It was a relief to leave Dover, a nasty little town full of white supremacists and sociopaths who slip date rape drugs into your beer and then send you home with your wife.
Ferried into Calais, we hefted our backpacks and set off in search of a brave-ish new world. We hadn’t gone more than 20 metres when Brenda said, “Whose idea was this?” I was staggering under the weight of my pack. Any attempt to speak would have left me utterly drained.
We reached the bus station and while Brenda was studying the timetables I slipped off and hired us a car. From then on our backpacking holiday consisted of us parking outside hotels and backpacking to reception.
Brenda was delighted when I told her that our days of roughing it were over and we made for the parking lot. “What the hell is that?” she barked. “I thought you said we had hired a car.” Apparently in Brenda’s world, a Renault Clio doesn’t qualify as a car.
The only way to drive a gay car is hard and fast and soon we were barreling down the road to Paris while our fellow motorists waved their arms about and shouted words of encouragement.
“I love the French spirit,” I said.
“You´re on the wrong side of the road,” Brenda said.
My plan was to park in Versailles and catch a train in to Paris. “You would be a damn fool to take a car into the centre of Paris,” I said.
“Isn’t that the Arc d’Triomf?” said Brenda.
Versailles, like so many towns to come, was simply not where the map said it would be. With Brenda playing the role of Henry the Navigator, I’m not surprised.
I drove straight into 15 lanes of traffic rotating at high speed around the Charles de Gaulle circle. There were no visible markings on the road and no form of traffic control whatsoever. There are motorists who have been trapped in the inside lane at the Arc d’Triomf ever since the Americans liberated Paris from the Nazis.
Brenda said we should get out of the mayhem and head for the hills but I said I wanted to spend one night in Paris. “I bet you do,” said Brenda, giving me the lazy eye.
All the on-street parking in Paris is taken by residents who use public transport and only move their cars if someone in the family has to be rushed to hospital for open-heart surgery. Everyone else parks underground.
After numerous verbal incidents with excitable French drivers, we found an underground parking outside some kind of old church.
“That´s the Notre Dame Cathedral,” said Brenda. She knows these things.
After we had parked in the bowels of France and returned to the surface of the planet, I saw an old man pretending to be a hunchback. I laughed and laughed. “Good one,” I said, pointing at his hump. He tried to spit on me. Brenda said, “I don’t think he’s pretending.”
Brenda insisted we check into the Notre Dame Hotel because it was on the Boulevard San Michel and she wanted to feel like she was the one Peter Sarsted was singing about. I gave a hollow laugh. “I suppose next you will want to study at the Sorbonne and get the Aga Khan to give you a racehorse and show off your topless suntan …”
Brenda said I was being ridiculous, which I take as a compliment these days. We went for dinner at a restaurant staffed by waiters so inconspicuous and guarded that I wondered if they thought we were Germans and they were still in the Resistance.
For reasons which make no sense, our drive through Europe turned into something akin to the Paris to Dakar Rally. Right through France, ours was the fastest car on the road. Not a single person overtook us. Well, one or two tried but I managed to shut them out.
By the time we reached the Spanish border I had a renewed respect for the Clio. Brenda showed no signs of renewed respect for me.
I was relieved to see that all borders had been scrapped between European Union countries. The last time I was here, I was travelling with a couple of South Africans who duped me into stuffing a bag of contraband down the front of my trousers. I was frisked by a border guard and literally came within a finger’s breadth of a Spanish jail, deportation and, ultimately, a crushing look of disappointment on my mother’s face.
San Sebastian is the first Spanish town you hit after leaving Biarritz. It seemed to have grown enormously since I last set foot in the place. “So have you,” said Brenda.
Spain has a rich history of colonisation, invasion, conquest and reconquest by everyone from Phoenicians to the Visigoths to the Moors and, finally, the Christians who seem to have dug in for the long haul.
In Spain there are no new parts of cities. There are only old parts and really, really old parts. These are the ones we stayed in.
After checking in to a pension that looked as if had last been inhabited by a collective of anarchists on the run from General Franco’s thugs, we hit the tapas bars with a vengeance.
Brenda tried to teach me some Spanish but it started off badly. “For example,” she said, sighing heavily, “whisky has a different gender to beer.” I laughed like a love-sick goat. “After drinking the stuff, so do I.” She seemed unimpressed by my sparkling wit.
Keen to sink my choppers into a Spanish fish, the waiter said there was only hake on the menu. Of course. You have depleted your own stocks and now you want to give me a South African fish that was caught by Spanish pirates plundering our waters. I drew myself up to my full height, which wasn’t much since I was on my knees.
“How dare you?” I shouted.
“Que?” said the waiter.
“Exactly,” I said, knocking my beer into Brenda’s lap.
The next morning we did a high-speed dash across northern Spain, stopping only to slap and kick a petrol pump that refused to give us fuel. They have a peculiar system in Spain. You fill up your car and they trust you to go into the garage and pay. That would work really well in South Africa.
We reached Santiago de Compostela at dusk. This ruined city is ruined ever further by dozens of shops selling Jesus on a T-shirt, Jesus on a mug, Jesus on many different kinds of crosses. Plastic Jesuses. Silver Jesuses. Wooden Jesuses. Every kind of Jesus you can imagine. Except smiling. Nobody ever makes a smiling Jesus.
Someone else who is big in Santiago is St James. So big, in fact, that Christians will often walk 800km just to get their hands on a plastic version of their hero. They call it “walking the Camino”. Personally, I would rather walk the plank.
On closer inspection, it turned out that the Christians hijacked the walk from the pagans who would make the trek to the coast to copulate on the Rocks of Fertility. Christians will say this is a pack of lies but there must be a reason why the gift shops are also full of plastic witches on broomsticks.
We found a hotel next to the cathedral. Brenda said she liked it because it used to be a convent and she used to be a convent girl. That night, Brenda asked if I would help purge her of all the Catholic guilt she had accumulated over the years. I had my trousers around my ankles before you could say, “Hail Mary”.
Standing at reception the next morning, I overheard an elderly American tourist ask the desk clerk if an exorcism had taken place in room 307 the previous night.
“In a way,” I said softly. “In a way.”
It seemed only right to leave at that point, so we shimmied into the Clio and pointed our noses in the direction of Portugal. We wanted to spend a few days on the Algarve but when we got there we couldn’t find any parking so we carried on driving and before we knew it we were at the end of the country. The British have annexed the Algarve. I cannot understand why the UN is doing nothing about it.
Henry the Navigator bent over her map and said, “Look. An island. I bet it’s deserted. We should go there.”
“What’s it called?” I said.
“Ibiza,” she said.