything? I drank in the familiar surroundings, the number plates, the white vans, the lorries, and motorway bridges, and verges, and signs. All so familiar, welcoming, comfortable. I knew how EVERYTHING worked - what to do, how to do it, where to go, when, why, everything. You just don't realise how much you know about your own country. I had never really felt homesick when I was in Tanzania or on my travels but now I realised how much I missed my home.
What really struck me were two things. Firstly the mile is much bigger than the kilometre. It takes a lot longer to drive a mile than a kilometre - around 1.609 times longer, but this is an eternity when estimating times in km is second nature. The second thing I noticed softened the impact of the first: Britain is so very small. All the places are so close together. Way closer than France. Only a few minutes after leaving Portsmouth and I was passing Southampton; a brief reverie later and I was up to Basingstoke; no time at all went by and I was pootering past Newbury and then before I knew it I was taking my picture next to the `Welcome to OxfordŽ sign near the park and ride. 150km. I'm sure I would have previously considered a journey to the seaside from Reading, let alone Oxford, a tedious and arduous journey, one well worth bringing a duvet in the car with me.
Oxford was where I was staying the night with some friends but I was very early so I visited my old college, Christ Church, and read the paper in the JCR (Junior Common Room), the room where I had wasted many a happy hour watching both episodes of Neighbours when I should have been consolidating that respectable 2-1. I felt out of place. So I went to the pub instead. English lager. Well, German actually. That was nice enough but the elation I had felt on the ride up had evaporated. It was a cold, dark night and I had a lot of unknowns in front of me, none of them exciting new countries or challenging drives. These were grown up things like a house to live in and a job to get. Despite being in one of the places I knew best and used to feel most at home, I felt very alone.
However when I got to Tom and Rhian's and they welcomed me in with a nice cup of tea I felt much better. Rhian confirmed in her gorgeous Welsh lilt that I did indeed look like a monster. There was only one thing for it: fish and chips. We couldn't manage the deep fried mars bar. Charlotte's clutch cable had broken once more but I cared not. I had a short trip up the country the following day and then it would all be over.
Day 99 - Last Stockport of Call
I was 50% on the way to yelling something offensive to the idiot car that had pulled out in front of me as I turned out of Tom's cark park but stopped myself and sheepishly steered onto the left hand side of the road instead. The clutch cable was replaced once again and I was off on the last leg of my journey. I contemplated going cross country, to make the most of it and see some things, do some real fun driving but to be perfectly honest I just wanted to get there.
The bookies had stopped taking bets a long time ago as the outcome was inevitable: as I was passing Birmingham it started to rain. Miserable, British drizzly rain that permeates cheap waterproofs infuriatingly well despite being so lacklustre. I stopped to dry off and warm up at the Hilton services and ended up signing up for a credit card from a desperate but attractive woman from a company that will remain unnamed (I was later refused - welcome home bad credit boy - but I hope she still got her commission).
A hop up the M6, confusion with the M62 or M60 or whatever it is, 29944.8km on the odometer, 14,202.7km since I'd left Mwanza, the Fir Tree pub in Reddish to wait for my sister. Mwanza to Manchester on a Pikipiki: I'd done it.
As I am writing this I feel slightly empty inside: not heartbreak, not anxiety, nor regret none of these and a bit of each at the same time. A chapter of my life was certainly at an end. I'd spent nearly two and a half years away from home in a fantastic, frustrating, enormous, bewildering, amazing continent. I'd met wonderful people and wankers. I'd made friends I'd never forget and never lose touch with. Had experiences I'd remember always. But, it was all officially over.
Sadly I didn't pass any signs welcoming me to Manchester so don't have a suitable finish picture. Nothing really to remember those last few hours with Charlotte. Claire was, of course, late, but the pub didn't mind serving me tea and the grumpy old codger near me didn't complain out loud at me drying my clothes on the seats. He did have a point, you're not allowed to smoke in the pubs now so you could smell my wet-dog clothes from quite a way away. Not everything is the same.