The Central Problem with Democracy – Would you let a Blind Person Drive a Bus?

That’s the moral dilemma – should the uninformed be allowed to vote?

My opinion on the outcome of this recent (Dec 2019) UK general election isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn particularly, even though his lacklustre performance over Brexit was partly to blame, nor was it even really about the Labour manifesto.  Labour say that they will ‘listen to the people’ and after a ‘period of reflection’ will elect a new leader.

This devastating labour defeat, crucially, asks one stark question: Should a party (in this case Labour) change its policies to attract voters, or should it continue to pursue the correct moral course of action, because the members feel collectively that it is in the best interest of society? In short, should politicians pander to populism?

My late mother was a dyed-in-the-wool socialist and a Labour party cardholder for 50+ years. I fell out with her over her support for Tony Blair, when he took us into the Iraq war as America’s puppet. She stuck with Labour, thick and thin, whatever they did, because she felt that it was better that Labour be in government, at any cost, rather than being a “rage in opposition” as she used to say. So some people will stick with a party ‘because they always have’ and some will be floating voters. That’s normal democracy.

To return to the thrust of this specific question; why did so many working class voters turn to the Tories in December 2019?  The conventional wisdom appears to be that they felt left behind and their voices unheeded. Which begs the question ‘how and why’ did this happen.

The short answer probably involves years of Thatcherism and monetarist policies, unregulated casino banking strategies and bailouts, in turn causing austerity. Unregulated markets, gig economy policies, zero hours contracts, all Conservative-centric issues incepted by successive right wing governments of varying degrees over recent years.

Unsurprisingly, the workers carrying out the means of production have been exploited and abused by the owners of the capital. That’s why food banks are on the rise and poverty continues to grow within the 5th richest country in the world.

So, when life eventually became intolerable for the left behind, the 2019 General Election lent them a collective voice.

The neo-liberal elite didn’t seem to offer a solution. Instead, the right wing took advantage of the working class, and indeed the ever-burgeoning underclass, by telling them that immigrants had caused all their misfortunes. Those EU migrants coming over to Great Britain and lowering wages, taking jobs, claiming free benefits and housing. The evidence was on the streets for all to see.  Eastern Europeans were begging outside cash machines along with the unfortunate home-grown victims of rampant capitalism.

No one mentioned the fact that for every poor unfortunate begging Romanian, many more were working in care homes, warehouses and hospital kitchens across the UK.

But the immigrants were singled out by the right wing media, the press barons so cosily in bed with politicians that the barbeque parties in Chipping Norton were like Sun newspaper senior management junkets.

The fact remains that successive governments were able to restrict immigration more carefully had they wanted to, and still retain freedom of movement, but it was too difficult and expensive. As a result of home office incompetence, immigrants (many of them non-European too) simply disappeared into bedsits working illegally across Britain.

But the neck-tatooed Tommy Robinson followers and their ilk were assisted to follow their prejudices by the Sun and The Daily Mail, which allowed them to believe that each and every one of these immigrants were housed at the state’s expense and given free television sets. Even the worst racist knows, or at least must suspect, really deep down, that these things simply aren’t true, but such media outlets allow their readers to take the path of least intellectual resistance and believe the lies. These aren’t news organisation, they’re simply opinion matrices. But that’s another issue.

So the question we must ask is this: Do we blame the Labour party for not appeasing racism and the uneducated sufficiently, or do we accept that a large swathe of the population is simply stupid, unpleasant and deeply selfish, who have largely allowed their misfortune to have been created for them by their own collective inaction over the years?

I take the latter view. Labour shouldn’t change its policies to pander to the death throes of the dispossessed. But if they don’t, they’ll never regain governmental control again.

It’s the conundrum of democracy, we’re all *equally* (usually negatively) affected by the opinions of the uneducated, unpleasant and often downright stupid. It’s the only system in society where unqualified and unsuitable people are allowed to affect others in such a way.

 

Would you allow someone who knew nothing about medicine to work as a surgeon? Would you allow a blind person to drive a bus? Of course not. What do you suppose would happen…?

