The week was not going well. Back in the UK for a visit on the first Sunday Rosalyn became sick. Properly sick. Throwing up over me in the middle of the night sick. Inevitably by Tuesday the bug had migrated to Alex before finishing its hat-trick by knocking me out on Wednesday. By Friday, having lost the entire week of holiday, we were finally starting to feel better. That’s when things got bad.
Driving down the M1 motorway for a family gathering just outside London – our car broke down. First the heating went, then the steering started to jam, rattling sounds from the engine block, lights dancing across the dashboard; it was rapidly descending into a fairly desperate situation and I needed to get off the motorway quick. Looking back I should have known something strange was afoot when magically a turn off appeared which I could have sworn hadn’t been there moments before. Literally wrestling the car off the motorway, I was able to drag it onto a slip road. Pitch black and with a symphony of bangs and clangs whizzing from the engine, it was clear time was against us and I had no idea how much further the car could go along the dark, barren road ahead.
And then we saw it. Off to our right, a cluster of bight florescent lights hidden behind a thick row of fern trees glistened like an illuminated oasis in black desert. Dragging the car through one final turn I was able to point it in the direction of the lights. Whatever lay ahead our course was set. Slowly the car shuddered forward, the lights growing brighter and brighter until finally we found ourselves in a clearing and saw our destination.
A Truck Stop Pub. Yes you read that right and let me be clear, I feel it’s important. A pub. On the motorway. For truck drivers.
Now there are so many things here to get one’s head around. Firstly, is it just me or does the idea of a pub for truck drivers just off the motorway not sound like a truly terrible idea? Secondly, what the hell is a truck stop pub doing in England? Perhaps it’s just me but I’d always assumed they were a Hollywood creation – somewhere to kick off your standard abduction movie. You know the one, a couple (perhaps with a small child – who can say?) are driving through the middle of nowhere in the bad lands of America. They stop at a truck stop pub for directions, she gets abducted, he’s frantically searching for her, the local sheriff is in on the whole thing, lots of people die… you get the idea. But on the M1 just outside Northampton? I think not.
Well it’s no exaggeration to say that this place could have been lifted off one of those film sets. Actually to call it just a pub is to do it a disservice as it was also a motel. Which obviously led me to the natural conclusion that was well as being the start of our own, very much real, abduction horror movie (in which we were the stars), it must also be a brothel and that we were basically going to die.
A cursory look inside whilst I phoned for roadside assistance – always best in these films to make sure people have your last known location, it helps with searching for the bodies – showed the inside to be mostly deserted aside from two groups of burley men huddled over a few pints. Pints which had now been placed on their tables whilst they stared directly at us. Retrospectively I appreciate that was probably as they were trying to figure out why a couple with a small baby had stopped off for a quick drink at their Truck stop pub, but at the time I just added it to the growing list of reasons why I was about to die.
We’d set off late so Rosalyn would sleep for most of the journey, however given she was now awake and assistance in the form of roadside breakdown and Alex’s Dad were over an hour away, we had no choice but to go inside. I decided that it made sense for me to go in first and check out the lay of the land – a CLASSIC movie mistake in this situation, splitting up the group.
But there was nothing else for it, we had to go inside. I did however have one ace in my hand. I was going to be able to draw on my one special skill – knowledge of films – and I’ve seen this particular movie hundreds of times. Best way to survive? Blend in. You see there is one common theme in these films, no killer, however ‘axe wieldy’ or ‘mental’ (for that is clearly what waited inside) ever killed one of their own. It’s always the lost tourist, the out of towner, the travelling salesman… if I can blend in, appear as one of them, I might just have a chance of getting through this.
Taking a deep breath I stepped out of the car and prepared for the performance of a lifetime. First I made my way to the front of the car and lifting up the bonnet proceeded to use the torch on my phone to look inside the engine. Tapping various parts, pulling at a wire here, rattling this and that, I made sure to make lots of exaggerated head shakes expressing my disbelief at the shoddy workmanship that had led to the breakdown, giving in my opinion, an excellent impression of being ‘one of the lads’. Now the fact you could write everything I know about car engines on a very small postage stamp (I might as well have been looking at the insides of an elephant) is neither here nor there, this was life and death and I was smashing it.
Satisfied I’d made a suitable impression I made my way cautiously toward the front door. This was the big one. I’d win or lose on the strength of my chat. The groups inside had returned to their pints, this was a good sign, clearly my demonstration of engine knowledge had put them at easy, I could almost hear the axes being put back in the duffle bags below the tables. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I need to sound the part as well. In my head I was running through my most ‘Mancunian of Mancunian’ accents and phrases – think Liam Gallagher crossed with Tony Wilson.
