So there we were, two best friends, 20 years old, sat in my 1997 Vauxhall Corsa which had a dodgy clutch and engine, ready to go on a stupidly ill-advised trip spanning across through 4 countries in the space of a week with a tent and a vague idea of the direction we were heading in.
The time of our lives between finishing university and beginning life in the adult world had finally arrived and we both wanted to do something worthwhile before the dreaded time came where we had to find jobs and fit in with the rest of society. After a few questionable overdraft requests from the bank and a few puppy-eyed lending requests from the parents, and one very last minute decision to spend 24 pounds on travel insurance (seriously last minute, just before we set off) we made our way, in my old battered car coming to the end of its life, down the country from Middlesbrough to Dover. The plan was to go through France, stop off at Calais and Lille, make our way through Bruges and end up in Amsterdam, then doing it all again backwards and coming home; all in the space of a week.
We spent the week getting lost and going to the wrong places, but the story gets interesting on the final day. We were in Amsterdam and the plan was to drive all the way through Holland and Belgium until we arrived at France where we would stay over for one night, then get the ferry back to Dover and drive home to Middlesbrough the following day. After an hour of traipsing around Amsterdam looking for some cheap tat to take home we gave up and went back to the car. We sat down and the clutch was giving me grief, I’d asked my brother beforehand how to fix this and he showed me how to adjust it if it went wrong, so I did it, and with my action a lot of fluid came from under my bonnet and on to the floor. We looked at each other and I decided to ring my brother, he didn’t answer, so we decided that if the engine started we would just carry on as if nothing had happened. It started.
Too tired to care, we started on our way home, we got near Rotterdam and a very important turn was coming up but we missed it, we drove for around 10 miles in angry silence and we started hearing a clicking noise, it was so loud I thought it was road works outside, then the car started losing power, then the smoke came out, then the engine cut out, then we stopped, on the hard shoulder, in Rotterdam.
A Dutch man stopped and suggested we get some water so I volunteered my friend to go to a petrol station with him, not the best move considering he had no money, his passport was with me and his phone had died while I waited with the car. I didn’t know what to do so I rang my dad and he told me to wait for my friend then ring the insurance company, so I did, I waited for an hour and my friend didn’t return. At this point I was certain he was dead, I was debating in my mind what to do, how to go home alone and tell his family, how to tell his girlfriend, how I couldn’t do that and I’d have to live in Rotterdam ‘til I found him, lots of crazy thoughts were spinning round my head at the side of a motorway in this foreign land. Then the traffic started to slow gradually until it was at a standstill, I was confused, and then to add to my confusion a Dutch tow truck appeared from the distance and parked in front of me, he didn’t speak much English but told me I was in the way and that he had to move me so the ambulances could get to a crash. I told him I had to wait for my friend but he just smiled, ignored me and took my car and me down the motorway, we went about 4 miles away, my friend could be anywhere, and I was getting taken away from where we’d broken down.
I had no idea what to do, I was ready to have a breakdown myself until we pulled up at a petrol station about 4 miles away, and miraculously there he was, my friend, sat there alone with a two litre bottle of water under his chin, he saw me and sprinted over, we couldn’t believe it, we both thought it was game over for him, he was planning a new life in Rotterdam, begging until he could ring home, but he once heard Ray Mears say never leave the place where you may get found, so he didn’t, and we were somehow reunited.
The Dutch man had sent him in for water and with his last 2 euros he bought 2 litres, he got outside and the guy had drove away. Turns out the head gasket was blown on my car as I’d moved the engine coolant hose by accident, the insurance company sorted everything (in their own time) and we ended up driving all the way to Calais non-stop from Rotterdam in a rental car, then on a ferry at midnight and drove all the way from London to Middlesbrough in another rental car straight off the boat (funnily enough I wasn’t even legally old enough to drive a rental car, but the rental car dealer let us off because of the ridiculous scenario). There are a couple of morals to this story, Ray Mears is actually useful, and if travel insurance is 24 pounds, buy it.