Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!
Although the life of a driver can be lonely, Mr Boss was happy for me to carry
passengers. Often this would be Girlfriend du jour. But just occasionally…
My first trip to Portugal was supposed to be a quick in and out in between my usual tramping work all over Europe. I had a load of girders to deliver just north of Porto and a load to collect from Jerez in Spain once I was tipped. The trip was scheduled so I arrived on the Friday, got tipped Saturday morning having cleared customs in Porto, then straight out into Spain again, ready to load on Monday morning. It was mid July, the sun was shining, and everything was all right with the world.
As I pulled up to the Spanish/Portuguese border at Villar Formoso I was met with a long line of trucks queuing to go through. I pulled in to the end of the line and parked, then got out to see what was causing the hold-up. The third truck I came to was a British registered wagon and so I asked the driver if he knew what the problem was.
“From what I gather there’s either a strike or a holiday. I can’t make it out.”
The pair of us walked further down the line and I asked the driver of a French truck what was causing our unscheduled stop. He shrugged in the typical Gallic way. He too was baffled and he accompanied us as we strolled up the line. A Spanish registered truck had its driver’s door open and the driver was sat inside reading a newspaper, so in my newly learned Spanish I enquired after the health of his toothbrush. He looked at me askance. I did a quick mental shuffling of Spanish nouns and managed to establish that the reason for the hold-up was preparations for a bank holiday on Monday of which none of us were aware. I passed the information on to my French friend, who, it transpired, spoke Spanish rather better than I did, and my English compatriot, who was impressed with my linguistic prowess, and I was not going to tell him any different!
Very slowly the queue abated and eventually I was waved through the rather primitive shed area of the Portuguese customs area, and into the country. There I sampled, for the first time, the Portuguese road system. When The Gods made Portugal they wanted to make it really big, but discovered that when it was shown on a map it made Spain look silly and so they hammered the edges until it fit better, and as a result the landmass got all wrinkled and crinkly. Now, it is possible that you may remember your geography teacher talking about tectonic plates, continental drift and other such guff. Personally I prefer my version. Either way, the route from the border to Porto was along some of the twistiest and steepest roads I have ever encountered.
As I crawled my way up an incline some miles into the country my eyes fell upon a vision, an apparition, a…what the hell was it? Walking along the road was somebody apparently clad in nineteen fifties drawing room curtains, with an Afghan Hound around its neck. As I drew nearer the Afghan Hound resolved into a very furry collar on a Parka, whilst the nineteen fifties drawing room curtains resolved into…nineteen fifties drawing room curtains. Purple paisley pattern fabric, red sashes, velvet, silks, cotton, all amalgamated into something that may have been trousers, may have been a skirt, but was, without a doubt, English. And the whole person was hitch-hiking. Intrigued, I stopped to see if it wanted a lift.
It turned out to be a very attractive young lady. Gratefully she climbed into the truck and threw her rucksack into the back.
“Hi! I’m Echo.”
“Echo!” she grinned at me.
I asked her what she was doing and she told me that she was going round Europe on a pound a day. Clearly I looked askance. She explained that she had finished University and was having a gap year before deciding whether to continue education or look for work. In the meantime she had allotted three hundred pounds and set out to hitchhike and walk around Europe, spending as little money as possible and depending on the kindness of strangers. I looked at her again. Tall, slender, waist length brown hair, startling blue eyes set in a perfect face. I was smitten. It occurred to me that if she had the same effect on other European males as she had on me she would probably return home with most of the three hundred unspent.
I asked where she wanted taking and she said that wherever I was going would be good for her. She was in no hurry and when I told her I was going to Porto she was quite happy to accompany me. I was happy to let her. And so we set off. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am shy around strangers and more so around the opposite sex. Echo, however, was easy to talk to and even easier to listen to. As we toiled along the road between the boarder and the motorway, we discussed everything and nothing, we OOOHED and AAAHED at the scenery and within an hour it was as if we had known each other for years. Truth to tell, I can’t remember much about the journey to the coast, but before long we had reached the motorway that runs between Porto and Lisbon, and shortly after that we arrived in Porto.
Following the signs to the TIR yard I was concerned that there was little HGV traffic on the road. However, my concern became alarm when we arrived at the TIR park to find that apart from one Spanish registered truck it was totally empty. I pulled to a halt and we got out to see if we could make any sense out of what was happening. I was not a little impressed when Echo asked, in Spanish, what was occurring and nodded and chatted for a while. She then turned to me and explained that a bank holiday had been declared and no work would be done today, over the weekend or Monday. As a result, any chance I had for a reload was blown out of the water. I would have to park up, clear Customs on Tuesday and get tipped, and then hope to get a reload a soon as was possible.
The Spaniard suggested that British truckers usually congregated at The Atlantica Bar and pointed out on a map where it was located. He assured me that there was plenty of room to park and I should take the trailer as well, for security. Echo seemed quite delighted at the idea of stopping for the weekend and I was not going to argue with her, so we set out for Matosinhos and The Atlantica Bar.
The bar turned out to be a large single story building, literally on the beach and beside it were maybe half a dozen British and Dutch trucks, parked on compacted sand, right there on the beach. Oh my! Mid summer, Portugal, with three days off, parked on the beach, next to a bar, with a beautiful girl as company. What could be better?