I made my way towards the bar, unbuttoning my Barbour coat on the way – damn, why hadn’t I left it in the car! Nothing says truck driving man of the people less than a bloody Barbour coat! – I might was well have painted ‘insert axe here’ on my forehead. It was also at that exact moment I realised I had made a grave error. In fact I’d just signed my own death warrant. For unbuttoning the jacket had revealed the t-shirt underneath.
You see I’d wanted to drive in a t-shirt that night for comfort and as all the ones I’d brought were dirty, had nicked one of my brother’s that he’d left at our parents, the choice of which was now coming back to haunt me. You see there are few things in the world that give away the fact a Truck Stop Pub isn’t perhaps your natural environment more than a ‘Sheffield University History Department fieldwork trip to Paris’ t-shirt. Very few things indeed.
Game over. Time to die.
I assume by now you’ve figured out that by the fact you are reading this I probably didn’t die that night. Well I have to say that the whole experience ended up teaching me a valuable lesson about not judging a book by its cover. Not only did the barmaid and locals not put an axe through my head, they were absolutely fantastic and couldn’t have helped more. And though it probably is a bit of a brothel, if you happen to find yourself at a loose end on the M1, go check it out, they’ve got Sky Sports, Tuesday is quiz night and it’s 2-4-1 on burgers on a Thursday – what’s not to love? Axe murdering optional of course, https://www.facebook.com/RedLionTruckStop/
Believe it or not things could have been worse. During our visit back to the UK, Stockholm experienced its worse snow fall since the 1800s. Around half a metre fell on the city overnight shutting down in the process the airport, motorways, bus and rail networks. Considering this in country set up to deal with snow, it was a hell of a lot of snow. Luckily by the time we got back they’d managed to clear most of the roads so we weren’t affected too much, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
Of course all this snow has a lot of practical implications for the city which frankly coming from a country where snow fall is at best a bit of a novelty you just don’t consider. Take these maniacs for example. Next time you are having a bad day at the office spare a thought for the people whose job it is to get up on the roof of apartment blocks and push snow off the edge.
It’s also compulsory in Sweden to have winter tyres on your car which means twice a year you need to change them over. And if that sounds very much like a government sponsored money making scheme, remember most people here live in apartments meaning an entirely separate ‘tyre hotel’ industry has blossomed up at the same time. Interestingly the process did at least prove that some languages are universal, in this case the universal language of mechanics. When it came to paying the owner of the garage noticed I had some cash: “400Kr card, 300Kr cash” – Err, 300 please. Out of his back pocket comes his wallet. In goes the 300. Job done.
Of course with snow comes cold and it was during this period that I was got my first telling off from Rosalyn’s nursery. They take the weather very seriously over here and I’d not put her in her snow suit – for the record I didn’t send her off in shorts and t-shirt! I just made the mistake of sticking with the fleece, over-trouser, rain coat combination. Well when I picked her up I got told off which I didn’t care for very much, so the next day she went in dressed ready to climb Mount Everest in a suit my mum had bought in Canada that goes down to -30c. Have that Sweden! Poor kid though – you have to take it off her as soon as you get inside or you can start to see the sweat rolling down her forehead within a few seconds.
The change in weather also seemed to trigger strange goings on in our apartment. Firstly this fold out chair appeared miraculous by the front door, and even stranger inside the lift. It wasn’t until I realised I couldn’t dress Rosalyn in her winter boiler gear in the flat without the risk of her passing out before we made it outside, that I realised they are actually there for practical purposes. In my case so that I can grab my wriggly daughter, sit down and force her to put on the coat she doesn’t want to wear. I assume other people use it for their snow boots and what have you.
In a further example of the cold doing strange things in our flat, the nice old lady who lives a few floors above us put a note in the lift inviting people to come and check out the new flowers she’d bought and placed outside her door. I can’t begin to tell you how un-Swedish this is.
Finally, I recently celebrated my birthday. Alex went all out this year by booking an entire restaurant, which obviously had nothing to do whatsoever with how early we have to go out these days. Although a slightly different vibe form normal (for the past 13 years I’ve done a joint Birthday pub crawl with my good friend Shella) you can’t beat spending time with the family and frankly after your first kid is born, things like your own birthday don’t really matter that much anymore anyway.
Like daughter like father.
Top left: Rosalyn first experience of snow could have gone better.
Pic of the week
People laugh when I say meat is expensive in Sweden. Really? And how many meat counters do you know that have their own CCTV?
Track of the week
I don’t know what the track is (any Hip Hop fans out there who can help?) but Rosalyn was busting some serious moves to it. She is very street.