The Van - from Issue 51

It was 3 weeks before the tournament and we’d been planning this since we beat Belgium the previous summer. I’m just gobsmacked. Someone had just written off the campervan we had hired. Sacre Cour Rodders!! Smashed to bits it was. I’m thinking of the best way to break this to the lads. The latest list in a cast of hundreds who were booked on the van were, Hulby, Bennett, Wingnut, Tim Dog and Maximus. There had been numerous sign ups and drop outs in the previous 12 months, but these five were committed to 10 days in France watching the Dragon roar.

I shit out of telling them all day as I had booked it all, I needed a stroke of luck and 6 hours later a new van was found in Usk. It was available and was about 6 years newer than the doomed HMS titanic we were previously scheduled to sail on.

Two days before the Slovakia game I drove into darkest Gwent and picked up our home for the next few weeks. It sure looked bigger on the internet. It was all kitted out mind… Cups, glasses, plates, gas bottles… you know… all the things you don’t want Hulby near when you have a £1200 damages bond on the vehicle. I left the farm where the van was stored and gingerly hit the narrow lanes. Every bump on the road rattled a glass or cup, every oncoming car caused a major problem for me. This thing was wide, long and had no back windscreen. I was a nervous as Morrys Scott with an open goal. Just before Caerleon I met a learner, the instructor gestured that I reversed, but I could go nowhere. She eventually had to swap seats and reverse her car hundreds of yards back down the lane. I knew this adventure was going to be eventful. An hour later we were back in Dowlais and the lads were all popping up the house with supplies for the trip. The toilet was full to the roof with booze and the beds were divvied up.



At 4am on Friday morning we departed and by 5 we were on the bridge and the cans were flowing. Myself and co-pilot Hulby would have to make do with water as there was a vast amount of driving to do. We were fortunate to leave so early, we missed most of the traffic. Our good fortune was not to be shared by the Junior Dial M posse of Lager, Terret, Richie and The Flipper – who couldn’t leave Wales until 2pm that afternoon.

We picked up Maximus (later to gain the nickname Swampy) at Dover and we got on the 11am ferry to Calais. In Calais I pissed off the police by hogging the outside lane so much that I was bluelighted and asked to pull over and by noon the prognosis was that we would be hitting Bordeaux by 7pm, just in time for the France v Romania game. Sadly this ETA was based on the width of Hulby’s thumb and the Bald Avenger’s piss poor Pen Y dre education. We would arrive at 1am in reality – so he was only around 100% out.

A switch of driver saw the best sign of the day, “Welcome to the Duchy of Bordeaux”…. HORRAY!!! The next sign said “Bordeaux – 630km” – I could have cried. The Duchy of Bordeaux is longer then the UK, its huge. We drove and drove and drove, whilst the boys in the back drank and drank and drank. Their game of cards was TWIST. And only TWIST. And whenever someone had to twist, they would all sing, “Lets Twist again like we did last summer”. I could have killed Chubby bastard Checker that day.



Around 9pm, Hulby threw the van into a rest area, he turned off the engine and just walked into the distance. The road had broken his will. “Just pass me a rope” was his reply to my “Whassup Nige?”. So I took over for the last stretch and was met at the gates of the campsite by Suntan Sammy. We made a call to the Junior Dial M crew who were still in Calais. They wouldn’t get to Bordeaux until 10am on the morning of the match.

So it was time for bed, I was so tired. So tired that I didn’t even have a can. I just grabbed my duvet and headed to my bunk. In fairness for booking and driving the lads gave me pick of the bunks, so a single on the top floor was my hole. Bennet picked the Bunk below – it was the boot of the van. So the lads unpacked the supplies and unfolded his bed. Swampy and Tim were assigned the double above the driver and Hulby and Wingnut the converted table/bed.

As I said I was tired and to be honest other than drinking a large amount of Coors, the guys in the back had done nothing since we left Merthyr. There was stuff everywhere and we are trying to make up beds. The Dog asked me in an aggressive way where is sleeping bag was and I lost it with him. He visibly regressed into a 5 year old in front of my eyes as I tore him a new arse. His replay was, “Sorry Mike - I only asked”. I knew I would have to apologies in the morning and made a mental note that I would need to chill out as this was going to get worse before we got back home.

The table/bed was to sleep two people – however Mini Me and Tyrion Lanister were not on our trip. Within minutes Wingnut was sleeping on top of my duvet, lying in the aisle and I had a towel to keep me warm for the rest of the trip. Fairplay, he didn’t moan once.

Camping is shit. Don’t do it. Other than the matchdays, it would rain every day we were in France. When we reached the second campsite in Corbie northern France on the Wednesday our pitch was under a foot of water. Nigel’s “It’s like the Somme here” comment was wrong, as it was the Somme.
I won’t give you all the stories here as I will leave that to others that enjoyed our trip. Let’s just say it was the best summer ever. The people of France were awesome. They enjoyed us and we loved them. From the woman who took in our soaking wet line of clothes and washed and dried them for us, to the man who gave me some screws to fix the campervan despite treading in dog shit in the process, to the man who bought us all pizzas one night. There was not a cross word or any of the trouble that you saw on the TV. It was just a party, one that Wales were invited to and had a blast at.

It was great fun, the camping was awful, but the 9 other Martyrs who did the campervan experience got me through it was plenty of laughs. Thanks to each and every one of them. I couldn’t have spent the time with any better friends.
And to think on our return we had the £1200 bond refunded too – amazing.



Here are my top 10 France moments in no particular order:
Bale’s free kicks
We would have been happy just to see us score a goal, the one v Slovakia allowed us all to park the feeling of Welsh failure that had haunted us all our lives.



Mow the cat
The flat I hired in Bordeaux came with a live in Rabbit and Cat. Mow (the cat didn’t go Meow, but mow) was the biggest pain in the arse you could imagine. Bennet’s reaction to its constant whining was first class.

Lille’s Gay scene
After the Belgium game we tasted the local gay scene – it was a great success.

Saturday Afternoon at the Trocadero
Roasting hot, right in front of the Eifel Tower, loads of cheap Heineken and great friends. Best day of the tournament for me.



Hulby and the broken glass
Watching Hulbachino trying to get a mop and bucket to clean up a broken glass in pigeon French. What could be anymore funny? Une Glass, est Booosh!!!

Katosh
She left 6 of us sleep at her house and cooked us breakfast, even though we broke her midnight curfew by 3 hours. She drove into Lille to pick up our bags as we were late getting there and drove us all back to the station the following morning too. What a great host.

Getting tickets
Probably the hardest part of the tournament. Wolves was a diamond when we needed him most. Travelling without a ticket for the Belgium game was nerve racking, but getting that phone call that I could pick one up on arrival was fantastic. He will never know how thankful I was that night.

BBQ night
Having the Cewnty boys over for a BBQ, Dowlais mountain man style. How to get it lit properly? Hulby used a can of lynx deodorant and a lighter. I lost about 30% of my eyebrows. How I never poisoned anyone was a mystery.

Hal’s goals
The one to win the first game was a scruffy as the goal in the quarters was beautiful. Both counted the same and both gave us chills. That Belgium goal is now my favourite ever. How do you beat that?

Visiting the War Cemetery
The cemetery in the Somme with thousands of graves of brave young men brought home how fragile life can be and how we should live it to the full. We did that last summer.



Allez la Rouge!!

Donovan

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