“I dunno how you do that mate. Drive for that long.” I’m sitting with a friend, knackered. He went on today’s mission with me. Another fantastical journey through the daytime. We saw dawn behind us as we struck out in the morning – putting the Soul Van through its paces. About two hours in we got wobbly, and I had to stop to check the torque on the wheel nuts. A lot of it is to do with the wind. The thing gets blown all over the place when it’s empty. I had only driven it ramjammed with furniture up until this morning, so it took me by surprise to be skittled about quite so much. Once I almost got blown into the next lane.
First proper stop was Macclesfield. My mate’s dad has a storage unit in an art space there full of his son’s old shows. He wants it emptied. I’ve met him a few times before, clambering over piles of stuff, looking for this box of candleabras or that specific flat and so forth. He also has a garage full of gargantuan flats up there. The flats are going to form the set of the new tour of Rotterdam, a love story with an unusual angle, coming back in April, starting at The Rose in Kingston and going all over the country. Someone is going to be doing a lot of hauling, looking at how many big flats there were up there. I’m sure the tour will go well. It’s a lovely piece of theatre.
I’ve done a few tours over the years, sometimes doubling as ASM, sometimes just being the prat that comes in and looks fabulous after all the work is finished. These flats though – they’re bigger than I’m used to hauling. Still, we got them all in the van.
Then to Cambridge. I’d been worrying about Cambridge. I’d been told it’s hard to get in to the storage unit. “People in the past have given up and gone” All I had was a post code. The satnav took us up a bridleway in the middle of nowhere, typically with the only vehicle in twenty miles on the same bridleway directly behind us. I stopped. “See if the van driver knows where this place is,” I tried, and pulled over to the side onto a nice patch of grass. He didn’t. He was delivering something.
My passengers both lit a fag, and I watched as someone came through a gate and walked towards us after the van left. “Can I help you?” said a voice reminiscent of adenoids and wallpaper. “Yes, you can I hope. We’re looking for a storage depot.” This robust sexagenerian gave us loose directions, and I thanked him. “Just as well you came out,” I said ingratiatingly as it was clear he wanted us to get the hell away from his home – this bearded twerp and the two reprobates smoking on his lawn. “I could see you very clearly on the CCTV.” He ground on, nose vibrating. “Two men and one woman,” he concluded proudly. “Yes that’s right,” I gushed, and got in the cab.
As we were turning round, we saw his house and understood a little more about why he was so anxious to vaunt his high-tech security. He lives in a house that’s straight off grand designs. Literally. My passengers both recognised it. A beautiful vast converted barn with so much glass, so much light. Not what we were looking for though.
We eventually located the storage when one of us used Google satellite and found a building that looked like a big barn. The bloke’s directions weren’t great. Roughly translated, “Get off my land and go sort of that way.” Technology saved the day.
We rang the night watchman something like two dozen times, until he caved in and realised it would be a more peaceful night if he let us in rather than just ignored us. He said either “I can’t let you in,” or “ok I’ll let you in.” The gate didn’t move for a few minutes so we started bothering his bell again and it worked eventually. Either he had a long way to go to push the button, or he got fed up.
Down a dark path to this night city of huge metal barns, looming up around us in the darkness. He didn’t come out, this mysterious mumbling watchman. We found the right barn through trial and error. We got in, unloaded – (phew) and missioned back to London via a service station for hideous unforgivable food. Job done.
But yes. I’m knackered. Partly because I’ve eaten so badly and partly because I’ve driven so long. Happy knackered though. It was good conversation in that van. The hours flew by.
Then I tried to do a practical thing. I just tried to put a duvet cover on.
It seems I have lost my basic motor skills after all the concentration. Still, I’m getting to know the van. And I’m learning to pay very close attention to diesel prices and avoid filling up on the motorway, the crooks.
I’m off to sleep. The foxes are banging outside, screaming as they go. I expect they won’t be able to keep me awake…