It goes to show that our antiquated electoral system doesn’t work. But I think I have a solution.

To retain a civilised society, we need to ensure that the only people whose vote actually counts are those who clearly have an understanding of facts, and crucially how a candidate’s party’s policies will affect those issues. I’m not suggesting an IQ bar to voting, but with modern technology we could now be able to create an electronic polling booth using Artificial Intelligence, where random questions would be asked of a voter before they press a button to effectively ‘place their electronic cross’. This wouldn’t measure intelligence, rather a basic understanding of societal concepts.

So, when the voter turns up in the booth, they are presented on a screen, like a video game, with, say, five random multiple-choice questions, each needing to be answered within, perhaps, 30 seconds or a no-response is counted as a wrong answer. The questions need to be factual, VERY simple, non-partisan, and need to assess whether the person actually understands the basics of say, economics, social cohesion, basic current affairs etc.

I suggest that of the many thousands of ‘neutral’ questions the AI could generate might be thus:

“If you have a savings account in the bank and its interest rate goes up, would you expect to get”:

A) More money in your account
b) Less money in your account
c) It won’t make any difference

Or, perhaps:

“Is Nigeria a member of the European Union”?

a) Yes
b) No
c) It left the EU in 1985

If a person scores fewer than three correct answers out of five, when they press the vote button, their vote isn’t counted, but they don’t know that fact. Like the firing squad member with the blank in the rifle, it might not have been down to you.

That’s an interesting concept, and our democratic society might well be much better served by it. Over to the rabid populists to comment below. If they’d managed to read down as far to the end…

The curious incident of the carpet at closing time.

“You two cunts are barred. Fuck off!”

Were the first words from the landlady of the Bread & Basket, when I first took a posh ex-girlfriend in there a couple of years back. I’d already warned my companion that ‘The Basket’ was a bit on the dodgy side, nevertheless, she got wrong footed for a second or two, her Cheltenham Ladies’ College armour savagely pierced before she’d even had a chance to ask for a wedge of lime and ice in her vodka and tonic.

Standing next to me at the bar, she must have thought she’d been banned by association with her truck-driving bit of rough from Burton, but in any case, I hadn’t known her for very long.  I don’t think she’d heard the ‘C’ word used too often in her rural Leicestershire social circles. Living in the fox-hunting village capital of England with the privileged and proper probably insulated her from that sort of thing.

Fortunately, the two personae non gratae cunts in question had been standing directly behind us at the bar, so the comments were intended to go straight over our heads. They’d apparently been involved in a previous incident; chicken nuggets and the landlord’s daughter or something.  As instructed, they fucked off pretty quick. As did my ex-girlfriend, only a couple of weeks later as it happens.

girl-in-barbour

The sort of girl who never was destined for Burton On Trent…

Maybe it was because The Basket didn’t have any wedges of lime. Nor any ice.

The Basket is a proper working class street corner drinking joint. Their lunchtime and evening tasting menu sits on a cling film covered plastic tray on the bar.  Pork pies and maybe a few cheese and onion toasties

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Melamine tables and fluorescent lights complete the ambience. Indoor smoking is still tolerated, even encouraged by the management, after the front door is locked after eleven.  And that’s just on a school-night. It’s that sort of place. The sharp end of real life.

Since I’ve lived around the corner from the Basket, it’s been the closest thing to my ‘local’ for 14 years.  It’s probably the roughest pub in Burton On Trent, so by default, probably one of the roughest pubs in England.

After all, how many pubs could a bloke walk into at around 10:30pm on a Wednesday, already well canned-up, looking like he’d just been swimming (from walking through the slating rain) in his incongruous, smart-casual, caucasian middle class office clothes, whilst carrying on his shoulder an expensive looking, ten foot square, rolled up, mud stained, tasseled Moroccan style carpet?

The man walked through the half glazed door, where ’BAR’ is spelled out in clear lettering nestled amongst frosted glass. ‘SNUG’ is opposite. The vintage oil-damped closing-cylinder subtly snicks the door shut after the last tassel of the rug brushes past its frame.

