When I moved here I packed everything (I thought) I needed in my beloved BMW and off we went. I had decided to drive the whole way in two stages, having a sleepover in Folkestone after crossing parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the English Channel, before heading through England and into Wales. If I had driven a horse-drawn wagon you’d probably mistaken me for a settler in the Wild West heading for the final frontier. My car was packed to the brim.
When making my travel arrangements I had tried to avoid as many toll stations as possible but there was one, somewhere around London I believe, I just couldn’t get around easily. I had left Folkestone early in the morning and arrived at the toll station when everybody else was. It was Friday and rush hour. No problem so far, I even had the right amount of change. But remember, I was in a left-hand drive. So at the toll boot I had to grab my change, pull the handbrake, get out of my car, run around the bonnet, put my change into the machine, run back round my car, get in, buckle up and get going before the barrier closed. And all of this with queues of cars behind me. To say I was embarrassed is an understatement.
Months later, on my first trip home, I told this story to my friends and heard of a solution some acquaintances had figured out whilst living in London. They drove around with barbecue tongs in their car. You know, these things you use to turn meat or sausages. They would use them in car parks, for example, to press buttons or insert/grab tickets at barriers or even in drive-throughs to hand over the money and grab the bags of food. Brilliant. I was sorted. No more running around the car in awkward situations. And I even had a spare pair of tongs at home. So I put them in the car and didn’t think of it again. Until the next time I was in one of these situations. It was in a multi-storey car park. I had arrived with a friend, so entering wasn’t a problem, but I was leaving on my own. When I arrived at the barrier I took my ticket, grabbed it with the barbecue tongs, turned towards the passenger window – and froze. See, the problem is, this only works if you’ve got electric car windows. But my BMW was old and only had manual (crank) windows and they were out of reach. So I mumbled a curse under my breath, pull the handbrake, unfastened my seat belt, got out of the car, ran around the bonnet, inserted the ticket, ran back around the car, got in, buckled up and tried to get going before the barrier came down. I got quite fast after a bit of practice and if they had World Championships for this, I could have participated but to this day it is an underrated ‘sport’.
Since those days I had to buy a new car, obviously a right-hand drive which makes driving on the ‘wrong side’ much easier (at least most of the times), and I don’t have this kind of exercise anymore. Can’t say I miss it. Instead, my new car has its own personality which leads to other interesting experiences. But that’s a story for another day…