Well, what could be better became better later that evening, when I suggested that Echo might like to borrow my sleeping bag and sleep in the trailer. She looked at me and at the back bunk.
“What is wrong with me sleeping there?” she enquired.
“Well that’s where I sl….Ooooh! Nothing. Nothing at all”
It was a more innocent time. STDs were the numbers you put in front of a telephone number if you were calling from out of town. Aids were a slimming supplement. We werenot fettered by mores and vows of chastity. We were not bound by promise of celibacy and faithfulness. In truth, the only thing that bound and fettered us was gravity and the small area that was an HGV bunk bed. Good taste requires that I draw a veil over the more physical aspects of that night, but I trust you will allow me a brief moment to remember and marvel that I didn’t dislocate anything major.
We leaned a lot more about each other that night. I leaned that oral sex did not involve talking at all and she learned that the distance between the bottom bunk and the top bunk was exactly five inches below where your head reaches when you sit up suddenly. I learned that she was incredibly sensitive when touched in a certain way and she learned that the distance between the bottom bunk and the top bunk was exactly five inches below where your head reaches when you sit up suddenly. I learned that her command of basic Anglo-Saxon was even more impressive than her command of Spanish and she learned that I knew how a gentleman apologises to a lady he has wronged. I learned that more than once a night was possible, when you were motivated strongly enough and she learned that more than four times a night was not possible without the aid of trained medical professionals. I learned that she was warm and cuddly and she learned that I snored. I learned that she intended to stay with me for a little while longer, at least, and she learned that I giggled. And people say that learning is boring…
The next morning, when I awoke, she was gone. Briefly I was mortified, but I realised that I should not really have expected anything else. I was an ordinary truck driver, of little or no merit, and she was an incredibly attractive, intelligent young lady. To her I must have seemed a toy, a means of transport a…there was a note on the dashboard.
“Hi, I’ve gone for a swim. Get breakfast cooking for when I get back.”
I have never really understood why, but I find a woman in a swimsuit at least as sexyas a woman out of one. Possibly the seduction of the concealed. Possibly the promise, the lure of what is to come. Possibly I am just weird. In any case, when she returned, in a shining pink and blue swimsuit I nearly burned my sausage.
Later that day we met up with some of the other drivers and went to the Atlantica Bar for a meal. On the menu was homemade vegetable soup and as I adore soups, I ordered a bowl. Marco, the waiter, came out with the order. Marco, the waiter, had a problem. Marco, the waiter, was stoned. As he came over, he tripped or stumbled, and the hot soup tipped neatly into my lap. Fortunately the sea was a few seconds away, at a dead run, and it provided a cooling solution. Eventually I emerged from the ocean, and trudged back to the truck, changed into dry clothing, then returned to the bar. The owner was stood at the door, and angrily waved a bill in my face. She wanted to charge me for the soup! Echo wandered up and explained what had happened, and I offered to show her the damage. The owner relented and offered me free food and drink for the remainder of my stay. I never did get around to trying the soup, however.
Sunday saw me up and cooking breakfast as Echo again went swimming, and shortly after that we both set out to walk into Porto and partake of some sightseeing. Regimented rows of white walled, red tiled buildings rose from the sea up into the hills. Designed for keeping port stored in exactly the right condition to mature; now they were beginning to be redeveloped into what was, at that time, a burgeoning tourist industry. As European money had been poured into its neighbour, Spain, now it was beginning to be routed into Portugal, but at the time of my visit Portugal was still an incredibly poor country. The jarring dissonance of wealth and paucity, affluence and effluent, was plain to see. An area of white stone villas segued uncomfortably into a shantytown of tin and breezeblock, then into an industrial sprawl of soot-belching chimneys, steel refineries, smoke and flame. It was simultaneously awesome and depressing beyond measure. We were entranced.
All of a sudden the smell of smoke assaulted our senses and in front of us a wooden building lit like a brazier. A few people left the building, at some speed, and it became apparent that it was a building used, not surprisingly, for the production of port. The fire drill was carried out with sufficient precision to make me think that this was not an uncommon occurrence and everybody appeared accounted for, so, always willing to watch a free show, I sat on the grass bank and observed.
Now, having seen the apparent haphazard nature of the rest of the Portuguese infrastructure I was looking forward to seeing how the fire brigade performed. However, I was really not expecting the arrival of a white Fiat 500 car, which stopped outside the burning property and disgorged four burly guys in black uniforms. One of them ran to the front of the car and opened the boot, the Fiat being rear-engined, and extracted a length of hose, then whilst the other three grabbed at the nozzle-end of the fire hose he ran with the reel to the fire hydrant. Unfortunately for him, but to our utter delight, he had failed to notice something that Echo and I realised fairly quickly. About a hundred yards from the fire hydrant the hose ran out, became taut, and his progress came to a sudden halt and both he and his three colleagues ended up on the floor. After regaining their composure a huddle occurred, a consensus reached and the hose was reeled, deposited back in the boot, and the four returned to the car and drove away.
We sat for a while longer, but as the building burned and the recent occupants stood about smoking, watching and chatting, nobody else turned up, and eventually, as the building fell in on itself we left and headed back to the truck, the Atlantica Bar, the ocean and another night together.