It’s pretty obvious that such a carpet, a quality item, wouldn’t belong to a customer of The Basket, unless it had either been stolen, won in a bet, or maybe found wrapped around a dumped corpse. If so, who was the ordinary citizen carrying it? He looked like an office type. Probably a BMW 5 Series driver.  What was he doing there on the wrong side of the tracks?  Surely he should be at home in his three bed detached, watching property porn shows like ‘Escape to the Country’?  That carpet should be neatly arranged somewhere on top of his Ikea laminate flooring. Why would he bring such a thing into The Basket, unless there were some bizarre, almost certainly illegal, reason?

carpet-man.jpg

Nowhere near as respectable as him…

The man calmly stood the carpet up in a corner between two empty tables, gasping from the effort. A big quality rug like that weighs about 40 kilos even when dry.  He takes off his dripping wet, wax cotton Barbour jacket, and orders a pint. He’s served with a nod. The carpet isn’t mentioned by the landlord, nor by any of the dozen or so customers present. It’s invisible. Stranger or regular, everyone’s business is their own at The Basket.  Whether you’re from Poland, Pakistan or nearby Paget Street, a paying customer is a paying customer.

It’s Burton’s version of ‘omerta’; but try pulling a late night carpet-carrying stunt like that in some Chipping Norton gastro-pub and see how long it would take before you were tazered by the Five-O in the car park.  ‘He must have slipped over getting into the van, your honour…’

tazer2

As it happens I’d found that rug rolled-up and leaning against the door of a carpet shop as I’d walked home, half-gallon drunk in the drenching winter rain from Burton railway station. That was back in my self-delusional period of 2014, fooling myself that I was normal. A brief spate of conventional nine to five employment as a ‘Marketing Executive’.

I had just been on my way home, that’s all. Minding my own business. I figured that if somebody abandoned a perfectly good carpet leaned up against a carpet-shop door, it must have simply been surplus to requirements. That sort of logic probably explains why I’m no longer a marketing executive in a respectable organisation. Office jobs were never really my thing.

But back to the present. It’s November 2016 and it’s Friday night in the Basket.  I’d just taken the bus returning to Burton from the village of Willington, having walked six miles along the Trent & Mersey canal, from my house to the Rising Sun inn.  A short stroll legitimises a thirst. Six miles deserves six pints by my reckoning.

The Rising Sun is a convivial drinkers’ pub, where I tasted one of my first pints of Marston’s Pedigree, aged 16, in 1976. The place has still retained its identity as a proper pub.

bouncy-castle

No bouncy castle in the garden, no screeching vile children running around between the tables, nor is there a microwave-ready menu that might be vaguely nutritious if it were even perhaps served with a side order of food.

I walked inside, pulled ‘The Independent’ newspaper from my rucksack, sat down with my drink, and for a while, after reading a feature somewhere on a page five byline, I suddenly felt genuinely content. Which is rare for me.  Apparently, according to a survey written up by Phil Space from the Associated Survey Institute Foundation (AS IF) – people who regularly drink too much alcohol will be saved from a lingering jaundiced death if they enjoy (sic) fairly regular but moderate exercise. And that’s me, that is!

Wouldn’t you know it, despite regularly supping more than three times over the ‘recommended’ 21 weekly maximum units, my daily couple of miles walking to the pub apparently absolves my liver of all harm! Great news!

So I caught the bus back to The Basket for drink #7, which I’m now assured, won’t kill me after all.

Mmmmmm…..watch this space.

Culture in Hi-Viz?

There can’t be many folks who have such an unusual existence as this.  As a fully itinerant, caravan-dwelling, truck driver / copywriter / rough graphic designer/  jack of all trades, although officially a ‘master’ of one, I get to experience a wide variety of stuff.

