Its 4am and the alarm clock on my phone starts to buzz. I purposely put my phone on a table away from my bed so that I actually have to stand up and walk to switch it off. On a normal day, in my usual zombie state in the morning, even this sneaky game I play on myself doesn't actually work. Over the years I have managed to evolve to a higher level of being where I can walk to my phone still asleep and then walk back to bed without even opening my eyelids a couple of millimeters so that I don't bump into some of the usual obstacles that line my bedroom floor. However today is not a normal day as I need to get to Marlow as I am traveling to Norway with a school on a Duke of Edinburgh gold assessment.
It's still dark when I leave the house, which surprises me a little and after packing my usual red North Face extra large duffel bag into my van, Im ready to go. This bag had been with me on every adventure in the last 10 years and bears the scars and the red African dust to prove it. It seemed like a rip off at the time costing more than a hundred quid when I bought it, but Im pretty sure I've got my money's worth now.
A beautiful sunrise greets me on the way down the M6, with a wonderful array of reds and blues. What exactly are the shepherds trying to warn us about when they see one of these glorious sights at dawn?
After what feels like a long drive down, helped by radio one playing some late hours drum and bass I arrive at the school. Most of the pupils are already there, with plenty of quiet conversation going on and parents kissing foreheads and checking they have packed enough underwear.
The coach is late.
This can have a big impact on the journey, as we have tunnels and ferries booked that we need to keep to time to. The drivers look well traveled and I trust that they will get us there on time. There is little I can do to help, so I unpack my luxury travel pillow and try and catch up on some sleep that I missed out on from last night.
We arrive at the channel tunnel terminal later than planned, but it doesnt seem to be an issue and they book us onto the next train. The weather is unusually sunny it seems down here, a man with brown skin like me doesn't want to go underground in a train on a day like today. To be honest though, going underground is actually preferable to getting on the sea, as for someone who has spent most of his life paddling around on the river, I usually feel quite sea sick on a ferry.
As we arrive in France the magnitude of the journey we are on seems to hit me and I realise that I'm going to be sat in this seat for a fair few hours, in fact for probably another 24. I use this time to catch up on some music I've downloaded for the journey and to sort out a few emails. Fortunately this is kept all the more entertaining as the token sick passenger is moved to sit next to me and proceeds to throw his breakfast up into an emergency carrier bag that has holes in it. After making our first contribution to the French waste disposal, we continue on our epic journey
I awake from my slumber like a hedgehog brought out of hibernation early as we pull into a service station. I realise that this is the first journey in a very long time when I've been on a road trip like this and havent had any part to play in either the navigation or the driving. It is such a novelty and a pleasure. However, because of this I have absolutely no idea where we are and what country we are in.
All my Saturdays spent watching "murder she wrote" were not wasted when I spotted a windmill, a canal and lots of flat grassy fields and decide that we clearly are in the Netherlands. Once everyone is back on the coach, Matt our trip leader tells us we are currently well on our way and are traveling through the Netherlands. With a slightly smug look on my face I think, Angela Lansbury would be proud.
The coach drivers are an interesting pair and have been doing their "Steptoe and Son" routine since we left the school in Marlow. As funny as they are, their comedy doesn't seem to overcome the fact that they don't seem to have enough drivers to actually get us to our next ferry on time. I offer to do a stint behind the wheel, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. The air conditioning is broken in the bus and it is blowing at sub zero temperatures constantly. I wrap myself up as best as I can in my down jacket, sleeping bag liner and stuff and extra jacket by my legs to keep warm. I slip on my oversized headphones, scan through my phone and come across the best of Nina Simone. The ten minute live version of "Sinnerman" is just what my ears need right now. I close my eyes and it's not long before I'm back in my hedgehog state.