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Balls To The Baltic - Latvia or Bust



More about that Song

The next few moments all happened exceptionally quickly. So quickly that in my mind it seems as if Jonathan’s next words instantly followed my own, although in retrospect, there must have been a gap. Some time must have passed for the van to change state in the way it had because his reply was not “Oh yes, that’s very pretty”, or “indeed, check out the size of the towers on that”, they were

we’re in a ditch…

There was no question about the matter. We were looking out of the van at about a fifty degree angle at a winter wonderland of snow coated trees and majestic castles as the fluffy flakes continued to pile into the scene like a really bad case of dandruff. There was a road just to the left of us, that we probably should have been on. It was at a funny angle, or maybe that was just us.

Somehow the beauty of the scenery was lost.

“Erm, sorry” I said, realising that albeit instinctive, attracting the attention of a man who’s driving on icy mountain roads is probably a really, really stupid thing to do.

“It wasn’t that” he said “We just slid”. I’m not sure if he was trying to make me feel better, or albeit instinctive, he was just embarrassed that he’d been stupid enough to look.

For a couple of seconds we just sat there, like a pair of stupid clowns, in a stupid clown car, at a really stupid angle. In a stupid ditch.  

“I suppose we should get out and take a look” I said, and Jonathan sort of mutely agreed as I clambered out of my door at a fifty degree angle into the blizzard. I shut my door behind me before remembering that the drivers side door was now pressed against the snow bank, so I’d just shut the door in Jonathans face as he was trying to climb across the van to get out of the passenger side.

In retrospect, that was probably quite funny. I opened the door again, embarrassedly.

Looking up the road we evidently weren’t that far from civilization. There were a few houses on either side of the road. There was an old man clearing the snow from his driveway. He noticed me noticing him looking at us and instantly went back to clearing his driveway and minding his own business. Obviously people crashing vans into ditches around here was an everyday occurrence and not worthy of further inspection. There was a woman with a child in a garden over the road who I presume were out playing in the snow. On seeing us, they vanished inside. I was beginning to wonder what horror film we had driven into. “We don’t welcome strangers in these parts ….” Maybe we’d taken a wrong turning off the motorway and had ended up in Transylvania. Maybe Dracula had moved to Poland after all the bad publicity. Maybe there was a monster in that castle up on the hill.

Jonathan climbed out of the van and we got on with the serious details of working out exactly where we were so we could call the recovery service and let them know. “On the road beneath Dracula’s Castle in the village of terrified peasants” probably wasn’t going to cut it. I was pretty sure I knew which road we were on, but not how far down it, so I approached the old man while I brandished the map, and tried with the usual composition of mime and loud English to speak to him in Polish. I pointed out the place on the map where I thought we were, and he looked at the map, and then pointed to somewhere about two hundred miles away. At the time I just though that he was, well, either crazy or stupid, or he had never seen a map before. I now realise that in his combination of mime and loud Polish, he was trying to say in English “Go here, Go here, before the demon from the castle comes down and devours you”.

Anyway, we put in the call to be rescued, giving what information we had, and waited for a call back from a local garage who would call us back to arrange everything. We then realised we were very lucky and had the opportunity to stand around and twiddle our thumbs for the next six or seven hours.

It took about five minutes before Jonathan got a text from one of the girls he sometimes works with in England. It was about the two kazillionth he’d received while we’d been here from her and he’d started to get annoyed at about the third. Up until this point, he had remained incredibly calm after the accident.

He kinda lost it at that point. I started to explain that he was probably more upset about the accident than he was with her, and that it was only a text, even if it was the two kazzilionth, and then it occurred to me that the guy just needed to let of steam and I should get out of his way and let him get on with it, as he slightly more calmly typed the text “just crashed van – in very bad mood”. That was the understatement of the day.

I wandered off down the road to let him have a little space to explode in, in comfort. As I approached the corner I saw a lorry coming down the road towards me. I was on the inside of the corner where it was going to turn, and as we already knew these roads were not exactly grippy and as it headed towards me and I stood in the road thinking, there is no way that thing is going to stop and no way I can get over the road, and if it slides on this corner then the chances are that I’m jam. So I jumped.

As it passed me by, and I checked out my situation, thigh high in a ditch full of cold wet snow, it occurred to me just how much fun this trip was.

From that point on things started to get decidedly better. The next vehicle to come past was a huge tractor/snow plough. It had tyres on it that were bigger than me. As we waved madly at it, as if he could have missed the van in the ditch (although everyone else had done a good job of ignoring it) he smiled, made the international symbol of “I’ll just turn around” and headed off down the road. He did indeed turn around and came straight back.  As he did, the old man came back down to have another look, obviously feeling a little braver now there was some more local support. The plough driver looked at the van, then constantly smiling with the confidence of a man who knew he had the tools, nipped to his cab and pulled out a fat cable which he attached around the tow bar. Then signaling that someone should get in to steer the van, he proceeded to drive off up the road. I stood by the side of the road and watched the ease with which this huge machine pulled the van out of the ditch and back onto the road. Then I watched with slightly less wonder, and slightly more worry, as he continued to drive off up the road. Where was he going? Did he realise that I wasn’t in it. Was he driving off to a local garage leaving me stranded here.

Maybe he was going to tow it up to the castle where who knew what horrors awaited.

Fortunately, he stopped at the top of the hill where I caught them, having just been chasing them madly up the road. Jonathans face was a picture of relief as he stepped out of the van. I think it was partially the fact that his van was now out of the ditch, and partially that he was no longer being towed backwards up an icy hill.

There was not a scratch on the van. As it had slid into the ditch, the amount of snow in the drift must have protected it as it fell against the hillside. Even better, the engine turned over at the first time of asking. Not quite so good was that the wheels went around but the van didn’t move, but that was solved by a fair amount of shoving. Needless to say, we couldn’t thank the plough driver enough, although we did what we could, and all full of smiles we headed off, perhaps slightly gingerly back on our journey.



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