Most people don’t have the misfortune to necessitate undergoing such nonsense in their lives. Up and down, but never boring, that’s me. The laborious litany of my continuing solitary struggle against society’s norms and values continues. Don’t ask me why; but to paraphrase Marlon Brando in Benedek’s 1953 movie classic ‘The Wild One’:

jonny2“What are you rebelling against, Johnny?”

“Whadda you got? …”

I’d spent last Tuesday early evening, three sober hours after my customary starting point of beer o’clock, in a rare dry-zone. There I was, lying on a wedge-shaped, caravan hewn memory foam mattress, reading Michael Parkinson’s comfortably pedestrian autobiography ‘Parky’; a recently purchased hardback from a Fleetwood charity shop. 50p.  Instead of my favourite fizzy electrified apple-juice, I was drinking tea from a melamine mug.

All because I had time to kill in the van. Heel-kicking. Waiting to go to work. One of the flaneur’s most irksome voids to navigate. I was pitched three miles from the M6 / M55 junction near Preston; on a quiet tourist site within strolling distance of an acceptable pub.  This extremely rare (for me) night shift was due to start at nine o’clock. There’s not much worse than lying around in the evening, waiting to start a shift. Other than getting up early to start one. Then again I was never really a big fan of the protestant work ethic.

But there’s a drought on HGV distribution work in the north west of England, and, as sordid as it may be to confess, I have to take what I can get up here.

I was hired to by a local rough-edged amateur agency, to drive a refrigerated 12 ton lorry from Preston to the Midlands. I was assured in the gravest terms by the controller, that my cargo was extremely valuable and vital. Intravenous fluids for the terminally cancerous, apparently. Feeds the poor buggers whilst numbing their pain for whatever time they have left. 40 grand a pallet.  For a moment my existential angst and self-created intellectual naval-gazing into the hardships of a regular life seemed a little less important.

dripCoincidentally, the drop-off point for those several hundred squidgy bags of intravenous opiated feed, was not three miles from my own two-up-two-down in Burton Upon Trent.  The place is currently rented out to thus-far reliable Hungarians, from whom I ashamedly insulate myself using a letting agency.  They’re a bunch of suits that take 7.5% to maintain my anonymity.  But if the rent money stops flowing, I’m guessing they won’t kill themselves to help me out.

It felt odd driving past my old familiar home, after nearly a year away. There’s a history I’m trying hard to bury, yet its secure familiarity ever pulls me back to consider re-occupation.

Within 12 hours, I’d returned the empty truck to Preston. I was straight back on the caravan’s memory foam wedge, attempting sleep. But bright daylight, despite blackout blinds, the noise of heavy rain on the fibreglass roof, and whip-crack thunder, conspired to keep me awake. I’d managed only a couple of hours dozing by noon.

Some design work for a local family-run building supplies company, that needed a few website changes, occupied me on the Mac for the early afternoon, then come 6pm, a thin yet pleasantly soporific Morrison’s Cote Du Rhone and more pedestrian Parky had me sparked out.

Then my unusually interesting Thursday started.  Feeling oddly refreshed, with a rarely civilised 8am start time, I was driving a dinky 7.5 ton van, pottering around west Lancs and Liverpool for a local building supplies company.

Colleagues who know me might be aware that my ongoing attitude to many other peoples’ unprofessionalism, in terms of the legality of truck driving and its associated hazards for the driver, can really get my goat.

For the sake of context, in order to inform anyone lucky enough never to have to drive a commercial vehicle for a living in 2016, here’s a thing. Driving a lorry nowadays is one of the few professions where the employee can lose several days’ wages, or indeed their vocational licence, just by sneezing in the general direction of a tachograph recorder, or, in essence, just trying to do an honest day’s work.

As a result, I’m known by the driving agencies who employ me as being a stickler for the rules. A Mary Queen of The Book. This isn’t due to a desire to adhere with the system, in fact, quite the reverse. I have a healthy disrespect for authority in many situations. Uniforms irk me.

In this case, it’s simply because I don’t want to be fined for someone else’s incompetence when they overloaded my truck, or if they send me about 16 road atlas pages away from base, then expect me to return within the four and a half hours allotted by the absurdly complex framework of legal drivers’ hours restrictions.

overturnedIn short, I don’t want to be featured on Radio 2 as the fuckwit blocking a motorway somewhere, with a shifted nine ton load, because some other, higher paid fuckwit, couldn’t be bothered to do the right thing in the first place.  Nor do I want to end up trying to sleep under a couple of mildewed furniture removal blankets on an unspeakably stained cab bunk bed, with no toothbrush nor hot food for the night, just because that same fuckwit’s routing software went haywire.

But none of that today!  For the first time, for some unknown reason, I suddenly just didn’t care about the penny-pinching, ‘profit before people’ attitude of some dodgy haulier.

“Oh we don’t normally bother with load straps. You’re only going down the road and we’ve got some new ones on order, but they keep going missing…”

No, I guess two tons of industrial floor tiles, balanced on on four rickety ancient pallets, the load ‘stretch-wrapped’ in about two layers of Poundland cling film, aren’t going to move anywhere when I go around the first unexpected sharp left hander.

But instead of quoting chapter and verse, I happily drove away without a word, almost hoping for the whole lot to spread over the M62; especially as I had hit ‘record’ on the smartphone in my pocket, after the boss started to tell me:

“No problem, pal. These curtain-side wagons don’t need straps, mate. They’ll hold anything…”

I can just see the look on his face as that phrase is played from the digital recording at some future inquest.  Yeah OK. Two tons of tiles held by a micron of cellophane. Let’s both save that conversation for the coroner’s court.

As it happens I drove around all day at a snail’s pace, ending up with only half a dozen broken ceramic shards and two relatively happy customers.

But on the way back to base, pulling into a ‘Spar Local’ service station for diesel, looking for the loo, I found myself taking a wrong turn down a few steps into a pleasure dome. Xanadu. A cellar full of proper wine. I made a double take. I went back up the steps and a sign above the door proclaimed an ‘Award Winning Quality Wine Merchants’. Bugger me.

What an oasis of civilisation in this god forsaken county; a cultural desert landscape of corner shops selling things called ‘barmcakes’ and pitta-bread serving bland doner kebab joints that close at 8pm. Forgive them lord for they know not what they do.

wine

Despite my current semi-drought of lucrative income, and a resultant aversion to spending, I just couldn’t resist buying a couple of Burgundies.  You couldn’t even find stuff like this in most French supermarkets, let alone a rural Lancashire ‘A’ road fuel stop. I parted with only £30 odd for two Côte Chalonnaises, but at a fraction of their neighbouring terroir’s Côte de Nuits prices.

“We don’t sell many of these…”

Said the innocent yet smouldering late-teenaged Lisa Bonet lookalike checkout girl. I recognised her instantly. I had completely fallen in love with her back in the 1980’s. I remembered her then, soaking wet on a sheetless lumpy mattress with its rickety iron bedhead; warm rainwater pouring straight down onto us through the disintegrating ceiling.  A thunderstorm. Voodoo undertones. Dirty, urgent, salt-sweat tangy passion in a seedy New Orleans French Quarter hotel room.

lisa-bBut sadly, it hadn’t been with me. That was her and Mickey Rourke in Alan Parker’s ‘Angel Heart’. I’ll never forget that sequence. Nevertheless, her face reminded me of that city by association.
A brief frisson returned to my memory, when I worked on cruiseships as a photographer in the early 1980’s, when my waist size in inches was slightly greater than my age in years.

I remembered when I was with a lovely tall Polish girl, an entertainer and sound / lighting engineer on the boat. We’d stroll off-duty down Bourbon Street. It was Mardi Gras one time when we were there. She had Sperry Topsiders on her feet, sockless ankles, and the shortest navy blue shorts.  Flawless evenly tanned limbs that carried on all the way up to heaven. She was all mine, I was all hers.  We had our whole lives in front of us. So we thought. But that was in another country, and besides, judging by her cocaine consumption then, the wench is probably dead. She was such a party animal, she made me look like a council librarian. And that takes some doing. I remember asking her at the time how an ordinary bloke from the rough side of Derby could be with the indisputably most attractive woman on our ship:

“Well, you’re a nice guy, but mostly it was because you asked me out…”

There’s a lesson that has occasionally served me well, I was never intimidated by attractive women, where others dared not chance their arm. But that’s another story.

I’m brought back to the Preston petrol station with a cruel bump:

“£33.98 please. Do you need a bag?”

“No, thanks. I can manage. What’s your name, if you don’t mind me asking?”

I was hoping it was Lisa or Luba, the two ladies over whom I’d just been reminiscing.

“Donna. Why, have I done something wrong?” she asked, slightly troubled while masking the irritation in her tone.

“No, no, not at all, quite the reverse.” I reassured.

“It’s just that…well, do you know the worst thing about being being a working class aesthete?” I asked, almost sighing the intonation.

“Eh? Do you keep fit, then?”

“Does it look like it?!”  As if she wouldn’t have noticed my beer gut… “I said aesthete”

“A what?”

“Well, it’s like… someone with a bit of culture, but in a Hi Viz jacket.”

hi-viz

Image courtesy of Ace Workwear see link below:

http://www.aceworkgear.com/workwear/hi-vis-workwear

How I hate the Hi Viz tabard. That uniform of oppression; the ubiquitous garb of minimum wage slavery and obese middle management logistics lackies. I always leave mine off whenever possible. Like now.

She glances over to the truck. “Oh, OK, yeah. I get it. Sorry.  So what’s the problem?”

She’s obviously a bit intrigued now. If I was 25 years younger I’d have gone into proper chat-up mode…

“I mean, it’s tough having expensive tastes but no money.”

“Jeez. That must be crap”.

“Yeah, sometimes.”

Brexiters, did you order the code red?!

jackYou fuckin’ people… you have no idea how to harmonise a nation. All you did was weaken a country today. And that’s all you did. You put people’s livelyhoods in danger. Sweet dreams.

Enjoy the the mess: probably losing Scotland, the Irish border question, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, re-issuing passports, the serious concerns of Brits abroad, not least their pensions.

Farming subsidies, EU research grants and EHIC reciprocal healthcare agreements will probably all disappear. Get ready for two-hour queues at ports and airports, having to apply for visas in every European country you visit, Hardworking EU citizens in Britain, who pay UK PAYE tax at 20% (just like you), the mountain of legislation to be torn up and rewritten…

The uncertainty in itself, whatever happens, is bound to damage our economy. Are Europeans going to look for work here if they might get thrown out in 2019? Have a guess. And if you work on a UK car production line, you’d better start re-training, tariffs on parts sourced outside the EU wil probably render car manufacture in the UK uneconomic.

I’ll bet you’re really looking forward to the prospect of all those rotten vegetables lying un-picked in the fields of Lincolnshire, or the near-doubling of food prices so the farmers can afford to pay £10 per hour to the eager workforce of the great British unemployed.

And do you REALLY think that figure of £350m per year, however anyone came by it, if it exists, will go anywhere other than down the same plughole it always has? It’ll continue to line the pockets of British politicians via expenses, and / or the endless strata of middle management in the NHS or the Civil Service. Maybe it’ll be spent on nukes we’ll never need, to sit for the next 20 years in a Scottish Loch.  Oh, by the way, the Scots who build and maintain those submarines will soon be remaining in the EU but the English won’t… how will that work?

Just because you voted out, the fishing industry won’t come back to Grimsby, nor will coal mining return to Doncaster. Sadly, those industries ran their course, for a variety of reasons, largely irrespective of European legislation.

We didn’t fight hard enough for our rights to re-train, nor did we campaign very visibly to revive those deprived areas.

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It wasn’t the Polish, the Lithuanians or the Bulgarians who made ordinary British folk have to work for seven quid an hour; it was our lack of solidarity as a British working class. We allowed Thatcher and Blair to fuck us over with the National Lottery, cheap alcohol, tax free betting, Sky TV and credit card debt. The new opiates of the masses. We were too tired, drunk or falsely entertained to think about anything else.

You can have Brit bureaucracy or Brussels bureaucracy. It all costs us about the same.

I was driving a truck around Lincolnshire yesterday, delivering building materials to building sites. I spoke with a forklift driver who told me he’d voted ‘Out’ because he was sick of “seeing all those bloody Polish in Skegness” when he went on his two week holiday to Butlins. Thanks, mate. Now I can’t retire to a modest little two up-two-down adobe village house in rural Andalucia because you couldn’t think through the consequences of your misguided protest vote.

Brexiters, don’t blame hard working or even bone-idle European immigrants for your own difficulties. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, look up from the Daily Star or the Daily Mail, then try staring hard into the nearest mirror.

A caravan across the Pyrenees in winter?!

On leaving the Dordogne on 27th Feb, I hit very sticky snow and an equally sticky situation on the approach to the Col Du Somport tunnel, when going over the Pyrenees to Spain that afternoon. I have to say that driving the approach to that tunnel was the most frightened I’d been in years.

About 20km north of the tunnel, I was ascending south, past dozens of cars and camper vans, which were stuck solidly, even though most were fitted with snow chains; HGV’s had been halted by the Gendarmerie way back. It seemed that I was the only vehicle moving.

snow-pyrenees-crossing-05-lo-resAs I continued past stranded vehicles, in my trusty SWB Land Rover Defender 90 2.4 Tdci Puma, climbing 1:7 gradients on freezing snow, towing a 1.6 tonne caravan, diff lock and lo-transfer gearbox engaged, there was no indication how far ahead the tunnel lay.  I simply had no idea how much more altitude there was to climb. One of the Landy’s wheels would occasionally spin, but the other three BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres kept biting through the frozen slush when another strayed.

The nose weight of the caravan on the tail end seemed to help, and in hindsight I now remain convinced that the Land Rover Defender is, quite simply, the best vehicle for dangerous or difficult  conditions that has ever been built. I’ve driven many of my house sitting clients’ 4×4 vehicles, but the Defender is the only off-roader with which I’d trust my life. I honour those marvellous ladies and gentlemen of Solihull, and would take this opportunity to publicly thank them here. The Defender is up there in my estimation with the designer of the Wonderbra and the head brewer at H P Bulmer of Herefordshire.

snow-pyrenees-crossing-02-lo-resI simply couldn’t pull over to look at the road map, nor ask any locals as to the likely road conditions ahead, because whenever I saw the odd lone walker, or a lay-by, the road’s verges were all over a metre deep with snow drifts. I was becoming terrified of simply running out of road further up the mountain, applying the handbrake, and sliding down an ice sheet with four stationary wheels over the edge of some abyss.

The relief when a snow plough sat behind me, for what turned out to be the remaining five kilometres before the tunnel, was blissful.

snow-pyrenees-crossing-06-lo-resOn arriving at the tunnel customs post, an employee in a very reassuring hi-viz coat and two way radio, expressed his extreme surprise on seeing a car towing a caravan.

“How the hell did you get up here?!” he expressed in heavily Spanish-accented French .

“Landy’s best, fuck the rest!” I replied, as I patted the bonnet. I don’t think he got the exact words but understood the sentiment.

“Muy bien, muy bien…” Spanish and French are evidently interchangeable here.

I asked him about the conditions on the other side of the pass.

“Better than this side, the Spanish snow-plough drivers workers haven’t all gone home like most of our lot…” he replied.

A couple of hours later, I was sitting in the caravan, the 2kw heater flat-out, chugging down a few glasses of Temperanillo, under the tupperware-grey failing light, whilst staying out of the biting cold wind that whistled around Zaragoza’s municipal campsite.  But what the hell, I’d made it through another day whilst some would be in their sleeping bags or aluminium-foil blankets a thousand metres higher on the approach to Somport. Tomorrow, God willing, Toledo.